Story by Simon Nguyen

Lam* was the eldest of three siblings. Her family lived in a small farm that had been passed down through generations. Life had been especially hard for Lam and her family. When she was 8 years old, her mother died from snakebites while working in the field. By 11, Lam had to drop out of school to help out on the farm. Despite the hard work, she insisted that her two brothers stay in school. “Our family’s future depends on you,” she said.

Misfortunes, however, never seemed to cease. A long drought, coupled with unusually cold weather, severely crippled crops and depleted the family’s savings. But the most severe blow would come in the news of her father’s cancer. The cancer had reached a late stage and surgery was required. Unfortunately, Lam’s family did not have the means to pay for such an expensive treatment.

As Lam pondered how to come up with the money for her father’s surgery and the family’s daily expenses, she was approached by Madame H, who ran a local matchmaking service. She told Lam that a wealthy foreign man was looking for a wife and Lam matched his description perfectly. Madame H promised her a hefty financial compensation -- one that would be large enough to cover her father's medical expenses as well as her brothers’ education.

At first, Lam flatly refused Madame H’s offer. She would rather kill herself than to make such an unprincipled choice. But as the bills were piling up and her father’s condition worsened, the offer was once again on her mind. Lam had been stricken by poverty all her life. She did not want to see her brothers dropping out of school and living the rest of their lives in poverty. She did not want to see her father dying the same way her mother did, because of the lack of treatment. She wanted a better future for all and so she agreed.

After a long flight to her husband's country, Lam was able to meet him for the first time. He was exactly what she envisioned. The guy was a pale-looking man in his late forties, repulsive and partly crippled. Although she did not love him, she was determined to be a good and faithful wife.

Unfortunately, there were more to the guy than just his plain appearance. Her husband was an overly insecure and paranoid human being. He prohibited her from ever leaving the house, fearing that she might leave him for another man. As a matter of fact, he would lock her in the basement every time he was to leave the house. Additionally, Lam was not allowed to contact her family and friends; her passport was taken away by the husband’s family.

But the abuse didn’t stop there. She was the subject of brutal beatings by her mother-in-law and her sister-in-law. In several instances, the two threatened to burn her hair unless she obeyed them. 

After a year of marriage, Lam’s husband became very sick. He passed away soon afterward. While everyone was attending his funeral, Lam remained locked away in the basement. She was sad and confused. What had she done to deserve this? Why wasn’t she allowed to bid her husband a final farewell?

It turned out that the husband’s family had special plans for her; she was set to be married off to the husband’s brother. When Lam learned about this, she was enraged. No matter how much they beat her, she refused to let them have their way.

She was held captive, bruised and battered, for almost a week with very little food. But despite all that, Lam continued to persevere. If poverty could not take her down, this would definitely not. With help from a concerned neighbor, Lam was later rescued by the police. At last, she was free.

Her trip home was one accompanied with deep reflections. As her bus passed through the town’s entrance, she saw Madame H’s car leaving the town. Inside the car was her best friend Trang*. Watching history repeating, Lam was disheartened. Fate can sometimes be cruel.

*Lam means Indigo
*Trang means Beauty

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