(A short story in Vietnamese by Trần Băng Khuê, translation into English by Nguyễn Thị Phương Trâm)
The dying atmosphere.
Honestly, I couldn’t breathe on such days. The opening in my ears would slowly shut down. I would shut my ears to the sad stories of the world. Thus, in the end, all I was able to hear was myself mumbling incoherently. It was difficult to make out clearly the sound out there in the world, including what the man right by my side was saying. I wanted to know more about the idea of losing one’s breath. But right now, I have to deal with the odd sound forcibly trying to invade my ears.
My nose is still there, it is still sensitive to the touch. But my breath was not to be found. The walls of the room looming, surrounded me. My view, the overwhelming sunlight, a horizon thick with the grey smoke of May. Smoke from the burning fields. The golden fields bearing seed. The golden fields bearing life. And the golden fields red with fire like the choking fires of dead bodies across India at the height of the pandemic. Death layered between the prayers. The Ganges. No, I’m down South of the Perfume River as the city of Hue was under siege.
I am still unable to breathe.
I thought I had completely shut down the opening to my left ear. But no, I could still hear someone whispering in the dark. Aqua. Aqua. Aqua.
What was I supposed to do with this Aqua? In my tiny room, scattered with white canvas, paint brushes, and various random tubes of coloured paint. What was I supposed to do with this Aqua? Who was Aqua? Who was Aqua? I didn’t know. Or did I deliberately deny this fact? Like right now, loneliness plagued me, the complete emptiness. Aqua was gone. There was no sign of Aqua. Including the laughter and cries clearly instinctive of a child. The scattered canvas remained as plain and white as anyone’s lungs. Breathing had a white hue. I’ve confirmed that my presence could never be wrong. The whiteness of breathing. I’ve pondered the idea of it. The fantastical sadness. But, the pain was evidently clear, lucid. Including loneliness. There were nights when Aqua was at the centre of my dreams. It was a very different world. It’s not paradise or was it ever anything of this world, even less, hell. Gosh this middle of nowhere was the epitome of desolation. Aqua was alone there. The only tree, standing tall on an endlessly vast meadow, exactly like a painting I’m obsessed with, the Wanaka tree haunted me. The lonely tree. It was there in the middle of nowhere, out of place in the middle of a lake. The ridiculousness of it being there was what made it so sad. It induced an overwhelming unexpected curiosity from those who had happened upon it. Humanity is an enigma of contradiction.
When even loneliness was an issue. At the height of this stuffiness, boiling heat mid-summer, I had to, I was determined in trying to find out what these odd sounds were about, the sound which had invaded every corner of my mind. There was a full moon last night. Round and beautiful. Bright and clear. Like when I was fifteen, sixteen years old.
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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