The class looked exactly like I had imagined. It was small, no place for a claustrophobic person. There were five rows of tables, and each table had six worn down chairs. The walls were old and wearied not only by years but by abuse. When I walked in, the atmosphere thickened with an uneasy, suffocating tension. I had grew up here in Binh Duong, Vietnam, but suddenly my trip back home did not seem so inviting.
Averting everyone's awkward glances, I kept my eyes glued to the floor. I hated being the new student, the tourist at that. It was then that a flash of blue and white stripes caught my attention. In a rush to leave the house, I had worn the wrong shoes, beachy flip-flops in fact. Shamefully, I pulled down the hem of my uniform pants in an effort to veil my mistake. I looked up to make sure no one had noticed me. Awkwardly enough, everyone stared back.
â–º honorable mention 2011 Teen Travel Writing Scholarship
Then, he finally took his seat.
He smelled so strongly of fish and oil, I couldn’t help but inch slightly away. Out of politeness, he smiled, revealing a set of uneven, ivory teeth. "Chào (Hello)” he greeted, extending a begrimed hand in welcome. I shook it hesitantly, trying to think of something interesting to say to prolong the conversation.
“So…I wore the wrong shoes this morning." I fought the urge to slap myself. That was a beyond stupid intro to small talk.
Never lifting his gaze from my flips-flops, he asked, "How can shoes be wrong?”
Taken aback by the question, my eyes immediately flashed down to his feet. He had no shoes; I had no answer.
“I think your shoes are beautiful."
I only nodded, feeling so out of place.
“Did you just move here?” he continued.
"No, I live in America. I’m on vacation. I came here with my cousin to see what a Vietnamese classroom was like.”
His eyes instantly lit up. “America!” emphasizing each syllable in the most laudatory tone. "I would die to go to school in America."
“It’s not that great,” I replied, taken aback at his candidness.
“Don’t say that. I heard in America, anyone can be successful.”
The Land of Opportunities. I smiled at the thought. “You know, as long as you study hard, you can be successful here too."
“My family has sold vegetables in the market for generations." Suddenly, a smile crept upon his lips. "It's going to change with me. I’m already the first to go to school. Then, I’ll be the first to graduate. Then, I’ll be the first to have a good job.” In that moment, his eyes shone with a hope and positivity stronger than fire. I couldn’t help but just gaze. Even until now, I still don’t know how to describe my reaction. To put it simply, I was bedazzled. “You know what my dream is?” he continued.
“To go to America,” I answered confidently.
I couldn’t help but laugh. Man, this kid was unpredictable.
“To become so wealthy that my parents won't have to sell another day in the market."
I quickly turned my glance elsewhere. This boy, a complete stranger, was about to make me cry. Oddly, even when I looked away, I still saw his face. Even until now, I see his face. Once in awhile, I'd be sitting in class and I'd seem suddenly to think of him. I'd look at my own parents, and his dream would echo in my head. Even though a year has passed, his hopes, his dreams, still linger in my ears now and then.
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