As a small child, I believed that the world consisted of only one road - the one we lived on. In my imagination, it always went straight ahead. In the middle was our house; I wanted to find the beginning and the end when I grew up.
After we moved out of my aunt's house, we lived in a tiny house. All we had was a bed and a small shelf. We couldn't put anything else in there. I remember there was always a brown plastic bottle of salt on the shelf. We couldn't afford a real door, so my mother used a metal plate as a door. I never asked her where she got it. On windy evenings, she would tell me legends and fairy tales. We sat in the light of the oil lamp and watched the shadows of our hands on the wall. On cold days we warmed ourselves by the fire, which we fed with hay. We drew pictures in the ashes on the floor, which carried our dreams into the deep night. I thought life would go on like this forever.
One year there were several floods in Vietnam. My mother was very worried about how to get me to safety if Hà Nam was also under water. I suggested that we crawl into the salt bottle and float. I thought that maybe we could reach the end of the world that way and later return to the beginning. My mother thought it was an excellent idea.
Then the tide really came in. The water that usually only surrounded our island now flooded the whole island. It came at night and it came quickly. When I woke up, the brown bottle was already floating in the house. My aunt Liệt came to our rescue and my mother was able to save the rice. It was the second time in my childhood that I saw the water trying to steal our precious possessions. When she went out with me on her shoulders, Hà Nam lay before me like a mass of water with floating houses. The sky and earth were similarly gray, and you could only guess where the horizon was. In this state, the world seemed infinite; at the same time, it was as if we had reached the end. At that moment, the end of my world was not a place, but a time. We seemed to have been washed to the end of time.
Then we sat in bed with my aunt and waited for it to pass. Because the floor was higher than ours, only the lower half of the furniture was under water. My cousin Quyết suggested that I learn to swim in the house, but we were forbidden to go out into the dirty water and away from the safety of the bed. Even after the flood, I had never learned to swim.
It took a while for everything to dry out. The vegetables in my aunt's garden were covered in mud. Garbage washed up here and there. The adults were trying to restore everything to its former state. We children were happy to be allowed to go out into the street. We were happy to feel solid ground under our feet again and to run fast and far like we used to. For a month we talked about the flood:
"Remember when we were only allowed to sit up in bed?"
"I thought the kindergarten was washed away and we would never have to go there again."
But with time it became just a memory. One day I will probably have forgotten a lot of it.