|Illustration by Doã Dung
by Nguyen Thu Phuong
She now hated that sun-drenched yard, even though the sunlight made everything shimmering and radiant. She was sitting there, playing with her blouse, whereas he was sitting nearby, looking dejected. She heaved a deep sigh. They had drawn apart for a few years. He had taken a prostitute home in spite of her presence in the house. She no longer loved or respected him. She heaved a sigh again, paying no heed to his seeing that whore off. She went into the house, straight into the kitchen. She washed her hands and cried by herself, feeling humiliated because he had intentionally hurt her.
Then she had a long conversation with C, who was really surprised at her very quick decision. She told C she would arrange necessary things as quick as possible for their journey. She also spent some time searching on the Internet to find where Khau Vai was. It was where she met her lover for only one day and one night a year on the 27th of Lunar March.
In the end of the day, C waited for her at the bus station in the early morning.
"I could not sleep, just expecting you".
She tried to hide her emotions and followed him. The road was rugged and bumpy. When they came to a wine shop on the way to Khau Vai, C asked her to leave things on the motorbike and dropped in the shop for a rest. Only corn wine was served there. A lot of C's friends were there. They greeted each other.
"You are very gutsy, C. You can go to Khau Vai with your lover. Are you running away from your wife?"
"No, I can't drink wine" - She said.
"Do try a bit! It's very joyful here" - C insisted.
Yet, to please him, she gulped down a cup of wine, feeling hot in her cheeks. All the people sitting around were C's friends, except a Mong guy with slanted eyes sitting nearby. He looked attentively at her and smiled. Then he came and invited her for a cup. She shook her head, trying to explain that she could get drunk easily. But this Mong young guy did not give in. Suddenly he proposed that if she bottom up two cups of wine, he would sing a Mong love song for her. Never had she been given such a gift. A bit dizzy, she nodded her head, despite C's warning look.
Eventually she became dead drunk. C quickly took her to the motorbike and quickly left the place. She sat behind C, swinging to and fro. C was so angry that he could not say a word, while she was laughing her head off. Suddenly she asked him stop the motorbike by the edge of the valley. She walked fast in the dark, declaring she was flying in the air. C tried to stop her with all his might, speaking in anger:
"You should have liked that Mong guy. If not, why did you accept to drink with him?"
She was still laughing wildly, tears welling up in her eyes.
"Please stop interrogating me! Let's go to Khau Vai now. If you don't want to drop me to fly in the air, do take me quickly to Khau Vai."
"But do you think you can come out of dizziness when you arrive in Khau Vai? If not, I don't want to go with you. I will take you back to Meo Vac," C said.
They were struggling with each other on the rocky road.
"Do you think I've travelled a thousand kilometres to just miss the Khau Vai night?"
In the end C had to please her.
Probably she feared to make C sad, so she embraced C tightly. The road was precarious with one side a rocky wall and the other side an abyss. C was very tense driving the motorbike. When they came closer to Khau Vai, she felt nervous. Streams of people were heading towards misty Khau Vai. Never had she got involved in such an enigmatic and dangerous journey. A moment later, C's friends caught up with them and C felt more relaxed.
When they came to a sloppy section of the Pass, the valley suddenly unfolded before them. C said:
"Khau Vai was down there."
She felt a bit dazed upon seeing that gigantic "bee hive" brightly lit with colored electric lights. Khau Vai lay along the valley shrouded in immense darkness.
Groups of Dao, Mong and Giay ethnic minority people were seen going back. C explained to her:
"Look, they are going home from the market!"
These people were the souls of the second-to-none enigmatic love market. Once a year, only one day and one night, the Khau Vai love market was held. What did they find here? Did they find their lovers? Did they promise to see each other again? She was wondering. C once said to her that these people came from separate places and met in Khau Vai.
For her and C, they came to Khau Vai a different way. She remembered her air plane landed at Noi Bai Airport when it was raining. She was very cold. She remembered she was waiting for her Ha Giang car in the biting cold, and now she and C were present in Khau Vai, but their love was different from any other loves. She and C came together by fate. Khau Vai… She had kept her memories of that wandering night in Khau Vai in her heart for good. C took her to burn incense before two small shrines worshipping God and Goddess. She did not pray for anything. She only listened to her heart. She liked C calling her "my wife". That deceptive night seemed drifting and she felt her soul was flying high in the sky and love had touched her. C told her that their burning incense before the shrines was sort of a wedding ceremony and they became official wife and husband.
She followed C to go amid the stream of people who were singing happily. A lot of travellers, both Vietnamese and foreign, were looking for something amid the crowd of local people. It was very difficult to find that thing in Khau Vai because this thing was not displayed in public. It was not an entertaining thing. It seemed that this was the love market, but no love was found. Every year, there was only one day and one night, so how many nights and how many days could they come together in Khau Vai? They came to each other for a lot of reasons, for a lot of situations. They belonged to each other amid heaven and earth.
In the flickering light of a candle of the wine shop, she and C held hands, trying to warm their love. In the depth of the night, more and more people were seen walking in couples. They came to look for each other in happiness. She wanted to sit there for good, leaning her head on his shoulder and contemplating Khau Vai in illusion, shrouded in mist.
They left Khau Vai very late at night. In the middle of the slope, C stopped the motorbike and took her to a stone slab by the roadside, looking into the valley. They kissed each other ardently in that cold misty night. Then they sat down, looking at that gigantic "bee hive" down there. Now she could tell what Khau Vai was like. Khau Vai was where they got married in the presence of everyone passing by. She and C were embracing each other, and suddenly she missed Khau Vai very much.
She was trembling in the cold. The motorbike was running in the thick layer of mist. C took off his coat and covered her with it. She looked worried, but he only smiled.
"I love you, my dear wife!"
The bumpy road was plunged in darkness, but he was driving the motorbike without any fear. They moved on and on in the dark night. And eventually Meo Vac appeared before them. Khau Vai was left behind somewhere, like two worlds apart.
Dead tired and very cold, she slept well in his loving arms. In her dream, she found herself flying back to Khau Vai on thin wings.
Having returned home from Khau Vai, she divorced her husband after a few years of separation. Naturally, he raised a lot of questions to her, but she was determined not to change her mind, because she firmly believed that when she had freedom, her life would be different. Even though she could not come to C, even though she and he could come to each other only in such a short time, yes, a short time, she felt extremely happy anyway. The night in Khau Vai was a night of love./.
Translated by Manh Chuong