It was a pristine day. A perfect day.
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Monsieur Nhoc has just come down the stairs from his apartment over his bookshop near the lake. He bows to madame who lives not far, whose name has by-passed his memory, which is actually getting really bad.
He likes her, and her tiny dog that looks like a wound-up toy. He may have a chance to know her better, as she looks like someone who would want to know him in return.
Today is an important anniversary that even his poor memory can remember. It is a good day for it, the best that he can ever hope for.
He pulls the front of his thick woolen coat tighter and fasten its top button. His woolen scarf and hat make him feel complete. The breeze blowing from the snowy mountains and across the cold water of the lake can chill to the bone. But not today, with a brilliant sun shining.
The memory of a day a long time ago warms him from within.
Spring is really here after such a long winter. He has been watching the tulips growing daily in the ground of rich dark soil on the left hand side of the esplanade.
Many of the beautiful bulbs are still closed tightly, as if unsure that the snow may not return and fill their newly opened cups with freezing flakes. They nod now in the breeze, pretty in their vibrant colours and one of the best sights as he can hope to see in this life. Luckily, he can admire them everyday just now.
A nice couple that he sees almost everyday strolls by now and they smile at him as usual.
"Bonjour, Monsieur. Comment ca va?, they say together, well-synchronised.
It does indeed go well today.
People in this small town has got used to this friendly and rather odd Asian man now, at least by sight, as he walks daily on his esplanade, or sits in his bookshop during week days.
He plans a very long walk today, all around the shimmering lake to the next village he can see at the end of its gracefully curving shore. He may even make it all the way around the lake but that is a very long walk which he hasn't done very often of late. Lots more tulips to see yet.
Looking back, he sees his world. His carefully selected books pack the shelves that he can still see through the big front window. He is proud of his selection which is probably the best collection in town for discerning readers.
The comfortable chairs near the glass that his customers can sit and read before they buy or borrow his books are empty today as the shop is closed. His paintings hang on the wall.
On wintry days when snow is thick outside and ice extends from the shore on the surface of the lake, his bookshop is a very warm and comfortable place to be.
His apartment up a narrow flight of stairs from the shop is cosy as well. The small bed is stacked with thick but light layers of duvets, as he mostly leaves a crack open in the window so that he can breathe the freshest possible air that is a present from the pine forests and the mountain peaks all around.
He switches on the electric blanket under the bed sheet so that the bed is sometimes too warm, before he slipping in. When the lights are off, he opens the curtain so that he can see the mountain range from bed, and then undresses. Even at this age, he loves to sleep naked, as he has always preferred to do.
His work desk there is set back a little from the large window where he writes away many hours of the day on his favourite white Mac laptop.
He draws there too, brush dipped into colour ink bottles, or watercolour. He paints on canvas, sitting on the floor, like he did back home, with protective thick clear sheet spread over the thick carpet.
In the trials and tribulations of this life, happiness is in the end found in this simplicity. Everything good in it has been slowly instilled to leave this day.
Provided he can make a journey or two each year within Europe, in North America or back home, Nhoc is happy with his life in this precious place where the horizon is narrowed by the most magnificent mountains on this earth.
This is the tenth anniversary of his Perfect Day. Nhoc looks into the blue water of the lake and remembers that morning.
It was a warm and his heart was bursting. He could do nothing more than to lay on the bed or sit up in it, stunned. Every second and minute needed to be savoured and kept forever. Hours flowed by. He still could do nothing else.
In his heart now is the same feeling, fainter after the years but unmistakable. The sensation of the heart being gently cradled and squeezed at will by a soft caring hand. The feeling comes back when he thinks of his Love, anytime and anywhere.
Seagulls screech above. Two white swans sail by side by side, languidly, their long perfect necks held high and aloof.
But not long after the Perfect Day came Imperfect Night. Nhoc could still hear his Love's wise parting words, the sound of her gate closing behind him, and the longest walk of his life away from it on a one-way street into the night.
Monsieur Nhoc is outside the village now. The esplanade has become a track between pine forest and the lake lapping on pebbles. He turns left into the tall fragrant trees and climbs to a small level clearing surrounded by tall dark pines. Dabbles of sunlight flicker on grass. He often comes here to sit on this grass and dreams.
What does one do with a wine glass overflowing with the purest love that no one will drink? He has asked himself that question at this spot countless times. Pour it into this soft carpet of pine needles? Keep it safe inside you, which he has also done?
Over the years, he has poured plenty of himself too into this earth under the pine needles, his entreaties to a waiting womb half way around the world. But no womb waits now. No one waits now.
Monsieur Nhoc realizes that Life has told him in terms as clear as the melted snow water of the nearby stream what it wanted: it was not going to love him when it could not or did not want to. He had better make other arrangements and forget his inappropriate feelings and dreams.
They will never see the light of day.
Why does he persist and not move on?
On his walks around the lake, Monsieur Nhoc sometimes nods his head to himself in agreement.
Who is he to expect anything else? He is no one special, just an old man shuffling along for this brief moment in this eternal nature.
Listen to Life, don't listen to Love, which is no longer saying anything. No whispered words heard in two adjacent hearts, no promises to be broken.
His Perfect Day.
Their Perfect Day.
Why is his heart still being squeezed then?
Sunlight was slanting on the trees and flowers when Monsieur Nhoc emerges from the forest. It's too late to walk much further so he retraces his steps on the esplanade and is soon be back in his cosy armchair looking out into the blue night.
His Perfect Day is ending.
There will be another one next year.
He will stay alive for it.