|Illustration by Doã Dung
by Vu Thi Huyen Trang
Dien had a close shave the other day at a railway barrier that ran through the city near her office. The barrier guard was in great fear when he saw the girl appear out of nowhere and stand motionlessly in the middle of the rail. As the train approached, somebody pulled her out and she was yelled at by all the passers-by who had stopped to watch. Someone even told her that if she wanted to die, she had better go home and die there! Only then did Dien come to life. Looking back at the train, she felt a chill run up her spine. She was still wondering why she had done it. She told her friend Vy later that someone had stolen her mind. Vy did not pay attention, as she was busy playing with a tumbler. Vy was always like that. She still liked toys and believed in fairy tales. It was the same thing when her boyfriend Phong left her without saying good-bye. She had phoned him time and again but in vain. Vy thought that Phong was teasing her. So she sat there, removing the layers of the Matrioshka tumbler in the hope that the last layer held an engaged ring. To her amazement, she found the ring there. She put it back, smiling. She thought one day Phong would put the ring on her finger. She would have to leave this room where they had lived together for quite a time. Dien told the story to Vy when Vy had just come home from work. Vy quickly searched the drawer for the Matrioshka tumbler. But it was not there.
Vy said to Dien:
"It seems that at that time, there was a soul there. When the two worlds of yin and yang meet, everything stands still for a moment. You lost your consciousness at that time like a sleepwalker, didn't you?"
"Your guy took away the tumbler, I think. No need to worry about it. If you want another, you can spare the money to buy it!" Dien said.
In her friends' eyes, Dien was always gentle, always calm; she made no noises about what happened. The rail incident was forgotten and she never mentioned it. Her friends were married and had children. When they were happy, they said nothing to her, but when they had any troubles, they came and vented to her. Even when she was very busy, she answered the phone calls from her friends anyway. They told her everything under the sun: about troubles with their fathers-in-law, quarrels with their husbands. Sometimes they signed divorce papers, but at the end of the day, none of them got divorced. Sometimes they phoned her saying they would "rather die" than do some frivolous family thing. She had to hear all these things from her friends day in and day out.
Vy once called her at midnight:
"How many sleeping pills are needed to die, Dien?"
With half-closed eyes, Dien said to her friend:
"Let me calculate… It must take half a small bottle to die. But when you die, you will get convulsions and foam at the mouth and you'll look terrible. Do it another way!"
"Yes, I just asked you, because I haven't bought it. The drug store is at the head of the street. I can die anytime I want!"
The day Vy discovered that she had lost the Matrioshka tumbler, she saw Phong walking hand in hand with a good-looking girl in the supermarket. But Vy could not muster the guts to kill herself. She stayed alone in the room, looking downhearted. She knew now that she was pregnant. Dien was still outside when Vy rang her:
"Do you know which way to die is the least painful, Dien?"
Dien burst out laughing. If Vy wanted to die without pain, she still loved life and she would not die. But Dien felt pity for her friend when she saw Vy raising her finger to look for the ring. She came up, took off her ring and put it on Vy's ring finger.
"If you like the ring, have it. Why does life need to be bound by a ring? People live together, they are bound by marriage, but when the marriage comes to an end, the memories bind them together. It's so tiring to live in that way, Vy! No, throw it away. It isn't worth it!"
One day, Vy came to see Dien and asked if she could help her deal with the embryo inside her. Dien took Vy to a maternity home. They stood at the gate for some time, hesitating, before deciding to go home. Sitting behind Dien, Vy cried her heart out. Dien consoled her friend, saying:
"Just live life one fragment at a time. Don't think about the long road of life ahead. You'll feel bored and fatigued. Nobody dares to die, you know!"
Dien lived alone in a motel room which was humid all year round. The plastic ceiling was quite low. On rainy days, rainwater leaked through the roof into her room. She used adhesive to plug the holes. One night, Vy came to stay with Dien for one night. She was surprised at the way Dien was living, with only two canvas cases to hold her clothes.
Vy felt sad that even though Dien had graduated from university two years ago, her life was still so humble. Dien collapsed onto the bed and turned around, saying:
"It's good to live this way, you know! Sometimes I forget to lock the door, but I lose nothing."
"Dien, you know, our egos are so overpowering. Even when you want to buy a shirt, you wonder if your boyfriend will like it; if you want to buy a lipstick, you wonder if it's trendy. We rush to make money because we don't want to be behind our friends. Even in marriage, we want to marry a rich man to show off to the world, disregarding the question of whether we love each other. What bullshit life is!"
"That's why I told you to stop thinking about it. Just go on living and finish a fragment of life and wait for another fragment. That's it. Everything is indefinite. No use thinking about it!"
The day before, Dien had to walk in the rain alone for a hundred kilometers. Her mother had taken her to task for not helping her sister who was in a lurch. But her mother did not know that Dien had to bear all burdens for the family without complaining about anything as if she was a son, not a daughter. Her mother did not know how pained Dien was. Dien's sister had left the family because of her big debts. Dien could not help her sister any more. Her mother could not understand how much Dien had lost. Her sister had left, but she was still in her mother's heart, while Dien existed before her mother, but she seemed invisible in her eyes. Dien came to see her mother but she got the cold shoulder. In great despair, she returned to the motel room in the rainy night. If there was any phone call from her friends, Dien would still answer it. If a friend said to her that she was deadly bored with life and wanted to die, Dien would tell her that there was still a lot of joy in life.
Dien felt there was something wrong with her body and sometimes she could not control her behaviour. She often dropped things, as if her hand muscles could not work normally. Perhaps if she married someone, she would not be able to hold the wedding ring at the ceremony and would let it fall somewhere, or when she had a child, she would drop it on the ground. These thoughts tortured her repeatedly. She felt that she was going crazy. Everything was getting out of hand.
Dien did not want to tell anyone. There was no one she could tell such things since her boyfriend Cuong left this world. Dien regretted that she had not been by Cuong's side when he was dying on the hospital bed after the accident. That night, she was still on a business trip. To make things worse, they had just had a fight. Time went by, yet Dien had not slept well ever since; she still wondered why she had left him alone in that pitiful situation. What did she live for? She asked herself time and again.
Vy's belly was getting bigger. Some of her skirts did not fit anymore. If someone asked about her belly, Vy felt shy, saying that she had gotten fatter from eating late at night. Dien took Vy to the hospital for an examination and they both looked at the film and saw the little embryo. Having seen it, Vy suddenly felt that life was nothing to be fearful about. If tomorrow someone asked her about her big belly, she would answer that she was pregnant. Vy gathered her courage and went to see her parents in the morning. In the evening she was again in front of Dien's room. Dien asked:
"Are you tired?"
"No," Vy replied, shaking her head and smiling wryly. Then she sat down, her hair falling down over her face.
Dien turned away as she did not want to see her friend crying. She also knew that from now on Vy would be stronger in character. Vy would never again ask Dien how to die.
Dien got into the habit of sitting motionlessly. Her limbs got numb and sometimes she fainted for a moment. When she was awake, she knew that she had just had a dream, a lousy dream. She felt that her body was calling for help. She intended to visit the doctor, but she forgot. Day in and day out, she felt more and more debilitated. Sometimes Vy came and Dien wanted to talk about her abnormal situation with her friend, but she felt the words catch in her throat. It was her habit to hide everything inside her.
One fine day, Vy came to see Dien. Vy talked a lot, but Dien could not hear anything clearly. Vy sat with her face turned to the window, flooded with sunlight. She was telling Dien that she felt her delivery day was coming very near and she felt a bit of pain in her belly. Dien wanted to say something but she could not because her tongue had gotten stiff. A white empty space was enveloping Dien. It could be another dream-filled sleep. She dreamt that she could not get up the next morning. All of her memories in this world were erased completely and only white space remained…
Vy turned back and saw Dien was sleeping, a sound sleep. That afternoon, Vy gave birth to a daughter.
Later Vy's little daughter grew up and had two dimples on her cheeks. This made Vy miss Dien immensely because Dien also had these dimples when she smiled.
Translated by Manh Chuong