The memory-eating virus

Saturday, 2017-12-02 17:21:41
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Illustration by Dao Quoc Huy
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The quarrels with my wife came about because of my refusal to see a doctor.

“Why do I have to go to hospital while I’m fine?”

She was convinced I was infected with a disease, perhaps a mental disorder.

At last, I reluctantly agreed to go still convinced I was right. As it turned out, I was diagnosed with a rare virus in the head. I was forced to stay in hospital after a long dispute with its GP on duty.

“This virus destroys your memories step by step, the simplest first, the deepest last,” he told me.

“Sounds like good news, I could do with forgetting about some trivial things,” I retorted.

“I’m afraid that day by day, you’ll forget your better half completely,” he whispered to me, smiling cheerfully.

* * *

My malady began to manifest itself when my wife opened our wedding album one day for us to look at. I never enjoyed when she did this. For me, the wedding was merely a formality. She forced me to squat down on the floor to have a look.

“Do you remember when we were on the stage?” she asked me. “Do you remember what you whispered to me? And when the wedding party was over, we stayed back for hours to open our presents?”

Although I could have easily answered‘yes’ or ‘no’, yet I just shook my head, without realising that I was upsetting her.

“I’m ill! Of course it’s hard for me to remember this stuff?” I said.

“Bollocks! You put these memories out of your mind so you could remember other things!”

She was. I forgot it all so I could remember my first encounter with my girlfriend.

I described our rendezvous on that rainy evening, fudging some of the details about her blouse and the music so my wife might think I was talking about her.

“None of the details you remember match my memories,” observed my wife. The poor woman had no clue they were memories about my girlfriend, not her. I had lied so she might think I cared about her enough to remember.

The virus had clearly entered my head and eaten part of my memories. The doctor prescribed special medicine, painkillers and daily chats with my wife to fight the illness.

“Only with efforts from the family and the clinic will he recover,” said the doctor after a careful examination.

Owing to her challenging job, my wife only visited me at meal times: morning, midday, afternoon and evening. She tried to combine the meals with our chats so that I might tell herabout her last visit and see if my memories were intact. I hardly ate any of the food she brought me.

At noon, when my wife left the hospital, my girlfriend came to see me. Accidentally, their appearances occurred alternatively, one after another. I ate my girlfriend’s food hungrily during our exciting talks which were never interrupted.

When my wife visited in the late afternoon, she would check to see if I had remembered what I had ate at breakfast. I told her I had eaten gruel with beef and spices and a few oranges. Opening her eyes wide, she stared at me with a pained look. I told her that at breakfast I had eaten everything. All my roommates burst into laughter after she had gone. My girlfriend had brought breakfast, not my wife.

“In addition to chatting about daily activities, you must talk to him as much as possible about memorable things, like raunchy things you two wild cats got up to back in the day”, the doctor told us one day. At first, my wife blushed all over, but then she followed the doctor’s advice, she would do anything to see me healed. I tried to play along without daring to look straight at her on the face, as when she talked dirty to me, I couldn’t get my girlfriend out of my head. She appeared before me in her short skirt, sitting on a rocking chair or strolling through a park.

Again, my wife didn’t know I was then talking about my other sweetheart. The poor thing even started to enjoy our randy chats, as we hadn’t spoken like that in a long time.

She kept on telling me romantic stories from when we were courting, like from a holiday on the beach or when we had gotten frisky on an uninhabited island, with only the stars and a few monkeys witnesses to our foul deeds.

Anyone listening to us may have gotten a tad excited, but it didn’t do much for me, laying in my sickbed. It seemed to me that all love affairs were too complicated.

* * *

Once I began to wonder why the two young women never met each other in the hospital. “Are they conspiring together?” I asked myself. To my surprise, sometimes one of them arrived a bit earlier than usual or the other returned a little late, but they never met each other.

“Have they ever seen each other at the hospital gate?” I said to myself. Furthermore, time and again, my wife had an enigmatic smile as if she knew all the ins and outs of our sneaky love affair. Maybe she was too ashamed to bring it up.

My vague worry grew into a sneaking suspicion with each passing day when I realised that my girlfriend was coming to the hospital a lot less often. Each of her visits also seemed shorter and shorter. During our meetings, we did not touch each other as usual. Instead, we only stared at each other, smiling after a few minutes’ insipid conversation.

“Is she infected with my harmful virus and has forgotten her good-for-nothing guy in hospital completely?” I asked myself.

The last time that my girlfriend paid a visit to me took place on a cold evening.

“I’ve run out of money,” she told me. “So you’d better start eating your wife’s food,” she went on in a sincere voice. “She’s the one who can feed you all your lifetime. Also, you should look deep into her beautiful eyes, they could slow the virus down. Well, goodbye! I must be going now.”

* * *

My disease was getting worse and worse day after day. When my wife turned up, I didn’t recognise her. I asked her no questions, neither did I show any joy. When she called me “my darling” I only stared at her calmly. It seemed to me that she was not my wife, she wasn’t anyone.

“I told you that the virus might eat your memories so fast that you would totally forget your wife. I hate to say I told you so but…” the doctor winked at me, smiling broadly.

“But doctor, have I really got a wife? What about the young woman who used to come at noon? Who was she?” I asked.

* * *

At last, he managed to cure me.

“Tomorrow, you can leave this place forever,” he announced, a little disappointed.

It was a wonderful morning. The soft sunshine reflecting on the glass squares of the windows created chess-like figures in the corridor. Who wouldn’t enjoy such a beautiful morning in the hospital?

My wife and I, hand in hand, slowly walked under the tree canopy as if we were strolling in the park. I fondled her rough hands that now seemed to have the first signs of old age, something I hadn’t noticed before.

“Growing old is just a part of life darling,” said my wife.

Indeed, I felt quite happy to stay beside her where nobody else could poke their nose into our business.

Hoang Cong Danh/Translated by Van Minh