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The Valley of stork

Monday, 17/06/2019 13:30

. A short story of ĐỖ CHU

Born in 1944, real name is Chu Bá Bình. Well-known with many short stories, full of natural beauty, endless energy of youth and charming imagination of children. He served in the Army and then worked in Literature and Arts Magazine of People Ảrmy. Do Chu was awarded the State Prize in 2001 and the Ho Chi Minh Prize of Literature and Arts in 2012.

 

 

It is indeed false that the deflection between the two mountains is called “a valley”. The elderly in the village have called “the dragon’s eyes’’ land, speaking very highly of it: - “ In the eyes of a dragon are we staying!’’. Almost a year recently, however, the kids in the village have made common cause with each other, calling the village “the valley of stork’’. Finding it rather interesting have the other adults started to imitate them when greatly elated.

This whole thing started due to Tich ‘’the small eyes’’ and “mouldy’’ Vinh - whose sons of Captain Bai and Senior captain Ngoan, respectively. The two are still in 4th grade and they’ve been sitting next to each other since when they entered the school. In the early semester, when studying about islands, peninsulas and valleys in the geography class, Tich the winking eyes said: - “Hey, try asking our teacher whether our village is a valley or not.’’ “Mouldy’’ Vinh pretended like he didn’t hear what Tich was saying, waiting until the teacher asked one of their classmates to try naming some islands or valleys. At that moment, he stood up, scratched his mouldy nape and smiled shyly: - “Miss, our village is a valley for sure!’’ The teacher knew only too well that this kid just only wanted some fun, because it was too obvious to know that it has to have at least 1 mountain in the front and another in the back that this village can be called a valley. She then asked him:

- So what are you going to call our valley?

Stuck without any probable answer, mouldy Vinh embarrassingly kicked Tich in the leg. The boy stood up immediately:

- Miss, let’s call it “The valley of stork’”! We have a lot of them, don’t we?

From then on, the kids all agreed to call their village “the valley of stork’’, and they seemed extremely satisfied about it. Tich the small eyes and mouldy Vinh were so proud of themselves in front of their friends, one kept winking his eyes, the other couldn’t stop scratching the nape. Well, it turns out our village is actually in the valley.

Up till now, whenever discussing about “military stuffs’’, mouldy Vinh always said with his head nodding:

- Tonight, in “The valley of stork’’ launches the ‘’Dien Bien campaign’’!

Tich the winking eyes raised his arm drawn with a clock in purple ink, knitted the brows and said loudly:

- We’re going to fire at twenty to nine! Invade the valley at all costs!

Months ago there was also this kind of ‘’meeting’’, but both of the kids just thought this place as simply as it used to be.

Summer came along with windy and starry nights. The whole atmosphere was filled with the kids yelling “attack’’ in the stork garden at the back of the village; and their parents mumbling:

- “Those children…! Such little monsters..!

“Winking” Tich and “mouldy’’ Vinh seemed to be really busy lately. They usually sneaked away at dusk and didn’t come back home until over midnight. There was something in their sleeps that reminds people of their father’s snore, which still required careful listening to recognise, though. Having been through many sleepless nights repelling mosquitoes for the kids as well as thinking about their father, Mrs. Bai smacked the lips: - “There he is going to follow in his father’s footsteps soon.’’ Having met each other in the co-operative yard, there wasn’t time to come back home to yell at her son that she heard Mrs. Ngoan complaint: - “My son is way too naughty! Wait until his father comes home and he’ll teach him a lesson. I’m so done with him anyways’’. The two wives often spent time confiding in each other like that. They found their own life concerns through all those whisperings: the pride in watching their sons growing up, the eagerness to look forward to their beloved husbands who hadn’t been home for a month…

Those two men, one was born under the auspices of tiger while the other was the horse. So that none of them counted their blessings. Once coming back to the hometown, they were never out of business. Not only did they drop by the Secretary’s but they also visited the Principle’s, leaving all the children’s stuff for the two ‘’poor” wives. If ‘’unfortunately’’ complaint, they only laughed it off and even cracked a joke o about it. How inconsiderate they always were! Why did they even think about getting married while they were away all the time? They didn’t have to write any letter like anybody else, did they?

Whenever things seemed to be that ‘’serious’’, all of a sudden, Captain Bai took a leave. It felt like any soldier out there in the battle field had the sense towards their peasant wives who were not really familiar with cheesy letter things. At noon did he arrive in the village. The street was deserted and so quiet; the sun spread its sunlights through bamboo’s leaves above his head. Far away there was a small cock struggling trying to crow, spreading his too legs on the stack of straw near the pond. His bicycle might be so old that it made an annoying sound whenever passing any mound.

Heading straight to the yard, he immediately saw his son busy tying his slingshot in the part-house. He cleared his throat with a cough:

- Hey son! I didn’t expect to see you here.

‘’Winking’’ Tich held his head and saw his father, hastily running by:

- Hurray daddy! Mommy has just gone out for buying some fertilisers and won’t come back until this afternoon. He spoke with such a soft and indistinctly voice because of not letting go the rope of the shot off his mouth.

Captain Bai took off his coat, asking him:

- So did she tell you to keep your eyes on the house? By the way, I heard that you get along really well with Mr. Ngoan’s son - Vinh huh?

- How do you know? - He asked

- He wrote to me, it’s been a while, since Lunar year probably.

- But it was the past. From now on, I am not going to hang out with him anymore. We had a ‘’fight’’ yesterday – He emphasised the word ‘’fight’’.

- So I guess you guys have to meet to solve it anyways!

“Winking” Tich didn’t answer his father, continuing to tie his slingshot. After a while, he raised the stainless antler, squinting:

- Daddy, there are so many storks in the valley this year, right?

- What did you say? What valley?

Captain Bai surprised: his son had just mentioned something about the valley with such a familiar and passionate tone.

- In our village, storks, a lot of them! Hai Hao the old man told me yesterday that it seemed like this year, storks all over the country had united there - He paused: - Maybe you don’t know but all villagers have all agreed to call it The village of stork.

- Ah yeah, so how often do you drop by it?

- I’ve been there all the time! And daddy - He came closer: -

Yesterday when I came to the valley, I discovered a “the deceased’s belonging’’ under the red silk cotton’s root.

- What was that? - Mr. Bai smiled, pulled his son closer to him.

- It’s a secret! If you want to know then I will show you.

Let’s go daddy.

- Shall we just go right now?

- Really daddy? Can we?

He acclaimed to his father happily. Mr. Bai closed the door and the two went straight to the garden.

Illustrative image.

It was a very large area near the mountain side, filled with numerous Chinese white olives. Perhaps the kids would want to replace ‘’The village of stork’’ into “The forest of olives’’ later, no one would know. Storks from all over the country usually saw this place as a shared nest in every summer. The kids wandering around in the garden often withdrew the small fibres in the bindweed, wrapped them up into a small net and placed it in the alters of the tree. There were mother storks which didn’t end up with those human-made nest and built a new one themselves, but there were also ones which were much more lazier, so they just laid eggs straight away. Some even laid eggs in each other’s nest. No sooner had the breeding season started almost a month than they began to hatch. Each of a blue egg comes a baby stork. Storks the parents took turns to search for foods for their offsprings. The grey herons started their searching journey in the very early morning with 2 seriously stretching legs; the fiery storks gracefully sang the lullaby songs, their thin wings were as beautiful as being goldinlaid by the sunset. The girls in the village rarely dared to walk deeply into the garden, while this place was a mysterious as well as haughty place to the boys.

In the middle of the white olive stood an old red silk cotton tree, but the storks would have never nested there. The branches were so sparse that only a mild wind could make the nest drop. When standing on top of the mountain can you observe the greenish of the olives with the particular red of the red silk cotton tree. The tree was beautiful in such a haughty way. Leaves fell and flowers blossomed in the spring. In the summer was the time for deciduous flowers and fructification; and when it came to autumn, the tree started to have such lovely white flowers. The lonely tree stood isolatedly among the laughs noises of the storks around.

Unlike them, the kids in the village usually came to visit the lonely tree. Passing through all the dark ranges of white olives and making their way to the tree always made the kids feel comfortable.

Above those sparse branches of the tree was the blue sky filled with white clouds and warm sunlight gradually running down the garden in order that the green grass could grow strongly.

Tich and his father reached the root of the tree; above their heads were the storks flying scatteredly. Vinh asked:

- You are captain, aren’t you? - He often ended a question with a loud voice.

- Yes, I am.

- So you must be superior to senior captain.

- You can’t be that sure - Mr. Bai smiled gently - There must be something to be the mutual standard.

Tich suddenly tripped over a root of a white olive. He hopped with the bent hurt leg, asked sulkily:

- No, I’m asking that whether you have a higher position than anyone in the military!

- In that case, captain is definitely higher than senior captain, even though the captain is shorter in height.

Vinh immediately grabbed his father’s hand, yelling cheerfully:

- I knew it! I knew I couldn’t believe what mouldy Vinh said.

He kept using Hai Hao as an excuse for saying that senior captain was higher than captain. Do you think he might have some kinds of “evil plan’’ or anything?

- I can’t tell!

- He was definitely going to say you was lower than Mr. Ngoan! He’s the senior captain anyways!

- So what did you say then?

- I was not that fool! I dared him to count the stars on the neckline! Mr. Ngoan has only 6 of them. But mouldy Minh kept talking back to me stubbornly: - “It doesn’t matter how many stars you got, it it just a way to distinguish. Senior captain is still higher though!’’.

- And you guys got into a ‘’fight’’?

- No, we had already been. Never mind, you’ll know later - He pointed out: - That’s the tree!

He pulled his father towards the tree. His face got more serious and bowed with a stoop, stepping gently into the grass. When he reached the tree, he made a sign for his father to stay right there, and as to let him know how dangerous the ‘’the deceased’s belonging’’ might be, he said:

- Can you just step back 3 steps and sit down?

Mr. Bai gave him a smile and followed his lead. Tich was so excited about what he was going to show his father, unlikely the initiative seriousness. He finally sat in the root of the tree, one hand grabbed tightly on the knob, the other put into a very deep hole of the trunk, trying his best to drag out a bombshell.

The bombshell was polished with sand, but the rusty stains still could be obviously seen.

So it turned out the ‘’secret’’ that his son kept talking about.

However, holding that thing made Captain Bai the feeling of meeting a long lost friend. He lied down in the grass, kept the bombshell with both hands, watching closely and then put it down.

He looked at his son and smiled. “Winking’’ Tich inched closer to him. He whispered

emotionally with the 2 turning red ears:

- This belongs to a commissioner. One night, he was lost to our village on his way to observe the battle field. As a result, he was captured. They fired like crazy towards him, but he was

covered by all the white olive trunks. There were even some storks which got shots and fell heavily into the ground.

- Storks or flowers?

- Storks for sure, dad. Because if it had been flowers, it wouldn’t have felt that heavily - he whispered: - At the end, the commissioner had to use a machine gun to break the siege. The

enemies were completely destroyed - he paused, looking at his father: - But he got hurt in the temple. However, he tried to prevent the pain by nipping his ears, the covered the wound with a towel.

The blood caked. After returning to the military base, he left there a bombshell as a victorious keepsake… - Tich blinked his eyes, seeming so touching: - Daddy, he sacrificed himself for the victory in Dien Bien so he couldn’t come back to take this back.

- I understand! But why there’s only the shell left?

- So here is it - He brushed some leaves in his father’s neckline: - It’s such a long time so the grenades must have been rot, and the termites must all have eaten out the powders.

- That makes sense…

- But the point is when I found this yesterday, mouldy Vinh insisted that it belonged to his father who hid it when he came home for Lunar year.

- What if it was actually Mr. Ngoan’s?

- Don’t listen to him, dad - he said – It’s a secret for ever, dad!

Surprised as he was, Tich leaned to his father’s shoulders, trying to remember everything he was saying. Now he got it and realised it was not worthing conflicting with Vinh. Imagine when

he heard about this, he would be crazily happy. Tich’s eyes had never opened that much. He watched so carefully that he could see clearly his father and Mr. Ngoan searching for soldiers; and their faces were full of pride.

After finishing the story, Mr. Bai laid down next to his son.

He didn’t notice how much the story he had told affected his son. Who else in this village could have the honours like his and mouldy Vinh’s? No one would truly deserved to be “the general of the campaign’’ except them both. But the Captain didn’t have that thought, he just simply thought that his son was disappointed because of the normal reality. He placed his hand on Tich’s shoulder as not wanting him to be sad:

- Then, Mr. Ngoan and I applied for the most heroic regiment. The commissioner of the regiment excelled at breaking the siege. There was once that he unfortunately got hurt in the temple. I was right next to him then!

- Did he really sacrifice in Dien Bien?

- Yes… unfortunately!

- Dad.. can you tell Vinh this story? I’ll call him.

- So are you going to reconcile with him?

- I’m sure there’s nothing for him to be fed up with me after listening to the story.

- Listen, Mr. Ngoan and I have never ever been on a fight since we were kids.

- Did you and he play catching Do-Cat (Christian de Castries) here?

- There was no Do-Cat that time, only storks!

- So you can come to see tonight - he lowered his voice: - Alright, I will give Vinh a way. He can be the captain, and I can pretend to be Do-Cat.

Mr. Bai looked up the sky, watching the clouds drifting slowly. The summer atmosphere along with the hotness belonging to solely hometown easily made people fall asleep. Flowers upon the red silk cotton trees gave off a fresh scent. An clumsy ant was trying to get inside his neckline. He shook his shirt and covered his eyes with a hand. Tich sitting next to his father seemed to be wistful, glancing far far away.

The captain was thinking about this garden. Everything here was so familiar to him that made him fall in love with them. A stork, a flower or even the stunned smell but not uneasy at all… When they were a small kid, Tich’s mother used to follow him to pick up some flowers. How eerie she was back that time! Only when she was alone did she not dare to do anything, but once she got out of the garden, no one dared to do anything to her.

April had come, but there were still various flowers. So it must have been so many baits out there in the rice field. Mr. Bai was gradually falling asleep that a flower suddenly dropped in his chest, making him startle and awake. Tich laughed out loud like a stork washing his mouth. An early windy blew as if it wanted to catch that laugh and take it away. The red silk cotton blossomed late this year.

Having sat quietly beside his father, Tich couldn’t help it anymore, starting to ask for some military stuff:

- Daddy!

- What’s wrong?

- How does a solider say “All comrades, from the cajuput tree to the fire cork tree stand the enemies! Attack!”?

- If I were him, I would say - He immediately stood up straight like he always was in the military base, his hand pointed to the olives, shouting: - “Attention! All enemies are targeted from the

cajuput tree to the fire cork tree. Everyone waits for the commander. Attack!’

Extremely excited as he was, Tich picked up the bombshell and followed his father home. He didn’t forget to repeat the commands all over again. The sun got yellow, printing in the way back home of the two.

Tich started to think about ‘’the campaign’’ in the valley of stork tonight. It couldn’t be better if his father agreed to come. He had to make it a secret or else his mother would yell at both of them.

The valley of stork became so mysterious but not scary at all tonight. The storks flew crazily among the yelling attacking of the kids as real soldiers. A small shrimp fell from the stork’s nest to one unfortunate’s nape, making him startle. Up was the bright sky filled with stars. And then, after the commands commanding to withdraw secretly, the atmosphere suddenly became so tingling.

Their hearts bumped like crazy, blood running through entire the bodies which made those chubby cheeks turn all pink. When the storks started to go to sleep, all the ‘’enemies’ side as well as our sides gathered under the red silk cotton tree.

And those brave soldiers began sneaking home, getting into beds as gently as possible in order not to make any sound. The valley whispered all night long in the sound of winds and everyone’s sleep.

1963

Translated by Thanh Kha group 

Source: Vietnam Writers and Works

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