Morning. Heat hung moist and heavy, blurring lines. Clothes clung to bodies, and movements seemed to glide. I floated among these narrow alleys, breathing lightly to avoid Nhieu Loc Canal's rotten stink, afraid to disturb the seemingly secret lives underneath these make-shift roofs. A pair of eyes twinkled in the blue haze of the morning, curiously peering from within the gentle darkness that enfolded the neighborhood. I pressed on, my conspicuously ankle boots crunching the earth, day-old rainwater, skin of a persimmon fruit, and heroin needles. This was not the first time I made my move to the darkest side of my living district, a notorious prostitution district, home to a dying young mother and her two adopted children, home to death and hope!
She is twenty-something years old. She eagerly showed me a picture of pretty girl shyly smiling for the camera. A flower maiden in her long-tailed pastel "Ao Dai", the girl radiates an unmistakable aura of simple joy and an innocence that sustains youth.
That was just back while ago, before she quit school to become the main source of income for a family of a cripple father and a mother recently diagnosed with cancer, to become a prostitute. She has aged dramatically, just this year, as if a layer of air has leaked out from under her skin.
"It's AIDS," she said, her hands folded in her laps like wilted tulips, "I'm going to die soon, you know..."
The pain of her life notwithstanding, yet this is a story too familiar to countless Vietnamese. Prostitutes that I know live in the same district with me tell a similar tale: they must step into such dark alleys, into the arms of alcohol-drenched men for their dying mother, for an incapacitated father, for a son needing surgery, a...