Thi-Kinh sat in the shade of an areca tree trying to hide her anger from the happy villagers around her, for today was the day before Tet, the Vietnamese New Year.
“Tet is a joyous holiday,” her father had explained last evening as he gathered his eight children around him. “It is a time of new beginning. We must pay old debts, correct our faults, and forget past mistakes. Most important of all, we must forgive others and make friends of enemies. If we do not …” He looked at each of the listening children. “If we do not, bad luck will plague us during the coming year.”
Thi-Kinh flopped over onto her stomach. “Well, Nan-Tan deserves bad luck after what she did to me.” Nan-Tan had been a friend; now she was not. Thi-Kinh could never think about Nan-Tan without becoming angry.
“Thi-Kinh,” her mother called from the doorway of their mud hut. “I need you. See, the sun is high in the sky, and we must finish our work by noon.”
Already they had thoroughly cleaned the hut and decorated inside and out with fresh flowers. They had prepared special food for the holidays and bought new clothes for everyone in the family.
“Please hurry to the market and buy candles for our Giao Thua celebration,” her mother said.
Returning home, Thi-Kinh couldn’t stop thinking about Nan-Tan. Two full moons ago, during the time of examinations at school, Nan-Tan had begged to see Thi-Kinh’s answers.
Thi-Kinh refused and Nan-Tan, hissing angrily, told the teacher Thi-Kinh was cheating. Thi-Kinh had been disgraced.
“Be kind,” her father had counseled. “Nan-Tan must feel great shame for what she has done.”
But Thi-Kinh ignored his advice. Nan-Tan did not deserve kindness. After school she avoided her, and if they met accidentally, Thi-Kinh turned her face away.
Now it was nearly Tet. Thi-Kinh felt secret satisfaction because Nan-Tan’s New Year was ruined. Hadn’t she wronged someone and not asked forgiveness? She is at fault, Thi-Kinh thought, handing the new candles to her mother. May her New Year be most miserable.
For some reason Thi-Kinh did not enjoy the Giao Thua ceremony that evening. The weather was beautiful. Everything was lovely, bright with flowers and lighted candles. Still, Thi-Kinh felt uneasy.
She went with the family to the pagoda to pray for prosperity during the coming year. She should have been happy. Instead, she grew more and more troubled.
On the way home, Thi-Kinh drew her father aside. “Honorable parent,” she said, “I am most confused. Perhaps it is I who will have bad luck, for I hold anger in my heart for another. What shall I do about Nan-Tan?”
“It is for you to decide,” her father replied. “Sometimes the innocent must point the way.”
All night Thi-Kinh tossed on her sleeping mat. I am the innocent one. But point the way? How?
Thi-Kinh went through the next day automatically, half of her mind busy with the problem of Nan-Tan. She arose early with her family and put on her new clothes. She accepted, without the usual joy, the customary lucky red paper envelope containing pieces of silver. She tried to be cheerful when visitors arrived to offer good wishes for the coming year. As she helped her mother with the betel nuts and sticky rice cakes, her heart felt heavy.
Finally, at sunset, she could bear it no longer. “If Nan-Tan will not come to me,” she told her father, “I shall go to her. I cannot begin the new year with this feeling of wrongness in my heart.”
Her father bowed solemnly to her. “It is a wise person who knows in which direction happiness lies.”
Thi-Kinh took the shortcut through the banana grove to Nan-Tan’s hut. As she stepped clear of the trees, she was surprised to see Nan-Tan running toward her with outstretched arms. Tears were streaming down Nan-Tan’s face as she called Thi-Kinh’s name.
Suddenly Thi-Kinh felt like singing, for she knew that Tet would be a time of new beginning after all.