When my aunt fell ill and no medicine could help, a séance was held. It was believed that she was possessed by a spirit. She didn't understand what this had to do with the tumor in her stomach, but because she was so desperate, she agreed to anything. A medium was ordered who was supposed to be the best in Hà Nam.
It happened one night. I remember how scared I was. There was a large bowl of water, many incense sticks, and a long, strange chant by the medium. It was said that my aunt's late husband was present. I don't remember what he said.
After the séance, homeopathy was tried. I can still see my mother telling my grandmother that it wouldn't help and that they were just trying to pull the wool over my aunt's eyes. My grandmother replied: "She wants to live. Can you blame her?"
My aunt died anyway. A few days before she was too weak to get out of bed, she asked my mother to send me to her. I refused first because the sight of her frightened me. I still feel guilty because I could hardly wait to leave. I only stayed until I had finished combing her hair, as she had requested. We didn't speak.
Then one night my cousin knocked on the door and told my mother that she had died. I lay still and pretended to be asleep. The next day I went to school as if nothing had happened. I did not attend her wake or her funeral.
When I think of her, I can't help but think of the last time we met. She was sitting on a wooden chair with a big belly. Her skin was chalky and dry, her hair oily. And her face. Her face was all skin and bones, like she hadn't eaten in weeks. Maybe she hadn't eaten in weeks. As an eleven-year-old, I had tried to suppress that thought, along with the belief that she had died only because she couldn't bribe the doctors. They were waiting for bribes, and since she had no money, they let her die. I'll probably never know if that was true.
Sometimes I imagine her coming out of the door of her house in her pink blouse and making her way to us. It was only a few steps. Our houses were only separated by a few steps and a fence. Before she got sick, she was with us every day. She was outgoing and always had the most to say. Although her life was never easy, she loved to make people laugh. And how she made us laugh!
As time goes by, my memories of her fade, and as life goes in only one direction, I know that I am growing more distant from her with each passing day. Back then, when I combed her hair, it all felt like a memory.