After Hương prepared and ate her rat poison omelet, she went to her mother and told her that two funerals had to be organized: One for her and one for her dream of becoming an actress. The night before, her mother had forbidden her to quit school and join the traveling theater. Meanwhile, her one-year-old brother sat on the floor eating detergent.
Hương's mother took her to the hospital on a motorbike. Before her stomach was pumped, she tried again to persuade her mother to let her go. Her mother promised to ground her. It was summer vacation.
When school started again, Hương was different. She talked less and wanted to be alone more often. One day I met her at the riverbank. She was sitting on the pier, scribbling in her little notebook. When Hương noticed me, she waved me over. It was noon. The water was golden. Hương described it as a rippling carpet of fireflies. "I bet it would look a thousand times better on TV," she said, beaming.
Shortly after her fifteenth birthday, Hương sent a short story to a teen magazine. She didn't tell anyone what it was about. She waited and waited, but there was no response or publication. She submitted more stories and poems, but to no avail.
Then she tried painting. I was allowed to see only one of her paintings: a landscape with blue sky, green grass and silver water. She painted very precisely. She used colors sparingly. Although the subject was not original, the painting did not remind me of any other. I knew she was painting the island where we lived. Ile Hà Nam as Hương saw it: boring and limited.
Since I was five years younger, I was never really Hương's friend, so she tended to discuss serious matters with my cousin or my mother. One night I overheard her telling my cousin that she wanted to run away from home.
"Where are you going? What about school?" my cousin asked worriedly.
"School won't help me. I'll never be good enough for university. And even if I did get in, my parents wouldn't give me any money. My brothers have much better grades than I do. They would rather support them financially.
"Then do something else," my cousin suggested.
"Like what? Get married and have kids? I'll never do that!"
No sooner said than done. In the morning, after her parents had left, she packed a small bag with clothes and food and set off on her bicycle. Before she even got on the ferry to leave Hà Nam, her father caught up with her. Someone had told him about the suspicious bag. He took his only daughter home. This time, instead of being grounded, she got new crayons.