Di Li – The Ghost

Di Li LE P&W September 2023

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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing September 2023

The Ghost, short story by Di Li.

Translated from Vietnamese by Lưu Anh Tuấn.

Special thanks to Nguyen Thuy Hoa (Ms), Director, International Cooperation Department,
The Voice of Vietnam, Hanoi- Vietnam, for making this happen.

The ghost photograph by Mark Ulyseas
The ghost photograph by Mark Ulyseas

The ghost

I woke with a shiver and found myself at a crossroad on a ruined street corner, no one in sight. The rain fell heavily on the bitumen road; it also drenched the leaves on the old trees along the roadside. To my left, a riverbank, one side dark, perhaps because of the dense vegetation. On my right, a short row of low-rise old and dilapidated buildings. Looking around, I figured I might have been in an old and poor provincial town. The long riverside street I was standing on was just as abandoned, somewhat a dead city. The raindrops hit my head and neck, and the occasional flash of lightning made me see more clearly the dreary scenery where I stood. It looked like it should have been thundering as well, but I didn’t hear any thunder. I suddenly realized that since I been on this street, I had not heard a sound, not even the sound of the rain that should have been loud and noisy, the sound of leaves that were probably struggling under the storm. It was as if I had lost my hearing, or fallen into a giant vacuum.

Just as the lightning flashed again, I suddenly saw a moving object in the distance. It was moving slowly along the riverbank, heading towards me; It was a cyclo. I waited for it to come close and saw the rider was pedalling very slowly and it felt like centuries before it got close to me. I wanted to ask the rider where I was as on this rainy night as last I knew I was curled up in a bed that smelled of bleach. Had someone drugged and kidnapped me and brought me here?

The cyclo driver was thin, wearing old-fashioned clothes like a century ago, his head sullenly tilted to one side, like a depressed man who no longer wanted to live and didn’t care about his surroundings. However, even though I stood in the middle of the crossroad, naked under the pouring rain, he didn’t even notice it. Even more strangely, he just kept driving the vehicle straight towards me without attempting to move out the way, as if I were invisible. Even so, I stood there not moving to see what he was going to do. I got a shock when he languidly turned the wheel of the cyclo which made him seemingly come rushing straight at me. Confusedly and even more shocking was that a second later I saw him behind me and saw the rider continue his weary peddling. He… was… he passed right through me. He… didn’t… see me. So… am I dead? Did I turn into a spirit? Only the dead cannot be seen by the living.

I collapsed to the ground, screaming in panic, bending over and crying. Tears mixing with the rain. Never in my life had I felt so alone, so desperate and so bitter. I wish this was a nightmare, and when I woke up I would be as overjoyed as ever. But this drizzling rain, this murky street is reality, not an illusion, even this very rough old asphalt surface. I kept kneeling in the middle of the crossroads like that, until I thought I should go find somewhere warmer. Even if I was only a ghost, I still needed a place to warm up, even more so than when I was alive.

I walked towards the verandah of a house. It had a roof made of tin and so the rain should have been pounding loudly on the roof, but I didn’t hear a sound. The door to the house was closed. I tried banging on the door, but my deafness told me that even the landlord couldn’t hear me calling. Now I found myself still wearing the nightgown from the night before. The white silk dress was a bit frayed with a lace trim. It was thin and only had two tiny straps hanging from its shoulders. I was horrified to see that the dress, my hair and body were all still dry. I couldn’t even get wet like a normal person. The rain continued to fall and showed no sign of stopping. If only I could know what time it was. Normally, I wore a watch on my wrist. It had been an inseparable item since I was 16 years old, from the time I bought my first wristwatch, until I had collected nearly a hundred more. I was almost obsessed with time, constantly wanting to know what time it was, and needing to be precise to the minute, until my brain also had the power of a clock. Without looking at the minute hand, I could tell what it was reading, whether it was in the middle of a merry-go-round, waking up in the middle of the night, or alerted after an unfinished business. But now, I cannot guess, not even an approximation.

Last night I had gone to bed late after an argument on the phone. The content of the argument had driven me crazy and I needed cold water on myself to cool down. I took off my watch before taking a shower, I forgot to put my watch back on. I shouldn’t have forgotten such an important item. In my entire life I have never left my watch off for even half a second, but when I die I seemed to have forget it. The thought of not being able to tell the exact time in this gloomy world made me panic. The cold water of the shower or maybe the unwanted phone call made it difficult to sleep. I tossed and turned until two a.m. or more, until I was lost in thoughts that had no beginning and no end. Maybe I had had a stroke in bed right after falling asleep, or after a sleep just deep enough to make my body’s defenses weak. If so, it must have been around 5 am.

However, I saw no sign of dawn, even though I sat motionless on the porch for a long time to reorganize everything. Maybe I should go find someone. I walked barefoot out into the rain, along the river and through narrow streets. The rain began to subside and I was delighted to see signs of life. A woman in her fifties, wearing a floral dress, with an ugly face, was carrying a basket of vegetables in front of the house and talking endlessly to herself. I hurriedly walked closer, but didn’t hear a word. Her posture was crumpled and twisted. Even if I wasn’t hopelessly alone in this demonic world, I still probably would not have spoken to this lady.

I went back to the main road, maybe when the dawn came, my luck would come, I would find someone to see me and hear me. How was it possible that in this crowded world, no one could see me? I was stunned when I realized that the river had disappeared, replaced by a modern city silent in the night. I was standing on the sidewalk of a long street close to a shop that was open, but there was no one in sight. This place was not like the place I was in, or maybe it was another provincial capital, I was not sure. Strange street names didn’t evoke any memories. But why was I here? Where did the river go? maybe I’m not dead yet, maybe this is just a nightmare. Only in a dream can the scenes be this virtual.

I walked along the streets, like a ghost town, with the doors wide open, the goods neatly displayed, the food and drink but no one using it. No seller, no buyer. No sound, nothing moving but a dog I met earlier. It is a dirty yellow dog that people often kill. Seeing me, it growled fiercely, its eyes wide with hostility and fear; I was equally terrified. Then even though I kept backing away, backing into a nearby shop, the dog backed away with its tail between its legs, as if it had just seen a ghost.

After turning into a small alley, I met a second person. It was a man who looked like a bricklayer, dressed in workman’s clothes, he was laughing and babbling to himself. I had no intention of starting a conversation with him, nor did I expect him to see me. I walked around to the other side of the road, stepping on dirty puddles and rough broken bricks, trying to avoid some dog shit and shattered glass. I went into a shoe store and picked up a nice pair of sandals from the shelf. But it’s strange that it’s as if it’s sealed in place, or if it weighs a thousand pounds, I can’t lift it. I took a lighter pair, even tried holding the tiny bill on the cashier counter, but in the same way, everything around seemed to have turned to stone. I surrender. So far, my feet haven’t been painful or dirty, even though I’ve stepped on rough ground many times thus far.

I encountered a third person, a young woman whose width was almost the same length. She was scooping broth into a bowl. She……also babbled alone in the dark, smiling awkwardly as if there was a large crowd of people in front of her. An instant thought that made me realize that not all of these people, including the first woman I met on a small riverside street, were talking to themselves. They were all communicating with someone, it’s just that I didn’t see the others. That is to say, this city, is full of people. They live, they work, they breathe, they talk, they laugh, they eat, they excrete, they walk, but I don’t see them. I only see certain people, perhaps because of some unknown mystery, but they don’t see me either. The only creature that recognized me was the wild dog I saw earlier. This girl seems like a shopkeeper, fidgeting around the steaming pot of broth that should have been fragrant. But I couldn’t smell anything, even though I almost stuck my nose in the middle of the pot. No smell, no taste, no heat.

I had lost both my sense of smell and taste, I put spice on my tongue, nothing. All that remained was my miserable vision, which was like seeing the world through a negative film. Based on what she was doing; I knew it was late morning. But I’m in a world without sun. Or rather, other people who are still alive see the sun filling every street corner. It is only me that cannot. I am no longer human. I have turned into a ghost, wandering without shoes and decent clothes. This thought paralyzes me.

I just sat there in front of the counter, I don’t know how long. It may have been the end of the day, because I saw that chubby woman moving her arms and legs without stopping for a minute, but now sitting leisurely in front of the wall-mounted television, I noticed that its image was just blurry, much like last centuries static interference on a radio. Even so, she still watched intently. I discovered another quandary about this world. I can’t see anything moving. No cars or motorbikes on the road. Not a single bird. Even the television wouldn’t let me see what it was showing. I’m lonely to the end.

The shopkeeper seemed to be bored with the television and got up to do something. Her face scowled at an invisible person in front of her. She’s burning paper money, lots of red and blue paper, clothes and cardboard boxes of lipstick. Maybe today is the full moon day, I’m not sure. But if only she knew that I couldn’t wear the ashes she just turned on the sidewalk, nor spend the banknotes now mixed with the dust on the sidewalk. If only I could tell her. There are things that only when we die then we can understand the secret behind it. At that moment, I was attracted to something else moving down the street. Unable to wait any longer, I hurriedly walked closer. This time it’s a girl. Even in the afterlife, I have never seen anyone so beautiful, except for the stars advertised on TV that I’m sure they had plastic surgery and relied on the witch’s hand of a makeup artist to improve beauty up to ninety percent. The girl was wearing a simple pair of pants, which, since my vision was always in the dark, I could not determine exactly what color it was, be it brown, or dark blue, or gray. The office-style white shirt and small computer bag indicated she had just come home from work. The neat high hair bun showed off the whole pretty face with thin eyebrows, delicate nose bridge and lips as soft as a rose petal.

She seemed to be having a lot of fun. Every now and then, the corners of her lips pursed to suppress a smile. Looking at those bright eyes, I knew this person was happy. Perhaps she was in love and the date caused her to return home just now. Curious, I followed the girl. She turned into a nearby alley and ducked into the depths of an old building then climbed the old wooden stairs in soundless high heels, finally opening the door that led into an apartment. This building has many apartments on the same floor. Perhaps it was once owned by the French or a great bourgeois national, before being redistributed by the government to the householders in which, after many generations changed of ownership, until it came to this girl. The atmosphere inside the house was cozy, although the light was always as dark as my eyesight had been accustomed to since falling into this parallel world. The apartment has one bedroom with a lovely flower bed, a tiny living room with a kitchen and a wooden framed window that overlooks the building’s backyard. I sat on the salon and even stretched out on it. Knees on the embroidered flower headrest.

This house can’t be compared to where I live, which is now as far away as is my previous life. It’s a luxury duplex in a luxury apartment complex. A few months before we got married, I hired someone to design it like a space from a sci-fi movie, with a white living room and an all-white stone kitchen. The only furniture is a gray sofa with a 105-inch TV, alone worth the price of a small apartment, making my place more like a cinema. My husband didn’t like it. He said that even the bedroom is so cold, the love between husband and wife can only go down. I shrugged without saying anything, a shrug of authority. He sighed and had to leave his familiar apartment to move into my “cinema”. After all, I had never been married and he was the experimental character for that marriage.

The owner of the house took off her clothes, walked barefoot into the bathroom and flushed. Every gesture was without a sound. From the sofa, I looked at her like I was watching a silent movie. Two round breasts swayed over her small waist before expanding into a soft curve. Long slender legs glistening with water. She is even more beautiful than on the street. More importantly, she is a likable person. I feel that very clearly. I decided to stay in this house. Anyway, I have nowhere else to go. My newfound shelter made me feel less alone. I will live with her.

The girl dried herself and put on a thin silk kimono, and then sat on the salon, also sitting on my feet. But strangely enough, I didn’t feel her weight, only vaguely felt the cool silk and her strong buttocks touching me. But I’m not so sure, maybe I just thought that I felt it, maybe it was not a real feeling at all. I quickly pulled my foot back and curiously peered at the screen of the phone she was glued to with the same rosy smile as the moment I first saw her. She’s in love. I know that. I see on her voicemail an avatar of a handsome man in a plaid suit with shiny hair. She typed repeatedly, possibly laughing out loud. Now I realized one more thing that I can no longer read the words clearly. From the moment I came to this world, my eyes are like that of a shortsighted person, seeing only everything in the distance, but close is not so clear, so the words have become blurred. Even so, I know the words on the screen are getting sexual and seeking to want passionate lovemaking. In an instant, her eyes darkened, her smile faded, and the corners of her lips drooped sulkily. It looks like the man in the photo had abruptly ended the conversation. She threw the phone on my lap and left the room. The door slammed shut.

Now I’m left alone in the salon, I would like to sleep from now on but I did not feel sleepy, even though maybe two days and nights have passed. Maybe souls never need sleep. That’s what I wished for in the afterlife. Never have to sleep but can still live and work as hard as a robot. Before our last sleep, we had a heated argument on the phone. I was tired of saying “I need to sleep, I have an important meeting tomorrow morning and the whole company is counting on me to win this bid. You’re not really polite. You too, need to sleep.” “You know well that after hanging up the phone, neither you nor I can sleep. So what’s the point of trying to sleep, what we’re talking about is more important than sleep tonight. Did you forget that we’ll all sleep forever!” You don’t know that I can’t even sleep now, even there’s nothing to do.

There are things we can only know after we are dead.

 Now he’s regretting it, I guess. He will be deeply saddened by the body of his wife in the hotel bed that the room manager discovers and then tries to contact the customer’s next of kin. Maybe the entire board of partners and colleagues waited forever to see me and went to find me, then panicked to find that I was lying face down on the pillow in a familiar sleeping position, long black hair on the white sheets like in a horror movie. Even after I’m dead, I still can’t get over my anger and delight in picturing my husband’s desperate face.

He will hug my cold body and spend the rest of his life tormented by accidentally cursing me to sleep forever. “Love is about making sacrifices and putting the interests of the one you love first. It turns out you only love yourself,” I yelled over the phone, hoping the soundproof walls of the five-star hotel were thick enough not to disturb the neighbors in the middle of the night. “I have yielded to you all these years, don’t you see. My work, my career, my sleep, over the years you have been quiet and quiet like a shadow. Today is our anniversary, you were left in this cold cinema, not even a message.”

If only he knew that I hadn’t eaten a grain of rice all night. I just drank water to hold my breath and fiddled with the documents that still had some incomplete points. If the bidding is successful, we will go on vacation together for a week in the Maldives, then I will have a full seven days to scold you, okay? But why should I explain and comfort a person who does not understand and sympathize with his wife. I was bored and hung up the phone right after the word “What if…”. If he hadn’t pushed me so hard that at 2am I’m still burning with anger like sitting in a furnace, I wouldn’t have had the stroke. If in the afternoon I tried to leave work for exactly 15 minutes to send him a sweet text message for two years of marriage and eat bread to fill my stomach, perhaps my cardiovascular system would have worked better. If I decline this trip and mission, my account would still have enough money to buy two more apartments, and adding an achievement won’t make my career brighter, as it already has full of lights and sparkle.

Now my body has fallen to a strange place and my soul is wandering somewhere until now I do not know. I am now on the salon in the narrow room of an unfamiliar girl.

The girl has woken up or pretended she hadn’t slept. I see the shadows of her eyes as dark as the eternal night outside the window. Messy hair covered a sad face. I sat on the salon all night, then got up, wandered around the room, looked at the owner’s neat little kitchen, and then lay down again. She was struggling as much as I was, pacing aimlessly, her gaze uncertain like a ghost. Then, finally, she changed her clothes, tied her hair and put on a little makeup to go to work, again leaving me in the lonely house. Left alone, I began to look at the girl’s belongings. The bedroom was neat, everything was tucked away in the closet so I could only observe what was left. Lots of books and music on the shelf, a blooming rose pot, a computer, a table lamp, a cup of half-drunk coffee, a picture in a frame; taken from an unknown location, only the blue sky and in the middle of the picture is the female owner hugging the neck of the man I saw yesterday on the phone screen. They are deeply in love, why is she so sad, maybe they are arguing.

I looked at the two handbags hanging on hooks. They are cheap fake leather, simple but elegant. I remember the huge glass case in the dressing room, with dozens of rare edition bags by top designers. If only I could bring them here. If, before I die, I wear the outfit I just bought from a fashion week, put on a three-carat diamond ring, and carry the most expensive bag to bed, I wouldn’t be in my shape nailed forever in this old garment. But I used to like the silk dress I’m wearing, it’s loose, light, and comfortable. Where did I find it? Apparently my husband brought it back on a business trip, many years ago, when we were still in love, and it seems that his eyes were drooping when he saw that I didn’t even glance at the dress, like all of his gifts were appreciated profusely with an expressionless face, before stowing them in a corner of the closet, except for this dress. Now everything is in vain, no one has any need to see a ghost dressing up. Besides, no one can see me.

The girl has a big mirror in the room. I stood in front of the mirror, but the glass only reflected the opposite bookshelf, with absolutely no image of me in it. I can’t even see myself anymore. I fell to my knees, completely broken. For the first time, I desperately wanted an embrace, from him, from my mother or even from friends. I don’t remember when I last called my mum, and had a cup of coffee with my best girlfriend, maybe a few years or so. I never had enough time, not even time, just to think about them. However, now my time is endless, and infinite.

The girl has returned, I only realized the presence of the host when she dropped onto the salon with a lifeless appearance. All that night and the following day, maybe Saturday, and the day after that, she played the role of a ghost as she didn’t eat or sleep, not even move. As for me, I imitated a living person by sitting next to her, trying to push back the hair that covered her trembling shoulders but couldn’t. Now I can’t even do the simplest things.

For what might have been a week, she lived like that, leaving the house with a melancholy face and returning with despairing eyes. Sometimes she looked at the phone screen as if waiting for something, then sighed. Then one time, she also got out of bed to open the refrigerator. That’s right, if she refuses to eat anything but cookies, she will turn into a shadow just like me. She turned on the gas stove and leaned over the items on the shelf, immediately her long hair fell into the flames. I let out a scream of terror and hurriedly shoved her hair out of the flames. This time something strange happened, her hair completely obeyed my will, being pushed aside by the force of my hand. The girl turned around in surprise, staring into my eyes. But she clearly saw nothing, otherwise, she may have fainted from fear. She looked puzzled and continued her work. I was equally surprised to see my hand in a strange way. I tried touching, holding, lifting, pushing every object, even the lightest things, they were as heavy as if they were cast in lead and fastened to the tabletop. My body has turned into air, or maybe, I am existing because of thoughts, and all the body images I see these are just memories that have finally been attached to the brain image.

Then one day, I saw him. The man in the picture frame has arrived, ending the girl’s series of days of depression. I was stunned when I saw the visitor, for nothing but the fact that for the first time since falling into this world, I could witness both of them conversing at the same time. I guess that the people I see have a special energy field that matches their existing electric waves. He burst into the house and they entwined. They gasped, whispered in a hurry, quickly took off their clothes and threw them at the entrance. I have never seen this scene before, except on the TV screen of course. The girl, contrary to her usual gentleness, elegance and weakness, suddenly became passionate and even violent. He carried his lover into the room, naked and wild. I lay in the salon again, my only job every day. Fortunately, I have completely lost my hearing. I can’t remember the exact time we last made love. Probably very little, because after a stressful day at work, I often return to the apartment exhausted, and when I dived deep into my husband’s gentle caress, I become more and more dim to the point that I want to fall asleep right away without saying a word of comfort. The next morning, I would frantically change clothes to go to work, trying to avoid the bewildered eyes of the other person. I always don’t have enough time, even for a quick love-making.

This man probably also took advantage. He seemed to finish very quickly and showed up at the bedroom door in the same neat, clean clothes as when he first arrived. However, his face had become irritated, in contrast to the sweet and passionate expression from before. They were arguing again, after a hot hurricane on a bed of blue flower sheets. The girl’s eyes glittered like rain, and in an instant her cheeks were covered in tears. Her messy hair was also soaked by the sweat. I tried to read their mouths, and began to guess half of the story. I thought, my beautiful friend, you are wasting your youth and sunshine. Let him go, and be gone forever. I stood in front of them, like a mediator, or even a judge. But he ignored my angry expression and the corners of his lips showed no emotion to the girl’s sadness. In his eyes, we are both invisible. The man went straight to the door, and I followed, unconsciously. I want to know who he is, to make my dear friend suffer like this. Oh yes, she is my only friend in this world. Apart from her, I have no one else.

The man got into his car. I also hurried in and sat down in the front seat. After an initial few minutes of grimacing, perhaps an afterthought of the last argument, he quickly regained his composure, even whistling. The driver drove very slowly, braking hard, as if the road was congested, and then stopped for a long time in front of a house in a large alley. The door opened automatically, or someone else was opening it. The convex mirror inlaid above the recessed door stared helplessly at the stranger. The man drove the car into the yard, got out and stretched in the space in front of him, bent down to place a kiss and said a few words to the thin air, then crouched even lower, almost kneeling on the window-sill of the living room for a second kiss, in the sweetest way I’d seen. I looked closer, the thin air was a baby, maybe a girl, I guessed, and immediately saw a photo of the whole family in the picture frame on the piano: The man was putting his arm around the shoulder of another young beautiful woman and in the middle was a little girl about five years old as pretty as her mother. I quickly backed out before the gate could close. I crept out into the alley, sad as if I had been betrayed. There are things we can only see when we’re dead, or if invisible like I am now.

I stood blankly on the sidewalk of an unfamiliar street, and gradually panicked when I realized a reality I had never thought of: I had absolutely no idea where I was. I am lost. In my old world, getting lost was normal. If I got lost, I asked for directions, use my phone to ask for help or, most conveniently, search on an electronic map. But now, I can’t do that. I was going to head back to the other man’s mansion, wait to follow him, and then one day he would come back to meet the girl. I could again find my new home. At that moment, I saw her, exhausted, confused, disoriented, walking into the alley. I almost wouldn’t recognize you if the street became busier. But since I probably don’t know anyone anymore, I know for sure that the person walking around like a shadow, with an expression of defeat and loss of consciousness, is indeed my lovely friend. The girl stopped in front of the closed gate, overgrown with bougainvillea, which would be beautiful in the sunlight. She dialed the phone, and waited desperately for it, then texted frantically and continued to wait helplessly for a response.

I sat down next to her on the sidewalk, completely frustrated. He won’t come out, and she won’t leave him, what’s the point of finding him, because he was never hers. She is just losing herself. Look at her, from an angel striding proudly on the sidewalk, she now transforms herself into someone else’s shadow. No one in the world needs shadows. I also became desperate because all my words couldn’t make a sound. Or maybe, my counsel is being drowned out by thunder. I guess so, because at the same time there were intense flashes of lightning in the sky and heavy drops of water that quickly turned the alley into a small river. The water was pouring down on our heads. The man on the second floor, waiting for that, quickly slammed all the windows to prevent storm water from entering his house. My friend started crying, or maybe she’s been crying continuously since the fight at home. Maybe she hadn’t stopped crying since the beginning of this miserable affair. She hunched over and cried, letting the rain soak her shiny hair and the dirty water washing over her calves. The way she was crying, just like I was in the middle of a crossroad, in that moment of waking up from death. She was extremely lonely, and felt like she was dying. She died while still alive.

Like me, perhaps suddenly thinking that it was time to go find somewhere warmer, she waded out of the water, got up, and staggered to the end of the road. The storm was still raging and violently knocking the trees to the ground. It’s dangerous. You should find a place to stay. But I know that not even a living person can advise you now. No one, except that man. Suddenly, the thing I dreaded most happened. The wind twisted some branches that toppling everything in its path over, knocking the flower pots from the balconies of buildings. A black object fell straight at my friend’s head. I screamed in terror and raised my hand to brush away the giant flower pot. The strange thing happened again, my hand was under the command of my thoughts. The flower pot fell to the ground, only half a foot away from the girl’s wet feet. Something seemed to wake her up. She fixed her eyes on the broken potted plant and hurried off, with strides as long and beautiful as the first time I saw her, even in the midst of a storm.

Soon we were back home. Just as I was about to go up the stairs, I was startled by a figure looming in the dark blocking the road. A pale, mostly naked man, some dirty cloth wrapped around him. He looked lazily like a tramp by a river, but he didn’t seem threatening, he gave the image of melancholy; sad pathetically melancholy. But it was strange that the girl did not see him, she just kept walking and… passed through him. Neither did I, in my confusion, I never touched him on the narrow stairway, even though he stood in the middle of the lane. Something suddenly dawned in the murky darkness of the corridor of the old house. I suddenly remembered the cyclo rider at the river. They are just souls, just like me.



It was like for centuries; I didn’t see anyone talking to me. This stranger’s voice was eerie. It wasn’t sound, but like a frequency that was reaching my cerebral cortex with telegraph waves.

“Let me in the house.”

“Who are you? I asked again by tapping on the invisible telegram in the air.”

“I do not remember.”

“How long have you been dead?”

“I do not know. I just have no place to go.”

The girl went straight to the bathroom and didn’t bother to close the door. I stood across the door like a guard, raising my voice cold and hard as I did when I was alive.

“This is not your house. Go find another place.”

“But I have nowhere to go. I’m very lonely. I been wandering for a long time …”

The man started to sob and I slammed the door shut with my hand, before I had time to marvel at the force of my hands and before I could see the vagrant’s stammered frame “How did you… do… that?”. Perhaps the terrifying sound of the door had caused the girl to panic and run out in a naked state. She gaped, staring in horror at me, or rather at the door. She stood there for a long time, her hand resting on her round breast, under which perhaps her beating heart was pounding with astonishment. I wish she could see me. All souls are lonely, because we exist side by side in this world without being recognized. The reluctant stranger had probably not seen anyone for a long time. He was like a dead man floating on a river and his soul drifted to a strange land. I am not drifting; why am I being thrown to this strange place. It’s still a mystery I don’t know yet.

The stranger seemed to have left. I suddenly felt sorry for him, but I couldn’t invite him into the house anyway. This clean, cozy home is not a place for people like him.

I discovered something new, and full of excitement. That is when I concentrate my thoughts and energy, I can control things, even push heavy objects better than when I was alive. I started practicing every day, persistently and hard. At first I still used my hands, then I learned that even without touching the object, my brain waves could still make it move. Because after all, my hands are just an illusion, not a reality. When I was alive, I tried playing games at the physics museum during a trip abroad. My husband and I sat at either end of the glass table, on the table was a cotton ball, our temples had two electrodes attached. Our task was to focus our thoughts to push the cotton ball over there. EEG would be transmitted to the wire connecting the glass table to make the cotton ball move. All traveling couples tried and the men always won. The museum staff smiled and said that because men always focused better than women. In turn, the cotton ball was pushed back and forth a few times and then flew towards the opposite person, maybe a ghost hand was moving it. My husband lost. I smiled and stood up, satisfied. My ability to focus my brain was developed from an early age, or it has been so since I was born.

I started moving everything in the room, from dishes, towels, papers, clothes to buckets and tables and chairs. I can even turn on the light without using the switch. I usually wait until the host is away before I begin my training. Once, I moved the whole hostess’s desk mirror to the living room and forgot to put it back. She opened the door and entered the house and stared at the mirror in the wrong place, then it seemed that the whole evening became restless and insecure. I slightly regretted making my benefactor panic and told myself never to be so careless again. Based on the surprise of the uninvited guest the day before when I calmly pushed open the wooden door with my hand, and also my helplessness when I first fell into this world, I guess not all souls are able to do these things, just as it is not easy for every living person to meditate. It is a privileged power given to each person.

Ever since I had work to do, I’ve found my lengthy time series make more sense, though at times it’s terrifying to think of the prospect of being left in this place forever. That floating guy has probably been stuck in this dimension for centuries, so much so that he can’t remember when he died or who he was. I also started to slowly lose my memories. Even my mother’s face was blurred like a fog. I try to forget all my loved ones, more precisely, forget the pain they had to endure when they lost me. Never did I want to find them, even though it was impossible, as I didn’t even know where I was. I don’t want to add to the pain when my light soul is already heavy enough.

One evening the girl returned very late, in a drunken state and collapsed on the chair. Then she sobbed nonstop. I just realized today that she has aged ten years more, and her face was getting more and more worn out. If only she knew that happiness is like diamonds in a basket, and that she already has such a basket full, and then is thinking about throwing away every single day, just like me when I was alive. I sat next to her on the sofa, also suffering from my helplessness. She suddenly turned into a little girl who needed a hand to protect her because of the pitiful nature. Perhaps a soul should not have emotions, especially a soul with special abilities like me. In a thoughtless moment, all my energy poured into my fingers, I involuntarily parted her hair and wiped her tears, just like how my mother used to do when I was a child. Her bewildered eyes quickly became sober, then into panic, she frantically reached for the phone with trembling hands and began to talk while crying after the other line picked up. Looking at the girl’s face, I understood that my mistake just now made the extreme loneliness deteriorate like a chronic wound:

“I’m begging you, just come here for a few minutes. I’m so scared… I’m not drunk, I’m sane. This house has a ghost; I have to move.”


“It’s not that I’m haunted, it’s the house. I’m not crazy, I’m completely sane. Why do you always leave me when I need you the most…”

My reluctant victim dropped her phone and rushed out in her pajamas. She had almost gone mad. I felt great regret and was tormented to the point of despair. I did not have time to run after the girl, and now I do not want to chase. I was afraid that I would lose my way again, and then completely lose her. Besides, I’m not sure what more stupid thing I’ve done.

That night, she did not return home, nor the following night and the night after.

I don’t know where to find her. I stay here and wait. I did not dare to go to the street, even though I was tormented by the feeling of loneliness, even though I was restless from waiting and bored by hanging around in a narrow space for days and nights without distinction. It rained again that day. During the stormy season, the water rushed down the dark courtyard and was slanted by the wind like a swaying curtain. I didn’t know if it was day or night. If only this apartment had a balcony overlooking the street, I could have looked and observed more closely. I came up with an idea. I opened the door to the outside and climbed into the attic. Sure enough, there were no people on it, because it was just a renovated corrugated iron roof to cover the water tank leading to the terrace. From there, I easily climbed to the roof next door. I walked on the tiled roof like a feral cat without fear of slipping and falling. I know that now I can let go of the free fall unharmed. My soul will fly with the rain and gently land on the ground like a leaf. I chose a ledge that jutted out from the roof and sat on it, arms propped in front like a sphinx. The street scene stretched out before my eyes, desolate and lonely like a ghost town. In this dimension, it was truly a city of ghosts.

The road below was bleak in the dark. It could be midnight, I guessed, through the closed doors. High-rise buildings rose up black in the sky. Occasionally, a few flashes of lightning horizontally and vertically displaying the infinite supremacy and power of the universe. If only I had come up here on a clear day, I would have been able to see the sparkling beauty of the galaxy. Where do I come from, in the depths of nothingness? And then where am I going to stay like this? I gradually found myself as light as a raindrop, the diluted sadness melted and softened like a lake that had just absorbed a dose of painkiller. Maybe this was my real world, and the hurried life under the sun before was actually just a long dream, a beautiful dream. This pleasant feeling, I had never experienced, in either of the worlds. I sat still in the storm, watching the sadness of the city reflected in the sky. My mind drifted aimlessly. For the first time since I was born, I felt close to reaching peace.

The girl returned, along with the man. He helped her settle down, smile, feel happy and young again. She seemed to forget all the previous misery and afflictions, forgetting the ghost that was haunting the house. Except for the man in front of her, nothing else makes sense. He agreed to stay with her for a few days. He cooked for her, gently massaged his lover’s feet and poured sweet words into her ears with his caressing lips. The tragedy is here. If he was a total pervert, a total asshole, the girl would have easily eliminated that debt from her life. However, only once in a while is he a tyrant, for the rest, he’s a sweet and passionate guy. But it is those “occasions” when he is a tyrant does he make my girl die again and again.

They were laughing, eating, making jokes, and cuddling in front of me, like it was an endless honeymoon and their life was all about heaven and nothing else. Most of the time he stayed, I used to sit in my old position on the roof, especially when they were fast asleep and the night moon began to rise to cast silver glitter over the darkened trees. They continued their nostalgia like that, even after he left to return to his beautiful bougainvillea home. I feel secure when I see the girl feeling calmer each day and begin to focus more on work. But one day, the old tragedy repeats itself. They continued to quarrel fiercely and after lots of sleepless nights, after lengthy days of pretending to be a ghost, she sat on the bed, thin and wilted like the corn tree growing on the window long forgotten to be watered by the owner. Then, before I knew it, she’d emptied the entire load of pills down her throat and laid motionless on the bed. I frantically pushed the phone towards her and screamed in helplessness. The girl suddenly opened her eyes, stared at me and opened her mouth: Who are you?

She saw me. Overjoyed, I poured out a series of monologues, half scolding, half admonition, half pain, sympathy and fear. Not sure if she heard what I said, but it seemed like she didn’t move and was drifting towards death, back into my world. In a moment of helplessness and despair, I opened the door and ran into the street, I needed to find someone who could help. The world of the sun cannot lose her.

After a long period of time after the doorbell rang, the girl would leave the bed covered with blue flower sheets on a leisurely Sunday morning, the iridescent sunlight slanted through the louvers and reflected in speckled streaks on the wooden bars. She only had time to quickly put on a thin shirt to be polite and look at a strange visitor standing in the corridor in surprise.

“Sorry ma’am, maybe you think I’m having a mental problem or that I’m making up stories to scam you, but I’ve come to bring a message from a spirit that used to live in your house. She very much hopes that you’re still alive.”

The girl stared in astonishment at the woman in her elegant ivory duffel, her simple square-cut hair and face with almost no makeup other than a hint of pale brown lipstick. Then, as if awakened, she staggered back to leave the door wide open for the woman to enter the house. She walked towards the salon spontaneously without being invited to sit and smiled.

“Just as she described it, you are truly beautiful.”

“You’re… Where did you meet her?”

“On an island in the Mediterranean.”


I discovered my psychic abilities 25 years ago, when I was just over 10 years old. A few months ago, I went to the island on a trip and happened to see her sitting on a cliff off the beach, wearing only a nightgown. For those who have just acquired this ability, they often cannot distinguish people from parallel worlds because they look just like us. But from my experience, I immediately knew who she was and approached to start a conversation. She was surprised because I could see and hear her.

“But why on the island? – The owner of the house lost her voice and could barely stand.”

Spirits are inherently just a source of energy, some can dissipate immediately after leaving the body, others take time, and there are spirits trapped between two worlds for a long time, depending on the electric waves of each person when he or she was alive and how he or she died. Sudden deaths, especially young people, often leave the residues of their electric wave very abundant, since they have not been consumed and exhausted by disease and old age. But because of that, they can’t escape and are easily “blown away” like a leaf by other sources of cosmic electricity. Your lady had been moved like that three times. Each time she did not know where she was. The last time was when she ran outside to get help when you were trying to commit suicide. The spirits rarely leave their desired abode for this reason. They are afraid of losing their way, and are afraid of being unintentionally transported.

It’s not that I tried to commit suicide, but I committed suicide, and took a step into the afterlife, that’s why I saw her. – The girl whispered. – She saved my life, not just once. “It is only when you die that you know that death is not the end of all afflictions but only the beginning of more suffering.” She said so. “You have no idea how sad the world of spirits is. Then you will enter a gloomy, melancholy place where dawn never comes. You will be imprisoned in your own world. Your life under the sun is heaven, you are very happy, much happier than I am now.” She was about the same age as me, and I didn’t have time to ask why she died. But then she screamed to demand me to call an ambulance and I tried to lift the other hand back to dial the phone. Then I didn’t know anything, woke up to find myself in the hospital and my mother sitting next to me. But why did you find me?

Based on any information and description she provides. Fortunately, I used to live in the neighborhood as a child, but it took a long time and it was hard to find you. Normally I don’t waste time on such things but she was so earnest. Unfortunately, I was unable to inform her that you’re still alive and safe.

Now, I have almost forgotten all my memories. The busy and hectic life in the afterlife became blurred and speckled like an old videotape. Sometimes the images appeared in such intermittent streaks that I couldn’t piece them together into a complete story. Even my stay on the poor girl’s salon was as vague as a dream. I never expected to see her again in this world, no matter how much I loved her. There is also no chance for me to meet someone who can communicate like that woman with telepathic abilities. My vision is getting worse and worse, it is directly proportional to the memory that is sunken and emotionless.

I have been wandering on this beach for how long I don’t know? But I just found a clean paved gentle slope. Above are villas surrounded by wildflowers, and below are waves of the sea. The sky is full of stars tonight. The countless glitters attached to the giant dome form a mysterious and fanciful dimension. Instinctively I lay down on the asphalt, then rolled on the slope like a cobblestone. I heard the waves crashing, I felt the coolness under my body, I tasted both the salty taste of the sea breeze and the fragrant smell of rosemary. I found myself drifting through thoughts that had no beginning and no end, as if I were falling into a deep slumber.

In the last brief moment, I knew that I had returned to eternity.

I’m drifting deep into space.

© Di Li

Di Li, born in 1978, is the first crime-thriller novelist in Vietnam modern literature with the famous detective novel “Red Flower Farm” (The “Scarlet Hill” movie on Netflix of 177 countries based on this novel) and author of over 30 other books. The Yomiuri
Shimbun said about “Red Flower Farm”: “The high-circulation book has shown that Vietnamese readers were expecting a mystery-horror novel written by a Vietnamese author, not only by foreign authors”. She has two BAs, one in English and one in German language from Hanoi University, and an MA in Education Management from Hanoi National University of Education. She now works as a teacher of life skills at Hanoi Commerce and Tourism College. She also works in Public Relations and is the first author of PR books in Vietnam. Besides, she works as a free-lance columnist for several periodicals. She has been a member of the Vietnam Writers Association since 2010 and the Hanoi Writers Association since 2011. Di Li was awarded third prize in the Military Literature and Art Magazine Competition in 2006 for her two short stories, ‘My Mischievous Students’ and ‘Cocktail’ and third prize in the Literature Competition in 2010 organized by People Police Publishing House for ‘Red Flower Farm’.

Translated from Vietnamese by Lưu Anh Tuấn.

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