|Illustration by Dao Quoc Huy
by Tran Thi Thanh
At the age of forty, I still liked to be seen as an ageless lady. "Mad! Liar!" I imagined people would say if they knew. You could possibly call me mad - but a liar? Not really! I was a psychologist, so why would I need anyone else to diagnose me?
During the nights when I was on duty in the hospital, I encountered no problems, nor did my patients. I usually slept soundly. Many people with mental disease slept at odd times. Luckily, I was an exception. Thanks to my yoga lessons, where I learned deep breathing techniques, I was able to control my sleep schedule completely. I could manage both states of mind, consciousness and unconsciousness. Paradoxically, there were two things that I could not control: love affairs and childbirth.
I was never really interested in young men. I preferred yoga. For me, it was more attractive than dates, shopping or beauty salons - the things that womankind was very fond of. Yoga was a way for me to stay away from old age. Furthermore, in my opinion, it was the most harmonious sport, as it helped one balance mind and body, wisdom and the heart. A yoga practitioner could easily regulate his or her behaviour, moving easily between firmness and flexibility, or calmness and restlessness. Yet, these characteristics were usually found in young people of twenty. Reaching the age of forty, we could only attain them in our dreams.
If only I had been similar to my friend, who soon turned old due to her husband's eccentricity, or to one of my young neighbours, an ex-beauty who chose a safe life with a small fortune and became dull due to her naughty children.
Our department often accepted student trainees. "How old are you?" one of them asked me one morning.
"Twenty years ago I was twenty."
A single woman of forty could hardly fall in love with someone of the opposite sex. Sometimes I asked myself, "Why am I still single at this age? Is it because I passed the age of twenty without noticing?" In my opinion, only at the age of twenty did people get excited, desirous and easy to conquer. At such an age, had I been similar to others?
Even in my mid-twenties, when young men paid attention to me, I did not concern myself with them at all. It seemed to me that love affairs were just a story, to which I had never paid much heed. At the age of twenty, young men wanted three things: fame, money and women. In general, they all wanted ownership. They all wanted to be superiors, not inferiors. That was why I often smiled at their attempts at flirting or amorous glances.
At the age of thirty, I still regarded myself as the centre of the universe. I proved strict even to myself. I requested such advantages as fine appearance, good behaviour and promising career; regrettably, all my close friends' recommendations of partners came to nothing. As a result, my youth passed by very fast without my heart stirring even once.
At the age of forty, I remained a virgin, half-mature and half-naive. Sometimes I even found myself tedious. Usually, married women my age felt happy with their family life. As for me, where did my happiness lie? I dreamt of having children, yet I had not fulfilled the prior obligation of marriage. Should I adopt a little boy? But what would he answer when other children asked, "Who's your father?" Let life be! Leave me alone as an ageless spinster. Although I had a lonely and sad childhood, I had managed to conceal it cleverly. My soul could not deny my age, but my body hid it well.
Once I was interested in a young man. However, he worried that I was too sharp-witted. Furthermore, he was afraid that I was merely a call girl, so he contacted the local authorities to find information about me. I was so fed up with his unusual conduct that I broke off our relationship. It seemed to me that nowadays men chose women who were less intelligent but delicate, rather than interesting ones full of personality. They did not dare to accept women who were superior to them in terms of wisdom. They only wished to rule the women they claimed to love. The might-makes-right guideline could certainly be applied here.
"My husband's turned into a terrible person. He's running after a girl," one of my friends complained.
"My naughty man is addicted to booze," chimed in another.
"On the contrary, my spouse only indulges in work," another one said in a sorrowful voice.
Nevertheless, none of them dared to abandon their darlings, for they were all aware that after their carousals with friends or business partners, their husbands would eventually come back to their cosy nests. In the meantime, these wives often wasted money. They spent most of their free time in manicurist's shops or beauty salons. No matter what, I was on their side. I thought of myself as an ardent champion in the struggle for women's rights.
At the age of forty, I remained a virgin. All my desires came under heavy blows from my haughtiness, which did not bring me happiness or good luck but only misery. My wretchedness lay in the fact that I craved the status of an ordinary woman, but I failed to achieve it. Emerging from my dreams, I was a woman of forty. The happy moments of my beauty were now only found in the deep wrinkles on my forehead and the sagging skin of my belly.
At the age of forty, I needed a psychologist more than ever. But surely no other doctor was alert enough to diagnose my case properly. I wrote out a prescription for myself as follows:
Central Mental Hospital No 1
Full name: Tran Thi T.
Address: 113/234 Van Kiep, Da Lat, Lam Dong
2. Mid-life crisis;
3. Malady not verifiable.
1. Anti-ego remedy;
2. Medicaments for the above-mentioned cases 2&3.
- Take medicine according to prescription;
- Avoid prolonged contact with children to prevent unintentional kidnapping.
Anyhow, it was a prescription without effect.
One morning, while we were at a coffee shop chatting away our free time, it began pouring rain. For most of my friends, it took only a phone call to get a ride home from their dears. I just stayed alone there, since nobody would do the same for me. "Poor me, my solitude can hardly be overcome," I said to myself.
Time and again, I also asked myself, "Why don't I enjoy the same things as my friends?"
Actually, although I had always been a woman who liked travelling alone, ordering what I liked in restaurants and taking the most convenient means of transport, now I wished to hear children's voices:
"Mummy, I want an ice cream. I want to become Superman."
"Daddy, Mom told me that by the end of this week she would give you a gift."
"Mummy, Dad said that he would offer you a great surprise as well."
"I'm going to prepare a gift for you too, Mom."
They were quotations from adorable little Tom and his younger sister Chan who often played with their father in the empty garage. "How I wish to join them!" I whispered to myself.
That night I could not sleep well. I dreamt a sweet dream about being called Mummy. Waking up, I burst into tears.
I had a friend, also a writer, who led a lonely life in town. He managed to create many personages like himself, namely living alone. One day, a fire engulfed all his works but one in flames. When he jumped into the flickering blaze, both the firefighters and onlookers thought that he wished to commit suicide because he was fed up with his dull life. A firefighter came across this sentence in that half-burnt book: "You'll be the person that you've always thought of."
When a virgin of forty wished to be a mother, she sacrificed her virgin life by looking for a man who loved her dearly and sincerely.
I had a new patient, a criminal detained in the prison where I had been working for years. She was diagnosed with mental disease and transferred to my section. In my room, she just stared vacantly around. She was so frightened that she only fingered the flaps of her blouse. Once or twice, she cast an inquisitive look at me. When I asked the accompanying policewoman about her crime, the officer told me that she was a solitary woman who had committed the crime of kidnapping babies from kindergartens. Her statement made my heart sting a lot.
Back in my flat, I had a terrible nightmare. That patient of mine was none other than myself. All of a sudden, I remembered the prescription I made for myself that day with the advice to avoid kids for fear of unintentional kidnapping.
Translated by Van Minh