|Illustration by Do Dung
by Phuong Trinh
Hy woke up and looked at the clock. For over twenty years, Hy had not enjoyed a full night's sleep. It was about midnight and it was pouring incessantly. He felt a bit hungry. He had not eaten anything since the afternoon. He got up and went downstairs. Suddenly, he heard a thumping sound in the garden on the side of the house. Could it be some children? Hy had already put up a barbed wire fence to keep them out. Were they climbing over the fence? But it was midnight, and raining cats and dogs outside.
He walked softly to the back of the house. The lock on the door on the side of the house had been pried open. He became very nervous. He heard some small sounds and saw light from a torch in the front of the house. He saw the shadow of a man who was rummaging through the house with a knife in his hand. A burglar! Hy felt hot all over his body. Images from over 20 years ago rushed into his head. He did not want to cry out for help. Apart from his daily work, he had separated himself from the outside world for many years now. What was the use of crying for help when his front door was made of iron and the house was fenced with barbed wire? Hy quickly took a stool as a weapon. Right then, however, he recognized that he had no more energy or strength.
His hands were almost numb, so he could not pick anything up. His fear rose85. The knife85. The scream85. Everything seemed to be playing out in front of him. Never had he felt that all his energy drained out. He sat down with a thud in the dark. Fortunately, the sound was drowned by the rain, so the burglar could not hear it. Hy decided to look at what had made him so weak. The images of over twenty years ago came up clearly again.
A woman yelled upon seeing the burglar. A 6-year-old boy rushed out upon hearing his mother's voice. His mother lay on the floor, blood flowing out of her. The burglar fled. There was just the boy, crying his heart out.
That boy was Hy.
Over twenty years had gone by. The file for the case that had stirred up SaF8i GoF8n was closed. Yet, every minute of what had happened resurfaced in Hy's mind time and again, in dreams and when he was wide awake.
Hy's had brought up by a single mother. When she died, Hy went to live with his aunt. He became self-willed and cold. At 14, he left his aunt and lived with migrant workers who came from different places. He did what he was asked to eke out a living. But he continued to learn and learn very well.
Now at 28, Hy had a house of his own and he'd designed it himself. The house was a year old. Hy reserved a small patch of land for the trees. But he had kept in contact with no one.
When he was eleven years old, he had asked himself why the burglar had killed a weak woman, even after he'd robbed all the money. At 16, he had tried to delve deeper into the crime to try and understand it. And now, he had the chance to do it directly, but he wondered why his limbs had become so weak.
Yes, Hy was very scared. He was scared of the knife that had killed his mother and her death had always come up in his head so clearly. The fear sapped all his strength. Now, it was like a scene being replayed in a film – a stab with the knife, and death.
When he set up the barbed wire fence, Hy knew very well that it was only to guard against, to separate himself from, normal, ordinary people. He knew very well that it was impossible to fend off burglars completely. He knew it. But he built the fence anyway. It was virtually an unconscious act.
He asked himself the question again and again. The fear gradually left and he started to feel stronger. He stood up. He saw some knives in the house, but he felt he did not need them.
He walked out, switched on the light and asked in a loud noise:
"What are you looking for?"
Hy was a little surprised that his voice was so calm. He began to find the experience interesting. What a unique opportunity for a unique performance! Yes, he knew that the price could be his life.
In the light that flooded the room, the burglar was stopped in his tracks. It seemed that he was a bit younger than Hy, but he looked wild, like a wolf. It would be difficult to handle him. Yet, Hy could see fear in his eyes. Yes, it was fear! Fear had been discovered. Was it the same fear Hy had felt over twenty years ago? Was it possible that the fear of a devil was very human? The questions lacerated Hy's mind, but he had to push them aside to confront the burglar. so as to face with this guy.
"What are you looking for?" – Hy repeated the question in a dignified way as if he the host receiving a guest.
"Money," came the answer. As he said it, Hy found the burglar's fear leave him. He was brave, foolhardy and had enough cunning. He would not brandish the knife before any one. He might not have intended to use the knife tonight, but he would not hesitate to use it when needed, Hy thought. He was not confronting an ordinary man. Hy continued: "You know, there's no need to look for money this way."
"Whatever way, I don't care." The burglar threw out his chest and walked towards Hy. He wanted to kill Hy. Hy could read the burglar's mind. Fear enveloped him again, but he recovered his composure in time. Fear was the beginning of any disaster. Hy said in a calm voice:
"Can we have something to eat?"
He said it just to keep his composure. He did not mean to invite his would-be assassin to a meal. Hy walked into the kitchen and began cooking a pot of pumpkin soup. As he cooked, he thought about the knife and the stool. Who would win if he fought the burglar with these? But there was one thing Hy knew for sure. He could not match with the burglar's muscle. The burglar stood right behind Hy, probably afraid that Hy might phone the police. He kept the knife in hand to intimidate Hy. Hy felt his death was near, but remained calm enough to continue cooking the pumpkin soup and then he put the soup into two bowls. If the burglar had wanted to kill him, he would have done so a few moments before, not now, Hy thought. The thought also struck him that since his mother died, he had not had a meal with anyone, even when he was with his aunt's family. Now he wanted to eat with someone, even with a burglar. He put bread and bowls of soup on the tray. Everything was ready.
Behind Hy, the burglar had begun swearing. But the fragrance from the bowls of soup hit his nostrils just then, exciting his gastronomic imagination. The burglar also had not eaten with anybody for a long time; how many years it had been, he could not remember. He quickly walked towards the table and sat down
Hy had a house but no family, no love nest. A dinner with someone on a rainy night touched his heart. He invited the burglar to eat, and began eating himself, because he had become quite hungry. The fear had left him. He ate heartily, satisfied with the soup. The knife in the burglar's hand was immaterial now. Hy did not care about it anymore. But the burglar put down the knife on the table and began eating the soup and bread.
The atmosphere had eased, suddenly. Hy looked at the burglar in silence. He was eating with enthusiasm. There was no aggression. Hy finished the soup and walked into the living room, feeling no fear at all. Finally, he might be able to overcome the pain he had suffered for years now, the pain of losing his mother while he was still a little boy. Now the pain and hatred had been put aside. A strong emotion surged in him. When there was no more fear, what was left inside human beings? Was it love towards everyone? Hy suddenly recognized that he was not a lonely man.
He gave the burglar some more bread. Now both of them felt more natural.
"This is delicious," the burglar said without feeling any shame. "Do you live alone?"
"When I was 9, my father followed a woman, leaving mother with a big debt. One day I woke up and saw her dangling from the ceiling. She'd committed suicide."
He paused to eat some more and continued: "From then on, I've hated the rich and have not had any food cooked by any mother since."
The burglar seemed to have lost interest in Hy's money. He'd forgotten what he'd climbed over the barbed wire fence for.
"What about you? Tell me your story."
Hy smiled. The burglar egged him on. Hy let the burglar's story settle inside him for a moment.
"I have no father. It was just my mother and me. One night, someone broke into our house, took all the money from mom and killed her. I was 6 years old then."
The burglar swore under his breath. He looked at Hy. They said nothing. They divided the remaining bread as if they were close friends. Now the soup and bread had been eaten to their hearts' content.
The burglar broke the silence.
"The rain has stopped."
It was daybreak. "Let me give him a coat." Just as the thought flashed in Hy's head, the burglar said: "I'm going now."
Hy sat at the table. The burglar had left, leaving the knife on the table as if it did not belong to him. The way he walked away told Hy that the burglar had come to have some soup with him, not take his money. So, at the end of the day, what did man need in this world?
The sun came out of the sky line. After a rainy night, SaF8i GoF8n looked fresh and clean. In the yard of the house, a man dismantled the barbed wired fence.
Translated by Manh Chuong