Ký ức sơ sài 09

NGUYỄN KHIÊM

Sau ngày…đứt phim, lớp Việt-Hán chúng tôi còn lại ở Sài Gòn không mấy mống. Năm 69 ra trường mỗi người đi một tỉnh. Từ đó tới nay có người chưa gặp lại. Nhớ ngày chọn nhiệm sở, ai cũng được xem trước danh sách các trường mình có quyền chọn. Tốt nghiệp đợt đầu trên 10 tên, tôi tuy cũng đậu đợt đầu nhưng kế áp chót nên trường gần nhất có thể nghĩ tới cũng phải cách Sài gòn trên hai trăm cây số. Thật công bình. Ba bốn năm trời cứ nhờ bạn bè ghi cours rồi trốn đi dạy trường tư kiếm tiền, chữ Hán chữ Nôm lộn tùng phèo, nay giã biệt trường tư buồn nẫu ruột, lại phải tính quãng cách Sài Gòn bằng đơn vị trăm cây số, chẳng còn mơ chuyện dạy thêm dạy bớt, cũng đáng đời, gieo chi gặt nấy, ăn trước nhịn sau. Cũng tự an ủi, thủ khoa, á khoa như Lê V Bảy, Lâm H Tài cũng phải đi tận Long An, Biên Hòa, ngày ngày cong lưng trên xe gắn máy…coi cũng không thọ mấy. Xem ra không ai uất ức điều gì. Nhiệm sở công bố minh bạch, ai đậu cao thì được microphone xướng danh lên chọn trước theo danh sách từ cao xuống thấp với sự chứng kiến của các quan chức cao cấp Bộ Giáo Dục, Viện Trưởng Viện Đại Học Sàigòn kiêm Khoa Trường Đại Học Sư Phạm, Giám đốc Nha Nhân Viên, Giám Đốc Nha Trung Học v.v… Sự Vụ Lệnh của mỗi tốt nghiệp sinh được viết sẵn đầy đủ chi tiết cá nhân cần thiết với tư cách là Giáo sư Trung học Đệ nhị cấp đến tham dự lễ chọn nhiệm sở. Tất cả nhiệm sở có nhu cầu tiếp nhận giáo sư về dạy học được Bộ Giáo dục qua Nha Nhân viên và Nha Trung học gởi về trường trước ngày qui định khoảng 2 tháng để mỗi tốt nghiệp sinh có thời gian và cơ hội tìm hiểu nhiệm sở nơi mình sắp chọn. Thí dụ Ban X có 10 tốt nghiệp sinh ra trường thì danh sách dành cho Ban X có đến khoảng gấp đôi nhiệm sở được đề nghị để tạo sự thoải mái trong việc lựa chọn. Sau khi danh sách nhiệm sở được niêm yết, mọi người rủ nhau hợp lại để thảo luận, trao đổi ý kiến. Thủ khoa cho biết ý kiến trước và tuần tự từng người sau đó kế tiếp nhau lựa chọn, trao đổi, hoán đổi cho nhau theo mọi thỏa thuận riêng một cách công khai. Thường có từ 2 đến 3 nhiệm sở có cự ly cách Sài Gòn khoảng trên dưới 30km dành ưu tiên cho những tốt nghiệp sinh đậu hạng cao. Ngoài ra các nhiệm sở khác được phân bổ khắp các tỉnh thành, nhất là các tỉnh thành phía nam có trường trung học đệ nhị cấp. Trước khi dự lễ bổ nhiệm, các tốt nghiệp sinh đua nhau đi khảo sát trước một số nhiệm sở mình sắp nhắm tới, sau đó về trường cho các bạn biết quyết định mới của mình để cùng nhau điều chỉnh lại cho khớp. Do đó mỗi người phải dự  phóng trước 2 hoặc 3 nhiệm sở để tùy cơ ứng biến. Sau đây là một thí dụ dẫn chứng: Huỳnh Mạnh định chọn một ngôi trường ở Bạc Liêu, rủ Quang, Tài và Giáo cùng đi đến nơi xem trước thực hư thế nào. Cả bốn đi Honda đến tận nơi vào thăm trường. Vào văn phòng trường, ông Hiệu trưởng người cao to, lực lưỡng, tên Hồ V Trai. Ông ta tự giới thiệu là giáo sư ban Vạn vật (Về sau lên thanh tra trung học, sau 75, chắc có hoạt động hay cơ sở CM nên được giữ chức vụ gì đó cũng kha khá tại sở giáo dục TP HCM). Sau khi xem trường và tiên liệu cho tương lai của mình, trên đường về, Mạnh tâm sự: “ Tui thì nhỏ con, thấp bé, Hiệu trưởng người to đùng, thấy sợ quá. Cho kẹo cũng không dám sống chung với ông này.” Thế là Mạnh tiếp tục đi thăm dò vài trường khác trước ngày quyết định chính thức.

Địa điểm tổ chức lễ chọn nhiệm sở là trụ sở Viện Đại Học Sàigòn tại Hồ Con Rùa đường Duy Tân cũ, nay là Văn phòng 2 Bộ Giáo dục và Đào tạo và tên đường được đổi là  Phạm Ngọc Thạch. Danh sách gọi tên lên chọn nhiệm sở theo thứ tự các Ban. Bên Nhân văn chọn trước và bên Khoa học chọn sau. Bên nhân văn dẫn đầu là Ban Việt Hán, rồi đến Ban Sử Địa, Ban Anh văn, Ban Pháp Văn …, sau đó đến Ban Toán, ban Lý Hóa, Ban Vạn Vật… (Ghi chú: Trước 75 gọi tên là Ban, tương đương vói bây giờ gọi là Khoa. Thí dụ trước kia gọi Ban Anh Văn, sau 75 gọi Khoa Ngữ văn Anh, tương đương với thuật ngữ Department of English). Trong sân Viện Đại học Sàigòn, tốt nghiệp sinh được phân bổ mỗi Ban đứng một hàng. Ban có số tốt nghiệp nhiều nhất là vài chục, thậm chí như Ban Toán hay Ban Pháp Văn chỉ có 5 hoặc 7 sinh viên đạt yêu cầu tốt nghiệp. Tốt nghiệp sinh theo tuần tự được microphone gọi tên lên trước mặt Hội đồng phân bổ nhiệm sở và nói lên tên nhiệm sở mà mình quyết định chọn. Sau khi nghe tốt nghiệp sinh chọn xong, ông Chủ tịch Hội đồng yêu cầu cho (bỏ chữ này) người Thư ký Hội đồng viết tên nhiệm sở vào khoảng trống chừa sẵn của tờ Sự Vụ Lệnh bổ nhiệm một cách công khai trước mặt mọi người. Hoàn tất công đoạn bổ nhiệm một vị Giáo sư Trung học Đệ Nhị Cấp, một công chức chánh ngạch hạng A, có bậc lương tương đương với Phó tỉnh trưởng phụ trách hành chính (Ghi chú: một số tốt nghiệp sinh QGHC được bổ nhiệm làm phó quận trưởng, theo thời gian thăng chức lên làm  phó tỉnh trưởng. Trường hợp này ngạch trật của phó tỉnh trưởng không hơn gì ĐHSP. Những năm về  sau mới đặt ra điều kiện Cao học hành chánh mới được bổ nhiệm làm phó tỉnh trưởng. Thậm chí có trường hợp như Lâm Tuấn Anh, tốt nghiệp Cao học hành chánh nhưng chỉ được bổ nhiệm làm phó quận trưởng. Phim cũ vừa đứt thì liền được làm Bí thư phường 5 Quận 10, và … chết rồi). Đại diện Bộ Giáo dục sẽ ký tên chứng nhận sự bổ nhiệm và đóng dấu vào Sự Vụ Lệnh này. Ngày chọn nhiệm sở và được nhận Sự Vụ Lệnh bổ nhiệm cũng chính là ngày được nhập ngạch Giáo sư Trung học Đệ nhị cấp chính thức. Sự vụ Lệnh này sẽ được hợp thức hóa bởi một nghị định của chính phủ. Thời cụ Ngô Đình Diệm, không có qui chế Thủ tướng,  nghị định bổ nhiệm thay thế Sự Vụ Lệnh này do Bộ Trưởng Phủ Tổng thống ký, những chính phủ sau cụ Ngô, đặt ra Phủ Thủ tướng, do đó nghị định nhập ngạch và thăng trật do Bộ Trưởng Phủ Thủ tướng ký.  Có một điều hết sức công bằng và hợp lý là hai người bạn cùng tốt nghiệp chung một ban, sau khi nhận được sự vụ lệnh, được quyền công khai xin Hội đồng cho phép hoán đổi nhiệm sở. Ông Chủ tịch Hội đồng yêu cầu viên Thư ký Hội đồng, gạch ngang tên hai nhiệm sở cũ của 2 tờ Sự vụ lệnh, viết tên hai nhiệm sở xin hoán đổi lên phía trên dòng chữ cũ vào hai tờ Sự Vụ Lệnh của hai người cùng thỏa thuận xin phép hoán chuyển,  ký tên xác nhận và đóng dấu vào dòng chữ được điều chỉnh. Tất cả Hội đồng tôn trọng ý kiến đồng thuận của cả hai đương sự, không thắc mắc, không gây khó khăn cho người nào, vì lúc bấy giờ tất cả tốt nghiệp sinh Đại học Sư phạm đều là công chức chánh ngạch hạng A với chỉ số lương 470, cao hơn chỉ số lương của tốt nghiệp sinh Quốc gia hành chánh là 430, và cao hơn chỉ số lương của cả Kỷ sư Bách khoa Phú Thọ.

Các giới chức Bộ Giáo Dục luôn công tâm, minh bạch trong hành sử, trong bao nhiêu năm trời chưa một lần bị điều tiếng xấu gì. Ra trường rồi thì cứ hai năm thăng trật một lần, vùng mất an ninh thì một năm rưỡi. Hiệu trưởng chịu trách nhiệm hoàn toàn về những chậm trễ hoặc sai sót về hồ sơ thăng trật của giáo sư. Từ Bộ Giáo dục, hồ sơ này phải chuyển sang Phủ Tổng Thống hoặc Phũ Thủ Tướng để ký nghị định bổ nhiệm hoặc thăng trật. Bộ Giáo dục chỉ được ký nghị định bổ nhiệm và thăng trật cho giáo viên tiểu học và giáo sư trung học đệ nhất cấp.

Tôi được bổ nhiệm về Rạch giá một phần cũng do Đào Hiếu, bà chị anh lấy chồng công chức ở ngay phố chợ, sẵn sàng nhường tôi căn gác xếp – những năm đó không hiểu sao nhà cửa ở Rạch giá khó hết biết, hình như người ta chỉ xây nhà vừa đủ ở, không bao giờ kinh doanh cho thuê nhà thì phài. Chị làm dâu Rạch giá, cũng có chuyện cười ra nước mắt. Một hôm rửa rau xà lách, chị quen kiểu ăn ngoài Trung, cứ phứt nhỏ cộng rau ra chứ không để nguyên lá, bà mẹ chồng vốn là chủ đất giàu có hồi trước rất gay go, hỏi chị mày là người miệt ngoải sao không lấy chồng ở ngoải, lấy người…Việt Nam làm gì mà cái gì cũng khác. Nghe đâu chị có thưa lại là ảnh ra tận Bình Định cưới con chứ con có vào Rạch Giá kiếm ảnh đâu. Có vậy mà bà cụ cũng nói chị trả treo. Đúng là “ lấy chồng xa xứ bơ vơ một mình” cũng tội thân gái lắm thay.Thật ra tôi có thể chọn chỗ gần Saigon hơn, nhưng là trường quận hẻo lánh, thường ăn pháo kích hoặc trên đường từ Saigon đến trường, có bữa ngồi chao dao ven bờ cỏ đợi lính mở đường vừa bị đắp mô đêm trước, tương lai không có gì sáng sủa nên tôi đành nghe lời Đào huynh.

Số phận đưa đẩy làm sao, sau 75 tôi hằng năm chứng kiến cả mấy trăm giáo viên ra trường, cũng thi tốt nghiệp nghiêm túc, cũng treo bảng kết quả các thứ nhưng treo cho biết chơi chứ không có chuyện tự chọn lựa nhiệm sở, mọi sự đều do phòng tổ chức cán bộ quyết định. Tân giáo viên do vậy năm nào cũng chạy chọt tán loạn. Nhiều lần tôi nghe ông hiệu trưởng nói rằng quan điểm giai cấp không chấp nhận quyền chọn trường theo kết quả học tập, học giỏi cũng tốt nhưng để…tham khảo thôi. Tôi thật tình không hiểu tham khảo là gì và để làm gì và càng không hiểu quan điểm giai cấp trong trường hợp này là gì, coi bộ trừu tượng quá lắm. Có những điều mình thấy đơn giản, dễ hiểu theo lẽ công bằng bình thường nhưng thật ra lại bất công theo chuẩn mực mới, chắc tại mình kém trí năng, kém lý luận (theo lối ngang phè của ông Lénine) nên đâm ra cứ thắc mắc lấn cấn, bận lòng chuyện thiên hạ một cách vô duyên.

Chọn trường trại xong xuôi trong khuôn viên Viện Đại Học Sài Gòn, chiều đó không nhớ vì việc gì, chúng tôi kéo nhau vào trường tán dóc. Cả đám cười ngất đọc trên bảng treo dọc hành lang đông người qua lại, ai đó viết bằng phấn trắng rõ mồn một, chữ to đùng: “Người nào nhận sự vụ lệnh đi vùng mất an ninh nhớ ghé nhà Trần M Đức lấy giấy phép của MTGP”. Trần M Đức làm tỉnh cười mỉm chi nhưng coi bộ lo âu lung lắm, dòm dáo dác quanh sân trường, khều tôi nói nhỏ: “Ngài bôi lẹ giùm tui đi, cảnh sát chìm lềnh khênh, cha Tài chơi ác chớ không ai vô đây hết.” Đúng ra Lâm H Tài không ác nhưng cà rỡn bất cứ ở đâu và bất cứ lúc nào. Ấy vậy mà khoảng năm 67, 68 chắc do Trần M Đức hay Tô T Th thuyết phục hay xúi dại, anh bỗng dưng là Chủ tịch Ủy Ban Sinh viên ĐHSP chống đi quân trường hay chống đi quân sự học đường gì đó. Chính mắt tôi thấy Vũ Đ S Biển vịn thang cho anh treo câu khẩu hiệu dài thoòng căng ngang trong sân trường ĐHSP Saigon : “Cực lực phản đối quân sự học đường, từ ngày… sinh viên ĐHSP quyết tâm chỉ đến trường với thường phục”. Tôi khều nhẹ Tài hỏi nhỏ: “Hăng vậy?” Tài tĩnh bơ: “ Chơi trò này tao chủ yếu lo cho cái thân trốn lính của tao là chính, đấu tranh cái cóc khô gì. Tao cứ bị tụi nó gọi đi lính hoài nên phải la làng để tự cứu mình thôi. Đi lính lúc này là tan xương.” Đúng là Tàu lai bằng hai Tàu thiệt. Thấy phong trào chống quân sự học đường “lên” quá, Huỳnh Mạnh tưởng bở, đến báo với trường tư chỗ y dạy thêm trong dịp hè cứ xếp thời khóa biểu như bình thường để kiếm tí tiền bỏ túi cho sướng, xong rồi về trường hoan hỉ hỏi lại LH Tài một lần nữa cho chắc ăn: “Bộ khỏi đi quân sự học đường thiệt hả anh Tài?” Tài tròn xoe mắt: “Treo khẩu hiệu thì cứ treo, la làng thì cứ la, nhưng  làm quá, chơi thiệt chống lại nó, nó cúp chuyện Quân sự học đường  mà bắt đi Thủ đức luôn thì chết mẹ!” Nghe xong, ngay lập tức, Huỳnh Mạnh bỗng trở nên Huỳnh  Yếu …xìu, hắn ta hoãng lên phóng xe chạy thục mạng về trường tư trả lại thời khóa biểu, từ chối giờ dạy.

Tôi hỏi Tài: “Tên nào viết khẩu hiệu mà chữ nghĩa bay bướm vậy?” Tài kể: “Nguyễn Thế Cường đó, tao đến nhà nó dụ nó đi uống cà phê, xong kè nó vào Đại học xá nhờ nó viết cho mấy chữ vì chữ viết của nó đẹp. Nó bảo bố tiên nhân, tao có dây dưa gì tới chuyện tranh đấu của bọn bay đâu mà bắt tao viết khẩu hiệu các thứ, tao được hoãn dịch mà, đâu cần đấu tranh làm cái chó gì. Thằng anh tao (đang làm ở Nha Động viên) nó mà biết chuyện, nó giết tao ngay. Nói vậy nhưng rồi cũng cặm cụi ngồi viết cho xong để làm vui lòng bạn bè.”

Phải công nhận những năm học sư phạm là quãng đời vui đáng nhớ nhất, học bổng ba tháng đủ mua xe Vélosolex (thứ xe gắn máy mà đèn xanh không chịu chạy, đèn đỏ không chịu dừng nhưng là mode lúc đó). Phần lớn đứa nào củng dạy giờ trường tư, tiền xu rủng rỉnh, chẳng muốn ra trường xa Sài Gòn. Gặp nhau đùa nghịch chòng ghẹo, có khi chọc cả các thầy nữa. Có một lần thầy Lê Xuân Khoa vắng mặt bất ngờ vì công vụ, cả lớp nhao nhao mừng rỡ được nghỉ học, đứng ngoài hành lang trên lầu tán gẫu. Người nào đó rủ đi ăn bún bò chỗ đường Nguyễn Huệ gần toà Đô chánh (thuở đó cả Saigon chỉ có vài tiệm bún bò Huế chứ không tràn hê bún bò Huế, mì Quảng, đè bẹp hủ tíu Nam kỳ thấy rõ như ngày nay), chị Quách Thị Trang, thủ quỹ lớp, mở hầu bao kiểm tra xong, ra lệnh: “Được rồi, đi thì đi”. Ngay lúc đó, Lâm H Tài thoáng thấy thầy Huỳnh Cư, giáo sư dạy ban Sử Địa xách cặp ra về ngang qua sân trường. Anh ta nhớ “thù” xưa, lúc thi tuyển vào ĐHSP, thầy Cư làm giám thị, gần hết giờ mà Lâm H Tài vẫn ra hiệu xin thêm giấy viết lia lịa, ông thầy bực mình quát: “Anh kia, nhanh lên, thi làm thầy dạy học chớ làm Tổng thống đâu mà viết dữ vậy! Hết giờ rồi, coi lại bài, nộp lẹ đi!” Tài mất hứng, quằm rằm, ghim chuyện này trong bụng. Xong cử nhơn Văn khoa, đã có chứng chỉ hành nghề giáo sư tư thục anh vẫn thi vào ĐHSP để…trốn lính chớ có định làm tổng thống tổng khậu (đầu bếp) gì đâu. Cả khối tên trong lớp cũng trong tình trạng đó: Ng V Hai có bằng Cử nhơn giáo khoa triết, Lê V Bảy có bằng Cử nhơn Việt Hán, Ng Đ Tiến, Ng V Quang, Lê B Nam cũng đậu cử nhơn, đang là giáo chức dạy trường công, tốt nghiệp Quốc gia sư phạm, cũng thi vào đây vì lý do lính tráng. Vẫn không quên mối hận xưa, Lâm H Tài bụm tay hét lớn xuống sân trường: “ Ông già đầu bạc” rồi mau lẹ thụp đầu xuống vọt nhanh đến cầu thang. Cả lớp bỗng tán loạn ngồi thụt xuống để lánh mặt, mấy chị chạy nhanh vào trốn trong phòng học, Trí quýnh quáng bò theo Tài trông chẳng ra làm sao. Thầy Cư từ dưới sân nhìn lên hành lang không một bóng người,có vẻ muốn quay vào tìm thủ phạm nhưng một thoáng ngập ngừng rồi quay trở lại nhà xe, mặt có sắc giận. Tình hình êm, cả lớp bu vào lên án Lâm H Tài…vô trách nhiệm, chơi mà để ai chịu thì chịu. Chán nhất là mấy chị không nói gì tới chuyện bún bò nữa. Bọn tôi khác xa tuổi trẻ thời nay ở chỗ hầu như không ai biết nhậu, thậm chí café cũng chỉ vài người, chỉ chuyên trị…soda chanh mà có lần Trần M Đức bảo dở nhất thế giới (ý anh soda ..khó uống hơn nước nấu chín bình thường chắc). Giải trí bằng cinéma, mua máy thu băng nghe nhạc cổ điển, cứ nửa tháng một lần chờ báo VĂN phát hành để đọc thơ Tô Thuỳ Yên, thật sự “đỉnh cao muôn trượng” của thi ca VN hiện đại; đọc “Ung thư” của Thanh Tâm Tuyền, thưởng thức một thứ văn xuôi Việt ngữ tân kỳ, đột phá, độc đáo không cùng. Chúa nhật hay kéo nhau ra vùng quê đi picnic, thích nhất là đi chơi vườn trái cây Lái Thiêu lúc bấy giờ còn xanh mịt ngút ngàn. Con đường nhựa nho nhỏ từ thị trấn Lái thiêu đi Búng vắng tanh, lọc cọc mấy chiếc xe bò chở củi và nông sản lăn chầm chậm theo nhịp đời thong thả. Hai bên đường trải rộng những vườn cây yên ả, thấp thoáng bên giếng nước những thiếu nữ rửa rau, vo gạo cạnh gốc khế cổ thụ đung đưa quả xanh quả đỏ. Nhan nhản trên bờ đầm nước trong veo, cong cong theo đường nhựa, nở rạng rỡ những chùm hoa trắng lớn cánh  la đà trên mặt nước. Bên kia sông mới thật sự xanh rì vườn cây trái sum sê, nhiều nhất là măng cụt và dâu dây, cây trên trăm tuổi vẫn xanh mướt um tùm, thân gốc đầy những khối u quái dị. Trời chưa tắt nắng vườn đã líu lo tiếng chim chào mào gọi chiều về, chẳng mấy chốc lặng chìm trong âm u tịch mịch, nhàn nhã lạ thường. Tô Thùy Yên hẳn đã viết về xứ này trong mấy câu thơ tình lừng lẫy:

Ve kêu như biển lâng lâng dậy

Xô giạt hồn anh mộng chập chờn

Ngủ chín giấc chiều trên xác lá

Tàn măng âu yếm đắp thân đơn

…………………………………

Cây cỗi càng sưng vết chặt lồi

Chờ nhau cho đáng kiếp chờ thôi

Tuổi già gom lại bao thương tưởng

Như cuối vườn chiều mót củi rơi.

(Vườn hạ-Thơ tuyển)

Và đẹp biết bao hình ảnh:

Mùa hè, em bới tóc lên cao,

Môi ửng son và má chớm đào

Ngày nghỉ về vườn thăm họ ngoại,

Lòng như con sáo trong ca dao.

…………………………………..

Em mặc bà ba ra bến nước,

Đưa tay khỏa nhẹ nhớ thương nào,

Đến nay, lòng ấy còn xao gợn…

Mùa trái cây nào hái tặng nhau.

(Mùa hạn- Thơ tuyển)

Không biết vì mê cảnh vật đó từ thời thanh xuân hay sao mà đến lúc về hưu, Lê V Bảy mua cuộc đất bên bờ sông lập vườn trồng hoa lan để bán. May cho anh hoa lan chỉ hút dưỡng chất trong gió và sương, không lệ thuộc gì đất và nước nên mảnh vườn đó vẫn còn tồn tại. Tôi ghé thăm anh , chẳng còn thấy hoa trắng đung đưa bên dòng nước, mùi tanh tanh phảng phất khắp mặt đầm đục lềnh bập bềnh rác rưởi, sầu riêng xác xơ ủ rũ, măng cụt còn lá nhưng không trái, chỉ  vài cây mận dễ tính trổ bông trắng loe hoe. Con đường nhỏ năm xưa nay là đại lộ phẳng lì, nơi đua tốc độ của mấy yên hùng xe gắn máy đêm đêm đem tuổi trẻ đầy sinh lực đùa vui với thần chết. Cứ lao vào cơn điên công nghiệp hoá mù quáng, tự huỷ, chẳng cần phải thông minh gì, người nào cũng có thể hình dung được năm mười năm nữa dòng nước đó sẽ “ Tanh nồng như máu chết”(TTY)và vườn tược cây trái là huyền thoại của một thuở xa xưa.

Bọn chúng tôi hồi đó hầu như biết rõ tư tưởng, khuynh hướng chính trị của nhau nhưng mặc kệ hết. Ai ưng làm gì thì cứ làm. Một bữa, Nguyễn T Cường (Bắc kỳ di cư) chở Trần M Đức (là VC, ai cũng biết) trên xe gắn máy, bất ngờ, Cường ngoái cổ hỏi: “Ê, Đức, mày có phải chính hiệu VC không đó?”Chẳng lẽ người bị hỏi thẳng thừng công nhận, thấy hơi kỳ nên  hỏi lại: “Mà VC thì sao?” Cường cười: “Chẳng sao, mai mốt tao sẽ kể với con tao là đã từng chở một tên VC thứ thiệt sau xe”. Họ cư xử với nhau trên tình bạn và bạn bè là trên hết. Ai làm gì thì chịu trách nhiệm lấy hành vi của mình. Phải chăng nền văn hóa nào thì tạo ra con người đó? Điều này liệu đúng chăng khi có người kể chuyện LDH, lúc còn sinh viên, buổi chiều đi lơ ngơ trên đường phố Qui nhơn thì được người bạn học cũ, lúc bấy giờ đang là phó ty cảnh sát, đang lái xe jeep, gọi lại bảo: “Ê, H, mày đi đâu lơn tơn đó? Tụi nó đang lùng bắt mày dữ lắm, dọt lẹ lên đây tao nói cho nghe.” Anh ta chở LDH đến tận mấy chục cây số phía nam Qui nhơn  rồi bảo: “Mày cứ đi chừng cây số đến chỗ chân núi, đồng chí của mày đầy nhóc trong đó, chắc mày dư biết rồi, dọt lẹ đi, lò mò trở lại Qui nhơn là tàn đời mày nghe”. Sau 75 không lâu, LDH lên làm quan lớn, người bạn cảnh sát đi cải tạo mút mùa, có người biết chuyện nhắc lại, ông quan cách mạng bảo: “Nó là bạn cũ nhưng có tội với nhân dân thì phải trả nợ thôi.” Lâm H Tài còn kể một chuyện liên quan tới Trương V Kh, nghe xong đố mà không buồn đời. Khoảng 68, 69, phong trào sinh viên bị khủng bố. Bên Văn khoa được thầy Nguyễn Văn Trung bảo bọc, bên Sư phạm thầy Trần Văn Tấn cũng ra sức bảo vệ, nhưng không an toàn bằng. Nhưng vin vào luật tự trị đại học, các sinh viên hoạt động chính trị vẫn trốn được trong khuôn viên trường, cảnh sát không được quyền vào bắt bớ. Họ dường như biết rõ ai đang trốn nên chặn các lối ra vào, theo dõi quyết liệt, ra khỏi cổng trường là bị tóm ngay. Trương V Kh không thể trốn mãi vì càng lâu càng bất tiện và nguy hiểm nên người ta phải tổ chức đưa anh ra bưng. Trần M Đức tới tìm Lâm H Tài lúc anh ta đang ngủ trưa, cậy anh này làm một việc khó. Đức nói: “Kh. đang hết sức khó khăn, không dám ra khỏi khuôn viên trường.” Tài hỏi tại sao vậy? Đức nói “Kh bị vây nhiều ngày rồi, bây giờ chỉ có anh làm được việc này, vì bấy lâu nay anh chẳng làm gì nên chẳng ai để ý đến anh. Anh giả bộ đến thăm ai đó ngoài vòng rào trường, đi theo ngõ Trần Bình Trọng chạy dọc theo sân banh, thẳng vô con hẻm rồi quay đầu xe lại chờ sẵn, Kh sẽ leo lên nóc nhà của ông lao công trường ở phía sau nhà gởi xe, anh không bị để ý đâu mà sợ, nên rất dễ thực hiện việc này cứu Kh. Khi anh vừa quay đầu xe lại, Kh sẽ từ trên mái nhà thấp sẽ nhảy xuống, anh chở Kh thẳng về khu Cây da sà thì có người đến đón”. Không phải người hoạt động hay cảm tình viên gì nhưng nghĩ chút tình bạn với Đức và bạn cùng trường với Kh, Tài đã hoàn thành “nhiệm vụ” một cách xuất sắc! Không nói quá, anh đã cứu mạng Kh. Sau năm 75, lúc Tài vừa ra trại cải tạo, phải làm đơn trình Ban Chỉ huy công an phường:“…nay tôi xin được tạm trú tại…nhà tôi” trong thời gian chờ được bố trí đi kinh tế mới theo chính sách nhân đạo của đảng và nhà nước. Tình cờ, cháu anh làm tài xế cho cơ quan xếp Kh, đưa Kh đi công tác bên Campuchia, hỏi Kh có biết Lâm H Tài không thì ông này nhíu mày suy nghĩ một hồi mới hơi gật đầu rồi làm thinh luôn như không muốn đá động gì tới nhân vật mang tên Tài đó nữa.

Đôi lúc nghĩ vơ vẩn không hiểu nổi chúng tôi có phải là “the lost generation” như người ta thường nói về lứa tuổi mình không. Giống như người già cả lãnh đạm trước chuyện đời, bọn chúng tôi cứ vất vơ vất vưởng, kiểu như người ta nói mất phương hướng. Chủ nghĩa Hiện sinh của Jean Paul Sartre nhiều ít cũng ảnh hưởng lên tuổi trẻ có học. Chủ nghĩa Marx được giáo sư Nguyễn Văn Trung và Trần Văn Toàn giảng dạy công khai ở Đại học Văn khoa tác động không nhỏ đến khuynh hướng thiên tả trong đám sinh viên. Nhưng điều dễ nhận thấy nhất dường như ai cũng chỉ lo thân, mặc kệ chuyện đời tới đâu cứ tới và ước gì ta có thể “đứng ngoài những giọt máu rơi”. Nói phần đông sinh viên đều thiên tả thì cũng không đúng. Mỗi lớp chừng một vài người thật sự theo MTGP, một số ít có thiện cảm nhưng kính nhi viễn chi. Đa phần còn lại thì không quan tâm tới chính trị, chỉ mong ra trường đi dạy yên thân; ít ai công khai bày tỏ “lập trường” thân Mỹ bao giờ, nhưng cảm phục và chịu ảnh hưởng văn hóa Mỹ, nhất là mê phim Mỹ thì có. Rạp Lê Lợi cạnh trường Văn Khoa chiếu đi chiếu lại những phim kinh điển, là nơi ăn dầm nằm dề của đám sinh viên Văn khoa, có người xem đi xem lại phim Vacance Romaine, Les Dimanches de la ville d’Avray, Tant qu’il y aura des hommes… hàng chục lần. Phim của David Lean, Arthur Penn, John Boorman được hâm mộ vô kể. Cho tới giờ này tôi nghĩ chưa ai làm phim littéraire qua nổi David Lean và cũng chưa ai làm phim suspense hay hơn Arthur Penn hoặc John Boorman. Phim ảnh ngày nay quá lạm dụng xảo thuật vi tính, càng lúc càng bạo lực và dữ dội nhưng tinh ý chút sẽ thấy ngay vẻ giả tạo.

NGUYỄN KHIÊM

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SƠN NAM ngoại sử 09

THƯ  TRỌ

Mười năm 1995-2005 lúc ở Gò Vấp, nhà văn Sơn Nam như xẻ làm đôi: Nửa thân sống ở nhà trọ, nửa thân sống ẩn mình trong một cái kho nhỏ hẹp, kín đáo của nhà truyền thống quận dành cho để ông sắp xếp sách báo, tư liệu miệt mài nghiên cứu. Như một cái thư viện- đúng hơn là cái thư trọ- của kẻ xa lìa gia đình.

Người làm vườn thì có hạt giống để gieo trồng, chăm sóc cho đến ngày tươi tốt sum sê, ra hoa kết trái. Người muốn cất nhà thì phải có đủ thầy thợ, vật liệu, xây dựng mới có được nơi ăn chốn ở khang trang, vừa ý. Các nhà văn, nhà báo, nghiên cứu biên soạn… đều có tự điển, tư liệu, sách vở… bách khoa, tổng hợp, gắn bó trong thư phòng nơi họ đang sống và làm việc. Để lúc kiến thức chưa thông suốt thì “cảo thơm lần dở trước đèn” hỏi han tham khảo như con với mẹ, như trò với thầy. Nhưng đâu là bến bờ. Người viết còn phải đi lục lọi tìm mua ở các hiệu sách, các thư viện, miệt mài quanh năm suốt tháng, lắm lúc chỉ một câu, một chữ cũng tiêu tốn biết bao thời gian. Ngoài đời còn đi thực tế để có vốn sống, số liệu… bổ sung vào tác phẩm được sâu dày, chính xác và hoàn thiện.

Ngòi bút Sơn Nam đang ngon trớn bỗng trầm ngâm ngưng lại giây lát, để châm điếu thuốc. Hoặc chừa trống đôi trang, đôi dòng… Tác phẩm đang có vấn đề chưa ổn, chưa hoàn toàn thuyết phục. Cần phải tra cứu lại lắm chi tiết, văn hoá, nhân văn, địa chí, ngôn ngữ, thành ngữ…

Có người thắc mắc hỏi:

– Tại sao Sơn Nam không quay về gia đình, nhà ông xưa nay vốn có cả một kho sách tiếng ta, tiếng Tây, tài liệu quá ư dồi dào để đem ra mà sử dụng?

Nhà văn lãng tử

Cuối thu 1995, như bạn đọc đã biết, các báo đều có đưa tin:

– Nhà văn Sơn Nam đột ngôt bỏ nhà ra đi…

“Lãng tử” rời nhà, tay ôm bàn máy đánh chữ, vai mang túi vải chỉ có đôi bộ quần áo và gói thuốc lá đang hút dở dang. Bắt đầu từ đó ông ở nhờ nhà bạn bè, rồi thuê nhà trọ, nay đổi mai dời, cũng quanh quẩn ở quận Gò Vấp (TP. HCM).

Không an cư nhưng vẫn lạc nghiệp, con tằm lại tiếp tục vương tơ, trên đôi vai gầy nghiệp văn chương trĩu nặng. Nhưng phải ra đi như thế, đâu có mang theo được cái thư phòng của mình? Còn chỗ ở trọ thì chỉ tạm gửi tấm thân thôi chứ đâu thể chứa được gì nhiều hơn.

Nơi sống của Sơn Nam “vẫn muôn thuở” với cái ghế ngồi để viết lách. Thế nhưng, với các món âu yếm cần thiết như cặp mắt kính, cây bút, gói thuốc lá, hộp quẹt… lúc nào ông cũng sắm sẵn bên mình ba bốn cái trở lên. Nhà văn tâm sự:

– Mình đang viết ngon trớn, tuổi già cũng hay quên, cứ bỏ lạc hoài! Lúc sờ đến không có, phải mất thì giờ đứng lên đi tìm, cụt hứng. Sắm nhiều sẵn như vậy, lúc ấy quơ qua, quơ lại có liền, mạch văn không nghẽn!

Đó là chuyện nhỏ linh tinh, còn chuyện “thợ rèn mà thiếu dao ăn trầu, hiệp sĩ không rửa gươm mà mất kiếm” thì sao?

Lúc ông đã tạm ở yên tại nhà trọ, hai cô gái út của ông vẫn thường ghé lên thăm ba. Chúng đem quà, đem mọi chuyện lên kể lể. Lúc ra về, ông dặn rất kỹ:

– Mai chiều tụi bay có lên nữa, nhớ lục chỗ đầu giường, dưới đống mền gối (hoặc chỗ hàng kệ tủ thứ hai, thứ tư… bên tả, bên hữu… trong phòng) lấy đem cho ba mấy cuốn sách! Ông nhắc đi nhắc lại từng cái tựa đề cho đến cái màu bìa mà ông nhớ vanh vách.

Lúc thì ông bảo đem lên mấy xấp bản thảo dang dở để trên bàn, cái thư mời đi dự họp mạn đàm, hội thảo văn học, lịch sử danh nhân, lễ hội truyền thống… Đến cái giấy nhắn tin đặt ông viết bài, giấy báo lãnh tiền nhuận bút, lãnh ấn phẩm, tặng phẩm các nơi đem lại nhà, hoặc gửi qua đường bưu điện…

Tình thế “kẻ lạc địa chỉ” lại dần dần ấm áp nhờ có hai “cô giao liên” thường xuyên chạy tới chạy lui, từ nhà ruột đến nhà trọ. Lắm lúc hai đứa con còn tự động đem đến cho ông vài mặt hàng không có “thực đơn”: Nào xấp giấy trắng, các cây viết đủ màu, hộp trà sâm, nào cái mùng, cái quạt bàn, cái áo lạnh…

Chưa dừng lại ở đó, đôi lúc bất chợt ông ghi rất rõ tên cuốn sách, địa chỉ chỗ bán trên mảnh giấy đưa nhờ người xe ôm đi tìm mua đem về. Lúc rỗi rãnh thì bỏ cả ngày lân la đến các quầy sách cũ. Túi nặng hơn thì vào các hiệu sách lớn ở trung tâm thành phố “rinh” chữ nghĩa đem về.

Nhà văn Sơn Nam chẳng lúc nào có tờ giấy nào lận lưng. Cứ như cái CMND, hộ khẩu thường trú, tạm trú… đến cái thẻ hội viên hội nhà văn, nhà báo, hội phụ nữ, thành viên câu lạc bộ quần vợt, vũ cầu, việt dã… đến cuốn sổ tay, diện thoại di động… đều không có

Chuyện đã biết và chưa biết

Một năm có 365 ngày, từ lúc xứ Gò Vấp có thêm nhà văn nhập cư, gần như chẳng sót bữa nào, khi mặt trời ló dạng, nắng vàng rạng rỡ, lúc tà tà bóng ngả về tây, có ngày có thêm ba bốn cữ – dân sống quanh vùng đều quen mặt một “lão tướng thân gầy”, quần áo bình dị, dáng đứng liêu xiêu, rảo bước vào cổng Nhà truyền thống quận toạ lạc tại số 302 đường Nguyễn Văn Nghi, phường 7.

Ông đến bằng xe gắn máy của bạn bè, hoặc bằng xe ôm, ông ngồi phía đằng sau, hai tay ghì chặt tài xế. Thường hơn cả vẫn là cuốc bộ. “Xảnh xệ” hơn là đôi lúc bệ vệ bằng “xế hộp” cao sang của các cơ quan văn hoá, báo chí, đài phát thanh truyền hình TP. HCM và các tỉnh thành gần xa.

“Con ong đã tỏ đường đi lối về”, tất cả, từ quan chức, đồng nghiệp, bạn bè, cho đến cho đến các con cháu nơi nơi, ai muốn gặp Sơn Nam đều đến điểm hẹn đó. Văn phòng thường trực làm việc lộ thiên của một nhà văn lớn là cái ghế ngồi bé bỏng cũ mòn, cạnh cái bàn gỗ thấp lè tè có ly cà phê nhỏ từng giọt đắng, cạnh cái gạt tàn vấn vương thuốc khói lá xám xịt. Cả đến cái điện thoại các nơi cần quan hệ với ông, cũng nhờ tình nghĩa các cô trong văn phòng chạy ra thông tin gọi ông vào gặp gỡ trao đổi. Năm 2003, Đài truyền hình Hà Nội đã vào tận nơi này quay những thước phim “Một ngày của nhà văn Sơn Nam” chiếu rộng rãi nhiều lần trên truyền hình cả nước.

Bất chợt đang ngồi uống cà phê với khách, sao ông bỗng lại đứng lên, lặng lẽ rảo bước đi vô, rồi quẹo trái khuất dạng mất hút.

Lắm lúc không đi như thế một mình, mà sau khi gặp gỡ hàn huyên cùng các văn nhân bạn bè chí cốt từ các nơi (Hà Nội, Huế,Nha Trang, Cần Thơ, Đà Lạt…) đến thăm, ông chỉ chỏ rồi cùng nhau đi vào hướng “bí mật” ấy.

Thì ra, cuối Nhà truyền thống, điểm vuông góc nối liền các bức tường phía sau có một cái hóc kẹt hình chữ L, bề ngang lối vào vừa lách đủ tấm thân, rẽ tay phải có khúc đường luồng trống sâu hai thước, rộng cũng chỉ bấy nhiêu, chiều cao gần ba thước, tăm tối rêu phong và đầy mạng nhện…

Tấc đất tất vàng, bây giờ biết tận dụng, dọp dẹp sạch sẽ, làm cánh cửa đóng vào mở ra, trên nóc lợp vài miếng tôn, đặt cái máng xối che mưa nắng. Nội thất quét lên lớp nước vôi sáng sủa, lắp vài bóng đèn néon, đặt cái bàn, cái ghế nhỏ. Đóng những hàng kệ theo bốn vách. Cơ quan đã tế nhị để cho nhà văn làm cõi dung thân, tập hợp tất cả sách báo, tư liệu của ông xưa nay, cũ mới chở bằng nhiều chuyến xe ba gác gom về một chỗ. Những tháng năm đến sống ở Gò Vấp, nhà văn Sơn Nam đã vào cái thư viện “chẳng giống ai” đó ngồi nghiên cứu văn học. Và trong cõi thư phòng lặng lẽ đôi lúc còn sóng gió nghiền ngẫm sự đời.

Tưởng rằng:

Đến đây thì ở lại đây

Bao giờ bén rễ xanh cây hãy về

(Ca dao)

Nào ngờ cái thư trọ ấy đến cuối 2005 bỗng dưng biền biệt vắng bóng văn nhân. Nhà văn Sơn Nam đột ngột bị tai nạn giao thông, bể xương chậu bên trái, không đi đứng gì được nữa. Ông phải nằm một chỗ trên giường tại nhà ở Bình Thạnh TP. HCM với vợ và các con.

Ở tuổi bát tuần ông đã góp mặt cho đời hơn năm mươi đầu sách và cả ngàn truyện viết về mọi lĩnh vực. Ông là nhà văn lớn, nhà Nam Bộ học có danh. Những đứa con tinh thần của ông đã có một phần không nhỏ được sinh ra ở Gò Vấp. Ông còn rất có duyên với đài truyền hình khắp nước cũng từ chốn này. Thư trọ tuy bằng gạch đá nhưng có linh hồn, có sự đồng cảm của chính quyền và người dân địa phương với thân phận đặc thù của người cầm bút.

Đến sống lâu dài, nhà văn Sơn Nam đã để lại trong lòng mọi người thân quen biết bao ấn tượng khó phai, mỗi lần nhìn đến thư họ trìu mến, có cánh cửa sơn màu xanh đậm nay vắng chủ, đã đóng chặt. Lòng người lưu luyến.

Một câu chuyện bi hài được kể lại: Vào năm ấy, sau cữ cà phê chiều, ngồi trầm ngâm giây lát, ông lại đứng lên, lủi thủi đi về hướng thư trọ. Mở khoá lách cách vào lục tìm sách làm việc như thường lệ. Trời tối dần, đèn trên cao nhà truyền thống bật sáng, qua tàng cây bật xuống mặt đất những mảng vàng đen, đa dạng. Đêm khuya êm ắng lạ thường, đó đây côn trùng rả rích, trên vách tường cơ quan con thằn lằn chắc lưỡi… Bỗng có tiếng la to:

–  Ăn trộm! Ăn trộm! Bắt lấy nó!

Tiếp đến là tiếng chân chạy rầm rập của các nhân viên bảo vệ phóng nhanh, áp sát vào chỗ cửa thư trọ. Nhưng mọi người bổng khựng lại! Rồi lại có tiếng cười ngặt nghẽo vừa nói lớn:

– Bác Sơn Nam! Trời ơi, bác vô trong đó hồi nào, giờ này lại đi ra? Tụi cháu vừa thay ca!

Nhà văn ta cũng cười  xuề xoà dí dỏm:

–  Hồi giờ tụi bay có thấy ai ăn trộm mà mặc quần áo bỏ vô thùng, đầu đội nón, miệng hút thuốc lá đỏ hoe, tay ôm sách không? Chỉ coi, tao tặng bằng khen liền!

Còn anh em công an khu vực thì bấy nay quá rành cái kho sách này, nên đã tặng cho ông cái gạt tàn to bằng cái ly cối và cái xô  lúc nào cũng đựng đầy nước, với lời khuyến cáo hãy đề phòng hoả hoạn, nhất là những lúc ngẩu hứng bật quẹt hút thuốc lá, và họ còn ưu ái thường đến phun thuốc trừ mối mọt để bảo vệ tư liệu quý giá của nhà văn.

Không như “dã tràng xe cát biển đông” dẫu hoàn cảnh oái oăm nghiệt ngã thế nào, bản lãnh những con “mọt sách tài năng” vẫn bòn được những viên ngọc quý kết thành vương miện đặt lên ngai vàng văn học…

CHÚ THÍCH ẢNH : Thư trọ của nhà văn Sơn Nam sau nhà truyền thống Quận Gò Vấp TP. HCM.

(còn tiếp)


WENDY DAO – Fading Dream 02

2. Inevitable meeting, a gentale brush of shoulders

The soft morning light filtered through the tiny gapes of the paper screened sliding doors and scattered onto the well-polished wooden floor of the bedroom. The rays bounced off the highly reflective material and created a strip of golden tint.

Wendy straightened out her white kimono with pale blue patterns studded across the fabric. Her long violet hair was breaded together and entwined into a bum of which was then covered up by a hat, wore by males from wealthy families only during the Heian Jidai.

Looking into the mirror, she saw a blurred and distorted image of a beautiful face which could light up an entire room and mesmerize its beholders. The entire heavy make up from yesterday was gone, and all the ridiculous smudges of colors were washed away as if they were never there in the first place.

Pale and smooth skin like porcelain, slightly rosy cheeks, small and cherry red lips, a delicate nose, and lucid amethyst purple eyes — those features belonged to the heavenly beautiful maiden in the mirror.

Wendy inherited this rare beauty from her Mother, yet she was never a day conceited with what she had. Her Mother was often the center of her Father’s other concubines’ and wife’s jealousy because of her beauty, but Natasha didn’t know how to use her beauty for her own benefit.

Running a finger down the right side of her flawless visage, a small calculating grin slowly unveiled itself. A woman’s beauty could be her fatal destruction if used incorrectly, but it could also be the ultimate weapon if put to good use. In time, this beautiful face of hers would come in handy.

Rita stood silently behind Wendy, watching silently with her lips pressed tightly together. Miss Wendy asked her to take out the male kimono especially designed for her small size late last night after Master Eriol had left their Master’s bedroom.

She didn’t know exactly what happened in there, but she knew Master Eriol didn’t recognize Miss Wendy as his lawfully wedded wife. However, strangely enough, Miss Wendy didn’t say anything about it. Rather, she seemed awfully relieved and cheerful about it.

And then, she was told to take out the male’s kimono. Rita didn’t question Miss Wendy’s motives or the reasons behind her contentment but she knew Miss Wendy had her own reasons.

“Rita.” Wendy suddenly called out, startling Rita who was lost in her own contemplation.

“Ye-yes.” Rita quickly responded, lowering her head to hide her embarrassment. She was starring at Miss Wendy again. Even after so many years, her beauty still managed to steal away her breath. And Rita secretly wondered what Master Eriol would say after he sees Miss Wendy’s face.

“You’re going to be me today.”

This almost made Rita eyes pop out. Her mouth hung wide open in shock and her jaws nearly dropped to the floor. What? How? Why? All these unanswered questions bombarded her mind all at once as she gaped at Wendy in bewilderment.

Wendy chuckled softly at Rita’s dramatic reactions. “Don’t worry, just cover yourself with heavy make up like what I did yesterday and stay here. Milord already informed the Taira family that I wasn’t feeling well and can’t be visited by any guests in these days.”

“So you don’t have to worry about anything.” Wendy stood up gracefully and turned around, revealing her new look to Rita. “Besides, you’re rather tall for your age. We have the same height, the same color of eyes and hair and the same figures. You’re like another copy of me.”

Rita blinked blankly and Wendy continued on.

“From this day on, you will be Taira no Eriol’s wife while I’m out during the day. And I, will be Nikki Ryuichi, a poet who have traveled across Japan and have only recently settled down in Heian-kyo.” Wendy announced with her voice slightly lowered than usual which added masculinity to her soft voice. Even Rita couldn’t recognize her new voice for a moment there.

Instead of seeing the fair maiden from her memories, Rita saw a young handsome looking childe, smiling charmingly at her. ‘Double identities…’ she finally understood why Miss Wendy kept her head down and had such a heavy make up on.

Calculative and confident and intelligent and beautiful were what Miss Wendy was.

Unknowingly and silently, Miss Wendy was putting her plans into motion. “Well, I’ll be going now.”

*

After wandering around on the street to enjoy the shortly lasted freedom while she still could, Wendy stepped into the closest inn she could find to fill up her empty stomach a little. She hadn’t eaten at all since the night before her wedding, and she was starving to death.

Finding an empty table on the right corner near the window, she sat down gracefully. The waiter boy who was serving someone else a moment ago strolled toward her and bowed deeply to show his respect. But when the waiter boy looked up and was about to ask her what she would like to order, he froze on the spot with his eyes wide open.

Wendy smiled heartwarmingly at him instead of using fans to cover up her face and blush in embarrassment like the other women during that era. “I’d like some wasabi sushi please and a cup of emerald tea.” Wendy made her order, and watched the waiter boy snapping back into reality and scratching his head in embarrassment.

The boy bowed apologetically and dashed away as quickly as possible which she would like to assume that he was in a hurry to get her food. Before he was gone out of sight, Wendy caught the supposed unintelligible mutter from him “How can a man be that beautiful… I must be seeing things…”

Wendy shook her head lightly and tilted her chin toward the window to observe the passing by people in a lackadaisical manner. It was then an interesting conversation from the table some distance away from her caught her attention.

“Brother, it is true that Emperor Takakura is going to take Bomon Shokushi, the daughter of Sadaijin (minister of right, a relatively high position in the Imperial court) Bomon, as his new imperial concubine?” The young boy asked urgently. Judging by the hints of the naivety revealed in his question, Wendy made an educated guess on his current age.

‘He’s probably around nine of ten years old, still a little kid’. Wendy thought to herself. ‘A spoiled little brat too’. She added disdainfully. When she was around his age, she already learned the ways of surviving in the Dao household which forced her to mature quicker than the others.

“Atsumori, what have I told you about keeping your voice down and thinking before you speak?” The little boy’s older brother scolded him. His deep voice sounded awfully familiar to her ears. Wendy paused for a moment and frowned, trying to remember where she had heard that deep steady voice before.

“But brother Eriol! The Emperor married sister Tokuko for eight years already and they just had their first son, Prince Tokihito, how can he marry someone else so soon? I thought after Prince Tokihito’s born, sister Tokuko’s position as the Empress would be secured for sure-”

Before the boy could babble on any further, his older brother cut him off. “Know your position Atsumori, we are in no position of discussing the loyal family’s business even if Empress Tokuko is our sister.”

Wendy caught the young boy’s loud exclamation of “Brother Eriol” and smiled faintly. ‘So that little brat is the great Taira no Kiyomori’s youngest son…’ and the man whom he referred to as “Brother Eriol” must be the husband she had never met before.

Curious of what the two brothers were like, Wendy stole a glance at their table from the corner of her eyes. There, she was astonished by what came into view.

The soft rays which scattered through the open window cast upon him made the ends of his cerulean hair glow with such splendid silver glimmer. The shorter strands of these silver threads framed his delicately shaped face

He had large and cat-like sharp sapphire eyes and strong handsome features which made him stand out from the other men occupying the inn. His face was mature and his expression was calm and collective, almost unreadable in a sense. While the boy who was sitting across him still carried that puerility which belonged to kids only.

The difference between a boy and a man… was rather interesting to look at.

The boy named Atsumori fell silent for a moment, just for a fleeting moment though. His eyebrows were furrowed to form a knot in the center and he glared at his older brother in defiance. “But how can he do that?! And I heard Sumon Shokushi is the number one beauty in the entire Heian-Kyo! What if Emperor Takakura falls for her beauty-”

“Atsumori!” The quiet hiss was enough to make the babbling boy shut up for good this time. The temperature of the atmosphere suddenly dropped a few degrees as a ghastly silence slowly filled up the space between them.

Even Wendy had felt the oppressive and powerful aura emitted by Eriol which clearly spelled out “Shut up, right now” for the boy.

“Emperor Takakura is a smart man. He knows what he’s doing. Besides, all beautiful women bring misfortune to their countries. Emperor Takakura wouldn’t fall for her so easily.”

“Look at how many of those beautiful women caused China’s different dynasty’s downfalls. It’s history, and Emperor Takakura knows them by heart.” Eriol sneered as he paused to take a sip of this emerald tea.

This comment made Wendy scoff lightly but this almost silent scoff was picked up by Eriol’s ears. He turned his chin slightly to look at the young, seemingly fragile boy sitting at a table away from theirs.

Just then, the boy turned around, revealing an unrealistically beautiful face – a face that was too feminine to be a man’s, yet the boy possessed it.

Judging from the expensive-looking fabric of his kimono and his concinnity of his movements, Eriol was sure he had to be a childe from a wealthy family in Heian-Kyo.

“Women shouldn’t be blamed for men’s downfalls. Being beautiful isn’t their fault. Besides, why don’t you look at how lechery those men were? They succumbed themselves to alcohol all day long, treating women like dirt. They weren’t meant to be great rulers in the first place, so their failures were only a matter of time.”

The voice was slightly higher and pitchy for a grown man Eriol noticed, yet too deep for a woman. Like a silk sliding over a blade, he could hear the underlying animosity in the boy’s voice which could be easily overlooked because of the gentle and soul-calming manner he spoke in.

“Men are too conceited to admit their own mistakes and their lack of abilities which caused their own downfalls, so they blame it on those beautiful women who were forced to become their wives.” Wendy tilted her chin upward and spared Eriol a scornful glance before walking off in an elegant manner.

Money was left behind on the table she previously sat at for the food that she ordered. The waiter boy came a moment later after she left with food in his hand and was taken aback when he found her table empty again.

“I wonder where that childe went…” The waiter boy murmured to himself.

Eriol inhaled in the soul-calming scent of the emerald tea in his cup before taking a sip of it. A small amused smile tugged on his lips as he recalled the way that boy left the inn. Decorous and had that little edge to him.

He liked that kind of personality.

The boy was like a rose, dangerous, occult, but unbelievably pulchritudinous. Comparing to him, Bomon Shikushi, the supposed number one beauty in Heian-kyo, was a lot more inferior.

“Brother… was that-that person… really a man?” Atsumori asked in disbelief, still stunned by what he saw.

“We’ll see…” The ambiguity of Eriol’s cryptic remark made Atsumori cock his head to the right in perplexity.

*

Wendy sighed heavily as she left the inn. Her stomach grumbled its protest. ‘Oh well, I’ll just have to ask Rita to make me something nice once I get back’. She told herself as she strode down the street with her head up.

But she soon realized that the people who were passing her by stared at her openly and rudely. Frowning in displeasure, Wendy decided to take a short-cut down a small ally where there would be less crowded.

But as she rambled down the creaked road of the small ally, she felt a pair of eyes trained on her and observing every single movement of hers. The intensity of the stare sent shivers down her spine.

Clutching her small hands into fists, she counted to three as she swerved around to see who the stalker was. But all she caught was a glimpse of dark blue before she was held in place with her head down and something icy cold against her neck.

“Don’t move.” Was all she heard before the man forced a small pill down her throat.

Sapphire and amethyst, it’s a small world

Footsteps shuffled on the stair.
Under the firelight, under the brush, her hair, spread out in fiery points

The silence between them was deafening, persistent and unstable. Even the drop of a needle could potentially shatter it completely and total chaos would take over. Wendy wanted to push the mysterious man away and throw up in a corner to see if she could get the pill out of her throat.

But she couldn’t. If she moved an inch right there, her throat would be sliced and everything she worked so hard for would come to an end. Tightening her fists, she felt her nails digging into the flesh of her palm, cutting through it like a dull knife. The sudden pain kept her head clear.

She would never allow herself to die here. Never. She closed her eyes for a moment to adjust her uneven breathing pattern and calm down the frantic heart that was bouncing hysterically against her ribcage. Only when she was calm could she find a way out of this.

She waited for a moment, to see if her opponent was planning to talk at all because if he really wanted to assassinate her, he could’ve done so a long time ago and wouldn’t haven wait until now. After assuring her life wasn’t in immediate danger, Wendy felt calmer than before; though her back was still soaked in cold sweat.

It was rather ironic how she was being stalked and held hostage when it was bright and sunny out there. But what was more ironic was that no body even noticed this man stalking a young boy. Even she didn’t notice it until a few moments ago.

He had to be a skilled fighter. And Wendy knew, she shouldn’t underestimate his capability.

They stood there in the same position for a few more minutes but Wendy kept her cool even though her patience was waning rapidly. Suddenly, her ears picked up something. Drip. Drip. Drip. A liquid of some sort was dripping onto the floor from where he stood.

Since her head was being kept down, it wasn’t hard for her to steal a quick glance at his feet. There, she saw a brilliant scarlet liquid mixed with the muddy water puddle. It was blood. She recognized it right away. He was hurt, and pretty severely too.

This put the trademark smile back onto Wendy’s face again. “Are you going to talk or are you planning to stand here with me all day long and bleed to death?” She drawled lazily, showing no signs of fear.

Andy stared at the young boy before him in shock and wondered how he could still be so calm in a life and death situation like this. If he was scared and nervous at that moment, he certainly managed to hide it unbelievably well.

Cringing a little, the burning pain shooting up from his abdominal area felt like something was clawing at his wound. Andy used his other freehand to hold onto the area of his wound to keep the blood from gushing out of it.

But he still held his sword in place. It was the only thing he had with him that could bring him some safety and a shelter. He breathed heavily, panting and sucking on the air almost greedily. His throat was on fire and he felt exhausted and dizzy, but he knew he had to stay clear-headed.

The boy in front of him was his only ticket out of Heian-kyo alive and he wouldn’t pass this good chance so easily.

“If you can get me somewhere safe to stay at, I’ll give you the antidote for that poison.” Andy offered a bargain. They both wanted to live and Andy knew the boy would not throw away this offer because if he did, he would die right now.

When their lives were being gambled in the game, they had to think twice about what they would do.

“But how do I know the pill contains some kind of poison? What if it’s just something that looked like a pill?” She challenged him fearlessly. “What if you’re just bluffing here?” Pressed Wendy provocatively.

“You’ll get your answers shortly.” He sneered darkly. And within a minute, Wendy felt something crushing her heart and the pain was unbearable. She couldn’t breathe and her hands were shaking uncontrollably.

“This kind of poison would only attack your body five minutes after you’ve swallowed it, and then it would attack you every six hours. When 24 hours is up, you will die.” He narrated the process of her death in such a relent manner, without any remorse.

The pain slowly faded away and Wendy straightened herself up again, keeping her face expressionless. “I’ll just have to search the entire Heian-kyo to find the antidote then. Don’t underestimate what I am capable of doing.”

She could just use the power of the Taira clan to find the antidote that could cure her. After all, Eriol promised her he would give her anything she wanted as long as it wasn’t love.

“I know you’re probably from a powerful family here in Heian-kyo. But that poison you’ve just swallowed is very rare. The recipe to make it and to cure it was passed down from my family. You won’t be able to find it that easily within a day.”

Wendy bit her lips for a moment. “You don’t have a choice but to agree to the deal.” He pressured her gently, a triumphant smile tugging on his lips.

Of course she didn’t have any choice. Her life was in his hand and if she didn’t help him, she would die and he would die.

“Deal.” She agreed to it smoothly without any sign of reluctance in her soft but still deep voice. But her hands were still in tight fists, hidden under the long sleeve of the kimono she wore.

Andy let out a small sign of relief.

Wendy used this as a chance to move away from his sword so it wasn’t aiming at the critical area on her neck anymore. She titled her head to his direction and looked straight into her ‘stalker’s’ eyes. The other’s eyes widened in shock, but just very briefly.

Endless amber like the beautiful and enigmatic sunset, yet golden clear at the same time, Wendy had to admit that the sight of those eyes made her breath hitch. He was very handsome if handsome was enough to describe him. His features weren’t as beautiful as Eriol’s and had more man (like) touch to it.

But only fools could be deceived by his somewhat soft appearance. Because she saw the harshness in those burning amber crystals, like cutting ambers; he was a man capable of killing if his existence was threatened. Dangerous, handsome, and proud. Wendy smiled warmly. Her smile was blindingly beautiful.

As deceiving as it was beautiful.

Andy continued to scrutinize the young boy before him. He was short and slender, somewhat svelte. And when he turned his way, Andy felt his heart skipping a beat. A face as delicate and as beauteous as that shouldn’t belong to a man. And his smile… how could a boy smile like that?

“Well… you can stop staring at me now.” A light, soft giggle interrupted Andy’s thought. Usually, he would’ve been disgusted by men who were too feminine to be considered as men. But for some strange reason, when he chuckled – or rather giggled—like that, it felt so natural and enchanting.

“Since we’ve already struck a deal here, can you please remove your sword from my neck so we can get that wound of yours cleaned up? Or would you rather stay here instead and chat?” She questioned him with a hint of playfulness added to her tone, leaving the answer to her inquiry rather obvious.

“But if you want to stay here, I don’t mind.” One of her long slender fingers brushed aside the strand of purple hair that fell lose from the grip of her hat (which was supposed to keep her hair in place).

Andy blinked, feeling slightly bewitched but he quickly shook his head to regain his consciousness. “Let’s go.” He mumbled, putting his sword away.

*

Wendy took off the outer most layer of clothes she wore and gave it to Andy to cover himself up, especially the red stain from his wound. At this moment, she was almost thankful for her decision to wear a somewhat jacket-like kimono layer to hide her feminine curves.

Wendy and Andy kept their heads dipped low as they made their way through the crowd and eventually arrived at one of the biggest and renowned tavern in Heian-Kyo. Wendy paid for a room and settled Andy down first before their actions raised any suspicions.

Then, she called in the waiter-boy and paid him a large sum of money to get the best medicines and herbs he could get before sending the boy out. Closing the door behind her tightly and locking it up, Wendy let out a small sigh as she made her way to the inner part of the room where the bedroom was located.

“I sent out the waiter-boy to fetch some herbs and medical supplies so you can clean up that wound of yours.” Wendy explained as she took a seat beside the bed he was lying on. His face was unnaturally pale she noticed, from a great loss of blood.

He rested there with his eyes closed. The bandage wrapped carelessly and very unprofessionally was soaked scarlet red and she knew, judging from the way he dealt with his wound, that he was running away from someone.

“Mind telling me your name?” The faint and curious tone she spoke in sounded strangely comforting to him.

He didn’t reply right away. She could see the hesitation in his expression. “Well I was just curious you know… but you don’t have to answer-”

Before she could finish her sentence, he gave out his name. “You saved me and deserve the right to know my name. It’s Minamoto Yoshitsune. But most people call me by my childhood name, Andy.”

Wendy’s heart skipped a beat as she studied the young man who looked no older than twenty years old. Just her luck…  Minamoto Yoshitsune, the ninth son of Minamoto no Yoshitomo, was on Taira clan’s most wanted list. No wonder he was hurt so badly, for god’s sake he was a frigging runaway prisoner!

She heard about the news on the night of her wedding from Rita. No body knew about it except the Taira family members, and she wasn’t supposed to know about it either. But Rita heard the gossips from a servant girl who served Taira no Kiyomori and immediately reported it to her.

Apparently, the Minamotos were a rising rebel clan and they were Taira clan’s biggest threat. But luckily, Eriol caught Minamoto Yoshitsune in a one on one combat when Minamoto Yoshitsune tried to assassinate his Father.

Kiyomori, the head of the Taira family, planned to behead him another day then report it to the emperor that Minamoto Yoshitsune intended on assassinating the emperor and the empress.

It was a flawless plan, using Minamoto Yoshitsune as a scapegoat. This way, Kiyomori would seem like the hero of Japan because he protected the Emperor from a possible assassination. But at the same time, he also got rid of the brother of his opponent. One stone for two birds, it was a brilliant plan.

Except Kiyomori underestimated Minamoto Yoshitsune’s abilities and he also miscalculated the part about his son’s new wife aiding his enemy in his escape.

Andy reopened his eyes quickly after hearing no reply from the boy before him and glared at Wendy warily. “What?” He demanded, keeping his guards up again. No body in Heian-kyo should know the name “Minamoto Yoshitsune”, unless he was from the Taira family.

Kiyomori planned to kill him tonight and then report it to the emperor the next day so he wouldn’t even get the chance to speak for himself. A part of Andy really didn’t want to kill the young boy who saved his life, but if he knew his name somehow it would mean that he was an ally of the Taira clan. Thus, his enemy.

Wendy saw the iciness in his blue eyes and knew the way she acted raised his suspicions. Smiling casually again, Wendy replied. “Oh nothing, I was just curious why you told me your childhood name.” Her gaze aslant as her penetrating amethyst eyes fell on him again.

Andy looked away and said nothing.

“Well, my name is Nikki Ryuichi, and it’s a pleasure to meet you.” Wendy introduced herself in a light and cheerful tone of voice which eased up the tension that filled the air between them a moment ago.

Just then, they heard a loud knock on the door. Wendy dropped the smile on her face and gestured him to hide under the bed quickly. The knocking didn’t ease up, it only became louder. The loud bangs blended in so easily with the frantic beating of her heart.

After Andy crawled under the bed, Wendy straightened out her kimono and headed for the door. But when she opened it, she saw a handsome man with golden amber eyes. It was none other than the husband who had never seen her before. And behind him, stood soldiers in the Taira clan’s uniforms.

If she guessed it right, they were searching for Minamoto Yoshitsune, who was hiding right under the bed not far from where they stood.

She couldn’t possibly show any signs of nervousness now. If Minamoto Yoshitsune died, she would die too and she couldn’t let that happen.

Keeping her expression as naturally and as sincerely as ever, the corner of her mouth lifted upward just slightly and a faint smile bloomed on her lips. “Well, what a small world we live in.”

A touch of finger tips, the spark of nerves

Over endless plains, stumbling in cracked earth
Ringed by the flat horizon only

Eriol’s eyes were widened slightly in surprise as his vision aligned with those pairs of enthralling orbs of lucid amethysts. It was none other than the boy from the inn who left an everlasting impression on him with his sharp and provocative speech.

His smile, no longer as disdainful and cold as before, stirred something deep within Eriol’s heart. His eyes traced the perfect rondure of the boy’s smile.

“I guess.” He agreed, staring straight into Wendy’s eyes. Suddenly, he broke off their eye contact and stepped aside to let the soldiers behind him enter the room. Five soldiers came in while twenty more surrounded the tavern, guarding it and making sure nothing could come in or out of the place.

“We’re on a search for a dangerous escapee who plotted to assassinate the Emeperor.” Eriol explained with his hands folded neatly together on his back. Wendy tilted her head to his way. There weren’t any signs of lying on his face. It remained sincere, solemn and just.

“I hope you won’t mind us looking around a bit.”

Wendy scoffed coldly deep down side. If she didn’t know the truth before hand, she might have believed his fabricated “truth” as well. But then again, she was just as good of a liar and pretender as he was. Pretending to be noble wasn’t her thing, instead of seeing lying as immoral she saw it as a way of survival.

“Oh really?” She cocked her head to the right and asked him in surprise. “What is he like? Do you have any portraits of him? Maybe I’ve seen him somewhere today since I’ve been doing a lot of wondering around in Heian-kyo.”

Offering her help as if she as just a kind childe from a wealthy family, she could ease up his suspicion of her—if he ever suspected her. Smiling flawlessly as she saw him raising an eyebrow and looking contemplatively at her.

Letting out a light-hearted and cheerful laugh that sounded like the dangling sound of wind bells, the ringing resonated in the room. A few of the soldiers who were flipping through the stuff in the closet and other places in the room stopped on track and whipped their heads around to look at her.

How can a man laugh at that…was the only thing occupying Eriol’s mind during that fleeting moment when he watched her laugh.

“I wonder around a lot to search for new sources of inspiration.” She clarified and added, “cause I’m a poet”, with eyes set up the darkening sky outside of the half opened window. There was a pleasant tranquility around her which added onto the mysteriousness of her aura.

A small part of Eriol told him that this boy wasn’t whom he claimed to be, but Eriol didn’t find any evidence that would suggest otherwise. Shrugging off the strange feeling tugging in his heart, Eriol pulled out a stroll from the pocket of his sleeve and flipped it open in front of Wendy.

“Here’s a portrait of him,” he held out for Wendy to take a closer look at it and focused his eyes on her face to discern any subtle changes in her facial expression.

Wendy looked down. The portrait confirmed Andy’s identity as Minamoto Yoshitsune. She could feel Eriol’s penetrating eyes on her and she knew she couldn’t show any signs of familiarity with the person in the portrait.

Nodding lightly in comprehension, she looked thoughtful for a moment and shook her head at Eriol apologetically. “Sorry, can’t help you on this one. I don’t recall seeing anyone who looks like him today.”

The boy’s expression was still as sincere and as calm as ever, Eriol realized and gestured Wendy it was alright. “But we still have to search your place a bit to clear you off, I hope you don’t mind.”

“Of course, Heian-kyo’s safety comes first.” Wendy replied back understandingly and Eriol nodded in return. There was an interlude of silence between them and the only sound detectable by their ears at the time was the rattling sound of the furniture in the room.

Wendy quickly surveyed the soldiers in the room and saw them scattered out throughout the entire place. But when she saw one of them searching the area only one meter away from the bed, her heart almost skipped a beat.

Andy was still hiding under the bed.

There was no time to come with another strategy, she would just have to take a risk and gamble with their lives. Calming inner self down a bit, she enlarged her gentle, harmless smile and inquired casually, showing neither signs of panic despite the chaotic state of her mind at the moment. “How long have you guys been searching for this guy?”

Eriol paused, recalled the approximate time they left the Taira household and did a quick calculation in his mind before responding. “For about a few hours already.”

“Ah, must be tiring eh? Running around the entire Heian-kyo from house to house and from store to store just to look for one guy…” She trailed off, eyes glistening like frozen pond of amethyst under the lights.

“Hn.” Eriol usually didn’t like these kinds of small chats. But around the younger boy, everything just seemed so natural and the events flowed together so smoothly.

“Come and have a seat, you must be exhausted.” Like the perfect hostess, she took his roughened and callused hands into hers and led him to the seat beside the bed. It was a crucial part of her plan. If he agreed to sit there, the soldiers would not search the area hear the bed because their general was sitting there.

It was a huge risk, she knew it. But there was no time left to waste. And so she took a chance with no hesitation at this point. Any signs of unnatural or unusual behavior would rise his suspicion in her.

Besides, the most dangerous place was often the safest place. And she was willing to bet her money on his blind spot. If he spotted anything unusual there, she would be doomed. But if he didn’t, both she and Andy would be saved. Under time limit and pressure, this was the only choice she had.

When their finger tips touched, Eriol felt something warm and soft and smooth. He lowered his gaze and saw a pair of beautiful hands. Soft and creamy white skin – those were a woman’s hands he recognized. A bundle of unknown feelings surged from his heart and everything became manifest now.

No wonder the boy seemed so feminine and had a delicate frame. “He” was a teenage girl disguised as a man. While Eriol was lost in thoughts, Wendy already led him to the chair right beside the bed, where she had sat before when she found out about Andy’s identity.

Wendy saw him pausing on the spot and staring at her peculiarly, her blood instantly ran cold. Could it be that he saw something suspicious? Struggling to maintain her smile, she waved a hand in front of his face and gestured him to sit down.

The action snapped Eriol back into reality and he took a seat. He saw the hints apprehension glinting in her eyes when he stared at her and realized she probably worried about him seeing through her disguise.

So what if she was a woman? She probably had her reason for cross-dressing as a boy. He fully comprehended the pressure placed on women in this era. They weren’t allowed to have any freedom. Dressing up as a man was their only way of gaining that freedom.

This reminded him of the time when Yuri and he sneaked out of the house to watch the festival outside. Yuri had never seen it before because a lady like herself wasn’t permitted to leave the household. So he suggested she could cross dress as a boy.

They were still kids at that time, young, carefree and content, living the moment while it lasted. Pushing aside the memories, he returned his attention to her.

He didn’t see the need to disclose her real identity in front of all these people. Besides, she didn’t do anything wrong. Why not let her enjoy this freedom while she still could?

Wendy let out a silent sigh of relief when she saw him settling down on the chair. Taking a seat next to him on the bed herself, she sat in a position so that her long kimono sleeve draped over the bed and to the floor to cover up Andy’s hiding place.

“I’m sorry for interrupting your conversation with your younger brother today.” She suddenly brought up the little meeting they had in the inn.

“It’s quite alright. You did have a good point there though.” Eriol assured her as he recalled how sharp and glib the “boy” was. Besides, “he” did have a rather good point.

Casting a seemingly nonchalant look at her way, everything started to link together now as to why “he” reacted so strongly to his comment of “all beautiful women bring disasters”.

After all, the “boy” “himself” was a woman, a very beautiful and witty one.

His answer caught Wendy off guard. She was expecting more of a “humph” from him. After all, she did insult men in general and from the men she knew in her life, it should’ve been a big blow to their pride and ego.

Eriol saw the stunned look in her eyes and the disbeliefs written all over her face, and felt the corner of his mouth lifting just slightly.

Just then, the soldiers lined up in the center of the room and one of them stepped forward and reported their findings. “General, we’ve searched the entire place and didn’t find the assassin.”

“Alright, on to the next room.” Eriol stood up straight and sent out his new order, his voice emotionless, stern and powerful.

But before leaving, he hesitated for a moment on whether or not he should bid the “boy” a goodbye. Before he could reach a decision, he heard a melodic “take care”, and when he looked over his shoulder, he saw “him” smiling, like the sun.

Like spring.

Even as he walked off into the night, the “boy’s” smile still remained fresh at the back of his head.

Perhaps permanently.

After watching Eriol and the soldiers disappearing out of the fringes of her sight, Wendy let out a small sigh of relief as if a huge weight had been lifted off her shoulder. Swerving around to where the bed was, she notified Eriol who was still hiding under the bed.

“You can come out now.”

Slowly, Andy crawled out from his hiding place with one of his hands covering his wound. Blood was trickling out from where his hand was and seeped through the gaps between his fingers, dying his pale hand scarlet red.

“The waiter-boy will be back in a few moments and bring you the stuff to clean up your wound with.” Wendy narrated mildly. “I’ve kept my part of the bargain, now you need to keep yours.”

Andy fell silent for a moment and forced out a bare whisper, but it wasn’t the answer Wendy wanted. “I can’t give it to you.”

The unwavering smile plastered on Wendy’s face a moment ago cracked. Immediately, the air between them became thicker than before and the temperature of the room dropped by at least a few degrees.

“Not right now.”

Narrowing her eyes with her friendly smile frozen in place, Wendy demanded. Even though her tone of voice was still as smooth and as soft before, Andy knew she wasn’t happy with his answer. He could hear the underlying danger vibrating in the air.

“And why is that?”

(To be continued)

By daohieu Posted in Không phân loại

WENDY DAO – Fading Dream 01

1. Rebirth, arisen from the ashes

She had been told ever since her birth that a young lady from a wealthy family, such as herself, was born to marry someone from the most aristocratic families at the time. It was always about power struggles and gaining a higher status.

There was no love in a marriage. Love wasn’t needed when power was invovled. Women were always the tools of men to a higher success. Fathers would send their daughters off to become the wives, sometimes even concubines of powerful men in exchange for more authorities over things.

What happened afterwards in their marriage wasn’t important. Those innocent young girls who dreamed about a wonderful husband and a family were forced to face the cold, harsh reality. Their husbands, whom they’ve never met before until the holy ceremony, were nothing like what they had in mind.

Most of the girls were being used as a breeding machine. If they were able to give birth to a boy, they might be able to keep their status as the wife or concubines.

But if they gave birth to a girl, they were considered as disgraceful and were often badly treated like servants. However, even if the wife gave birth to a girl, her child would still be better treated than a girl from a concubine.

That was the destiny of women from that era, and throughout recorded history. It wasn’t fair. Wendy often thought. Women were just as good as men, perhaps even better. But men dominated the imperial court. They were the ones with the real political powers, rendering women powerless.

It wasn’t fair.

But it was the way life was. There wasn’t much she could do other than to watch, silently in the darkness. It irked her to no end that no woman had ever come forth to defy their destiny. No woman had ever rebel against her husband. And she knew the reason behind it, a bit all too well, from her Mother.

It was because of Love.

Women were stupid and naïve enough to fall in love with their heartless husbands over a few gifts or poisonously sweeten words and unrealistic promises of a better future. After they lose their beauty and youth, they were pushed away and were treated like nothing but dirt.

Love, such a pathetic ideology, was at the heart of those women’s miseries and sufferings. Their visions were blinded; their minds were poisoned by fantasies of a beautiful and dazzling future. To worsen their predicaments, they still tried so hard to please their husbands in a desperate attempt to win over those hearts when those men had none to begin with.

Every day, they fought endlessly for their husbands’ attentions. Every day they had to compete against each other to see who would be the most beautiful woman in the house and who would win their husband’s heart. Dirty tricks were commonly used to make their competitors look bad.

It was almost pathetic.

Her Mother, Natasha, was once a beautiful woman; elegant and witty. She was born into a wealthy and well-respected family. Her Father was a successful merchant in Heian-kyo. Brilliant and honest he was, but sometimes a bit too straightforward. And this nature of his made him many enemies.

When her Mother was only sixteen, her family business went bankrupted over one night. Her Father’s enemies ganged up on them and brought down their business by pulling a few strings here and there.

Natasha’s Father committed suicide shortly because his pride wouldn’t allow such a disgraceful failure. Her Mother fell terribly ill and passed a way soon after because she didn’t know how to support the family, leaving Natasha homeless and in a great amount of debts.

Natasha was supposed to marry Aiden Dao in a deal made by the two families long ago. And her husband, Aiden, was the owner of the biggest silk selling stores in Heian-kyo at the time. But because of her family’s downfall, she was no longer wanted.

But the Dao family kept their words, though with much reluctance, and took her in. Only under the condition that she could only be a concubine. Natasha knew this was the only way for her to survive, in a world where women were powerless and where everything was ran by men.

Natasha swallowed her pride and dignity and married Aiden. A year later, she was born, and was named Wendy because she was as beautiful and as pure as the blossomed white lotus flowers. However, her gender decided her fate the very moment she was born.

Unwanted by her Father despite her the ingeniousness revealed at a young age. Her beauty and talents were often overlooked, because of her Mother’s low status. On the other hand, her younger sister, Nataly, born from the other wife, was treated with much more respect.

Her Father clearly favored Nataly more, and it was the way things were. Wendy had accepted it long ago, because prolonged struggles to please her Father would only prolong the agony.

Wendy learned at a very young age that the world was never a fair place. There wasn’t any justice or right or wrong. As long as you had power, as long as you had a higher status, whatever you say would be right. Whatever you say would be the law.

And if she ever wanted to gain control over her own life, she needed power.

Over the years, she frequently sneaked into her Father’s study room to take out history books to read at night, since women were considered as incapable of learning at the time. She learned, through history, how to become successful, how to rise to the top.

She knew what kind of mistakes were considered as fatal and would bring her ultimate downfall, through recorded history. And she would never make the same mistake again.

Knowledge was the key to success, and she used her talent as a fast learner to full advantage. In every single way, she was better than her sister. Much better. But she never revealed any of this to anyone in the Dao household, not even to her own Mother.

Silently, like a predator awaiting in the darkness, she watched silently and waited for her perfect moment to strike. She trained herself to be patient, to be able to tolerate all kinds of humiliations and mockeries brought upon by her low status.

However she wasn’t someone weak and would be pushed around forever. She vowed to herself that one day, when she rose to the top, those people would pay dearly for all the things they did to her and her Mother.

Her chance finally came when her younger sister ran away from her arranged marriage with the youngest son of the aristocratic Heike family, leaving the Daos in distress. Aiden had worked very hard to tie the knot, but he miscalculated the irresponsibility of his favorite daughter.

But since Aiden only had two daughters, one whom everyone in Heian-kyo knew of and the other one whose existence was unheard of, it was easy for Wendy to take up Nataly’s identity and marry Eriol, the Heike family’s youngest son.

Besides, unmarried women weren’t allowed to be seen in public. Thus, no one would be able to tell her and Nataly apart. To the others’ eyes, Aiden only has one daughter, because he denied the existence of the other and never talked about her in front of anyone.

Marrying Heike no Eriol was her first step towards success. But she wasn’t stupid like the other young girls of her age to think that her husband was everything and her duty was to give birth to a boy to secure her status in the family.

She would rip out her heart before she steps into that bridal sedan. She didn’t need love in her life, because she had seen what her Mother had gone through. ‘For a man to control a woman, all he needs to do is to capture her heart.’ Natasha whispered to her hearts before she got into the bridal sedan.

Natasha had to learn it the hard way, but Wendy would not allow herself to make the same mistake again. Love wasn’t necessary in her life when she could have something greater by being the wife of Heike no Eriol.

After all, she was a woman with great ambitions.

She would challenge the set of traditions imposed upon women and enter the world dominated by men. This was her destiny and her brilliance was her gift from God. She was meant to dominate the stage of politics and lead the battles of one of the ugliest power struggles in the Japanese history.

From this moment on, Wendy Dao was dead, wiped out of existence as if she was never there in the first place.

Like a golden phoenix arisen from the ashes, she was a whole new woman now; brilliant and bright like the distant Northern Star. Her marks would be left on the unwritten pages of history books, and her stories would be passed on through oral tales or songs or poems for centuries to come.

“Nataly Dao” This name would become a legend in the Japanese history, and would be remembered forever and ever until the end of time.

Her story begins here.

Forgive, but never forgotten

We think of the key, each in his prison
Thinking of the key, each confirms a prison

(Heian Jidai – Heian Period) 1179, Heian-Kyo, Autumn

A slender long finger slid carelessly across the black silken material of his wedding kimono. Unbothered by the fact that he might be scratching the refined ink colored fabric.

Cold sapphire eyes stared into the pale blue sky that stretched over his head from the ends of the horizons like the finest silk ever. A few fleecy white clouds floated southward, carried by the gentle wind.

He ran a hand through his cerulean hair, reflected silver under the brilliant sun like threads weaved by divine hands. Those silken locks were tossed relentlessly into the air by the careless autumn breeze that whirled by.

Another year was about to end and he was already in his early twenties, twenty-one to be exact. He was no longer a carefree young boy practicing his wooden sword fighting techniques under a large cherry blossom tree with her watching him silently in the rain of drifting cherry blossom petals.

The gentle smile on her face still managed to tug at his heart even up to this day. Fujiwara Yuri. The name was carved into his heart, leaving its mark there forever and ever. She was the daughter of Fujiwara Sesshou. (sesshou: a title given to a regent who was named to assist either a child emperor before his coming of age, or an empress).

But they grew up together, and she often came to visit them because her Mother was his Mother’s cousin. She was always around, and her ever-present unwavering smile always managed to melt away the snow and bring spring to his world. She was always there to encourage him, no matter what.

At a very young age, Eriol vowed to marry her someday, despite the fact that she was three years older than him. He got so used to her presence, and with her he was always happy, as if the world couldn’t get any better than this.

But eight years ago, his dreams of them having a family together was shattered into pieces. Eight years ago, she married his brother, Taira no Tori. It was almost ironic, as if the world was mocking him. Her status changed from the girl of his dreams to his sister in law.

His grip tightened around the med sapphire stone around his neck. She had given it to him for his tenth birthday, and said it brought her good luck when she was little. Closing his eyes, ephemeral moments of happiness of them chasing after each other in the garden flashed in his mind.

He remembered their first meeting. At that time, he was only five years old and she was eight.

She was standing on the top of the wooden arched bridge inside the Taira compound, suffering the wind whipping her loose long kimono sleeves around her, tossing her hair about restlessly. Her strong profile, together with the thin wrist and slender hand that pushed against her disobedient hair patiently, looked like something out of a picture book.

Her hair, as dark as the ashes, were adrift in the mid air. Her eyes — the rarest and most brilliant shade of green – like emeralds held all the lights in the world. Her skin was peach white, reminding him of a porcelain doll.

Every single feature of hers was delicate and beautiful and divine. She was the ultimate image of perfection, graceful, dazzling, eye-catching, blindingly bright like the sun.

But things changed, people changed, their paths changed over time. Like a summer breeze threading through the field, the years were gone almost too quickly, carrying with it faint traces of nostalgia. Sixteen years might seem like a short period of time, but when he recollected every single event which occurred…

Nowadays, she was his brother’s wife, the Mother of two children. Their time had already passed. Like a gentle brush of shoulders, he could only grasp onto a faint amount of warmth that was rapidly dissipating into the air. ‘Forget about me, Eriol, and move on’. Her soft words rang loudly in his ears, producing endless echoes that almost deafened him.

He knew they had no control over who they should marry. Marriage itself was used for political reasons, for gaining more power and a stronger back up. It wasn’t fair. But it was something he had to deal with. Living under the same roof with her and seeing her as someone else’s wife were almost unbearable.

But he dealt with it, and accepted it as a fact. Eriol wasn’t someone who would lose himself to unrealistic fantasies of denial. Pointless struggles could only prolong the agony.

He would never allow himself to break down because of this. He was stronger than that. He could tolerate it. He could conceal away his feelings and thoughts and smile at her even though it hurt his heart to do so.

But this was life, and in a world as harsh and as competitive as this one, love could never be everything for a man.

A man was made for something greater.

Ever since then, he had occupied himself with more work from the imperial court. Under his Father’s guidance, he slowly learned his way of survival in the political world where power was everything. It was a battle of life and death, and any mistake he make could potentially cost him everything.

‘Patience, sharp eyes, intelligence, the ability to think ahead and a charming smile are the basic qualities a politician should have’. His Father, the great Taira no Kiyomori once told him.

He could always smile charmingly to people and control his emotions well. But behind that smile, he bore his fangs.

He wasn’t someone who couldn’t live without love. He wasn’t someone who would dwell on the past and succumb himself to alcohol in his desperate attempt to forget about her.

He would continue down the road of life, put his ingeniousness as a politician to his full advantage and surpass all his brothers and perhaps even his Father some day.

He would still have these moments when thoughts of her trail into his mind unconciously, but he wouldn’t dwell on them for long. Fujiwara Yuri, the name would be locked away in the deepest part of his heart, and never to be mentioned again.

He picked up the black kimono on the floor and headed for the folding paper screen where he would normally get changed. Within a few minutes, he was done, looking as handsome as ever. “Zachary.” He called out, and the paper screened door suddenly slid open, revealing a short man in his late thirties.

“Yes, Master Eriol.”

“Let Father know that I am ready to go to the Shinto for the wedding ceremonies.” Eriol informed, his voice slightly dull and expressionless and dismissed Zachary after receiving the obedient nod from him.

Taking one last look at the med sapphire stone around his neck, he took it off and placed it inside the delicately made wooden box lying on his studying desk.

Even though he had already moved on, his heart was still with Fujiwara Yuri and could never love another woman again. No matter how beautiful or how wealthy and powerful her family was.

He could never love his bride, his soon to be wedded wife, Nataly Dao.

But his vow would someday fall apart.

Everything, but really nothing at all

Other withered stumps of time
Were told upon the walls; staring forms
(Heian Jidai – Heian Period, 1179, Autumn, Heian-Kyo)

Wendy sat still in the bridal sedan with her face covered by a white hood made up of pure silk called “Tsuno Kakushi”, which was worn to cover the bride’s “horns” and thus showing her obedience to her new husband.

Her expression was solemn as she waited and waited for the dreary commencement of her wedding ceremonies. Her fingers itched for something to hold on to. The white material that blocked her vision was irking her to no end, especially the meaning behind such practice.

Women’s obedience to men…

She gnawed the corner of her mouth, furrowing her eyebrows. The haunting words echoed in her head like the never-ending monotonic chants of the monks. Squeezing her eyes shut tightly for a brief moment, she inhaled deeply to settle down the arising anger in her heart.

Endurance and tolerance—two basic requirements she must satisfy in order to accomplish something greater. Recollecting herself, her breathing became even and soundless again as she kept her eyes closed as if she was meditating.

“Miss Wen-Wen…dy, you haven’t eaten anything since last night…” the young girl sitting beside her stammered with worries written all over her face. Her voice was soft and quiet as if anything louder than a bare whisper was considered as imprudent.

“Rita, remember what I told you yesterday. I am Nataly now.” Wendy reprimanded; her eyes half open as she glanced at the girl named Rita.

Rita was her maid, young, naïve but undoubtedly loyal at heart. She had a slightly round face and delicate features and a pair of beautiful amethyst eyes, and soft violet hair. She sometimes wondered if they were lost sisters of some sort.

“Wendy never existed. Aiden Dao only has one daughter in this world, and that is me, Nataly Dao.” She added with an implicit cold bitterness in her voice.

Wendy never existed… never existed…

Rita’s eyes became slightly watery but she fought back the tears because she knew Miss Wendy didn’t like it when she cried. ‘Crying is a sign of a woman’s ultimate weakness. In the game of survival of the fittest, any exposed weaknesses can be the end of you’.

She memorized every single word Miss Wendy had told her. Wiping away the tear that was trailing down the corner of her eyes silently, she straightened up herself and saddened eyes fell upon Wendy’s beautiful face which was now covered in excessively heavy make up and hidden behind that white hood.

She didn’t understand the reason behind Miss Wendy’s actions, covering up her beautiful face with superfluous amount of white powder. And ridiculously red blushes applied to her cheeks appeared like blood droplets onto freshly fallen snow.

Miss Wendy’s beautiful complexion had been masked completely.

Perhaps she was still a bit too young to understand the complexity of Miss Wendy’s tactical mind, her craftiness and firm decisions. She was only fourteen years old after all – still at the stage of where dreams of flying toward the sun with waxed wings were possible.

But Miss Wendy said the world was a dark place, only the ones who were strong, suppressive and ruthless could rise to the top. ‘One must know when to be kind and when to be heartless, because if you aren’t harsh and resolute about what you need to do, someone will eliminate you in a blink of an eye’.

‘Hesitation is a weakness. When it comes down to eliminating your opponents who had threatened your survival or benefit in any way, you must to be quick and doubtless of the morality of your actions. Never doubt yourself, never hesitate, do it and get it over with’.

The imperial court – a seemingly just place – was actually embraced by conspiracies and lies. Diplomats, generals, princes from the royal family plot against each other cunningly and strife for the position which held the most power.

The lust for power, for control occupied men’s heart and awoken the beast in them that desired for more and more. In order to gain a place in their world, Miss Wendy had said, she had to be like them. She needed to be better than them.

It frightened her to know that Miss Wendy was intending on entering a dangerous place such as that. She had always been taught that women shouldn’t interfere with men’s politics. Rita didn’t care about power or anything like that. She just wanted Miss Wendy to be safe and sound and happy.

But she knew once Miss Wendy had made her decision no one could change it, not even Lady Natasha. Rita would not attempt to sway her, because it would be ultra vires. Whatever Miss Wendy was planning to do, she would always be there to back her up.

Rita had vowed long ago that she would serve Miss Wendy for the rest of her life, through thick and thin, through rich and poor. Her life was saved by Miss Wendy and she could only devote her entire life to her because it was the only way she could thank her.

The first time she met Miss Wendy was about eight years ago. She used to be a poor merchant’s daughter. One day, when she and her Father were traveling to Nara, they were attacked by a gang of thieves. Her Father was killed when he tried to distract the thieves so she could run for her life.

She ran and ran, hid in the deep forest for days until she was truly safe again. Hungry and exhausted she was, she never stopped walking, never looked back. ‘Run and don’t ever look back’, were her Father’s last words and she would remember it perpetually, until the end of time.

Rita waded through the forest, the fields of flowers and entered the prosperous capital city of Japan, Heian-Kyo. Because she went on days without any food, her body reached its limit and she collapsed on the side walk.

Apathetic people strolled right past her without ever sparing a single glance. No one would care if a poor beggar looking girl with torn clothes and dirt all over her face and body died.

When she closed her eyes and prepared herself for death, an unearthly beautiful Goddess from heaven approached her and handed her a nigiri (rice ball). Tears were filling in her eyes as she took it and wolfed it down.

When she looked up to thank the Goddess, she saw a warm smile on the Goddess’s face. “Poor child, here, take my hand”. Soft whispers and an enchanting voice, Rita handed her dirty little hand to the Goddess and felt a pervasive warmth encompassing her cold hand.

“My name is Wendy, Wendy Dao”. She said, and Rita was mesmerized. Under the overlapping white rays of the sun, the divine Goddess looked so unreal and for a fleeting moment there, Rita was almost certain that this was just a dream.

But it wasn’t. It was reality. Miss Wendy, beautiful and pure, like the underwater curls in the sea, took her into the Dao household and gave her a job as a servant girl.

But it was good enough for her. Miss Wendy gave her hopes again, and taught her many things that she never knew before. Even though their statuses were enormously different, Miss Wendy still treated her like a young sister.

From that moment on, she vowed that she would serve Miss Wendy until her last breath. She would carry this loyalty with her to her grave and if she died one day for Miss Wendy, she would have no regret.

Today was Miss Wendy’s wedding day. She was the only servant girl Miss Wendy brought with her to the Taira household. It made her feel special and honored, but also sad at the same time. She knew Miss Wendy was being badly treated in the Dao household while Miss Nataly was the center of everyone’s love and attention.

Inside the part of the Dao compound which Miss Wendy lived with Lady Natasha, she was the only servant they had, while Miss Nataly and her Mother had ten or even more servants in their large, luxurious part of the large compound.

It wasn’t fair, she told herself, because Miss Nataly was a spoiled brat who was selfish and inconsiderate of the others, the exact opposite of Miss Wendy. But only she knew how talented, beautiful, witty and kind Miss Wendy was. Whenever she complained about such unfairness, Miss Wendy would only smile faintly and pat her head gently.

‘Some things are better to be kept silent. Always think before you speak, Rita. Because if you’re not careful, someday you might have to pay for what you say’.

Rita knew she was talking about the servants working for Miss Nataly. A low life servant girl like her wasn’t allowed to badmouth the ladies she served. If she was ever caught doing such a disrespectable act, she could be put to death.

Miss Wendy said mildly. ‘Sometimes silence is better, because no one would be able to know what you’re thinking. Thus, they can’t pick out anything that could incriminate you in any way’.

Rita sighed silently and looked out of the window on the bridal sedan through the tiny gap between the two pieces of silky curtains that draped over the window. There, she caught a glimpse of a handsome young man with soft cerulean hair.

But she soon realized who he was when her eyes traveled down from his face to his clothes. The groom’s black kimono. ‘He must be Taira no Eriol, the famous and well-respected Taira no Kiyomori’s fifth son, the Emperor’s current favorite minister in the Imperial Court’. Rita thought to herself.

‘Only a man like him could match Miss Wendy’.

*

Time passed by like the water flowing in a river, perpetually in motion unless acted upon by an external force or factor of some sort.

Wendy sat on the edge of the wooden ramp that extended out from the Taira compound, a venerable structure that seemed to exist outside the trappings of time. She gazed at the soft glow of the lanterns that swung rhythmically back and forth on wrought-iron pegs that were shaped like vines.

The gentle wind that whirled silently by rustled her long violet hair, sending the ends fluttering upward and swaying in its invisible path. Wendy took a deep breath, relaxing her tense and exhausted muscles. The refreshingly minty air filled her lungs. She let it out slowly, savoring the moment.

The sky was a rich shade of indigo mixed with a darkened blue color, like a refined, ebony silk dappled with stars. It was breathtakingly beautiful. It had been a long exhausting day. All the procedures of the wedding ceremony were long and strenuous and she pondered how could anyone want to ever get married after seeing this long process?

She kept her head down throughout the entire wedding. People thought she was shy and obedient and praised her for being the ideal wife for Eriol. But she did it for a different reason. She didn’t want anyone to see her face, which explained the reason behind the heavy make up.

Rita asked her if she had seen her husband yet during the short time span given to her to change into her second wedding kimono designed for the feast part of the wedding. And she shook her head. She just wasn’t interested in it.

She didn’t care about how he looked like or what he was like. All she needed from him was his power and the title of Taira no Eriol’s wife.

The voices of their guests, whom she had never even met before, had begun to taper as the night wore on, one by one sending their wishes for an eternity of happiness for the newly wedded couple. Many started departing for the comfort of their own homes, ready to call it a night.

It had certainly been a long tiring day. The celebration in honor of her wedding spanned the entirety of the afternoon and then carried well into the evening hours. The air was saturated with laughers and regards to the newly wedded couples.

But she knew those words were simply meaningless flatteries. Not that she minded any of them since she took none to heart.

Her fingers brushed through her violet hair that cascaded like a silk waterfall over her shoulders, so elegant and divine, holding a certain degree of enigma in it. The silky locks slid pass her fingertips as she tilted her head backward and stared into the sky.

She removed the heavy, ornate hair pin that held her long hair in place and left it abandoned by her hand that rested on the cold wooden surface of the ramp. A small smile of satisfaction formed on her lips as she remembered the first the he said to her when they were alone in their new room together.

“I can give you anything, anything but love.” That deep voice was powerful and sounded as if it was rumbling out of the depth of the oceans. He kept his voice steady when he made his offer. But she caught a hint of guilt and sadness in his words.

Could it be that he loved someone else?

Regardless what the answer was, she didn’t mind. It was none of her business who he chooses to fall in love with. She needed his power, not love. And he said she could have anything she wanted… and that was good enough for her.

Chuckling lightly, she threw her head back and stared once more at the tiny, brilliant dots that lighted the night sky. She didn’t see the moon. Nonetheless, it made her feel insignificantly small, looking up at the vast universe that lay beyond her reach.

‘One day, it would all change. One day, she would get to the top’.

‘For sure’.

*

“I understand.” Her reply was curt and simple, yet so concise and revealed so much of her collectiveness. He thought she would break down when he told her that he could never love her, but she didn’t, and remained surprisingly calm when she received the news from him.

The casual and nonchalant way she took it made him blink blankly at her. She always had her head low and held her graceful composure. It was hard to see her features with the overwhelmingly thick white powder layer on her face.

A part of him really wanted to see what kind of girl could have such imperturbability, but a part of him told himself that it wasn’t any of his business. Their marriage was just a deal involved money and political power. The Dao family wanted a strong back up for their business. The Taira family needed a long term substantial source of money to maintain their luxurious life (aside from the salaries given by the Emperor).

All he had to do was to fulfill her wishes such as buying her expensive gifts and clothes so she would report back to her Father that her life at their household was great. And then let her have a son to secure her place as his official wife in a year or two.

Eriol lowered his head, looking down at the darkened floor. He felt himself pressing all of his weight against the closed sliding doors. For now, he proposed that they sleep in separate rooms so she could live her life the way she wanted to and he could do the same with his.

And once again, she nodded in comprehension. He wasn’t sure if she was truly obedient to him or she simply didn’t care about their marriage. But either way, he liked the way she handled things. It left him with less trouble to deal with anyway.

The small window down the corridor was left open. Some streaks of light from the lantern hanging outside of the window stretched out on the wooden floor. The light bounced off the ground and gave it a slightly orangey tint, a soft glimmer.

He slowly made his way down the dark corridor, the dark mists of the night encompassing him.

‘I’ll give you anything, anything but love’.

‘I understand’.

Two short phrases defined their relationship. Everything to them was just a deal. But soon, things would change…

(To be continued…)

By daohieu Posted in Không phân loại