|Illustration by Doã Dung
by Hoang Cong Danh
He received the news of having matriculated as a post-graduate student in Russia and had one month to prepare before flying out. It should have been a piece of good news, but he did not feel so happy. On the contrary, he was somewhat depressed. It was as though he was doing something in the eleventh hour.
Married, he worked as a lecturer at a university that was hundreds of kilometers away from home and his wife was a village teacher. So they were like the sun and the moon. They could meet twice a week; actually they were by each other's side only for a night. During the summer vacation, they could live together for two months. They made love as if they were racing against time, but no sign of a baby was seen. They talked about having a medical examination, but the more they talked about it, the more hesitant they were. If he or his wife was infertile, it would be very difficult for them to deal with each other. Children were godsends, people said. If so, it would be much better not to meddle with it. So the plan to visit the hospital was shelved. They would wait and hope.
After two months in Russia, he received the good news. His wife was with child. He jumped for joy. Yes, God was fair to them. The days he had lived with his wife before flying out had borne fruit. The child would be a great motivation for him to study hard so that he could return as soon as possible and be with them. The child would be a joy for his wife who would feel less lonely. The child would help the parents be more joyful in their old age. He had a twinge of doubt, but he felt guilty for having it. What if? No way! If some such thing had happened, his wife would not have been so happy while she informed him.
When the child was born, his wife captured its image with her phone and emailed it to him. The little boy was cute. He was very happy, but still uneasy. He should have been by her side when she was delivering their son. He told himself he would make up when he was back home. Whenever he switched on the computer, the first thing he did was to check his email. His wife would often send photos of his son. But still, whenever a friend asked if his son took after him, he felt a bit nonplussed, even though the little one was just a few months old.
With his wife sending photos regularly, he could see his son wearing new clothes and tell that the boy was growing with every passing day. The boy looked a lot like his mother, but that did not bother him at all. He only felt remorse that while his wife was pregnant, he was not able to be by her side. Now his wife was not only nurturing his son and waiting for his return, she also helped his old parents with house chores after she returned from her school. Whenever he called home and enquired about everybody, there was a warmth in heart as he heard his son's voice. His mother once said that his son was very playful and she wanted him to be home at the soonest so that he teach him. One day, the boy broke a glass and his mother angrily said her family had no one who damaged things. His wife wondered if the old woman was hinting at something.
One day, the school had organized a party and his wife had returned home late at night. His mother was angry with her daughter-in-law and did not touch any food that day. From then on, his wife did not stay at the school late for any event. A woman who lived far from her husband always lacks the sentiments and warmth of her husband. But, because she loved him, she had to abstain from participating in any community activity aside and stay home so that her husband and family members would trust her.
And four years in Russia, he returned home with a doctorate in hand. He planned to shift and teach at the university in the province so that he could be by his wife's side all the time. Besides, his parents were now old and they needed him too. His son was not in the kindergarten anymore and had begun to understand things around him. He should live with his son and play with him. And now that he was going to be home, he wanted to have another child. He hoped it would be a daughter. His son was now three years old, so a daughter would be an ideal addition to the family. His parents badly wanted this too. He was bursting with happiness as the plane touched down in his homeland.
He took a taxi back home, eager to see his wife and son as soon as possible. After four years living far apart from his wife and son, he was on tenterhooks. It was three in the morning when he reached home. Hearing the car, his parents switched on the lights. His wife did not rush out of the house as he'd imagined.
He went in and opened the door of the bedroom, but his wife and son were not there. The room looked messy, and he became very scared. There was a piece of paper on the table with something scribbled on it.
"Tonight I was waiting for your to come home, but I had to pack things immediately and leave. If I met you, I would find it difficult to leave. But if I stayed, I would feel depressed. I guess we are not fated to live together. I beg you and your parents to forgive me. I have hidden this from you for four years because your parent would not be able to bear it when you are away from home. Now that you are back, so please console your parents for me. You are now a scientist with a doctor's degree and I am very happy about it. I don't want you to lose it. "
He felt he was falling into an abyss. He was completely lost. He had been very sad when he left to study abroad. But this was nothing compared to the homecoming. His parents' happiness at having him back evaporated when they knew what happened.
The rumours began spreading among the villagers and continued to do so for quite some time. Some of them would not allow their sons to study abroad, fearing that they would be cuckolded, just like him. He had spent a big part of his life studying, and now, with a doctorate, he did not have the face to go out and mingle with the villagers. Even at the university, there were people who talked about his fate with pity and derision. They also engaged in a lot of backbiting. When he was about to be promoted to be a dean, a vote was held. He was beaten by his opponent on the grounds that his family was not good enough.
He felt he should leave. This was not a place for him to continue working and living. He registered for a course in Russia at the same school that he'd received his doctorate from. It was only a one-year course, but he intended to stay for good. He saw no point in returning home.
He lived again the lonely days in the land of poplar trees. In the autumn, golden leaves covered the ground and in winter, the place was blanketed with white snow. Every season was sad. There was no spring season in his life. He started to drink vodka and began leading a debauched life. He had a lot of Russian women as lovers. He tarred all women with the same brush now. However, he wanted to have an illegitimate child. He was not sure whether the girls were unwilling and using contraceptive pills or whether he was infertile. A test showed that he was. He accepted the result calmly.
One day, all of a sudden, he thought about his ex-wife and her son. He had been filled with anger and hatred towards her for some time, but now, he felt different. If his wife had not left him then, would he have accepted the boy? Like many women, men should also find it easy to forgive their spouses when they were unfaithful, shouldn't they? He would return and look for his wife and the boy. He would heal the wounds in their hearts and find happiness again if she did not have any other man.
The day before he flew back home, he was overpowered with sadness. He drank a lot of vodka and roamed around the city shrouded in white snow. He knew he was hoping against hope that he would find his wife. A sudden snowstorm threw him to the ground. He never got up again.
His body was flown home. It was costly and troublesome, but a lot of people were sympathetic with his situation and helped out. He had returned to his village and could be at peace now, and not be afraid of rumours among the villagers. After me, the deluge, as the saying goes. The villagers had nothing to talk about him any longer.
His wife returned to attend the funeral. She came alone, without the son. Nobody berated her because what had happened had happened.
However, when his family refused her the mourning ribbon she asked for, she burst out crying. She had not followed any man after she left. She and her son had moved to live in a remote area. The son was the result of a gang-rape that happened when she was returning home late from school that night. She had left because she was ashamed to face her husband.
But it was no use explaining anything now. He had returned home and she'd done so as well. They were together in this. There was no need to talk about it anymore. There would be less pain in silence.
Translated by Manh Chuong