Amidst the bustle of people coming into Bitexco, a woman who seems to be very old with tousled salt and pepper hair walked heavily step by step towards the tourists and asked them to buy a few lottery tickets. She was so old that her legs were no longer agile. She said, “My knees hurt every time I stood.” Despite her aching knees, she approaches every tourist with her walking stick. Some people buy, others do not. “I stand here every night from 5 to 10 PM, hoping that I can sell as many lottery tickets as possible before going home.”
Eighty years old, at the age when almost Vietnamese elders stay at home and are taken care of by their children, the lottery tickets were her old friends. “I have been selling tickets for 17 years. I used to have 2 sons who helped me with these, but they all died in Ben Tre last year, leaving me alone. The lottery tickets have not been marketable lately. Every time I did not sell them all and returned them to the agent, they shouted at me. So I’m trying to sell a little more, but my legs hurt because I have been standing here for a long time.” She told us her story with a normal voice and dry eyes.
We bought two lottery tickets and gave her a bottle of water. She was delighted: “I have been thirsty since the afternoon, but no more money to buy one. I’m hungry too, my last meal was at 3 PM, but I have no money to buy food …” We said goodbye to her and walked through the streets of Saigon. But for some reason, we cannot forget the figure of that old woman selling lottery tickets on Hai Trieu street. We went back to that place when it was very late. She was still there, but sitting in front of the gate instead of standing, waiting for someone to buy a few more sheets. The surrounding shops were all closed, so we rushed to find a place to buy her something for dinner.
We started the engine, but still lingered a little, looking back. That old woman leaned over and ate the hot dumplings that we bought.