Le Thi Kim Ngan intended to raise her kids by herself after her marriage failed until she met and fell in love with another burn survivor.
Ngan, 35, awoke early in the morning to find Nguyen Van Minh, 33, cooking in the kitchen in their small house in HCMC’s Cu Chi District.
After breakfast she got ready to open the store where she sells medicated oil and stitches clothes.
Meanwhile, Minh drove her younger son, a fourth-grader, to school, while her older child rode his bicycle.
She says with a smile: “Minh and the boys are in charge of all housework. I often joke that it takes three men to make a woman happy.”
A new chapter appears to have opened in Ngan and her children’s lives since Minh showed up.
“I used to do everything myself, like I am the man and pillar of the house. But when I’m around him, I act more feminine and childish.”
Four years ago, while suffering from a severe lung disease and being pursued by a creditor for money he lost betting on football, Ngan’s ex-husband burned down their house with gasoline while she and the children were inside.
Certain she would die, she rushed to protect her kids. The children were safe but she suffered 92 percent burns. Waking up in a hospital, she again learned how to stand and walk again.
Le Thi Kim Ngan and her sons stand in front of her store in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo by VnExpress/Diep Phan
Braving stares from strangers, she stepped back into society with her sons as the source of motivation. She sells products online by live streaming with her scarred face. She even relocated to HCMC from her hometown in the central Phu Yen Province to escape the past and open a tailoring shop at home.
Meanwhile, many burn survivors have been inspired by her story. She even gives them direct advice and mental support throughout the treatment process.
Minh, who suffered 52 percent burns in a motorcycle fuel tank explosion in 2020, was one of them.
She went to HCMC’s Cho Ray Hospital to see him after learning about his situation on social media, but was unable to meet him the first time. She later paid him a visit to try and encourage him.
Since his knuckles were stiff due to the burns, Minh could not ride a motorcycle and struggled to even feed himself. When a visitor came to the house, he would retreat to his room.
Ngan frequently visited his house and took him to her house to cheer him up after noticing how he closed and stayed behind his door.
“I was surprised that Ngan had been badly burned but was very confident, optimistic and cheerful,” the former watercolor painter recalls.
He would take a motorbike taxi from his house to Ngan’s shop on occasion to play with and take care of her children while she was away.
They once drove a friend, also a burn survivor, to a hospital for surgery. Ngan lingered to speak with one of the patient’s family members. Minh too sat there waiting for her instead of returning home.
“Why are you still here? Why haven’t you returned home yet?” she asked Minh.
He just smiled and sat there for two hours, saying nothing while waiting for her.
“At the time, I knew I loved Ngan, but I didn’t dare say it because I couldn’t even take care of myself,” he says.
Ngan thought of him as a younger brother and even tried to introduce him to a woman. She always encouraged him to exercise so that his joints regained full function and to take the initiative in life rather than sit and do nothing.
Ngan and her two sons returned to their hometown Phu Yen after Covid-19 broke out in HCMC.
They came back to the city during the 2022 Lunar New Year after the epidemic had subsided because she wanted to reopen her shop.
“I did not return to HCMC because of Minh though I knew he had feelings for me,” she says.
Minh helped them clean and fix the tailor shop.
When Ngan got on the motorbike to go to the market, he said, “Let me drive.”
“But you can’t drive yet!”
“It’s fine, I’ll drive!”
He grabbed the steering wheel and drove her to the market.
Because he wanted to visit her more often, he practiced cooking and asked a friend to teach him how to ride a motorcycle for two months.
Though less severely burned than her, he has only the two middle fingers left in his right hand while the rest are stubs. As a result of not using them right away, the joints in his arms and legs had become stiff, causing numbness when holding the handlebars.
Minh can cook simple meals, but has to use his non-dominant left hand.
People with burns sometimes have difficulty standing for long periods of time and sweat profusely. But because he wants to take the initiative and help someone he cares about, he practices every day.
“I was really moved the moment I sat in the back of the motorbike and realized he had changed because of me,” she says.
They went to the market that day to buy ingredients for her favorite dish, sour soup. Minh made the meal himself, taking Ngan from one surprise to the next.
Despite the fact that neither of them said anything about love after the meal, they became a couple.
Ngan and Nguyen Van Minh in front of their house in HCMC’s Cu Chi District in May 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Diep Phan
His family is strongly opposed to his dating a divorced woman with two children.
But Minh is clear that she is the one he loves and says it does not matter if she has two or 10 children.
They moved in together in early May. Minh recently appeared on Ngan’s sales livestream. Every day he picks up the kids for her to share the burden with the one he loves.
“He too lost his mother when he was 13,” she explains.
“After much suffering, I have finally found someone who loves and cares for me.”
Bich Lien, Ngan’s twin sister and a disabled single mother herself, says she was overjoyed when her sister found a man after going through seemingly insurmountable experiences.
She says: “Minh accepts that he is the father of Ngan’s sons. He does not want to have any more because he wants to devote himself to his two children. I am overjoyed and admire their love.”
Minh’s wish is to make a better life for himself and for Ngan. He intends to throw a small party next year to announce the two of them as a couple.
“Ngan and I have different pasts but came together as a result of love.”
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