Podcast: Anna Gavalda – The Cracks In Our Armor

Transcribe:

“It was so I wouldn’t get so attached, but even now it’s the same as with everything, at the end of the day I got screwed all the same.”

My Dog Is Dying, Anna Gavalda

Hi, and welcome back to the weekly podcast against depression, Radio of Resistance. First and foremost, I would like to apologize for the somewhat lackluster episode last week, where I straight out just read a chapter from my novel without generating any new content. So for that, this week, I will be diving into a new author.

Anna Gavalda – there’s so much to talk about her, there’s almost nothing to talk about her. The Kindle Store almost has no English translation of her works. The Audible store is even worse. What can I say about the very first French author that I read and love so deeply, so passionately? The very first French author that introduced me to the romantic and the subtle sadness of humanity within French literature?

Of course, to some other, well-established readers, the first French novels they read must be Proust, or Albert Camus, or Guy De Maupassant. Who am I, then, amidst the well-established readers, to go on and say that I understand, that I have the right to claim a love for French literature with my limited knowledge regarding the above authors?

But I don’t really care about the nameless and the name. All I know is that the first French novel I read as a child is “35 kilograms of hope” by Anna Gavalda, and it brought me down to the little tears and the little sadness that later on, go on to console my solitude and depression. What seemingly to be a novel aims towards children, even after so many years, still has a strong effect on me. The kind of effect that “The Little Prince” would have on any adults.

And the kind of effect that speaks for my love for Anna Gavalda.

I have always thought that French literature was the kind of literature that lingered. Like an addiction. You try to run from it, hide from it, push it away. Yet in your most desperate moment, when it’s just you and you alone in your dark hole, there it is, the French literature that you avoided, coming to you, consoling you, tucking you in a blanket made of dreams and faint hopes.

I remembered at the time I was munching on Anna Gavalda’s “35 kilograms of hope,” there was very few of her works in Vietnam. It was about – what – 10 years ago maybe? Or even longer. I went to the bookstore, searching in vain for her name, and was quite proud of myself when I collected her only other book at the bookstore at the moment, “I wish someone was waiting for me somewhere.”

There were stories to cry for and stories to remember. The story I remembered from that short story collection by Anna Gavalda was a piece about a truck driver who, in the foggy morning and a hurry to get to where he needed to be, made the wrong turn and thus, caused a series of accidents on the highway.

That night, he went home and saw the accidents on the news. Mortified by what he had done, he told his wife that he was going to confess. And his wife’s reply, which is forever engraved in my mind, was, “What would your confession be helping anyone?”

Yes, because he was a father of two, or three, children at the time. He was the main source of income in the house. And even if he was going to confess, there’s no saving what he had done. The people he had accidentally killed won’t be miraculously resurrected. The mistakes he had done won’t be miraculously fixed in patches and bandages of an apology.

Indeed, what would his confession be helping anyone?

And that, unfortunately, is the burden that both the victim and the perpetrator have to bear.

Recently, I have been watching the documentary series, “I Am A Killer,” on Netflix. There is this one episode that lingers with me. Of course, with so heavy a topic, every episode is supposed to linger on everyone’s mind. But this one episode is different. This one episode is about a perpetrator who, not so surprisingly, is also a victim. A murderer who had beaten his grandmother, the only person accepted him after his term in prison, with a baseball bat, and refused to admit his crime for almost 20 years.

The guilt. The sorrow. The lingering pain. The suffering souls. Everything everything.

And as the interviewed man cried on tape, I hear Anna Gavalda’s story all over again:

“You know, it’s good that he confessed. But what can his confession do? What can his apology do? It certainly cannot bring his grandmother back. It certainly cannot amend what he had done.”

20 years. The one he blamed the murder on had already died. His grandmother, if you believe in the spiritual world, might have been born into another life. Outside the prison wall, everything just keeps on moving on its wheels. And here he is, the perpetrator, the victim of the abuse from the adults who should be protecting him as a child, had finally gathered enough courage to step out of his coward self and said, “Yes, I did it. I killed her. I had beaten her to dead. Over some crack cocaine.”

And how much courage – how much strength – does a human need, indeed, to admit on tape, to himself and to the world, the horrendous crime he had done?

Obviously, it won’t amend anything. On a more realistic note, it might have been adding some more salt to the wounds, both inside the victims’ family’s heart and the perpetrator’s.

But the remaining ringing note as the confession comes to an end is a difference being made. A sort of distorted peace. A calmness within the soul of a man who had wished for things to be different, but his wish was not stronger than the crack cocaine. A smile. A tear. An acceptance.

And that is where the ending of Anna Gavalda’s story lies. An acceptance.

The man had caused a series of accidents. Many lives had been lost due to his carelessness. And his late apology and confession might not be helping anyone, but there will remain an acceptance.

You know, the saying always goes, Forgive and forget. I had lived by it. Tried to believe in it even. And after so many years, I finally realize how heavy a toll it is on the soul of both the victim and the perpetrator. You don’t always have to forgive and forget. You can be forgiving without forgeting. You can be forgeting without forgiving. And at the end of the day, you can simply accept that the thing happened. Whatever the thing was, it happened. You can’t change it, you can’t amend it, you can’t let it go.

The only thing you are capable to do is accept it.

And perhaps, sometimes, accepting it is not so bad at all.

So, “The Cracks in Our Armor.” I had wanted to talk about Anna Gavalda’s “Life, Only Better,” but as life would have it, I left the book in Canada and I only have a copy of “The Cracks in Our Armor” with me on my Kindle. So I will start the discussion with a strong encouragement: If you have a copy of “Life, Only Better,” good for you. If you don’t, then what are you waiting for? Go and buy it right now! Links in the description and all that stuff.

Just kidding, there’s no link whatsoever in this week’s episode except a link to my blog and my email, as usual. The book is on Amazon, or in your nearest bookstore, wherever you feel more comfortable. But please do get it. I don’t normally recommend people to purchase the books I read because who knows, different tastes. But for Anna Gavalda, she is a different case.

The case where her books are truly the gifts that keep on giving.

So go on and get a copy of “Life, Only Better.” With all my heart, I hope the book will bring you the same kind of gentle miracle it had brought me.

But back to our main topic, “The Cracks in Our Armor.”

With the first short story in this collection, I felt that it was somewhat lackluster. The usual strong and brutal female image – in contrast to every feminine values that society has for women. The life wisdom. The loss. The giving. The lesson. All of it had grown to be so familiar to me, perhaps, and I had thought Ms. Gavalda’s magic had lost its appeal on me.

But I was wrong.

“You think so? But you are just as responsible as he is for the situation, and surely even more so, because I expect you’ve tried to leave him already, haven’t you?”

“Two hundred times.”

“So you went back, two hundred times, too.”

“Yes.”

The Cracks in Our Armor, Anna Gavalda

Leaving him. Getting yourself addicted to something else instead of a hopeless love. Making yourself busy. All of it is for the sake of returning back to his side. Two hundred times.

“I’m afraid to leave him. I’m afraid of solitude. I’m afraid I’ll regret it, and miss him. I’m afraid I’ll never live so fully again.”

The Cracks in Our Armor, Anna Gavalda

I remembered I once had a love like that. No one was at fault. I just refused to let go, and he just refused to hang on. After all, both him and I, we were too afraid of the loneliness, the solitude, the regret, the loss – whatever you want to call it – that we would be leaving behind when we let go of each other’s hand.

My therapist says that there is a chance I believe I do not deserve better. And I refuse to believe in what she believes. Don’t get me wrong, she is a kind, gentle soul and by far, the best therapist I had.

Nevertheless, it was, and never will be, because I believe I do not deserve better. It is, rather, the fear of losing what we already had.

My favorite song composer, Trịnh Công Sơn, in an interview about loss and death, has put it better in words: “I don’t fear death itself. I fear losing everything I have ever had in this life. That is the most devastating thing in death.”

I won’t say that the cracks in our armor will be equal to what Trịnh Công Sơn feared in death. But if there is one universal fear, I think it is what Trịnh Công Sơn has put into verses and beautiful songs: The fear of losing everything.

“If I had known I loved him that much, I would have loved him even more.”

The Cracks in Our Armor, Anna Gavalda

Indeed, if only we had known better. If the protagonist had known better, she would have loved her suicidal husband more. If the husband had known better, perhaps it would save him from being suicidal. If Mathilde had known better, she might have been able to leave at the 201th time, and not turning back. If only, and if only.

The gripping fear of it – of knowing afterward, that if only things had been different, if only we had chosen a different path – grasps onto our heartstring, pulls on it, tears it apart, and seeing it broken, the fear laughs. Because it had won the war.

But that’s not everything.

Sure, the fear of losing everything is this big and other-worldly thing we might not have the chance to overcome. And even if we do have the chance, who are we to say that we will not choose the opposite direction? Yes, sir, I know I could have done better. No, sir, I prefer to immerse in this sorrow.

Because when the sorrow is at its highest, the love is at deepest.

For example, the protagonist in the short story whose quote I used to start this week’s podcast with. He had the chance to leave the dog by the roadside. He had the chance to keep on living in the house with his wife, who was obssessed with sorrow and cleaning. He had the chance to leave. There are many chances and choices. Even after he had adopted the dog, he still refuses to get attached to him by not giving him the name.

But we are far too familiar with the stories of the nameless and the name. And who are we to judge if the choices made are the right ones or the wrong ones.

It is, after all, always a matter of choices. And the choices we made are the cracks in our armor. And like all the other antiques, or like the golden-plated cracks in the Japanese porcelain arts, the cracks in our armor are what make us beautiful.

So wherever you are, whatever you do, no matter what situation and shithole you are in, make the choices. Don’t give up. Keep pushing. You don’t have the right to rid the ones who love you of someone they love. And it might be cruel to you right now to hear this, but let the fear slips in. Let your armor cracks. Do you know what that’s called?

That’s called living.

This is Thanh Dinh, and you are listening to the Radio of Resistance.

Letter to M., #3

Dearest, dearest M.,

I hope you are well. And all the other hopes? You have already known them, thus, I will refrain from saying. Or writing.

My country is fine. My parents are fine. I am fine.

Or at least, that’s what everyone wants to believe.

You know, M., during the little time I had spent on this Earth, I have never seen a time where hopes are so strong and Gods are so weak. I had thought, judging from the not-so-pretty history where humans are placed against humans, that we were used to death and we were used to dying.

But I cannot be more wrong.

You have seen the patients. The victims. The people lying on their dead bed with no hopes – even the faintest ones – for surviving.

And I, I have seen the doctors, the nurses, the police, and the student volunteers struggling, fighting, beating down this fucked-up virus moment by moment, second by second.

I’ve seen the nurses lying on the bamboo mats outside a quarantine building. I’ve seen the drivers of the quarantine trucks eating their frugal meals by the darkest corner, wet with the patients’ tears and the doctors’ blood. And when I thought I have seen it all – the full picture, the horror we never choose to take part in, the foretold death – the virus comes back for more.

It is hard, M., to keep a positive outlook these days. I don’t see the smiles on people’s face anymore. To me, smiles are a manifestation of miracles. Something along the line of, Happiness is contagious, pass it on (this saying is not mine originally so don’t hold me accountable for it).

The little smiles, though no one talks about them, are the little bonfires that kindle the passion within us. Be it the passion to live one more day or to try one more time, the fire grows larger and from that, the desire to survive is born.

That’s what I believe in. And that’s what makes me think, What if the smiles are dying?

An artist I follow on Facebook says, You can stop a suicidal person if her reason is because life is too hard; but you can’t stop a suicidal person if her reason is because she has lived enough.

Like in George Orwell’s 1984 when people are saving razor blades. Like now when the smiles are dying. What actually happens, M., when a person has lived enough. And anyways, by what conditions – what rules, what regulations, what amendments – do we depend on to judge whether we have lived enough or not?

Trinh Cong Son once said in one of his numerous interviews and commentaries that he did not fall into the abyss of despair. He, for one who had been through the war, the death, the loss and the gain, had never decided for himself that he had lived enough. He feared death, he said, not because of its meaning, but because he was afraid he would lose what living has to offer. The memories. The love. The embraces and the tingling of human’s skin.

And by his logic, there is so much to fear in death. I wonder what would be stronger than that fear to put a human being into the position where he should think that he had lived enough.

Perhaps when the living is too much, we don’t fear death no more. And vice versa, when death is too much, we stop fearing the living.

There were times when I stared down the abyss for far too long that I almost forgot what living was like. And I am privileged with a family who will always support me. And yet, during the time when I stared at the abyss, I had once thought, I had lived enough.

People always say there will be a time when you don’t have to dream no more because life is finally more beautiful than whatever you can dream of. Being a pessimist who is striving to believe in life with her hopelessness, I refuse to believe in that notion.

You know what strength is, M.? It is when you realize that life can never be more beautiful that what you dream of, but you choose to live on. Not because it is the only choice but because you have decided for yourself that “you” is worth fighting for.

And that is the most beautiful thing I have seen since the start of this deadly pandemic.

Anyways, this is getting way too long. Hope you find this out. And hope it can appease your lonely heart.

Sincerely, with all the love the world can give you,

T.D.

#the things that help you sleep

To my unknown lover and our little joke. I will forever remember you with the not-so-authentic phrase, Je suis mermaid.

After a while, you don’t even know what is helping you sleep.

Be it a woman’s embrace or a man’s embrace –

is there any difference?

You sit on your chair and wear your tin-foil hat,

singing about the fairies and the flat-earth believers.

Perhaps you had wanted to believe that the earth was flat

so that you can reach the other side faster.

After a while, you don’t know if you’re reading a book

or drinking a cup of warm tea –

you just know that you did something,

but what is that something? You’ll never know.

As you lay on the soft mattress of sorrow, staring at the ceiling.

The fan seems like it is moving, but is it?

The light seems like it is burning, but is it?

And you seems like you are living –

but are you really living?

After a while, you know that sleeping includes closing your eyes,

but you don’t know what happens after that.

Is it dreaming? Have you ever gotten as far as dreaming?

Is it darkness? Have you ever gotten as close as darkness?

Wait, have you taken the pills?

Or have the pills taken you?

After a while, you don’t sleep.

You just get up, and get on with it.

No matter what it is, you get on with it.

#last night, I dreamed of whales

Becky leads us to the dark shade of a cherry blossom tree. The petals are flying in the air, twirling and whirling in circles. A few petals fall on Becky’s soft, hairy head. She shakes it off with annoyance and sneeze.

I’m always allergic to flowers, she says.

It’s strange. I thought only people are capable of being allergic to flowers, I say.

Then it’s your fault for stereotyping humans and stereotyping cats, she snarls.

Yes, so can you stop being so sassy?

Can’t help it. It comes with me as a full package deal.

The Lover holds my hand in his cold palm, shakes it lightly to make me focus on him. He places a finger on his lips, Hush, he says, and then laughs like a child. The usual laugh that rings in my ears like the cathedral’s silver bell’s singing every evening. We would sit on our tiny apartment’s balcony, guessing which cathedrals’ bells are making a round. It’s the one on the West, he would always say, and I would just laugh at his child-like enthusiasm with every little game we play. I know it’s my turn to counter him. No matter which direction I say, or whether there was actually a cathedral in that direction or not, he wouldn’t care.

All we wanted to do at that innocent time was making small arguments. Then the arguments grew out of reach. And later on, they were no longer arguments. They turned to ugly throwing of dishes and loud crashes of TV sets.

It’s strange, I often wondered then, how we are surrounded by all these cathedrals, Christ and whatnot, and yet we can’t find peace. Either the peace within or the peace without, we can’t find none at all.

And I still wonder about it now. But his laughter is everything, and in the moment the sound of his laugh reaches my ears, I know all is well.

You seem to be quite easy to appease, as always, Becky says as she sneezes and vigorously shakes her fluffy head to get rid of the cherry blossom petals.

I turn around. The mist of pastel pink flowers are everywhere with a dash of the sad strings of wisteria and the calming lavender bushes. On the trail ahead, there’s nothing but a carpet of green hope and bluebells.

Yes, I am very easy to appease, I smile.

There are places that make you want to leave and there are places that make you want to stay. But I wonder if the choice is up to us.

The Lover squats down beside Becky and brushes the petals off her round head. She returns the favor with a loud, unlady-like purrs, eyes closing, completely indulging herself in the unconditional love that The Lover is bestowing on her instead of me.

The soft morning light shines on his black hair. The strands reflect back a gentle color of platinum gold. His face lights up with a gentle smile. His eyes are black as black can go – the color of the nights where it was too dark that the drunken man can’t help but get lost on the familiar routes. His bony fingers lovingly scratches Becky’s head and cheeks; the soft tips quickly appear and disappear in the black spot on the cat’s hair.

Becky, you know what, you make me want to be a cat, I say, dropping myself down next to The Lover and ruffles the cat’s head in a ridiculous fit of jealousy.

It’s not me who make you want to be a cat, she snarls at me again, It’s him.

I turn to look at The Lover. He looks back at me with softness and love. It’s alright, he says, All is forgiven and forgotten. And I smile back, hopelessly and stupidly.

Man, you are a lost cause, Becky snickers, which distorts her cat face into an even uglier version, if that was possible.

I push Becky aside and lay my head on The Lover’s laps, trying to relive some sad memories that had been gone a long time ago.

You know the story about the whales, Becky?

Yeah, you’re gonna talk about that after pushing this lady aside?

The story goes something like this, I say, ignoring her sarcastic remark.

You know the story about the whales? The Lover asked me one night as we lay bare skin on our soft mattress, getting ready to sleep.

What about the whales? I turned to face him. He always had this addictive sadness on his face – these gentle eyes, these pale pink lips, which turned soft and darkish red whenever he bites them, everything – that get me jump down the abyss of faint hopes and love.

Truth was, I don’t really care much for the whales and their story. But he looked at me, and what else can I do but ask him about them?

Last night, I dreamed of them.

Another weird dream of yours?

Don’t say that, he commanded, his eyes squinted in disapproval, You know I hate it when you say that.

Of course I want to say that. I want to say that everytime. Just to see his frown, the curve of his pout, and the long lashes when he squints his eyes. And I will always stop right at the moment he drop the command.

You’re right, Becky, I am a lost cause, I laugh as I tweak The Lover’s hair strands. They are on his forehead and everywhere. Each time I pick on a strand, he would return the favor with a gentle smile.

I –

I want to kiss you.

You don’t want to hear about the whales? He frowned again. I knew that with one wrong choice, there would be a high chance that I have to sleep alone. And no living being would like that.

Kiss me then. Give me a kiss and I will hear your whale stories.

I will sleep in the guest room then.

The Lover got up and –

I want to kiss you, I say, warmed with memories and dried-up tears.

The Lover bends down and ever so lightly gives me a peck on my lips. They are cold and wet, and they are nothing like the pout he had bestowed on me when we were on that balcony, surrounded by cathedrals and poverty.

Wait, I want to hear that story. Really, I want to hear it. Tell me your whale story.

I put my arms around his tiny waist and pushed him down. I always marvel at how he was so willing to let me take command, despite knowing who was in charge of our relationship.

What now, he said, but his eyes said, Fine, you are allowed to kiss me.

Tell me about the whales, I leaned in. His warm breath touched my thin lips. Some of the dead skin on my lips got in the way, but it was quickly casted aside as we drown in the ecstasy of a life-long kiss.

He dreamed of whales, I say, my hands reach out to catch the petal flowers falling down from his hair.

Yeah, the whales who turn into humans.

Yes, I stop to swallow the biles that are rising up in my throat, about the whales who turn into humans.

In that whale story, there was a prince who always went to the seashore, watching the whales dancing in the ocean. He fell in love with the tiniest whale among the herd, but he couldn’t swim out there. He prayed to the moon goddess to turn him into a whale. The moon goddess said, What is done can’t be undone, and turned his wish into reality.

As the prince, now being a whale, swam out to the distant ocean, the tiniest whale was nowhere to be found. Unbeknownst to him, the tiniest whale had fallen in love with him since he was still a little boy. And unbeknownst to him, under the full moon when she turned 16, she prayed to the moon goddess to turn her into a human. The moon goddess said, What is done can’t be undone.

And the moment the whale can walk on the seashore was also the moment the prince reached the bottom of the ocean. Standing on the sliding sand, the girl stared of the prince whale on the distant horizon. Forever and ever, the prince can never step on the shore. Forever and ever, the girl can’t swim back to the ocean.

Why are your dreams always so sad? I said, holding his head closer to my chest and resting my chin on his dark felt carpet of hair. I don’t know what I want to achieve then. Perhaps I wanted to console him. Perhaps I wanted to go another round with him.

Or perhaps at that moment when we were on the verge of being fully awake and nearly sleeping, I only wanted the moon goddess to let us be human, forever and ever.

Because what is done cannot be undone.

Are you crying again? How many times have you cried since the start of this trip already? Becky comes over and as a way of fluffy consolation, she steps on my chest and lies across my throat, purring.

Becky, I can’t breathe.

Should I step down then?

No, stay there, I say, feeling The Lover’s now stone-cold hand cover my tear-filled eyes, It’s not your fault. It’s never your fault.

Then whose fault is it?

The whales, I say, holding The Lover’s bony hand in mine, gently stroking each bony finger and feeling their non-existence, It’s the fucking whales’ faults.

And also, because the moon goddess said, What is done cannot be undone.

Dancing

Ta ghì cho tan vỡ trái tim này

Cho người ăn chơi nhíu đôi lông mày

Ta cười cho xanh ngát kiếp lưu đầy

Cho người vũ nữ khóc tấm thân gầy.

Chưa nói yêu nhau mà lòng đã đau

Chưa nói mê say mà tình đã bay

Chưa biết môi em mà hồn đã quên

Ðã qua một đêm…

Vũ Nữ Thân Gầy (La Cumparsita) – Vietnamese Lyrics: Phạm Duy
Vũ Nữ Thân Gầy (La Cumparsita), sung by Khánh Ly

Sir, I took the dancing to the new level,

she says, dunking the last of my shots for today.

Who knows, God forbid, if the shots tomorrow will be more or less

than what she has now?

And who knows, God forbid, what does it even matter to her?

Sir, I took the dancing to the new level,

she says, as he wraps his tired arm around her.

The night is coming to a close, and neither he or her

have a place to return to.

Sir, is it true?

What is? His voice blurs away in the blasting music.

Is it true that apologies are born

because no one can ever bear the responsibilities of their actions?

Sir, tell me, what does an apology mean to you?

Does it mean forgiving and forgetting?

Does it only mean forgiving?

Or does it have no meaning, at all?

He leans in, the smoke in between grows a thin foggy curtain,

separating two vengeance souls.

I don’t know, he says, what does it mean to you?

Is it why you take dancing to a new level?

They smile as she takes off her last piece of clothings,

Sir, that’s not it. I took dancing to a new level because all my life,

I always wanted someone to stay,

and all I ever had was someone walking away.

And sir, I took dancing to a new level because

apologizing will always come too late

and what does it have to do with me anyway?

She wraps her legs around him as her glistening eyes stare down a man

who will walk away after the night ends,

Sir, I don’t like apologies. And in return, he whispers into her ears, soft with sorrow

Me neither, little girl, me neither.

Podcast: Jose Saramago – All the Names

Transcribe:

I was always working steady
But I never called it art
I got my shit together
Meeting Christ and reading Marx

Hello, and welcome to the Radio of Resistance. I am your host, Thanh Dinh. And from the inability to have a more refreshing, welcoming opening line, I, as you may or may not have noticed, used the same pattern from the previous episode.

And to the keen ears, Yes, it’s Leonard Cohen’s song, “Happens to the Heart,” from his most recent posthumous album, “Thanks for the Dance.”

I should really dissect the album, giving how much I am obsessed with it. But as it happens, I spend too little time on talking about Mr. Cohen on his episode. After all, did I ever want to?

But don’t let the quotes fool you. And after today’s episode, you might see that the above quotes work extremely well for this week’s talk on Jose Saramago’s All the Names.

So, All the Names. Among the literary professional readers and watchers, the title brings about a somewhat foggy memory. The name of the author is certainly familiar, yes. But the title, the title sounds strange. Among the casual readers, perhaps there is a better chance of recognizing it. Something along the line of, Yeah, of course I had read that, while you try to push Jose Saramago’s more notable work, “Blindness,” under the blanket.

To those who have never read it, the book is indeed about all the names, all the lives, and standing in the middle of it is Senhor Jose, who is always workind steady but never call it arts. The Senhor Jose who defy the rules and the system. The Senhor Jose whose name is never remembered. The Senhor Jose who has lived through more than 2/3 of his life, if he is unlucky, or ½ of his life, if he is lucky than most of us, and decided that, Oh, it is time to leave or live and die this way.

To those who have read it, I’m sorry if the above description doesn’t fit with your impression of the book. After all, who am I to judge? Is the book a hit? Was it ever? So is it a flop? Sir, if it was a flop, Jose Saramago will not bear the title of Nobel Prize Winner for Literature.

Despite Milan Kundera’s warning, Must a book always about its author, I still maintain my right to suspect that, Yes, indeed, All the Names carry a more personal note to Mr. Jose Saramago than his otherwise more famous works. Perhaps because the character’s name is also Jose. Perhaps because the internal dialogues of Senhor Jose reviews too much about a life of rebellion. Or, perhaps because Senhor Jose is far more relatable to a human beings. A fictional character, with a will to live, and not only live in its essential sense, but he takes living up a further extend.


A revolve against the absurd. A revolve against the routine daily tasks of a clerk, who has never been put up for a promotion despite all the efforts he had committed to it. A revolve to die and a revolve to be reborn.

Yes, in answering the question of whether to leave or to live and die this way, he chose to leave.

I often figure it to be a strange coincidence, when Mr. Jose builds within his novel “All the Name” a world of ceiling-high shelves, separated only by the world of the living and the darker world of the dying. A world where perfection is achieved; from a perfect hierarchy of clerks and Registrar, to the perfect, symmetrical physical settings of that perfect hierarchy. A world where the only way out is simple: to disobey. To revolve. To fight. To take down the absolute power of the force that is ruling us. To strip off each and every layer of that power, and see for the first time in our lives, who we really are.

Often times, who we really are will not match who we want to be. And almost always, who we really are will never come close to who the world perceives us to be.

And that is totally alright. As my mother, and her ancestors, says, The world won’t pay you a dime when you die. That is true with Senhor Jose. Though he did receive salary from the Central Registry of Birth and Death, he finds, as he sees himself for the first time through the thin sheet of the unknown woman, who he really is far more expensive than the Central Registry of Birth and Death can ever afford.

To the point that Senhor Jose follows the Adrianne’s thread at the expense of his health. To the point of catching the flu and take a day off from his perfect attendance record. To the point of seeing himself in the mirror and says:

“It doesn’t even look like me, he thought, and yet he had probably never looked more like himself.”

And thus, of course, is everything that matters.

In an internal dialogue with himself, Senhor Jose said,

“That seems absurd to me, It is absurd, but it’s about time I did something absurd in my life.”

Now, this would be the perfect time to bring my limited knowledge of existentialism and my one-sided passion for Albert Camus and his school of philosophy to burst out of the cage and present itself here in the form of a quote or a short analysis. Something along the line of, Yes, the absurd is the inspiration of all.

And indeed it is. The passion to live, knowing that living means suffering, is absurd passion. The passion to define gods – all kind of gods, from all religion – to be the purest of being, and yet begging them for humanity’s desires, is an absurd passion.

And who is to say that Senhor Jose, who knows that he can’t beat the system, yet keeps on cheating it, trampling upon it, resisting it to be who he really is at the age of 50, is not an absurd one?

My beloved, the only actor who can make me cry with a shrug of his shoulders, a turn of his head, a slow blink, said: It is hard to live and at the same time, be safe.

He said the word safe as his lips curled up into a drowsy smile, with a tiniest glaze formed up on his eyes, and the voice – the gentlest of voice – broke a little. Yes, sir, I said safe in its most literal and metaphorical senses. No, sir, I am not lonely.

Unlike Senhor Jose, who chose to venture out in the night, defeated the system, and followed his own Adrianne’s thread to leave the jail of the Central Registry, my unknown lover chose to stay. He chose to live and die this way.

You know, I used to feel lonely, he said, I know what lonely meant. And after a while, just like everything else, you got used to it.

I never know of a sadder phrase. After a while, just like everything else, you got used to it. To accomodate. To compromise. To live and at the same time, be safe.

I never meant to put it in a way that my beloved is a coward. And if you think so, you will be wrong in so many ways. No, he was, and forever will be, a fighter. A fighter who tried to beat the system and failed. A fighter who, in spite of failing, got up and tried again. A fighter who has been to many wars, who sees his effort rolling down the slope, takes a breath and walks down, starting his journey all over again.

He is a little bit like Sisyphus. There will be no tragedy like the life of Sisyphus. And there will be no heroes who are as strong as him.

So guess what? I am reaching the point where, just like many previous episodes, I will say that, There’s no wrong choice.

Whether it’s Senhor Jose who chose to leave, my beloved actor who chose to live and die this way, or Sisyphus who takes on his torment without any complaint – the torment of seeing his hopes die – there are none of us who can be other worldly enough to say who is wrong and who is right.

As Albert Camus said, One must imagines that Sisyphus is happy.

And more often than not, I would like to imagine that Thành Lộc is happy. That in his solitude – I don’t call it loneliness, because people always connect that word with some sad innuendoes and connotation – in his solitude, Thành Lộc, like Sisyphus, finds in him a hero, fighting against gods’ punishment, and be happy in the fight.

Talking about Thành Lộc requires talking about his acting. Of course, to many of my listeners, the name does not ring any bells, not even the slightest chime. But Thành Lộc constitutes my childhood and even more, a cathedral of arts whose influence is everywhere in my stories. I have watched many of his dramas, and if God allows it, I hope to watch many, many more.

But the only scene ingrained in my mind is forever of the first drama I watched 10 years ago in the theater. An ending scene of a male prostitute, who, due to his love for the one he considers his brother, his family, agrees to seduce another man. As the male prostitute gives the other character what he wants, he says, And this will be the end of my debt to you. A breaking of the voice. A shrug of the shoulders. A pair of eyes, glistening, drowning in sadness and darkness. A hope that dies too quickly. A love story that hasn’t even find a glimmer of chance to bloom yet.

And the male prostitute walks away. The small shoulders under the dim lighting of the ending scene shakes a little when his lover says, Wait.

What else do you want, the male prostitute says.

Anh thương em.

To my listeners who have never heard a word of Vietnamese before, I long to have the opportunity to translate to you how heartbroken those words meant.

Contrary to many translations, “thương” does not simply signify love. “Thương” is when you consider the other person pititful, but that person does not want your pity. “Thương” is when you love the other person like any other ordinary people will love, but the fall is too hard and the wounds are too deep. “Thương” is when you have never done anything wrong, and one day love, just like any other days, decide to betray you.

Anh thương em. Because I know I hurt you far too deep and there will be no recovery from that. Anh thương em. Because I want, so ardently, to say that it was never my intention to hurt you. Anh thương em. Because I know my words mean nothing to you, but somewhere in my broken heart, ridden with blood and open scars, I want you to stay.

Anh thương em, because I know that no matter what I do, you will leave anyways.

And the moment the back of the prostitute was shone upon by the dim light of the theatre, the light which was slowly fading away as he bowed his head, a shaking hand on the door, a hand in his pants’ pocket – in that precise moment, seeing the disappearing broad shoulders, I finally understood what solitude truly means.

You know, my dear listeners, this is quite a depressing and personal episode. I guess when we are in our own world of solitude and despair, we turn to whatever that can keep us going. From the clacking of the pots and pans, to the sound of the wind hitting the wind chime on a summer night. The suffering of humans in the consistency of living, breathing, and waking up every day, it will not ends. So like how Albert Camus refers to the case of Sisyphus. One must imagine one is happy.

To conclude this episode, I will read to you the song that inspired one of my novel. A Vietnamese song, of course, because my love for my country never ends. Here is a recital of Dù Tình Yêu Đã Mất – And Even If Love Was Lost:

And even if love was lost,

I beg for your passionate kiss once only,

Like how we were in the old days, drowned with the memories

Of separating days, as I watch you leave.

And even if love was lost,

I beg to hold onto the agony,

Watching you leave, knowing in my heart,

That we will be apart, forever be apart.

You, embracing another stranger, you have forgotten

Our promises. Leaving me nothing besides sufferings.

And even if our torn love was lost,

Never to be returned,

I still wish for you to be happy with someone who will love you,

Forever love you,

As I have loved you.

And my life is filled with sorrow,

A life of toil, traveling light across the strange countries,

You, embracing another stranger, you have forgotten

Our promises. Leaving me nothing besides sufferings.

And I still love you, as I have always loved you.

For updates, stories, and poems, you can follow my Facebook page, The Bipolar Psyche’s Books, or follow my blog at tasteofsmallthings.com. If you have a story to tell – it doesn’t need to be amazing, awe-inspiring, or anything – please kindly submit it to the email address in the podcast’s description.

Thank you for listening. This is Thanh Dinh. And you are listening to the Radio of Resistance.

Podcast: Leonard Cohen – The Flame

Radio of Resistance, S1E2

Transcription:

Hi, this is Thanh Dinh, and welcome to the Radio of Resistance. To everyone who is practicing social distancing, this episode is dedicated to your patience and understanding. And to those of you who are fighting on the front line – doctors and nurses – this episode is dedicated to your strength and your sacrifices. Please do remember that we are all on the same side of the war, and the Radio of Resistance is here to pick you up and pull you through.

So, in this week’s episode, we will be discussing Leonard Cohen and his lifelong search for something to fill the void of depression and solitude.

Well, let’s get it done with all the big words. After all, words are there just to be read and heard. And what can the big words do if they do not serve the above purposes?

So, The Flame. A collection of drawings, notes, and poems/song lyrics by the man of our longing heart, Leonard Cohen. The one with the infamous quotes: You want it darker, we kill the flame.

Who is the “you” and who is the “me”? Apparently, there is a famous argument for those questions between Peter Dale Scott and Leonard Cohen, ever the rebellious man. I suppose there is a correct understanding of the phrase, but then, we all have the choice of another meaning, another understanding. After all, is being correct all the time that important? There will always be wrongs amidst an ocean of rights.  

For example, the moths running to the flame. To us, their fate is but a silly and foolish one. And to them, that is their passion, their dreams, their hopes.

Or like reaching for the extending hands of a lover who never loves us. An outsider’s perspective will tell us how wishful we are. But how about us?

I have a friend who told me his ordinary story the other day in an England nursing home. Or perhaps it was the geriatric department of some hospitals.

He said, You know, the only stories I heard from them was how regretful they were for not doing the things they love, or saying the things they meant, just because of a stranger’s view. And at that moment, I had decided. I decided that I will not, under any circumstance, be that elderly and sickly person, wishfully and regretfully looking back on my life in front of an ordinary psychologist kid.

Yes, there will always be wrongs amidst an ocean of rights. The wrongs that we don’t regret, the wrongs that we don’t have time to regret, the wrongs we deeply regret. But in the end, like my dearest friend said, They will not matter to us anymore.

So, the feud. In a letter to Peter Dale Scott, the most vicious poem exchange ever, I suppose, Leonard Cohen wrote:

If you have not been asked

To squat above the dead

Be happy that you’re deaf

Not something worse instead

He will make it darker

He will make it light

According to his torah

Which Leonard did not write

Ignoring the feud between the intellectuals, if we can call it that, perhaps Leonard Cohen wished for us to take something in that “darker” for ourselves. Who said God wanted it darker, and who said we wanted it darker? And should we be happy that we are deaf, not something worse instead?

Let’s talk about PTSD. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which seems to be the main theme of The Flame. Be it a veteran of war or a veteran of love, we are, after all, soldiers weathering a bigger war than our own selves. The war to live on. The war to survive. The war to exist and to not kill the flame.

Let’s talk about the veterans who whimper at the simple touch of a hand. How much courage do they have to muster, just to open their eyes and wake up to live another day?

Or, let’s talk about the veterans who whimper at a loud bang or the sound of the fireworks. Something so beautiful can also hurt another person so deeply. Is it the flower they hear, or is it the sound of their comrades died exploding?

Perhaps you want it darker. Perhaps you want it light. And in this battle where we face You brow to brow, we only hope to survive. Another tomorrow goes by. We wake up to the sound of the wind and the sound of our comrades falling down, and hope that in your mercy, we would not go down the same way.

Don’t go down the same way. This is a call to arm. Whatever you are waking up to, don’t go down the same way.

Let’s talk about Natsume Soseki, with his famous work, Kokoro, which had saved many person, and had saved me.

Kokoro may not be a stranger to many well-regarded literary readers. But I won’t go too deep into analyzing the impressive work that stays above me and above many other works. After all, that would be futile. A heart filled with wounds will always be larger than whatever I can offer.

I will only focus on the one quote that is relevant to what I want to discuss:

“I am a lonely man,’ Sensei said. ‘And so I am glad that you come to see me. But I am also a melancholy man, and so I asked you why you should wish to visit me so often.”

In a sense, aren’t we all hold that same melancholy heart within ourselves? A heart that’s always doubting, always hissing at kindness, always crying.

Well, in a perfect world, there would be some cure for this melancholy that is cursing and crushing our hearts. But since this is not a perfect world, the cure can merely keeps the melancholy at bay.

And that is totally fine. After all, only that melancholy can remind the wounded soldier of the love he once held dear. And once in a blue moon, the heart with the same melancholy will ever so gently remind you that, Ah, the moon can be this beautiful. The sky can be this blue. And life can be this tender and loving.

Like a mother to her children, the same melancholy will gather you up and tuck you in a blanket made of dreams.

An almost lover you once had returns to your side, saying, Maybe we should change. Whatever that’s everywhere and in between us, let’s change it.

A long-distance friend you once lost in between the lines of ignorance and death comes back when you call, saying, Take better care of yourself. You don’t know how much you mean to me.

And so, what choice do we have but to live on. Inspite of ourselves, at the worse moment, there will always be a hand reaching out to carry us on. Be it our comrades, or some sort of being higher than our comrades, they pick us up and pull us through.

So I have to disagree with Natsume Soseki. Of course, a melancholy heart will always find a chance to doubt humanity. Nevertheless, we also have the choice to believe.

Believe that the ugly, fat cat will return to our side, purring and warming our tears away.

Believe that the strangers we met on the street will one day comes back, craddling us in their hand, and carry us through a whirlpool of sadness and cold storms.

Believe that one of these days, it will be over. No matter what it is, how cruel, how hurtful, how malevolant, it will be over.

And this also applies to my dearest friend. You said that there’s a choice. To believe, or not to believe. Also, how shitty you think the Bible is. I laughed at it, but my dearest friend, this is my half-assed answer to your serious question: If I am left with no choice, as you said, between doing the thing or die at gun-point, I will fight against the gun and go my own way. Sure, I can bite off more than I could chew, but my friend, I will chew it up and spit it all out.

Let there be choices. And let us choose the ending we want, at least, because after that, there will be none of us no more.

Anna Gavalda once wrote in her book, “Life, Only Better,” that went along the line of, Whatever doesn’t kill you doesn’t make you stronger. Whatever doesn’t kill you, doesn’t kill you. Period.

Perhaps at the initial reading, or hearing of the quotes, you may think that the author’s view is too pessimist. But no, it’s the most positive thought that you will ever come across.

You don’t have to be stronger after surviving the fight. You only have to survive the battle. And that would be enough.

Talking about one of these days, in “And Even If Love Was Lost,” Chapter 10 I wrote in the same pessimistic-optimistic view:

“You are not the same man I saved on that rainy day, Nha.” I smiled, though I doubt that my smile can do anything to comfort me or him.

“And you don’t like the me right now?”

“Does it even matter?” I laughed.

Because, Nha, like all of those one-of-these-days we were talking about, I could never have you.

Maybe we can’t all have the one of these days of our dreams. And of course, thinking that simply reading more books and doing more good deeds will bring Lady Luck to our side is only wishful thinking.

But does it ever stop us from dreaming?

In “The Myth of Sisyphus,” Albert Camus posits that the moment we begin to hope is also the moment we begin to suffer despair.

I have no right to go against who, perhaps, had been the testament to how life could be worse than it is right now. Nevertheless, I try to ask for permission to refuse to hope, only because we will suffer despair.

If there were no darkness in the night, the moon would not shine so bright.

And perhaps all the “one-of-these-days” won’t come through. Perhaps we will not live to witness a true happiness that is construed up through books and papers.

But does it even matter? We go on to hope, and we go on to suffer despair. Perhaps we should all act in accordance with Leonard Cohen’s wise words:

It is so much fun

To believe in G-d

You must try it sometime

Try it now

And find out whether

Or not

G-d wants you

To believe in him.

As an atheist, I have little knowledge about religion. Thus, I won’t argue with Leonard Cohen, or any representative of any religion. Nevertheless, there is one thing I will always happily agree to: try believing. Whether the thing you want to believe in a religion, or simply to believe in a lover who may never return, try believing.

And see if those things, if they want you to believe in them.

Or perhaps like that kind of man Leonard Cohen is tired of in The Stranger Song, we can all reaching up for the sky just to surrender.

And then leaning on your window sill
He’ll say one day you caused his will
To weaken with your love and warmth and shelter
And then taking from his wallet
An old schedule of trains, he’ll say
I told you when I came I was a stranger.

It seems that Leonard Cohen would agree with Albert Camus. The hope that you had weakened his will with your love and warmth and shelter will not change the fact that he was a stranger.

But does knowing that make you change your course of action – make you close off your shelter, your love and warmth?

Let me know your answers. Send them all to the mailbox tpdinh@tasteofsmallthings.com.

If you have a story you can’t tell anyone, send it to the same mailbox. You should try believe in that mailbox, then, and see if that mailbox believe in you.

This is Thanh Dinh, and you are listening to the Radio of Resistance.

Oh, and before I turn off the mic, here is a poem to encourage all heroes in this time of social distancing and self-quarantine:

Let’s talk about the broken heroes –

the ones fall at the battles,

the ones full of scars,

the ones who, on a rainy day,

simply do not survive.

Let’s talk about the broken heroes –

the ones who fall short of God’s favor,

or even human’s favor.

Or – or they don’t have to be heroes:

They can be just a human, falling short of being human

and falling short of survive.

The wars they have been to, alone,

with thunderstorms far beyond their capacity and

too little weaponry to fight against them.

The love they give in return to

coldness, hardness, and cruelty of men.

The sacrifices they make simply because

their hearts are too big,

and life is too small.

Let’s talk about my sister,

who has a brain polyp

and keeps on forgetting the life that she lives

since the start of time.

Let’s talk about how she is too trusting

but is never trusting enough to heal her broken heart.

Yet she persists.

Looking at her across the screen,

and across the ocean at the same time,

smiling, faking a happy face,

“Don’t worry,” she says, and I think of

all of us.

Let’s talk about all of us who

have more than once in our life faking a “Don’t worry.”

Because what else is stronger than a fake “Don’t worry”?

Let’s talk about our strongest armor – let’s talk about love,

and all the hopes that one day will turn into disappointments.

But what can I say about all of those – I am merely a person

whose heart grows weary quicker than a century of loving

and forgiving.

Don’t let me fool you into the trap of sentiments:

instead, just spare some of your hard times on talking

about the broken heroes,

about my sister,

about us.

If you want to read more of my works, please kindly check out the site tasteofsmallthings.com. I appreciate your consideration, no matter how small.

********************************

If you have an interesting story to tell, send it to the mailbox tpdinh@tasteofsmallthings.com to be featured in next week’s podcast episode.

If you want to catch up on the latest episodes, please kindly follow Radio of Resistance on Spotify (Apple Podcast coming up).

Thank you for listening, and thank you for being here.

Podcast: Radio of Resistance, Episode 1

Radio of Resistance, S1E1

Transcribe:

Hi, my name is Thanh Dinh, and you are listening to the Radio of Resistance. With each episode, there will be a little bit of strength to fight against whatever life throws at you. After all, we are all fighters, aren’t we?

So, without further ado, let’s get straight to business. Featured in this week’s episode is Kenzaburo Oe’s “The Silent Cry.” The story started with a scene where the protagonist’s friend committed suicide with his face painted crimson and a cucumber up his anus. The protagonist, who is struggling with his son, who is put away in an institution, and his alcoholic wife, chases down the root of everything within him.

Mitsusaburo Nedokoro – growing up in the valley, obsessed with the 1860 farmers rising and his brother’s death – what is left within him but a stranger to his own hometown? He stands at the crossroad as he watches the people he grew up with passes him by and his disabled son staring blankly ahead without any emotion, screams, “I deserted you.”

Who deserted who?

Mitsusaburo deserted the valley, the people, his younger brother, his wife, and his sons, among many other things. Is it his fault? Is it not? Mitsusaburo don’t know. Nevertheless, the guilt keeps on rising and the shame keeps on burying whatever that is left within him.

But is it enough to kill him? To kill his will to live, even if he has to live a life of the rat?

Let’s recalled Kenji Miyazawa’s “Night on the Galactic Railroad,” where the protagonist, Giovanni, asks, What is true happiness?

Campanella chooses his true happiness when he arrives at his station and reunites with his beloved mother. Giovanni chooses his happiness when he wakes up by the riverside and leave the Galactic Railroad.

Mitsusaburo, too, also chooses his own happiness in being a rat. In deciding to keep on living.

See, the thing is there will always be a consequence for whatever choices we make. Should we feel guilty because of that, though?

Absolutely no.

By staying with his mother on the Galactic Railroad, Campanella abandoned his father to his own solitude. By choosing to leave the Galactic Railroad, Giovanni is reunited with his long gone father and his sick mother. Which is the right choice? And which is not? Is Giovanni a better person by choosing to stay alive? Is Campanella a coward for choosing to die instead?

The answer is not for us to decide. Only the person who makes the choice can decide whether their choices are wrong or right.

The same goes with Mitsusaburo. He decides to stay alive as the rat that he is. And maybe later on, he can dig a hole next to Gii the hermit’s hole to shelter himself from whatever life throws at him. By so doing, he decides to leave behind the nightmare of the farmer’s rising in 1860, as well as the brutal death of S, who acts as the sacrificial lamb for the village youth.

In short, he decides to not participate in the cycle of violence and the madness, as his mother puts it, that is a trait of his family. Does it make him braver than his younger brother, who decides to stay within the same cycle? Does it make him a coward?

That is, of course, up to the readers to decide. But to the Mitsusaburo on the paper, he has acquired his calmness and peace. He has come to the tranquility as the rat that he is, and there’s no shame in being alive, despite being a rat.

Let’s talk about the absurd, then. If we take Albert Camus’s point of view, Mitsusaburo, his younger brother, and his dead friend, all experience the absurd. And thus, there’s only two choice: to fight against it or to commit suicide. Takashi, Mitsusaburo’s younger brother, chooses to fight against it, while his dead friend chooses suicide.

There’s no guilt to judge, and there’s no punishment to hand down. The only thing left is this immense void filled with melancholy and solitude.

But we are not Mitsusaburo. Nor are we his friend and his younger brother. We are not haunted by the farmer’s rising of 1860, neither are we haunted by the death of a brother, who is beaten to dead as a sacrificial lamb.

And the ideology stays the same: to live, or not to live.

My therapist once puts this choice in different terms. She says, If you die, that’s the end. But if you keep on living, there’s a chance for change. Whatever the changes that you wish to make, as long as you’re alive, you can make it.

And be it Mitsusaburo or Giovanni, they both choose to stay alive. Can Mitsusaburo change the fact that his son is disabled? Can Giovanni ever get rid of the solitude that grows immensely within his heart? Perhaps they can. Perhaps they cannot. But by choosing to live, they are resisting the absurd – the pains and the sufferings of the living. The silent cry of solitude and guilt echoes louder and louder both from within and without. But does it even matter?

There are many things in this feeble life on Earth. Among them, pains and sufferings are the most prominent. So prominent that they make us forget about other things.

See, life is not always about losing. Sometimes, there is a spring where your beloved flowers finally bloom. Sometimes, there is a summer where the sky is so blue and the ocean is peaceful. There are laughters amidst the tears. There are lovers amidst the haters.

Find the flowers. Find the laughters. Find the lovers. Hear the silent cry within you, and forgive yourself. Let yourself off the hook. It does not matter whether you have deserted someone in the fight to live, or whether you have chosen to abandoned your beloved ones to a deep abyss of solitude: let yourself off the hook.

And most importantly, while looking at the sky, be it grey, white, or blue, choose to live.

My name is Thanh Dinh, and you are listening to the Radio of Resistance.


If you have an interesting story to tell, send it to the mailbox tpdinh@tasteofsmallthings.com to be featured in next week’s podcast episode.

If you want to catch up on the latest episodes, please kindly follow Radio of Resistance on Spotify (Apple Podcast coming up).

Thank you for listening, and thank you for being here.

#i can’t do this anymore

I can’t do this anymore, I say,

as I hold onto her hand and lie there,

breathing,

convulsing,

living.

I can’t do this anymore, I say,

as she squeezes my hands, whispering,

I am here, darling, I am here.

I can’t do this anymore, I think,

I can’t continue to be a burden

that you can’t share with anyone,

or even just to be released from the lifetime jail

that this disgusting, monstrous disease puts you in.

Mother, I can’t do this anymore, I can’t do this anymore.

And I can’t also bear the thought that

as I lie there, thinking of giving up,

you have to force yourself to push me through.

You smile at me and say, I’m here, darling, I’m here –

Your eyes are glistening with tears

but you don’t let it drop.

You’re strong, I must admit, bearing on your shoulders

a husband who abused you,

a daughter who floats,

and a daughter who stays but barely passing through.

I’m here, darling, I’m here, you say,

but that’s not what I need mother.

I’m here, hush, darling, hush, you say,

but will that ever help your burden grow lighter?

I’m here, come on, it’s your mother, you say,

as you stroke my face while my breath

and my will to live are leaving me.

My soul tries to hold onto your rough, callous hand;

but my body refuses to do anything

other than hurting you.

I can’t do this anymore, mother, because

all I ever wanted to do was to make you happy.

I can’t do this anymore, but mother,

your callous hands,

your tired eyes,

your gray hair and

your weakening legs –

keep me pushing hard and passing through.

#15. the fourth song

Becky and I sits by a little campfire that I (mainly) built with the (little) help from her. Are you getting fatter? I ask. She glances dagger at me and for a moment, I finally know how a look could kill.

The White Misty Thingy curls his smoky arm around me. My eyes can’t distinguish between his foggy form and the smoke of the campfire. But somehow, my heart can feel his hands in mine.

It’s strange how the eyes only see the big picture while the heart always prefers the little details.

Hey, sing a song, I ask him, aren’t you always singing when we take a rest?

He smiles brightly. His eyes squinted into the half-moon shape. The glistening dark irises disappear, replaced by the eyelashes that fans out in the shape of butterfly wings.

I went out in the dark night,

as you went back from your job.

Your coat was soaked with the rain

and there was a faint smell of cigarette smoke.

I choked on the thought that you had to live out there in the dark

while I was safe here, sheltered by your excessive love

and grudges.

They prefer me being pretty, I said. And you asked,

Who?

The neighbors.

Who?

The shopkeepers.

Who?

The cashiers at our usual supermarket.

Who?

Your serious eyes – filled with anger – stopped my listing. Then you smiled,

The only person you should listen to

is me.

Then do you prefer me being healthy or pretty?

I prefer you, you answered curtly.

Of course you would be annoyed. I asked you this very same questions,

day by day,

month by month.

And if you were on your deathbed right then,

I would gladly ask you that very same question, too.

I prefer you, you repeated in a gentler tone,

then you turned towards me and ruffled my hair.

Whether fat or thin,

crazy or healthy,

pretty or ugly,

whatever you are, I will always prefer you;

and if given the choice – of choosing between you and being rich:

I would choose you again and again.

We settled the score with your simple words and your rough hands.

I never had the chance to say,

Me too. If I were given the choice of choosing between you and being rich,

I would choose you, too.

Is it still the same now? Becky asks.

What?

Is it still true? That you would prefer him over everything else?

Oh, that.

I look at the White Misty Thingy. The truth is I hated how I had to cater to his every whims, even when I was on my bad days. The truth is it’s hard to keep the love burning to keep him warm enough on the cold winter days. The truth is –

The truth is I still prefer him. Over the neighbors. Over the shopkeepers. Over the cashiers at our usual supermarket. I still prefer him over everything else, I say.

Becky licks her front paw. I don’t understand you human, she says and yawns, isn’t it better to sit down and talk it out?

Of course you wouldn’t understand, I laugh, holding the foggy hand tightly in mine physical one, we human were raised on the principle that dictates, Do not trust other humans.

What a ridiculous principle, Becky places her soft head on my laps, Us cats were not raised on that. And look at us: We are still fine.

I suppose, I stroke her pointy ears, I guess it is better if we were raised the way kittens were raised.

But you are humans though.

Yes, I say, and that’s the saddest part.

*******

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