A light and thin rain was vaguely falling that seemed to cover around here with a light violet and transparent colour, seemed to detach me from the street along the foot of the hill. The violet dominated here, in the hotel on the hill overlooking down a lake. The lake was glistening, beautiful like a teardrop that the wafer-thin rain couldn’t blur away. The teardrop on the charming face of the street was hiding behind violet flowers.

I was sitting at the veranda of the hotel under a dark violet parasol, having coffee, enjoying the far lake and near flowers. The cup of coffee was perfumed with the smell of a chestnut and strange flowers. And any flowers were violet. The pots of “Thanh Anh” flower were in front of me. Their nine bushes were with the flowers in full bloom. Each flower stretched its six indigo-violet petals, each of them revealed many strips of spotless white colour.

I heard a waitress in purple call the Thanh Anh flower as Apagan, a name after a scientific one, but she pronounced unclearly, so it was misled as “hoa ra băng”*. I joked, ice turns into flower, doesn’t it? How was that an ice turns into a flower? This city had long since been full of Da Yên Thao flowers of a variety of green, violet, red and white colours.

But below my place hung only the pots of five-petal dark-violet Da Yên flower. Every flower stood out well against a cluster of heart-shaped leaves. It was little wonder that there is a kind of Yên Thao flower named Thanh Tu (graceful). Oh, how graceful Yên Thao was, graceful like a bra covering the breasts of a pretty woman.

Along the path below was the beds of Green Princess and Forget-me-not flowers. Every inch of this hill, the soil spread out a carpet of flowers. The beauty was immense, generous, and wasteful in the middle of a somewhat wet and greenish space. Such a beauty might give us great pleasure, ecstasy, and shyness.

Among the delicately long and smooth leaves rose upwards the clusters of Princess flower that were arrogantly greenish violet. Some beds of Forget-me-not were smaller but in the heart of each violet flower sightly featured an eeri yellow light. The drops of rain fell on flowers sounded a pearl fell. And the echoes of  Lưu Ly, Lưu Ly, Forget-me-not…

I was waiting for a girl. Yesterday afternoon meeting her in the downtown I made the rendezvous with her at the veranda of the hotel this morning. She was the person that I have just met again after ten years away. It was when the rain was over, the light sparkled on the surface of the lake and on the succulent petals that she came. White clothes. Spotless white!

Amid this world of violet colours, she appeared transparent. Colourless. Invisible. But outstanding. An unseen appearance. That was her characteristic. The indifference of a white colour. I was familiar with it already.

Trying to conceal an up set, I had her sit in front of me, before the pots of Thanh Anh flower. I placed this all-white girl (even her bonnet was white too) against the violet colours of Thanh Anh flowers do that she couldn’t, regardless of her desire, vanish into a white nothingness.

She looked like a white wave. She could be imbued with a quintessential sand-bank. Ten years passed already, I muttered ridiculously.Yes, she said. You was still the same as in the past, I said in clichéd yet sincere words. Because I felt so. She was still beautiful. Still quintessential. As formerly. I have changed, she said. See me and find how much I have changed.

I made a soda with lemon for her. The only thing I did for her in the past was that, and that’s it. Through her cup of soda with white bubbles, I saw the virgin beauty that I couldn’t stop being infatuated with.

I’d like to ask you a question, if you don’t mind, for ten years now, has the violet colour in your eyes appeared?

I asked it because in the old days when I confessed my love to her, she said sorry. If I loved, she said, then the pupils of my eyes would turn into violet. Look at them, try to look at them, there’s not violet colours at all there, right?

What did I say at that time? I didn’t understand, of course. I rememebered her saying that “I didn’t understand either”. But I inherited this mystery from my mother. My mother once said, “whenever you love, the pupils of your eyes will appear violet, if they won’t, you shouldn’t believe in love. A bit of love won’t be able to change their colours.” I rememebered I said, there was not any girl like that, except for one in poetry by Rimbaud: “Oh, Omega, violet ray in her eyes”. But no one knows who the girl in Rimbaud’s poetry is.

I remembered her saying that, “I am just an ordinary girl, but I suppose, in my eyes’pupils, there is a hidden violet colour that appears only when I fall in love with someone. That is a mysterious sign that I can’t avoid.”

Maybe that is only a legend, I tried to question her. How do you know that sign could appear, a sign that you have never seen? I remembered she didn’t answer, and also said nothing. After that, we drifted apart into the course of life of each.

And now, I asked once again, has the violet colour appeared yet? She shaked her head. Under the rim of the soft, nice white bonnet, her shining black locks flowing down her shoulders were slightly wavy.

I said, you are a girl without love, aren’t you? Look these green flowers. Green Princess, Forget-me-not, Da Yên Thao, Thanh Anh…All of them are dark violet. Even the wild flowers on the hill, any of them is bright, exciting. That is colour. That is life. And you? You are like this all your life? White, honey, is not a colour.

The shadow of a smile seemed to glide over her lips. Yes, she said, it is not a colour, but colour is concealed in it. What is it for? I asked, what is your mysterious violet colour for if it never ever appears? She said, I don’t know. I have been waiting for it for many years. I am still waiting.

I was really angry, “I am waiting, I am waiting”…You haven’t known it has already arrived, maybe. And your violet colour, it hasn’t known either.

With a parodying smile, she said you do believe that, don’t you?

The various flowers at the veranda and the lake’s surface by the hill glittered with violet in the sunlight. But the sunlight only made her jetblack eyes darker. I was waiting, I was waiting, I was waiting.

Suddenly, she placed her right hand on my left hand on the table and she said “look down the lake”.

What I saw never happened. The surface of the lake is originally limpid azure, now it turned into all violet. I again looked at her eyes that were jetblack and still drawn to the lake’s surface. The waters were calm, glittered with a strange violet colour.

I said, you see, the violet colour has appeared, hasn’t it? Appeared on the lake, she said, not in my eyes.

The violet colour is only a metaphor, I said, so whether it appeared on the waters or in your eyes, it might be meaningful. You couldn’t deny that meaning. Couldn’t deny forever.

She said her farewells to me and left. She would walk down some stairs under the Morning-glory’s trellis. She would walk down to the lake. After some steps, she turned down, looked at me. And a lot of rays suddenly sparkled in her eyes. I screamed out, your eyes are vilolet!

She stood still. I rushed at her.

It might be a hallucination. Under the Morning-glory’s trellis, she looked her eyes reflected in the small mirror. Is it violet? She didn’t see it. There was not even a tiny wisp of violet. Nothing. Don’t believe in the mirror, I said.

I was in the middle of the space at the top of the hill. A cluster of clouds was bathing in a new sunlight. In an untroubled and self- controlled manner, clouds was increasingly beamed with a rosily violet colour.

She and I stood looking at those miraculous rosy clouds. It was the moment that clouds rose up that divine poet Vuong Duy used to refer to: A second a cloud rises.

Where was she?

Nhat Chieu

Translated by Mai Son


* “flower turns into ice”:  A wordplay in Vietnamese that can’t be exactly translated into English




About nhatchieu

- Nhà Văn Nhật Chiêu (04/03/1951): Giảng viên tại Đại học KHXH và NV Tp Hồ Chí Minh Việt Nam. - Lĩnh vực nghiên cứu: về văn học Nhật Bản và thế giới, đã viết nhiều sách và truyền cảm hứng về văn học cho rất nhiều thế hệ học trò - Tác phẩm đã in: Nhiều sách nghiên cứu văn học và tác phẩm văn chương
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