| - Ảnh: Illustration by Dao Quoc Huy
by Nguyen Trong Van
"Uncle, why are you getting into the house through the window?"
The intruder, who had just swung his body from the tree near the window into the living room, stood dumbfounded. After a moment of hesitation, he opened his eyes wide and stared at the little girl, whose hair was falling down as if she was going to bed. She wore a white skirt and sat calmly in an armchair, with one hand holding a cup and the other resting on the arm of the chair. The burglar looked fixedly at the little girl and found that she did not appear afraid or surprised. She sat still, chewing something. He quickly dropped his hands. The moonlight was shining brightly through the window onto the floor. He felt a bit reassured and started thinking up his escape plan.
"Uncle, my mother told me that good people come to visit by night through the window to give gifts to good girls!" the girl said with a peal of laughter. "But I am not yet a good girl! Why don't you wait until I fall asleep to sneak in and give me a gift? Today is my birthday. I am four years old today, you know!"
"Ah, well…. You're four years old. I….I think you're already asleep."
""Only good people give gifts to children in the deep of the night, right?"
"Are all your family in bed now?"
The burglar was quick to put the question so he could get out, but the girl did not answer. It seemed that she really regretted not being asleep so that she could be surprised by a gift when she woke up.
"It's just like how Santa Claus goes through the chimney to give gifts to children, right, uncle?"
The burglar kneeled down to speak to the girl so that she could speak in a lower voice. The girl waved her hand to him:
"Uncle, you are shielding the blue star."
He moved a bit away. Outside, the sky was as clear as crystal. Millions of stars were twinkling from afar, like an invitation.
"Such beautiful stars!"
"I am not a good girl because I am not in bed yet," the girl said, looking squarely at the burglar's face as if entreating him. "But will I get a gift anyway?"
"Of course. All children get presents on the night of their birthday," the burglar said in a choked voice, feeling greatly guilty. Everyone was given gifts on their birthday. He lowered his head in pain. He had been caught red-handed by this little girl.
"But I want…."
"What do you want?"
"I want that twinkling blue star up there!"
"That faraway blue star?" The burglar pointed his finger vaguely at the sky to win the girl's trust. He turned to say to the girl, "Yes, when you wake up, you'll have that blue star." Then he took the girl's tiny hand. "Now, let's go to bed. Only when you go to bed can I fetch the blue star as a gift for you."
"Are you sure?"
"I'm sure." The burglar smiled cleverly. He felt on tenterhooks as long as the girl had not gone to bed.
"You go first. I have to stay awake to see you find the star."
"But I want to see the good girl go into her bedroom now. A good girl never lets grown-ups wait for her, you know!" he said, retreating to the window so he could leave before anything happened.
"Who are you speaking to, daughter?" a voice called from upstairs.
"Mother, the stars know how to speak!"
The burglar pulled himself out of the window, feeling relieved. He looked up and saw a woman closing the window.
One year later.
Thuan suddenly stopped in his tracks, but it was too late, he was now in the middle of the room which he had entered through the window a year before. Everything seemed unchanged inside the room.
"Good day. Please take a seat, both of you," the woman said to the man who had brought Thuan here. It was a woman more than 40 years old, looking conceited in a white silk dress. She invited them to sit down. On the other chair sat her husband in smart clothes. Thuan sat down with a bit of hesitation.
"You've just come here from the country? You look so shy!"
"Yes, lady," Thuan said, feeling hot all over his body. One year before Thuan had passed the university entrance exams.
"Have some tea, please."
Thuan was startled, as if he had been caught red-handed again. He felt itchy all over.
"We have a son who is now entering senior secondary school. We hope that you can help him learn well," the woman said.
Thuan was a bit hesitant. If he accepted the invitation, he was afraid he would someday be discovered as a burglar. If he refused, he would lose a good chance to earn some money for his studies. In his heart, he felt such remorse. Seeing Thuan's hesitation, the woman walked towards him.
"Don't worry, if he does badly, we won't make you pay for it!"
"Oh, no, I…. I agree," Thuan said. In his heart, the feeling of guilt was growing.
"All right. You've agreed to help my son. Now I am going to call my son Trung down here so that you can make each other's acquaintance," the woman said in an intimate voice. From upstairs rang the clear, childish voice of a girl. Thuan felt guilty again. But it was too late. The boy and his sister were there.
He stood there and looked fixedly at Thuan, while the little girl said "Hello" in a polite manner. She sat down on the chair and looked out of the window, saying nothing.
"Bao Trung, from now on, this young man Thuan will study with you," the mother said to her son, who then asked Thuan:
"Do you know how to swim?"
"Oh, yes. I swim quite well. In my village, all the children can swim in the pond when they're seven years old."
"It's different here. It's very dull to swim in the swimming pool!"
Thuan nodded in sympathy. But he felt frightened when he caught the girl's eyes still glued to the window. His chest was heavy with thumping heartbeats. He was startled upon finding that the window was now mullioned with iron bars, as if the owner of the house had known that the house had been burglarised. This window looked straight towards the living quarters, where he had rented a room. He wondered why that night he had had the guts to break into this house.
"Good-bye, you two. Thuan, please start helping my son Bao Trung tonight," the woman said and saw the guest off with her husband. Thuan got up and was about to walk out when he caught the crystal-clear eyes of the little girl.
"Uncle, you haven't found me a blue star, have you?" The little girl smiled an unaffected smile.
The sky seemed to turn around. He quickly walked towards her and knelt on his right knee, saying in a low voice:
"Not yet. I haven't found it yet. It's so far away. You are a good girl. We will keep this secret, do you agree?"
The little girl nodded.
"You two are so close already. We are very happy about it," the woman said, walking into the room. She showed no sign of doubt.
Fifteen years later.
"Do you remember the first time we met?"
Thuan did not answer right away. A moment later, he turned and looked at Xuyen Chi. She was lying on her back. The moon illuminated the side of the dike. A ship honked its horn. A cool breeze blew over the Red River. Xuyen Chi was lying there, looking at the sky. Then she whispered:
"I don't remember anything."
Thuan felt relieved. He looked up at the sky, strewn with twinkling stars. It was early autumn now and it was getting colder when night fell. Thuan intended to ask Xuyen Chi to get up and go home, but he stopped. They had been friends for quite a long time, but tonight was the first night they went out together. She was lying there in great comfort as if she was lying on the bed at home.
"If I find you going out with another girl student, you'll be punished, understand?" Xuyen Chi said, her eyes still glued on the star-filled firmament. Thuan was still very worried. He felt guilty about jumping through the window years ago.
"My dear!" Xuyen Chi turned to him. "Why don't you answer me? You teachers are not faithful, I know. I am also the 'victim" of teacher Thuan, you see."
They both broke into laughter. They loved each other head over heels, so nobody could drive a wedge between them. In Xuyen Chi's mind, Thuan was the only man in the world. He was a young teacher and she was the prettiest student.
"Look, there is a blue star!" Xuyen cheered in great joy.
Thuan again felt pain in his heart. Was it that she wanted to see if he was brave enough to hear the old story again? His head felt like it was on fire.
"Yes, it's beautiful!"
"You liar! Can you tell me where it is?"
Thuan tried to look closer at Xuyen Chi and he found that she had the face of an angel. In the moonlight, her face was so charming and alluring. Out of the blue sky, she got up and embraced his head tightly to her chest. In the blink of an eye, their faces pressed together and a warm breath flowed through their lips. This kiss seemed never-ending.
"My dear, will you find me a blue star?" Xuyen Chi asked this time as if she wanted to hear his confirmation. Thuan kissed her again with another endless kiss.
"I will bring you a blue star. I'll pick the bluest star from that far-away distance in the sky, but…" Thuan hesitated for a moment. "There are two more days left before I go to the battlefield. We can't tell when the war… Xuyen Chi? Will you wait for me? Will you wait for me until I can bring you a blue star?"
Xuyen Chi embraced his head more tightly on her chest. A sense of relief was transmitted from her chest to his face. He was in a daze at the fragrance emitting from her body. Her breasts were heaving up and down on his face. They were both in great emotion.
Two days later, Thuan marched to the battlefield together with his comrades-in-arms.
And twenty seven years later.
"Will…. Will…. you pardon me…me….?" Mr Thuan was lying on a hospital bed, speaking with difficulty. The room was empty. Mrs. Xuyen Chi was startled out of her dream. "If I tell you….the….the…. truth, will… will…. you…. pardon me….me?" Mr Thuan tried to speak through the breathing machine. Mrs. Xuyen Chi took his left hand. Suddenly, she felt frightened. She had told her children to go home and leave her here alone with her husband. She felt a presentiment that this was the last night she could be by his side. "I… I…. haven't found …. the… blue star for you…" Mrs. Xuyen Chi wished to say something to console her husband, to tell him all she felt. She had longed for the blue star for her whole life. On the day she saw him off to battle, night after night, she looked skywards at the far-away stars to wish that her husband would come back home one day.
Then Thuan returned home on the victory day with a lot of wounds on his body. The first night they slept together, Xuyen Chi was stunned when she saw the big scars on her husband's body. She was about to yell, but she managed to contain herself in time. Day in and day out, she got used to the feeling and her love for her husband was much greater. She got used to seeing the wounds on her husband's body.
With one last effort, Mr Thuan turned his glazed eyes through the window to the sky. He looked fixedly at it and smiled slightly. Then his eyes closed gradually with satisfaction. Mrs. Xuyen Chi was in great joy to see her husband in that state. She let the tears flow freely, her head resting on his chest. Her eyes looked constantly at the window. The stars were twinkling in the night.
Translated by Manh Chuong