The incarnation of deities at night – A Short Story from Vietnam
Pham Van Anh, a writer from Vietnam, the land of Blue Dragon shares her short story
The incarnation of deities at night
By Pham Van Anh
Arranged for a sometimes in the fog, the boat also put its head and pushed the ferry slowly to the other shore. Thick fog! People crowded to the pier. The opaque high-pressure lamp could not shine the faint lights through the early morning fog that was entangled and hesitated as if not wanted to dissolve.
Didn’t see anyone, but estimated that the people crossing the river on this ferry were very crowded because the voices kept jostling each other, sometimes thin, sometimes thick, and then gradually spreading down the road to town. People waiting for the ferry rushed down to the ferry, clattering with baskets of vegetables, food stuff… The river water was full of red foam!
The auto-rickshaw left the pier while it was still early morning after picking up all the passengers on the route to Xuan Nguyen. Neither the owner nor the guests could see anyone’s face, they all quietly got in the car and sat together on two benches that were lightly attached to the floor with rusty screws, their hands were messed up with hundreds of things arranged right under their feet.
Although they could not see each other’s faces, most people on this trip knew exactly where their companions going to. Only those who visit the prisoners at Xuan Nguyen re-education camp can take this early trip up the road because the camp was hidden in a rocky area in the arctic mountain of the Northeast.
It’s dawn. From time to time, the auto-rickshaw roared and creaked over the slope, releasing a cloud of black smoke. The new road was re-paved with crushed stones. River water, prisons’ works. The stones were taken down from the site of nice stone team, people from the carpentry team, the construction team, and the two-day off-duty work strengthened to level the stones throughout the eleven kilometers of the road. Kien worked at the sixth stone team – the team with the most famous bull-headed sturbon also be involved in repairing this road. Mrs. Man thought wandering.
The sturbon shook around, the legs of the seats creaked as if they wanted to pop off the floor. Someone’s supply bag spilled, the smell of fish sauce mixed with the smell of truck oil. Some people wanted to vomit…
The car was still shaking!
The camp gate is far away! From here to there must be nearly three more kilometers. Mrs. Man still leaned her head on the side of the auto-rickshaw, busy pursuing her own thoughts. The right pocket of her shirt is suddenly hot as firing. Touching into the pocket, the small package is still there. For nearly a year, she is so sick. Taking many medicine and she can be better a few days, she immediately went to visit her son, only in time to bring a few trifles and a small packet of ashes given at Ba Chan Hung temple. She has to give it to him, her praying son.
This year, she turns 69 years old. Her son Kien is 25 years old. The only child!
For nearly ten years, she was always sick, so serving the Saint Spirit was somewhat delayed. Kien turned in this situation because of her. The Saint has prepared according to her prayer so that she have the praying son, but she was not devoted. He was the holy child entrusted to her door, she should have forced him to wear a bowl of incense with his destiny to be the son of the Saint. She was busy doing business to raise her children and then forgot about that that important thing. Her son led a gang of armed robbers along this harbor when he was less than 20 years old, and in three years late, he became the famous unruly prisoner of this camp.
Mrs. Man had children when she was an old woman of 44 years old, a fish merchant who quickly became famous under the pier. With high and heavy fate, she is close with Mr. Hoang Bay, who was famous for dissipating. With not much money but still she can be much more than her fellows because of having an intimate relationship with some amorous fishing boat owners. Man gathered the fish of the pier and delivered for the restaurant and a few small traders of the Chao market.
That day, the boat of Nho hit the fishing line. He liked to win big, so he anchored the boat in the middle of the stream to catch until full of two compartments, then heavily sailed back to the pier. Used to catch that, Nho’s fish are usually fresher and more regular than other boats, so it can be delivered to the restaurant for a good price, so Man tries to wait.
Originally to be the experienced woman, both in love and business, but for some reason, Man suddenly remembered the smell of fishy, salty sweat of the boat owner who had a teasing smile even though she knew he is married. He had all the essentials of a man. Except loyalty. It was too luxury to ask for loyalty from a man who seasoned with life.
Well, such tired to think about that, the fishing boat is coming down to the pier. Man was about to look at the goods and pay the price.
Why did not Nho’s boat come back yet? Why did I expect? After all, it had nothing to do with each other. It was just that the female missed the male’s scent that made her restless. All men went fishing, ten men had that creepy smell. All day struggling with fish, rolling around in the cellar, sprinkled with ice, chilled. In the evening, have dinner with fish. It was strange if without that smell. She wildly thought.
Nho’s boat arrived at the pier. Man hurriedly began to weigh the goods and then shouted at the porters to help the crew bringing the fish to the pier. Sitting in the compartment, blinking at her tight buttocks bending up and down among full baskets of fish, he suddenly swallowed his saliva.. Her shoulders like that must have been so good at “that”, and heard that never she had been with no one. The fish can enter someone’s pond, then one can get it. It would not lose anything but lead the fish in.
Sister Man. I have to go home to work. You stay here weighing fish with everyone. You can bring money to pay in the evening
Man looked up.
– That’s okay. Today I don’t have enough money to pay you right away. I now deliver the fish and send it to you in the evening.
– it is OK
Nho waved his hands and jumped into the pier, leaving his pants crossing the water’s edge to the shore, without looking back.
Twilight, Man went to the pier. At this time, the boats were all going to eat, so the fishing pier was deserted. The wild birds flew back and forth, sniffing the fish and fighting each other. She grabbed the rope to climb on the bamboo ladder stepping to the boat.
The cockpit was no one, Man crept to the end of the boat. Suddenly, an arm wrapped around her breasts. Strong smell of sweat. Nho! She tried hard to get out, his arms more tightened. The two breasts were hard and hot, and then burst out of the thin corset. His hands were as rough as the scales of a fish, rubbing her breasts in pain. Man fell to the hot deck under the weight of the man who was experienced in love. On that hot iron deck, Kien was conceived after three years Man offered to pray for a child.
Nearly two hours of waiting in the yard to meet the campers made her nervous and anxious. Will her saucy son be re-educated enough to be allowed to meet today? Two years in prison, he escaped from camp four times, was disciplined twice for fighting, was captured in special confinement three times…. A hunch told her that her son was about to do something terrible. She was very scared. The woman’s instincts told her that, no one would be able to save her child through this karma. He is only 25 years old, he is not mature enough to deal with life and especially fearless.
The prison officer slowly traced the pen on each page of the visiting diary. The black woman visiting her husband was returned with a visitation permit. Her husband fought back against the prison guards, three months later, and he did not receive a pardon this time. She turned around, suddenly sitting down in the middle of the yard. The supplies in the bag spilled, and the hen untied, squawked, and ran away.
Her mood seemed to be on the edge of a cliff. Trembling hands she grasped the bars of the window. Her paper was folded into a pile of papers as thick as an iron and then passed to the young prison officer to be carried inside the prison. She was relieved and secretly thanked to the hard face warden.
She definitely had to meet Kien today. She had a feeling that something hard going to happen to her. Something pushed her to act with a secret hope that only the mother can understand. She was determined to venture deep to capture the invisible light that had shone on her and her children. Perhaps, that desire, that wish had been for a long time, but she did not dare to think about it, never even felt it. It hurt her. Only she can save her child. She must try to grasp it, or at least try to stretch all her powers to hold it. She quietly prepared a plan that only she knew forever.
Afternoon ferry was not crowded, so sunny. Woe! So hard, did not know if Kien can take off work today? When sitting with him under the damp roof of the meeting room, she occasionally jumped in surprise at the sound of landmines breaking rocks in the nearby mountains. Kien said that side was the construction site of the eighth team, his sixth team was far on the U mountain range deep in the valley.
He was thinner than when was outside, but never been less aggressive. The black and white striped suit with prison number 296 added to the neediness.
Tonight he must drink the black powder in the little red packet she prepared for him and warned him to be careful about. Feeling the shivers on the back of her neck, she knew it was the eyes of the warden who was watching the mother and son every move. The stubborn guy, grumbling like a dog but still hold it.. He still loves her! Dear Mother, Lord, forgive my son’s sins. In order to bring that packet of powder to the prison, Kien had to go into the WC and carefully tighten his stomach, put it deep in the anus to go through the checkpoint and only take it out until reaching to the cell. The previous times he hide the money by that way.
When got home, she carefully opened the old iron box in the drawer, smoothed each money, wrapped it tightly in leggings, and then cycled to the temple to ask a monk to make charms and amulets. For a few days, she went around shopping for offerings, her face was blank. Then, alone, she dragged a large rattan bag like a suitcase from the down stair, folding each fold of the worn-out cloths for incarnation of the deities.
Three sets of robes of the Holy Mother of God, five sets of the five venerable grandfathers of the Chau, Co, and Cau deities… have been worn on her hundreds of times. Will tonight be the last time she wears them? Her life candle is burning to the last fire!.
But her son Kien is still immature. When he could be a good man?
That night the incarnation of the deities was quite crowded. All of them were fellow disciples of the temple who presenting to the Mother’s gate, offered a little offerings to celebrate the incarnated elderly head who had been absent for a long time and now returned to serve the Saint. The sound of people greeting and congratulating was so mercy but no less respectful.
It was windy. The sky was strange like an ill-conditioned person just waiting for a thunderstorm. The shrine was lit with candles. The young singer hold the lute to sing, the incarnated head covered with a scaft sitting in the middle of the shire waiting for the Mother appearing. One by one, each person entered the incarnation for less than a minute and then left. The keys of the lute are glossy brown, the strings are sometimes stretched and the skillful hands with green veins running on the keyboard. The other singer knocks by drumstick in both hands, as if dancing on the beat, mixing with incense and the drum beat, bustled by thrilling sound.
Every time singing some parts, they stop, the sound of the lute becomes quiet and then suddenly changes from the low to the middle site. The instruments resound, vaguely sweetly whispered…, then while playing, the voice soars and inspires… Nationality of Vietnam……Tran Thi …i…i…i… At the interplay between the two singers, he pins the lute and then extends his finger to the high note. The sound is strong, sharp and bright. Singing again, earnestly, respectfully… Heaven Spirit… eh… sacred land…i… mountain, river etc…
The incarnated head danced in the sacred dance, her face shined as if emitting a cold and soft light like the new moon. So much sorrow and pain disappeared. The ascetic and sorrow features of the fish merchant disappeared. Fatigue and long-term sickness gradually faded away, shining and satisfying! The old woman’s cracked hands and wrinkled yellow nails were not existed. Hands dances with wick fire as beautiful as ivory buds undulated on the round wrists, flickered in the red sleeves embroidered with five-color tassels.
She stopped to dance, sat down cross-legged in front of the mirror, chewing betel nut in her mouth. She began to share offerings. Every time someone offered an offering, whispers for good fortune and selling, the pleas started to voice, the feather fan covered half of the face of the offerers. She took her hands to hold an incense stick. Suddenly she felt entangled, on her sinewy wrists, wearing an intricately carved bright metal bracelet. It did not suit her very well, especially with her austere old hands.
The bracelet was given by Kien the day before. Did not know where he could find a stainless old piece, then he used the sandpaper obtained from the carpentry team to polish it, and staggered carved flying birds on the top of the mountain. When he gave it to her, he laughed and told that his team that each of them would make a few to give to their loved ones, some of them made them for their lover at the women’s prison. He told her that a girl over there who gave him some embroidered scarves that he didn’t pay attention to, he just made this bracelet for hí mother.
Mrs. Man blurted out, the moan that could not come out is closed by betel nut water. Damn it, what did he use to carve the ring, he must hide knives and swords in prison, could be so. Son is a fool, his mother has to suffer, when her life would stop suffering.
A long sigh like a mountain dew.
The incense quietly spreads over the incense table. On the shrine, the three Holy Mothers sit seriously. The Holy Spirit is incomparably majestic. The shrine cave were full of animals, green forest. Beneath, the four public councils solemnly looks down at the incense stick that was fascinated in singing, the scent entwines, and above all, absolute faith in the Saint Spirit, in a vague realm where people would overcome all mortal temptations, all ambitions, evil intentions… to be entered by holy, hold all supernatural forces in the hands, to represent the Saints and God, and to offer for the dark world the light of tolerance, the regeneration of the souls, the strength to overcome all hardships. They needed to have such wonderful uplifting moments to have more life-changing strength to continue to serve the faith.
Ah! a… ah… ah…. Weaving brocade embroidered with flowers, Miss Chin in bronze, weaving brocade embroidered with flowers. Dragon, unicorn, tortoise, phoenix; the four supernatural creatures – she embroidered a pair of dragons…i…chau…i…i….i….i….The sound of singing echoed in the shrine. Soft hands run on the keyboard, the strings are flat, shaking, vibrating with throbbing and delicate sounds. The melodious beat is pushed one more beat. The atmosphere is like alcohol air, prompted people to sway, releasing or clapping their hands to the rhythm of the music.
Ah! a….ah…ah…! Evil diving rabbit. Miss Chin embroidered on the evil diving rabbit… she embroidered with water and flowers …people…i…i…i…i…! His baritone voice is pressed, slightly compresses under the abdominal muscles gradually moving up into the larynx and then releasing seductive, elegant bass tones in the rhythm of one beat, then the fiddle hummed, evocatively called the beat. . The sounds of raising voices ooh … suddenly flew up high and then went down hoarse, the throat seemed to tremble with sobs. The singing melted in the incense, spreading on the roof of the temple, curling up in front of the Three Holy Mothers, suddenly fluttering, sparkling.
The high tones…i…i…i… long, thin resounded in each different song, changing full of vital sound. At the end of the event, the sound of the harp and singing suddenly expanded to the high site, the sound … i…sliding out and spreading out making the attendants still felt crisscrossing each other in the immense space above, crept in every corner of the soul, every eye, every corner of the mouth and nose fluttering and breathing.
Just like that, the song made the pure lotus flower bloom on each person’s forehead!
The night was over, the incarnation of the deities was gone. Most of the attendees left, only the old incarnated head woman sitting cross-legged in the middle of the temple and the old man in temple quietly lit another round of incense and sometimes three bells rang out to the end of every narrow corner of the temple. It seemed that the birds that inhabited in the branch of a tree do not want to fly. In the middle of the air, there were spiraling vortexes that constantly chasing each other to form a really long road connecting the world with the underworld.
The incarnated head woman passed away peacefully, with a smile on her face and two drops of tear in her eyes!
At dawn on July 15, the day after the night that Mrs. Man set out to perform the incarnation ceremony for her son, Xuan Nguyen prison camp happened a landslide incident due to illegal minesweeping, 40 prisoners of the sixth stone team escaped from the camp, only the prisoner No. 296 showed up and were sent back to re-educate at the ninth stone team.
Later, when recording the testimonies of the escaped prisoners, they were re-arrested. It turned out that he was the one who planned and directly blasted the mine to carry out the prison escape that day.
In a crevice in the gable of the sixth stone team cell was a small red packet stuck very deep. Maybe it was still there by now!
Pham Van Anh in Major in Vietnamese Army and an author, born in 1980. She has master’s degree in Political Science. She is Member of Vietnam Writers’ Association, published 12 books of prose and poetry and won 15 national Literary and musical awards.
(Translated into English by Khanh Phuong)