Short story by Vu Thao Ngoc from Vietnam “The kitting woman”

Σας παρουσιάζουμε την writer Vu Thao Ngoc from Vietnam

Επιμέλεια συνέντευξης: Εύα Πετροπούλου Λιανού

Translated into English by Khanh Phuong

Her brief biography: Writer Vu Thao Ngoc, a prose author who has won many specialized literary awards. She is especially successful in the field of literature on the topic of workers and women with a soft voice, rich in emotions and literary images. During her writing career so far, she published 27 literature works including novels, poetry collections, short stories, critical essays and literature for children. Among them, the most impressive works are “Sun Valley” – a collection of short stories, “Moss and Stone” – a collection of poems, “Three Men” – a novel, “The furnace light” – a novel, and several other literature works.

The kitting woman by Vu Thao Ngoc

There are more than a dozen old dormitories nestled under a big banyan tree at small alley. The banyan tree must have had a long life because its stem that is not hugged by two people. Its roots have also dropped to cling to the soil and form new stems that are as big as a field plow. The alley with more than a dozen temporary houses belongs to an old shipyard.

At present, the shipyard has been moved, the row of houses remains because it is nestled in the back village, naturally become an indispensable part of the unspoilt coastal settlement. The house at the end of the alley near the oldest banyan tree, its owner is a knitting woman. Her name is Tan, the name is also sweet and tender, Nguyen Thanh Tan. After that, she has a name to call that is not confused with anyone that everyone in the area calling by the age, from the time as “sister”, then “aunt”, then to “grandmo” knitting Tan.

Her figure is small, she suffers from chronic asthma, so her neck always is wrapped by a moss-colored scarf. Angled face. If don’t look closely, one will think her age of around seventy years old. But it turned out that she is only a little over fifty. The face is rough, the thin lips are always pursed, the eyes are opaque without light ray but are very sharp. She had been stayed in the last room for a long time. It is heard that some of the younger brothers left, giving the room to the older sister. The room was moldy by the time. It contains all the sadness, and her joy.

From time to time one heard the male cat’s creepy howl over there. Then stop. She rarely goes far. If not wrong, she just went through this long alley of more than a dozen dormitories dating from the sixties, old and dilapidated. Her path only is from the beginning of the alley with the spontaneous market of the dormitory, then stopped.

Tan also studied well when she was a child, but due to a fever, she had a convulsion when ten years was old, her limbs crinkled, fortunately her parents took good care of her with good medicine, so now she is not so disabled. Her steps are difficult with chronic asthma made her weak all the time. One arm and one leg on the same side are also atrophied. Everyone said, fortunately she was still alive, but she became attached to whole life as a sick person. What to eat, what to do with her are also unanswered questions. When her parents were still alive, she and her two younger brothers were always pampered. Then they all grew up, went to school, got married, having children, only she holds the loneliness of illness.

She found joy herself in knitting scarves and sweaters when her mother took her to a career center in the district. There are many jobs at the center, but she is only suitable for knitting. Because she knows her hands can only do that work. Later, she had many works to take care of her life. She thanked her mother for her long-term vision. If her mother did not lead her to this work, it would be difficult for her to take care of her life.

So from that day on, she taught herself, tinkered with each needle, and when it became a profession, she had a lot of creativity for that work. Her products are ordered by many people. The whole year she was busy with the orders for customers. The whole neighborhood therefore called her a knitting woman. In that small room, she and her two younger brothers were born. That room contained the joyful childhood of the three children, welcomed two sisters-in-law and in turn their parents welcomed first grandsons.

And in turn, when her parents returned to the distant world, that room was filled with priceless memories of her warm family that she always kept and never wanted it to disappear from this earth. She took care of her grandchildren, all was taken care by her. When they grew up, their parents could afford to live on their own, so they followed their parents to another places, they left a room at the end of the alley to her.

What to do, they have to go. She knows how it ends…

Only the youngest brother’s family remained with her a little longer. She thought, maybe he still needs her looking after his two children. Then, they grow up a bit, they will go too. She tried to keep her heart at peace with the room at the end of the alley. Well, never mind, they stay, she is happy, if they go, she will take care of herself, can’t blame them. This room in the past was poor and spacious enough for a family of five or six people, but now life is much better, she alone is too cramped. Must be content with the present, she always told herself.

But one day, the youngest brother held his sister’s weak hands, his eyes filled with tears, he said. “Mom told me to look after you until you “go”, she told me and said, whoever this house belongs to, that person must take care of you. But you know, sister-in-law just doesn’t suit to you. The grandchildren love you, but your sister-in-law doesn’t like you. It’s hard for me to say in the middle. Moreover, the children still have to study. If staying in here, it is difficult for them to develop up.  

And their grandmother’s house is ready to give them high-class apartment for their grandchildren and your grandchildren to enjoy. What do you think. What do you need, you tell me. I won’t leave you”.

He cried loudly. She just held his hands tightly. Tears welled up in her eyes. But her smile was as bright as a flower, and she told her brother about leaving this room as if she had finished knitting a hat, nothing to be worried. Her brother cried. She laughed although knew it was going to happen like this, just didn’t think it would happen so soon. She suppressed her voice and said affectionately to her brother “don’t worry. I am okay, this room is more than enough for me. You just take good care of your wife and children, don’t worry about me, knitting keeps me to live healthy”.

And the beautiful day also came, his family moved. Luxury apartment across the street. Before leaving, her sister-in-law also told:

– Elder sister, because of the children’s learning conditions, we had to move away from you. I think, then you will also get old and weak… Or you close the door here, come live with your grandchildren and us, we are still together and we are not ridiculed by the neighbors for leaving you.

– Well, thank you sister-in-law. I’m used to it here, and I have to worship our parent on death anniversary.

– Well, I also know, where the children are, the parents stay there. You just come with us. There is a separate room for all…

-No, I’m used to it here, don’t worry. If I need anything, I will call you, if not, that’s okay. Don’t worry, I have a good life.

-But …

-It’s okay, I say I’m living well, you guys can rest assured

The youngest brother heard his wife saying that and also joined in a sentence followed. She knew that. She swallowed her tears.

– Sister, sister-in-law just said, you don’t agree to come with us, so if we don’t come back and forth with you in the time of need, don’t blame us.

– Yes, you know. I said I lived a good life. You can rest assured to do business, raise your children well, I’m happy. Their school works are huge, don’t worry that I am alone. I still have knitting work, I’m still busy with customers asking for this pattern, that pattern, I’m busier than you guys, rest assured go there, don’t worry about me.

Seeing that she was so decisive, the youngest brother and his wife leaving quietly. They walked out of that alley, her heart filled with memory of her parents. She cried. Cold tears fell on knitted hands that had dark age spots. Long and short woolen yarns, red and blue ones followed with her tears falling like rain. That night she thought that it was the saddest night of her life. Even though she knew it was going to happen to her, sooner or later.

It was late winter at that time. That year, it poured more bitter cold than in previous years. She received many goods and could not knit all. That winter, her hair was as white as the white wools rolled under her feet. The winter she always remembered. The winter, she was forever separated from her brothers’ family, alone in a room filled with memories of the old days of her parents and brothers. That winter gave her a sense of loss. And she suddenly pressed her dry lips to hold back the tears. She suppressed the torment of memory for the affections and humiliation left by her parents.

Fortunately, that winter, so many people ordered, she knitted and crocheted all night, and the winter sadness also followed the cold waves. She forgot that winter. Forgot she once had a warm family. There used to be small happiness in the tiny room that contained so many of her hopes for a large biological family. She had hoped that no one would be able to part from this room because all the children were attached, loved each other, glued to each other, could not be separated.

She knew they would leave, they would leave her. She can’t and would never be able to keep their families from staying with her in this cramped room. Her brothers are successful in every thing, they have everything to spare. She thinks because of her that they have to go back to this room, because of her, they have to come back to this place. It should have been, without her, they’d be freer. They would sell this room off.

They move to other places that are much better, and they will forget what belongs here. Everything will go on without a trace. She still here, she still in this room, no matter what, they still have to remember to the place where their parents raised them. They can’t leave, because she is still there everyday as the memory treasure keeper. The place where they had been attached to their loving childhood, where they were cherished like treasures, where they were sublimated from the care of their parents. So, if without her, well, if without her, surely, that room wouldn’t exist anymore…thinking of that, she suppressed a sigh.

Once, her close brother came back to burn incense for her parents said “Sister, it is only in this house that I burn incense for parents, then I feel calm. Although the altar is old, the altar for parents is too small compared to the whole big room in my house. Hey, sister. Please stay and burn incense to our parents”. He bit his lip and cried and turned to walk out of the alley. It left a boundless space for her. The rolls of wool of different colors at her feet seemed to tangle together. The colors of wool rolls also made her dizzy.

Did not know how long she fell in that pile of woolen rolls. In that delirium she called her parents many times. In that delirium, the colors confused her eyes, making her eyelids seem to be closed, unable to open. Did not know how long she cried. And when she woke up, she knew the kind neighbor had helped her regain consciousness. Later, she knew that the person came to the room at the end of the alley to call her to a meeting of the neighborhood group. He kept calling but no one answered the door, so he called a few neighbors to help.

She wakes up and is grateful for kind neighbors. She swore to herself to try. Forget loneliness. Forget the pain always surrounds her. Forget about the siblings who still exist across the street. She will forget everything to live her life. And she suddenly realizes, for a long time she had been too dependent on them, dependent on unprecedented doctrines, and then got herself into that noose with no way out.

At present, definitely have to get out. Just like the tangled woolen rolls she have to untangle so many times to knit and crochet. She swore to her heart that she would not be subject to these and other tangles. She knits again. Scarfs, shirts, woolen hats of all colors, enough to fill the corner of the room. Orderers do not have to wait longer.

She goes out to the alley less often. There is a new apartment complex in front of the dormitory area. More people came. The life of the dormitory area is more vividly because many people, the market the front of her house has also become a big market with many goods. She receives more orders. One afternoon, due to the cool weather, she brings a bag of wool to the corner of the apartment block where the maid women of that area used to sit and chat, which she often came while knitting and chatting for fun.

Sitting in this corner gossiping to realize that the society is still in the same sad and happy scenes. She suddenly realized that she is still happy. There is nothing to be sad about. She already has a name Tan knitting that the whole apartment knows. They’re new here, but they already know her. One person told the other and she is busy with all kinds of knitting clothes for the children and the old woman. Her work has no season.

Her fingers seeme to be concavedparroting. Her hands are also firmer because of constant work. She feels content with herself. She is content with her choice. Time goes so fast. Her hair is grayer, lost and thinner. Her eyes are also blurred. The color of wool makes her got astigmatism. Her room full of wool and the products she made. Her kitting fingers are so skilled that it does not even need to look at. It still hooks orderly one yarn to the other…