(ISSN: 1527-5467)
the magazine of Literature & Literature-in-translation.


JAN 2006















Whatever happens is truly the will of God.

Heavy raindrops fell continuously for several days. Water from the tiled roof poured through the rain gutters in torrents, too fast to be drained, overflowing in tiny whirlpools to drench the lower steps of the porch. Gusts of wind splattered sheets of rain into the windowpanes. The glass fogged up and water dripped into the house.     

NgocLan wiped the windows and peered outside into the garden. On the small- pebbled path that led to the house, fallen plums lay scattered amidst leaves and a few broken branches. Several of the hanging floral baskets tossed dizzyingly from side to side, listing as if wanting to cast down the frail, tattered orchids to the ground. These delicate flowers had tightly knotted roots and appeared to be holding on for their lives. None of them had been evicted. Some of their rich purple flowering branches were broken at an angle, still tenaciously clinging on, their colorful offerings swaying easily while the heaven let loose its power.

It was the bamboo that did not fare as well. The entire cluster was laid flat, one plant atop the other. The sharp bamboo leaves cleaved to each other in a thick green mass, their tips pointing down to conduct the rain water as a thousand tiny spouts, melting the earth around them into a huge mud hole.
A small bird suddenly flew into view and landed gently on the leaves of the rose bush. He turned his head intently from side to side, a friendly bird who had lost his way, chirping all the while. So strange! The rose stems were so slender and fragile, yet under the weight of the bird they did not bow down. His spirit must have been as light as air. NgocLan remembered her mother telling her that a person with evil or sinful thoughts had a spirit as heavy as lead.

Mother must have been right.

The bird finished chirping and launched himself into flight out of sight. Suddenly, the verses of the 19th century poet Nguyễn Công Trứ came into NgocLan’s mind:

Kiếp sau xin chớ làm người

Làm cây thông đứng giữa trời reo

Giữa trời vách đá cheo leo

Ai chịu rét thì trèo với thông

(In the next life, do not be a man

But a pine tree under the sky,

Under the sky, by the steep cliffs

Who’d brave the cold to stand with the pine)


No, to be an evergreen pine standing in one place on the mountain was too lonesome. NgocLan changed her mood,

“Next time I will be a bird

Spreading my wings to fly high

And to roam

All corners of the sky”

“I will sing

A note-

Enchanting allure

I will drive

A chariot of

Splendid words

Glorifying you,


“Be my space,


Be my heart,

Be my all,

Climbing steps

To heaven”


Poetry led NgocLan to the piano. The young woman sat pensively for a second before her hands took on a life of their own, drifting lightly over the ivory. Ah! “La prière d’une Vierge” by Badarzewska. It had been a long time since she’d had any time to practice, but the music sounded smooth enough. She then dreamily went into “Le Lac De Côme” by Mme Louis Roche. Floating in the air was the joyful sound of a bubbling brook: condolezza, condolezza first, so comforting! The music changed tone to the sorrowful dolorosa . “Oh Virgin Maria, oh please hold me in your arms and transform my life …!” The prayer went deep into one’s soul. It lifted the spirit to diaphanous clouds and from there, Eternity took place….

April 30, they came and won the war.

Uncle Ho the Great.

The Party disciplines, the Government manages, the People own.

Nothing is more precious than Independence and Freedom.

Economical, Honest and Just.

Those were propaganda on richly bright yellow banners everywhere. A portrait of Ho Chi Minh was displayed at the entrance of each home.

NgocLan was cleaning up after lunch when Nhi came to visit. Nhi was a distant relation of her husband’s. He was just thirty-one years old, a security deputy from the North recently transferred to Ho Chi Minh City. Nhi had a bright countenance, calm manner and speech, and a frequent smile. Among the number of relatives, distant and otherwise, Nhi seemed to be the most sincere and down-to-earth.

Nhi draped his raincoat over the chair on the porch then stepped inside. He bowed in greeting,

“Good to see you again, Nhi. Sit down and relax.”

NgocLan went in the kitchen and came back with a pot of tea. She poured some hot green tea in a porcelain cup and offered it to the young man.
The latter took one gulp and lamented,

“Lord, the rain here is endless. Just sitting around and watching the rain makes me homesick.”

“We are in the rainy season. But it’s quite strange this year! Usually in Saigon, we have huge rainstorms. They come and go, not dragging on like this. Maybe God despairs as we do—“

The woman realized her slip too late. She stood up, pretending to pour more tea.
Nhi’s face became somber. He said,

“I know the people of the South are not yet used to the new regime, and there is still much bitterness. But the difficulties that you are facing are only temporary.”
He grew thoughtful for a minute, then confided,

“You see, even the people in the North have obstacles to face, not just you. Like me, for example. I was very good in school, but the only way for me to advance myself is through the police force.”

“Why don’t you apply to go abroad to study?”

“Goodness! Only the children of the big fishes in the Party can go abroad. My father is a Party member, but he is among the ranks of the lowly shrimp, so what does it matter?”

The lady of the house walked over to a desk nearby and took out a small box from a drawer. It held the new Seiko watch that she had bought the day before. Falteringly, she handed it to Nhi.

Nhi stared at the wristwatch for a moment and burst out joyfully,
“Really, this is for me? My God! I’ve dreamed of having a watch with a date window like this for such a long time. You really want to give it to me?”
NgocLan nodded, touched, as Nhi tremblingly put the watch on his wrist. Again, he confided,

“A lot of the other Northerners and I came here to liberate the people from the domination of the American imperialists. But we truly did not know that the Southerners were so prosperous. I think this time, it is more correct to say that it is the Northerners who are being liberated…”

He shivered and ch