The Second Wife
This is a work of nonfiction. No characters were invented. No events were fabricated. The names have been changed to protect the identity of the people.
In 2013, a relative of mine from Laos came to stay at our home in Wisconsin for a day. As a shaman, Meng was born and raised in the art of healing and the traditional Hmong culture and practices. And being in his 70s, Meng had many stories to tell.
In the late 90s, Long married a widow, Pa, as a second wife; they were both in their late forties. Throughout their five years of marriage, Pa was always getting sick and their village in the mountain was far from cities or hospitals.
One day in 2001 during the rainy season, Long and his second wife were at their farm working among the corn, yams, and rice fields. They had a bamboo hut with two floors. The first floor was raised from the ground in case of flooding and had a few steps leading to the front door. There were also stairs leading up to the second floor, which had a bedroom and a small attic space for storage. Long and Pa hid from the rain on the first floor, and built a small fire to roast yams.
Pa wasn’t feeling well that day. She said an odd thing to Long, “Husband, your first wife doesn’t ever come out to the farm with you. If I get better, I’ll come back with you to work the farm. If I don’t get better, do not spend the night at the farm, no one will be here to keep you company.”
Though it saddened him, Long did not think much of what his second wife said or wondered why she would say such things. They returned home that day and Pa passed away in the evening.
Days after Pa's burial, Long returned to work on the farm. It was late in the evening when he decided to take a break from tilling weeds. He built a fire inside the bamboo hut near the front door. Then he broke a yam into two pieces and set them on a log over the fire. He felt lonely and said out loud, “If my second wife is here, she’ll eat one and I’ll eat one.”
Moments later, there were noises coming from outside the hut. It sounded like stomping. Startled and scared of the unknown noises, Long grabbed the hot yams, put them in his shirt, and ran upstairs to the second floor of the hut. He dashed into the bedroom and quickly shut the door. The movements of someone or something entered the hut and climbed the steps in a sloppy manner up to the second floor, which terrified him. Heavy footsteps approached the bedroom and then suddenly stopped right in front of the door.
“Second wife! I know it’s you!” shouted Long, attempting to sound angry when he was really panicking. “If you want to enter, come in!”
The door busted open and a black figure launched at Long, tackling him to the floor. He couldn’t see the attacker’s face while engaging in a brute struggle on the floor. Long was on his back, weakened by the fight. This person or thing, for it was definitely not a person, was crushing him with its weight and choking him at the same time. He managed to hike his leg up between them and kicked the black figure as hard as he could. He heard a loud thud outside the bedroom door, followed by crawling that sounded like hefty dragging down the steps to the first floor. Then it was silent.
Long’s lips were shaking uncontrollability. He remained on the wooden floor of the bedroom in a cold sweat induced by fear, unable to move. He stayed in that position until sunrise.
The next morning, Long gathered the strength and courage to leave the hut. He made the three-hour journey home on foot. He became very ill, stricken with fever and the cold sweat would come and go for days. Long told his family what had happened to him. They were worried for his health and wellbeing, but the way he spoke of death was more concerning. So, his family sent word for help from a shaman residing in a distant town, Meng.
Meng arrived at Long’s village within days. Before starting the ritual to heal Long’s mysterious illness, Meng asked for a live chicken and some household tools. The ritual was normal for the most part, such as burning incense and paper offerings, asking the ancestors for answers, and walking the chicken around the sick person—Long. Toward the end of it, something had spooked the family dog and caused the poor creature to race out the open door where he was suddenly hit by a car. The dog had never acted that way before, and it was a coincidence that a car happened to be driving through their village at that very moment. It shocked the entire family and even got the attention of the shaman.
Meng dashed out of the house and returned with the dead, family pet. He continued the ritual, and the dog was part of it now. We cannot speak of the rest of the ritual, but the elders and shamans say that spirits are fearful of dogs.
Long was healed after that day. He went on to live two more years and then passed away from another mysterious illness.
Art by Bao Xiong