Viet Nam News
By Lê Bảo Chi
Grandfather died. After the funeral, the bed he used to lie on was put under the pomelo tree. It was a quiet May afternoon. Everything in the house was a mess, but nobody thought to clean up.
Grandmother was calling the black dog home to eat, but he was nowhere to be found. She called and called, but in vain. She wanted to go look for the animal, but her grandchildren asked her to stay home as they were afraid for her health after the last few exhausting days. When her grandchildren insisted on her staying home, she gave in. She thought about her husband. The dog had always excitedly welcomed him when he came home from work.
Eventually, the dog returned home. She was relieved, but the dog was famished. She made some soup for it. She was told that the dog had been standing by her husband’s grave for the past few days.
Three days after her husband’s funeral, her children and grandchildren had all gone back to their homes. Evening fell upon the small house quickly; darkness enveloped the house. The old woman walked unsteadily to switch on the lights on the altar and in the other rooms, illuminating the great emptiness of a house with only one person in it. She went to bed without turning off the lights. She lay there, looking up at the ceiling. She would no longer hear the voice of her husband, gently coaxing her to go to bed early for the sake of her health.
One of her maternal grandsons lived near her house. He stood outside, looking at her and then rushed into the house. He asked her to come and live with him. She laughed him off. How could she leave her husband here on the altar, she thought?
“What a silly idea! What would happen to my chickens?”
“I’ll make a henhouse and you can raise them in my house!”
“Oh, no, I’m going to sell them…. and….” – She said, hesitating. She felt weak, like maybe she couldn’t live alone. She needed her grandchildren’s help. When her husband was alive, he was her rock. Whenever her joints ached, he was there to massage her or to fetch painkillers.
The dog had lived with her for two years now. Her husband had taken good care of the animal, so good that sometimes she was jealous of the beast. She was thinking about her husband when some of her grandchildren came to beg her to move to their house. At her age, having good grandchildren was a blessing. But how could she leave her house and her husband lonely on the altar?
Her eldest daughter cried:
“Father has died, mum! You living here alone makes me so worried, you know that right?”
“Oh, God, why do you say such things? How can you say you’re worried when I can look after myself? When God asks me to join your father, I’ll be ready. Don’t worry, my dear.”
“Grandma, please come and live with my mother. If you live alone and something happens to you, my mother will live in shame for the rest of her life” – Her grandchild said.
“But… how can I leave your granddad here? Let me live here. When I can’t look after myself, I’ll come live with you.”
Seeing how tired the old woman was, her grandchildren asked her to go to bed. When she lay on bed, silence fell. She fell asleep and in a dream, she saw the dog roaming the road. When a vehicle drove past, the animal disappeared. She woke up suddenly and found her daughter sweeping the house. Her daughter, about 60 now, was lanky. She sat on the bed. They looked at each other.
“Go home, daughter. I’ll do it later. I’m still strong enough to do such simple housework”
Her daughter was silent, tears running down her cheeks. The old woman quickly sat up, speaking:
“I know all of you are worried about me. I am like an old tree. If you leave it standing in one place, it will live longer. If you uproot it and plant it in another place, how can the tree take root and live on? It will wither and die.”
The sun was shining through the leaves in the garden. Her skin was wrinkled, like the dead leaves on the ground. Her daughter was still sweeping the house. She was so bony, the old woman pitied her. She thought old people should never become a burden for their children.
She went to the altar and burnt incense for her husband. While worshipping, she mumbled something to her husband: “Are you happy having me by your side now?” He smiled at her without saying anything. She felt warm inside, thinking her husband was still with her.
“Do you think what I am doing is right? You and I have lived here for our whole lives, we can’t change. Do you agree with me?” - She continued to say a few more words.
Old age is like shriveled leaves and they can find nowhere better to shelter than under the shades of the leaf canopy./.
Translated by Mạnh Chương