• The First Thunder Of Summer ( 2nd part )





    The First Thunder Of Summer (2nd part)






    One morning near Christmas time, I was playing on the threshold, admiring my aeroplane that worked with a rubber string, a new creation of mine, when Liên-Hy and Tuân entered the gate. I felt very embarrassed but managed to pull myself together thanks to Tuân’s prompt reaction. He broke free from his sister’s hand and rushed towards me. I had just time to stand up to make room for her to come into the house where my sister greeted her. This time, thanks to Tuân’s presence, I didn’t have to hide in the rear garden, but was able to play freely on the front yard, knowing that from the window, Liên-Hy could easily look at me, or I could easily be seen by her.


    I showed Tuân my new-made toy to impress him. In fact I wanted to make an impression on Liên-Hy. I imagined that she would undoubtedly admire my intelligence and skill, but I dared not look into the room to know whether she looked at me or not. Tuân asked me to let him try it out. I handed it to him after rewinding the rubber string carefully. But I didn’t know what he did wrong when he launched the plane; the result was that instead of flying up, it went straight on the level and came crashing against the window sill, damaging the wings and breaking the tail. I rushed to the window to pick it up, and allowed myself a quick look into the room. Liên-Hy was sitting facing my sister, with her back to the window, indifferent, speaking to my sister as if  nothing special was going on.


    And so, that meeting between Liên-Hy and I happened and ended in the simplest way possible. I learned that Liên-Hy had come to ask my sister to mend a woollen jumper of hers. A woollen jumper in a faded red colour. I can see it now in my mind’s eye, how its knitting pattern was, and where the woollen thread had been broken.


    After she had left, and taking advantage of the absence of my sister (who was doing the washing in the rear garden), I stealthily approached the woollen jumper, delicately took it in my hand and lifted it to my face.  A soft  perfume filled my lungs,  it was difficult to say which kind of perfume, but an indescribable delightful sensation overcame me. I didn’t know why at that moment I was so bold, like a drunken man unaware of what he was doing, I pulled the jumper over my head, but it was too small and my head couldn’t get through. I took it off, and felt that something got caught across on my face. It was a long hair, surely it was Liên-Hy’s hair that had stuck on the jumper long ago. I promptly took the hair and placed it reverently between two sheets of one of my copybooks.


    And so, small anecdotes of my childhood had nothing really special. They only showed small developments of a young soul that had not yet taken shape.


    Days and months passed by with joy or sadness according to the state of mind of a young boy facing  nature and everything around him, and sometimes even facing his own childlike, fantastic thoughts and imaginations.


    My leisure activities had changed. On days off school, instead of spending my time, all day long, at the carpenter’s or at the blacksmith’s workshops to immerse myself in the fabrication of toys, I spent them reading. The “Pink Books” with fairy tales and fantastic stories enriched my thoughts and nursed my imagination. I was haunted by the images of golden castles, jade towers, springs of eternal life … And every time, when I thought of the characters in these tales I was always hoping or imagining that I was the prince of a small country, and that Liên-Hy was the princess of a neighbouring one, or that I was a tiny young king and she was his beloved tiny young queen.


    So, the escapism of my soul and the development of my imagination were in such full swing like a star crossing the firmament in its endless course…


    … Spring was driving away … and summer was coming …


    Kites were already seen flying in the sky, and the perfume of newly cut sheaves of rice drying on the farmers’ clay yards filled the atmosphere and added its special note to the charm of the countryside. This year the days of transition between the two seasons seemed rather unusual.  Spring seemed to have left a little earlier and summer was coming in a rush.


    One afternoon… one afternoon that was ending spring and announcing the arrival of summer… It was particularly hot. The western sky was red, with a cover of  grey-black clouds. It felt to me like some remote country in that corner of the globe was on fire. There was no wind. The kites, losing height, were floating down uncertainly like wounded birds. The bamboo trees in front of the pagoda were motionless like in the images in Chinese ink-drawn pictures. We were playing football on a newly harvested rice field.


    Suddenly a crash of thunder broke out and its rumble echoed and reverberated through space up to the innermost places in my heart. A whirlwind rose up and darkened everything with dust and sand.


    We stopped our game at once, at a very critical moment of the match. A premonition, an intuition or an obscure invisible force unknown to me urged me to leave the game at once. I rushed home, very uneasy and anxious. I had the precognizant feeling that something was waiting for me at home, but what ?  I didn’t know, or perhaps my parents were having a heated argument ?


    When I reached the gate, I caught sight of a small figure. It was Liên-Hy. She was sitting as usual on the bed with my sister. And also, as usual when she came without Tuân, I rushed to the rear garden, and peered through the slit in the bamboo woven wall. I felt very hot for having played during the whole afternoon and for having run a long way home from the rice field, but suddenly I felt an icy stream flow through my body and cold sweat streamed down. I heard my sister call out to my mother who was in the kitchen:


    ‘Mother ! Have you put away Liên-Hy’s blue Bombay silk tunic I had hanged on the peg ?’


    My mother seemed embarrassed and had not yet answered when my sister dashed to the kitchen and whispered something in her ear. Then my sister returned to the room, I noticed that she was looking pale. She said to Liên-Hy with an effort to sound normal:


    “I’ve already made the bow, the only thing to do now is to stitch it to the tunic.  This morning as I had to go out, my mother put it away in the chest, for safety. Stay here a moment, when my father comes back, I’ll take the key from him and give it to you. Or else, if it’s not urgent, I’ll bring it to you tomorrow ?’


    I started thinking hard, trying to understand what was happening.   Liên-Hy’s soft and anxious voice reached me:


    ‘I need it for tomorrow morning, I’m marching in the “Vạn-Thọ” parade celebrating the king’s birthday. As it’s not late yet, may I stay and wait for your father ?’


    My sister nodded reluctantly. I knew that something was happening in the house and it didn’t sound good at all. Then suddenly my sister got up purposefully. She took Liên-Hy’s hand and said:


    ‘Come with me. Let’s walk to the market, maybe we’ll come upon my father?’


    The two of them left. My mother rushed into the room, rummaged around for a moment then called for me. She handed me a parcel wrapped in a shawl that I had seen my sister wear in the previous cold days, then she instructed me in a whisper:


    ‘Take this to ‘aunt’ Hanh and tell her to kindly keep it as security in exchange for the parcel I gave her yesterday.’


    I obeyed.


    Mrs. Hanh, who was the village’s pawnbroker, asked me in a tone usual to a rich and very busy lady:


    ‘Isn’t it the blue Bombay silk tunic your mother gave me yesterday? What’s all this fuss about?’


    Stunned, I didn’t know what to say, but she had already opened my parcel to check. I saw a black gabardine tunic, and a pair of white cotton trousers. Those were the only clothes I usually wore to go to school and which I would wear tomorrow to take part in the “Vạn-Thọ” parade, and to receive sweets and cakes as usual like the previous years. Thunderstruck, I couldn’t help tears  pouring down my face.


    Mrs. Hanh agreed to the exchange, then she took another parcel from the cupboard, which was wrapped in a worn-out sheet of newspaper and handed it to me. Sadly I took it and walked out of her shop. On the way home, I gazed down at the packet.  Through the splits of the torn newspaper the blue Bombay silk material obscured my view. I shivered with cold. My feet became like lead, so heavy that I wondered whether I could drag them home. I thought hard and a deep sadness and despair drained away my breath.


    A deafening thunderclap crashed, tearing off the sky, and drops of rain started falling down. I broke out and ran straight home. I handed the parcel to my mother, and went to the rear garden. I sat there, in a corner, and wept silently in darkness through the whole evening.




    The next day, I stayed motionless in my bed as if sick, listening to the chants of ranks upon ranks of schoolboys and girls from my school and others which echoed and reverberated from the rock dam to me through the bright morning sunlight:


    “ Long live the King ! ”… “ God save Viêt-Nam ! “ …


    I silently wept and wondered:


    “Among the crowd listening to these chants, is anyone aware that my voice is missing ?”


    From that moment onward, a distressing thought overwhelmed me:


    “Good bye for ever  … childhood … and … illusions !




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