Libmonster ID: U.S.-1444
Author(s) of the publication: NGUYEN HUY THIEP

I

As I begin to write these lines, I think I may awaken some familiar feelings that time has already erased, and I may also disturb the peace of my departed father. But I am forced to do so, and I ask readers to be lenient with my inexperienced pen, given the reason that prompted me to take it up. And the reason is that I would like to protect my father.

My father's name was Thuan, the eldest son of the Nguyen family. In our village, the Nguyen family is the largest, second only to the Wu family in terms of the number of adult boys. My paternal grandfather once studied Chinese literature, and then taught. He had two wives. The first one, after giving birth to my father, died a few days later, and my grandfather was forced to remarry. His second wife was engaged in dyeing fabrics. I don't remember her face, but they said she was a very tough woman. It is clear that, living with my stepmother, my father from the very childhood drank dashing. And at the age of twelve, he ran away from home. He joined the army and has rarely been seen in his native land since.

Around the year 19... my father came to the village to get married. Surely he didn't marry for love. He only had ten days off and a lot of things to do. And love, it requires conditions, including time.

When I was growing up, I knew absolutely nothing about my father. I suppose my mother didn't know much about him either. He had given his whole life to the war.

Then I went to work, got married, and had two daughters. My mother has grown old. And my father kept disappearing somewhere. From time to time, however, he came home, but each time for a short time. Even his letters were very short, although I knew that there was a lot of love and concern behind these lines.

I am an only child and I am very grateful to my father for everything. I got an education and went abroad. I fully owe the financial situation of my family to my father. The house I live in, located between downtown and the outskirts, was built eight years before my father retired. It's a beautiful mansion, but quite uncomfortable. I built it according to the design of a famous architect, a friend of my father's. But this architect is a colonel and knows how to build only barracks.

When my father was seventy years old, he retired with the rank of general.

I knew he was coming, but I was still at a loss. My mother suffered from a memory disorder (she is six years older than my father), and in truth, I was the only one in the house who had any special feelings about his arrival. The children were still young. His wife didn't know much about him. We got married just when we hadn't heard from him for a long time. There was a war going on. However, despite this, my father was always a source of pride in the family. And in the whole family and in the village, he was treated with great respect.

My father came to my house with little luggage and in good health. He said: "That's it, the big things in my life are over!" My father laughed. There was a terrible commotion in the house, everyone went around drunk for half a month, things got messy, and sometimes they sat down to dinner around twelve o'clock. The guests filed in. My wife once said,"It can't go on like this." I ordered a pig to be slaughtered and invited the whole village to visit. Our village is not far from the city, but all the old traditions have been preserved in it.

It wasn't until a month later that I had the opportunity to sit down and talk to my father about family matters.

II

Before I continue, let me say a few words about myself and my family.

The year my father returned home, I was thirty years old and working as an engineer at the Institute of Physics. My wife, Thuy, is a doctor who worked in a maternity hospital. We had two daughters, fourteen and twelve years old. As I said, my mother had a bad head condition and sat in one place all day. We also had Ko, a sixty-year-old boy, and his not-quite-normal daughter. They are from Thanh Hoa Province. My wife met them after their house burned down and they were left with absolutely nothing. Seeing that they were good, decent people, my wife offered them to stay with us. They lived in an annex, kept a separate household, but my wife gave them money for everything. They didn't have cards, so they didn't get food rations like the others.

Old Ko was kind and diligent. In the house, he worked on the vegetable garden, pigs, chickens and shepherd dogs, which were bred for sale in our family. It never occurred to me that raising dogs would be so profitable. The family received the largest income from this. Lai, old Ko's daughter, despite her illness, was very efficient and helped around the house well. My wife taught her how to cook pork skin, mushrooms, and chicken stew. Lai said, " I've never eaten this before." And she really didn't eat it.

My wife, my children, and I were completely free of domestic worries. Old Ko and his daughter did all the cooking and laundry. My wife only kept track of expenses. I was busy at the institute, doing work on electrolysis.

I want to add that the relationship between my wife and me was calm. Thui is educated, modern. We are used to thinking independently, on social issues


First published in Russian.

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problems were looked at simply. Thuy did a good job with household chores, as well as raising her daughters. I can say about myself that I am quite conservative, unpredictable and rude.

III

But I will return to my conversation with my father. He asked: "What should I do in retirement now?" I answered: "Write your memoirs." My father said: "I don't want to." The wife suggested: "And you, Dad, can raise parrots." In the city at that time, many bred nightingales and parrots. My father asked: "For money?" My wife didn't answer. I said: "Okay, we'll see."

After arriving, my father gave each member of the family, including old Ko and Lai, four meters of army cloth. I laughed: "Well, you're an egalitarian, Father!" My wife said, " Now the whole family will be in uniform, just like in the barracks."

My father wanted to live in a separate room in the annex, like my mother. But my wife didn't agree. My father was upset. The fact that his mother lived and ate separately from the rest of the family didn't sit well with him. My wife said: "It's because of her illness." My father fell into a reverie.

I don't understand why, but my daughters didn't have much contact with their grandfather. True, they studied a foreign language and music, in a word, they were always busy. My father once said, " Come on, granddaughters, give me something to read." Mi laughed. And Vee said, " What do you like, Grandpa?": "What's easier to read?" The girls said,"We don't have that." I wrote out a daily newspaper for my father. He didn't like reading fiction. In addition, the works of modern authors are perceived with difficulty.

One day, when I got home from work, I saw my father standing by the outhouse where we kept our sheepdogs and chickens. He looked worried. I asked: "What's the matter?" The father replied: "Ko and Lai are falling off their feet from work, they can't redo everything. I want to help them. May I?" I answered: "We should ask Thuy." My wife said, " You're a retired general, Dad. You are the commander. What happens if you do soldier's work?" My father said nothing.

Even though my father was retired, he had a lot of visitors. This both surprised and pleased me. But my wife said: "Don't be happy... They come to ask. And you, Dad, don't overexert yourself." My father laughed: "It's nothing... I only write letters... Here's a look: "To the commander of the military district so-and-so... Dear N., I am writing you this letter... This is the first time in the last fifty years that I've spent New Year's Eve under my own roof. During the war, you and I dreamed of this and that... Do you remember the little village by the roadside? Do you remember the girl named Hue who used to make us pies out of moldy flour? Her entire back was white... By the way, my friend M. wants to work under you, " etc. Well, is it all right?" I said, " I'm fine." My wife said, " That won't do." My father scratched his chin: "But I was asked to."

My father would seal his letters in 20-by-30 hard paper envelopes for official documents, labeled "Ministry of Defense," and then hand them over at random. But after three months, the envelopes ran out. And he began to make them from the covers of student notebooks, the same size: 20 by 30. A year later, however, I saw that he was already sending letters in the usual envelopes that are sold in the post office, at five vnd* for ten.

In July of that year, three months after my father's return, my uncle Bong, my father's younger brother, married his son.

IV

Uncle Bong and my father were from different mothers. Tuan, my uncle's son, worked as a cart driver. Both of them-huge, talkative - made a terrible impression. Tuan was about to remarry. His first wife left him because he beat her. But in court he said that she cheated on him, the new bride's name was Kim Ti, she worked as a kindergarten teacher, was from an educated, decent family, but it was rumored that she was already pregnant with his child. Kim Ti was a beauty, and she and Tuan were a couple, just like the proverb about a jasmine flower stuck in a pile of buffalo shit. Deep down, we all disliked Uncle Bong and his son, but, as they say, "native blood". At the wake, on holidays, we talked, but so-not particularly. Uncle Bong often said: "The cursed intelligentsia! He despises us, ordinary hard workers. If it wasn't for my brother, I wouldn't have set foot on you!" But that was all he said, and he often came to borrow money. My wife is strict in this regard and always forced him to write a receipt. Uncle Bong was angry: "I'm your own uncle, well, I borrowed a little, and you behave just like landlords." But he never paid back many of his debts.

Before the wedding, Uncle Bong said to his father, " You, brother, should be the wedding planner. Kim Ti's father is the deputy head of the department, and you're a general. It will be a great honor for the children, otherwise I'm just a rickshaw driver, so what's the joy?" My father agreed.

This wedding, typical of the city's outskirts, was ridiculous and rather vulgar. Three passenger cars. Filtered cigarettes that were replaced with plain ones by the end of the feast. Fifty trays of treats, twelve of them untouched. The groom in a black suit with a red tie. It was the best of my ties, but I wasn't sure I'd ever get it back. The friends - six young men - were all dressed in jeans, all overgrown, and looked intimidating. At the beginning of the feast, the guest ensemble played "Two Marys". And then a young man from the same cooperative as the groom got out to sing some unimaginable song:

Oh, my, my, the chicken is spinning.
I went all over the world
looking for a place with a lot
 money.
Money, money,
 quickly put it in my pocket.
Oh, my, my, the chicken is crested...

Then it was my father's turn. He was at a loss for what to do. His speech, prepared with such care, was useless to anyone. After each phrase, a clarinet sounded completely out of place. Firecrackers exploded. The children let go without stopping


* The dong is the currency of Vietnam; 1 am. po is approximately equal to 16 dong (at the exchange rate in the mid-1980s).

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some nonsense. My father jumped from one paragraph to the next and trembled all over. This strange gathering of random people, as unruffled as life itself, rude, and even vile, filled him with utter horror. The bride's father was equally confused, and in a panic he spilled a whole glass of wine on his daughter's dress. There was absolutely nothing to be heard. The live band was drowned out by the Beatles ' and Abba's hackneyed songs.

The first trouble came when my father found out that Kim Ti gave birth just a few days after the wedding. Uncle Bong's family was in a delicate situation. Out of grief, my uncle got drunk and kicked my daughter-in-law out of the house. The son, Tuan, attacked his father with a knife, but, fortunately, missed.

My father had no choice but to take the exile to our house. So we have two more mouths. My wife didn't say anything. Lai had more to worry about. It was a good thing she didn't understand, and she also loved children.

V

One evening, while I was reading Sputnik magazine, my father came quietly into the room. He said: "I want to talk to you, son." I made some tea, but my father didn't drink it. He asked: "Do you delve into the affairs of Thuy? I'm just so terrified."

As I have already said, my wife worked in a maternity hospital, she performed abortions. She put the baby embryos she had collected during the day in a thermos of ice and brought them home. Old Ko used to cook them for our dogs and pigs. I knew about it, of course,but I pretended not to. My father took me to the kitchen and pointed to the pot of stew where the embryos were floating, and you could even see the little pink fingers. I stood there in silence. And my father was crying. Then he took a thermos flask and threw it directly at the sheepdogs: "Damn it! I don't need such wealth." The dogs barked. The father went out, and the wife came in and said to old Ko, " Why didn't you put them through the meat grinder?" Old Ko replied: "I forgot, I'm sorry, mistress."

In December, my wife sold all the sheepdogs. She told me: "Everyone, stop smoking your expensive cigarettes. This year we lost twenty-seven thousand, the cost overruns amounted to eighteen thousand, for a total of forty-five."

After taking her time off, Kim Ti went to work. She said, " Thank you for everything, now I'm going home with the baby." I asked: "Where to?" Her husband Tuan was already in prison for hooliganism. Kim Ti had to go back to her parents. Her father hired a taxi to take her straight home. And I spent the whole day with her father. He had just returned from a business trip to India. He gave my father a piece of flowered silk and some healing salve. My father gave the silk to Lai and the ointment to old Ko.

VI

Before the Lunar New Year, old Ko said to my wife and me, "I want to ask you something." My wife said, " What is it about?" The old man began to explain confusedly. It turned out that he wanted to go to his homeland. During the six years he had lived with us, he had saved up something and wanted to reburial his wife's remains. It goes without saying: "Duty to the dead is above all else." In the city, after all, everyone also tries to visit their relatives and friends at least for decency's sake. Moreover, by old age, you also want, as they say, "to return to the roots." My wife said, " And when are you going?" Old Ko scratched his head and answered: "We'll go for ten days and return to Hanoi before the thirtieth of December." My wife thought about it and said, " Okay. Thuan (Thuan is my name), can you take a vacation?" I answered: "I can." Old Ko said, " We want to invite your father along. So, travel." My wife said, " I don't like it. What did Father say?" Old Ko replied, " He has already agreed. If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't even have remembered to update the grave." My wife asked: "Well, how much money do you have?" Old Ko replied: "I have three thousand of my own, and your father gave me two thousand, five in all." The wife said: "Well, don't take it from your father, I'll give you two, and I'll add five more. In total, you will have ten. We can go now."

Before leaving, my wife arranged a dinner. The whole family was sitting at the same table, including Ko and Lai. Lai was very happy, and for the occasion she put on a new dress made from the cloth her father had given her. My daughters Mi and Vi used to tease her: "Lai is the most beautiful." Lai was laughing shyly: "Not at all. Here is the hostess, she is the most beautiful." The wife said to Lai, " You're on the road, keep an eye on them." My father said, " Maybe I shouldn't go." Old Ko got excited, " What's this, I've already sent a telegram. What will happen to your reputation?": "What's my reputation...?"

VII

My father and old Ko and Lai left for Thanh Hoa on Sunday. On Monday evening, while I was watching TV, I heard a strange sound outside. When I ran out of the house, I saw that my mother had fallen in the corner of the garden. For five years now, her head had been bad: she could eat, eat, drink, drink; all the time it was necessary to make sure that she went to the toilet. Usually there was no problem, she was taken care of by Lai. But today I didn't finish it and didn't remind you about it. I carried my mother home. Her head was hanging down on her chest, but there didn't seem to be a wound anywhere. In the middle of the night, I got up and found her cold and blind. I got scared and called my wife. Thuy said: "What do you want, Mom is already old." For two days, my mother didn't eat anything and didn't ask to go to the bathroom. I washed after her, changed the sheets. Sometimes twelve times a day. I knew that Thuy and the girls liked cleanliness, so I did not wash at home, but went to the ditch. All the medications I gave, my mother just regurgitated.

On the seventh day, my mother suddenly got up from her bed and walked unsteadily, but without help, out into the garden. Then I ate some rice. I said,"Thank God!" My wife didn't say a word, but in the evening she brought home ten meters of white cloth and hired a carpenter. I asked: "Getting ready?" She said, " No."

For the next two days, the mother lay motionless, did not eat anything, walked under herself. She was breathing fast and puking out a brown liquid that smelled awful. I poured her some ginseng tincture. My wife said: "Don't worry, it'll only make her feel worse." I burst into tears. I haven't cried like this in a long time. My wife said: "Do whatever you want."

Uncle Bong came in. He said: "My God, how bad she feels!"


* In Vietnam, according to the tradition associated with geomantic ideas, after three or more years, the dead are reburied.

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He asked his mother: "Little sister, do you recognize me?" The mother replied: "I'll find out." My uncle asked: "And who am I?" The mother replied: "Person". Uncle Bong cried, " You, little sister, love me the most. In the village and in the family, everyone calls me only a dog. His own wife calls him nothing but a brute. And the son, so he calls a scoundrel. You're the only one who called me human." For the first time, I saw this rude man, a simple driver who had committed many disgusting things in his life, turn into a small child before my eyes.

VIII

My mother died six hours after my father returned. Old Ko and Lai kept saying, " It's because of us. If we hadn't left, my grandmother would still be alive." My wife said, " Nonsense." Lai began to cry: "Grandma, you tricked me. Why didn't you take me with you, I would have taken care of you there." Uncle Bong laughed: "You want to go with Grandma? Let me order you a coffin." When my mother was wrapped in the shroud, my father burst into tears. He asked Uncle Bong, " Why did it shrink so quickly? Do all the old people die so hard?" Uncle Bong replied: "What a crank you are, really. In our country, thousands of people die every day, some in agony, some in disgrace, some as best they can. It's just you, the soldiers, "bang" from the gun-and you're done."

I had a tent put up for the guests, and I told the carpenter to make a coffin. Old Ko was still hovering over the pile of planks that his wife had ordered cut the other day. The carpenter swore, " Are you afraid, Sopra?" Uncle Bong asked: "How thick is the board?" I said, " Four centimeters." My uncle said, " Damn it, what a piece of furniture is missing. And who makes coffins out of zoey wood? When you're reburying, you can give the boards to me, okay?"My father sat and said nothing, it was clear how much he was in pain.

Uncle Bong said to my wife, " Thuy, boil me some chicken and make me some sticky rice." My wife asked: "How much rice, Uncle?" Uncle Bong replied: "F * ck, why are you being so affectionate today? Give me three kilos." My wife said to me,"What a nasty family you have."

Uncle Bong asked me, " Who's going to be in charge of the funeral, who's going to be in charge?" I answered: "My wife." Uncle Bong said: "It's on normal days, and I'm asking about funerals." I said: "My wife." My uncle said: "That won't do, son. Someone else's blood. I'll talk to your father." I said: "Okay, I'll be there." Uncle Bong said: "Then give me four thousand. How many trays are you thinking of preparing?" I answered: "Ten." My uncle said: "Not enough for porters, either. Consult your wife. I think we need forty." I gave him four thousand and went inside. My wife said: "I heard everything and have already calculated it. Thirty trays are needed, eight hundred VND for each tray, three times eight is twenty - four. Twenty-four thousand and six thousand for emergencies. I'll take care of the purchase of what I need. Barking will collect the table. And don't listen to your uncle, he's a famous rascal." I said, " He's already taken four thousand from me." My wife said: "You are a bitter grief." I said: "I can take it back." My wife said: "Don't worry. Consider it a service fee. He's basically good, but poor."

Four musicians showed up. They were met by my father. My mother was laid in her coffin at four o'clock. Uncle Bong stuffed nine vongs into her mouth, money that had been used in the reign of Emperor Khai Din, and aluminum coins in one hao. He said: "This is to swim to the other side"***. He also put a pack of to tom cards and some Tam cook cards in her coffin. And he said, " Never mind, the dead girl used to play tam cook.

I sat by my mother's coffin all night and thought of all sorts of things. Death, because it will come to everyone, will not pass anyone by.

Outside, Uncle Bong was playing Tam kook for money with the porters. When he lost, he ran up to his mother's coffin, bowed and said: "I bow to you, little sister, help me pick their pockets."

Mi and V didn't sleep with me either. Mi asked, " Why do you have to pay money when you die and swim to the other side? And why did you put money in my grandmother's mouth?" And Vee said, "Dad, is that what' taking bribes ' means?" I cried: "You don't understand anything, children. And Dad doesn't understand. It's a superstition." Vee said: "I get it. Alive after all, oh, how much money is needed. So dead, too."

I felt terribly alone. And my children were lonely. And the card players, and my father.

XI

From our house, if you go straight, to the cemetery is only five hundred meters, but if you go along the main road through the village gate, it's a whole two kilometers. The road is narrow, and I couldn't carry it properly on a special stretcher, so I had to carry it on my shoulders. The porters, about thirty of them, were always relieving each other. They're usually local, but many of them my wife and I didn't even know. They carried the coffin as calmly as if they did it every day, as if they were carrying logs for the house. We walked, chewed betel, smoked, and talked. During the respite, some people were standing or sitting right next to the coffin. One even lay down and said: "Well, it's cool, if it wasn't for the case, I would have stayed here until the evening." Uncle Bong said, " Guys, let's move a little bit, there's still a snack waiting at home." So they went. I was walking in front of the coffin with a stick, as it should be according to the ritual when a mother dies.

Uncle Bong said: "When I die, the porters will only be players. And at the wake, no pork, just dog meat." My father said, " Oh, brother, are you joking at such a moment?" Uncle Bong fell silent, and then suddenly burst into tears: "My sister, how did you deceive me, you left without me... Dropped out... " I thought: "Why did you cheat? Do all the dead deceive the living? How many deceivers are there in this cemetery, then?"

Everyone returned home from the cemetery. A table of twenty-eight trays was already set. Looking at the wake, I couldn't help but admire Lai. From everywhere, the only sound was " Where's the Barking?" Lai meekly ran back and forth, serving wine and meat to some. In the evening, she washed up and put on a new dress.-


* Zoey is a tropical tree species with valuable wood.

** Emperor Khai Dinh ruled from 1916 to 1925.

*** It means "go to another world".

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thieu stood at the sacrificial table and began to wail: "Grandma, I'm sorry for not seeing you off on your last journey... When you wanted some crab soup, I didn't make it, because I was afraid you wouldn't eat it... Who am I going to bring gifts from the market to now?.." My throat tightened. I reflected that I had never bought my mother a cake or candy bar in the last thirty years. And Lai kept wailing: "Grandma, if I was at home, would you have died or not?" My wife said, " Stop crying." I was angry: "Let him cry, you have to cry at funerals. In our family, no one mourns their mother so much." My wife translated the conversation: "It took thirty-two trays. Well, did I calculate it exactly?" I answered: "Exactly."

Uncle Bong said: "I looked up the deceased's horoscope. She was put in her grave at a good hour, but it turns out that this death will not be one, and besides, she will have to wander a lot in the next world. Do you have any amulet against evil spirits to bury in the ground?" The father said, " What the hell amulet? I've buried thirty thousand people in my life, and not a single one in this way." Uncle Bong said: "Here is luck, "broads" from the gun and ready." As he did so, he raised a finger as if to pull the trigger.

X

On that New Year's Eve, we didn't buy a peach tree, we didn't bake New Year's pies. By the evening of the second of January, colleagues from the unit where my father served arrived to pay tribute to my mother. They gave me five hundred VND. Tyuong, my father's former second-in-command, now a general, went to the grave to light incense. Captain Thanh, the adjutant who accompanied him, fired three shots into the sky with his pistol. The village kids would later say that the military had fired a couple of rounds in honor of Grandma Thuan. General Tyuong asked his father, " Do you want to make a final trip to the unit? We have exercises in May. I'll send a car for you." My father agreed: "All right."

While listening to old Ko's explanation, the general went through our entire household. Then he said to his father, " Powerful. And the garden, and the pond, and the pigsty, and the chicken coop, and the mansion. You can live and be happy." My father said:

"It's all my son." I said, " No, that's my wife." My wife said: "Not me, but Barking." Lai laughed softly-her head had been shaking all the time lately-and said: "Not at all." My father joked, " Well, it's a family contract, then."

On the morning of the third of December, Kim Ti and her baby came to visit us in a rickshaw. Her wife gave her a thousand vnd. My father asked: Kim Ti replied, " No." My father said: "My fault, I didn't know you were pregnant." My wife said, " The usual thing. Where are the virgins from now? I work in a maternity hospital, I know what I'm saying." Kim Ti felt uneasy. I said: "Oh, stop it! But the truth is, for a woman to be a virgin is really not the right thing to do." Kim Ti wept, " Being a woman is very hard, brother. So I gave birth to a girl and I'm terribly worried." My wife said: "I have two of them." I asked: "Do you think it's easy to be a man?" My father said: "If a man has a soul, it's hard. And the bigger the soul, the harder it is." My wife said: "What kind of talk? It's like everyone's gone crazy. All right, let's get to the table. Today, on the occasion of Kim Ti's arrival, I made everyone a chicken stewed with lotus seeds. The grains are the same soul. But still, the most important thing in life is to eat."

XI

Not far from our house lived a young guy named Khong, whom the local kids jokingly called Confucius by consonance. He worked at a fish sauce company and loved poetry. He usually sent his poems to Literaturnaya Gazeta. Khong often came to visit us. He liked to say, "Poetry comes first." He read me Lorca, Whitman, etc. Personally, I didn't like Khong, it seemed to me that he came to us not only to read poetry, but also for something else, not very good. One day I saw a handwritten collection of poems on my wife's bed. My wife said: "Khong's poems, do you want to read them?" I shook my head. My wife said, " What an old man you are already." Involuntarily, I felt a chill.

Once, because I was on duty at the institute, I came home late. My father was waiting for me at the gate. He said, " We have Khong. At the end of the day, he came and still sits. He's talking to your wife. Well, what's the deal?" I said, " Go to bed, Father. Don't pay any attention." My father shook his head in disapproval, but went upstairs. I took a motorcycle and rode around the city until the gas ran out. And then I sat in the park like a homeless person. A painted girl passing by asked me: "Well, my dear fellow, will you come with me?" I just shook my head, saying no.

Khong began to avoid me. Old Ko hated him. One day he said to me, "Should I beat him up?" I almost nodded in agreement, but changed my mind: "For what?"

I went to the library and tried out a few books. I read Lorca, Whitman... and I vaguely felt that all these wonderful poets were terribly lonely. And he knew it wasn't Khong's fault. But I was still angry at the bastard. And why would he give his poems to my wife and not someone else?

My father said ," You're a weakling. And all because you absolutely can't live alone." I said: "Not at all, it's just that a lot of things in life have to be treated as a joke." My father asked: "You think so?" I said, " Well, not as a joke, but not as something serious either."

My father asked: "And why am I like a white crow?"

Then the institute decided to send me on a business trip to the South. I said to my wife, " Well, shall I go?" My wife replied: "Don't go. Tomorrow you need to fix the door in the bathhouse, it's completely broken. The other day, while Mi was washing up, Khong passed by. The bastard had scared the hell out of her. I've already banned him from our house." And she burst into tears: "I really am guilty before you, before the children." I felt uneasy and turned away. If Vee had been there at that moment, she would have asked me, " Dad, is this crocodile tears?"

XII

In May, a car was sent from the army to pick up my father. The same Captain Thanh gave his father a letter from General Tyuong. My father took the letter with trembling hands. The letter said: "...We need you, we are waiting for you... if you can, come, but if you can't, you can't." I thought that to my father

page 72


I shouldn't go, but I was too shy to say it. Since he retired, he's really let down. But today he picked up this letter, and his youth and quickness of movement immediately returned to him. His joy was transmitted to me. My wife put my father's things in a travel bag. He said, " Better a backpack."

Before leaving, my father said goodbye to all the neighbors, went to my mother's grave. There, he ordered Captain Thanh to fire three shots into the sky. In the evening, he called old Ko to his house, gave him two thousand dollars, and ordered him to order a headstone for his wife's grave in Thanh Hoa. My father called and barked. He told her: "Get married, girl." Lai began to cry: "I'm so ugly, who's going to take me? And very trusting, too." My father, worried, said: "My girl, don't you understand that trustfulness is the main force in life?" It did not occur to me that all these things were ominous signs that my father would not return from this trip.

Before getting into the car, my father took out a simple student's notebook from his backpack and handed it to me, saying: "I wrote something here, you can check it out later." The girls Mi and Vi also said goodbye to their grandfather. Mi asked: "You're going to the front, aren't you?": "Yeah." And Vee said: "I guess the road to the front is very beautiful at this time of year?" My father swore, " Holy shit! What nonsense they're talking!"

XIII

A few days after my father's departure, a very funny thing happened in the house. It was like this. Old Ko and Uncle Bong were cleaning the mud from the pond (his wife paid Uncle two hundred vnd a day plus food) when they suddenly saw the bottom of a large jug protruding from the ground. Both of them started digging as hard as they could and dug out the bottom of another one. Uncle Bong decided that there were ancient treasures buried here. They called my wife. Thuy came and also went down to the pit to dig. They were joined by Lai, Mi, and Vee. Everyone was covered in mud. My wife told me to block off the pond and borrow someone's pump to pump out the water. Uncle Bong was very happy and kept repeating: "I was the first to see, the first to see, one pitcher of mine." After digging around all day, they unearthed two cracked pitchers... but both were completely empty. Uncle Bong said: "There's probably more." They started digging again. They pulled out a third jug, also broken. Everyone was already tired and hungry. My wife told me to go buy some bread to eat. After digging a dozen meters, they found a porcelain vase. Everyone was happy, they thought-gold. And when they opened it, they found only a bunch of old copper coins from the time of Emperor Bao Dai* and even some kind of medal. Then it dawned on Uncle Bong, " How did I forget? After all, the robber Nian and I stole all this from Han Ting, we were chased, and Nian threw the vase into the pond." Everyone roared with laughter. Nyan was a well-known thief in the suburbs, and Han Tin had once served in the French colonial forces, even in the First World War participated in the movement "Southern Dragon * * against enemy Germany". Both of them had already died a long time ago. Uncle Bong said, " Nothing, nothing. Now, even if everyone in the village dies, I'll have something to put in their mouths."

The next morning, as soon as I got up, I heard someone calling at the gate. I went out and saw Khong. The thought flashed through my head: "Damn, this scoundrel always portends me misfortune." Khong said: "Thuan, a telegram for you. Your father is dead."

XIV

The telegram was from General Thiyong: "Major General Nguyen Thuan was killed while performing a combat mission on such and such a date... the funeral ceremony will take place at the cemetery of war heroes then and then." I froze. My wife quickly arranged everything, and I went to hire a car. My wife said: "Lock the second floor. Ko will stay at home."

We drove to Khao Bang on road No. 1. When we arrived at the place, the funeral ceremony had already been going on for two hours.

General Tyuong said, " We are very sorry to your family." I answered: "Oh, come on! Everyone has their own destiny." The general said, " Your father was an amazing man." I asked: "By army standards?" The general said,"He asked to go to the battlefield, right on the front line." I said: "I understand, you don't have to tell me."

I cried, cried like I'd never cried before. Now I understand what the saying "cry as if your father is dead" means. Perhaps there is no more bitter cry in a person's life.

My father was buried in the cemetery of war heroes. My wife took a camera with her and told me to take some pictures. The next day I decided to go back, and the general tried to persuade us to stay longer, but I didn't agree.

On the way back, my wife asked the driver to slow down. It was the first time Uncle Bong had ever made such a long trip, and he was thrilled. He said: "What a beautiful country we have. Just like in the picture. Now I understand why you need to love your homeland. And then we have a cultural life in Hanoi, but in my opinion, there is nothing to love." My wife said: "It's because you, Uncle, are used to it. Others, when they get used to their own, also think so. That's why they like Hanoi." Uncle Bong said, " It's interesting, as a result, everyone likes everything and everyone loves each other. And all this is our homeland, one nation. So long live the motherland, long live the people! Hooray!"

XV

I think this is the end of my story. After my father's death, my family's life returned to normal. My wife still works in the maternity hospital. I have completed an electrolysis project. Old Ko became very taciturn. Perhaps because the Lai disease has worsened. When I have time, I open and read my father's notes. I understand it better now.

In this rambling story, I recounted what had been going on in our family for almost a year since my father retired. Let it be as if I lit incense sticks in his honor. For those who take the time to read my story, I ask for leniency. Thank you all very much.

Translated from Vietnamese by T. FILIMONOVA


* Emperor Bao Dai reigned from 1925 to 1945.

** "Southern dragon" is a figurative name of Vietnam and the Vietnamese, due to the fact that the Vietnamese consider themselves descendants of a dragon and a fairy.


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