|Illustration by Doã Dung
by Y Ban
1. When I wrote these stories, I kept asking myself if they were real. I usually had inexplicable queer dreams, which I told myself time and again that I would record. Now every detail of these stories haunted me. I decided to re-write them. I closed the door tightly, switched off all the wall lights and switched on the desk light. It was my habit whenever I started writing something. Right at that moment, there was a knock on the door. Naturally, at times like this, I could not open the door for anyone. The person knocking on the door of my house was patient enough to wait for five minutes before leaving. I heaved a deep sigh. The first paragraph was always the most difficult one. I felt like a woman in labour. A good beginning is a good ending. I was busy with the first sentence, writing it, rubbing it out. I was a paper saver. I could not bear to bundle pieces of paper into rolls and throw them into the dustbin. So I wrote and erased over and over.
A bell rang deafeningly. I flew into a rage, cursing and plugging my ears with my fingers. But the person at the other end of the phone called again and again. Finding it impossible to write anything, I stood and picked up the phone:
"Yes, I'm listening!"
Beep beep beep…
I hung up and went back to the desk. The phone rang again violently. I let it go. After a moment, the phone rang again. I was so angry that I rushed towards it and banged the receiver down powerfully, immediately silencing the ringing. I was so fed up that I thought I'd better go to bed, as it was impossible to write anything in this situation. Anyway, the dim light was making me sleepy. As soon as I closed my eyes, I drifted into sleep. Then Hoa, my lover, was standing against the door with sad black eyes. She said, "I made a date with you at six o'clock and I waited for you for hours in the street, but you were lying here sleeping, weren't you?"
I sprang up and reached for the light switch. It was seven in the evening. I had promised to take Hoa to dinner at six. Then we were going to go to the cinema. I quickly put on some clothes and drove as fast as I could to the place where we had arranged to meet. From afar, I saw a big crowd. My heart was beating loudly as I felt a presentiment that something bad had occurred. I rushed into the crowd, leaving my motorbike to fall on the ground. Hoa was lying on the ground. I threw myself on her and held her tightly.
"Can anyone tell me what has happened to her? Wake up, my dear!"
"Are you her relative?" a man in the crowd asked me.
"It's best if you call an ambulance to take her to the hospital before you ask about what happened."
"Yes, please help me call an ambulance!"
I took Hoa to the hospital. Fortunately, she was not seriously injured. She had fallen head first onto the ground, so she was unconscious for a few hours. When she came to herself, she said:
"I was waiting for you so long. I arrived punctually at six and thought you were only five or ten minutes late. But the more I waited, the more I did not see you. I wanted to go and call you, but I feared that you would come while I was away. When I looked at my watch and it was already twenty to seven, I was really angry. When I was crossing the road to go home as I could not wait for you any more, a motorcycle hit me. Before I got unconscious, I phoned you to save me. I don't remember anything else."
It turned out that when I was just dozing off, Hoa phoned me to save her. So the story I intended to write without knowing how to begin was a true story.
2. A man told me this story.
The day we said good-bye, she did not cry, but her plump face was sullen:
"If I was sleeping, you were wide awake, is it right? It's said that only when we are sleeping can we send our dreams to each other."
"Yes, I will try to sleep at noon so that you can send your dream to me. Is that all right?"
Living in a faraway land, whenever I missed her, her sullen face immediately cropped up in my mind. However, I never had time for a noontime nap to send a dream to her.
She wrote to me about her daily life, one page after another. She informed me of the day's weather, then her mood and finally her feelings towards me. It seemed that when the day was fine, her feelings towards me were also warm and when it was bleak or rainy, she took it as an excuse to reproach me. She asked why I had left her so long in loneliness or claimed she wanted to put an end to our love. As busy as I was, I had to phone her and tell her some vague stories. Just a few sounds on the phone could help her forget all her worries.
After our long separation, her sullen face had become gradually blurred in my mind, while her letters to me had become ever warmer and stronger. The snow thawed, leaving patches of yellowed dead grass. Only a few days later, those patches of dead grass were filled with green sprouts. After a few more days, a tiny flower was seen. And out of the blue sky, the whole meadow had turned into a carpet of flowers. After two winters in this land, I never missed this wonderful moment.
This spring gave me a special feeling of wonder because by my side I had a new girl. She came from this country; she had golden hair and blue eyes. She had the same feeling as me when those sprouts came out from the earth. One weekend, she took me to a suburban forest. I did not drive, so I could enjoy the views on the way. The lush green forest was unfolding before my eyes on either side of the road, and then there were rolling hills covered with green grass as smooth as silk, then hills carpeted with yellow flowers. All of a sudden, everything became pitch dark as the car ran through a tunnel. A black shadow appeared and knocked at the car window, waving at me. Oh, God, my heart jumped. It was her! Why was she here, right at this moment, I wondered? In a flash, before I could stop the car, she disappeared.
I opened my eyes, trying to remember what had happened. Nina pulled over by the side of the road. She seemed worried: "Are you O.K.? You kicked strongly in the car and tried to say something, but you could not."
"Did I? Possibly I was not well."
"Should we go home?"
Her sullen face appeared clearly before me. But what had happened to her eyes? They were surrounded by black rings. I felt that it was an ill omen. I told Nina to take me to the nearest phone booth.
I looked at my watch. It was about noon, which meant that it was one o'clock in the morning in my home country. I dialed the numbers and was put through, but nobody answered me. I waited for five minutes. I felt so impatient. Something bad must have happened to her. But why were her parents not at home? She was the youngest daughter and lived with her parents. I had received an e-mail from her just that morning. She gave detailed information to me almost every day for fear that I would call her when she was out. What was strange was that while I was standing by the phone booth, her sullen face with those black rings around the eyes appeared before me. In extreme fear, I remembered that she had a close girl friend named Hong whose phone number I still remembered. I dialed the numbers and heard a drowsy voice at the other end. Fortunately, it was Hong. I spoke quickly about my worries. She was also worried. She said she had talked with her the night before:
"Stay calm, please. I'll take a taxi to her house now!"
Nina urged me to get in the car several times, but I remained by the phone booth. I kept my eyes on my watch to count the minutes, thinking about how long it would take Hong to reach her house. It was about 20 minutes. I dialed her home phone. My heart was thumping. Hong picked up the phone:
"Is it you? How did you know something happened? Nhan is O.K. now. She is being cared for by the doctor."
"So what happened to her?"
"Her parents were away from home for the past few days. Nhan was ill. She got a cold and fainted in the bathroom. I'm taking care of her now. So will you call tomorrow?"
I heaved a deep sigh of relief. Nina looked angry. She did not talk to me all the way home. Never had I felt so tired. I rushed into the bathroom to have a bath and then went to bed immediately. I slept deeply without any dreams. When I woke, it was already dawn. I had slept for about 20 hours. I was sure that she had recovered, so I switched on the computer and saw her e-mail: "It's me, my dear. You are so worried about me, aren't you? When I was unconscious, I called your name. I have always dreamt of you with warmth and love. Please come back to me!"
I started packing my suitcase. How could I stay far from her any longer?
3. The man who told this story was a doctor. After finishing, he said thoughtfully: "Anyone who did not watch these events unfold from beginning to end would think that I made them up. It seems inexplicable, you see. In fact, it is all due to confidence and love! These two things can explain all these situations."
One day, two eight-year-old boys were hospitalised for encephalitis. After two days, their condition worsened, despite the efforts of hospital staff. On the third day, they were put on life support. Their mothers were very worried. They sat beside the children day and night and reserved only a very short time for personal activities. When the seventh day came, we had to tell the family that the boys' lives could not be saved. We asked the family members to prepare for them to go off life support. Upon hearing the news, one mother fainted, while the other mumbled: "No, it's not true. It can't happen. My son will live on. I believe it!"
The next day, the family of the first boy agreed to have the machine stopped. If God gives man life, God also gives man death, they reasoned. If God did not want their boy to live, let him go to Heaven to become an angel. They did not want to go against God's will.
But the other mother prayed and then beseeched the physicians: "Please give my boy five more minutes and he will be cured!"
This changed to ten more minutes, one more day and two more days, but she continued: "I beg you, please. I gave birth to him so I know it. He will live on. So please don't stop the machine!"
Since it was up to the patient's family to decide whether to stop the machine, the physicians could do nothing. Before the mother's iron-like confidence, the machine continued to keep the boy alive.
As the days passed, the mother continued sitting by her son's side. Sometimes she whispered something; sometimes she smiled at the boy; sometimes she wiped away tears. On the thirteenth day, she wet her pants because she was afraid that her son would open his eyes when she was not there. When this happened, many thought that she had finally gone mad.
When the fifteenth day came, it was decided that her brother would take her to the mad house and the boy's father would prepare for his son's funeral. When day broke, the mother seemed to accept her fate, even though she had not yet been told about the preparations. The mother said to her son, "I will open the window wide to bring the morning sun to you for the last time, my dear son. I understand that even if you go somewhere else in the universe, you remain my son forever. You will always live in my heart, my dear son!"
The mother stood up and opened the window wide. The morning sun rushed into the room. A ray of sun shone right into the boy's face. The mother came to stand by her son and looked with love into his eyes: "Do you feel the warmth of the morning sun? Yes, your face is much brighter. Oh, my dear son. In the early morning sunlight, flowers are blooming. A warbler is singing on the litchi tree. A white spider is spinning its web. Can you feel it, my son? Where did I stop telling the story to you yesterday? Yes, I know. The princess took the frog from the forest to the palace and she had to eat at the same table with the frog… You also want to be the frog prince, don't you?"
As the physicians and the boy's relatives were standing behind his mother to hear the last fairy tale, a magical thing happened. The boy's eyes slowly opened. Then they opened wider in great surprise, looking at everybody. It was unbelievable!
One magical thing happened after another, and only three days after that, the boy had recovered. One week later, he was discharged from the hospital.
4. There was a young couple who had been married for just a few days when the wife got a weird disease. She fell into a long sleep. The husband took her to the hospital but nothing could be done, so he brought her home and placed her on the wedding bed. Every day, after work, he took care of his wife. He ground food into fluid and pumped it into her stomach through a tube inserted into her nostril. He bathed her and changed her clothes every day. One night, he placed her against him so that she could feel relaxed. Then he lay down by her side and whispered something to her. Time flew and his wife was still asleep, but her face remained rosy.
One day, her belly got higher. Inside, a small living creature was pushing. All the relatives took the husband to task, thinking that he was a mad man who had tortured a dead body.
But he still believed that when his wife became a mother and there was a baby crying by her side, she would wake up. Confidence and love helped him overcome everything. Nine months later, his wife gave birth to a healthy daughter. He put the baby on his wife's chest and the baby sucked its mother's breast, then slept soundly on her chest. Throughout it all, she continued to sleep. One day the baby was hungry and crying loudly. He found that his wife's face was moving slightly as if she was smiling. He was so happy. His wife was going to wake up!
However, she continued sleeping soundly. His confidence was getting slimmer. He let his wife sleep and took care of her as usual while also caring for his baby daughter.
His daughter grew up with the strong belief that one day his wife would wake up. Sometimes he had a heart-to-heart talk with his daughter:
"I want to see your mother open her eyes to see her beautiful daughter!"
"Do you believe that one day Mother will wake up and meet us?"
"I felt so confident about that, you know, daughter!"
"So don't you believe it anymore?"
"I believed that your cry would wake your mother up. But your mother slept so soundly."
"It is because I worked so hard for her, so she doesn't find it necessary to wake up now!"
"So when do you think your mother will wake up, daughter?"
"When you need her most; when only she understands your story. Even I can't understand your story and advise you. That's when she'll wake up."
The girl was 18 years old. She was beautiful and gentle. It was very strange that after 20 years of deep sleep, the mother remained very young and beautiful. Time seemed to have fallen still on the face of the sleeping woman.
One day, the girl came home with a sad face. She lay on the bed and embraced her mother, sobbing:
"Mom, wake up, Mom! Wake up so that I can ask you one thing. What's love, mom? Why is love praised as a magical, beautiful thing? I find it so miserable, Mom!"
She buried her face in her mother's bosom, sobbing. Was something magical happening? A hand was wiping tears from the girl's face. Was it her father's hand? No, that was impossible, as her father was not at home at this hour of the day. Who did it? The girl sat up and could not believe her eyes. Her mother had opened her eyes and was smiling at her daughter. The hand that had just wiped the tears from the girl's face was her mother's hand.
Translated by Manh Chuong