After my little excursion with my friend Dang, I went back to the hotel to rest before dinner. Having driven in the countryside and slept in the jungle for several days, I had decided to treat myself to a four-star hotel in Hue. I had a nice little room on the 10th floor, with a wonderful view to the west of the city.
When I got to my room, I went out on the balcony to watch the sunset. I was leaning against the railing, my eyes caressing the horizon. I could hear the sound of horns coming up from the street below.
At that very moment, I felt a great joy. A joy of what I had experienced since the beginning of my journey. My success on the motorcycle. The beauty of this country. The Vietnamese people I met. The feeling of belonging that was growing inside me. My heart was filled with emotion.
I closed my eyes, joined my hands and whispered:
- Thank you...
- Thank you.
My trip included a heavy dose of solitude. I spent long hours on my motorcycle. I ate alone. I slept alone. I woke up alone. When I saw beauty, I had no one to share it with. And when I was afraid, there was no one to reassure me.
I was making this trip for myself, but it was dedicated to my father. I hoped to fulfill his two last wishes: to make a final trip to Vietnam, and to bring his ashes back to his home village. From the very beginning, I had a very clear idea of this trip and I could congratulate myself for successfully executing my plan.
But inside, I was missing one thing terribly. It was my father's approval.
As I progressed on my journey, I felt more and more the need for confirmation. That this was what my father wanted. That he was happy. That he was with me.
During this moment of contemplation, I began to hear music in the distance. It was a pleasant melody. I let myself be moved by it. This music made me feel good, like a little valve that relieved my overflowing heart.
After a while, this song seemed familiar. I found myself humming it.
It was a Lionel Ritchie song from the 80s. A song that my father liked a lot. A song that as a child I had listened to hundreds of times in his presence.
I raised my eyes to the sky and smiled. But this time, tears were also running down my cheeks.
I opened my eyes to try to see where the music was coming from. Who could be playing Lionel Ritchie outdoors in downtown Huế in the late afternoon? My eyes scanned the horizon. It was impossible to see where this unlikely music was coming from.
Tears kept rolling down my cheeks. Yet I couldn't tell if they were from joy or sadness.
The music, which undoubtedly reminded me of my father, enveloped me as if it were his arms. I let myself be lulled.
The last time I had felt my father's presence so clearly was more than two weeks ago. I was in northern Vietnam at the time.
That morning, Dang had not woken up. We had arranged to meet for breakfast at 9:00 a.m. but he had not come down. I waited for him in the hotel lobby for almost half an hour.
While I was waiting for him, the hotel manager invited me to sit with him. The lobby also served as a lounge for the family that lived on the first floor. The man's three children, then teenagers, were listening to Vietnamese pop music videos on TV. I joined them.
The man tried to start a conversation with me in Vietnamese. He didn't seem to be concerned about the language barrier at all. He spoke slowly, looking me straight in the eyes. I didn't know how to answer him, but he didn't seem to expect it. He just smiled at me.
We continued to listen to the television.
After a while, I turned to look at the man. His face naturally bore a smile, so much so that the wrinkles around his eyes had taken the shape of a smile. That smiling look on his face, I recognized it. It was very familiar to me. It was my father's.
For a moment, I could have sworn that my father was there, sitting next to me. That it was him giving me that reassuring smile.
Then the moment faded away. Behind me, I could hear Dang's heavy footsteps coming down the stairs.
Maybe I am making up my father's presence. Maybe it's only in my imagination. But I don't care. For now, it gives me the presence and comfort I need to continue my journey.