yellow butterflies flew in from the mountains
man of destiny
in the lotus pond
Scent of Violet Daisies
about the Mao Tien fish
of the White-eyes
Length of Silk Across the Coffin
burning lights shine
always belongs to the sun
By Tran Thanh Ha
last I managed to get a job teaching at a secondary
school about fifteen kilometres away from home. The
distance was nearly the same as between my house and the
town. "What? You’ve accepted it, have you?" asked
"What else can I do?," I answered.
An, my sweetheart, was not surprised when I told him of
my decision. "I see. In our lifetime, we always
cherish such an illusion," he said. I was offended,
but he only smiled. "I intend that I’ll work for some
time, say one or two years. When we’re qualified enough,
we’ll get married," I said. "Ah, a member of the
intelligentsia!," aunt remarked sarcastically. "You
are showing your scholar’s pride, are you?" She had
reason to be bitter, because I had turned down her offer
of help - work for a foreign firm with a good salary.
"Not that. I only want ...," I began.
"Let it be," she interrupted. "Life will teach
you to be self-reliant very early. But what about your
darling? What is his opinion?" "For the time being,
we’ll have to be away from each other for some time.
Whenever both of us find that we’re able to live
together, we’ll ... ," I answered.
"How romantic you are!" I brought our
conversation to an end because I knew that it would lead
to a quarrel. I still felt sad that she’d turned a deaf
ear to my explanation.
was my mother’s youngest sibling, after Uncle Hung.
Mother was pretty and aunt was beautiful. Aunt’s eyes
were as black as coal. Her nose was straight and
delicate. Her lips were rosy and her complexion was
lily-white. But she was congenitally lame. Unfortunately
this defect had turned out be a major disadvantage.
Mother told me that Aunt was very good at maths. She had
come first in a mathematics competition at the district
level. Children at her school nicknamed her "Lame." Her
pride in her intelligence was unable to compensate for
her defect. She cried her heart out often. Moved, granny
told her, "Stay home with me, dear. There’s no need
for you to go to school any more."
But aunt responded: "I’m lame. This is such a
disadvantage. If I was illiterate as well, it would be
much worse. I’d be looked down upon by everyone."
She did well at school. When she finished her secondary
education with distinction she sat for the
university-entrance examinations and passed it with high
marks. But the college sent her back home just because
she was lame. She resigned herself to staying at home
for one year, doing needlework for purses and bags for
young ladies. When Uncle Hung built a house in the town
to get everything ready for his marriage, aunt told him:
"Take me along as well. There I’ll look after your
children." He agreed. So she followed her elder
brother to town. "She will be unhappy there,"
Granny said. "Let her do what she wants to,"
the town with her brother’s small family and being tired
of doing nothing but needlework in a deserted house in
the daytime, Aunt took to visiting a grocer’s stall
close to the market and stayed there for hours. With her
presence, the number of customers coming to the stall
increased noticeably. The shop owner asked Aunt to work
for her, and she became a salesgirl. Passers-by,
especially young men, besotted by her charm, could not
help stopping in front of the stall to buy something
they really did not need. "It’s high time you got
married, dear," said Granny. "Out of ten men,
nine like the upper two-third portion of my body, not
the lower one-third," she replied.
Later, uncle opened a shop in the front portion of his
house for her to do business. Customers began to do
their shopping at Aunt’s, instead of her former place of
work. Year after year, the profits piled up. "My only
hope is that she’ll soon have a husband, but that does
not look like it is going to happen," sighed Granny.
Aunt just smiled. People flocked to her shop in greater
By the time
I began attending college, Aunt had built a house of her
own. Although it was not luxurious, it was cosy and
decent. For four years, most of my expenses for studying
and living were borne by her since my parents were poor
farmers with a large family. Aunt was still young, I was
in my late teens, and I became closer to her than to my
mother. I visited her often, usually on holidays,
travelling the long distance between my college and the
heart of the town. There were many times I buried my
face in her bosom and cried my eyes out. "You can
realise its problems only when you are in love," she
said. "Weep to your heart’s content, but don’t be
When I started going out with An, she did not object.
She only said: "Now that you are in love, you’ll have
to accept what comes to you - good or bad."
Mother was totally against our affair because An worked
a long way away, about a thousand kilometres from my
house and his family belonged to, in her opinion, a
dubious circle of traders.
Aunt then told me that she was in love as well. I was
"When are you going to get married?" "Never."
Surprised, I looked at her closely. At 30, she was still
very attractive. It would be an injustice if such a
beautiful woman was not loved by anyone. If only I
looked like her or Mother, just a bit, things could have
been different for me. Instead, I inherited the brown
complexion and slanting eyes from Dad.
"Aunt, tell me about your love, please," I urged
her. She smiled in a vague way for a few seconds, then
said: "He is married already, and lives a normal life
with his wife and children." "A married man?"
I could hardly breathe. "Nobody can persuade or
coerce me into doing anything against my will," she
hastened to add, for fear that I might think badly of
But I was not going to keep silent. "He loves you,
but doesn’t leave his wife, does he? Bastard."
She kept her head down for a few minutes and then said:
"Maybe it’s his cowardice that makes me love him.
Sometimes, love and sympathy are two sides of an issue,
and sometimes they’re different. For me, what I’m badly
in need of is love and that will do."
I felt bitter. I was both angry and sympathetic.
Usually, she was a practical woman, but now she had
become so credulous and romantic.
Saturday, I went to town by bicycle. I had just received
An’s letter asking me to come to his place immediately
to discuss our affair and come to a decision soon. I was
in two minds. To go to him or wait for something new. It
was in the middle of the rainy season, but the weather
was fine that day. The blue sky forecast a beautiful
night. I reached the town at twilight. Riding my bicycle
among couples on motorcycles or expensive bicycles going
to and fro under the dazzling lights, most of them
happy-looking young people, I felt sorry for my lonely
and quiet life in the country. After graduating from
university, I should have gone to the south together
with An or accepted the job offered to me in the town as
Aunt suggested. I had done neither. With all my
belongings in my hands, I reached a secondary school in
a remote area as a teacher, a crusader come to enlighten
the countryside. More than a year had passed. Contrary
to expectations, my health had only worsened. Would
there be any change? I asked myself. Apart from
disappointment at unachieved dreams, I bore another pain
in my heart: our love seemed set to turn in another
"When you’re fed up with your teaching, you can come
here. I’ll let you take over this shop, or get you a
much better job," Aunt had said. Was it time now to
take her up on the offer?
The door was locked. Luckily, I had a spare key she had
given me. Entering the house, I found a message for me
on the table: "Food’s in the fridge. Money in the
wardrobe. I’ll be back late." I cooked the dinner
and ate it by myself. After that I watched TV and then
read An’s letter. "I always ask myself if we really
love each other when we still resort to this objective
reasoning. We just expect something to come to us
naturally, not daring to overcome obstacles to being
beside each other," he wrote.
Hearing a noise outside, I lifted the window curtain and
looked out. It was eleven o’clock at night. Aunt stood
under the eaves, close to a tall man leaning against his
crutch. From inside of the house I could overhear her
say in a low voice: "Come here tomorrow? Oh no, the
day after tomorrow’s better. Or else I’ll see you at the
cross roads." They stood side by side in silence in
the wonderful moonlight. My aunt was wearing a rose
blouse. Her shining and luxurious hair fell to her
"Can you see the moon?" asked the man after a
"Yes, of course," she answered nestling her head
against his chest. "Kiss me," she told him.
Putting the crutch carefully under his armpit, he bent
down as Aunt tried to straighten up her body to receive
his kiss. What a long, burning kiss! It seemed to me
that it contained everything: happiness, suffering and
long waiting. It was not until midnight that I heard
heavy thuds on the pavement recede farther and farther.
close to me, took my hand and placed it on her belly. "I’m
going to have a baby, dear," she whispered. I was
startled. "I’d thought that I would never have one,
but now I am certain." "You’re very happy, aren’t
you?" I asked.
There was simple truth in her voice. "Are you sure
that he really loves you?" "Certain. And if it’s
not quite so, it would make no difference. What I need
is to be beside the man I love. That’s all!"
"Aren’t you afraid of suffering?" I asked.
"If you are, stay away from love, that’s all,"
she said firmly, turning her back towards me. Soon she
I tossed and turned all night.
The next morning I got up very early to get everything
ready for my long journey. When she found me packing,
she was very surprised.
"I’ve made up my mind to go, Aunt. I am going to An’s
house." She cried, hugging me tightly.
"Are you certain that you can manage there?" "I
don’t know for sure. It’ll be all right as long as we
are still in love."
"Yes, yes, that’s right," she sobbed. "Write
to me if you meet with any difficulty. But I believe
that you’ll be happy together."
Dawn was breaking. The horizon was glowing bright and
rosy, seeming to promise a much better future. Aunt led
me to the balcony and pointed at the slowly rising sun.
"Do you know this? The day always belongs to the
Her eyes flashed with the reflection of countless
Translated by Van Minh