Hers and Hisbyozkelly©
Trying to recount this story really messes with the grammar of the English language.
Wow, what a ride. It all started about six months ago, and it is only now that I am able to spend the time to recount the story. My wife, Julie, and I were on a mum & dad only holiday for two weeks. We had the most amazing time in Vietnam & Laos. The children stayed home, attending school and staying nights with both sets of grandparents. It had been several years since we'd done a holiday together, and as the children are both in high school this was by far the longest time Julie had been away from the children since they were born.
We essentially did a big clockwise circuit from Hanoi, down through Vietnam to Ho Chi Minh City, across the border to Laos then north and back Hanoi. We travelled as much to the out of the way places as possible to really experience this absolutely breathtaking part of the world. We really got into the people and culture as much as possible. At times we were way out of our depth with the language, and experienced some really bizarre things - especially in the food department. Fortunately we are both quite open to trying new & different things. During the trip we stayed in all sorts of accommodation from 5 star opulent luxury, to very basic "guest houses" which were little more than grass huts way up in the mountains in areas not frequented by tourists.
Late on the second last day of the trip, we were on the last leg back into Hanoi to catch the flight home to Australia, the following afternoon. We were way off the beaten track well up in the mountains staying in a very small town not frequented by tourists. We'd visited many markets throughout the trip, and have many tails to tell of those experiences alone. This particular market caught us by complete surprise. To look at it was just like all the others, yet had a completely different atmosphere. I couldn't put my finger on it at the time, and even now I struggle to make any sense of it. For a start the wares all seemed much older, and strikingly more authentic. I'd collected some really beautiful pieces already on the trip, and was starting to wonder how we were going to get it all home.
Julie has a real jewellery fetish, especially for something really different. Anyway the booths at this market were ancient, with oil lamps. Electric lighting was almost non-existent, as were all electrical appliances come to think of it. There were practically no other Europeans at all in this part of the world. The air was thick with a menagerie of aromas produced from the many stalls selling cooked food for the evening meal. Here in the tropics there isn't much twilight, and it had gotten dark pretty quickly. We were just wondering around the area eating anything that looked interesting, it all smelt great. We were wondering how we were going to survive on the Western cuisine once we got home.
Julie wondered into this booth and that, each time greeted enthusiastically by the merchant. They couldn't speak much English, and as through most of the out of the way places on this trip, the bartering was performed with chalk and blackboards (or a calculator at times) with the vendor and purchaser taking turns to write down a price until an agreement was reached. The Aussie dollar was very strong compared to the Dong, and we were able to pick up any manner of trinket for just a few dollars. These markets seemed a little more expensive than all the others, but we simply put it down to the possible authenticity of the items for sale. Still they were quite reasonably priced when using western currency.
It was one particular booth, right at the edge on the maze of streets that really caught Julie's interest. I would get to the point where I would just wait outside with our back packs while Julie would briefly wonder inside. I stood outside this booth for a while then wondered a couple of booths down to check out the food on offer. I bought some "meat on a stick" and stood by waiting for Julie. There was still no sign of her, so I wondered inside to see what the holdup was. Through the front entrance, which was just a tent like all the others, there was a left hand turn that went through the door to a building. I kept going, smiling keenly to the old lady who sat at the door greeting me warmly. The place was full of tables completely covered with all manner of artefacts. Some small, some large, wooden, stone, porcelain, but mostly metal -- bronze.
I was immediately captured by the items on display, and examined many items very closely under the glow of the few oil lamps operating in the room. I went up a flight of dimly lit stairs where I found Julie completely engrossed in a table of rings. They were absolutely beautiful hand crafted bronze, gold, silver, etc. She would reach right up to the back of the table, pick up various pieces look at them for a while, then place them back exactly how she had found them. There was a very old gentleman sitting on a stool behind the table, and each time Julie examined an item he would say a barely understandable "welly nic, yu by, yu by". Apart from Julie, the old man and I there was no one else in the upstairs room and a few tables of wares with an empty stool behind each one.
When Julie moved onto the next table the old man simply stood and walked around the back to sit on the stool at that one -- all very amusing. This table was right in the very dimly lit corner of the room. At first glance it looked just like any other table in the building. There were some small hand carved wooden boxes at the back of the table, some were very intricate while others were simple, but most of them quite dark with age. Some boxes had the lid open or removed and others were shut with boxes stacked up on top of them. The reaction from the old man changed when Julie started reaching to the boxes at the very back, amongst the old Buddas, carvings and things. A strange look came over his face, not quite of fear - more of apprehension. He would make a strange, guttural sound as each box was opened and the contents examined by Julie.
Julie called me over, and inside the boxes were different pieces of jewellery, necklaces, bracelets and rings. She found the reaction from the old man to be somewhat intriguing, bordering on disturbing. But Julie's reaction was nothing but desire and admiration. The jewellery was exquisite. She was getting that look in her eye, the one I knew all too well. She reached over the table moved a few items out of the way and picked up a small, very dark simple looking box that had some ancient symbols carved on it. The old man just sat there with a stone look on his face, not making a sound and not moving. Julie carefully opened the lid and inside was a silk pouch. She placed the box gently on the table in front of her, and untied the simple knot on the string of the pouch. She delicately reached into the pouch with slender fingers and pulled out a gorgeous little ring. She moved to the side to get a closer look at it under the oil lamp suspended from the ceiling, and let out a barely audible gasp.
She handled the ring as expertly as any professional aficionado. She still had the pouch in her hand and reached inside again and pulled out a similar yet larger ring, took one look at it, let out another gasp and handed it to me. Now I am an admirer of all things of beauty, and this ring even impressed me. It was clearly larger than the first, and it didn't take me long to work out that the rings were a matching pair -- one for him and one for her. I kept glancing at the old man who was now shifting nervously on the stool, no longer making any eye contact with us. Julie asked him how much and he just ignored her. She moved a bit to be in the direction he was looking and asked again very quietly one of the few simple phrases of Lao that we had learnt -- "thao dai". He whispered something we could barely hear, let alone understand. Julie looked around the room and walked across the room and grabbed a small blackboard and rag that was on one of the other tables.
She returned and handed it to the old man, who reluctantly took it from her. He rubbed out the numbers that were on there from a previous sale, and slowly wrote 3M, which we had learnt meant 3million Kip -- or about 400 Australian Dollars. I raised my eyebrows and Julie just smiled, took the board and rag, and wrote 1M. He waved his hands and shook his head saying "Baw, Baw" -- no no. This was not the reaction either of us expected, Julie pushed the board towards him, and he wrote 2.8 - $380AUD. Julie was now handling both the rings with that look in her eye. I knew this was going to end with us having a beautiful pair of matching rings, and the single largest transaction of the whole trip. Even a night in the 5 star hotel hadn't cost this much.
I just said "It's completely up to you Julie, they are really beautiful." She put the smaller one on one of her fingers and placed the larger on one of mine, they fitted perfectly. So a few moments later she nodded at a negotiated price of a little over $350. The old man yelled out over his shoulder and a young girl in her late teens suddenly appeared out of nowhere. She came over and had a brief exchange with the old merchant, while looking us up and down. She grunted a few times and said in very hard to understand broken English and pointing at both of us, "yu bi carlful, welly welly carlful. Yu ray down to kiss, yu ray down to kiss with ling on and off". Julie and I just looked at each other, not understanding what she meant. We persevered, but she just kept repeating herself. We took a while but worked out what we thought she was saying and repeated it to her, even though it made no sense to us. "We lie down and kiss with these?"
"Yes, Yes, Yes -- on off on off" she kept nodding. Julie put the rings back into the pouch and then the box and closed the lid. The old man placed the box on a pile of brown paper and wrapped the box in front of us as Julie held out the cash. He said nothing as the transaction completed. Julie said "Khawp Jai -- Sohk Dee Der" -- thankyou and goodbye, and we walked slowly down the stairs and out onto the street. I was in a bit of a daze. We wondered around aimlessly for about an hour longer without significant incident, and eventually got our bearings and headed back to our simple accommodation. We were absolutely worn out as we were at the end of every day on this trip. While I was in the bathroom, Julie had packed our few purchases of the day into one of her bags in preparation of the trip out in the morning.
We showered and fell into bed and sleep without much conversation. The next morning we started the journey out of the mountains back to Hanoi. We got there with plenty of time to catch our flights home. We had a few hours at the airport in Singapore, where we just relaxed in the familiar western surroundings. As much as we both love travelling, it is always such a relief to read signs and speak in English. We arrived home the next morning - Sunday, on the red eye, greeted eagerly at the airport by our two wonderful children. Julie's Father dropped us all home, and we unpacked in front of the children who kept asking all sorts of questions while we handed them trinket after trinket. They looked at everything with abandoned curiosity.
Monday morning we both reluctantly went back to work. A few nights later after the children had gone to bed, Julie was sitting with me in the lounge with a couple of bags going through the souvenirs we had returned with. I asked about the rings, and she said they were safely in her jewellery box -- which is more like a whole room in itself. I said that we should put them on, and with that she untangled herself from the items we had been looking at and walked off to the bedroom. I had had the thought of these rings constantly in my head for the days since we had bought them. I had also gotten a very strange feeling when we showed them to the children -- nothing concerning, just different. I could not describe (even now) the feelings that came over me when I thought about them.
Julie returned a couple of moments later with the box, and sat down close to me on the couch. I hadn't seen the rings since we showed the children on our return the other day. As Julie handed me the box, I made a comment about feeling weird and opened the box. Julie just looked deep into me with her eyes wide open, and said "Yeah, I got a weird feeling the moment I touched the box back where we bought them. In fact I wasn't really interested in this box I was just moving it aside to get at something else and as soon as I touched it, I can't tell you why I just had to open it."
I had simply attributed my feelings to the bizarre experience of buying the rings. I untied the string, and upended the pouch, dropping the rings into the palm of my hand. I took the small one, and pushed it onto Julie's finger and then the large one onto one of mine. They really were wonderful -- and I could appreciate them even more in the light. "I really like these, and am so glad we bought them. I think we would have regretted not buying them every time we thought of them", I said.
"Me too", Julie said in a sultry voice, still gazing deeply into my eyes. I deeply loved this woman for everything she had done for me, and everything we had experienced together over the years. We were both in our early forties, and both regularly attended the gym. To say we were in excellent shape would be an exaggeration, but we did look pretty good.
"I think we should wear these rings together and often", I said and leaned over and kissed Julie. There was instantly a spark, and Julie suggested we head to bed. I stood up, offered her my hand and helped her up. We walked around the house, turned off a few lights and met up in our bedroom. As Julie came in, she closed the door -- which only happed when we did not want to have one of the children walk in on us. I undressed and fell onto the bed, Julie followed and we were soon embraced. We started rubbing and kissing each other and the passion rose. Julie opened her mouth and our tongues met, I started to go all numb as we continued our foreplay.
Suddenly there were no sounds and I had no sensations at all. Even the dim bedside lamp had disappeared. I had no idea what was happening, all I could think of was the nothingness as consciousness faded. We don't know how much time passed, but I woke up to Julie's stirring. I opened my eyes with a foggy head, as you have when you wake from a deep sleep. I was completely disoriented and waited for my eyes to come into focus. Hearing returned and I was tingling all over as Julies face slowly came into view. I felt her breath on my cheek as she was starting to move and just as I made sense of what I was seeing, I heard a deep groan. I was looking at myself, as my face was pulling away from me and started sitting up. I heard my voice say what the hell is happening -- only it wasn't me saying it. There was a look of terror on the face I was staring at, my face. I instinctively reached forward and grabbed the hand coming towards me and that is when I saw my hand, it was smaller and more slender. I was struggling to sit up now and with my head still spinning my panicked voice was repeating, "What is happening, what the hell is happening to me?" I looked around, and as I looked down I immediately saw two lumps and froze. I pulled my hands to my chest and cupped a breast in each hand. My jaw dropped and I looked straight into my eyes, just as I do when I look in the mirror. Only this time it was different. There was a look of terror on my face, and there was no mirror!
I stood up and took a step towards the bedroom light. As I did I fell against the wall hitting hard with my shoulder, I was really panicking now, and reached up for the light switch. I struggled to my feet, only to fall through the door into the ensuite landing hard on the counter. I paused and reached out to flick the light on over the sink. All the while my voice kept whaling, only I wasn't saying anything. I lifted my head to the mirror and looked right into Julie's eyes. Now I had joined in the chorus of "what the hell if going on?" I took some deep breaths as the breasts in the mirror before me rose and fell. I looked through the doorway at myself still sitting on the bed. "Calm down" I said, almost yelling, only this time I heard it was Julie saying it.
Propped with two hands on the counter the dizziness was fading. I dropped my head and looked further down, and I was looking down Julie's waist and legs. "Seriously, what the hell is going on?" I heard my voice say as I looked at me starting to stand up. I watched as I came towards me, only I wasn't moving. I saw my arms reaching out as I overbalanced and was struck around the shoulders by a huge weight that threatened to drive me through the glass shower door. Somehow I managed to stay on me feet and keep that body, my body, from pushing me over.
"Calm down" I said, "Calm down. We had better lay down again". We managed to stagger the few steps back to the bed, and we just both fell onto it.
I rolled over and staring up at the ceiling dazzled by the light, I heard my terrified voice say, "I'm you, and you're me!"
"Ahhhhhh", I said as things started to become clear.
"The rings", my voice, Julie said.
"Quick, take them off I said". We pulled the rings off and dropped them on the bedside tables and just laid there panting.
After a while "Lay down and kiss, on and off" suddenly came out of my mouth in Julies voice. We rolled together and kissed, which really felt strange as the sharp stubble rubbed against the outside of my mouth. Everything went blank again. Nothing.
Consciousness returned to the sound of chirping birds. I opened my eyes and sat up. Julie was still asleep beside me as I stood and turned off the bedroom light as daylight was streaming in the window. That's strange I thought as I walked to the toilet, why would the light be on? I sat down and that is when it hit me. I remembered the strangest dream I had. It seemed so vivid. Just then Julie appeared at the door and asked "What the hell happened last night? My shoulder is so sore". That is the moment I realised it was no dream. It was somehow real.
Over the next few weeks, while alone, all we could talk about was trying to make sense of what had happened. Right at the beginning, we agreed to work it out together, and not mention a word of it to anyone. Apart from the one track conversations between us, life had returned to our normal routine of a working couple with teenage children at school. We had discussed at length, argued and even yelled at each other while trying to explain our unimaginable experience. We were able to agree that it was caused by the rings, but how it occurred we were at a loss. The rings were now safely locked in the safe downstairs in the study, and Julies shoulder was feeling all better.
It was a Saturday evening some time weeks later that I suggested we go and look at the rings. Maybe there was some clue inscribed in the intricate pattern on them. Julie agreed that after the children were asleep we would check it out. Dinner followed by a bit of TV, and then Julie went to check on the children and returned saying they were both fast asleep. She reached out to my hand and asked me to accompany her downstairs. As we went down the stairs, she said she had not been near the safe since we locked the rings in there. I agreed that I had also not opened it. We went into the study together and Julie watched with some in trepidation as I dialled the combination lock. I looked at her, swallowed, took a deep breath and twisted the handle to open the door. As I reached in and pulled out the box, I was overcome with that feeling again. Only this time it was more pleasant than weird. I handed it to Julie and she reluctantly took it from me.