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A woman called Bua

Tácgiả: By Nguyen Huy Thiep, translated by : Frank Trinh

Translator's note: The bittersweet story of "A woman called Bua" (Nang Bua) is a translation from a series of ten short stories "The Breezes of Hua Tat" (Nhung ngon gio Hua Tat) written by Nguyen Huy Thiep. His stories are written in simple style usually with a twist at the end. The author manages to paint vivid word pictures using a minimum of words, and often incorporates some of his own philosophies on life into his stories.

At Hua Tat there was an extraordinary woman called Lo Thi Bua. When she walked out in the streets nobody greeted her. People would say: "She is an evil witch. Don't get close to her!' Mothers warned their children against her and wives gave warnings to their husbands. Bua was a charming woman. She was tall and well-built with strong hips and a firm body. Her breasts were smooth and well- developed. She always smiled and was full of life with a radiance that attracted people to her. She lived alone with her nine children, however, nobody knew who the fathers of the children were. Even Bua herself did not really know who her children's fathers were. At times many men had lived with her, but in the end they dumped her. Youths, with the smell of mothers' milk still on their breath, and lacking experience as fathers, older, more experienced men, brave hunters and penny-pinching men. Each came into her life in many different ways, and when they left, they did so again in many different ways. With regard to romance, the male sex is usually crafty and irresponsible, whilst the female is often too trusting and devoted. Bua welcomed all the men who came to her and was also indifferent when they left her. Her fatherless children were raised solely by Bua, for Bua had no strong attachment or connection to any men in the village. She lived in a way which showed that she had nothing to hide. Whether she cared about what people said or not, who knows?

Her large family lived happily, harmoniously, and in poverty. Women in the village became incensed and they often sneered and screamed abuse at her. However, deep down they were frightened because the men in the village joked about their lust for her. They sat around the fireplaces, their eyes grew bright and sparkling, and drooled about the thought of her.

At Hua Tat everyone led a normal family life according to tradition. A wife had a husband, children had a father. Indeed, there had never been such a weird family situation as Bua's. A wife without a husband, children without a father, and nine children who didn't even resemble anyone or even each other. Evil rumours spread like an epidemic throughout the village. The gossiping of the women spread quickly, like chicken fever through a fowl-yard. The women regarded these rumours more seriously than the men, so they forced the men to try and find a solution to this situation. In other words, the men were obliged to either ask Bua to leave, or the women would find out who the fathers of the children were. How could such a family be allowed to stay within Hua Tat? These children would become young adults, both male and female, and they would break with all the old traditions. There were many times that the men in Hua Tat village tried to hold a meeting, but it was to no avail. Many a man felt guilty for having been part of it, and their conscience pricked them. They did not dare to publicly admit to fathering the children. They were scared that their naive and faithful wives would spread the true story; and felt that this would be even worse than living a poverty-stricken life. That year, nobody knew why, but in the jungles of Hua Tat, countless numbers of yams sprung up and the people were able to dig up huge roots without any effort at all. When cooked, these yam roots became crumbly in texture with a sweet aroma and a rich taste, and on eating them one was left with a lingering piquant taste on the palate which was very satisfying. Bua and her children flocked to the place where the yams were growing, for the jungle was generous and welcomed everyone with open arms.

One day, after following the growth pattern of one particularly large root, Bua and her children dug up a chipped porcelain jar, the colour of which, because of its great age, resembled the skin-colour of an eel. Bua scraped a layer of dirt away from the mouth of the jar, and was surprised to find that the jar was full of glittering gold and silver ingots. Bua trembled and shook with excitement, she felt weak in the knees, and tears of joy welled up in her eyes. Her children rushed to surround her, looking in fear at their mother. Suddenly, in an instant, this poverty-striken woman who had been looked down upon by all, became the richest woman in the village.

The planned meeting of the men of Hua Tat village to discuss Bua was no longer necessary. Men, one by one, readily came to Bua's hut to admit to fathering her children. The naive and faithful wives urged their husbands to go and accept their children and bring them home. It turned out there were not just nine fathers, nor even twenty. As many as fifty men came. However, Bua did not recognise any of these men as the fathers of her children, but they came, and when they did, all received a present to keep their good wives happy.

At the end of that year, Bua married a gentle widower who was a hunter and was also childless. Perhaps this was finally her true love, because she shed tears of joy and happiness on her wedding- night. She had never felt the same with other men.

Bua should have given birth to another child, her tenth, to her true husband, but this woman was not accustomed to giving birth amidst wealth, and in the traditional way. She unfortunately died in childbirth lying amidst cosy, comfortable piles of blankets.

The whole community of Hua Tat attended her funeral, men, women and children alike. They finally had forgiven her, and perhaps, she too forgave them.

Nguyen Huy Thiep


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