The hostess’ stilt house stood over a patchwork of rice fields, offering the perfect vantage point for the expected full moon. To the Vietnamese, Lillian had learned, the night of a full moon was the most auspicious in the lunar calendar. In quiet anticipation, she watched evening’s orange sun melt into the horizon. In a blink, night arrived; dressed in a raven cape and flashing silver, moving the sky to its celestial beat.
Rainbow coloured lanterns dangled around the boundaries of rice fields. Each glittering hue fused expertly with the glow of the night, as though designed. Beauty reigned supreme; captivating; seducing Lillian, who was floating now - over cultural divides, language, custom and every other unnatural concept mankind used to divide existence from truth. She glimpsed freedom.
‘Come, come now.’
Anh gently waved Lillian inside.
A teenage girl with warm eyes sat down beside her. There was no hint, she thought, of a hormonal ‘troubled teenager’ in her. Maybe psychological labels put on dysfunction are nothing more than that, she thought, folding a blanket into a seat. Carefree, she let her mind dissolve in the romance of the velvet night. A waterfall of peace crashed over her analytical mind, sending out tidal-waves of perfect peace to everyone in the room.
Baskets of malleable sticky rice passed round in baskets, with a side of crushed nuts. A quiet man whom she hadn’t yet heard speak gently rolled a portion of rice into a cylinder with his bare hands. He handed it to her and bowed his head. She replicated the act of humility.
Older men and women, inspired by the charged environment, unleashed their party tricks – stories, poems, songs, musical performances and even, to Lillian’s enchantment, water puppets in the rice fields. There was a baffling paradox at the very core of these people, she thought, looking around at their childlike playfulness. They were tough enough to defeat brutal enemies and yet, at the same time, were openly vulnerable. Did it really happen; Lillian asked herself, that B52s dropped bombs onto serene villages like this? Where people just wanted to sit in circles? Lillian took a moment to scold the ghosts of politicians past. Humankind wasn’t all kind, but here, now, in this moment, it was everything she had ever hoped it to be.