This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
by Tran Thuy Mai The hotel atop Ngua Trang (White Horse) Mountain, where ranger Huan and Lisa stood, was once a Frenchman’s villa. It was the middle of the afternoon and Lisa looked admiringly over the spacious grounds, protruding like a balcony over the cloud-shrouded valley. Yet the very first night of her stay at the villa, Lisa awoke, ready to begin work. She slung a knapsack over her shoulder and walked toward the forest rangers’ station at the head of the slope. The hotel villa where she’d slept was deserted, despite its recent renovations, and the emptiness was understandable given the poor quality of the service and the odd smell pervading the place. Seeing Lisa at the station so soon after her arrival, ranger Huan expressed his surprise. "I’d rather stay here. It’s better," Lisa said vaguely. Huan looked confused. The station had only a few guest rooms with simple furniture. Here on Ngua Trang Mountain, the forest rangers worked as tour guides, so Huan knew what travellers wanted. Why would Lisa want to lie on a hard bed covered with nothing but a thin mattress? "The bed there smells bad, so this is actually preferable," she insisted. Huan furrowed his brow, and Lisa tried another approach, "Look, I’m not sleepy. So please, go to bed and I’ll sit here alone and enjoy looking out at the forest." "Forest rangers aren’t allowed to sleep at this time of night, anyway. I have to patrol the area." The idea of going deep into the forest struck Lisa as appealing and she remembered once again why she’d come. In the Ngua Trang Forest, there is a man who can speak the animals’ language. This piece of news had reached the owner of the publishing house where Lisa worked, and she’d been told to collect information on the subject for a book. Her boss had been working hard on the book for over 30 years, and Lisa knew how important it was. So she followed Huan into the forest and soon found herself standing in a pool of moonlight. "What are you thinking?" Huan asked.
"I was asking myself why you need a flashlight when the moon is this bright." "Just in case. The same reason I carry a gun. But I never use the flashlight, even when there is no moon." "Why not?" "It’s a habit. We have to stay quiet so as not to scare the animals away. We want them to be at peace." Lisa listened to the rush of a brook in the distance as slivers of moonlight peaked through the trees. Suddenly, there was a sound and a dark shadow darted out from a bush. Startled, Lisa jumped back. In the grass, she saw a pair of bright eyes staring at her. "It’s just an otter; they’re playful, but they get defensive if threatened," Huan explained. "Hey there, you seem pretty friendly!" Lisa said to the otter. "This is my friend," Huan said, gesturing to the animal. "I’ve got to patrol the forest every night to keep the loggers and poachers away. But I can’t be everywhere at once, so trees are still felled and sao la are still poached," Huan said to Lisa. "What are sao la like?" "They’re small deer that exist only in this forest." "I’ve heard rumours that you can talk to animals. Are they true?" Lisa pressed. Huan only smiled. "Do you believe them?" he finally said. "I don’t know." "What if I were to call a sao la over here?" Lisa laughed. Talk about overstating one’s capabilities. Since when did being able to call an animal mean you could speak its language? "Just kidding," Huan said. "I won’t be making any noise in this forest tonight." "So when will I be able to hear you?"
"Early tomorrow morning, when you go up Ngua Trang Mountain with me." Lisa wasn’t able to sleep at all that night. She tossed and turned, and felt her muscles ache. She could see the forest through the open windows. Eventually, she got up and sat in the window with her legs dangling over the sill. Down in the forest, the clouds were gathering. It was autumn now. The natural world was asleep and she was sitting above it, watching. She heard a noise from below, and then saw a shadow move. "Don’t you sleep?" she asked. "I know you can’t sleep on a bed that hard. I’m looking for something out here." Lisa stooped down to have a look and saw a pile of dried sedge. "I am arranging a mattress for you, but just for tonight. Tomorrow, the hotel will be much cleaner, so don’t worry about it," Huan said. "I have nothing to worry about," Lisa said, throwing herself onto the improvised dried sedge mattress. It was soft. "Please, go to bed. Don’t worry about me." "I’m in the habit of staying up late. I have to guard the forest, you know." "And now you’ve got another wild animal to protect!" Lisa said, laughing. "I know!" "What animal do you think I look like?" "A sao la!" Huan said. The next morning, it was Huan who woke Lisa up. "It’s early!" Lisa said, her eyes still half closed. "It’s four o’clock. We can catch the sunrise if we climb to the peak now." The mountain’s path was overgrown. They walked until they saw a small house with large windows opening to every direction. "It’s the watch tower," Huan said. Lisa nodded and wrote something in her notebook.
Red beams of sunlight spread across the water and clouds and islands hovered on the horizon. Huan looked out onto the valley, then cupped his hands around his mouth and made a strange sound. A moment later the sound was returned. "I said good morning to some monkeys!" "Say it again. Please," Lisa said, starting her recorder. "What would you like to hear most? There are many bird sounds too." Huan cupped his hands again and made the sound of a turtledove. Somewhere in the forest, a bird replied to him. He told Lisa that it was the wooing sound of a male bird. The sun rose above the sea, and the morning wind blew. Lisa thought about her assignment. She liked the forest, so much so that she wanted to stay there longer, to get to know the animals. She’d loved animals ever since she was a small child. A shot resounded. Huan rushed in the direction of the sound and Lisa followed. Atop Do Quyen waterfall, Lisa took off her shoes and ran barefoot across the rocks, slipping on a moss-covered stone. She couldn’t move and could feel the pain spreading in here ankle, so she rested and waited for Huan. After nearly an hour, Huan reappeared. His face was worn, tired. And when he told her that the male turtledove had been shot by a poacher, Lisa began to cry. *** Fortunately, Lisa had only mildly sprained her ankle and Huan was able to carry her back to the ranger’s station for treatment. "Thank you," Lisa said, taking Huan’s hand. "I’m very sorry for the death of the turtledove" The sun had long since sunk behind the mountain. Huan crouched towards Lisa and she moved towards him. She closed her eyes, buried her head in his lap and began crying. The next morning it rained. Huan and Lisa lay together on the hammock by the window, talking. They discussed everything, Huan’s life in the forest, the animals, the problem of
protection. Lisa entertained leaving the publishing world behind. She thought of what it would be like to live in the forest and wake everyday to the sound of birds singing. Her cell phone rang and broke the reverie. She knew it must be her boss. Lisa kissed Huan and turned away to answer the phone, leaping out of the hammock and landing on the floor with a fraught expression. "What’s the matter? Is it a bad news?" Huan asked in concern. "Oh, no. It’s good news," she said, hesitantly. "They’re selling the apartment I’ve been renting, and it’d be a good chance for me to buy it. If I save a little." Huan looked away, and Lisa sat back on the hammock, resting her hand on his head. "I’ll go to Turkey. I’ll complete my project, buy the apartment and then sell it to raise money for animal protection." "But would you come back here?" Huan asked. Lisa kissed him, nodding her head. "Of course. I’ll come back for you." *** Seasons passed. Summer went by in a blur and autumn swept in. More and more foreign tourists and travellers began visiting Ngua Trang. On occasion, Huan would stop at the watch tower after his patrol. The sounds of animals and wild birds filled the air. He looked out over the sea and thought of Lisa. She was probably busy, all over the place, racing from the printing house to book stores. So busy she couldn’t even write. Winter came and light rain blanketed the forest. No one visited. Huan stopped going to the watch tower. And he stopped waiting for Lisa. The wind blew. She was no longer by his side, but he felt her smell somehow. He began calling birds with an intensity that surprised him, that made him feel like they were actually calls to Lisa. And then there was a knock on the window. Huan jerked. A turtledove flapped its wings against the window pane. It was sad to watch the bird, looking for the noise it thought its mate had made, its wings beating wildly against the glass. Huan opened the window wide and let the bird in. But in a moment, it left again, and perched by a fir tree in the back yard. It was ice cold outside and yet it sang, its eyes searching. Huan continued his call.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue reading from where you left off, or restart the preview.