Even his wife called him Mr. Tran.
Everywhere he went, people treated Mr. Tran formally.
His upright stance, due to a titanium rod straightening his spine to “cure” scoliosis, gave everyone the impression he was a prim and proper citizen.
But Lym loved to have a good time, untie his man bun and let loose with his small circle of table tennis friends.
He lived for table tennis, studied table tennis videos online and often snuck away from his family for a quick practice session with his table tennis master.
His children knew nothing of his table tennis prowess.
His wife made excuses for his absence, quietly attempting to swallow her pain and accept her secondary status.
Until one night when she’d had enough.
Their two children were a blessing, the firstborn, Meilin, a ten-year old girl excelling in mathematics, their secondborn, Fu, a eight-year old son with autism who had developed a painting style of his own that sold well online.
Fu’s autism meant that he obsessed about topics. When he was sick, he yelled and cried out to a strange Norse god for healing, scaring the neighbours. Only Fu’s father, Mr. Tran, understood the foreign language and could say the words to calm his son.
Fu had a raging fever for hours.
But Mr. Tran left the house for a midweek table tennis tournament, expected to be gone for hours.
Mrs. Tran could no longer accept her secondary status, dragging her kids with to her mother’s flat in the same building, then heading to the tournament, where she quietly insisted Mr. Tran go back with her.
They rode in silence, unwilling to embarrass themselves publicly.
Back at the flat, Mrs. Tran served Mr. Tran a formal setting of tea.
“I don’t know how much this can go on. We are supposed to be equals but you treat me as if I almost don’t exist. I am worth less to you than this teapot.”
Mr. Tran looked at the tea leaves suspended in his cup.
“You are my wife. You are my foundation.”
“That’s what you say everytime we have this discussion. Your ‘foundation’ is falling apart. You walk all over me like a bamboo mat in yoga class.” Tears streamed down her face, splashing on the mobile phone screen, turning into tiny magnifying lenses, highlighting an image of the Tran family on holiday.
Mr. Tran stood up. “I do not have to explain myself. I do not ask what you do or with whom when I am not here.”
Mrs. Tran cried. “You…don’t…understa-a-a-nd!”
Mr. Tran walked around the table and squeezed Mrs. Tran’s shoulders. “You are right. I do not understand.”
She leaned her head back, pressing against his hands. “You act as if you don’t love me. Do you want to have a divorce?”
Mr. Tran stopped rubbing his wife’s knotted muscles and turned away. He did not want his wife to see a small tear well up in his right eye.
Table tennis validated Mr. Tran’s male ego in a way that a normal family with normal, everyday problems no longer provided.
His local fame as a midlevel table tennis star had attracted a small fan following.
He enjoyed playing in tournaments, glancing at the crowd cheering him on, looking at the faces of fans who adored him, taking smiling selfies after a big win or posing in mock dejection after a tough loss.
Mrs. Tran did not like crowds. Each day, she returned from her job designing IoT devices to greet her kids at home, feed them snacks and then exercise alone to streaming yoga videos, expecting another broken promise from her husband to be home in time for dinner with the family.
He turned around and looked at his wife bowed over the table.
“Do I want a divorce? I don’t know.”
Mrs. Tran looked up at her husband and smiled. “So you are not planning to divorce me?”
“I don’t know. I…uh…I hadn’t thought that far ahead.”
Mrs. Tran frowned. “But that means you have thought of leaving me, doesn’t it?”
In years of these discussions, Mr. Tran had always argued that he loved her dearly and hadn’t once thought of leaving his beloved wife. He had hit a turning point lately.
“Perhaps. I don’t know for sure.” His thoughts were half in this conversation and half working out a strategy that his master had developed to take advantage of Mr. Tran’s wider hip stance.
His wife saw his unfocused gaze and knew he had left her mentally. She was used to the look. Anything she said, he would forget or ask her to repeat several times.
She sighed resignedly. “Never mind. You have already left me. Divorce won’t change that.”
Mr. Tran looked down at his wife. He had missed what she said. “We need to talk. I am not ready for divorce. But now I need to take a walk.”
He patted her on the back, grabbed his jacket and walked out, thinking he might catch his master for another practice session — they had an important regional tournament to prepare for.