by Tue An
The traffic light had turned red. Suddenly, continuous deafening peals of horn from a motorbike echoed behind me.
"What a hell of a noise!" I said to myself. Then I lowered the car window and slowly stuck my head out. About to shout a few angry words, I stopped abruptly. The troublemaker was none other than a little kid with chubby cheeks and a decayed incisor. She was driving her motorbike close to my car and blowing the horn proudly. I smiled broadly.
Reaching our condo drive, instead of parking my vehicle inside the garage, I headed straight for my hometown to stay away from our small apartment in the huge concrete high-rise. I wanted to avoid the lonely situation that had reigned over our place for many days on end.
"How long have I led such an insipid life here?" I asked myself time and time again. I tried to forget it by means of throwing myself into business, while my husband Trac indulged in endless journeys, one after another, which were in his opinion an eternal pleasure. In my opinion, I regarded them merely a waste of time and effort, bringing neither profit nor fame. Once I read these lines on his Facebook: "Moving far away means living free far and wide in order to enjoy what is taking place around me."
What about me? "Am I only a stop-over for him to relax a little during his short stay at home?" I asked myself.
I did not inform my maternal grandparents in advance of my return. Their house stood in the middle of a large plot of land in Binh Chau District, which was all year round swept by the sea wind impregnated with a salty taste. Whenever I wanted to leave the crowded and bustling city, I came home to refresh myself for one night at least so that I could return to the city with my mind at ease.
Stopping my car against the trunk of the age-old magnolia outside, which looked whitish with mouldy and disfigured bark while its green canopy was covered by mist early in the morning, I picked up some wax-like flower petals that looked like the long fingers of a pretty girl to enjoy their magical fragrance.
"Perhaps Granddad has already had dinner," I said to myself. Opening the gate, I saw him sitting on a wooden plank bed close to a tea-set manufactured at Bat Trang Village, a really meaningful gift offered him by Trac after a long business trip in the Song Hong (Red River) Delta. In fact, my old man loved its lustrous enamel as dearly as he had ever liked his nephew-in-law. I remembered one morning when we were drinking tea and chatting about some current affairs of the world in the seemingly quiet atmosphere of the North.
"Is that niece Quynh over there?" he asked loudly in a hopeful voice when he recognised the sound of the footsteps resounding from my high-heeled sandals.
"It's me, my beloved Granddad."
His question was a bit concerned because I had never returned home mid-week like this. Finding his face weary and worried, I was fully aware of his deep concern for my unexpected decision. In comparison with my grandfather's voice, Trac seemed unsatisfied with my way of life.
"Why is that? In addition to a pretty and virtuous wife good at both business affairs and domestic matters, what else does he want?" I asked myself.
After having a shower, I took a bowl of plain rice from the kitchen and sat by his side as I used to do during my girlhood in the country. As a broad-minded man, he had never put any considerable pressure on me like most of the women in my extended family. Perhaps by virtue of his tolerance, I was able to go much farther than any of them. It was due to my stay beside him today that I could realise my own deep breath. Finishing the frugal meal, I poured out a cup of tea for myself, whose colour matched that of the fine enamel of the porcelain on a moonlit night.
Resting my back against the sofa wall and keeping my eyes half open, I enjoyed the sweet fragrance and the delicious flavour of the hot cup of tea, dreaming that my domestic troubles would soon end.
"All my worries at work will certainly be settled smoothly during tomorrow morning's meeting," I said to myself. "I'll willingly accept my disadvantages in the upcoming contract with the costly prices of the materials, provided that I may keep my promise to the customers and strengthen their confidence in my business." Loosening my hair to let it flow down to my shoulders, I thought and thought. The only problem was how to persuade all the shareholders to accept my measure.
Looking at my grandfather's face, I discovered the wrinkles of old age had left deep furrows on his freckled complexion. However, his looks stayed very pensive and calm.
"In fifty years, when I reach his present age, how will I look?" I asked myself. "Yet, will I even reach that age?"
Suddenly, I remembered that when I was still very young, I told Trac that I would try to lead a meaningful life until the age of sixty and that at that age I would end my life.
"By your reasoning, my mother's days are numbered," he said in a displeased voice after a few minutes' thought.
"No, I don't mean that," I retorted.
"Granddad, have you ever felt regretful for anything?" I asked him in order to break the silence reigning over us and create an opportunity for me to show my heart.
"Repentance? Yes, for quite a lot of things! But they all helped me understand the meaning of life better."
I looked over the dim, secluded, quiet garden. Its canopies lay so close to one another that they almost covered the starry sky. The light coming from the lounge made me a bit pained.
"My marriage was so gross an error that I still feel very repentant," I blurted out.
"Why do you think that it was a mistake?" he asked me in a warm voice, with a deep sigh as if he were well aware of our marital troubles. "You succeeded in marrying the man you loved dearly. Why was that a great error?"
"Because he isn't an ordinary man. Frankly speaking, I'm unable to make him."
He kept silent; so did I. He made another pot of hot tea with all the adroitness of a connoisseur in the art of tea drinking. "Usually, many pour away the first tea extract. That is the wrong way of preparing tea, for its powdered essence will get lost," he said. "So you're going to get a divorce, aren't you?"
I argued with him fiercely.
"You've always told me that before falling in love with somebody, I must do my utmost to find out his family's living conditions and habits. I've made great efforts to follow your advice, but I've failed in this matter."
"Are you really patient enough?" he asked, casting a dubious look at me.
How could I do otherwise when Trac did not give me a chance to understand him? I did not want to lay bare his shortcomings; therefore, I evaded the question.
To the best of my knowledge, for the time being, Trac was wandering somewhere in the mountains or gluing his eyes to his microscope in the lab. Formerly, we used to spare many hours for each other. Sadly, now they were only things of the past. Perhaps my images had been engulfed in his parties, in his signing contractual ceremonies or in numerous meetings with his business partners, one after another.
"Have I wasted the essence of my life or exchanged its sweet moments for these commonplace bitter pieces?" I asked myself.
At last, I e-mailed him a short note:
My dear Trac, to the best of my knowledge I realize that nothing is as easy as or more difficult than marriage. Love requires real effort from both people.
Its necessary condition is two people of opposite sex.
Sadly, now I'm fully aware that whatever I believed myself capable of, I'm able to carry out, except for love, because it's beyond my reach. It depends on you alone.
Now I willingly accept the idea that I'm unable to go all my way with a man who is, in his heart of hearts, short of love.
When I go away, you don't have to worry about me each time I tumble down or join a rat-race in business, and my concern or solicitude will become meaningless to you. Worse still, your promise is not as important as a trivial chat among friends.
Unfortunately, I've done my best to maintain them all in vain.
If only I knew how to welcome your abandonment earlier or understood your decision to take your own path, we would have become friends. That way would have been good for both of us!
Now I understand that a good friend is far better than an indifferent spouse.
I need a hand to hold firmly and a shoulder to rest on forever.
Poor me, I should have released anything that lay in the hands of another person sooner!
Translated by Van Minh