Translation by Phan Nguyet Anh
Tôi viết “Nếu mẹ chết…” sau một giấc mơ lạ và một đêm trằn trọc. Tôi gửi tặng nó cho các bạn mình ở quỹ Đồng Cảm, những người suốt 7 năm qua đã lặng lẽ giúp đỡ hàng chục nghìn bệnh nhân ung thư nghèo. Chị nhắn tin cho tôi “Chị dịch bài em nhé, để gửi cùng bản tin Đồng Cảm.”
Tài dịch của chị tôi đã biết hơn mười mấy năm qua. Con người chị cũng vậy. Tôi hiểu rằng khi bạn dịch một câu chuyện, là khi bạn kể lại nó bằng ngôn ngữ khác, và công việc đó khó khăn chẳng kém việc bạn viết ra một câu chuyện mới. Thế nên, “If Mum dies…” là của chị. Cảm ơn chị nhiều lắm!
I went to the hospital to visit my friend. She had been ill for a long time, and knew that things could only get worse, but was determined to fight so that she could stay longer with her loved ones. We sat next to each other on the iron bed covered with a stained sheet, looking over the next empty bed to the window, and talked about our children, about the places we had been to and wanted to go to, about the fresh smell of newly cut grass outside, and about the good tea houses in town. I rarely had the chance to sit in a quiet ward with only two beds like this. In the hospitals I was treated as a patient, or stayed as a carer of a sick relative, the number of patients was always twice or three times the number of beds available, and the wards were always filled with the noise of people groaning, shouting, complaining…
I suddenly saw a piece of folded paper sticking out from under the mattress at the head of the empty bed. My friend got up quietly, took the piece of paper and read out: ‘If Mum dies, Dad and you kids must keep loving each other, and live happily for Mum as well’ – and bursted out crying.
That night, in my dream, I went back into the ward where my friend was fast asleep on her bed. Next to the window, on the bed which had been empty in the morning, was a bald and skinny woman wearing a blue hospital patient uniform. She sat still for a long time, then skillfully took out a notebook and a pen from her bedside chest without touching the infusion bottle and so many tubes surrounding her. She wrote in big, clumsy letters which glowed like phosphor and flowed onto the paper under the dim light from the hospital corridor. I went towards her, leaned over and read:
“If Mum dies, Dad and you kids must keep loving each other, and live happily for Mum as well.
Death is just a trip to a faraway land. The body no longer exists, but the soul remains and goes to live in another world. I will still be there somewhere, living with other good people who have left the world, like me, in a village of brown wooden houses with pink wild rose vines on the roof and little vegetable gardens, backing dark green mountains and facing the infinite blue sea. In my village, all the residents are very good people, who were kind and loved with all their hearts, who worked and lived honestly, and who were satisfied with what they had. They live there, silently watching and waiting for their loved ones.
I’d plant vegetables and raise chickens, make scented tea with flower petals, read books and cook in the kitchen. And I can see at any time how Dad and you are living through a dark green window at the left side of the house. The place where I’d be living is actually only a window away from where Dad and you are. So we would be really close, darlings.
If you want to cry, go ahead and do not fear that people will see your tears. But do not let sorrow drag you down, because I will go to a better place, and I am still close to you every day, every month, every year. My soul would get weaker and my plants would die if you no longer love one another, if you do bad things, or if you are not happy. So please live happily, work hard so that you have enough to live in comfort, and love a lot.
When I go away, I’d take away half of the life in Dad’s heart. Think about how hard it would be for your Dad to live only with half of his life and twice the burden. So share the housework with him, and take really good care of yourself, so that your Dad has a lighter burden and more joy for life. If somebody loves your Dad, love her. She would not be trying to take my place in the house – you would have an additional Mum instead. And who knows, she may be the person who was sent by me to accompany your Dad and to love you. Who knows, she may be a gift that life gives our family.
I had a happy life, thanks to you and your Dad. Live happily for me as well, so that my soul would continue to live and be happy in the other world.”
I put my arms around her shoulders to embrace her tight, but my arms were as heavy as stone and I could not even lift them up. It became so dark with a chilly wind rushing in, and white shadows moving so fast. Before everything blurred away, I saw her smile with tears rolling down her cheeks’.
Hanoi December 2012