When people leave your daily life

If you follow my blogs or know me from Saigon, you know I’ve talked a lot about my friend Twe who is a street vendor in Pham Ngu Lao.

I’m not sure if I got any photos of Twe at all this year. I thought I must have, but I can find none online. But I saw her. Just about every day. Just like last year, I saw her on my birthday again this year. I’d told her it was my birthday and she insisted on giving me a gift. I said she didn’t have to and I would rather buy something off her but she said “No. You always buy something from me. You have been a very good friend to me for years now. I want to give you this simple gift. The beads on this bracelet are Buddha beads. If you wear this, Buddha will protect you on your travels”.

It wasn’t a style of bracelet I’d normally wear, but it was almost identical to a wooden beaded necklace that my brother userd to wear, and which he is wearing in the photo I have of him on my shrine. I thanked her and took the gift. I said “See you tomorrow Twe. Thank you for the birthday gift. You are the only person in the world who has given me a gift on my birthday this year”.

She said “David, I have to go back to Hanoi again”. I heard the hesitation in her voice. I knew her mother had just died and that all her remaining family lived in Hanoi. I asked “You’re coming back right ? How long are you going for ?” She looked sad and said “Yes. I think so. But my father needs care now without my mother. My brothers and sisters need me right now”.

I nodded and said “Come back soon Twe. I’m going soon too, so I want to see you before I leave”. She smiled and patted me on the hand and saaid “I’m sure we will meet again”.

But we never did. I assume that Twe moved back to Hanoi with her young son to be closer to her father and her siblings and even though I looked for her every day for the last month I was in Saigon, I never saw her again. Twe disappeared from my life the same way she entered it; unexpectedly, but with a broad smile that filled her face and a wave.

A girl I knew nothing about who I became used to seeing every single day, brightening my day when I was down, taking sympathy from me when she was sick or had a bad sales day, trudging the streets for 11 hours a day, 7 days a week without ever a day off sometimes selling nothing except to me.

So Twe, I have faith in your words. We will see each other again some day. Maybe in Saigon, maybe in Hanoi, maybe somewhere elese entirely. I haven’t lost a friend, she’s just absent and as the saying goes, “Absent friends bring distant places near”. I don’t know when it’ll be, but it’s a small world and Vietnam is a very connected country, so we’ll meet again soon.

This is a Buddhist prayer. This is only half of a prayer for travelers known as the Soft Rain Blessing.

By the power of every moment of your goodness
May all dangers be averted and all disease be gone.
May no obstacle come across your way.
May you enjoy fulfillment and long life.

For all in whose heart dwells respect,
who follow the wisdom and compassion, of the Way,
May your life prosper in the four blessings
of old age, beauty, happiness and strength.

Until we meet again, my friend, stay safe.

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