Thanhnien Daily, March 29, 2009.
(Bản Anh ngữ của Thanh niên, dịch từ truyện ngắn “Bay đi những cơn mưa”
10 p.m. October. Kate season. Every Kate, it rains, persistently. God seems to overflow. Rain from the tile roof dripped into the porch. The croaking of bull-frogs from the bushes resounded in the house. From afar, the sound of insects. Nearby, the sound of the rain. Switching on the neon light, I half lay down on the sofa, looking out at the night sky through the slightly opened window, listening to the rain fall. Though the door was shut tight, the excited conversations of the men toasting in the main room pierced through the planks, trying to drown out the voices of insects and the rain.
Afternoon. My husband’s brothers from the adjacent village dropped in. They drank. It was Kate season after all! I’d also taken a three-day leave from the hospital to celebrate Kate, or more accurately, to serve husband and kids and friends from all around flocking in to celebrate Kate. My husband was the vice director at the province’s accounting department so he had quite a few friends. The Kate had gone on for two days. Everything would end tomorrow. Like the friend working with me at the hospital often says, here comes the anti-climax. Tonight was reserved for family, but it didn’t mean we wouldn’t be up all night.
My husband’s younger brother had graduated with a bachelor’s degree in economics from Saigon. I heard my husband’s family didn’t want to have the graduation party during Kate but wanted to throw a big one afterwards to celebrate his degree. Perhaps next month. The kid protested with all his might and declared that the policy of thrift must be carried out from the grassroots up. Save in order to re-expand, he said.
Now he was talking about some macroeconomic or microeconomic stuff I coundn’t understand. He was talking about jount ventures, multinational corporations, the future of the stock market, intergration. Passionately. My husband kept quiet, once in a while chiming in with: Cheers first!
Perhaps nobody protested, because I heared the kid’s ringing laugh. I remembered a friend of mine in college who once remarked that we might lose to one or two nations when it comes to drinking, but as far as giving speeches and drawing plans over the wine went, we are number one.
I remembered my husband was exactly like his brother during our courtship. The same enthusiam, thoughtlessness and innocence. If there was a difference, it might be the speeches. Then he talked about rural industrianlization and eletrification, prioritizing heavy industries, etc, etc. I can’t remember everything. It was so long ago. When we’d had two kids, he started to talk about VAC. He practiced what he preached. He managed to get some money from i-don’t-know-who to build twenty cemented pigsties, digging a whole twelve rods of land for a fish pond, only to let water spinach grow wild there. The pigsties had just recently been used to raise three, and later only two sows. The sows were healthy but seemed bent on following the state’s call for limited prenancies. These days, he only commented on past feasts and made plans for upcoming ones. If my poet friend were here, he would call it the degradation of dreams.
* Ngó chi vậy, hở? – Photo Inrajaya.
Poor guy! Two Kate’s had passed without him. I heared he had dragged his family to the city. Some said he had been taken in by a noveau riche friend, others said he got a lot of money from publishing poetry in newspapers in Saigon. But it was unbelievable that poetry in this age could feed one wife and three brats. And he was someone who would never leave his sons uneducated. If he were doing well, he would have returned for Kate. People prospering elsewhere kept coming back. But he… I didnt want to think about it anymore. It felt like a raw wound rubbed with salt.
I don’t remember that there was any special feeling between us. We were too close to tell one emotion from another. We had been in the same class since childhood. After high school, I went to medical school, and he, a general univeristy. Half way through the second year, he suddenly went home and declared that a genius must not let anybody teach him. Of course he was brilliant in college, but without a degree, nobody would listen to him. He stared into my eyes and sneered, so you think a poet needs a PhD? He then singed his name on a poetry collection he wrote on a notebook and gave it to me. An epic, he said.
One year went by and out of the blue I received ten long letters in a row from him. Hundreds of pages of ambitions, dreams, short and long term plans. He said he had discoverd that the Cham people had an excelle nt repertoire of literature, and at the pinnacle stood Ariya Glang Anak. He said his mission was to make mankind aware of this great poem. It must have an important place in Vietnamese historic literature. And he, as an outstanding descendent of Glang Anak, would enter the history of Vietnamese literature with giant steps. As for me, he advised me to be an Albert Schweitzer for the Cham people. Honestly, at that time, I had no idea who this man was.
After seven long years, I graduated. I was proud of myself, because I was one of the Cham people’s first female doctors. I would be outstanding. I would cure fatal diseases. I would be a star of the province’s hospital. My husband will also be famous, contributing much to his people. What must come came at last. Through adults arrangements, a year later, I got married. We were quite suited to each other, that is to say, he was also brimming with dreams. Only I was assigned a post at the district hospital instead. It would be fine, I told myself.
And I totally forgot my poet friend of the old days. Several months afterwards he married a woman from his own village, but I didn’t bother to go congratulate them. When my younger sister brought me scores of his poems that had been published in newspapers to prove his talent, I was indifferent. Trivial love poems that don’t have an impact on anybody left alone on half of the world, I thought.
The clock on the wall struck eleven. A black shadow appeared outside the window.
– Get me another jug sister.
I tried to open my eyes to indentify the shadow. He interpreted my silence as an objection, so turned to pleading.
– It’s Kate sister!
Recognizing the future great economist of the country, I said:
– For gentlemen, every season is Kate.
The shadow disappeared. I sat up indolently, opened the door, put on the conical hat and went out into the rain. The liquor shop was four hamlets away from my house. It was pitch dark, so I didn’t put on the sandals to avoid getting them stuck in the mud. Raindrops fell flat on the hat. I heard an immense loneliness. I remembered my poet friend escorting me up and down the tower hill for many Kate’s on end. Once, we got caught in the rain the whole way. By the time we reached home, we were soaked like two mice slipping into a pond. But it felt warm.
Lately, he’d been lying low. The three kids seemed to be pulling him down to the life of hardship of his ancestors. It was still the plough following the buffalo. I didn’t see his poems in newspapers anymore. Luckily, once in a blue moon, he was invited to Phan Rang to pen a few poems in Cham for the school kids. I got used to his not greeting me when we happened to meet on the road. He was forever the same: a gaunt melancholy face, right deep-set-eyes, a hat placed loosely on the head half wanting to say hi, half desisting. Dreams that kept flying away…
I told the liquor lady to put it on credit and put on my hat, ready to leave, a female voice behind my back made me turn around.
– Please check on him Aunty.
– What’s wrong with him?
– Too many Kate sweets?
I scribbled a few words for her to take to the drugstore and took the wine jug into the rain. I was in the same boat as well. There were no serious cases for me to try my talent. Emergency cases were either transferred to another hospital or taken to Phan Thiet by patients’ relatives. Day after day, I prescribed pills for headaches and stomachaches for villagers whose names I knew by heart. I also cured lanced boils and fixed displaced joints. Graduating with a good degree in internal medicine, I became a general medicine doctor I-knew-not-when.
Entering the house, I put the jug lightly in front of my brother-in-law and silently went into my room. I suddenly missed my poet friend, hearing sadness as this Kate went by without his familiar thin figure. In the afternoon, my sister told me Cham literature textbooks were about to be amended so he might return. I don’t now if she was talking to me or herself because between her and me, she seemed to be closer to him in recent years.
The clock struck twelve. Slowly and evenly. Then, I didn’t know after how long, it struck another dry chiming sound. My husband’s drawling voice echoed from the outer room:
– Every man save himself!
Another voice followed:
– And if you can’t save yourself, don’t worry, I’ll save you!
The cock began crowing intermittently in the hamlet. It was muffled by the sound of the rain. When will this end? I muttered, the words bursting out from my throat like sobs. Subdenly, I yearned to hear a poem, even one for a child.