Tuệ Đan translated
I had been laying here for 42 years. Glued to the asphalt of this road by the perpetually indestructible gum. Yes, that’s right, I had been rigidly glued. I hadn’t been able to struggle free. My body gradually sank down and was grated to the degree of saturation. As for time? Time, too, was glued tight to the road’s surface, time hadn’t moved since then. Forever.
Everyday waking up at 5, I strolled from my house passing a small market, passing an intersection, passing a long bridge, to an inter-provincial bus station, then returned home. That whole leg took about 40 minutes. The segment was enough long to break my sweat, soak my back, and wet the T-shirt. 6 o’clock I arrived home, jubilantly showered then got ready for a new day.
I noticed the old lady during my exercising walks. A withering body, decrepit and haggard, a weathered shirt, an old pair of fading black pants which she never seems to have changed. Surely she must have been over 80. I could smell the destitution even when I was still hundreds of meters from the marketplace where she sat. She sat flatly leaning against a new light post, in front of her, a tin biscuit box holding sticks of green DOUBLEMINT chewing gums. I thought, with the defiled mud puddle in front of her, no one would be attracted to the sweets she was selling. The strange thing was that she still sat there, day in and day out. Sitting there even when it rained and even on the last days of the year. Perhaps she would sit there until the end of her life, for her life was a pendulum swinging at a constant beat without any notion of change.
I saw in Tuoi Tre newspaper the Life Beat Via Our Lenses section displaying pictures of our daily life. I came up with the idea of taking her picture then sending it to the newspaper to be published. That final morning, I put the digital camera in my shorts’ pocket before heading out of the house.
I sat down in front of her, picked up two packs of gums, pulled from my pocket 5 thousand and handed to her. I took the camera out, said, Please, let me take a picture of you!, then resumed to adjust the lens, preparing to snap the photo. I thought she would smile, an innocent modest smile like all the photos I had seen in the photography exhibitions.
Right then, she aversely stood up, one hand flung the fistful of money into my face, the other hand covered hers, lividly shrieked in stuttered protests. AAAAAAAAAAAA! No! No! No! No!!!
She convulsed and struggled to the point of almost losing consciousness. I was petrified, picking the coins and bills strewn on the ground. Other venders crowded around us, one woman grabbed hold of the old lady’s hands and tried to restrain them. I apologized profusely in a stammered voice. I tried to explain what had happened. I crammed the handful of money into the tin biscuit box. I let go of the old lady’s hands. I turned from her. I hastily stepped away. I walked quite a way off. I only turned back in the terrified scream of somebody. I saw the old lady swinging her arms. I saw flashes of fire shot from the K.54 in her hands. I let go of the camera. I heard myself screamed. I got shot in the eye. I fell. Steam rose from the bullet wounds on my shirt. I saw marks of the bullets dug in and stuck to the asphalt. The bullets that had missed charred and smudged the wall. The bullets glued to my face, my chest, my hair, my legs. The kind of bullets made of spit-out DOUBLEMINT gums, perpetually indestructible.
I had been glued tight on the surface of this road. Time was also glued tight to the road’s surface, time no longer moved. But I knew, it had been 42 years. As for the old lady? Still sitting there, back resting against the light post with the gums which could never be sold.