by Y. Ban
In life, I had been beaten black and blue. I was in great pain without understanding why I had been hated so much. I aspired to live on, so I could not die. I crouched in the corner of the house, hiding myself. My two hands were covering my head; my two legs were drawn up to my chest. I curled up. I tried to repress all the thoughts that were trying to emerge in my head.
Do take revenge, do take revenge and do take revenge, I thought. I saw a bald head with a few strands of black hair over a layer of white hair. I saw two female legs under a tattered skirt. I saw a face in pain from a heart attack. I was fully satisfied with it. My two hands left my head. My two legs stretched out. Many ideas cropped up in my head.
I had an impious brother who had been roaming with the vagabonds. He had often taken them to the house. I had often cooked meals for them. When they sat there, eating, they looked as lovely as honest people. I had many times cried, looking at them. I did not intend to influence them with these meals. But I knew that if I needed to take revenge on somebody, they would rush to my help, not fearing for their lives.
Do take revenge, do take revenge and do take revenge… The thought kept going through my head, aided by some appropriate music. The first person I met while this thought was going through my head was a limping man on a pair of crutches. He smiled at me, disclosing teeth being worn away to the gum. He was mumbling that he was getting bored to death, getting bored to death. He disappeared out of sight. A weird thing had crept into my head.
He was a husband and a father who was very proper with his wife and children. He worked as a guard in an office. He was diligent. He collected all the old newspapers for his children to read. He told his children many stories about morality and good ways to study. He saved all his money to support his children's education. When they were still small, his children were very good. They were like the angels. He pooled all his efforts and energy to teach them how to become good citizens. Yet, when they grew up, they were not good and wise enough. They had not learned good things. They had only learned bad things.
The older sister fell in love, while her younger brother played games online all the time. The man fell ill, but cured his disease with alcohol. I had seen clearly the scene when he lay on his wife's bony arm to spit blood. His wife cried her heart out: "Do die now to relieve of the burden of life!" No, he was yet to die! Only a moment later, he was seen sitting in front of the house, mumbling: that he was bored to death, bored to death! And then, he continued to drink alcohol. He said to his wife: "Don't expect me to die before your children do! I will live on to see them die, you know!" I saw him again in painful heart attack.
The second person I met was a woman. It was an old woman who was at the point of death! Her two hands were holding a small pot of sugar. Her lips were dried. She was gasping, "I'm hungry; I'm thirsty." I wanted to help her. I went to fetch some water for her. I intended to get some sugar from the pot she was holding, as I thought that her hunger and thirst could be quenched to some extent if she could have some water with sugar. I was about to take some sugar from her pot. I became startled when she scratched my hand. Then she roared: "You, the robber!" Her eyes were flashing like a hawk. "No, I saw that you were hungry and thirsty; so I want to make some sugar water for you, that's it!" I explained in fear. The woman fell into a delirium, mumbling: "I'm hungry! I'm thirsty!"
"Let me make you some water with sugar!"
"No, if I drink it all, I'll die of hunger tomorrow!" The woman was speaking in gasps.
"But you are so weak now. Please drink a little!"
"Oh, God! I'm so hungry and thirsty!" The woman had fallen into a delirium again, but her hands were still holding firmly the pot of sugar. She had held it for many days now. She was in great fear that she would die of hunger. She thought that if she got old and weak, she could not be able to cook for herself, sugar could help her fight the hunger. Yet, she tried to abstain from drinking sugar because she had bought only one pot of it!
The woman used to be very beautiful. Long ago, when hunger lurked the countryside, there appeared a beautiful girl. Her beauty was spoken of far and near. A rich man came a lot of rice to buy the beauty. Her parents had to part with her in tears just in the hope that their daughter would have a happy life. In the end of the day, their daughter had to be a concubine because the rich man had a wife. The first wife became jealous and beat the girl black and blue.
The rich man had to build a three-compartment house for his concubine in the middle of the field. She was young and beautiful, so the rich man stayed in the field all day long. After that, she gave birth to three good-looking sons, while his first wife had only daughters. Having been abandoned, the first wife began to plot. All the rice and money were in her hands and the husband was, in effect, empty handed, so he tried to butter her up. As a result, the first wife decided that in a week, he had to live with her for three days and one day with his concubine. The rich man found it time to abandon his concubine and his three sons. He started to hunt young country girls.
The concubine had become used to being pampered, so now she began to bear a grudge. She lay there for long nights waiting for him. Hatred choked her throat. She burned the house with three sons inside and left to the south. She had joined a band of immigrants to Laos and then to Thailand. In Thailand, she married a kind man and gave birth to good children. Her family got enough to eat. One day, she disappeared. She did not take anything, even money. She had brought along only one pot of sugar.
She returned to the former rice field and set up a hut there. Nobody could remember her and she did not ask them about the fire that had happened a long time before in the same field. She earned her living by putting her hands under the water to catch crabs and shellfish. Yet, it was strange that she lived quite long. When I saw her holding the pot of sugar, groaning for hunger and thirst, she was already 90.
Leaving the hut where the old woman was holding a pot of sugar, I went on to another dark and musty room filled with a stinking smell. The room was so dark that I could not see anybody inside. Only the voices of two women were heard. "Please pardon it. If you do, you will also receive a pardon. Do you get me? You cannot discharge the crime on it only!"
"I cannot give pardon to it, sister! Do you want me to die? If you won't help me, I'll die, sister! I have to take revenge! Do help me, sister or I'll die"
"It is so criminal to do it, sister! If it is not possible to be a man, let it go back to the earth! Please, don't ill treat it"
"You see, I am a girl, but I cannot live and cannot die either! So why don't you show any pity to me, while you show your pity to this child in the womb?"
"It is no longer the child in the womb. It has become a shape of a man."
"If you won't help me, I'll bite my tongue and die!"
"Ok. I'll help you! I'll help you!"
I saw a white bottle and inside there was the shape of a man with all limbs, a face and a penis as small as a grain of sesame. The white bottle was placed in a box with a red bow tie which was to be sent to a man. I could not be able to witness how that man received the gift. In that dark room, I still could not see the faces of two women. I only heard their voices:
"Have you sent the bottle yet?"
"Did he give any answer?"
"Have you sent the bottle yet?"
"Have you sent it?"
I did not hear their voices any more.
I had gone through the mirrors to my time. I found those thugs who had beaten me black and blue were now sitting around a tray full of delicacies. It was so strange that they were sitting before these good foods, but they looked uncomfortable. They bore murderous appearances. They sat there without touching any food. They left the food to get stale gradually with a blase attitude. Then their voices were heard:
"I hate him terribly. I have only six months to go before I retire. Yet, he has upset my plan. I will risk my death because of him, you know! Retirement means death, you see."
"He has upset my lucrative plan, so how can I spare his life?"
"I love my boss, yes, but it is my own business. Even I am married, why have I committed the crime of loving my boss? I hate him because he has meddled with my private life!" A woman's voice spoke gently.
"What about me? Whenever I see his face on television, I lose my temper immediately, you know! I show him venomous hatred! Hatred has choked my throat" The shrieking voice of a woman was heard.
"Now, more drink now! Let's bottom up for our animosity! If you have hatred against them, do kill them. Mr Cho, you've got some vagabonds, so go and get them here!"
The word "vagabond" was like a hammer beating my head, awakening me out of animosity. I lay on the bed, sweating and trembling! Vagabonds? Who were they? It was me who was looking for justice, but I could not see it. I, like these people, had found an excuse to rely on these vagabonds to nurture confidence and hope that they would punish crime. What these people were going to do was to take revenge. My taking revenge was because I had seen crimes being committed.
These people took revenge because they thought they were combating crimes. But it was not true. They took bribes; they greased palms to get profits; they became corrupted. They did not do transparent business! But they thought they were honest people and those people who were opposing them were thought to have committed crimes!
Having gone through animosity, I suddenly understood it very clearly. But I am still at a loss what crime should be punished.
I was in great fear. I crouched in the corner of the house with my two hands covering my head and my two legs drawn up to my chest. The telephone was ringing uninterruptedly. I uttered gasps:
"What's the matter with you?" - My impious brother asked me in a scary voice. "What's wrong with you, sister? Are you ill?"
"Vagabonds!" I said in gasps and could not understand what I was saying.
"What's the matter with you, sister?" Who is the vagabond?"
"Vagabonds" I gasped it out again.
"Sister, are you saying that I am a vagabond? No, I am a good boy now! Your brother has done good things these months. You know, dishonest people cannot exist for a long time! Being an honest person is happy, my sister! But honest people often sustain a loss. I am no longer a rascal or a rogue. My friends who used to be the vagabonds are now becoming honest people, my dear sister! Can I take them to your house one day and let you cook them some food? Done? Take care of yourself, sister!"
I felt sleepy. but I tried to stay awake because I was scared I would fall into animosity again. But I could not. I again became engulfed in the crazy revelry of animosity!
Translated by Manh Chuong