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[Translated] Ngày 7 tháng Tư – Yue

28.04.2013

My translation project for the Literary Translation class.

Original story: Ngày 7 tháng Tư ở Hiệu sách góc đường cạnh Nhà thờ

Author: Yue

Genres: romance, fantasy, sci-fi

Rating: T

Note: (*) Hollong tree: a large tree native to China, India and many ASEAN countries. Hollong is known for its timber and two wing-like fruit sepals.

On April 7th, in the Bookstore near the Church

– translator: sangeld –

 
 
 

1.
9 o’clock. There were slight breezes and sunshine as summer started, along with a little moisture in the air. In front of the Church were a square and a row of hollong trees*. The square featured a silent fountain. Hollong were dispersing their dry seeds. The church was built of red bricks. On top of its bell tower stood a shining white marble cross.

A man appeared from behind the hollong row, heading towards the square. He seemed boring and wishy-washy. His face was skinny, his eyes looking around without focusing on any particular targets. His feet crunched the hollong seeds. The sound was obscured by the street’s noise. No one paid attention to him.

He walked across the Square to the Church’s gate where there was an angel relief. Not being a believer, he did not enter. In fact, he arrived here without any purpose. On April 7th morning, he woke up, feeling weary and empty. He thought he needed to go. He caught the bus, and eventually ended up here after 3 routes around the City. But he had no idea why he did so. He walked slowly, strolling around the church for several times, and then sat on the edge of a bone dry fountain. Coins at the bottom of the fountain had been taken away. He tossed a coin into the basin, tinkling; he burst out in words: Tell me why I come here! The basin was quiescent. At ten, a sparrow’s twitter answered him.

 
 
Soon enough, a girl passed by and he glimpsed her.

 
 
She came from the church and across the fountain. In a moment, something has raised as dizzily as the sound of some single cicada before summertime. He looked up. Rays of light reflected from her hair and blue petals were embroidered on the flap of her shirt. He looked at her silently. Sensing that somebody was watching her, she turned back, eyes wide open. Then she went away, her figure in the sunlight thin as a dragonfly’s wing.

He sat with silence for a long while. At last, he decided to proceed to the narrow dark yellow space on the other side of the street. A Bookstore. Stepping over the threshold, his nose caught the smell of stained papers as well as the rust of time. His towering height was prominent between two rows of shelves filled with books. A table with a flashing bulb was located in the innermost corner. Under the light, an old man was writing down book titles in a large notebook. He held a book from the left stack with one hand to see and take note of the title, then put it onto the right stack. Stacks of books from above him were just about to fall.

“May I read some books?”

The old man pointed towards the upper and outermost corner of the left shelf by the doorway. The man got there, his hand reaching for the back of a leather book. Dust fell on his nose as though time was flowing. Like a Fairy Tale – he mumbled the book title. The paper edges had yellowed and the inks had bled. He sat in a squeaking side chair and read as the sun was casting radiance outside. He read Like a Fairy Tale, Little Mouse and Tiny Elephant, The Blind Knight in the Attic, Original Wish, The Small Cat in Heaven, The Legend of Her Clocks, The Quiet Garden and The Silent Paradise. He read avidly and attentively in such a lengthy period that he himself could not estimate how long. The book was so thick and odd that 99% people would believe it was nonexistent. He wondered so and eventually counted himself as the remaining 1%.

At that moment, a silhouette spread to his feet. His heart skipped a beat for no reason. The shadow covered his legs and stretched onto his shoulder. He raised his eyes. She was standing in the doorway.

“Are you reading Like a Fairy Tale?” – She asked in a soft voice.
He slightly nodded.
“I’m currently reading it.”
“Oh, my bad.” – He closed the book and held it out to her. She refused: “Oh, never mind.”

He hesitantly continued with the book. She headed to the old man’s table, seemingly to write something. Then she returned to a seat opposite the man, in silence. He turned over the next pages and surfed on the stories. Every now and then he took a peek and noticed she was observing him. She shifted her attention – or rather, affected attention – to a newspaper in her hands. Every now and then his sitting posture stayed in her focus. The old man still remained in the bookstore’s corner. Stacks of books from above him were just about to fall. Just like that, time passed, along with The Cubic Window, The Guinea Pig Herder, The Salad Worm Café, The Incomplete Spring Performance, and finally Green Pea on the Rooftop. He could not take his eyes off the book till the very end; only then did he realize his read had been really engrossing. Breathing a sigh of relief, he looked up. The way her eyes rested on him was so strange. It seemed as if they – together with Like a Fairy Tale – had taken something away from him.
 

He gave her the book. One’s fingertip subtly met the other’s. She thanked gently and flipped through some pages. It seemed she did not read. Closing the book and standing on tiptoe, she returned it to its shelf, said goodbye to the old owner, looked at the man, and hurried out of the store. He felt a little dumbfounded, as everything was so baffling.

He said goodbye to the old man and stepped out of the bookstore.

He caught a bus home and went to bed very early. There was rain in the evening – the first rain of the year. He slept as the April rain rhythmically pattered on the roof.
 

2.
The night was everlasting. As if more time had passed than how it was supposed to. To his vague perception, time had overtaken night. Perhaps he was dreaming, or he was awake in complete bewilderment, witnessing himself swept by the cruel flow of time. He still remembered lying on the bed, clinging to the mattress just like clinging to a fallen antenna in a violent storm. The speed of time was incredibly faster than that of light. This world flared up and dimmed out. Hardly had his eyes opened when he felt his age. Financial crises, nuclear wars, peaces and civil wars sprung up and died out like fireworks. The world got crowded like a colony of termites jostling in a barren mound. All forests were cut down, and all glacial sheets melted. Nine great floods inundated the Earth before it came to an end. At the moment of truth, while people were seeking salvation from the sun, that sun blazed more fiercely than ever, causing all oceans to boil like water in a cauldron. Those who had lived until then were holding hands, kissing and expressing their love for the last time before they evaporated. Next, everything was thrown into darkness.

Amidst the serenity of the universe, very soon, a ray sparkled. Clouds of dust collided, exploded, shattered and then crystallized. A star was reborn, whose desolation mirrored its first birth’s. Rain poured down into sea. Microalgae and bacteria wriggled. Lobe-finned fish opened their eyes and rose to land. Flourishing ferns grew into forests and were compressed into crude oil. Young dinosaurs were born from eggs and quickly perished. In astonishment, mammoths realized that they were buried deep under the snow. Human beings woke up from their late nap, seeing themselves make stone tools. They built the Pyramids a couple of minutes later. They assassinated Caesar the next hour. At twilight, they conducted crusades and attended the court of Queen Elizabeth I when dinner came. While the light was still faint, they colonized new territories and neatened the two world wars. They put their mind at rest and went to bed, knowing that all major revolutions have been accomplished, on the night of April 6th, some certain year in the 20th century.

He saw his birth, his growth and existence without understanding why. He went through his calm and uneventful life. On April 6th, some certain year at the end of the 20th century, he went to sleep. Meanwhile, time flew rapidly and slowly. He woke up in the morning, on April 7th, wavering vividly. His hazy recollection told him that April 7th was supposed to have gotten drowned somewhere in the past, and that it was impossible for today to be such date again. In his memory, a devoid and trembling memory, April 7th seemed to have passed away in the bed, in his sleep, together with trivial images of some small blue petals. But he remembered nothing. He searched his memory only to find emptiness far and wide. Early news assured him that April 7th it was. He got displeased. He felt he needed to go somewhere. He went outdoors, boarded three buses and arrived at the Church. 9 o’clock. A row of hollong trees at the Square were dispersing dry fruits. There was a silent fountain. He tossed a coin in, his voice being a little bitter. Why do I come here?

 
Then a girl passed by him. Small blue petals were embroidered on her shirt.
 

His eyes widening; he felt uncertain. He looked at her in tense silence. She sensed his eyes casted on her back. Turning her head, she gazed at him. As if something had dizzily taken flight between both of them. He could not understand, and neither could she. Just like how a dragonfly disappeared into a canopy of leaves, she walked away. Much as he tried to watch, to his dismay, she was no longer there. Everything seemed like a puppet game; the moment it dawned on him, things were already out of his control. Do I know her? Do I know her? Do I know her?
 
 

3.
Do I know him? She wondered. No. She had never seen that lean man before, neither in the group of old friends nor relatives. She quickly strode to the perfect shade of the opposite ice cream shop, sat down near the glass window and ordered strawberry ice cream. Her intention after eating up was to cross the street and finish a book she currently read. She came here only for that reason – taking a walk, eating ice cream and reading a book, all by herself. Her eyes wandered to the bookstore. No sooner had the ice cream cup been served than she saw the man entering the Bookstore. Unexpectedly, he reached for the book on the shelf, that one book she knew for sure she should read. Like a Fairy Tale.

She nibbled her ice cream for so long that her tongue was coated with the sweet strawberry flavor. The shop was cold; the ice cream was cold; it melted leisurely. She took her time to eat, her hand supporting the temple while her eyes dwelled on the other side of the street. He was sitting right at the doorway, thus, she could survey each movement when his hand turned the pages. She suddenly felt embarrassed for observing a stranger. Anyway, why there was this uncertainty about the situation. Could it be that she had met or caught sight of him somewhere? It was beyond her. She observed him without further questioning. She grew interested in watching him turn pages, one after the other, with concentration shown on his face. Loneliness also. His posture was like that of an old sculpture in an old warehouse. Frail, stooping and weary. She thought that dust floated out of him. Dust also floated out of Like a Fairy Tale. It was a book that would make people murmur to themselves: “Ah, such a thing exists.” There were stories that were not fairy tales or rewritten fairy tales. Little Mouse and Tiny Elephant, The Blind Knight in the Attic, Original Wish, The Small Cat in Heaven, The Legend of Her Clocks, The Quiet Garden and The Silent Paradise. Just that, these stories were like fairy tales. She smiled and tried to imagine what was going on in his head as he read. Would he be fascinated by that book the way she used to be?
 

Not so sure.
 

She noticed that at some certain time, she thought she was not so sure.

Eventually, there was no ice cream left. She could not hang around. It was decided. She payed for the ice cream, got out of the shop, crossed the street and entered the Bookstore. She stood at the doorway; her silhouette gradually covered his feet, his body, and all of him. Her heart pounded.

“Are you reading Like a Fairy Tale?” – She tried to ask in a soft manner.
He hesitantly nodded.
“I’m currently reading it.”
“Oh, my bad.” – He was about to pass it to her, but she refused. “Oh, never mind.” – She said and headed towards the old man’s table. She wrote in the visitor’s book on the left of the table, and then went back to the corner of the room opposite him, where newspapers from years ago were piled up.

She carefully picked one with news about some old stuff. The bulletin published a picture of an old-fashioned car proudly parked at the center of the Square. It had been the newest model at that time – a big event, and also, the pride of its creator or owner. Away from the car, a part of the Church’s bell tower could be spotted. On top of it, the marble cross reflected a little sunlight of days gone by. She read lines of words about the car as though glided through a wet, slippery and remote grassy slope. Every now and then she peeked at him. Although the man was under thirty, his face bespoke something that seemed to have lingered for ages, making him subside like a thin layer of dust in the bookstore. Her eyes fell on him time after time, until the outline of his body blurred. Her eyelids turned heavy. Head pillowing on her arms, she dozed off.
 

As he finished the last page, the man closed the book, looked up and saw her sleeping. Watching a girl in her slumber may be nothing new. But her image in the stillness of the secondhand bookstore – how the fabric folds of her clothing was in harmony with the chair’s shape, how the eyelashes on her tender face soothed, how light and dark values blended on her face, shoulders, chest and frame, and how the small blue petals moved in tandem with each of her breath – was something inexplicable to him.
 

Suddenly she woke up and caught him watching. From deep within her, warmth swelled up. She hastily concentrated on the newspaper.

He chuckled. A childlike look sparkled on his face.

He put down the book, gently smoothed out the back and gave her. When both of them reached out, the tips of their fingers touched one another. The book quivered before falling in her arms. She turned over some pages, scanned through the table of contents. There was still a half to go. The Cubic Window, The Guinea Pig Herder, The Salad Worm Café, The Incomplete Spring Performance, and finally Green Pea on the Rooftop. Nevertheless, she closed the book, stretched her arms to put it to the shelf. She looked at him, said goodbye to the old man, and dashed out of the bookstore.

After she had made her way to the square, it started sprinkling – the first rain of the year. It was said that walking in the sprinkling rain was sweet and romantic. Yet she only felt herself ripple like water in the fountain. The rain got heavier. Her hair and shirt got wetter. Hollong fruits on the ground were soaked dark. She tossed a coin into the basin.

I have never met him before.
 

4.
That night, she had a slight fever.

As she drowsed, her world and his respectively passed away. Again, time revolved on a complete circle. She faintly discerned that she had gone through an insipid life, and that the world ended in blackness before it restarted. Her life restarted, too, carrying along dismay and fatigue. She got lost in a storm of impermanence, trying to cling to some milepost nearby. His lonely sitting posture flickered in the coma.

Waking up in the morning, she felt bereft. It was like having a one-night dream which would otherwise last for over billions of years, without her grabbing a single thing.

The radio announced that it was April 7th, some year in the 20th century. Her heart beat faster. Then she vaguely knew that things would happen on this day in such a familiar manner that could torment her.

She asked herself: How many times has it been?
 
 

How many times has it been? – He asked himself. It was when she passed by him on one summer day, something had dizzily raised, resembling a strange premonition about irresistible familiarities. His eyes were deeply fixed on her and her eyes were shakily fixed on him.

The ice cream shop still served sweet strawberry ice cream. The old man still wrote book titles in the secondhand bookstore. He was like a great old tree that had witnessed all the twists and turns of time. Like a Fairy Tale, covered in dust, still awaited this man’s hand reaching up the shelf. He would spend hours reading stories whose author was unknown. She would nibble her ice cream for hours while looking across the street. April 7th tranquilly flew over the Square and the Church. In the afternoon, the sunlight turned pale. Irrespective of the hustle and bustle of city life, the feel of summer became delicately soft. No one realized that among the masses of cloud, the scorching blue gaps were dimming. The sunshine was blurring after being filtered through a veil of water vapor. She stood in such daylight before stepping into the bookstore. She would see him read and he would see her sleep, also in such daylight, which would then be fairly dyed with the color of worn-out papers.

They would exchange a few words, as simple as it should be. Are you reading Like a Fairy Tale? I’m currently reading it. Oh, my bad. Oh, never mind. She would write in the visitor’s book again, at that same page and with that same content. He would hesitantly hand over the book and skip a heartbeat when her finger touched his. It would feel soft and swift and would leave an invisible rough trace.

She would hurriedly go out and he would be baffled for a while. It would rain again, at that same moment, x hours y minutes z seconds. She would toss a coin into the fountain again. At the bottom of the basin, the two glittering coins would lie next to each other. People often tossed some coin in there, and prayed.
 
 

On April 7th of some certain year in the 20th century, again, he would toss a coin into the basin and burst out: Why do I come here?

Every time he was truly awake, it felt like he had left an apparently infinite history behind where his sleep backed off. His life probably only existed within April 7th. His fatigue urged him to go. His face was consistently boring and wishy-washy. He arrived at the Church and crunched the hollong seeds, making unsettling sounds. He ignored the streets and the streets ignored him. Walking around the Church without believing in God, he ended up in front of the fountain. He wished he could comprehend what was to occur on that day.

He knew he would meet a girl. She would appear as delightful and flimsy as a dragonfly’s wing. Everything from her would be soft and delicate. If he looked into her eyes, they would answer him with quiet and austere affections.

He would read Like a Fairy Tale as though reliving trifles of buried memory. He would be stirred by the touch. And he would realize all that events had repeated time and time again in the revolving past.
 

Like April 7th, her appearance recurred in front of him.

Over and over. Over and over again.

Little Mouse and Tiny Elephant, The Blind Knight in the Attic, Original Wish, The Small Cat in Heaven, The Legend of Her Clocks, The Quiet Garden, The Silent Paradise, The Cubic Window, The Guinea Pig Herder, The Salad Worm Café, The Incomplete Spring Performance, and finally Green Pea on the Rooftop.

And again.
And again.

Endless.
 

He tried his hardest to break out of this state. Still, April 7th had drained his confidence little by little. He intended to do something, every hour, every minute of April 7th, something different as opposed to the fixed arrangements that would manipulate him like manipulating a marionette. He hoped that every word and every action had never happened before. But it was too late. When a motion finished, he knew that was how it used to be.
 

When he tossed a coin into the basin, he prayed to God.
He craved to know who she was.
 
 

5.
The girl wished that he would ask who she was.

Yet since the first time she saw him, she knew that he was incapable of doing that. When she turned her head to look at him at the square, his sorrowful and anxious eyes surprised her. Those eyes glued to her and persisted until the ice cream shop. Later, when he entered the bookstore, she could not keep her eyes off him. In the street, the traffic and its pedestrians built up a never-ending stream. Through the whizzing shadows, his posture appeared painfully thin. He slightly trembled. No one but her noticed it, that this man was weakened. Strawberry ice cream melt and melt, and she started trembling like him.

And then, without further hesitation, she stood up, left the shop and headed towards the Bookstore. Something must be done, she resolved. She clenched her fists and took a deep breath. She must tell him something she had never said and that would change everything. What should she say?

“Please ask my name.”

She was standing right at the door, her shadow covering his shoulder. She said nothing.

This day also reeled off before her eyes, despite innumerable destructions of the universe. The galaxies flared up and dimmed out prior to their zero resettlement. April 7th was the only reality, a trap, an eternal maze and an obsession gripping on them regardless of time.

She knew both of them were stuck. Nothing else could have been done. Human was unable to go against the already countless recurrences. Everything was preprogrammed, no matter how she suffered from watching him, how it tired her to sleep or how subdued her dainty breaths were even after the eyes had closed.

She could not subdue the touch. Like a Fairy Tale quivered in her trembling hand. At that instant, the girl found herself diminutive, and she found the man diminutive, too. She stood up. Loneliness pervaded her.

Tossing a coin into the fountain, the girl burst into tears. It set in to rain. No one noticed her teardrops. Looking towards the church, she prayed.

Please ask my name!”

The rain formed an ivory layer on the bell tower. The Church put on a maroon coat. In the Bookstore, he perplexedly saw her dashing figure. Those sad eyes had fixed on him but there had been no word uttered. He helplessly looked at an infinite space where the brownish shade of the Church imprinted in the sky. He decided to walk out, his heart chilled.

“Hey, guy” – a voice was raised from behind him. He turned his head. The old man was moving his lips from the table in the innermost corner. Above him, stacks of books were just about to fall.

“Leave some words in this visitor’s book, will you? Everybody else does so.” – His voice was as soft as the dust layer on the books.

The man was hesitant for a while but stepped towards the table anyway. On the left of the table presented one of the most gigantic books he had ever seen. Its size was two times a chronicle, and had at least a thousand pages. The book was covered with leather. Its back might have been gilded, but now – just like other books in the store – the leather had peeled off, the papers stained and some pages fell apart.

“This?” – He asked with a slurred and unsteady voice. His breath had run out. He turned to the latest page, while the old man stayed silent. There was this neat, slanting and rather plain handwriting. The writing was old, perhaps no less than this book. In the man’s mind, he pictured her figure right at this table from the outset, holding the pen to gently write these words. Having finished, she closed her eyes and slightly exhaled. From deep within him, warmth swelled up.
 

Dear you,

I wonder why you haven’t asked my name. If you do, I’ll be so happy that I’ll smile.

Do you believe time is a wheel of impermanence? Six billion people, including us, You and Me, and the Church, those coins in the fountain, the Bookstore, the Ice cream shop, raindrops that are about to fall, hollong fruits that scatter on the pavement, as well as monkeys in zoos, termites in mounds, lions in deserts,  beetles feeding on trees’ resin, flowers in fields and in gardens, rivers that flow into seas, mountains, glacial sheets and polar bears on those sheets are all dots lying on the circumference of that wheel.

When the wheel rolls on its track successively and repeatedly, we roll along and everything rolls along. Just like that, there comes a time when everything returns to its original position. You see, I find myself going a long circle, then coming back to April 7th and meet you.

Do you think that after each journey of time, you are born, you grow up and until today you meet me for the first time?

No matter what, sadness that has floated out of you, your anxious posture, your hand turning the pages of Like a Fairy Tale, the hesitation and trembling in our few exchanged words, the childlike look that sparkled when you chuckled – they are all very familiar to me. They’re like an eternity that could pain me to tears.

On April 7th, in the Bookstore near the Church, I love you.
 

End.
 
 
 
 
 

/Like a Fairy Tale/
/A hidden page/

And like that, it rained, pitter patter pitter patter.

When the girl was out of sight in the rain, he did not know what to do. Basically, all men that have ever lived never know what to do when a girl has swiftly gone beyond their grasp. He sank in emptiness.

During that moment, a myriad of things had happened. In one second, more than a billion lives of all species on this old earth had been brought to being. At the same time about the same number of lives were taken away – microalgae, bacteria, ants, termites, bees, lions, pandas, hares, otters, mushrooms, lichens, unicellular or multi cellular life forms, and human beings. That is life. Its glory and splendors are like fireworks, gliding through the infinite length of time, leaving behind gorgeous and unforgettable marks.

He saw himself being swept by those splendors like a blade of weed swept in a ditch.

When time counted its beats, he suddenly woke up. Irrespective of time, or of this universe’s chaos, or of those pains, he found that he was a shining point on the circle of time.

And so was the girl.

That was why they met, and met, and met.

He hastily closed the visitor’s book, thus, a dust storm followed and shrouded the old owner of the store. The young man said a goodbye that soon vanished. It seemed that the old owner smiled. Who knew? Such mysterious person often appeared curiously. He was still writing the list of old things when the man rushed out of the Bookstore.

The man got out, crossed the street and ran with all his might towards the Square. His shirt was immersed by the rain. The girl was standing among the falling water drops like a wet and elegant stroke of beauty. Blue embroidered petals on the skirt were sticking in clumps.

As if everything had been arranged, as if from the outset he had been an exiled imprudent prince and she had been a wandering songstress. Without any magic spells, he still wanted to grasp for her, so that both of them can share this most miraculous event in every journey of time.
 

He touched the hem of her sleeve.
Her heart skipped a beat.
He gently grasped.
 

Imploring and overflowingly hopeful, he asked.

“What is your name?”

Amidst the incessant rain, the girl turned her head, feeling so happy that she broke into a smile.
 

/Like a Fairy Tale/
/A hidden page/

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