|Illustration by Doã Dung
by Y Ban
Having finished processing a bundle of procedural papers and bought an air ticket, Xuan was now packing things into the suitcase with great eagerness. It was an indescribable feeling, something like the feeling of a six-year-old girl counting the days until Tet. She was hesitating about putting a skirt in, which would require taking a bag of tea and some rice paper out. She decided to leave the skirt out. Oh, where was the mirror? Here it was.
Xuan loved Hoa more than a mother. Xuan knew that it was not a good comparison, but she loved to think about it in that way. Hoa insisted that her mother not come over to her or organise a wedding for her at home. She did not even send her mother a photo of her future husband.
"What's the use of sending it? It's my private life and I don't want to share it with anybody. I'm sorry, Mom. I love you very much!"
Xuan had to ask a friend to search for her daughter's address in Italy. She even kept her visit to her daughter a secret for fear that her daughter would change her residence if she knew about her mother's upcoming visit.
"I did tell you that giving your daughter such a chance to study abroad at such a young age was like uprooting a young tree. Your daughter will acquire the living habits of a foreign country and forget her roots. Now you have to adapt to your choice. If you listened to me and let her develop awareness of her roots before she was sent to study abroad, your daughter would have known how to adapt to the new environment!"
A close friend of Xuan who was living abroad had given her this advice when Xuan made up her mind to send her daughter abroad when she was still a high school student. Now she had arrived at the airport after a 10-hour flight. She was still completely surprised as it was the first time she had been abroad when she heard someone calling her name. Amid the crowd, she recognised her friend Yen, who was waving a bouquet of flowers to welcome her. Xuan rushed to her friend and they hugged each other in tears. Xuan was greatly moved that her friend Yen had flown from Belgium to greet her.
Yen drove her car to take Xuan to look for her daughter. Xuan could not drop her eyes from her friend in surprise and admiration, because when they studied together, Yen was a timid girl. But now, in a foreign country, she was so dynamic and self-confident. The road in autumn was very beautiful. The sun and tree leaves seemed to sing in the breeze. With a heavy heart, Xuan heaved a deep sigh. Yen consoled her friend:
"Don't worry, dear! I am always by your side. I don't want to poke my nose into your affairs, but I am always here if you need me. I think everything will be all right."
"I wonder what my future son-in-law is like. A European or a Vietnamese? Young or old? Is he good to my daughter?"
"Don't ask so many questions like that, please. Remember these two principles: You and your daughter are two different people, even though she is your daughter. What's more, she has her own life and you have yours; neither of you ought to meddle with the other's affairs, even though she is your daughter."
"Do you mean I've got to stand outside her life?"
"Yes, that's right. Only when she asks for your help can you enter."
"Do you think she will kick me out of her house when I come to see her out of the blue sky?"
"There's only a 10 per cent chance. The probability is 90 per cent she loves you."
"Tell me the truth. If you were in my situation, would you kill yourself if you fell into that 10 per cent?"
"I'm much more solid than you think, you see!"
"I think so!"
"So your daughter hasn't told you anything about her future husband?"
"Not at all. I haven't heard anything about it from her. I have decided that anyone she has chosen, whether it is a girl, a coloured person, an old person or a disabled person, anybody will do for me because I love her."
"You're a brave person. Here we are!"
It was a beautiful narrow street with houses separated by a fence of green bushes. There was almost no trash on it. The autumn sunlight was dancing through the foliage of old oak trees.
Yen, standing behind her friend, said: "Ring the doorbell!"
Xuan pressed the button with her forefinger. She held her breath upon hearing footsteps behind the door. Her heart was thumping. The door was half opened. A beautiful young woman was carrying a baby in her arms. Their eyes met. Time seemed to stop. A hesitant voice was heard:
Xuan did not have any feeling until Yen said good-bye to her. Now only three persons were left in the house.
"Is it a girl or a boy?"
"A boy, Mother."
"Can I carry him now?"
"Let him get used to you first."
"How old is he?"
""Where is your husband?"
"He's gone to work."
"Does he come home in the evening?"
"No. Only at the weekend."
"Just a moment, Mother. I'm going to prepare a room for you."
Xuan sighed with relief as that 10 per cent chance had disappeared.
The boy was placed in a cradle. Xuan walked closer to have a look at him. The boy looked chubby and Asian from head to foot. She picked up a toy and held it up to him. She smiled and the boy smiled back, looking so lovely. Xuan hesitated, then held her hand out so that the boy could hold it. Then she took him in her arms and pressed him onto her chest. His tiny hands were touching her face. His breath smelt milky.
All of a sudden, she was startled by her daughter's voice:
"Mother, blood runs thick, you know. Even his father had to get acquainted with the boy for some time before he could carry him, but now you can…."
Xuan was surprised at what her daughter had said. Her daughter was no longer a girl. Eight years had gone by and she was now 25.
"Give him to me as it is his eating time. Mother, go and take a bath and have a rest. I am going to cook the meal when the boy goes to sleep."
Xuan took the suitcase into the room and unpacked everything. Then she went to the kitchen to get a box. She took a look around the house. Everything was beautiful and clean. The set of sofas looked luxurious. In the case, there were silver saucers and spoons. The kitchen was in order and there were glasses hung in the bar. She looked out of a window and saw a garden with yellowed grass. Under the oak tree, there was a rocking chair. A bush of roses was near the fence. Her daughter had a good life here, she thought.
"You haven't taken a bath, have you, Mom?"
Xuan was surprised.
"Why are you surprised? You always used to be confident."
"Maybe I am getting old now. Is your husband young or old? What does he do?"
"He is an engineer. For me he is never old. He is more than intelligent. Mother, do you want to hug me?"
Xuan hesitated for a moment and held out her arms. Her daughter hugged her tightly. No tears.
"Are you happy?"
"Yes, I am. What about you? How is your life? I am sorry for letting you live alone for so long."
"Why haven't you come home? Why haven't you told me about your husband and your life?"
"I intended to contact you when everything was all right for me. Mother, please, let's not interrogate each other here. I love you and I am happy to have you here with us. That's it. I'm going to cook the meal now."
Xuan felt a bit dizzy and almost fell down. She tried to regain her balance.
"I've brought some food for you. I don't know if you'll like it!"
"Thank you, Mom. Let me see! Oh, so many things. Today is Thursday, so my husband will be back tomorrow and we will have fried meat rolls. Since I got pregnant, I did not cook Vietnamese food because it took a lot of time."
Xuan felt happy.
"Please take care of my son. He is full now. Just take care of him and don't do anything else, Mother. I am going to get my hair and nails done. I'll be back at 2 o'clock."
"Don't worry. I'll take care of him!"
The boy was playing with some balls in the cradle. Xuan wanted to hold him in her arms when her daughter came home with beautiful make-up.
"You look so beautiful, daughter!"
"Thank you, Mom. I don't want my husband to see me ugly. He works hard for the whole week, so I have to give him happiness. Oh, let's cook the fried meat rolls!"
"Let me do it! Have you got minced meat?"
"I'll mince the meat. I've got it in the cellar. Let me go down to get it. I want to surprise my husband with your cooking."
"Do remember to get the lean part, daughter."
"How good it smells! I love you, Mother" her daughter said, embracing Xuan from behind. Xuan turned to give her daughter a delicious fried meat roll.
"Do taste this, daughter."
"No, I don't want to eat it before my husband. He is coming home now. I'm going to change into the skirt he likes. Oh, Mom, please stay in your room for some time when he comes home, because I want to tell him about your visit first!"
"Do as you wish!"
"Mother, do come over here. He wants to say 'Hello" to you!"
Xuan was on tenterhooks. She walked a bit unsteadily.
"My dear, this is my mother."
Xuan smiled at her son-in-law and fainted.
Her daughter's eyes welled up in tears.
"Fortunately, Mother has come round. My husband has gone to get the doctor. You must not be familiar with the weather here!"
"I'm all right. Daughter, can you phone my friend Yen? I want to speak to her."
"OK, I'll call her now."
"Why are you crying so much? Can you stop crying for a moment? Do speak now!"
Yen stopped her car by the edge of a forest.
"I wish I would die now. It would be easier to die than to live, my friend!"
"My son-in-law is my ex-husband!"
"What's the matter? There is not any surprise in this life, you see. You scared the life out of me!"
"I buried the old story so that nobody would know my fate. I could trick a lot of people, but I could not trick fate. This is the man who used to be my husband, so he is the father of my daughter! Do you understand?"
"Yes, I do. And he is now your daughter's husband, isn't he? It's quite a surprise, but please, don't act this way. It's no use."
"Actually, I accepted his marriage proposal because I was betrayed by my lover. I wanted to run away from that land for good, but my husband could not take me along with him to a foreign land overnight. He had to process all the necessary procedures for me. So I had to stay back to wait for some time. But I met my old flame again and slept with him because I always loved him head over heels. The result was that I was with child, but my ex-lover did not marry me. How could he marry me when I was already a married woman? Despite requests from my family, I decided to keep the memento from my love. I was brave enough to get a birth certificate for my baby with the family name of my husband. And you know, on my daughter's birth certificate, her father is her current husband. I am now in a great quandary. Please, change my plane ticket. I will hide so that my daughter will never find me. Would you meet my husband and tell him not to let the cat out of the bag? Life is such a circle, you see. I want my daughter to be happier than me. I am so unhappy, Yen. My heart seems to be broken. Do you have any way to help me out of this blind alley?"
"Cry your heart out, my dear friend! Tears will help you feel less sad. We have to find ways to compromise with life. You have to accept your life and live in that circle of fate. Don't forget that moral principle or you will be much sadder and unhappier!"
"But how can I look at them in that situation?"
"Time will help you. But you have to find a reason to speak to your daughter before you leave in such a hurry, when you have come to see her also in such a hurry!"
"I love my daughter so much. I don't want her to know the truth."
"Your daughter is calling you, so do you want to speak to her?"
"Let me answer her! Yes, Mother is speaking!"
"Yes, Mother. Do come home now. I know why you're so shocked. Don't torture you yourself anymore, mother! My husband has told me everything. I love my husband, so I love everything of his past. It is wonderful that his past is you, my mother. I love you, Mother. Do stay with us for some time before you go home. I only want you to know our three principles: First, our life must not be interfered with by a third person; secondly, he is now my husband, no past is allowed to intervene; and thirdly, you must be a good mother-in-law, Mother!"
Translated by Manh Chuong