|Illustration by Dao Quoc Huy
by Hoang Cong Danh
I was seven at that time. When I came home from school, I found a strange man in the house. My mother told me he was my father. The man rubbed my head. I rushed out and washed my hair at the well. No, I was fatherless and I was used to living without a father.
The days after that, the man lived in the house with us. The chickens we had raised were killed one by one. I did not touch a piece of chicken at all. Mother asked me why I did not love my father. I answered back that I had great pity for those killed chickens. My mother beat me and the man rushed to stop her. I tried to hold mother so that I could be beaten more. I'd rather be beaten by mother than be loved by a stranger.
Some adults in the hamlet teased me, saying that I should be very happy to have a father now. They asked me if I could sleep with them. I did not reply to them and I walked home through the grove of bamboo trees instead of the normal road home. My clothes were torn because of the thorns in the bamboo grove. I wanted my mother to see my misery.
I did sleep with mother as usual. The man slept in another bed. At midnight, I woke up and did not have mother by my side. I cried in silence. Mother came back to me and embraced me in her lap. I twisted forcibly to break away from her. She did not leave me alone late at night anymore.
I heard the villagers saying that my mother was as beautiful as ever. Several men had wooed her but I protested. But mother sometimes gave in and invited these men to stay and have dinner with us. Once I did not eat anything, just to oppose her. I did it as if I was acting on behalf of a certain father to protect her. And then a man appeared and said he was my father. I got angry and vehemently refused him. If he was my father, why he did not come and protect her before? I even got angry with mother, as I thought she had lied me. She wanted me to accept this man living with us.
When I was five, I felt ashamed for not having a father to take me to the kindergarten like my friends. When my teacher asked me about my father's name, I replied that I did not have a father and my classmates broke into laughter. A few days later, they still called me an illegitimate child. I got used to suffering in this sort of situation. So now this man appeared and professed to be my father. It had brought great turmoil to my peaceful life.
Mother told me that from now on I had a father, so I had to stay home and learn lessons. I should not follow mother to the field. I did not listen to her. I carried a small hoe to the field with her anyway. Some of my classmates said to me that this man was not my father. He was my mother's new husband. I listened to them without answering them back. I did not fight either. They even said I was fatherless, while mother had part of her love reserved for this man. So I did not have any person to turn to when I was in danger.
Having come home from school, I threw the school bag onto the bed, saying to mother that I would not go to school any longer. Mother asked me if I was teased by friends. I said nobody teased me. Only one man was annoying me. Then mother said that it was difficult for her to live in this village because the villagers spread false rumors. We had to move to another place. I asked her who "we" were and she said we were mother, me and the man. I did not listen to her. It was because of this man that mother and I had to move to another place to live. It was not necessary, I said, further stressing that only this man should leave from this house and peace would be restored here.
The man then wrapped up his belongings and put them into the bag. He walked out of the house, rubbing my head and saying goodbye to me. That night, mother killed a chicken. She did not touch a piece of it. I ate it with great gusto.
Sometimes mother gave me new clothes, a school bag, several books and said that they were from the Charity Association. But I knew they were from that man. I did not use them. Mother had to talk on and on until I had to accept the gift just for my love toward her. Anyway, I had more confidence going to school thanks to these things.
During days off, I helped mother with the chores. I wanted to become a true man who could help her forget that man and feel sad no more. Yet, any effort in life to substitute the role of another person was meaningless. Mother had many times asked why I did not need a father. I said to her that it was much better to live the way we had been. While I grew up, day in and day out, these questions came less and less often. Probably mother was afraid that she would hurt me and make me neglect my studies.
Mother asked me to move to another house once more for the reason that I could live in a big city and find it more convenient when I entered university. I guessed mother wanted to live with that man in the city. So I said if she wanted to move there, she could feel free to do that, but I wanted to live alone in my village. Mother having heard this did not say anything. And from then on, she never mentioned it again.
At 40, mother looked as beautiful and attractive as ever. I wished I could marry such a beautiful girl as mother. Yet, I suddenly felt worried because with that beauty of hers, the man would look for her again one day. Every year, several men came and went and mother did not ask me to call them father. I felt happy about that.
I entered university. Mother looked older and found it harder to make a living, but she could give me some money for my study on a regular basis. I knew the money was from that man. At 20, I still did not accept that man as my father. I told myself that I would return the money to him when I left university and earned money myself.
Once my mother's sister Gai met me and asked me to have sympathy with my mother. She said that when I went to work far from home, I could not leave mother to live alone in the village. So it would be much better for her to have a man by her side. Probably I did not need a father, but my mother needed a man. I answered back to her that I would come back to live with mother after two years working far from her.
Having graduated from university, I worked for a big company with a high salary. I sent money to mother and saved a bit to pay the debt to the man. After three years of working hard, I had saved up a big sum of money. I went to see mother and asked her to give me the address of the man in the city. Mother asked me if I wanted to pay the debt to him. I said I wanted to use this sum of money to look for father together with mother.
For the first time, I called that man "father".
For the first time, I needed a father.
I thought mother should be very happy upon hearing it, but mother told me point blank that that man was not my father. He loved her, so he wanted to be my father - that was it. It was no use looking for him.
I tossed and turned for the whole night, thinking hard over my mother's story. Was it possible to have such a noble man in this world? I came to rummage through all the necessary papers to find the address of the man in the city. I had to find the man and meet him, I thought. I needed to call him my father, no matter if he was my father or not. And I would entreat him to go and live with mother.
Having found his address on the paper, I went to look for him. In the end of the day, I came to his house. His picture was now on the altar. He died a month before. The owner of the house was his nephew, who called him uncle. The owner of the house said to me that the man did not marry anyone. He was told that his uncle had loved a woman in the central part of the country. I asked if he had any children with that woman and he replied that he did now know anything about it.
I returned to my home village and thought I would ask mother at all costs about if the man was my father or not. If not, where was my birth father now?
But mother could not say anything to me, because out of the blue she got a stroke and forgot everything. So now nobody could tell me if the man was my father or not. I hoped so much that one day I could meet my father and live with him in a true sense of the word./.
Translated by Manh Chuong