Phượng rơi rỉ đỏ rực rỡ vỉa hè. Nàng sắn vạt áo dài vào dây thung ở lưng quần, vạt gió luồn vẫy tung hai hàng mây trắng, hai bàn chân nàng trên bàn đạp của xe đạp thật vững vàng và nhất định hướng xuống đại lộ, dài ơi dưới bóng những cây cổ thụ.
Cậu ngày nào cũng đạp xe theo nàng về, cậu không mấy cao, da dẻ ngâm nắng. Nhưng khi cậu cười, hàm răng trắng, dưới khểnh thật khó quên – em đợi anh, mai anh có lệnh đi ra trận gần biên giới, em đợi anh nha? Ngậm ngùi lẫn trộn lạ lùng nỗi buồn và hy vọng lời của cậu. Giờ nàng chỉ còn nhớ được nụ cười trong sáng đó. Hè năm đó mưa chảy đỏ những cành hoa phượng, cậu không một lần nữa gặp mùa thu.
Orange jacarandas litter Saigon pavements with its blossoms in full summer. Tucked in the long skirt of her áo dài escaped in a cloud of white, her feet hastened with purpose on the pedals, down the avenues under the outstretching shade of the ancient trees.
A particular boy followed her home every day from school, he was on the dark side in appearance, average height. His smile was bright, with a bottom, left crooked tooth egging to be noticed – Wait for me, they are sending me to the front, wait for me won’t you? A strange mixture of hope and sadness in his voice. All she can remember now is that white smile. The orange petals rained and bled that summer, he never saw the next fall.
Twenty-six with four children under six, April thirtieth 1975, her husband was on the losing side of the Vietnam war. With a few months of work experience from a stint at the city public hospital, she sent her husband to be re-educated. It took four years.
Her long waist-length wavy hair twisted in a tight bun, lengthening a pale white neck. She never smiles, emotions are for the weak. Spasms of small coughs express irritation and suppressed anxieties. The huge dark pools of her eyes flash moments of desire, sadness, despair. But, who would dare look? On white horses (from the winning side) they came, in earnest to rescue this angel from her tragic circumstance.
My ears were full of chicken pox, a gregarious pale skin nine-year-old boy, a head full of curls lined up in my stead. The nurse couldn’t tell us apart, the little lies that made up my life. The last health inspection before boarding Thai Airways for Sydney.
Panatnikom refugee camp was a huge metropolis of bare concrete walls, my younger siblings babied, I would roam its shadows alone. My mother, her cheeks I could imagine, that cough she had during the five years my father was taken in re-education camps, in the years I was caught stealing fifty “xu” on the dinner table(or was it five). I had buried her in the recess of my memories, the lanky nine-year-old with sad round eyes.
Her name was long and tedious, names from an ode about a tree, a bird in an abandoned forest, an endearing name her father had entitled her.
The weird eyes those boys gave her, made her hide behind walls, in public baths, clogged up toilets.
My memories of April.
I could barely note a few paragraphs before the hot tears would swell at the back of my eye sockets. I thought of my ambitious dream of noting those formative years for my children. The yearly trip back to the five star holiday trips, a testament to the betrayal of my country, my abandonment. The irony, my laughable tears. The guilt of having survived the starvation, the drowning, escaping the rape – what a pretty girl, they whispered, as they stared at my under developed breasts in the red and white T-Shirt from St. Vincent De Paul or was it the Salvation Army.
Nguyễn Thị Phương Trâm, the blogger, poet, and translator, was born in 1971 in Phu Nhuan, Saigon, Vietnam. The pharmacist currently lives and works in Western Sydney, Australia.