ʻChè lam* cake. Would you like some?ʼ
ʻMaybe later. Otherwises we’d have to open a new package.ʼ
ʻIt’s ok, let’s eat. It’s Lunar New Year anyway.ʼ
Then, without any previous warning, mom burst out crying. Some small hiccups were let out but couldn’t help prevent the long restrained tears from sliding suddenly but heavily down her round rosy cheeks. After making an effort to open a new package and to cut a bar of ready-made chè lam cake equally in four small squares of about 2 centimeters each, she let the knife fall freely on the table, making an echoed clanking sound that reached every apparent surface inside the kitchen and that gave no sign of going to die away. Huddling herself up on the chair, she tried to disappear by putting both hands over her weeping face. The unwanted hiccups followed the echoed sound of the metal knife closely. Teardrops, despite her attempt to hide them away, were now seen lingering on the chin. These teardrops didn’t come from her eyes, but probably from another dimension. Somewhere far, far away, deep down the subconscious, where it must undoubtedly be cold and cheerless. I tried to comfort her by giving a piece of chè lam cake without success. She jumped up with a start and ran with eyes cast down to the next room. The following two seconds were only defined by the quick succession of her continuous hiccups. Time, as if waking up from a disturbing dream, managed to regain its balance, as my stepfather also rose from his chair and ran after his wife.
This was the first time that mom had celebrated Lunar New Year at a place that was 9750,89 kilometers away from home. 6058.92 miles in air travel distance. 10 hours 42 minutes on flight.
I was the only one left in the kitchen. Chewing on a glutinous piece of chè lam cake, I sat down onto the chair that was still warm from mom’s presence a few seconds earlier. I could hear my stepfather trying to cheer her up. The image of him sitting on the sofa while patting with his right hand on her back flashed before my eyes. This image, too, must have come from another dimension. Sobs resounded through the house. The distance between the source of those sobs and me, if could be measured at all, would have no choice but to be represented with an infinity symbol. Plus, or minus.
I gulped down the sobbing sound together with the piece of cake in my mouth. The cake tasted sweet. The new stream of sobs, mixed with hiccups, now took form of loose balloons floating in dense air. Hearing this sound, I couldn’t help myself from thinking about the handful amount of people who would be sent to Mars starting from 2024 to undertake the mission of colonizing the red planet.**
These four first future inhabitants on Mars, once having stepped out of their spacecraft, how would they feel?
Would they feel content with the fulfilled dream of travelling beyond the notion of space and time? How long would the satisfaction last? How would they react to the first scenery of the barren ground that came into sight?
Four people. They were ready to leave the Earth voluntarily. They would be chosen between the elites in intelligence, spirit and physical strength. And on their tickets to Mars would be printed in bold letters, and maybe also italic, ʻone-way journeyʼ.
Mom’s sobs dissolved in the air in a surreal reaction, threaded their way through the cold metal legs of our dining tables and chairs, then lingered at all corners of the house.
Ten years from now, when the spaceship is about to take off; when all the future astronauts, now still in their thirties, have aged ten more years, looked at the world in a different way, and described the past using different words; would they shed tears as they step into the giant and strange vehicle? Would their tears fly upward because of the lack of gravity force in the cabin? How would they wipe their tears away while wearing spacesuits? Would there be on Mars any other source of water for them than the salty drops of tears sliding from the corner of their own eyes?
Would it be possible to measure the distance between them and us using the unstable geographical distance between the two planets? Which memories from Earth would they bring along? Four astronauts. Would they ever feel lonely because of the moderate amount of 2,76×10^(-8) inhabitants per square kilometer on Mars? Or would it be us, those left on Earth and meant to live on with the other 7 999 999 995 people (world population 8 billion estimated towards 2024, except ourselves and the four people in space), the ones to experience loneliness?
On a planet where there is no one else but themselves, the astronauts would maybe experience the quietest moment of their lives. But would the beat and the flow deep down their heart be in harmony with the rhythm of the silence? What would they be able to hear once all sound becomes soundless?
How would they know when New Year comes?
But maybe would these four people not be chosen for being the most intelligent, having the highest spirit and the best physical strength among all the candidates. They would probably be the ones who, after ten years from now, would still be holding the one-way ticket tightly in hand. They would probably be the ones who’d take one definitive step on the spaceship without any doubt and tears. Their rocket would be launched into the sky using nuclear energy. In no time would they merge with the flow of time and space and soon break the silence that has always been dominating the extraterrestrial sand dunes.
They would probably install new Cargos to welcome more people to Mars, make children, organize the society, exploit natural resources, and bring the intelligence of Homo Sapiens with their 2,5-kilogram-brain along to a faraway planet which has never known about the existence of humans.
Mom had stopped crying. Some dry hiccups could still be heard every few seconds.
I didn’t move, tried to merge with the air that now had concentrated into a solid block around my existence, and stared at the rest of the chè lam cake lying on a round white plate in the middle of the dining table.
Which unit should I use to define the distance between mom and Lunar New Year?
* chè lam cake: a traditional Vietnamese pudding made from ground glutinous rice.
** more info about the MarsOne project on http://www.mars-one.com/
I noted down these words about 2 or 3 days before Lunar New Year, on the same day as MarsOne announced the 100 chosen candidates who would be training and competing further till 2024.