The girl from yesterday

Submitted into Contest #231 in response to: Write a story about hope.... view prompt


Romance East Asian Mystery

Every year, in the third month of the Lunar year, Vietnamese flock to cemeteries in the occasion called “Thanh minh” period. Seldom do they leave modern life for traditional values like this occasion or Tet holidays. It is the day for people to remember their relatives living in the world of the dead. Everybody of every age visits graves. You can see old men with snow-white hair and bent back. You can also see naive kids who know nothing about the meaning of this day. The only thing they know is that they are visiting a surreal world which seems to be painted by an illusory color. Whatever their age, people all come here in peaceful mood since the pain if exists has been blurred by time. However, on a day like that, there was a young man visiting the city cemetery with a gloomy face. He came alone. In the cemetery that afternoon, among families with four people or more, he was the only one coming alone…

He stepped to a grave. He stood still, gazing at the photo on the gravestone. It was the photo of a very young girl. She was nineteen. Her smile on the photo was so happy and lively that he nearly believed that she was still alive. Perhaps she was still existing, just living in somewhere far away that he did not know. When she took that photo, she did not know that it would be the photo on her gravestone. Nineteen years old, she was too young to think about the death. Her life just started. The most beautiful days of the youth were waiting for her ahead. But she was gone. She was gone forever at the age of nineteen. She would never ever step to the age of twenty…

He put some lilies, her favorite flower, into the gravestone vase, thinking how much she resembled the lilies; pure, and inducing a calm happiness in the hearts of the people she touched. But also like the flower only blooming in April, her life was so short… After putting the flowers into the vase, he burnt incense for her with his lighter. The incense smoke was spiraling up. He drew his cellphone from the pants pocket, pushing buttons for a while, then putting it on her grave. From the cellphone rang the melody of her favorite song:

And then we promised we would come back

Tomorrow like the two friends

A day to forget everything and miss each other again…

The emotive voice of the singer made him burst into tears. So close was the day she leaned her head on his shoulder and listened to that song with him. He caressed her hair. The smell of her perfume was still vivid in his mind. But now she became the girl from yesterday.

It seems to stay the same, you won’t come back

I won’t never ever be young again

The stream of time flew like a shooting star

In the moment it passed across us…

He turned his head up to look at her photo. Her smile suddenly became more radiant than ever. It had never fainted in his mind. The smile was like a sunshine erasing dark clouds of his life.

“Why did you smile?”, he asked.

“I thought of the first time we met”, she giggled.

“I still remember that time. You spilled coffee on my shirt. And it was the brand new one”, he said.

“Oh, you are so ridiculous. Now you blame me. Meanwhile that time you smiled and said it’s not a big deal”, she said.

“Because you said sorry a hundred times and offered to wash my shirt. And I don’t want people think I’m not gallant. By the way, your face that moment looked so funny”

“Less funny than yours. Every time you arrived at my café, you came alone, sitting at the place next to the window and contemplating the moon and stars”

“Do you know that I don’t like that café at all. Rap and hip-hop music all the time, bad coffee and poor design”

“So why did you come there so many times?”, she asked.

“Because of you”, he shrugged.

“How come you’ve never told me that?”

“I’ve just told you”

“But now I’m dead”, she said with her eyes turned blue.

“No, you’re not. If you were dead, so why could you talk to me?”

“But…”, she spoke with a halt.


“When you don’t love me anymore, I won’t be able to talk to you…”

“Don’t worry. I will love you until my last breath”, he said eloquently.

“Or until you love someone else”, she continued.

“I won’t love anyone else but you”

“You… You should forget me”

“Why? …Why?”, he surprised, “You don’t love me anymore, do you?”

She choked with emotion. Teardrops rolled down her cheeks. He hugged her as consolation. But it was strange that he could not touch her.

“You see, you want to hug me but you can’t hug, you like fondling my hair but you can’t touch. If you love me, the only thing you’ll receive is pain. Please forget me. You have such a long road ahead. You will meet a girl who is even better than me. Please live the good life, I’ll always pray for you”

He intended to say something but suddenly someone interrupted.

“Hey you!”

He was startled into opening his eyes.

“Are you okay?”, the strange man asked.

“What do you mean?”

“Oh, thank God! You are okay. I passed by and saw you lying on the ground”, the cemetery watcher said.

Then, the cemetery watcher left. There was only the young man with the song “The girl from yesterday”. He did not know how many times it was repeated. He meditated and found out that he had been in a dream. She had come to see him in the dream. He regretted that he could not stay with her longer. However, he seemed to be less melancholy. He took bunches of joss paper from his bag and burnt them so that she could spend them in the underworld. The fire blazed up violently. He watched the fire and felt his heart warmer. Joss paper gradually turned into ash and dust. Last pieces of joss paper rolled in the air and floated to the sky until they disappeared. When everything was burnt out, he went away.

 A year later, on the same occasion, he visited her again. But this time, he did not come alone. He came with a girl. His face was not gloomy like a year before. He had found his happiness.

“She is beautiful”, the girl said.

“Right, very beautiful”, he said.

He burnt the incense and whispered to the girl in the underworld:

“I did exactly what you told me. I’ve lived a good life and found a girl who make me happy. Today I took her here to see you. Are you happy now?”

A strong wind suddenly came by. And in the sound of leaves rustling, he seemed to hear her giggle…

January 03, 2024 07:38

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Shirley Medhurst
16:07 Jan 15, 2024

Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful yet sad story and for the explanation of the “Thanh minh” celebration at the start. It is fantastic to learn a little more about your culture 🙏 I like the uplifting end very much. (I did notice one tiny error/typo when the MC says the girl’s smile “had never fainted in his mind” - I think “fainted” should read “faded” - I do hope you don’t mind me pointing this out… ) I look forward to reading more of your stories


Dao Huy Kien
02:34 Jan 16, 2024

Thank you very much for your thoughtful comment and for pointing out the error. English is not my native language so that I often made ridiculous mistakes. Anyway, I'm glad you enjoyed my story. Much appreciated.


Shirley Medhurst
17:00 Jan 16, 2024

For a second language, you do an amazing job! BRAVO! 👏👏 It was still easy to understand - I only pointed it out to be helpful…. ☺️


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21:01 Jan 11, 2024

What a lovely story. I felt like I was there in the cemetery with him, and could almost smell the incense. Nice ending to a sweet story.


Dao Huy Kien
02:51 Jan 15, 2024

Thank you very much for your lovely comment. It means a lot to me.


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Marty B
06:40 Jan 10, 2024

Im glad the man choose to face the future, instead of only living in the past. I liked this line- 'And in the sound of leaves rustling, he seemed to hear her giggle…' Thanks!


Dao Huy Kien
02:46 Jan 15, 2024

Thank you for your thoughtful comment.


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Joe Sweeney
04:01 Jan 07, 2024

This is a very sweet story! I like the theme and the title very much. And I really enjoyed learning about Thanh minh. It reminds me of the Mexican celebration dia de los muertos.


Dao Huy Kien
02:41 Jan 08, 2024

Thank you very much for your thoughtful comment. I'm glad you enjoyed my story. It's also interesting to know about dia de los muertos which resemble our "Thanh minh" festival.


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