By Đoàn Thị Ngọc Lợi
1. The alarm clock of little Mụn was the fluffy foot of a pup called Ếch. The dog used its fluffy feet to poke Mụn’s hand until she moved on the bed, half opening her eyes and then…. falling back to sleep. Ếch licked Mụn’s face and ears until its “little boss” could wake up completely. Mụn got up while Ếch was hovering around Mụn’s feet. Mụn walked into the bathroom to clean her teeth and wash her face. Ếch had to stop in its track, looking at Mụn with eagerness and waiting.
Having seen Mụn walking out, Ếch rushed to be busy itself around Mụn’s legs. Mụn poured some milk into a plastic bowl for Ếch. Sometimes, they ran out of milk, they both had breakfast with some biscuits. Ếch ate what Mụn ate, even sometimes green mango or cherry.
2. The image of little girl Mụn walking leisurely with her Ếch along this alley had become familiar to the people of Chiếu Hamlet. The life here was flowing peacefully without the hustle and bustle of a city. Besides, Mụn’s life was not as stable as the lives of other children because of her heart disease.
Her mother had a small ceramics shop in the alley. She did so just to have more time to give lessons to and to take care of Mụn at home. On the other hand, she had spared some small toy ceramic ducks, kittens, frogs, pots and cups for Mụn and Ếch to play with when she was busy with the shop. If she was tired, Mụn could lie on a hammock hung in the end of the shop and Ếch could lie very close. Sometimes, Mụn and Ếch got startled at the street criers hawking their goods.
Mother always prepared a special lunch for Mụn. It was traditional stewed food with some medicinal herbs to invigorate Mụn’s health. It was very difficult to swallow the food, but Mụn tried to eat it all for her mother. Mụn never refused any food cooked by mother. Time went by. Mụn had eaten that same kind of food, played with those same toys and learnt what her mother taught her. This went on day in and day out, month in and month out. Her mother, Mụn and Ếch had often gone to the nearby market and taken a stroll in the park before they went home to prepare dinner.
3. “Ếch, show your hand so that I can file your nails. Your nails scratched my hands. Look here, Ếch! Now, where is your hand?” – Mụn said in a low voice as if she was ordering the dog.
Mother took a glass of water and some pills for Mụn to drink. She took Mụn’s hands and said in surprise:
“What! Is there any scratch on your hand, Mụn?”
“I said so because Ếch did not want to have his nails filed, Mother! Ếch is always good, you know!” – Mụn said with a shy smile.
“Yes, I know, Ếch is always good!”
Mother gave Mụn a wet towel to cleanse her hand as it was time for her to take her medicine. Ếch sat there, looking at Mụn. It seemed the dog knew that it should not disturb Mụn.
“Tomorrow morning, you take Ếch to your maternal grandmother’s!” – Mother said to Mụn.
“Will father be home tomorrow, mother?”
“Yes, father will be home tomorrow!”
Mụn looked up at mother, smiling. She took Ếch into her lap and caressed the pup:
“Father will be home and we will be good, very good, do you agree, Ếch?”
“My daughter and Ếch are always good, and father will surely have gifts for you both. And what would you like best for your gift, my dear?” – Mother said.
Mụn embraced Ếch tighter and then she touched mother’s hand, replying in a weak voice:
“Whatever father gives me is to my liking, mother!”
Mother smiled and was about to say something to Mụn, but mother’s face turned pale and somewhat panic upon seeing Ếch separating from Mụn and running around Mụn, barking without letting up. Ếch was giving a warning about Mụn’s fainting. This had often happened when Mụn was tired or moved. Mother quickly carried Mụn into the room and put her on the bed. Then she put some droplets into her mouth. After that Mụn breathed slowly and evenly. She opened her eyes and intended to say something, but mother stopped her:
“Hush! Lie still. Let’s speak tomorrow…..”
Mother began singing to lull her daughter to sleep. Ếch was seen sitting on the floor motionless. When mother signaled, Ếch jumped onto the bed and rubbed its head at Mụn’s hand. By instinct, as tired as she was, Mụn tapped lightly on the pup. Mother lay by Mụn’s side, trying to listen to Mụn’s heartbeat….
4. As a long-distance truck driver, Mụn’s father had spent most of the time behind the wheel and got used to eating by the roadside at food shops. Sometimes, he had sleepless nights on the way…. And whenever he was home, he could not get used to living at such a slow pace with the family. It was the same in this morning. Having seen his daughter lying on the bed with a pale face and the pup lying under the bed, particularly smelling the traditional herbal medicine, he wanted to get back on the truck.
Mother quickly took the bag and dusted off his shirt collar, then she said gently:
“I’ve prepared lukewarm water for you to take a bath; now get into the bathroom first, my dear.”
Mụn’s father said “Yes” and walked to the bathroom. Mother glanced at Mụn and found she was sleeping. She quickly went to prepare breakfast for her husband. While cooking, she was thinking about an incident two years ago….
…. Her husband wanted to have a son, but Mụn was born into this world in such a health condition. It seemed that Mụn could not be able to be the strong child. At that time, mother often helped father loaded goods onto the truck so that her husband could transport them to deliver to the customers. She had to carry Mụn along. When Mụn was put on the truck, she vomited and turned pale quickly. Mother was very worried but father was always irritable.
Once after a long-distance trip, father came home without giving notice. Having entered the house, he found his daughter crying without mother by her side. He asked:
“Why are you crying, my daughter?”
Mụn looked up at her father with tears welled up in her eyes.
“Look, dad, my goldfish…. Is dying…. My….”
Her father looked at the fish tank nearby and tried to sooth his daughter:
“All right, my little daughter! It is dying, so I am going to buy you another one, more beautiful. But where is mother? Is there anything to eat? I am very hungry.” In the end of the day, father had to eat some stewed food to quench his hunger.
He did not see that the goldfish was dead and his daughter was lying on the floor, having fainted. Mother went home from the market and saw Mụn in that state, with the goldfish in her hand. Mother quickly carried her to the hospital, praying she would be all right.
Having witnessed Mụn in that state, her neighbor Tỏm, a dog tamer, said to Mụn’s mother:
“O.K. I will give her a puppy so that the little girl can have a friend to play with. Do you think it’s all right?”
Mụn’s mother was in great joy:
“There’s nothing better than that! Thank you. Do you think there is any influence on my daughter’s health if we have a dog in the house?”
“Don’t worry. Dogs are man’s best friend. With a pup in the house, Mụn could be happy and her health could get better….” – Tỏm said, laughing.
Mr Tỏm was right. When Ếch was in the house, Mụn’s spirits improved. She ate better. She spent most of the time with the pup, playing with it. She sometimes took the pup to Tỏm’s house for more training. Thanks to it, Ếch could give warning to mother whenever Mụn got fainted and became an alarm clock for her. That was the reason why Ếch had to be sent to Mụn’s maternal grandmother’s house when her father was coming home….
Mụn’s father walked out of the bathroom. Mother said:
“Fortunately, last night, thanks to the warning from the pup, I could give medicine in time to our daughter, or….”
Mụn’s father said “Yes” and sat down by the table to have breakfast with beef steak and two omelets.
“Are you still tired, my daughter? Go brush your teeth and wash your face” – Mother said to Mụn.
Mụn walked into the bathroom. Ếch ran out from under the bed and followed the little girl. It was a normal morning for both of them. Mụn opened the fridge and got some milk for her and for Ếch.
All of a sudden, Mụn’s father sneezed several times. His face got red. His eyes were full of tears. He looked at the pup in anger. Mother quickly took the pup out and was looking for a rope but she could not. The dog ran into the room again and scratched at Mụn’s foot.
Father stood up and took the dog by the neck and threw it out of the window. He spoke in an angry voice:
“What the hell is this dog for? Why are you fussing about it?”
There was “yelp” heard outside and the squeal of a motorbike’s breaks. The yelping stopped. Everything seemed to stop moving for a short moment, and then noises were heard echoing through the window…..
Mụn stood still and then she rushed to the window, looking out.
And from the window, a small cry was heard, very soft.
And then it stopped right away….
And it was silent….
Translated by Mạnh Chương