The Prophecy Fulfilled

Tran Huy Quang
Translated by Sheree Carey


      Hinh was born the third son of a family which was not poor but also had no great wealth to speak of. His father passed the court examinations and had at one time been a mandarin, but because of an overly avaricious and erratic character, his superiors never warmed up to him. So he quit the mandarinate to wander, at times teaching classes in the royal city, at times practicing herbal medicine in the mountains. Between this ancestry and the temperament of the people of his birthplace, Hinh inherited the necessary traits for one who dreams of pursuing politics: a cunning mind skilled in intrigue, a trick poker face, and an aloofness that made even his peers keep their distance.
      Hinh was bright and perseverant, and quickly mastered whatever he studied. By the age twenty he could compose poetry in Chinese characters and had read Rousseau and Montesquieu in the original languages. But he tired of studying and instead yearned only for the opportunity to go abroad. The strict regiment of Confucian scholarship allowed for no shortcuts, yet establishing oneself by education was an almost impossibly long and obscure road. As for establishing himself through literature, he would only resort to it reluctantly, when there was no other way.
      Day after day, Hinh fidgeted, Hinh grimaced, Hinh anguished over the cold pain that lay in his stomach like a spiked club. He would no sooner sit down but was leaping up again, and would drop off to sleep only to awake, exploding out of bed, his forehead black with crease and his eyes fixed on some faraway place. He acted as though he had the misfortune of losing his heart to some prim and well-guarded aristocratic damsel.
      But Hinh was not the foolish sort who would waste his willpower and strength on a woman. Idle non sense! Winning the heart of ten women was child's play to him, but to conquer even one heart from among the masses of mankind required no less than crossing multiple oceans. Hinh lifted his gaze expectantly to the heavens - he longed for a glimpse of some ship that could take him across those oceans, he sought out magical powers, he waited for a trace of Heaven of some fleeting fragrance from the Blissful Country which he could carry back and share with all living beings.
      Days and months stretched onward like taut thread. Hinh, his heart parched with the sort of thirst that drives men on quests, anxiously awaited one change to kneel at the feet of the Venerable High Deity and speak: "Praise be to you, the Source of Light which guides us...We, Your children, we living creatures and departed souls, we yearn for your presence..."
      So it was. And then, as though in fulfillment of his prayer, on one stormy and tempestuous night when the earth and sky agonized as if in childbirth, Hinh did in fact mount the nine levels of Heaven to meet the Venerable Highest Spirit.
      At first there was a candle, a soft flame radiating a cone-shaped luminescence. Then the luminescence gave off a halo, the rays of which were not straight but zigzagged back and forth. Finally, in the center of the luminescence there appeared the visage of a young woman with blonde hair.
      Stunned, Hinh blurted out, "Your Reverence..."
      "Not so," The young woman smiled daintily, kindly, "I am only the envoy of the Venerable Creator of Religions. Now, is your petition terribly urgent? The Creator is busy with the task of propagating a new religion which is just in initial stages..."
      "Your Reverence, I am a man from the land of Weariness and Shadow..."       "Enough. You need say no more, my dear young man. So the people of the land of Weariness are thirsty for light. Why, it's only then that the task of propagating a new religion is made easy. Here, take this - if you heed this scripture, you will find the truth."
      The envoy handed the scripture to Hinh, then began to shrink, smaller and smaller, until she was only a dot in the midst of the luminescence, and then even that disappeared into infinity. Hinh remained kneeling, holding the book of scriptures with both hands against his forehead. Then trembling, he places upon it one kiss, opened it, and read:
      Thou shalt go to the south along a road flanked on one side by trees and on the other side by water, until at the end of the road there shall be a tavern selling draft beer and dog meat. Thou shalt not peer into this place of indulgence, but rather continue on slowly. Along the road there shall be a person who asks of thee, "Willya go?" And thou shalt not go. Although that person is only a laborer and not a demon sent to tempt thee, still thou must resign thyself to refusing. Upon continuing, thou shalt come upon a newspaper kiosk and thus turn left, finding before thee a small flower garden. Now, thou shalt bend down and walk very slowly, step by step, with thine eyes fastened to the ground, in order to "look for this". Continue on ...It shall take only one moment, and thou shalt possess the world...
      Hinh embraced the scripture to his chest and hiccupped with emotion. "My God, this magical talisman, this oracle..." Ecstatic, he let loose a wild bellow. His voice reverberated loudly in the night and it was only then that he realized he had been dreaming. But heavens above, how could it be that this dream had somehow resolved everything he had been agonizing about in his heart of hearts for all that time? Hinh's eyes overflowed with tears of joy and emotion. Oh, my fellow - creatures of weariness and shadow, this oracle will illuminate the path on which we tread...

      The next morning, Hinh reverently prepared to set out on his journey, meticulous clothing, a dignified scholar's cap on his head. In front of his house there was a major thoroughfare running south and, thinking that this was perhaps the road, he summoned his strength and stepped forth. One side flanked by trees and the other side by water or was it one side forest and the other ocean? He continued on. Only after walking a few blocks did he perceive that he was indeed on the right track, for here the road skirted a lake. And in the middle of the block was a tavern selling dog meat and draft beer, which he himself had been pulled into on a few occasions. Indeed, the oracle had not missed even a jot or a little.
      The road was deserted, with only some stray bicycles engrossed in delivering the regular supplies of candies, cakes, and charcoals to the sidewalk tea shops, and a couple of worn out cyclos clattering around looking for customers. And a few listless prostitutes...
      "Willya go?"
      One prostitute tried to entice him. Hinh remembered his dream and felt chills run down his spine, for those were the three words in his dream. Continuing to the end of the street, Hinh saw that there really was a newspaper kiosk there, the owner was just opening it up. But how could it be? Before, when awake, he had never noticed a newspaper stand at this place. Miraculous!
      "Upon continuing, thou shalt come upon a newspaper kiosk and thus turn left, finding before thee a small flower garden." Hinh promptly turned to the left, and after walking just a short distance past the renegade goods stores, there was the flower garden called Spring.
      True believers do not waste time hemming and howling or weighing pros and cons. Hinh walked straight into center of the circle of flower with a slightly drunken gait, heart giddy, eyes dazed, half treading air and half sinking into the ground...Where were the Heavenly sylphs, where were the deities of the earth? Was he even standing on earth, or on the sacred ground of Paradise? And his head suddenly cleared: "Look for this". Look for what? He had no idea, but did not dare question the precious words of the Prophet.
      The boulevard bordering the flower garden was nearly deserted at this time, but there were still a few old men out exercising late, a handful of youths playing soccer, and a troop of high school students passing by on their way to class. Now he must " bend down and walk very slowly, step by step, with thine eyes fastened to the ground..." Hinh stooped down and concentrated on the search, mumbling recitations under his breath. He did not know what he was looking for, rather only knew absolute loyalty to his instructions. He inched forward as though hypnotized, back doubled over, eyes never leaving the ground, step by step...
      People passing by on the street thought it strange.       At first it was the high school students, with the curiosity natural to boys their age, who approached him and puzzled, hmm, what do you suppose that old guy is looking for? They couldn't solve the riddle among themselves, so:
      "Hey, mister, what are you looking for there?"
      Hinh, completely engrossed in his search, didn't even look up. The answer just slipped out.
      "Looking for this."
With kids, how could this answer not set their hands and feet to tingling? Without a doubt, this chump has lost a ring, or a necklace, maybe some diamonds or something, wouldn't it be wild if we could grab it first?
      So the whole gang of them threw their book bags into a pile and dived into the search. The scene looked even stranger with a throng of kids now crawling around scouring the ground as well. And there was no end to the people passing by the flower garden, for there was no end to the unemployed workers turned vagabonds, the farmers who had to desert their farms to look for food in the city, the ragged and the starving who hoped only to scrounge up a bit of good luck. These people came, and could not possibly not ask:
      "What are you looking for there?"
      This time the children were quick with the answer.

      "Looking for this."
      With the adults, how could this answer not set their minds to tingling? And so they threw down their carrying-poles and their bicycles and leapt into the flower garden called Spring.
      And they kept coming...
      Now it's the cyclo drivers, the cart- pullers, the beggars, the orphan newspaper-sellers, a handful of prostitutes, and a whole assortment of pickpockets and street-scum -they also came looking for the garden when they heard the news.
      "What are you looking for?"
      "Looking for this."
      "Damn all their mothers to hell, those bastards hid it better'n a cat hiding its shit. It's gotta be diamonds or rubies. Maybe last night some gang of gem-diggers came by here and started beating up on each other and spilt out a whole sack of rubies. Fuck'm all anyway, if I'd known about this before, I'd have put up a big fence all around and chased everybody else out. Hey, looks like that guy over there found one. Hey, you bastards, you gotta give us a share of that..."       And so on...
      And they were now as numerous as ants, these people crawling around in the flower garden, looking for anything precious in hopes of scrounging a bit of security.
      Hinh suddenly noticed the noise of the crowd and, startled, looked around at them. Why, there was the world, swarming all about him. In just one moment, he would possess the world. Fulfilled and serene, his eyes welled up with tears of bliss and...Hinh went home.
      But the crowd continued on, like a torrent of water in a stream which never runs dry. Those who came first were the first to give up in despair and go home, those who came later, despaired and went home later. They had no Idea what this "This" was that they were looking for, but still they hoped. A full stomach, a warm matter that it was a nebulous future possibility, it was still alluring enough that they poured after it like a stream of water...
      Then evening.
      And still the multitude pushed and jostled in the midst of the flower garden called Spring.

Hanoi- 1992 When this story appeared in Vannghe (a journal of the VN Writers Association) the author was investigated by "the party," lost his job, Vanghe no27 was confiscated, and he was prohibited to write for five years. He was branded "anti-party." Note: Hinh character - Hinh is include H and inh -- Ho chi minh = -o chi m-.