by Trần Huyền Trang
Di and her husband were like two coloured cotton threads spun together forming one piece of cloth. When another colour was added, it mixed things up. Similarly, another young woman in her nest would damage it. Worse, it would make her redundant.
Di huddled under the windowsill. Heavy rain from an early monsoon had made the house feel chilly. Her newborn baby girl, sound asleep in the cradle with her soft giggles did not seem to warm it up. Time and again her loveable face brightened with a wonderful light that Di couldn’t describe with words. Whenever she stared at the child’s smiling face with dimples on her cheeks Di almost cried. “Di, how wicked you are!” she scolded herself. “Why did you ever think about having an abortion?” she abused herself further.
Her husband did not seem thrilled with the new addition to the house either. “I’m afraid that you’ll be jealous of your little baby,” he teased his first born daughter.
* * *
Di remembered when she was pregnant her female colleagues promised, “If you have a boy, we can give him our boys’ old clothes so you can save money.”
She had just smiled her thanks but she didn’t want them. She wanted to spend more money on the baby’s clothes no matter how much it might cost.
“A baby girl would be welcome too,” her husband had said. “The little one can reuse stuff left behind by her sister. In these hard times, we’d better save what we can,” he went on.
Now, lying quietly beside the baby, Di wept bitterly.
“Why are you crying?” he asked her. “I’ve told you umpteen times, it doesn’t matter that we had another girl,” he consoled her.
She didn’t know why she had cried so much. In her heart of hearts, she did not wish to be upset at the child. “Had she been a boy, things would have been totally different!” she whispered to herself.
* * *
Soon after Di had given birth, her husband’s grandparents came to visit the new-born with gifts, among them nappies and other bits of baby’s clothes. Her grandmother stood at her bed, excited.
“My dear granddaughter, I’ve covered over one thousand kilometres to come see you,” said her grannie. “Now let me change your nappy for good luck,” she insisted softly.
Her thin hands stopped halfway when she took off the little kid’s old nappy. She frowned and declared in a hoarse voice, “My poor little thing! These new nappies don’t seem to fit you. What’s the use of them now?”
“It doesn’t matter, Mum. For little babies like her, sex is not important. They can wear anything that fits,” her son argued.
She left the hospital after waving goodbye to them when they took a taxi home. It slowly drove them home.
* * *
At first, Di was willing to overlook unpleasant things in family life. Yet, Thuyên, her husband’s young mistress in his home town made her anxious. Di had thought a lot about their sex life. She thought that if he left her, she would kill herself.
“What a crazy idea!” said her husband. “Don’t you see, without you, we couldn’t be happy?” he reproached her gently.
However, words were one thing, but actions were another one.
When the baby girl began to speak a bit he was up to his ears in work. Still, Di did not resent him although she had to stop working to take care of the baby. Consequently, he had to earn all the family’s money. At the same time, his mother was pestering him to visit her more often. Every fortnight or so, he went to see her in his hometown by train. When Di asked after her health, he just replied, “No problems! She’s quite all right. If anything minor happens to her, it’s just old age. She’s mostly afraid of being alone. That’s all.”
For each of his trips, Di sent her some food, cuttle-fish, chickens and so on, although she knew that her old mother-in-law would find fault with her. “Di should provide her kids with more milk rather send me things I don’t want,” she remarked. Yet, Di continued to perform her filial duty to her mother-in-law. “As a woman, I understand her complicated moods,” Di whispered to herself.
Her husband was hurriedly packing his belongings to return to his home town again. Di handed him a bag of second-hand baby clothes.
“Take them along with you darling? Our little daughter’s clothing is still in good condition. No need for any more! By the way, say hello to Thuyên for me,” Di told her husband.
When he got to his home town in the country and saw Thuyên, he was horrified to learn his mother had told her everything: he was married and had two children, which Thuyên did not know. Thuyên was dumbfounded.
* * *
When Thuyên appeared at her house on a hot day, Di was utterly embarrassed. After drinking hot cup of tea offered by her hostess, Thuyên, in a pained voice, confessed her wrongdoing to Di. “Forgive me please! As for his Mum, she’s doing fine on her own, he really only comes to see me,” Thuyên said to her. “What I’m worried about is the fate of mine and my unborn baby, your husband’s baby,” Thuyên added.
Staring at her face wet with sweat and at her tousled thick hair, Di could see the young rural woman’s was beautiful. Bitterly, Di realised that with this country girl’s presence in her family, her beauty would fade away in her husband’s eyes.
Thuyên begged her for forgiveness.
“I wish I had died,” she said to Di.
“I also wish I was dead, every day I have to face my unfaithful husband that I loved so dearly,” Di said. Poor Di, she had loved him blindly.
“I’m miserable, Di. It seems like you’re in the same situation,” Thuyên observed. “Why have we been driven to this? You can punish me however you like. I deserve everything I get,” she went on.
* * *
When Thuyên gave birth to the baby girl, Di’s husband was not with her. When his mother visited Thuyên in hospital and discovered that her new-born was also a girl, her hope was shattered. She left at once.
Thuyên was forced to call Di from the hospital as the rain hammered down.
“Di, I don’t know why you don’t hate me. Thank you for your forgiveness. May God bless both of us,” Thuyên said.
Silently, she wiped away the tears trickling down on her cheeks. “We’re all happy your baby is healthy. Surely, she will have a happy life! And I’m not angry as we women have to stick together,” Di told her.
Hurriedly, she hung up on Thuyên. She resumed knitting a tiny multi-coloured woollen cardigan for the child who would be, in a few years, able to babble ‘mummy, mummy’.
Translated by Văn Minh