November 11, 2011 was an unforgettable date for Nghi.

Heavy rains and slick roads made driving difficult, yet Nghi’s husband was still willing to drive his wife home from work by motorbike.

Neither suspected that short trip home would change their lives forever.

A lifelong commitment

Prior to that day, Nghi and her husband Cuong had both made a living as factory workers in Binh Chanh District on the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City.

Every evening, the couple would drive home to their rented room together to spend time with their newborn son.

But life changed for Nghi and Cuong on November 11, 2011, when a truck driver lost control amid the torrential downpour and crashed into the couple’s motorbike.

It was not until Nghi was at the hospital that she finally regained consciousness and learned she had lost an entire leg in the crash.

Doctors also told her she had a fractured skull and such severe head trauma that it was a miracle she was still alive.

Fearing her injuries would be nothing but a burden to her husband, Nghi insisted on a divorce.

“She just couldn’t come to terms with her new reality,” Cuong said.

“But the idea of letting go of her never crossed my mind, not even once.

“After all that we’ve been through together, I figured out that I had already put so much effort into convincing her to date and marry me, so why give up now?”

Cuong, the devoted husband, has been by her side ever since.

Ten years on, Cuong, 44, and Nghi, 41, are still struggling to rebuild their lives, but say their love is stronger than ever.

Nghi is able to walk again and the couple now live a ‘nomadic life,’ moving between jobs in Ben Tre Province, Ho Chi Minh City, and Dong Nai Province.

Their son now lives with Cuong’s parents.

Nghi also runs a small hair salon at her rented room on Cach Mang Thang Tam Street in Trang Bom Town, Dong Nai Province, but her already slow business was hit hard during the COVID-19 outbreaks in March and July last year.

She now has plans to sell her shop and relocate to a place with more affordable rent.

Nguyen Thi Mong Nghi, with long scars on her arm from the gruesome accident in November 2011, rehearses a popular piece for a cabaret with her husband sitting by her side. Photo: Hoang Tung / Tuoi Tre

Nguyen Thi Mong Nghi, with long scars on her arm from a gruesome road crash in November 2011, rehearses a popular piece for a cabaret with her husband sitting by her side. Photo: Hoang Tung / Tuoi Tre

Relocating is nothing new for Nghi and Cuong.

Following the accident, the couple moved in with Nghi’s older sister in Binh Chanh District, where Nghi supported the family by playing keyboard at parties and cabarets.

Eventually, Nghi ran out of offers for gigs and was forced to move to Dong Nai.

“We’re like nomads,” Cuong said.

“We go where we can earn money,”

To supplement his family’s income, Cuong does odd jobs around town, including construction work and scrap dealing.

At night, he joins his wife for her keyboard gigs.

“It’s such a grind, but what keeps us moving forward is our son,” Cuong shared.

“We’re trying to save up to make a fresh start back in our hometown so we can be reunited with our son.

“It’s really hard being unable to see him grow up.”

A blessing in disguise

While COVID-19 has led to a drop in keyboard gigs and hairdressing customers, Nghi’s confidence is growing as she slowly learns to overcome her disability.  

“Being alive is everything to me,” Nghi smiled.

“I’m still more fortunate than many because my husband is always by my side.

“We may live in poverty but at least we are together.”

Occasionally, the couple visit Nghi’s older sister, Nguyen Thi Hang, on their way to and from performances in Ho Chi Minh City.

Hang, a witness to the couple’s decade-long struggle to build back after the accident, said the disturbing memory of her sister in the hospital still sends chills down her spine.  

“My sister and her husband were tossed onto the street,” she said. 

“The rain was so heavy that pedestrians had to tie a rope to themselves just to keep from getting washed away while crossing the street.

“I think the accident was caused by poor visibility.”

Nguyen Thi Hai, Hang’s 85-year-old mother-in-law, has also been a major source of support for Nghi and Cuong.

In fact, it was Hai’s son who first suggested that Nghi take up keyboard as a way to rehabilitate her arms.

Now, after several years of practice, Nghi earns VND250,000 (US$10.8) from each weekend performance and double that amount for large events.

Despite barely being able to put food on the table, Nghi and Cuong still cherish their time together and shower each other with affection.

“There’s still a steel pin [in his shoulder],” Nghi said.

“Instead of having it removed six months after the initial surgery, he decided to keep it in so we could save money and pay for my surgeries.”

“I’ll have it removed once we can afford a set of musical instruments,” Cuong said, trying to comfort his wife.

He called the plan to buy new instruments a ‘project’ which they have worked on for five years now.

Finishing the ‘project’ is merely the next step in their happily-ever-after story.

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