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Her Schedule on Saturday

Imagine that on the weekend a splinter flies into your eye and you have to see the doctor.

You are in danger of losing an eye. You will, of course, be able to see with the other eye. But, aesthetically, it won’t be so attractive. As a man, you can accept that condition more easily than a woman.

That was the reason my wife was so sad this morning.

“I’ll have to use a glass eye my whole life,” she moaned.

Imagine that on the weekend you have a strange object inserted into your body: a glass eye. At first, you stare as usual with your two eyes, but then you suddenly find that you can not see out of one of them. To be clearer, you no longer have two visual choices.

This will make you understand why my wife was depressed on Saturday morning. She couldn’t accept her glass eye. She feared one day another splinter would pierce her other visual choice and so she would have no choice left at all.

On the weekend, surrounded by the dusty city, you will drop into a sculptor’s studio in order to make a marble bust which will be placed in your home garden. All beauty must be preserved whenever possible. In many modern, liberal countries, people may even take nude photographs to memorialize their youth. Now keep imagining. You go to a studio and meet a strange man, a photographer. He will ask you to take off your clothes. He will approach you, ask you to sit like this, and lie like that and he will focus the camera from every corner, zoom in and out and make everything extremely clear. And finally, you will have a photo of your youth taken from just the right angle. This thought will allow you to understand that to carve out a face from marble is reasonable and modest and fits suitably with East Asian traditions of wisdom.

So now you understand why my wife had come to the studio of Vy. Vy is a popular artist, well-known for his ability to snatch one’s spirit in a blink. My wife was sitting here and Vy sitting there, opposite each other, with a marble block in between. Thrice a week, two hours each session, I took her to the studio on my motorbike. Vy took out a big chisel and thud, thud thud, he pounded away. And then came the Saturday when a splinter separated suddenly from my wife’s marble face flew to her real face and pierced her eye.

What a bad Saturday! The bust had not been completed. She covered her eye with her hand, blood running through her fingers. In this way, the spirit of her beauty ended. She repented. If only she hadn’t had the notion to immortalize her youth.

So on the weekend, you log onto the internet to chat. Nowadays, such communication is meant to bring us closer together. But instead, we have more solitude and live further apart. We go on the internet and manipulate some words and then send them out as a conversation. What do we know about the other side of the world? Are the faces of the people there happy or sad? Are their noses aquiline or broad? We don’t know anything. For instance, on Saturday, you type: “What can I do for fun today, please, please... tell me!” After you have sent it, simultaneously a hundred people respond, you wait and then read the directions of these invisible people, one by one. You select the one which is the most interesting and makes you happiest. Finally, you’d be able to find something you like: “Meet sculptor Vy and hire him to carve your bust. In three weeks it will be yours to enjoy. Later, if you get bored, you’ll at least be able to remember seeing an ugly artist at work.”

That is why on Saturday, my wife from Saigon left the rest of her crowd and all her trivial concerns behind and went up to Thu Duc district, into a dusty, suffocating hot studio, met a hairy and bearded Vy, and got a marble splinter in her eye.

“The doctor is insane,” she shouted, “he said that even though the splinter is in this eye it may have a negative effect on the other!” She burst into tears. She’d been told she needs to return and be scanned to allow for a more thorough examination.

So your picture will be taken, but not for a portrait. Instead, you’ll be scanned through your cerebral-cortex. And the splinter will be examined and evaluated as to its relations to a certain nerve and your other eye. At last, they will get a true picture of the level of danger you are in. You will moan continuously until sundown that they have not told you the truth. The kind of truth known only among doctors, who lie because they don’t believe that you are stable enough to deal with bad news.

“Poor me. If only that day I had read and listened to email number 74, I would have avoided the splinter. But I was stupid and followed email number 75.”

The 74th email had said: “Go to X Mart, fifth floor, where you will find many beautiful things and the hope of happiness.”

What’s that? Only when you ask yourself this question will you understand why I had to go to X Mart on Saturday when my wife was in the hospital getting X-rayed and the doctors were in their conspiracy against the truth. The X Mart was too crowded that day and one had to slip through all the women looking for a weekend mystery. They all brought enormous baskets and could not imagine that in this world, at that very moment, billions of people were entering marts at the same time and with the same questions in their mind: what to buy? What unique treasure would they find? They might also have gotten an email advising them to go upstairs to the fifth floor. What is available there? Nothing. Just a garish optics shop. Damn it. You had to come seven kilometers while your wife was in the hospital just to admire that spectacular scene—a gaudy kiosk of glasses?

When you are about to leave, you hear a soft voice: “I know you. Hehehe. You forgot me, didn’t you?” It is the soft and sweet voice of a female shopkeeper. “Have you come for glasses? Here’s a pair suitable to you. Take a look.”

“No, I don’t want glasses.”

But the girl looks down at the glass counter. When she straightens up, suddenly a pair of glasses is being pushed near your eyes.

“You see, perfect,” she says, holding a mirror up to your face.

“Why don’t I remember you?” you ask.

“You don’t remember anybody,” she says coquettishly. “What do you think about these glasses?”

“They’re rather nice.”

“Then be the first sale of the day for me. All-day I haven’t managed to sell anything. I shouldn’t have called you here, but I suddenly remembered that I owed you something and I have to return it.”

“What do you mean?”

“Shall I wrap these up? Think it over; it was three years ago, in District 7. Here you are. Is the wrapping nice?"

“It’s OK. But how can I remember?”

“So it goes,” the girl says sulkily, “Then I suppose I won’t be able to pay what I owe you. Just assume that I welched on it.”

Yes, just assume she welched on her debt. But how could it be true that you got to know such a pretty girl and then forgot her? It’s Saturday, your wife is in the hospital with a marble splinter in her eye, and you make your way to this silly market, climb upstairs to the fifth floor, worm your way through a flock of women, and buy a pair of colorful glasses for your wife, even though you know she won’t be able to wear them now.

Your wife will scream: “It would have been much better if I had followed the advice in email number 4.

Would you want to follow the 4th advice? Probably not.

Fitted with your artificial eye, you will, once you stand before the mirror, comprehend that human beings have limitations. They try to imitate the truth, but no imitation can take the place of your eyes. You don’t want to look at yourself anymore. You will go back to sculptor Vy, shower curses on him. You ask your husband to accompany you. Beat him up, you tell your husband, he has caused this. And if you are her husband, you have only one of two choices: to beat or not to beat that sculptor. If you don’t beat, you’ll have to spend more depressing days and months continually forced to answer the questions: Why won’t you sacrifice yourself for me? Don’t you love me?

That is the reason on Saturday, you were struck with a marble chisel, your body twisted in painful humiliation, you ran for life from the studio of the sculptor named Vy. There, a barrel of plaster threatened you horribly and you knew that if you fell into it you wouldn’t be able to breathe anymore. Your body would be stiff as if you’d been molded in a cast. There are many kinds of artists and you should not think that they are weak and sick just because they think too much. Some are big and strong as a blacksmith. So you will come to understand that one should not provoke a sculptor, especially an expert in marble.

Today is Friday, and you don’t know what to do. Do you want to surf the web and send a sad message to everybody: “What to do for fun today, please please, please tell me?” My advice to you is to stop it. Are you sure that next Saturday you’ll fight with a marble sculptor, drag yourself seven kilometers to cram yourself in with women on the fifth floor of the X Mart to buy sun-glasses? And when you leave, will you wonder why you have forgotten a pretty girl from your past? Or will you suddenly realize that your life is flowing without form and some splinters will fly to your eyes and you’ll hate Saturdays? But it’s not certain to be only on Saturday. What if the splinters fly on Wednesday, Thursday or Sunday? You can’t hate the whole week.

However, you should remember the most important thing, which you may forget when you are fighting: go to Thu Duc district to get the bust. It belongs to you. Your wife paid for it. A bit extravagantly. Remember to ask two big sturdy boys to accompany you there. That’s your life...

Nguyen Ngoc Thuan was born in 1972 in Ham Tan, Binh Thuan province. He is at present the lay-out artist of Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper in Ho Chi Minh city. He has been awarded many literary contest prizes including the Sweden Peter Pan Prize for a children's book. His published books include Opening the Window with His eyes Closed, A Story of Dreaming, Herding the Angels on the High Hill, The Fantastic Spider and So was Born etc.

This version of the story originally appeared in the bi-lingual short story collection A Rainy Night in the City (Hanoi Publishing House) co-edited by Hồ Anh Thái and Paul Christiansen.