(A short story in Vietnamese by Trần Băng Khuê, translation into English by Nguyễn Thị Phương Trâm)
There were only wolves on the moon.
The wolves live on the moon.
Then, what will you find in the forest?
Aqua. Aqua. Aqua.
Someone’s soundless voice cut across the darkness. The fifteenth. The full moon or a blood moon at this time of the month? Two thousand twenty one. Chilled to the marrow staring at the icy moon, in passing time chilled to the very major five organs. Lungs? Breathing, the thought of breathing, reminded me suddenly of my breath. Was my breath real? Or was it something I used to have. Or ever at all. Breathlessly gasping for air once upon a time in my first kiss. I thought I was talking about breathing. Instead I was curled up in agony that particular autumn. They have all disappeared. My private autumn. The fall I was sixteen. The fall I was seventeen. The autumn I was eighteen. The fall mobbing my tears upon someone’s turned back. Yet here I am, ceaselessly to this day searching still for them. Two thousand and twenty one. My breath was nowhere to be found. In the forest. At the bottom of the sea. On the moon. Or some other place, some other plane of existence, my breath hid from me. The kind of breath, an air of love, blue sky. (But, the human race has no true understanding of love).
I am here, I clearly see myself as the embodiment of existence, and that’s the truth. I don’t have time to make fun of other people. I’m fully aware that, I am here, I can see myself, right there in front of me. Certainly in front of me there’s neither any kind of light or darkness. Since light and darkness are useless to me at the moment. As for the proof of my existence. Gosh all of us are real at various levels in one form or another. But we deny our existence, we find ways to disappear. How can one truly disappear? My hands, feet, eyes nose mouth, stomach heart liver are all there. Presently how could I possibly disappear, when I have barely left my mother’s womb, I’m still a child, a teenager, a woman, and with certainty, one day I will be a wrinkly older woman.
No, I don’t want to disappear. Even though I’m fully aware, sometimes in our youth we did simply disappear. Youth. I have never needed a glimpse of my youth as much as I do now, to confirm that I’m unable to ever disappear. Those in their middle age desire their youth just as much. And the elderly want their middle age, or if they were more greedy, want to be a teenager again, dream of their youth, turn back the clock, perhaps to the point of non-existence?
Still, the disappearance unravelled, right in front of me, I deliberately made an effort not to look, not to study it. I deliberately deny my disappearance, like everything else. Like on a walk, I passed a garden right by Huong river, people were trying to save a hundred year old tree from dying. They wrapped it up, held it down, diligently water it every day. A few months after approaching the park, it was already spring, and it was budding with new shoots. The ancient tree was revived to live another life and will never again disappear. Ironically ever present is the rebirth of the universe. Dying to live again. I’m fully acquainted with the cycle of life, but at this moment I do not want to disappear. Like when I was young, I wanted to disappear as soon as I turned fifty two, then after a long time, after I was married, at twenty eight I wanted to disappear.
Spring, ten years later, after the familiar September-October tropical storm the ancient tree was thriving with copious new shoots, I lost the desire to disappear. In truth, at the time, the summer was mourning the loss of so many lives across the globe, the summer burned hot with the cremation of so many bodies amidst the pandemic, the summer overwhelmed by freshly dug graves and littered piles of red earth and crosses, I no longer wanted to disappear. I thought about the autumn spent at Wanaka lake. I thought about Albert Park. I dreamed of Prince street. Memories of the lanes through Queen City. I missed the charming evergreen at the university on the other side of the ocean. All of it was revived in my dreams day after day, by the minute, by the hour. I will, with certainty, never deny my existence.
The idea of disappearing makes no sense. I thought, there was a time I wanted to disappear, I was in a dark place. And the world in the name of humanity was rather ridiculous. But now, in front of me is a pitiful humanity of death and separation. Hence, I must survive, I must be something of value. I’m fully aware of the fact that, often I would find myself indefinitely cut off, oblivious to the blandness of humanity, but then again, I must admit, I had to learn how to love if I am to survive. Death was just a part of the life cycle of the universe. One day this universe will also disappear, replaced by another. But right now, I must allow myself the right to exist in the embodiment of a miracle of a universe condensed in a self that is me, eyes nose mouth hands feet, heart liver stomach lungs thousands and thousands of pulsating veins alive and connected to make up the person that is me.
To Be Continued…
-Trần Băng Khuê (Writer)
-Nguyễn Thị Phương Trâm (Translator)
Trần Băng Khuê, born in 1982, lived for a period in Auckland, New Zealand, currently resides in Huế. An award winning, published young writer and an aspiring artist.
Nguyễn Thị Phương Trâm, the translator, born 1971 in Phu Nhuan, Saigon, Vietnam. The pharmacist currently lives and works in Western Sydney, Australia.
To view Vietnamese art and literature, and read more of her translated work, please visit Songngutaitram.
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11 Comments Add yours
Trần Băng Khuê and Nguyễn Thị Phương Trâm have created a wonderful story of introspection. The eternal question that often plagues any human being – Why am I here? What is the purpose? And the constant urge to leave it all and simply disappear. I love the voice and pace of this writing. A beautiful effort by the writer and the translator. Often the painful realization of death makes one rethink and appreciate the significance of one’s life. The pandemic has brought many of us to our knees and the fortunate have risen again to reassess and move on. This is the first part of a four part series. The second part will be published next Tuesday. Do return for more.
Congratulations Trần Băng Khuê and Nguyễn Thị Phương Trâm!
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Thank you Terveen.
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So wonderful to read you here, a big congratulations to both of you. I know what it is to want to disappear. Life throws so many challenges our way. I really enjoyed this thought provoking piece. Using the big tree to emphasize the way life can be worth living and existing was so lovely. I look forward to the next piece. Blessings to you both. Hugs, Joni
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So intriguing and thought provoking.
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Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts Cindy. Tram.
this was very intriguing!
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Thank you so much. ❤