A Vietnamese woman in her mid thirty enters the lobby of the Horison Hotel in Ha Noi. She gives a quick glance to various groups of people gathered after breakfast. Most are men in dark gray suits, white shirts, laptop bags in their hands, ready for the day. She finds the people she has come to meet at the left corner of the lobby and moves towards them. A woman about her age walk towards here. They meet at the centre of the lobby. They take each other hands before speaking any words and start to cry. It is not the happy cry that sometimes bursts when people meet after a long time. This is a cry of grief and loss.
They hold hands for some minutes, unable to utter any words. They do not hug though. After some minutes, one of them takes a hand to dry her tears away from her cheeks. They move and reach a group of three older men who seems not to notice their tears, or if they do, they do show any emotion.
Around them, the life in the lobby continues untouched by the grief of the two women. Maybe other people have noticed them as I did and as in other times I feel a sense of isolation. Their grief and emotions isolated from the routine life of people like me who are here ready to start a day of work. Or maybe, it is our isolation, immerged as we are in a daily routine, from real emotions. I do not know.
I also wonder whether I should approach the two women and even though I am a perfect stranger, ask if I can be of help. Say a word. Press a hand on a shoulder. Express a feeling of empathy. Show with an action, and not just thoughts, that even though we do not know, we are not so distant.
A conversation starts in the group. The two women do not cry anymore. Then one of them look at the door, says something to the others and they all leave with some hurry. I take my bag and walk towards the door to take a taxi that will bring me to the office.
In the car I think about that day I travelled with the same grief and hurry from Cambodia to Portugal. My brother had died and I hurried back with a hidden hope that it was not true. I remember my agitation talking at airports to check-in staff to get into a plane. I remember the great help I got at the airport in Phnom Penh from staff telling me to sit, they would take care of it. The same kind help in Bangkok with a Thai Airways representative who advised on which ticket to buy and, as in Phnom Penh, asked me to sit down. They would take care of it. Wishing me all the best with a sad expression when I got my ticket. I remember when I burst in a loud cry in the airport restaurant in Bangkok. Other customers sitting to nearby table talking about their holidays in Thailand and their trips back home. Their table surrounded by souvenirs they were bringing to children, relatives, husbands, wives, parents, brothers and sisters.
The taxi is now managing the traffic jams on Kim Ma. Almost there. Remember also when I arrived in Rome and with the same agitated behavior but talking the language of my country, spoke to a young and pretty Alitalia desk assistant who grew more and more alarmed by the second at my agitation and my explanation as to why I needed to catch a flight to Lisbon, that I did not have a ticket but could maybe get on a TAP Portugal flight leaving after one hour. I could see her eyes turning ice cold and then telling me that this was a Alitalia desk and that I needed to speak to TAP at the desk behind me. I tuner and saw it was closed. ‘Can you please help me? I need to get on that flight.’ No, she could not. End of it. Welcome back home Arnaldo!
The taxi stops at 1 Lieu Giai. I pay the taxi driver. Give a little tip and ask for receipt. Move out of the car, glance at the 15 floor building where I will be working today. The two women of the hotel lobby are still crying in my mind. I rehearse the video clip of their meeting – holding hands – tears.
I did not do much for them. Actually nothing. They did more for me. They helped me to finally find the words to write this story which has been in me for five years now. Xin cam’on and all the best to you.