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Truyện vừa, 68 trang, NXB Kim Đồng. Mua sách trực tuyến tại đây

đàn vịt

Gồm 7 truyện ngắn liên hoàn [và cũng có thể đọc riêng lẻ].

Dưới đây là một trích đoạn trong Đường Về, truyện cuối cùng trong tập

Trên ghế đá công viên, Tâm ngồi ăn hộp cơm trưa. Nó vừa ăn cơm, vừa nhìn dòng người qua lại. Nó ưa nhìn những người phụ nữ ra dáng làm mẹ. Nó phát hiện điều này: có những người phụ nữ nhìn giống mẹ hơn người khác. Thậm chí có những đứa con gái hãy còn tuổi teen như nó, nhưng nhìn rất ra dáng làm mẹ. Mẹ là một phẩm chất hơn là kinh nghiệm. Nó rất ưa những đứa con gái như vậy. Nhưng đồng thời, nó cũng hơi sờ sợ. Nó sợ hay mặc cảm, cũng không biết nữa. Nó mồ côi mẹ từ năm lên bốn. Cha nó ở vậy nuôi con. Năm mười bốn tuổi, nó bỏ cha, bỏ bầy vịt ở đồng trũng dưới chân núi Hòn Hèo, phiêu du theo một gánh tạp kỹ vào tận Sài Gòn. Người ta nói mẹ nó mất tích. Nó thì nghĩ mẹ giận cha nên bỏ nhà ra đi. Đứa con trai không thể lớn lên mà thiếu mẹ. Thành ra nó phải đi tìm, đi tìm cho bằng được.

Bây giờ thì gánh tạp kỹ đã giải tán. Nó vừa bán vé số, vừa phát tờ rơi tiếp thị cho tiệm massage Bảy Bước Chân. Nó ưa đi ngoài đường, gặp nhiều người. Phải đi thì may ra gặp được mẹ, cho dù cơ hội đó mong manh y như trúng số độc đắc vậy. Nhưng nhiều khi nó tự hỏi, phải chăng là nó ích kỷ? Phải chăng nó đang bỏ bê thằng bạn thân và một người nữa, Tú Linh, cô ca sĩ chuyển giới mà nó kết giao trong đoàn. Nam là đứa lanh lợi nhưng hiếu thắng. Còn Linh, chỉ mới mười bảy tuổi đầu mà trải qua bao nhiêu là chuyện: từ bỏ phận con trai, từ bỏ cha mẹ, từ bỏ gánh tạp kỹ, tự mình mở tiệm massage chân. Có khi nào họ cần nó ở bên hay không?

Những ý nghĩ này làm Tâm khó chịu. Nó tự nhủ hôm nay sẽ trả số sớm. Nó sẽ về sớm hơn mọi khi. Nó sẽ mua sáu cái bánh bao về làm quà cho hai đứa bạn thân. Nó sẽ coi tiệm thay cho thằng Nam, để nó muốn đi chơi đâu thì đi. Thằng Nam nghiện net và game online, Tâm biết vậy. Nó bắn súng thì trùm.

Nhưng bao giờ cũng vậy, sự ý thức thường đến hơi quá muộn. Khi Tâm về tiệm Bảy Bước Chân chiều hôm đó, cảnh tượng thật khó tin. Nhốn nháo những người với người, rồi xe cảnh sát, rồi xe cứu thương, inh ỏi. Một người đàn ông trung niên được mang lên xe, tay ôm ngực, mồm đầy máu. Công an đang hỏi Tú Linh, ghi biên bản. Tâm muốn chạy vào, nhưng sự khôn ngoan của một đứa con nít vào đời sớm bảo nó hãy núp ở ngoài. Rồi xe cứu thương phóng đi. Rồi cảnh sát cũng lập xong biên bản. Nhưng đám đông vẫn còn xì xào…

“Hai chưởng mà ra như vậy!”

“Thằng cu đó coi bộ dữ à!”

“Nó trốn rồi đúng không?”

“Chớ nó đâu có khờ như mày, để cho công an tóm”.

Story to feature in WTF, an out-of-the-box anthology by Rose Mambert, Pink Narcissus Press

Book can be ordered here

Never before had I found such a big hermit crab. It was so big I thought it was a divine creature. The shell itself was the size of a fist, which was normal for this type of shell. But I had only known hermit crabs that dwelt in shells as big as a finger. It was crawling among the rocks in the middle of a brooklet that flowed from Mount Hòn Hèo into Nha Phu Bay. At first I thought it was the current that pushed the shell around. Then I saw the lengthy crab limps, which stopped me dead in my track. I knew I had found something.

Mount Hòn Hèo was a peninsula that reached out into the Pacific Ocean. [Into the South China Sea to be more specific, but there were already too many disputes over these waters]. It was actually a range of mountains, with peaks from seven hundred metres high. Its thirty kilometres stretch effectively protected the Nha Phu Bay from monsoons. The bay was as still as a lake: you only saw waters and mountains. But the salty smell of the breezes made it clear that you were at the seaside. It was my secret place to go for a walk and watch the sun go down.

Although they lived along the seashore, the Vietnamese seemed to get on better with mountains. The sea was always too unpredictable. In one of their folk stories, Sơn Tinh, or the Mountain God, competed with Thủy Tinh, or the Sea God, for the right to marry the princess, daughter of the King of Powers. Glorious was Sơn Tinh because he was able to offer a nine-tusked elephant, a nine-spurred rooster and a nine-maned horse, which the King asked for. But Thủy Tinh and his deep sea armies didn’t give up. He made the sea rise and flood the lands. His troops of giant sharks and crabs went after Sơn Tinh and his bride. Sơn Tinh wasn’t without spells either. His mantras made the mountains rise even higher. His troops of elephants protected the princess. Thủy Tinh’s attacks were weathered out and he could only curse himself. And yet every year ever since, he still flooded the lands whenever his old wounds hurt again. Another story however reconciled the two forces of Nature. In a strange marriage between a goddess and the dragon king, one hundred children were born from a single egg. Fifty of them would follow the mother to the highlands, while the other fifty would stay with the father at the the seashore. This explained why there were so many races in Vietnam nowadays. Some of them were barely surviving.

The story was featured in A Rainbow Feast: New Asian Stories
Publisher: Marshall Cavendish. Editor: Mohammad Quayum.

a rainbow feast

Order
It was a black-and-white kitten. Just another kitten that Mom kept to scare away the mice. Three months old, she was growing fast. Eating and playing and sleeping were all she did. The altar was an old wooden platform, with a lot of nice decorative carvings. Birds and flowers and all, as far as I could remember. It was very simple and modest in comparison with the common altars in Vietnamese houses. Two bronze candle bearers graced the front, highlighting the incense burner in the middle. To the left was a plate to place the offerings, usually the sorts of tropical fruits like mangos, watermelons, oranges, bananas… To the right, a flower vase, usually with white lilies. In the background were photographs of the deceased: grandparents and even grand-grandparents. Some died too long ago to leave a photograph, so their names were written on a frame on the wall. The dates they passed away were written below their names, so Mom knew when to prepare a cúng meal, or an offering to a deceased ancestor. I was the one who cleaned the altar and burned the incense everyday, that was how I came to learn a secret about the kitten. She loved to sleep on the altar. Of course I knew other inhabitants too. A potter wasp built its mud cave at a joint of the wooden platform. Two geckos roamed the wooden ceiling. A spider wove its net across the celing corner. And two sparrows nestled under the tile roof. But the cat of course was most unusual. Most cats I knew prefered beds and roofs.

Of all the photographs, grandmother’s was the biggest. Then came grand-grandmother’s. There were photographs of grandfather and grand-grandfather too, but they were pitifully small, even unrecognizable. Dad organized all these, so only he knew why he did so. Of all the ancestors, I knew only grandmother, the others having passed away before I was born. Grandfather had died very young, of an illness. Grand-grandfather had survived him only to fall victim to one of those raids in the Vietnam war. Of course I heard tales about them.

Grandfather was said to be a good fisherman. He used to catch fish in the village river with his bare hands. No net, no fishing rod, just his two hands groping for fish in the in the holes along the river banks. He loved growing the balsam apples in his garden. He wanted them to hang nicely, in straight rows. Should a balsam apple fail to do so, he would cut it off. There were other things I heard about him, but they were not nice at all. So I should keep them to myself. What if they were not true, you know.

Grand-grandfather died a tragic death. It was towards the end of the Vietnam war. The villagers were evacuated to the town, because the South Vietnam government wanted to deprive the Viet Cong guerillas of their supporters. But grand-grandfather had nothing to do in the hustle-bustle of the town life. He went back to his village home. It was said that he was shot dead from a helicopter while doing some field work. He was thought to be a Viet Cong, or Viet Cong supporter. It came only a couple of years before my birth. I could very well have had a living grandfather.

This kitten who slept on the altar was not the first unusual cat that Mom kept. Years ago, there was a cat that acted like a dog. He would hug everyone’s heels. And when you ate, he would sit looking up at you, the way a dog would wait for some bone. Even his miaow sounded like a bark. Of course he would grow up chasing cats, especially female ones. Then there was a Siamese cat that slept in the shop window. Yes he was easily the most handsome cat in town. Maybe he knew it himself. But even he couldn’t come near to this kitten, as far as mystery was concerned.

Grand-grandmother was a great story-teller. I envied Dad because the stories were really nice, despite Dad’s relation. The one that haunted me was about a kid and his aunt who suffered such a famine they had only one bean left to survive. The aunt kept the bean in the pot and boiled it over and over again, because it was the smell of the bean that kept them alive. One day when the aunt was away, the kid couldn’t help but eat the vital bean. No smell being left to sniff, the aunt died. The young boy was then saved. But he kept regreting his deed. He soon died too and became a bird. It was often seen among bean crops. It was said to often sing like this, “Mùa lúa trỗ đỗ chín, hi-i-i-i-ít cô”, meaning, “The rice are blooming and the beans are ripe, sniff them auntie!” So the farmers called the bird “sniffing aunt”.

Book can be bought from the Youth Publishing House here.

open the window

The most beautiful sounds

I’m a ten-year-old boy.

That means I was still inside a womb ten years ago. Mom carried me along wherever she went. I wasn’t crying yet. Of course a baby lying inside a womb couldn’t cry! Imagine this yourself. What was it like inside a womb? You had no friend except your mother. Dad said it was a stroke of good luck when a baby was born. My birthday meant I could now have new friends! How could I get to know Tí and make him my best friend if I hadn’t even come into the world?

Dad also said that when a baby was born, the midwife would gently smack its butt to wake it up. Inside the mother’s womb, it had been fast asleep. Some would need up to four or five smacks, because it thought it was still inside the womb. Isn’t that funny!

I was like that. I was fast, fast asleep. The midwife had to smack me seven times. Mom said I would grow up very stubborn and that proved to be quite true. I lied to all my classmates, and told them the midwife smacked me fifty-nine times!

“My God, your butt must be all red and swollen!” They rolled their eyes.

The next day they boasted to me that their mothers said their midwives had smacked them a hundred times! Some said two hundred. Imagine their butts. Little Hong, who’s a crybaby, said four hundred. We all laughed. Then Toan got honest. “Two smacks,” he said. (He’d said two hundred before). Then the others admitted it was only three or four, while little Hong said she cried as soon as she was born. That saved the midwife the trouble of doing any smacking.

Did you ever ask your mother about this? It’s so interesting to know about your new-born self. Did you open your eyes to welcome your parents? How much did you weigh? How many times did you wake up during the night just to cry? Did you have any hair, and what color was it? There are hundreds of things to find out about yourself! But I have to tell you this – you’ve got to keep them all secret. Those things are personal. Remember – when you keep a secret about yourself, or somebody else, you’ll never forget it. Once you tell it, you’ll forget it. I’m completely sure of this. Also, you should exaggerate the number of smacks, because Dad said there wouldn’t be a second chance to be smacked by a midwife. It only comes once in a lifetime, that loveliest cry!

Dad always remembers the day I first cried, in other words the day I came into the world. Mom said to him, “Darling! The baby’s coming!” Dad hurriedly placed Mom on a wagon, which was half filled with straw. Unfortunately, the cow wasn’t around to pull it because Dad had told my Uncle to take it away to graze. So Dad pulled the wagon to the town all by himself. The whole way Mom bit on the straw so as not to cry. Dad said, “Cry out darling! It’s OK!” But still Mom wouldn’t cry. Dad said Mom was the toughest woman in the world!

kamikaze to take your heart away. I write like a kamikaze pilot.

Dr Quinn A TV series I helped translate for Hanoi TV back in 1996.

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