Thahn Nguyên

My stepmother

When my stepmother first came, her eyes were sharp and bright as little
knives. Her youth and my childhood ran into each other – she was the victor.
Although my father was still alive, I felt orphaned, depressed and alone,
crying by myself, grew up alone. In the first years of peace, everyone drifted.
My father went out-returned with gray hair. I have my father to compensate
me for the loss of my childhood. Sometimes vague envy found father sitting
in silent expectation . . .

A decade goes by. My stepmother is still as beautiful as at first, though older.
She returns to ask my father to forgive her mistake: My half sister has
another half sister. My heart was no longer jealous – I only felt sorry for my
half sister, who was really too young . . . I hoped she would not find herself
once more on a tipping wagon. My father died, rain poured down in the
Courtyard. My tears gleamed some contentment: Mother and father together
now, forever.

After that she aged quickly, solitary, silent as a shadow, her eyes no longer
sharp as knives. When my son entered the world, she was the first to carry
him, she who changed him the first time, placed him in the gently rocking
Hammock. My half-sister asked her mother, only half-joking, “Will you favor
my first child this way?” Lullabies contain no riddles and tears run down
forever.* My stepmother’s silent eyes smiled brightly when my son threw
himself into her arms: “Grandma!”

Translated by Lý Lan and Joseph Duemer
*This sentence makes reference to a Vietnamese idiom that means parents’ unconditional love for their children is always greater than the children’s ability to recognize or repay.