A LADY FROM “R” – novel

LADY1.

It was the first time I left the city for the war zone. Before 1975 in South Vietnam there was nothing strange about it, because thousands of young women as I, also had to do so. They fought, were wounded, died, were imprisoned or won back in Ho Chi Minh campaign as my case.

So my story would have nothing worth to say if I hadn’t met that “old man” in the war zone. He was not a normal person. He was a powerful character of the “R”.

“R”, a legendary name, a holy revolutionary land, was both the obsession and the debt of America. But “R” was what? Perhaps it was abbreviated from the word “Rung” (forest). But the forest where I had come was nothing grandiose, nothing mysterious. It was just a wooded area, flat, pristine and quiet.

But there was a very special residence.

It was that old man’s cottage.

As simple as the other cottages, but it was both his Forbidden City and  his Harem. It was located in the middle of a top secret and most important zone which people named it Central Committee R.

And that fifty-year-old man, though not an Emperor but his power covered all. Everybody called him “Prince.”

My presence at that prince’s harem wasn’t a chance but only a disaster. Later on, it would push me to the continuous tragedies that I wouldn’t know how to resist.

Only few people could see prince’s face. He looked like a flickering shadow behind a nylon wall. The forest was pitch-black but in his cottage, the oil lamp still printed his shadow on the wall. He went back and forth. He listened to the radio. He read the reports. He drank tea. And he was waiting for me.

At that moment I was on the edge of the forest. It was twilight, the contact brought me to a guide.

The guide was a cold man, who wore torn khaki trousers and a black “ba ba” shirt with a bandana around his neck. An AK rifle was on his back with its muzzle pointing at the ground. He sat near the water, waiting for me.

“Hello, comrade,”  said I.

He didn’t answer, signaled me to follow him. We walked throught many gardens of mango trees. The path was shining itself in the dark therefore we could go swiftly. At a control post, the guide gave the password and then we crossed a wooden bridge.

Because he was still quiet, I made a noise first.

“You were born here?”, I asked.

“No, I’m from the North”.

“Ah, you’re a bo doi?”

“I’m not an Uncle Ho’s soldiers. My parents emigrated from the North in 1954”.

His answer was so strange that I dared not to ask him anymore. Suddenly, from the main river, a noise came from a large engine. The guide stopped me, listening closely.

“Viet Cong soldiers and officers, listen! You are surrounded! The Army of Viet Nam Cong Hoa will attack and destroy this base! Give up now, or all of you will be killed!”, the sound of loud-speakers was all over the river bank.

Then a helicopter circled many times above our heads. The guide pulled my hand and we ran to an arm post.

“Let her jump down the secret shelter”, he said.

“Ok, there’s the last one. Both of you jump down, quickly”, the guerilla leader said.

The guide helped me jump down then he followed me and covered the shelter. The humid air and the dark strangled me.

“Don’t be shy at this time. Don’t stand near the dirt wall. Close to me please. Then you feel easy to breathe”, he said.

It really was the experience in the war. There was more hope for one man and one woman than two men or two women in the same shelter. Of course the warmth from his back made me more comfortable. There was a noise of some rifles up there. Then I heard a lot of noise of heavy machine-guns from the helicopter. Mango branches broke with many cracks. Many people ran heavily on our heads. Luckily, the tanks couldn’t come here because of the waterway terrain.

There were foot-steps shaking the ground. The guide undid the safety pin of his grenade. “If they discover our shelter, I will open the cover and throw my grenade out and we will run fast to the river, right? Can you swim?”, he whispered to my ears.

But the steps of “bottes de saut” went away. Then the helicopter came in and circled again. The cartridges of M60 stroke down as terribly as the lightning, shaking the cover of the shelter. I shrunk myself.

I didn’t know how long the raid was because the roar of bombs made my nerve system paralysed. When everything turned silent, the guide slightly opened the cover of the shelter and we saw it was dawn.

We set off again. The guide gave me some dry provisions. I looked at him and felt very surprised because he was a gentle and good-looking man.

“What’s your name?”, I asked.

“Tran Vu”, he answered.

“Why you’re so sad?”

“No. Nothing”.

We went across the forest again and again. The forest was bright. And sparse.

*

After dinner, the writer Duc Hai came to me.

“Well? Will you stay here?”, he asked.

“If people can stay here so I can”, I answered.

“There’s someone who wants to accept ‘open arms policy’. You should be careful”.

“Who?”, I asked.

The writer looked at Tran Vu who was lying on a hammock, smoking a cigarette.

“He looked mysterious”, I said.

Duc Hai gave me a dry smile then he went away. Then Muoi Thao came to me.

“Hi, sis, take this lamp. In the forest you must have three things: a lamp, a radio and a gun”, she said.

“A gun?”

“Yeah, later you will have one”.

“Tran Vu is a writer?”, I asked.

“No, he was a Lieutenant of Saigon army. He graduated from the Da Lat National Military Academy but he hated both the quislings and the Americans therefore he left them. First he eagerly wrote a lot of articles and stories. He had a good style”.

“But why he’s so sad?”

“Because people don’t believe him. They watch him, make him write reports. Mister Duc Hai makes him write his CV many times”.

“Why?”

“I don’t know. He told me that at first he was proud of himself for his own choice. But now he’s in a dilemma. In a depression. In a disappointement. I don’t know why people treat him like that. Of course a normal person follows the revolution is “good”. But an enemy who leaves his side for the revolution is “double good”. Do you agree with me?”

“I’ve just known him”.

*

The lamp in the house of the Prince was lit first. He sat there, drinking tea. It seemed he was holding a book. In the schedule, I had to meet him at eight pm.

If I entered that room, I would also be a shadow, I thought. People outside would see my shadow printed on a nylon wall. However, when I entered his house, the lamp was moved to the window, and people outside only saw the light area around the lamp.

The Prince sat on a bamboo chair, signaled me to sit opposite to him. He asked me some questions about the youth missions in the city, he especially paid attention to youth officers who were operating in theUnitedBuddhistChurch, but he absolutely didn’t mention to my husband who was in prison of Poulo Condor.

“I’m sorry that you’re revealed. I had one comrade replace you. You’ll operate another mission, more important. Once you come here, let me do everything for you. I consider you as my adopted daughter”, he said.

Then he stood up, gave his hand to me. I shook his hand.

He caressed my hair with his tender fingers. I didn’t object to those. I stood still for a moment then I avoid them and stepped out.

At that time, at the edge of the forest, the writer Duc Hai had a patrol around with his flash-light. He always stopped at a big tree which was four meters far from Tran Vu’s hammock. And listened.

Every night, at this time, Tran Vu listened to BBC but that night what the channel he listened to? Duc Hai came closer but he couldn’t hear anything so he went direct to Tran Vu.

“What the world are you listening to?”, he asked.

Silent.

“Who understands if you listened to English voice? Who knows if they say bad words about the Party?”

Tran Vu didn’t care to turn around.

“French, not English,” he said.

“French is more complicated”, he said and left.

Passing the house of the Prince, seeing his shadow walking back and forth, Duc Hai quickly turned off his flash-light and stepped into the dark.

I walked toward Tran Vu.

“I want to give you a small gift”, I said.

“You should go to bed. I need to be alone”, he told me.

But I kept on coming to him and threw a box of cigarette to his chest.

*

 “I suggest comrade Vu submit his radio to the office. Many other comrades don’t have their radios,” Duc Hai said in the meeting.

Tran Vu took off his belt, took his radio out and put them in front of him.

“Do you want to confiscate my lamp and my gun?”, he asked.

“I’ll let you know later,” Duc Hai answered.

After the meeting, Tran Vu sat at a tree behind the kitchen to smoke cigatettes which I gave him the night before. I felt very sorry for him.

“You shouldn’t live alone like that,” I said, came to him.

“I don’t live alone, Thu. I’m isolated. Do you know I come here with all my beautiful heart, with a pride of a fighter? Do you know I graduated from the Da Lat National Military Academy, a great one that could be compared with The United States Military Academy atWest Pointand that means I would be a general in the future? Coming here I just want to be a guerilla but they suspect me. Nothing is more insulted than that”, he said.

Right at that time, there was Duc Hai voice. “Comrade Thu, the Prince wants to meet you” he called me.

*

That was a night of destiny. I always asked myself later why I yielded to him? He didn’t violate, he wasn’t rude. Just a look. A desirable and powerful look, but I can’t resist it. It was the look of a wolf. It made me excited, I want to escape and to be eaten at the same time.

He said briefly:

“You seem tired. Lie down for a moment.”

Then I lay down, shrank into myself, covered my face with one hand and tried to keep my waistpants with another hand.

For a long time, I’ve still defended myself that I didn’t make a scene because I wanted to protect the prestige of the leader, because it was needed for the revolution. Then, after the April 30th, I met many of his victims and they told me that they also used that classical reason to defend themselves.

Next morning, people heard the news Tran Vu disappeared and rushed out to find him. The writer Duc Hai quickly wrote a report that Tran Vu left for the “open arms policy” ofSaigonregime. But right after that, Tran Vu was found lying by the stream, having a fever. I cooked fish soup for him and took turn with Muoi Thao to take care of him.

Tran Vu was better after some days resting on his bed. Duc Hai returned him his radio.

“People said that you left for the ‘open arms policy’ ” I said after Duc Hai went out.

“Do you believe that?”, he asked me.

“Just a half”, I answered.

 “So, I will tell you an anecdote in the Three Kingdom story, a famous chinese history novel written from 14th century:

After an unsuccessful assasscination, CaoCao ran away. ChenGong followed him. They came to their friend’s house, his name was BaSha. The man invited them to stay and went out to buy alcohol for them.

After that, CaoCao heard the voice of the servants outside, “tie them!”. CaoCao and ChenGong jumped out, killed any person they met. When they went to the kitchen, seeing a tied pig lying on the ground, they understood that they had killed wrong people.

They rode away. On the half-way, meeting BaSha with the alcohol, CaoCao killed him, too. “We’ve just killed wrong people, now why you killed him too?”, ChenGong asked. CaoCao answered: “I’d rather betray people than let people betray me. If I didn’t kill him, he would have reported about us after he came back home. We would be arrested”. ChenGong realised that CaoCao was a very bad man so he left him and followed LuBu. Do you understand the meaning of this story?”

“You want to accept the ‘open-arms’ policy ofSaigon?”, I asked him.

“No. You’re wrong. ChenGong found that CaoCao was a bad man therefore he followed LuBu. I found Americans are bad, therefore I followed Viet Cong. But now I find that Viet Cong are not only very bad but also very faithless. Will I come back to Americans? ChenGong had one way to go, but I have no way. I’m on the impasse. There’s only the death”.

“Hey, Vu! Don’t say that, please. You try to eat some more soup, hm?”, I put my finger on his lips and said.

While taking care of Tran Vu, I found a book of short stories which he had written. I borrowed but he refused.

“What do you read for? They’re just silly stories of a period of illusion”, he said.

“Why illusion?”

“Because there are many flatterers, enviers, cowards around me. But there’s nothing of them in the book”.

“So… this book is a lie?”

“It’s not a lie, but it’s innocent and shallow. You take it outside and burn it, please”.

“Why burn it?”

“If you don’t do it, I will”.

Right in that night, while everyone was sleeping soundly, Tran Vu sat at his familiar tree. He tore his short story book, page by page. Then he burned them. The flame looked so lonely in a corner of the mossy, remote, quiet forest. The flame was bright then died very soon. The dying yellow pages were stopping their lives.

At noon of the next day, Tran Vu met Muoi Thao. “Do you love me?”, he asked her.

“Why you ask me that question?”

“Because I want you to send a letter to my family”.

“Why you don’t ask a contact to do that?”

“They always read my letter. Please help me, because it’s the last letter”.

“What are you talking about?”, Muoi Thao startled.

“I’ll commit suicide”.

“No, you won’t do that. You rave, right?”

She checked Tran Vu’s forehead with her hand, it was very cold. Her hand was trembling.

“Of all my belongings, there are three things usable. I give you my lamp. I give Thu my radio because you already have one”, he continued and held his gun AK47.

“After I kill myself, they will take back my gun. I have only my watch left. Please give it to Hay. He went for a contact mission and hasn’t come back, right? He likes my watch very much,” Tran Vu smiled at the trembling little girl.  

The crow of a jungle fowl was noisy in the hot air. Tran Vu took off his watch and put it along with some things into a bag. He gave it to Muoi Thao then he stood up, went to the stream.

“Brother Vu! I bow you! Don’t do that!”, Muoi Thao shouted.

At that time I was in the infirmary. Hearing the noise, I stepped out. Muoi Thao pulled my hand and I ran after her to the stream. When we came there, Tran Vu was standing on a mound of dirt at the othert side of the tream.

Muoi Thao pulled my hand so hard that I fell into the stream, my body was all wet.

“Brother Vu! I bow you!”, Muoi Thao screamed.

She bursted out crying. Tran Vu undid the safety pin, loaded and cocked his gun.

“No! Don’t! Brother Vu! Please!”, I shouted.

I ran to him but Tran Vu stopped me. “Be where you are or I shoot”, he said coldly.

But both of us  kept on running to him. Then the fires were over the ground in front of us, made us stop.

We knelt down, bowed him and cried a lot.

But Tran Vu was very calm. He knelt down, too, aimed his gun to his throat and pulled the trigger. The noise from the shooting sounded like the dry and cold howl of the forest.

Tran Vu bent forward and fell down.

His gun slipped down the slope.

*

Those were memories of a woman named Huynh Thi Thu, forty-years old, member of the communist party ofVietnam, director of the Trade Department, married with one son.

She was my intimate when we were students of the former antiwar movements inSouth Vietnam’s cities.

Among the two men that Mme Huynh Thi Thu had met in the base, the Prince, later on, would decide her desnity and “the guide”, although not my friend, but he was my friend’s younger brother. And because that he had left a letter before his suicide, I felt responsible to hand that letter to my friend.

Director Thu asked:

-What was your friend’s former position?

-Captain of theRepublicofVietnamArmy.

Thu took a small box out of her purse. It was a letter which Tran Vu had written before he suicided. The paper was old and yellow but the writings were still clear.

Formerly, in the forest, I had just heard the rumours in the air about Tran Vu’s death because they kept secretly all of information like that and it was forgotten in the cruel war. I didn’t expect Tran Vu was my friend’s younger brother and it seemed this relationship would lead us to many sudden situations.


2.

There was a storm that year. It gave a light scratch on captain Quynh’s palm house. Its poles and rafters were broken, its palm walls were torn, as rough and bristled as chicken feathers. InSaigon, I collected some money and brought it to him. His neighbors also came, helped him to rebuild his house.

That was the house I had just entered.

But there was no one in it. The kitchen was cold. There were some banana trees, some sugar canes and some bushes of Indian taros behind the house. And there was a girl sitting by a pond with a small dog. The dog didn’t bark. It ran to the guest, greeting, waving its tail. But the girl didn’t care for the guest. She was about twenty years old, black and skinny.

She didn’t talk to me so I kept quiet. I sat down to watch her preparing the snails. She cut the bottoms of the snails, took the guts out, threw them into a sin which was almost full.

“Wow, very much. How can you eat them up?”, I asked.

“The ducks eat”.

“People can’t eat them?”

“They can”.

“Where’s your mother?”

“She died”.

“Where’s your father?”

“I don’t know”.

“Where’s mister Quynh?”

“He went playing chess”.

I found this girl was unapproachable so I said with a tender tone:

“Hey, last year this house collapsed because of a storm, I came here once but didn’t see you. Where were you at that time?”

“In Can Tho”.

“What were you doing in Can Tho?”

She didn’t answer. Completely kept silent. Her face was calm. She didn’t look angry but no talk anymore. Until captain Quynh came back. Both of us sat on a divan. The girl lit the fire to make tea in the kitchen.

“Who’s she?”, I asked.

Quynh looked hesitated and said:

“Her name is Truc, she’s Tran Vu’s daughter”

“Oh? Really? But a moment ago, when I asked her where her father was, she answered she didn’t know”.

“In fact, she knew. I told her already but little or nothing about the the death of her father”.

“Today I have more information of Tran Vu”.

Quynh was very happy, but he signaled me to wait. Then he went to the kitchen. When he came in, Truc followed, saluted me puzzledly and sat on the hammock.

I retold the story which Thu had told me about the suicide of Tran Vu.

The noon time was quiet. The girl’s tears dropped down in that silence. I looked at her, she had a black and skinny face but very beautiful. Maybe her mother was as beautiful as she. Maybe the woman feared that her daughter would die in the sea, therefore she sailed alone. And maybe she blent into the endless ocean for a long time.

After the story, Truc treated me very tenderly though she still didn’t talk much.

“I want to go to look for his grave”.

“Maybe I know the place where your father died, but I don’t know where his grave was”.

“How about aunty Thu?”

“Yeah, she could know, but that place must have changed after such a long time. But I think I will take a trip there”.

“I’ll go with you”.

Truc wiped her tears with a flap of her shirt.

Then she put the letter into a pocket.

*

In the afternoon, Truc asked me to row with her to drive the ducks back home. In the base, I used to row boats, therefore I could help her. The boat ran up the current, slowly and smoothly. Green trees gave a lot of shadows at both sides of the river and white storks perched on the tops of the trees.

Truc rowed pass the ducks, then she stopped, raised a pole in width. The ducks “quack quack”, floating white on the river face. Truc stood on her boat, drove the ducks home with that pole. I rowed the boat. The ducks were swimming with the water-hyacinth. The sunlight faded on thin, rippled, silent waves.

“Will You leave the ducks forSaigon?”, I asked.

“I want to look for my future”, she said. “Because I couldn’t find the future in this Vi Thuy remote village.”

*

That night I asked captain Quynh:

-If you couldn’t find the future here, why don’t you return your home town?

-Because of a blood debt.

-Blood debt for a guy not-to-hurt-a-fly like you?

-Strictly speaking it’s because of a fight. Viet Cong knew well my name from that fight. A famous cruel “make a sortie.”

-I have never heard say about it.

-Because at that time you were in the Central Committee R while that fight took place in Binh Dinh province. I was surrounded by your comrades at just the New Year’s Eve. They comprised a full strength company, while my company comprised only me, one sergeant who keep our weapon warehouse and nine soldiers. Could you believe it? A company had only eleven people. The others came back home to celebrate Tet holidays without permission.

We turned on the headlight and saw a lot of VC equipped with B 40, AK 47. My soldiers were trembling.

“Captain, we must die all”, one soldier cried.

I wasn’t better than he. I thought, damn, why I was in such situation. Maybe some of VC surrounding out there were my classmates. Who put me in this life-and-death-struggle?

But I didn’t have time for those question like that. Gun fired. The sound of AK 47 was so terrible. It was hard, dry and cold. Sand bags flew about. B 40 covered the top of the shelters with fire.   

I called the sergeant who keep our weapon warehouse.

“Well? Captain!”, he asked.

“You call all of nine soldiers to come here”.

“There’re only seven left”.

I gave order. Damn, I had no way but a cruel order. “Bring here all the casks of grenade. One for each of you. Drop your guns. We “play” with grenades. I was at first. Sergeant Trong was at the end. Seven of you were in the middle. Four meters for each distance. Throw grenades to the both sides. Make a sortie”.

We ran forward like wild animals. The roar of grenades and the smell of gun powder made our blood boil. No fear of death. I threw grenades, running in the fire and the smoke. The ground shook. The sound of grenades exploded plus the terrible roar of claymore which had been trapped at the defended fence. The scream was drowned by the sound of killing mines. The sound of AK 47 faded. Then a B 40 exploded, made sergeant Trong fly up as a torn cloth. I didn’t understand why I was still alive. Trong was dead. Only three of seven soldiers left. With me was four. A company of VC was deleted. The bodies of both sides lying down everywhere. It was dawn when four of us tried to come to the safe base.  I was so tired that I didn’t know whether I got wounded. We all lay on the dry and hard ground with a lot of pieces of laterite.

All of us bursted out crying.

Quynh went crazy, he threw his glass into the river, and emptied the bottle at a gulp.

“It was the most terrible battle in my life. And it also was the most impressive and famous battle of the Division 22. Of course, the name of captain Quynh was well-known. Because of that, I had to leave my native place”.


3.

Every afternoon, at five p.m, I uasually went to Quynh Vi’s school to pick her up.

“Grandpa, today I meet a very cute boy”, she told me.

“How cute?”

“He’s very handsome. His eyes are nice, his nose is nice, too. The way he talks is lovely. I’ve never seen the most perfect boy like him”.

Could you believe those words were from a twelve-year-old little girl of grade seven? Who was she like that she was keen on boys at the early age? Maybe she was like her mother? But the such romance at the early age must be from my gene!

“He’s your classmate, right?”, I holded back a smile, asked her.

“No. I met him at the swimming pool”.

“Why did you come there?”

“Because Mr. Prewitt took us to the swimming pool”.

“Does he swim well?”

“Yeah, very well. Only two of us can swim non-stop three rounds of the pool”.

Sunday morning, I took her to the swimming pool to see ‘the cute boy’.”

He was a boy with white skin, round face and red lips like a girl’s. He wasn’t special therefore I let them swim with each other.

That day Mr. Prewitt wasn’t there but I saw Miss Rosemary and a Philippino teacher named Marlon.

Seeing me with Quynh Vi, both of the teachers came to make friends with me.

“How’s Quynh Vi’s study?”, I asked.

“Fantastic! You have a wonderful grand-daughter. Her English is good”.

In fact, I should call her “son and daughter” because they were younger than Quynh Vi’s father. But I still considered them as my friends.

One day, Marlon calls me. “Uncle, please help us”, he said.

They were a group of four, Philippinos, they wanted to rent an apartment in a residential area near their school, but they couldn’t communicate with a Vietnamese hostess, and they didn’t know what the contract was about.

I helped them rented that apartment and then I had two more friends.

Since that day, my grand-daughter and I usually frequented with the young teachers. After moving in, they had a small party. Little Quynh Vi talked as a bird, joked with her teachers as friends. I drank wine with Marlon, the oldest teacher.

“You all graduated from universities, why you didn’t work inManila? I asked.

“We could’nt find good jobs there, uncle. Many Philippino people are jobless.”

“What do you think aboutVietnam?

“A stable society.”

“The fact thatViet Namis a society which is ruining in the stability.”

Marlon bursted into laughter, enjoying my description.

“My country is the same. The society is all unfair, poor and backward. The corruption is spread far and wide. To the people who still believe that followingUSAis the smart choice, Phillipines is the answer”.

“But, at least, you have newspaper in opposition, you have the right to demonstrate, you have freedom to create there. InViet Nam, absolutely no. The government considers this country as their own asset. They will do what they want to do”.

*

I looked around. Quynh Vi and the boy were playing with the sand. The white sand had been brought from Nha Trang to make this small swimming pool natural. Two children were building the mountains and the caves.

Here, I saw a different little Quynh Vi, more active and modern.

Later, at home, once I went pass her room, hearing she was talking with someone cheerfully. It seemed they were arguing, discussing, teasing each other. I entered the room. But I saw only little Quynh Vi and the TV with Teen Titans program. She didn’t watch TV as an audience. She had joined the games, discussed with characters in the films, given questions and answers the questions so passionately that she didn’t know when I came in her room.

One day, on the way home from school, little Quynh Vi talked to me.

“Grand-pa, does a snail have teeth?”, she asked.

“Maybe no. It has only a soft tongue to move”, I answered.

“It’s not right. A snail has teeth. I watch it on Discovery Channel. They say that there are thorns along both sides of a snail’s tongue. Thorns are teeth. To catch the insects on the way it moves”.

On the motorbike, she sat behind me, touched my head top with her fingers.

“Your hair falls down a lot, grand-pa. You’re going to be bald”.

“It’s the old age, honey”.

“Old age? Why?”

“Because the nature is dim-witted”

 “Is the nature less intelligent?”

“Yeah, the nature is less intelligent. It doesn’t know the human-beings are fifferent from plants and animals. The human-beings can change the world and create the world. The human-beings know about the life and the death. Why the nature gives the same rules to the human-beings, the plants and the animal? Why human-beings must die?”

I felt a strange silence behind me. It lasted very long. Like something had just stopped. I stopped my motorbike, turned around and saw two drops of tear on her cheeks.

“Why do you cry?”, I asked.

“Someday I will die, won’t I?”

The twelve-year-old girl’s question shooted my heart as a sudden arrow. I saw the shadow of time prowling on the top of the trees like the grey fog made me scare. I parked my motorbike, carried her and hug her.

She bursted out crying.


4.

That compaign was like a storm regardless of obstacles, hills, mountains, forests or abysses. It ran down the plains from the mountain peaks, overflowed to the sea, stirred it with the destructive circles, made it stagger, muddy and bubble up with waves. It pushed the storm from the highlands to the cities, brought the vehicles and artilleries, dirt and stones, animals and cadavers with it.

Thu saw herself blent into that huge campaign. A cloth cap, a pair of “rau” sandals, black “ba ba” and a gun fastened at the belt. All Thu had to do was catching up with that campaign regardless day or night and she was breathless, let alone fighting. She just kept on crossing the forests, passing the clear moors, the deserted kaingins. Just saw the endless vehicles and artilleries. Just heard the non-stop noise of the engines. All days. All nights.

In the evening, Thu’s group had to stop because they didn’t have any means to cross the river. The soldiers gave them a tip: pasted their personal piece of nylon with  American-made anti-mosquitoes spray, blew it to make it a buoy, then they could cross the river, came back to Can Tho.

The storm was in the center of Tay Do but its advancing impetus was very strong, created the whirls, created the stir. At night, the robbers appeared on the streets. “Bo doi” and guerillas were ordered to shoot them. There was a sound of AK every other hours. They solved the situation fast and determinedly. The un-named bodies. The situation was stable very fast.

Thu took over Can Tho city, became the secret secretary of the Youth Union. Muoi Dat, Thu’s husband, came back home from Poulo Condor.

Muoi Dat couldn’t recover himself after the harsh and difficult time in prison. The life of his family was poor and gloomy. 

Thu was stuck in Can Tho for three years. Took care of the patient. Work came and bogged down. All were nonessentials. Movements after movements. Shouted the mottos. Learned political lessons. Exhauted. Hopeless and she wanted to change her life.

That desire was as hot as fire. It burned smoulderingly but as fierce as the sexual one which was tearing her body, seducing the young woman to the Prince.

The fire burned again, brightened up again in the first meeting. The meetings after that recovered the wild animals, woke up the emotional areas, pushed the young woman to the ocean of passion.

But it seemed there was some evil power incited her, led her to him.

She felt herself was so near the power than ever before. In the past, when she made love with him in a small room with palm walls in the forest, she was very near him, but the feelings of power was very far away, drowned by the solemn of the royal, by the secret of the history. It made her scared.

But now, when she entered the big villa, she didn’t feel the shock of the royal, but the smell of the power. 

There was only some steps between her and the power. And when she sat down on the stately arm-chair in the large living-room, the power was under her two feet, inside the body of a tiger showing its tusks and its claws which was weaved skilfully on a Persian carpet.

There was the portrait of king Ham Nghi next to the portrait of “old” Ho on the wall opposite.

And when the Prince came out she really thought she was the owner of this house.

Some minutes ago, the power was within a reach, but now it was between her two legs. She kept it between her thighs. Then she bit it with her beautiful teeth. And finally, the power ran inside her body. She took it, kept it and owned it.

In the base, he had told her to take Lyndiol per month for not to be pregnant. Today he didn’t say anything. She hadn’t made sex for years therefore now she did that so passionately that the Prince must be surprised.

However, after that time, he forced her to take medicine. Thu humored him. Be patient. Ambushes. Until she was promoted to become the director of the Trade Department of Ho Chi Minh city and got a luxury villa, she decided not to take medicine any more.

When the foetus was four months old, she broke the news to the Prince. He was shocked. Amazed. He threw an ash tray to the wall broken into pieces.

“Why don’t you take medicine?”

“Why I must take medicine? We aren’t in the forest any more”.

“But I’m the Prince, I have a family, my wife, my children. You want to destroy my future?”

Thu kicked the bottle of wine to the corner of the room.

“It’s your problem. My adopted father. Don’t do if you’re scared. You could do that in such the terrible and devastating war. Now you’re scared?”

The Prince didn’t know what to say, then he stepped to the garden.

Thu took her purse. Her driver was waiting for her at the gate.

“You have enough stuff to arrange the problem, don’t you, honey?”, she whispered to his ears.

*

There were two people in the room: a lady was sleeping and an old Viet Cong was looking at his wife sleeping. During many years in Poulo Condor he had a habit sitting, holding his knees, staring at the space in front of him like that. Two feet was chained, clothes was torn, naked in the hot season, two knees raised high on which he put his chin, chin bones touched knee-caps, dry and loose.

The prisoners sat and stared at the cracks on the rough, dirty, ciment ground. In those cracks there formerly had been some scorpions, cockroaches or earthworm, they all now were extinct, they had been in the stomaches of the prisons of the past generations. Now there were only bed-bugs. They still existed because they had bad smell. Such a bad smell that hungry people couldn’t eat them. So, they survived. And multiplied. From the dirt, they grew as grass, sucked human blood to live. They had sucked blood of many generation of prisoners and they had been chased for many years but their enemies were men with chains, men with sickness, exhausted, they were not strong enough to look for them in the cracks on the walls and even in the chains, the stocks.

The prisoners sat and stared at the time went by as heavily and slowly as the immortal snail, silent, quiet, moving in indifference, in stupidity.

Sometimes they thought that they saw the time, visible, specific, as a weird shadow dragged its feet in front of them. The prisoners stared at the time, at the illusion and at its death. They stared at the hopelessness. And they thought they lost themselves.

The “old” Viet Cong of Poulo Condor prison still sat, holding his knees, the ankles had a lot of scars though the iron stocks disappeared. In front of him were the strange designs of the carpet. In front of him was a bottle of golden cognac – not the bugs any more. In front of him was a beautiful, sleeping woman.

He wanted to wake her up for many times but all he could do was some clumsy, confused, embarrassed actions. He thought he just bothered that woman, like an prehistoric man beat two fire stones but he couldn’t make the fire. The woman observeed his clumsiness and smiled. But after that she didn’t smile, but yawned. And sometimes she closed her eyes, lay in bed still, waited for his surrender.

The loser returned to the position holding his knees, looking for the bugs in the rotten wooden stocks in the past.

A bottle of cognac was in front of him. Muoi Dat had been sitting like that for many nights, for many years to look at his wife sleeping. Then there were some nights no one sleeping there. He still sat and stared at the cold empty place. Sometimes he cried, sometimes he roared, he howled as a wolf. His howl echoed to the walls, sounded furious around four walls like the wild animals. Then he dropped himself down in drunkenness. He lay on a carpet, as flat as a thin paper.

In the drunkenness, he saw his wife beautiful, graceful, luxury and haughty. He crawled to the bed side, took her hand, on which he kissed and put some tear drops. His boby shook and suddenly he found the strange happiness happened for some moments.

“I bow you. Don’t leave me please. I respect your private life, don’t leave this house please”.

He kept kissing her as a slave. Then suddenly he felt something abnormal beneath her breasts. He put his hand on her belly. It was warm and tense. And round. Muoi Dat dropped down the bed and bursted out crying as a baby. Thu sat up. Muoi Dat put his face on her two thighs. She bent down, embraced her husband’s thin back and she cried, too.

But Thu’s belly was getting bigger regardless their cries.

“Whose is it?”, Muoi Dat asked.

A simple question. But no answer.

*

Above was everything I know from what Thu told me and what I heard the rumours.

“Once I want to divorce, but my husband, Muoi Dat, is afraid of losing me. He takes good care of baby Huy because he thinks that if he keep Huy, he can keep me. After sixteen years, Huy still thinks that my husband Muoi Dat is his real father. He loves him very much”.

“Congratulation”.

“But do you think that some day Huy will know the truth, he will be disappointed and he will turn bad?”, she asked.

I hadn’t answered the question yet because I was standing at the intersection of the pre-war generation and the post-war generation.

I took notes and waited.

Huy, Truc and Quynh Vi were three in millions of children of the next generation. I loved them. I could die for their living. I could wither for their freshness. And then a little hope rose inside my heart. But I was still afraid. I stood in a quiet corner of the life, observed the young around me and was terrified because of their rudeness, emotionlessness and selfishness.

How would I imagine about the next generation, the generation of three children whom I was observing?


5.

The fourth child in the “character” list of this story was the son of the Prince and his private doctor when they were still in the forest.

After the unification day, the doctor came back her hometown, got married and sent the baby to her mother. When the boy was sixteen, his grandmother died, he didn’t have anyone to live with.

Ba Tran, a friend of mine and captain Quynh’s, was a vice-minister of the Revolutionary Government of South Viet Nam, had wounded in the campaign Ho Chi Minh 1975 so seriously that he couldn’t get married, hearing that the Prince had a bastard living homelessly in Long An so he connected the Prince, and soon after that, a tall, big, handsome young man was taken to him.

His name was Minh.

Ba Tran’s spine was wounded and that caused much difficulty in his  daily activities, such as: moving, writing, not including the sudden fits of convulsion and he had to stay in the hospital for a long time.

I met captain Quynh at the hospital gate. He took Truc with him.

“Hi, uncle”.

“Yeah. Today you wear nice clothes, you’re pretty”.

When we entered the hospital room, Ba Tran still lay in bed because he couldn’t rise himself. A middle-aged woman and a young man stood up and said hello to us. That was Minh.

The woman and Minh seemed concerned to Truc. Outside, three of them hung around in the corridor of the hospital, made noise with talking and laughing. Soon after that, three of them disappeared.

Inside the room, there were three of us left.

“Surprise! said Ba Tran, Why Yankee didn’t take you away with H.O program?”

“WhenSaigonwas occupied, as a captain, I thought I would be put into the concentration camp for ten years. But two weeks later, an VC officer came there and I was released on bail. He was my wife’s uncle, had just been sent to be a secret secretary of the village. I thought it was a luck, but after that it was an unluck. All of my classmates who were the army officers like me had gone toUSAwith H.O program, only I was rejected by them”.

“Why?”

“Because they accepted the ones who stayed in the camp for three years and longer. I stayed there for only two weeks, therefore I had to plow in ten years.”

 “Shit!”

Quynh asked:

“What about your bastard?

 “He’s just graduated from the university. His English is very good. He usually translates the documents for his company”.

Minh worked for a big real estate company in the city. I didn’t like the way the companies like that do business, in fact, it was just a machinery that linked together with the government and foreign companies to force poor people selling their lands, their fields with very cheap price, after that, it used the label “project” to enrich themselves.

Since Ba Tran was a student, he wasn’t hot-headed to enrich, but when he joined the machinery, he couldn’t resist it. He operated the company and considered it a legal service and made a lot of money. Finally, he became a boss who impulsed the machinery to work maximumly.

Then one day, he didn’t know when has he become a kind of “super landowner”.

He made money as a machine, although he really didn’t know what to use money for. No wife, no children, no brothers, he had only an old mother. And now he had an adopted son.

Quynh and I didn’t care about his company. We just recalled the stories in the past, the memories at highschool… Tran talked a lot with inspiration.

*

At that moment, at the hospital gate Minh asked Truc:

“Where do you want to go?”,

“Wherever”.

“Buy clothes?”

“My clothes is okie”.

“Buy shoes?”

“Who wears shoes to go to the field?”

“But you said you want to live inSaigon?”

“Yeah, play it by ears”.

“So, what do you want to buy?”

“Nothing.”

Minh cried:

“Oh! I know you want to buy a flying bubble, right?”

“Crazy!”.

The young man left.

“Hey, you leave me alone? I’ll lose my way”.

“I bring my car here”.

Soon after that, Minh came with his Camry, he opened a car door.

“Get in!”.

“I don’t like”.

“Oh my God! You can’t be snobbish! Hop in the car, now!”

“I’ll vomit on this car”.

Minh stood motionless in thirty seconds. He was surprised why he wasn’t angry. But he liked this crazy girl very much.

“Follow me”, he said.

Truc followed him. They went to a red light, crossed the street, came into a clothes shop.

“What for?”, Truc asked.

Minh looked at her in a dramatic way.

“I’ll buy you a luxury dress, a pair of crystal shoes. After that, you attend the beauty contest,” Minh teased her.

“Why you said you took me to buy a bubble?”

“Ok, but we buy these things first”.

But Truc didn’t move an inch.

“Right. You wait here, I’ll buy some razors”.

Then he came near the saleslady. “Hey, sis, tell me the size of clothes and shoes of that girl”, he whispered to her ears.

“Trousers size 27. Shirts size M. Shoes size 40.”

Then both of them chose clothes and shoes for Truc. Twenty minutes later, there was a shopping bag on Minh’s hand.

“What do you buy a great number of razors for?”, Truc asked.

“To save it”.

“How long do you use all of them?”

“One thousand years”.

“You look courteous but you’re a good liar”.

“Now I’m better. I used to be as crazy as you before”.

Truc left right away.

“Where do you go?”

“You say I’m crazy. I don’t want to stay with you any more”.

“Sorry. Sorry. Let’s come back”.

*

 “Do you know who that girl is?”, when Minh and Truc entered the hospital room, Quynh pointed at Truc and asked Ba Tran.

“Whose daughter?”, Ba Tran smiled.

“Tran Vu’s daughter”.

“Tran Vu… Ah, the journalist at R…”

“Yeah”, Quynh said. “Tran Vu is my younger brother”.

Ba Tran signaled the girl to come near his bed. Truc looked confused.

“Do you buy anything for her?”, Ba Tran asked Minh.

“It’s not your concern. Give her a job”, Minh answered.

Truc hesitatedly sat down at one side of the bed.

“You want to go toSaigon?”, Tran asked.

“Yeah. But I studied very badly”.


6.

Captain Quynh’s future was like a fish hiding itself in the ocean. How was its figure? How was its size? He couldn’t know. Once he tried to drop the line and got only a rag. In this time, somebody gave him a little bait and invited him to go fishing again. But the fish was still in the ocean.

Captain Quynh imagined a rather vague future. It was very far in theUnited States of Americaand nothing attractive, but certainly it would be different from this miserable village.

Truc’s future was closer. It was some hours enough on the passenger car to see the city light, the crowded streets.

However, these two kinds of future were in the hands of the others. Truc would be depended on director Minh and captain Quynh would look for the chance at theUSConsulat General.

But captain Quynh would have very few hope. This time, the interviewers let him write whatever he couldn’t write in the forms. He expected the scars on his body which he had formerly got from the battle “make a sortie”. He expected of the special missions in which he had been dropped down the middle of the dense forest of interzone 5 in summer 1972. Absolutely the Americans still saveed his name in the list of those teams.

Quynh still remembered some English, he can directly answered the questions.

*

I took Quynh to the US Consulate General.

While waiting, I called up Ba Tran.

“I’ll take Truc to your place, right?”

“Take her to the company. Meet my son, Minh. I told him to arrange to meet her. He will make a decision”.

So I took Truc to Minh’s office. He met us there and said that he will help her. I asked the girl:

“You stay here and talk with the director, ok? I must go to meet uncle Quynh.”

She didn’t seem afraid. She smiled, pulled her thick, sun-burned hair to one side of her shoulder, she looked very pretty.

I went to the US Consulate and waited for Quynh. Ten minutes later, Quynh showed up.

“How’s the interview?”, I asked.

“No interview. I don’t have enough conditions to have an interview”.

“Because of the two-weeks-capture again?”.

Quynh nodded his head.

“Why you don’t show them your scars?”, I asked him.

“I didn’t meet any Americans. I only met a Vietnamese employee. If I showed her some scars on my thigh, surely she would shout at me”.

I told Quynh to come with me to Truc’s place but he refused. “Let them alone. We go drinking something. I’m sad”, he said.

*

 “You dyed your hair?”, director Minh asked Truc.

“My hair is yellow naturally”.

“You aren’t an Amerasian”.

“I harvested rice on the field. My hair is sun-burned”.

“What grade are you?”

“Seventh grade”.

“Do you know English?”

“No”.

“You’re twenty years old why just grade seven?”

“I’m lazy”.

“If you’re lazy, who will give you a job?”

“You don’t give me a job? that’s ok. I come back home”.

Then Truc turned away.

Minh whistled. “Hey, baby!”, he called.

Truc turned her head round and putted it up.

“You call me by whistling? I’m not a dog”.

“I’m sorry. I’m just kidding. I like you very much. But I don’t know what you can do if I give you a job. You don’t know English. You don’t know computer. Your educational level is grade seven. What do you think you can do?”

“Make tea for the guests. Clean the floors. Or you want me to clean up the restroom?”

“Become a model”.

“Hey, don’t  tease me. But I think I can recover the debt for you. I’m very cruel”.

“How cruel?”

“In my village, my friends always call me ‘hit girl’.”

Director Minh sat down opposite the girl. Looked at her carefully.

“You still keep the clothes and shoes that I bought for you?”

“No. I let them float on the river”.

“Why?”

“The flood”.

Minh said:

“Ok. That’s ok. Today is Thursday. Next week you’ll start your work”.

“What will I do?”

“Whatever”.


7.

His name was Akinari, a wordly-wise guy. He came toViet Namwith many profits: his salary was ten thousand dollars per month, a chief of a representative office of Yashimo company inHo Chi Minh city. He was forty years old, had a family but they were very far from him, and his wife wouldn’t know if he painted all the city red, but if she knew, what could she do?

At eight a.m, he came to his office, his breath still had the smell of wine. One employee served him a cup of hot, white coffee. He drank it for breakfast. He worked, dozing off. His face was on the table, his two legs opened wide. Sometimes he forgot zipping up.

There was a refrigerator behind him. At noon, he let his employees have break time for lunch, he opened the refrigerator, took out a bag of raw squid in slices, a bag of chillies that were as big as fingers. And a bowl of chinese sauce. He ate raw squid, with chinese sauce, and chewed chillies like carrots.

That was his lunch.

Night time was the time that the devils inside his body loosed out. The devil of hunger took him to a luxury restaurant. He ordered a beef-steak, two legs of roasted chicken with a dish of salad. Usually, the price of his dinner was one hundred dollars. The devil of hunger stood beside him, put his long tongue out to its chest, its saliva dropped, but then it became some smoke before touching the floor. Akinari saved it some bread crust and some pieces of steak but the devil of hunger’s throat was as small as a draw although its mouth was big and its tongue was long therefore it couldn’t swallow anything except its saliva. And it has been devil of hunger for thousand years.

After dinner, the devil of hunger disappeared. The devil of lust appeared. It had green color, very skinny, but its dick was as big as a gourd and red. It led Akinari to a bar. Once he was in the bar, the devil became invisible, and Akinari walked with a bently way because the devil pasted its dick into the place between Akimari’s two thighs.

Akinari paid money very gererously therefore when he appeared, four girls with underwear ran to him and surrounded him.

Akinari knelt down. Four bushes of black hair, as bristled as barbed wire, ambushed him from four sides. He opened his mouth wide, his whiskers also bristled. He turned his body around, greeted them from the East, the West, the South, the North.

That was the madly violent and passionate surround which he faced up to every night.

His “tool” touched the floor and tensed as a bubble. He said something in Japanese that no one could understand but the girls could.

“It’s going to blow! It’s going to blow! Blow!”

Four girls pulled him up and pushed him to the very dark corner. He drank brandy as water. Drank and made love with four girls at the same time.

When he fell down, they pulled him to a room with a matress. As uasual, he didn’t bring his wallet, he had four hundred dollars in his pocket. And the hyenas took it away in a blink.

It was called: a day of Akinari.

*

Next day, in the join conference, Akinari, a representative of Yashimo company was the tallest, Nam Trung, a representative of the local government was the fattest, and Minh, a director of Dai Hung real-estate company was the youngest.

In the morning, these officials didn’t meet in the room, they altogether went out to the scenery.

The land was twenty hectares wide included a lake,  a football ground of the ward and many houses of the farmers.

Three hundred million dollars. It was the price for all the constructional entries of the project “the highway” which they were talking about. It was the road section that ran through a complicated terrain included rice fields, fish ponds, houses of residents and a water-coconut forest.

“I repeat: the price to compensate for releasing is one hundred thousand VND per meter square of land. If you pay them higher, you use your own money”, Akinari said.

“Don’t worry. There’re about twenty houses of residents. We will deal with them very fast”, Nam Trung said.

“In fact, this constructional site was small but very complicated. Only the compensation for releasing was very difficult for us. The price of one hundred thousand VND for one meter square of land that you confirm makes evrything hard. Do you see the cottage in the middle of the field?”, Minh said.

“What’s it?”, Akinari asked.

“It’s like a thorn in our eyes. It’s the only one resident who doesn’t agree to move. Doesn’t agree to take the money of compensation”, then Minh waved at an employee who stood idlely near him. “Truc, dear! You ask Tai to come here”.

Later, Truc took Tai to him.

“How do you deal with that old man?”, Minh asked.

“Sir, he wants to meet you. He doesn’t want to talk with me”.

“Why you don’t use your force to push him out of his house?”

“He’s in malaria. He’s trembling”.

“That’s good. Call the ambulance. Throw him on the stretcher. Take him to the hospital. No sooner the ambulance runs, you call for the tractor and it will pull up his house then throw it into the lake. That’s all. You get it?”

“Yes, I get it”.

“Then do it!”.

Director Minh gave order, he turned back and found Akinari and Truc disappeared.

At that time, both of them were looking at water-lilies at the lake-side. Minh came near them.

“What are you talking with him?”, he asked Truc.

“I don’t know Japanese so I don’t talk”.

“Back to your work”.

Truc politely said good bye to two men.

“You have a pretty girl. You give her to me”, Akinari said.

“No, I can’t. She’s very cruel”, Minh answered.

*

After Akinari left, Minh went straight to the palm tent because he heard the noise, the argument and maybe the fight.

The old man was lying on his bed. Some policemen and employees of Dai Hung company stood around it. Minh went to the scene.

“Why I don’t see the ambulance? What have you all done recently?”, he shouted.

“Sir, it’s muddy here, the ambulance can’t come in”.

“Why don’t you bring the stretcher here? Come on. Now”, Minh said, kicking on the rear.

Two employees got out of the house. Minh came near the old man, checked his forehead, he felt it was very hot.

“Uncle, you should obey the order of the government. This is for the community. The government will turn this muddy field into a modern civilized city zone. It’s a very good thing to do. Why you object to it?”, Minh said.

“I don’t object to anything. But the price of compensation is so low that I can’t find other place to live”.

“I think the price of compensation is suitable. We calculate very carefully and detailedly. It’s emotinal and logical. You have a field with one thousand meters square in water, in mud. The government compensates you one hundred thousand VN dong for one meter square and that’s right. Totally you have one hundred million VN dong. You go to the suburb, build a house. Wonderful. What else do you want?”

“But where do I plow? All my children work and study in the city, now how can I make them go back to the countryside, living alone? How can I?”

“Then you will receive a floor with eighty meters square. Ok?”.

“I have a piece of land with one thousand meters square, you exchange it with a floor with eighty meters square. Why are you so clever?”, the old man smiled with his distorted mouth.

“Fuck you”, Minh spitted. “I don’t talk with this fucking old man. Give me the stretcher”.

“Yes, sir”.

Then:

One had a rod, one had a knife

The ruffians came in as boiling water.

Two strong employees came to him, one grasped his shoulders, one held his angkles, lifted him up, threw to the stretcher.

“Help me! People! Robbers!”, the old man shouted loud.

Then he took off his boxers, not to show his dick (because it was black and shrink as a worm) but to take out his weapon he hid there.

He attacked so suddenly that Minh couldn’t avoid it. The director was hit “sinh tu phu” (death talisman) at the middle of his face. It wasn’t as clear as the vaccin of the monk Hu Truc, it was dark yellow, both fishy and sour. The employees stood around the director were hit that quality cat’s urine, too, they opened their mouth to vomit. All of them ran away.

The old man clapped his hands, laughed pleasurably. He threw his boxers, nakedly ran out of his house.

“Where are the journalists? Take pictures! Make a film! They rob my land! They rob my boxers!”, he shouted.

But everyone already left.


8.

 “What have you done?”, Ba Tran talked to Minh on the cellphone.

“I just worked on the compulsory measures of the government”, Minh answered. 

“What compulsory measures? You robbed them”.

“When you were still a director, you also did the compulsory…”

“But I didn’t arrest people violently like you”.

“Violently or not violently, it’s just… If we don’t act very fast, other companies will take it over. Then they will be robbed by whoever. You know that. You just pretend to be an ethical person”.

*

At that time, director Minh was having lunch with Truc in a restaurant.

“You see? When you still lived in Vi Thuy village, you wore shabby clothes, you ate rice on a wooden bed, there were only a pan of salty fish and a plate of boiled vegetables. Now you eat a lot of delicious food, your life changed, right?”, Minh said.   

“Only the cover changed.. One pair of jeans, a few pull-overs. I still take a bus. No cell-phone. Sometimes I have a meal with you (due to the relationship), besides that I eat cheap rice and instant noodle”, Truc said.

Minh took a sip of wine.

“Truc, dear, what did the Japanese do to you that day?”, he asked.

“He’s the most flirtatious man I’ve ever seen. He kept close to me, touched my shoulders, caressed my butt”.     

“Why did you follow him to the lake side?”       

“I thought he was a good man. But why do you ask me?”     

“I’m angry”.

“Why are you angry?”

“Because I love you”.

Minh held Truc’s wrist, very tightly.

“Hey, what are you doing in public?”, said Truc.

Minh let her wrist out. He drank wine again.

“What do you think if we go to a quiet place? I want to talk to you about something”.

“Which place?”

“In a hotel, for example?”

“You can go by yourself”.

*

Finally, both of them went to a coffee shop.

“Tell me what you want to tell”.

“Your hair is very nice”.

“Come on, stop!”

“You have your wild beauty”.

“Hey, don’t sing the trite song.

“Your body is very slim”.

“Do I look like the addicted?”

“You look like a model”.

“The way those bitches walk is terrible”.

“You disparage the model?”

“Yeah, diaparage”.

Minh felt bored with the dilly-dally way of the conversation. Both of them came back the company.


9.

The house was so large that Huy’s coming back didn’t give a mess to the daily quiet air. He went upstairs and saw the door of his father’s room was open.

It was 9 AM.

“Hi, dad, today you don’t go to work?”

“I’m tired.”

Muoi Dat lay in bed, his arms were along both sides of the body. Huy sat down next to him, checked his forehead. He didn’t have a fever.

“What can I do for you?”

“Nothing.”

“What’s happening between you and Mom?”

“I was insulted.”

“But who insulted you?”

“What for if you know it?”

“I mayn’t? Why?”

“Because he’s the prince. Have you ever heard about him?”

“No. But who is he?”

“Nobody knew him but everybody scared him. Hearing his name, people had to close their eyes, driving away the savage scenes of public denunciation, torture, and alive burials that took place during the “Land Reform” period.

“What about the “Land Reform period”?

“That was a movement directed by  the Communist Party in 1953-1956 to confiscate land of “landlords” for “poor peasants”. But inViet Namthere wasn’t landlord, therefore that movement was really a large savage and cruel revenge between the individuals.”

And in the same time took place the case of Nhan Van Giai Pham.”

“What is Nhan Van Giai Pham?”

“In that period you have not yet been born. That was the democracy and liberty movement of the writers and intellects ofVietnambegun on the first days of year 1955 and was extinguished on June 1958. It’s him – the prince – who has pushed the writers and intellects ofNorth Vietnamin the terrible exiles that you cannot imagine.

Hearing his name, intellectuals lowered their heads, looking at the ground like castrated dogs thrown in the middle of the faithful servants who shouted at them, insulted them, robbed their rice-coupons, let them go hungry, made them plow fields and betray their friends, and forced them to sell their honor and pens for a bowl of rice.

Huy drank two cups of cold water at the same time, said:

“I have never heard anything like this. It’s very horrible!”

“OK. By the way, I’ll tell you about Mau Than campaign.”

“Oh, maybe I have heard saying about that campaign. It took place in 1968. Didn’t it?”

“Yes, everybody called it “General Offensive and Uprising Campaign” in 1968. You know, it’s me and my friends cried for our comrades who died in that fights, and in the raid campaigns toCambodia. A retired general told me that the number of high-ranking officers who died in both campaigns outnumbers those who died in the anti-American war.  

Everything began from his craziness. He came up with the two big operations because he wanted to be “more talented than Mister Giap, more famous than Uncle Ho”. Because of his plan, millions of people were killed, hundreds and thousands of families were torn apart, and every village and town was destroyed due to his failed strategy. 

People said that he belonged to the Royal Nguyen dynasty. Due to that legend, everybody  in the forest called him “the Prince”.

Even Uncle Ho was afraid of that damned “prince”. In 1960, when Uncle Ho was seventy years old, he locked him in a pagoda which had a code K5 in the upper ofNorthVietnam, secret agents guarded the pagoda all days all nights.”

“But after all, what did he do to you?”

“Come on, you shouldn’t know too much. I’m tired and I want to take a rest.”

*

Huy couldn’t sleep because of what his father told him in the morning. It was 2 AM. The city was quiet. He drank a glass of water then went out of the room, stood at the balcony. In front of him was a branch of a river, it was calm and he heard the tender sound of the water-coconut forest from the distance. Huy looked down the garden and saw the lights in his father’s room. He thought his father couldn’t sleep, either, and he wanted to visit him.

His steps were very light, and he stopped in front of the room door for a moment. Suddenly he heard the noise of loading and cocking a gun. He startled, looked through the key hole. He saw his father sitting in an arm-chair, a half bottle ofCognacin front of him and a gun K54 on his arm.

Huy kicked in the door.

“Dad, what are you doing?”

Muoi Dat hided the pistol under his chair-pillow. Huy came near, took the gun, put it into his trousers pocket.

“Nothing”, his father said. “I intend to clean the gun”.

“Don’t tell me a lie, Dad. When I see the bottle ofCognacand the pistol I understand what you intend to do”.

“Nothing. You give it back to me”.

Huy took out the gun. He pulled the breech. A bullet dropped down the floor.

“Dad, you can’t keep bullets in the gun if you really want to clean it. Why do you intend to kill yourself? Please let me know”, he said.

Huy kneeled down, hugged the thin, old man who was very hopeless. Muoi Dat started trembling. He caressed Huy’s hair to be calm.

“Huy, do you know where your mother goes today?”

“She goes on business in Can Tho”.

“No, she’s in the Prince’s house”.

“But, what is she there for?”

“Your mother had a relationship with him since I was in Poulo Condor”.

“Really?”, Huy looked at his father dazedly. “No, I don’t believe it”.

“But it’s the truth. People say that the Prince has thirty wives, maybe your mother just sits on the “stand-by” bench. After I got out of the prison, lived with her, they still met each other”.

“Do you have any evidence?”

Muoi Dat passed his glass to Huy.

“Give me some liquor”, he said.

Huy poured liquor into his glass.

“One of my friend is a driver in the Prince’s villa so when your mother comes there and stays overnight, he lets me know. And that has been lasting for many years”.

“Where is prince’s family?”

“In Dalat”.

“He isn’t afraid of the rumour?”

“People are afraid of him. He’s afraid of no one”.

Huy embraced his father. “I don’t care about him. I don’t care about my mother. I love you, Daddy! Promise me that you don’t kill yourself, don’t you?”

At that time there was a noise of a car engine running on the drive-way. The car-lights shined on the glass of the windows.

“She’s coming back”.

Muoi Dat said and then he brought the bottle ofCognacwith him to the stairway. He sat down. Huy followed him, sat down at the other side. The stair was very large so there was a space between both of them. They looked down, at the corner. And waited. They waited for the footsteps at the midnight.

The sound was very clear. The sound of shoe heels. Hitting on the black granite floor of a very large hall echoes everywhere, like the sound in a royal play. The woman wore black clothes. Black jacket. And black skirt. From the upper, they only saw her thick hair moving with her steps. She never knew that there were two men waiting for her at the top of the stairs. She walked slowly, looked thoughtful, didn’t care for eveything around her. But at the corner of the stair, she looked up and then saw two men block the way in front of her like two stone Sphinxes of the dessert.

The woman smelled something criminal in that silence. She wanted to say a sentence to reduce the tense but finally she choosed to keep quiet.

“Today that pig kicks you out very early, why?”, Muoi Dat threw his question to the bottom of the abyss.

Director Thu didn’t answer. She didn’t dare to look into four eyes which were staring at her. She intended to put her feet on the space between two men then the bottle ofCognacgot out of Muoi Dat’s hand, the liquor splashed on all of her shirt. The bottle rolled down the stairs, the sound of broken glass was dry and sharp, cutted the silence sharply as a lightning of a sword.

The woman quickly walked into her own room, closed the door.

“I want to meet you! Open the door!”, Huy beated the door, shouted very loud.

Silence answered him.

“Tell me, where have you been?”

Still no answer.

Huy took out the gun of Muoi Dat, shooted the ceiling. The chandelier dropped down, the sound of breaking was clattering. He shooted one more time and dropped his body down the floor.

Thu opened the door, ran out of the room, hugged her son.

“Oh my God! What are you doing?”

She checked his chest, his face to see if there’s some blood but she only saw his tears. She cried with him.

“I am sorry”, she said.

Huy pointed the gun at his head.

“Promise me, Mother! If you still have the relationship with that old scoundrel, I will kill him then myself”.

“I promise. I promise. But honey, inside this story there are many problems that you don’t know”.

“I don’t care. I need you to keep your promise, and you will pay if you don’t”.


10.

Quynh Vi rode her bicycle around the resident zone. One hour later, I didn’t see her return so I went out to look for her, and I saw her riding bicycle with a strange boy.

I told her to come back home because it was dark but she didn’t stop.

“Just some more minutes, grandpa”, she answered, keeping riding.

Then she disappeared at a curve along the riverbank.

Later she came back.

“Your new friend?”, I asked.

“Yeah, my new friend. He said he had sad story”.

“What’s his problem?”

“His parents are going to divorce”.

“Where’s his house?”

“In Hoa Lan villa zone, across the river”.

Few days later, again both of them were riding bicycles all the afternoon. At the third time, I met the boy. He turned out Huy, the son of Thu. Two resident zones were aparted by a river and were linked by a small bridge.

I knew that Thu and her family living in Hoa Lan villa zone but I didn’t frequent her because she was very rich and also because Thu lived loosely and wildly. However she had stopped the relationship with the Prince since people gossiped about it a lot.

She made friends with some female directors, some wives of the presidents of the districts, some rich businesswomen, and they participated in the dancing clubs few times a week.

This kind of activity wasn’t a bar but there were also brandy, men, dancing coaches and… male whores.

Among them, maybe “male whore” was the most attractive. But Thu chose only a dancing coach.

This “teacher” was a son of a call-girl and some foreign tourist. People didn’t know what name in his ID was, but the homeless people called him “Lai”.

*

That was the second turning point in the life of a woman who had multicharacter. The first one, from the city, she came to R and became an adopted daughter of the Prince, and that relationship lasted until the day of unification and after that Huy was born.

The second one, from the noble class, she turned to the dead-end of the errant class. But no one knew about that breaking. Everything was still quiet.

Until one day, Huy took his girlfriend to the suburb and saw his mother’s Innova car parking in a bush.

Huy stopped, held his girlfriend’s hand and stepped forward. There was no one in the car, but on the grass, near the riverbank, there were two people: a woman over fifty years old and a young man, they were holding each other.

“Do you see that woman is really my mom?”, Huy asked his girlfriend.

“Yeah, from the behind, she is alike, but you have to see her face”.

“This is her car, it can’t be another woman”, Huy said.

He determined to go forward, to confront her face.

Both of them let themselves out. Lai kept calm, sat on the grass, smoked a cigarette, observing the mother and the son.

“What the hell are you doing here?”, Huy asked.

Thu’s face turned white, her lips were as discolor as a dead body’s.

“You go home. Tonight I’ll explain to you”, she said.

“You’re a wh…”, Huy shouted.

Huy’s girlfriend covered his mouth with her hand, then pulled him running to his motorbike which was lying next to a tree.


11.

Darwin’s “theory of the natural selection” said that when a lion hunted the baits, it would choose the weakest one in the herd, therefore only the strongest, the cleverest animals survived, and that helped the race was better and better. It also said that: when two male animals fought each other to get the right to make love with a female, it meant to choose the strongest breed for the race.

I thought that theory was for the animals only.

A human-being was a creature had conscience and intelligence. He could use the cunning, the meanness or the power to win, and if he got the right to make love with a female, what kind of breed was born for his race?

Suddenly the meanness of the adults effected the innocent world of the children, took them out of their familiar living environment, made them lose their directions.

*

Director Thu sat on her bed, looked down, crossed her fingers, hid them between her two knees. Huy sat on her desk, wagging his legs. There was a half of cigarettes left in a box, the floor was full of the ashes, right in front of Thu.

“What did you promise me? Do you remember?”

“But I stopped the relationship with the Prince already”.

“This thing is worse than that. You can had an affair with the Prince, you can steal money from the budget, you can get the bribe… but you mustn’t be a couple with a male whore. It’s the most insulted. I’ve been in a discotheque once, seeing the middle-aged women embracing the male whores who were as young as their children, I wanted to vomit. That picture was ridiculous and tragic”.

“But he’s a dancing coach.”

“Dancing coach? Why don’t you call him “lawyer” for more luxurious?

“It’s him who has taught everybody to dance.”

“Shut up! Answer me right now: Give up him or not?”

“But I can’t leave him”.

“Why? You love him so much?”

“No. I badly wanna leave him but I can’t. Until now I know one rule of the errent: If I have a relationship with him, only he has the right to leave me, after taking everything from me, but I haven’t that right”.

“Why?”

“Because he will stir up. He will come to my company, makes scene and insults me. He will meet my business partners to threaten them, to blackmail me, he will use any means to control me”.

“And you can’t report it to the police?”

“I can’t. If I report it to the police, the secret will be revealed. People will gossip, my opponents will find the way to topple me… Oh no, dear, I was controled like a slave”.

“But you still have the Prince. He’s powerful. He can kill him like an ant”.

“No, I can’t. I’d rather die than let him know this relationship of mine”.

“So you give up? Unbelievable! A woman with a firm stuff like you becomes a loser in front of a male whore! Ill luck! It’s time this family gets ill luck!”, Huy shouted.

Huy got out of Thu’s room to the garden. The bubbling sound of water running around the rock-works made his soul calm down. He sat on the grass, looked at the water running. It had been running like this for many years, in the summer afternoons, in the rainy nights or in the sunny mornings, it kept running like that in a familiar, small space, and it never felt bored. It always ran with its cheerful sound. Why was his soul full of being torn, hatred and suffering? Why couldn’t he blend into the trees, the grass, like the water, to caress the stone cracks, the green mossy plots?

Now he was sorry for his youth which was covered by the dark of suspicion and feud. When did he lose his innocence?

Suddenly he realised that he hadn’t seen little Vi riding her bicycle for few days. Outside there was still some sunlight. Huy took out his bicycle, rode it to the kite flying field.

*

The wind overwhelmed. Like invisible waves. And rose up from the water-coconut forest. The wind was like the water-fall running up from the reed and the thorn grass to the clouds. Huy dazedly looked at such a sunset that he’d never seen in his life. The splendid sunset with thousands of kites like a group of colorful fish crossing the water-fall, chasing together up the current. The tails of the kites were moving like beautiful clothes in some wild dance of the endless sky, blue and windy.

It was another world, with no houses, no trees, no birds and no one. The sky was covered by the wings of the kites and the wind was running on their long and colorful tails.  

Then clouds and birds flew out, offered their place to the kites. The winds were gathering, dancing, moving, quivering and waving. The wind was like a young mother sat freely in the sky, combing hair for the kites which were kidding, joking and avoiding.

The sky belonged to the kites. The sunset also belonged to the kites. And the kites belonged to the children. Therefore the sky and the sunset belonged to the children. Huy felt dazed in front of the very large world, the endless richness of the nature which the children were holding in their hands.

Huy threw his bicycle on the grass and walked along the big yard. Little Vi was sitting on the grass with her classmates. 

“I will blow a bigger bubble”.

“No, you can’t. The wind is very strong”.

“Hey, you cover me from the wind”.

The girl moved forward. Little Vi blew a pink bubble from her mouth. It was shaking in the wind but it didn’t break.

“Look, I can blow a bigger than that”, Huy joined them.

“Really?”, little Vi asked. She gave him a bar of chewing-gum.

In the sky, there were two kites clinging to one another. Huy had to run out to let them go.

“You guys, look at my bubble”, Huy came back to them, said.

Absolutely Huy was a champion among them. Little Vi clapped hands to praise him.

“The Japanese like to make the giant kites, don’t they?”, Vi asked Huy on the way home.

“Yeah. But inVietNam, the people inHuecity can make the kites very well”.

“You’ll make for me an eagle kite, ok?”

After that, little Vi turned her way to cross the bridge. In the sunset, she became a white shadow, like a small dove flying back to its nest. 


12.

Nam Trung gave order like a general:

“Dai Hung company’s men are in the front to remove the barbed wires. Chin Thuan, you lead a flying squad, arrest the old man, handcuff him, take him to your car. Director Minh, you operate two bulldozers, attack his house from both sides, throw it into the lake. Doctor Hiep, you follow the ambulance to the scene, be ready to support”,

Right after that, a scout ran out of the cottage to Nam Trung.

“UncleNam, he’s drinking alcohol”, reported the scout.

“Who’s he drinking alcohol with?”

“Alone. He invited me to drink with him”.

“Hmm. He wants to fool around with the law! SaidNamTrung. Are you sure there’s no one in his house?”

“There’s only a dog”.

“Shoot it. What else?”

“UncleNam, there’s still an important detail. He chained himself to a pole of a house”.

Nam Trung looked around him. “Is there a machine saw?”, he asked.

“Yes, sir”.

“Saw the pole. Pull his leg out”.

Nam Trung took out his K54 out of his pocket, shot the sky.

His men rushed into the cottage.

Inside the house, the old man was still eating dried fish with alcohol in a ceramic bowl. He emptied the bowl at a gulp then filled it up with the full jar of alcohol.

When the barbwires were removed, the mobile policemen were seen. Then two noisy bulldozers came across the mud field to approach the target. Although the ambulance and doctor Hiep couldn’t come near because of the mud, he didn’t give up. After his order, the sirens made noise, the signal lights on the top of the ambulance were winking continuously, encreased revolutionary ardour.

“You must saw the pole first”, director Minh whispered to one of his men.

The inferior pulled the string, started the portable machine saw. But the old man had shouted from his cottage:

“Director Minh! What’s so happy out there? Come in, drink with me. Today is my birthday.”

“Happy birthday!”, Minh shouted back.

Then he gave a sign, his men together ran to inside. The machine saw sounded noisily when it hit the pole.

The old man laughed crazily. He took a big sip, spitted the alcohol to the face of the man who was sawing, then he poured all of the alcohol to the palm wall.

He stroke a lighter. The palm wall was on fire. The fire spread to the bamboo bed on which he sat, burned his clothes and transformed him into a torch. The palm wall burned very fast with alcohol. Now the fire covered the cottage. The mobile policemen ran hysterically. There was only fire and smoke inside the house. A small dog terribly ran to the yard, but its fur was burned, maybe it was going to fall down, its bark sounded like the cough inside the throat. 


13.

The operation finished but there was no triumph. The cottage and its owner were deleted but the consequence wasn’t small.

Among the devil alience, the only official who didn’t join the tragedy was Akinari. Because, though he was also a devil, he came from a country that now wasn’t savage anymore. He didn’t want to be involved. Therefore he could show off his power in front of director Minh.   

“You can be charged of killing people, bro.”, said Akinari.

But Minh didn’t let himself be bullied easily.

“Who will charge me?NamTrung? Or the Court of this city? You’d better remember, this isVietNam. NotJapan”, Minh asked him provokedly.

“Maybe you’re right. But I won’t sign a contract with a ‘disreputable people’ like you”, Anakari said.

“What “disreputable people”? You should remember that the old man killed himself. Or there was a fire. Did you read the newspaper this morning? They said that it was a fire because he was careless when boiling water to make tea”.

Akirari’s testicles felt itchy. He put his hand inside his trousers and scratched it noisily.

“But it’s your problem. And me, I invest my money, I can choose another partner”, Akinari continued.

Minh turned off the music, pushed the button to order iced coffee.

Truc looked calm but she still had her stubbornness. She put down two glasses of coffee in front of two men then she left. Her black skirt was tight between her two thighs, sunburned but very slim.

Minh invited Akinari to drink coffee.

“Mister Akinari, let’s forget it. Because we already solved the problem. It doesn’t give effect to our plans”, he said.

“But inJapan, my boss knew it and perhaps the Ministry of Foreign Affairs also knew it”, Akinari said.

“You please give them a word. And if they want, I myself will sent them my explaination”, Minh said.

Akinari gave a mischievous smile.

“No explaination needed. I just want that girl”.

Minh closed his eyes. Scrubbed his face. Akinari stood up, gave his hand out. “Just think carefully. I’ll wait”, he said.

*

While Minh and Akinari were having breakfast, Truc was at the beach, sitting under the shadows of the trees which covered a large sand spot. The wind was calm and the waves were tender. In the off-shore, there was a rather big ship, painted blue, dropped the anchor.

In the village, two men were pushing a small boat to the sea. There were some cans of water, green mangoes, fresh vegetables and some cages of chickens.

“Hi, uncles, you go to the ship out there?”, Truc asked.

“Yeah. That’s a Thai ship. They wanna buy chickens and vegetables”.

“Let me go with you”.

But the men refused and they kept on sailing. Truc stood up, raised her hand over her head.

“I can go without your approval”, Truc shouted. Then she jumped into the water.

At first, she swam with the crawl, and she stopped when she was five meters away from the small boat. People on it were surprised, looked at a beautiful girl wearing bikini but swam as well as an otter.

“The water is cool! Do you dare to race with me?”, Truc laughed, waving her hands.

“Swim back! There’s a long distance. You can’t swim to it”, one of them said.

Now Truc swam with the breast stroke.

“Big deal! Do you dare to race with me?”

“Be careful! If you had cramp, we wouldn’t rescue you”.

At that time Truc was by the side of the boat.

“Ok, climb up”, one man said.

“No, I like swimming”.

Fifteen minutes later, they came close the Thai ship. And while they were doing business, Truc was swimming around the ship as a small dolphin. A sailor was surprised seeing a girl appear out there, so he dropped down a rope ladder.

He said something in Thai and Truc guessed that he wanted to invite her to climb up the ship.

Truc climbed the ladder. The sailor who stood on the deck gave out his hand. When her foot touched the floor, he pulled her into his arms.

That didn’t make Truc surprised, she didn’t pushed him out but she hugged him tight and jumped into the sea instead.

He was a sailor. But Truc was an otter. At first, he thought that she wanted to joke with him in the water, but when Truc dived deeply and kept his legs, he began feeling scared. He struggled to get himself out of her but Truc sat on his shoulders not to let him dive up. He tried to push her out but she sat on his back and clamped his hips with her thighs.

He was exhausted due to oxygen starvation when Truc kept pulling him to the bottom of the sea. At the depth of ten meters, Truc saw him turning fainted then she let him off and helped him by pushing him very hard upward the face of the water.

People on the ship horrified after both of them had disappeared for a long time. At the time they intended to jump down, the sailor rose up himself, took fast breath as a fish was thrown to a hot sand beach. His face was pale, his lips were black and he was trembling.

People on the ship shouted, with both Thai and Vietnamese.

“Where’s the girl?”

“I’m here! I’m right here!”.

Truc was swimming back to the shore, she was about fifty meters far from the ship.

*

Three of them had dinner at a hotel on the beach. Truc told Minh that story but he didn’t believe. Truc looked up the ceiling, giggling.

“Why do you giggle?”, Minh asked.

“You think I only know how to make tea and answer the phone?”

“You do your job very well. I’ll have your salary raised”.

“Why you don’t marry me?”

“You should learn English and computer”.

“I don’t like them. But I can rescue you if you fall into the sea”.

“What do I do to fall into the sea?”

“I can also get the gold medal for diving without oxygen tank. Is there that game in Olympic?”

“I don’t know”.

“ Just asking. I want a liberal life”.

Minh gave Truc a glass of soda. He raised his glass of beer, touched hers.

“Bottom up, ok?”

But Truc drank only a half of her glass. 

Few minutes later, her eyes became heavy and she thought that maybe because in the morning she swam a lot in the sea.

*

In her dream, she saw a hairy monster lying on her body. And she was naked. And the sea wind was cold. That monster had a very red and very long tongue. It licked her body, then it began eating her toes. She was terrified, made some unclear sound, tried to get out of it but she lost her power that she couldn’t open her eyes.

The monster looked like a bear but it wasn’t a bear. It had a human face with its whiskers were bulky around its red mouth.

Suddenly, there was a red snake sticked out from between of its two hairy legs. A snake wasn’t long but it was as big as a fist, naked with a lot of veins. The monster pressed her body, its terribe snake was waggling and tried to come into hers.

Horrifiedly, Truc woke up, but the snake was inside her already. And the one pressing on her body wasn’t a bear but a strange man.

Truc struggled, trying to reach the end of the bed and turned on the lamp. The light shone and she recognised the man was Akinari. His arms were gripping her as tight as a pair of pliers.

Truc shouted but her mouth was covered by a big hand. She struggled, trying to get out of his hand in despair. Then she found her mouth was under his shoulder’s muscle. She bit it very hard, she used all of her power to crush his blesh. Her mouth was full of his blood but it seemed the devil of lust didn’t know about that. His bottom moving up and down with the rhythm of a war drums, as if he was attacking the post, was fighting, was lusting for blood.

But, it was not his enemy’s blood, it was his own. When Truc spitted the wound out, his blood sprayed out all of her face, and her chest. The bed cover was red. The scene was like a bloody massacre. But Akinari kept moving continuously, agitatedly, like a savage rock that was a background for the cry of the young girl.

And finally, Akinari screamed like an animal which was castrated, he dropped his body, lying down on his own blood.


14.

He was coming. His cellphone number was on the screen.

“Why you locked your cellphone?”

“No, I didn’t. It was charging”.

Thu locked herself in the restroom not to let anyone hear her voice.

“You’ve been avoiding me for a week”.

“No, I didn’t avoid you. But please let me work, Lai. How many times I told you not to call my office’s number”.

“Because you locked your cellphone. I want to meet you right now”.

“I can’t. I’m working. I’m going to meet a foreign group”.

“I don’t care. I want to meet you right now”.

Then he hung up.

Director Thu knew very well where to come. It was a snake nest, a hyena cave which had an air-conditioner, cable TV and wifi. On sad Sundays, she usually lay down in bed with her laptop. Internet and pre-war music. She lay there, displayed her liver, waited for the vulture to nibble at it. She enjoyed the hurt and the sick joy from a sadist. Then the vulture came, pecked her liver, tore it into pieces and swallowed it.

The vulture spread its wings. Covered all of the bed two meters wide. The wings with black feathers looked like the sky with grey clouds, heavy and wet.

The vulture ate her liver until the last piece then it regrew, smooth, thick and as good as new. The wild bird flapped its wings, flew to the sky, disappeared in the tornado. Its scream tore her ear-drums, its echo exploded like the thunder. The woman drifted off, exhausted, fainted. When she awoke, she heard the sound of the vulture tearing the clouds, echoed to the earth. Again, she was covered by the vault-like feathers, black and wet. Again, the vulture used its sharp peak to peck her liver and ate. Pecked. Pecked.

The sadism repeated one hundred and one times, writhering, hurt and orgasm.

He lay in bed, holding a half bottle of Hennessy.

“Come here”, he said. “You wanna abandon me?”

After the day Thu had been caught by her son at the river bank, she didn’t want to call herself “em” with him, because she thought it was ridiculous to call herself “em” with a boy who was as young as her son. But today, after she entered this room, her self-respect disintegrated like a bubble.

“The more we meet, the more I see our relationship is abnormal and many tragedies will happen. My son objected to this decisively. Now he doesn’t obey me anymore. And if you come to my office to pester, I will leave it”.

“It’s because of you. Why you avoided me? We keep on meeting each other normally”.

Thu sat down at the bed-side.

“We can’t be normal anymore. The beans are spilled. I bow you. Please let me go”, Thu cried.

He threw the cigarette to the room corner, hugged her hips, and lay down on her body. He took off her clothes violently and made love with her rudely. Thu cried a lot but she still held the “honey” boy tightly and moving along with his savage dance.

“I’m sorry”, he said after he finished. “It’s very embarassed to say this but I need money. My mom was fooled by some people and she lost two hundred million dongs. She intended to suicide. Tomorrow you lend me that sum of money”.

Thu noded her head, noded and noded and noded. Then she wore her clothes, saw the time and left the room. Lai still lay down in bed, smoking cigarettes.

*

That was the first blackmail.

Second time, Lai took Thu to a low and dark house among the laboring neighborhood. It looked like a mouse cave, damp and dark. He told Thu to sit down on a rattan chair which was next to a small foldable table.

“What I come here for?”, Thu asked.

“My mom wants to meet you”.

Then he opened slightly a door. A translucent yellow light shone out from the dark corner along with some noise and the unclear voice of a sleeping woman.

“Mom? You have a guest”.

“What guest?”, the woman coughed and then spitted.

“Your daughter-in-law comes”.

Suddenly the woman’s voice changed. Now it was clearer.

“Oh my god! My daughter-in-law? Just a minute! Honey, wait for me just a minute!”

Then, the woman opened a door and stepped out, brought the smell of brandy and urine with her. She walked to Thu so unsteadily that Thu had to stand up to, it said, defend herself.

She turned out a middle-aged woman about fifty years old, wore a two-string pink pull, her lips were tattooed red as she was on the stage, her eyelids had been fixed clumsily therefore one was big and one was small. Her curled hair was let down to her shoulders, and the stranger was, her red tight jeans was very low to show off her black navel.

When Thu was confused how to call herself, the woman came near, hugged Thu’s hips then gave Thu a big kiss on her cheeks.

“My son Lai talked a lot of good things about you, girl”, she said. “Is your house near here?”

“Yeah… My house is…”.

Thu wanted to run away. Oh my god. This woman called her “girl”. Wasn’t she blind?

The woman still greeted Thu with a warm way. She caressed Thu’s back, caressed Thu’s hair, and touched the chin of the director of Trade Department.

“Oh, poor you. Are you shy? How are your parents?”, she asked.

Thu couldn’t breath due to the bad smell of brandy and sweat. Thu sat down to control herself.

“Don’t be scared, girl. I’m not a conservative mother-in-law. I’m still young. My gonads are still ok”, she laughed. “Look at me carefully. My breasts are real. I never go to the beauty salon to fix them. You see I still have my manners?”, she asked.

“Yeah…”.

She took a box of cigarettes out of her jean pocket in which there were few cigarettes of Dunhill left, and lit one. After blew out some smoke, she continued the story.

“What’s your name?”, she asked.

“My name… is Thu”.

“How old are you?”

Oh God! Did she really think that I was a girl of X 80?

To stop the weird way of her speaking, Thu gave a straight answer.

“Fifty five years old”

The woman leaned forward, raised her eyes, looked at Thu’s face carefully.

“Ah, ah… Finally I think you look very old. Perhaps you’re older than I. But that’s ok. There’s no age in love. My son crushed on you. But did your husband abandon you?”.

Thu was so furious that her eyes filled with tears.

“I’ve got to go”, Thu said, standing up.

Lai cheerfully observed the meeting of “mother-in-law” and “daughter-in-law” as if it was a comedy on the stage.

He followed Thu to the door.

“What did you take me here for?”, Thu asked him.

“So that you can see my house, it’s too old to live. Can it be our home, sweet home?”

Thu knew what he implied but she kept silent.

“There’s an apartment with three bedrooms, a living room, three restrooms and a kitchen. It’s about one billions and a half”, he continued.

Thu still kept silent. He moved her body around to look into her eyes.

“You don’t want to spend that money? That’s ok. Just come home and think carefully. Then call me later, right?”, he said.

The taxi stopped in front of his favorite billiards shop. He got out. He opened his handbag, took out a disc, gave it to Thu.

-Enjoy your leading role in the clips.

She threw the disc to the floor of the taxi, broke it by her heel.

*

Once Thu tried to meet the Prince and told him about the blackmail but she was afraid that he would spit in her face, or he would be furious and have the body-guards kick her out.

Then she thought: that damn boy could blackmail her, why she couldn’t blackmail the Prince? She dialed the secret number of the Prince.

“Who’s that?”, the voice of an old woman sounded at the other end.

“Mame, I…”

Then she again heard the strict voice of the old woman at the other end.

“This is the secret number of the Prince. Why do you know it?”

Thu was scared. She hung up her phone.


15.

When drinking alcohol alone, captain Quynh usually sat on a divan in front of the altar.

And he didn’t know what he was eating. Vaguely he saw something on a badly dented aluminum plate. Something was salty, acrid, just to make the alcohol less bitter.

He filled up the cup, swallowed the alcohol, felt something hot running all over his chest, his liver, his four limbs, and he continued drinking.

It seemed there was a vague noise on the river. Then it created the endless whispers inside the grass. It seemed there was the murmur of the past in the crackle of the waves.

The cottage was empty. And the dark was coming. The afternoon sunlights stayed a little on the waves and in the old man’s eyes.

Silence. He heard his own breath, felt the hot alcohol on his tounge going off to his eyes. Without alcohol, the sorrow would be dry hard, as sharp as a porcelain piece, that made some purple cuts. Without alcohol, the sadness would kill him. His heart would be cut and hurt. He had to drink a lot so that the sorrow melted, evaporated, flew up from two eyes, and made them red.

He had been drinking from the afternoon until all his neighbors turned on lights.

And in the vague twilight, he saw a slim shadow, as light as a wavering soul dropping on him from somewhere. The shadow came near and sat at the other end of the divan. He didn’t see its face. He didn’t see the color of its clothes. He didn’t hear its voice, either. But he knew who it was.

And he also knew the reason why it came back to this torn house at the twilight.

Truc was quiet, too. Truc came back here like in a dream. Like a dead wandering soul drifted back with the wind.

He continued drinking. And the shadow still sat there, movelessly.

Then at some time it seemed he heard a sound.

“Uncle!”

Then he put down his cup. The young girl leaned her face on his shoulder and bursted out crying. Then, the old man’s tears, from the endless sorrow world, dropped down the dried and sunburned hair of the young girl.

“Uncle!”

“No. Hush. Don’t say anything. I knew. I knew everything already. We cannot escape from the poverty. The city belongs to other people. The country belongs to other people. They never belong to us. All we have is this torn cottage, the pigsty, and some dried fish on the roof. This country doesn’t belong to us. This earth doesn’t belong to us, either.

We are just the dependants, we pick up what they drop from their luxurious world. Like, after the harvest, we pick up the lost rice on the field. Ok, stop crying. And don’t tell me what happened to you”.

Quynh helped his niece lie down, put a pillow under her head. Then he caressed her hair so that she could sleep well.

The trip from the city to Truc’s village lasted not only half a day, or a day, but also many days…

She didn’t come back to the room which director Minh had rented. She didn’t come back to the company. She went straight here from the place where she had been raped, the place where she had been sold, the place where had been blue sea and the big, old Indian almond trees…

She had left with some hundred thousand dongs in her pocket. Wandering like a beggar. Aimlessly like a dead leaf flying in the wind… She thought she would walk until she fell down and died, but her feet led her back home. Hungry, thirsty, torn into pieces, exhausted.

*

Truc revived due to water and sunlights. Water washed away the dust and treated the wounds of suffering trip.

And the early sunlights of a new day drove off the dark of the past.

After one year, the water hyacinth had gathered again at the old wharf. In the bottom of the river, fish had made nests again inside the bamboo branches. And now the small girl of Vi Thuy village came back home, too.

She pushed a small boat to the middle of the current. The water was lazy. It ran slowly. Truc rowed along the bank and stopped by a wharf.

“Hi, grandma Tu”.

The blind, old woman perked up the ears to listen.

“Who’s that?”

“It’s me, Truc”.

“Which Truc? I hear your familiar voice”.

“I’m Truc Crazy”.

“A, the crying girl. Where have you been for one year?”

The small boat kept on floating. It stopped by another wharf.

“Eh? It’s Truc. When did you come back home?”

“Just… How about sister Trinh inKorea?”

“She’s ok. Few days ago, she sent me three hundred dollars”.

The boat kept on floating. Then the water hyacinth from nowhere drifted down, covered all over the river face. Truc’s boat was stuck.

“Do you want me to help you?”, a voice sounded.

Truc looked down the water, saw a head rising from the leaves of the water hyacinth.

“Brother Sen? Give me a hand, please”.

“But I don’t know who you are”.

“Come on, don’t pretend like that. I’m Truc Crazy”.

“I don’t believe. Truc Crazy isn’t as beautiful as you”.

“It’s normal for Truc Crazy to be beautiful. When I was a child, I was beautiful”.

Sen swam to the bow of the boat, moved the water hyacinth to two sides.

“Hey, Truc! You come back to visit your uncle or to stay forever?”

“Visit him. I will go soon”.

“Oh God! Seeing your coming back, I’m happy to death. Why you leave so soon?”

Truc rowed her paddle. The boat was floating again, left behind it a young man who was dazed in the middle of the current.

Passing the water hyacinth, the river showed itself in the sun. Truc rowed the boat to the bank, tried to again look at the green leaves of Indian taros, at the roots of yellow-flower cajuput crawling to the water where they were covered by many bunches of purple shell eggs. And the jumping gobies jumped up and down on the translucent yellow mud.

Everything wasn’t changed. It seemed these leaves of Indian taros, these bunches of shell eggs, these jumping gobies were still here, had been waiting for her.

Truc felt that she had betrayed them because she had let them expect her for such a long time.

Then there was the sound of ducks. Her uncle’s ducks. Quynh was sitting on the bank, rolling a cigarette. Truc stopped her boat at a shade of the tree.

“Uncle! Meal time!”

“Let the ducks eat some more. This place has a lot of shells”.

Truc sat down beside Quynh. Both of them looked at the river face with sunlights.

“Uncle! Where does this river stop?”, Truc asked.

“It runs to the sea and stops”.

“All of the rivers run to the sea, don’t they?”

“Yes”.

“Why they don’t run to the forests?”

“Because the forests are always higher than the seas”.

“But where do the forests get water and let the water run to the sea?”

“They get water from the sky”.

“But where does the sky get water?”

“From the sea. When you were young, you used to ask me lots of questions like this. You’ve forgot it?”

“Yeah. I’ve forgot. But now I remember. They’re coming back to me. Every wharf, every stump, every sound of paddle. I even remember the familiar smell of your rolling cigatettes…


16.

From nowhere, there were many branches of the river running  to this place. The river face was so calm. Sometimes it caught a narrow, wooden bridge. Sometime it caught a shaky, trunk bridge.

Perhaps there was a bird nest in a bush. Quynh Vi was fishing, suddenly she heard the sound of a baby bird on the leaves.

“Brother Huy! There might be a bird nest above my head”.

Huy searched for it but didn’t see anything. The river was quiet again. But later, the bird sounded again.

“Did you hear it? What kind of bird is it?”

Quynh Vi threw the fishing rod on the lawn. The grass was soft and green because it used to be a part of the golf-court. She lay down on her back, looking at the sky. It was as narrow as the vault of the church, there flying the clouds behind the dark green leaves. Then again the sound of the bird was thrown to the silence, as lonely as a drop of water falling down from the leaves. The sound was as shy, childish and tender as a question.

Quynh Vi listened and imagined the bird’s image. It might be as small as a knuckle. She had seen such a small bird before. Its feathers were light brown, as small as an olive fruit, jumped up and down among the leaves to look for worms. It was a peaceful world with different green colors. The leaves outside were bright green, and they were darker green inside, but all were so clear that she could see the ribs of a leaf, the down on a leaf face. But the worms were invisible. They might be as small as the toothpicks, hid themselves in somewhere, but a flowerpecker could see them. And there was only it. It was a lonely bird. Very small and very lonely. Whenever Quynh Vi saw it, it was alone and so fragile among the immense nature. Why it didn’t have a friend? Why it didn’t have a mother? 

“Brother Huy! Why a flowerpecker always lives alone? Why it doesn’t have a mother?”

Huy also lay down on the grass. He saw the bird, too, but he didn’t know how to answer.

“I don’t have a mother, either”, Quynh Vi said.

“I know. I have a mother but I don’t feel anything of her. Because she’s always absent,”, Huy said.

“Why?”

“She doesn’t love my father. My parents never talk to each other”.

“But why?”

“She was too bad. Do you know what “having an affair” means?”

“No. What does it mean?”

“If you don’t know. That’s ok”.

“Maybe I know. Vaguely. But I know your deep hurt. Because my family is mostly the same yours. My mother left me already. Luckily I still have my grand-parents. My grand-father said that he and I were relatives in the past life. As the predestination”.

“Predestination? How predestination?”

“Seven days after I had been born, my mother directly carried me to my grand-father’s. At that time my grand-father didn’t know who my mother was”.

“She’s Duy’s daughter”, said my mother.

“Really?”

“Yes, really. So, she’s your grand-daughter”.

“And you? Who you are?”

“I’m her mother”.

“What’s your name?”

“I’m My My”.

My grand-father hadn’t believed yet, but he wasn’t angry. My mother said, at that time, my grand-father looked amused because when he came near me, I smiled at him. As if I wanted to make friends with him.

My grand-father told my mother to arrange a place for me so that I could sleep. She was confused, and my grand-father carried me in his two arms. He was completely entrusted. He was completely relied on. My grand-father accepted me unhesitatedly.

My mother said that my grand-father was advised to take me to test DNA, but he didn’t want to do that. Because he had recognised me from the past life. At that time, between us there was no language. No gestures. No eye contact. He just carried me in his arms and our two souls became one.

My mother said, seven months later, when I knew how to sit, her mother came. But up to now, I haven’t remembered anything about her because she met me only once. In twelve years, I’ve lived with my grand-parents. And my father. But the first word I called, not “daddy” but “grand-pa”.

My grand-father taught me how to say: “Grand-father. Grand-father”. But I failed. After one week, all I could say was: “Grand-pa. Grand-pa”.

And that was all.

*

One day, something wrong happened when my grand-father came back home from work.

All the room doors closed. And inside was dark.

“Why I don’t see anyone at home?”, my grand-father called my father.

“She’s gone with the baby”.

“Where did she go?”

“I don’t know. She didn’t tell me, didn’t leave a letter either”.

“She must’ve taken the baby to her mother’s”.

“I don’t know”.

“Do you know where her mother’s is?”

“No”.

“Oh god. We may lose the baby, mayn’t we? Give me some addresses. Her sister’s, her aunt’s, or her friend’s…”

My father gave the address of my mother’s friend in Binh Thanh. At once, he dropped his things on the stairs and set out on his motorbike. There, he saw a girl, the same age with my mother’s, sticking her head out of the balcony.

“My My hasn’t come here for a long time. So what’s up, uncle?”

“My My has disappeared with her baby. What do you think where she’s gone?”

“I don’t know. You should go to Ban Co, try to find Ut Van. Both of them are best friends”.

My grand-father went around Ban Co zone. He asked the address of Ut Van, but no one knew.

All the afternoon, my grand-father sat idly on a hammock. He was hungry but he didn’t want to eat anything. My father said:

“Don’t worry, dad. Surely she will bring the baby back”.

“Why do you know?”

“Because she has no money to feed the baby”.

My grand-father hasn’t got any news about me for ten days. He kept staying around the telephone. As if it was a kid-nap. But he couldn’t report this to the police because my mother had given birth to me. It couln’t be a kid-nap.

On the fifteenth day, my grand-father got a phone call.

“Hi grand-father. How are you?”, a sweet voice sounded at the other line.

“You know very well how I am. When will both of you come back home?”

“I want to come back home but my parents don’t agree. My family is really poor but I must keep my daughter, I can’t live far from her”, my mother said.

My grand-father said that he accepted my mother to be his daughter-in-law, but she refused. She hated my father. And my father did, too.

“But you should bring the baby back here. My family has enough conditions to keep the baby much better”.

“Then I will ask my parents for permission”.

She hung up. Like the God of magic lamp had just shown up then he dissappeared in the air. Nobody knew where he went.

Three days later, the God of magic lamp showed up again.

“Grand-father! My father wants to invite you to come to his house”, she said.

In one-one thousandth of a second, my grand-father was there. He saw a narrow and dark staircase. The broken ciment stairs led him to a dim, loomy and damp room. The only light was as big as a ping-pong ball. It was hung beneath the ceiling in the middle of the room.  A skinny man grinned at my grand-father and invited him to sit down on a cranky chair. But he didn’t sit down.

“Where is little Vi?”

At that time, he heard a rustling sound and then a sniffing sound from the dark corner. My grand-father came near and recognised his grand-daughter was sitting quietly in there. He lifted me up and opened a window.

I stared at my grand-father without blinking my eyes. Suddenly I pointed at his forehead.

“Grand-father!”, I called him.

And finally I met my grand-father. And finally I could call him “grand-father”, the word that I couldn’t call before.

I looked at my grand-father crying. His tears were rolling down his cheeks. Later he said that perhaps at that moment I thought his tears were the crystal beads, therefore I picked them with my two fingers. The tear drops broke, I couldn’t catch, couldn’t keep.

My face was pale and doleful in the sunlight from the window.

The old man put a glass of water in front of my grand-father. Then he kept doing something in the restroom.

“Hey, buddy. I know it’s difficult for you to take care of a baby in this condition. My house may be better. You let me keep her, please”, my grand-father said.

“I can’t. You must ask my daughter first”, the old man smiled.

“So where is My My?”

“I don’t know. She may come back home at midnight. Or early in the morning. Or she will come back home every four or five days”.

“Then who feeds the baby? Changes her clothes? And baths her?”

My grand-father felt itched, he checked his foot and saw it was covered by dog hair. My hands were adhered by dog hair, too.

“You have a dog, buddy?”

“Yeah, to keep house”.

“Oh god! That’s too bad. May I borrow your broom?”

My grand-father opened another window, took off his shirt and his trousers. He swept the floor, cleaned up the house, cleaned tables and chairs, scrubbed the restroom, folded the clothes, washed dishes…

My grand-father didn’t want to leave me. But he couldn’t stay there forever. At night, he lulled me until I slept then he went out.

The negotiation failed with no good result.

Since then, every day, fromSaigon, my grand-father went to Cholon three times: morning, noon and evening. As if he visited his relative in the prison. At dawn, he got up early, went there to visit me for some time then he hurried to work. At noon, he bought a loaf of bread, drove his motorcycle, eating bread on the way. He went pass ten kilometers of traffic jams in a sweat. Then he went back to work at two pm. After work, he had more time and he could stay with me longer.

My grand-father said, at that time, I was eleven months old and I didn’t have a smile. From a bright, beautiful world with many toys, suddenly I fell down a dark corner. And I lived with an old man and a dog.

Suddenly my grand-father disappeared. My mother disappeared. My father disappeared, too. Oh, my God! I was only a fragile baby, how could I bear that sudden and heartless change?

One week later, my mother called up my grand-father, said that her mother wanted to borrow one thousand dollars to pay debts. My grand-father agreed at once, he asked the date to deliver money.

But my father disagreed. He snatched the phone and shouted:

“You want to blackmail? Huh? Keep the baby for yourself! Dare you do that?”

“It’s stupid to keep the baby. Tomorrow I’ll throw her into an orphanage!”, my mother answered at the other line.

My grand-father was horrified, he took back the telephone.

“I bow you! I’ll bring money to you in thirty minutes”, he said.

Less thirty minutes later, my grand-father stood at the staircase again. But the room was empty. Only a small dog greeted him. It didn’t care to bark. It sniffed his feet and went away, blending into the dark corner.

*

The next morning, my grand-father got a phone call, not from my mother but from an old woman:

“Hello, my ally. How are you?”

“Where’s little Vi? I have money for you”.

“Oh God! You think I blackmailed you? No, I just borrow you and I’ll pay you back later”.

“But when I came, I didn’t see any one?”

“Your son did talk a load of crap. I wanted to teach him a lesson”.

“Thank you. Now where do I meet you?”

“You go to Tao Dan park, at the children’s slide. My My and little Vi are playing there”.

Since that time I was living with my grand-father forever. Once a month, my mother came to see me but when I was eight years old, she didn’t come any more. I heard that she had gone abroad and lived there.


17.

Thu didn’t dare to turn off her cell-phone when she was at work. Because Lai would call the operator of the Trade Department and talked a load of crap. Once the telephone rang, for example, the operator asked: Excuse me? Where do you call from? He shouted at her: It’s none of your business! I’m your director’s husband! Call her! Now!

When the operator related, Thu knew that there was no way to go.

“They’re joking. Tell them I’m out”, she said.

However, today, it was Lai’s mother came. She wore a black pull. And also black jeans, black glasses. She came by motorbike taxi. The security guard smelled the alcohol from her mouth so he stopped her.

“Who do you want to look for?”, he asked.

She took off her glasses, put them into her purse, showed off her colorful face with one eye big, one eye small, both were purple.

“I look for my daughter-in-law”.

“What’s her name?”

“You really don’t know director Thu, do you?”

The guard pushed her out of the gate.

“Hey, you’re wrong, bitch. Director Thu may be older than you. How can she be your daughter-in-law?”

Then she glowered and stood with arms akimbo.

“Ah, you don’t believe me? Let me call her to come here. Hey, Thu! I’m your mother-in-law. The guard doesn’t let me to go inside!”, she shouted.

Thu’s face was pale when she heard the woman’s voice. She called up the security.

“Kick the crazy woman out”, Thu said.

The guard cocked his rifle.

But she wasn’t afraid. She took off her buttons, showed off her red bra.

“Shoot! Just shoot! Dare you, guy?”

The guard was scared, put his rifle away.

“Mother. I bow you. Please go away so that I can work”, he begged her.

She put on her glasses, continued shouting.

“You promised to buy my son a house, why you failed doing it? I swear to do everything to make you renounce this place, daughter-in-law”.

She intended to go away, then a policeman who was guarding on opposite street coming.

The guard reported:

“Hi, brother. This woman comes here, makes a scene, shouts at everybody.”

She slapped her thighs, kicked the gate noisily.

“You call the police to arrest me, huh?”, she gave out her two wrists. “Yeah, do it!”.

The policeman acted very fast. He locked her hands with his handcuff.

“Hey! Thu! They arrest me, honey!”

But the policeman pushed her forward.

In the office, Thu looked out the window. She saw the bad situation, therefore she called up the security.

“Tell the policeman to get her off. She’s my cousin. She’s crazy. Don’t let them arrest her, she would talk a load of crap then it’s not good. Follow her, now!”

*

Huy just kept silent after hearing the story.

He came to his mother’s office at ten thirty a.m.

“Why you gave him this address?”

“I didn’t give him. He followed me”.

“How about the phone number of the Department?”

“You know the address then surely you know the phone number. He asked 116”.

“116. Go to hell!”, Huy swore.

To respond his curse, Thu’s cell-phone rang.

“Thu, you avoid me?”

Thu looked at her son, pointed at the window. Huy looked down, saw an amerasian boy standing on the opposite street, talking on the phone.

“Why you promised to buy me a house and you failed at doing it?”

“Please, Lai, I bow you. I’m an officer. I don’t have such a lot of money”.

“Don’t give much words. To you, one billion is just a little bit. You have three days to do it”.

Thu turned on the speaker of her cell-phone because she wanted Huy to share it with her. Huy was very furious.

“A fucking dog. Get off. You won’t have a fucking penny. I’ll call the police to come here to handcuff you!”, Huy shouted to the cell-phone.

“Ah, you’re Huy, right? Come here! I’ll show you the picture in which your mother are naked, fucking me”.

Huy threw the cell-phone out of the window, ran downstairs like a crazy guy.

“Huy! Stop, stop!”, Thu called her son hysterically.

But Huy disappeared behide the turn of the staircase. Thu knelt down on the tairs, leaned her head on the handrail, crying.

Seeing Huy ran down, Lai crossed the street. The guard knew that there was absolutely a fight in front of the state office, so he grasped his club. Lai came near, pushed the gate. The guard stopped him with his club. Lai took it and hit the guard’s stomach with his knee.

Huy ran to them, joined the fight.

The police came right on time, controled Lai with his gun, handcuffed him and took him away.


18.

How to stop a storm? Without a miracle, you had to run away from it. You could come to a forest corner, a canyon or a hill. Like this woman sat, smoking alone on the perron of an old villa in the pine forest.

She left the storm down the plain. Up here with rolling pines. It was very cold. The forest was quiet. But her soul wasn’t calm. It was pulled, provoked by the past in which there were a lot of shouts, faces, cries, blended with the curses of living people and dead bodies, the orgasm and the insults.

The woman sat, holding her knees. In front of her were the sunset, the pine trees and a piece of fade sky. Cigarette ends were all over the ground like the un-known insects died for freeze. No wind at all therefore the coldness was dry and hard. The cigarette ends were too.

Getting rid of everything! Like getting rid of dust on the clothes. But the memories weren’t dust. The memories were small devils, and crowded. She couldn’t get rid of them. The coldness and the silence of the pine forests couldn’t win them.

If there was a man beside her, maybe these devils would be scared and went away…

The fog was coming. The afternoon lowered and quiet. She stood up, came back to her room and lay down in bed. She took out her cell-phone from under the pillow. She looked at its luxury, hesitated. Up whom she would call? She didn’t have anything to talk with her husband. It was a dry world, a dry stream with nothing but sand and stones; the time ran past them like a hot, summer wind burned some last moss which was left on the pebbles. That world was gone, and in it, there was a little tired ash of a fire which was cold.

Up whom she would call? A male whore who was on the wane, was huddling himself up in the prison with a lot of crimes that had just been found: selling drugs, being a pimp…

Finally, it was the Prince.

“Hello, daddy”.

“Where are you, my girl?”

“Da Lat. Can you come up here with me?”

“I can’t. I’m busy. Why you quit working and go up there?”

“I’m going crazy. I don’t wanna work at all”.

“Ok, I’ll arrange things for you. Tomorrow you’ll fly back here. I’ll send a man to meet you at the airport”.

*

But the man who met director Thu at the airport was “a confidential friend” of Muoi Dat’s. Muoi Dat called up his son.

“Hello, Huy. Tomorrow, at ten a.m, you go to Tan Son Nhat airport to meet your mother”, he said.

Ten o’clock. The Prince’s car and Huy’s car came to Thu’s place at the same time.

“Hi, mother. I’ll take you home”.

“I already have the car of my office”.     

“It’s not the car of your office. You don’t want to come back home with me, mother?”

Thu had to get in Huy’s car.

The “competition” had been arranged before so there was no problem. The driver reported to the Prince: Thu’s son happened came to the airport and he took his mother home.

The Prince kept silent.

But, taking Thu back home was just a thing to reduce Muoi Dat’s self-love. She was home or wasn’t home, the villa was still as cold as a grave.

“Surely tonight she will go there”, Muoi Dat talked to Huy later.

Huy sat movelessly for some minutes. Then he left.

*

As a matter of fact, at ten p.m, director Thu drove her Innova to the gate. Thirty minutes later, she arrived at the Prince’s. The gate opened automatically.

Her car ran around to the back.  

In the bedroom, the Prince watched the camera screen and he knew his lover came. He put a kimono which was made ofShanghaisilk on his shoulders, put his feet into embroidered slippers, walked to the corridor in the back.

Thu opened the car door, get off and fell into the arms of the big, old man.

“Welcome back! I’m very happy. I thought you forget me already”.

“You’re always my reliable support”.

The Prince carried Thu on his strong arms and turned back.

At that time, in the car, on the back seat, a head popped up, watched the old couple. Then the car door opened slightly.

Huy got off the car.

But as soon as had he walked to the bedroom door of the Prince, there was a noisy sound of a dog barking. From a distance, a hundred and twenty-pound Berger dog flew to him. Huy was horrified, he took out Muoi Dat’s gun, pulled the trigger. It missed. Huy hid behind the rock-works but the dog ran to him. Huy shot again, it hit the dog’s leg. It barked, trying to walk to the gate. Two big body-guards appeared right away.

Then only a sound of gunshot.

Huy died an instant death. 

The body-guard turned on his flash-light to see the killer’s face then he heard the Prince’s voice in his walkie-talkie.

“What’s up?”, asked the Prince.

“Uncle, there was an assasin. A young man about twenty years old. I killed him”.

The door of the Prince’s room opened, director Thu ran out, her long hair let down, her face was pale. She took the flash-light off the bodyguard’s hand.

“Oh my god! Take him to the hospital, now!”

The Prince appeared. Seeing the victim’s chest was full of blood, he knited his brows, pressed the neck artery with his fingers. It was moveless like a dead earth-worm.

“Uncle, should we take him to the hospital?”, the body-guard asked.

“No. Take him to the highway. It’s a traffic accident. You get it?”

“Yes. I get it”.

The Prince turned around but Thu embraced the dead body with a sudden haste, bursted out crying.

“No. Don’t. He was your son!”

“Later, not now. Don’t let the foreign media makes a scene with it. You just go inside the room”.

And the Prince stooped down to carry Thu. Her body was as soft and drooped as of a bird which was shot on the grass-field.

The body-guard stuffed Huy into a trunk, then he started the engine.

Hearing the sound of a car running to the gate, Thu was alive suddenly. She got out of the Prince’s arms, got into her car and chased after it.

The body-guard’s car disappeared on the street. But Thu could guess its way. She still wore sleeping clothes, let her hair down on the shoulders, her face was wet with tears. She drove her car crazily on a deserted street at midnight.

Crossing Binh Trieu bridge, she drove her car faster. To near Binh Duong, she still hadn’t seen the trace of the body-guard’s car yet.

She stopped her car by the grass roadside, get off, looked around, then she cried, walking into the dark of the highway with no street-lights.


19.

Quynh Vi cried.

The children usually cried because of the adults’ faults.

Every day, how many children cried like that on the earth? The new-born children didn’t have milk to live. The naked children lost their mothers in wars. The black children waded into the mud to look for some frogs. The orphans sat on the streetsides, crying.

I used to see a black boy as thin as a small monkey, carried a torn bag, wandered by the dump. He picked up a plastic bottle, cut it into two, tied a string to each part to make them slippers.

And Kevin Carter’s famous photograph, won Pulitzer 1994, made the whole world shocked, was taken when the terrible famine happened inSouthAfrica.

A little girl was starving but she tried to crawl to the food camp of UN. A vulture patiently followed her, waited for her death to eat her. 

No one knew what happened to the little girl after that, even Kevin Carter, who left the scene after he had taken that picture. A newspaper wrote something about Carter: “The man adjusting his lens to take just the right frame of her suffering, might just as well be a predator, another vulture on the scene”.

Kevin Carter read those sentences and then he suicided.

In my dream, I still met the crying children. Who cried everywhere on the earth. Who were withered, thin, dirty with mud and flies. Who didn’t have their childhood, their maternal love. Who didn’t have families or homes to come back. What they had were the holes, the places under the bridges. What they had was the loneliness. Like a mouse, like a wild dog, like a lost cat, cried in the coldness. They themselves were versus the life that was large, chaotic and full of traps. They were lonely. Their tears were dried, their voice was off and their smiles were faded. 

Quynh Vi also experienced those savage days when she was a baby. Up to now, she had been living in wealth, in the life of a modern girl, I was still melancholy whenever I remembered that she had lived the dark days, without her mother, without me, without her relatives by her side.

Now, at the age of sixteen, she cried again. She kept sitting at the stairs. And cried.

“Let me lead you to the cemetery”, I said.

She still cried. Resentfully. Her tears rolled down her cheeks.

On the second day, she still cried.

“Let me take you to visit brother Huy, ok?”, I said again.

Then she nodded her head.

I took her there on my motorbike.

When we came there, I saw a woman kneeling in front of the grave.

She knelt like a stone statue. Quiet and moveless. A picture of Huy was on the marble stela. It was moveless, too.

Quynh Vi came near, put down a bunch of yellow roses on the grave.

“Brother!”, she shouted.

Then she cried again.

For a long time I had avoided talking about the death to Quynh Vi, but now, the death was a part of her life. It was inside her body and destroying her.

No information about Huy’s death on newspapers. The funeral was simple, in a hurry. Only few officers of the Trade Department came, along with few members of the Party. Huy’s death was informed as a traffic accident, though all of people clearly knew every single detail.

Quynh Vi asked me the reason why Huy died and I couldn’t tell a lie. I didn’t want to use the lie to the holy emotion of a young girl.

Both of us had a long conversation for many hours. I talked about Huy’s death in details which Muoi Dat had told me on the phone, about the time living in the forests, about Truc’s miserable life, about Minh… Quynh Vi never wanted to stop at half of the way, she wanted to know more and more.

In the middle of the immense cemetery, she stood, crying like a lost child.

Then there was a hoarse voice of a woman, sounded from the abyss of the despair.

“Karma!”

The woman stood up, her face was fade, her eyes were fade too, no brightness, no life. Her tangled hair was frozen because it was bathed in sweat, dirty with the dust. She went straight her car, no looking around, seeing nothing, not to hear the crying of the little girl. She opened the car door, got in and started the engine.

The Innova U-turned slowly, but when it was directed toward the cemetery’s gate, it screamed, the wheels whizzed on the hard ground full of broken laterite. It pranced in dust and got excited as a crazy horse.

It reached the highway, overtook all cars that it met on the way, running and roaring like a cuel beast.

The car rushed forward the city with a crazy speed. It paniced the vehicles, pushed the cars, the pedestrians, the cats and dogs and the policemen away.

A drastic pursuit in sirens and flashes. The woman’s car dashed like an arrow, like a cruise missile skimming the ground in a programmed  trajectory. The car’s smoke whitened the streets. The target hasn’t determined yet. But the smoke was directed toward the center of the city. Not only people and vehicles but also the trees on both sides scared it, bowed down to the ground, trembling. Woman’s face was white as gyps mask. Dry hair pasted on her forehead and cheeks. Glassical eyes never winked.

Then her car suddenly stoped. The two police cars stopped, the six huge motors stopped too. And all sirens died out. All engines sounds were dumb. All was rockened. Such a number of policemen who had violently pursuited a long while, was frozen! Sudden death. Myocardial infarction. Cerebral vascular accident. Died on their feet!

Only the woman still coldly turned her car to that luxury villa. An armed-guard-group blocked her way. Their guns were all cocked. The Innova hesitated and then it screamed and dashed forward. The guards were pushed away. Guns fired. The windshield was broken. The front wheels were completely crushed. The car staggered, rushed into the rockery,  got stuck in the water.

But the woman escaped herself.

-Stop! Or I shoot!

But the guard commander moved his muzzle aside.

-Shit! You don’t know who she is?

-Who?

-It’s imperial concubine.

-But, the prince’s in the meeting. Strict order!

The chief had no time to explain, he rushed to the woman, implored:

-Sister! You harmed me! Please not get in there!

He blocked her way but she took out a small pistol from her purse.

-Stand aside! Don’t you know I’m crazy?

But when she touched the heavy oak door of the meeting room, the guard has stripped easily her pistol.

All the fourteen men in that large luxury room were flabbergasted, and the guard hid his head outside.

The woman went straight to the prince. Not let him react, she seized by his throat.

-Give back my son!

The prince was puzzled, trembled. His sight became feeble, woozy, and no supremacy rested, no cry sounded.

Someone in the meeting room shouted:

-Where are the guards!?

But when the guards were overwheming the room, the woman bursted into tears.

-Oh my son! My son!

The prince embraced her but she fell into faint, slipped from his arms, faced down the floor paved by the Persian carpet designed with Lac birds.


20.

The noon was completely quiet. It stopped to wait for someone, or to wait for something. Or it stopped because of its laziness.

It seemed the time didn’t want to go, either. It had been going for a thousand years. Then, at some time, it stopped, listened, waited for a rain, waited for a thunder in the clouds.

And waited to listen what the girl lay on a hammock talking to a boy sitting on the ground. The boy kept on checking a cellphone.

“I give you that”, Truc said.

“I don’t know how to use it. But you and I are close to each other, I needn’t a cellphone”.

“What if I go far away from you?”

“Yesterday you told me that you came back home forever”.

“You want me to stay here forever?”

“Yeah”.

“How to live?”

“You can’t stand a poor life?”

“Yes, I can. But I must have a job”.

“I go net-fishing. I can get twenty pounds of fish everyday”.

“And I?”

“You also go net-fishing”.

“Water and sun will tan my hide.”

“Me too”.

“But a black boy is handsome, while a black girl is ugly”.

“No matter how black you are, you’re still beautiful”.

Sen pushed a hammock slightly. Truc was as long and slim as a small panther, her face was bright as a flower blooming on her smooth and black hair. A hammock was swinging. Truc was sometimes near, sometimes far from him. When she was near him, her hip could touch his face.

“After we get married, where do we live?”

“On the isle. Out there I had a cottage, a pond and a vegetable garden. I’ll build a hen-coop”.

The hammock was swinging with the rhythm of Sen’s hand.

“What do you think about the virginity, Sen?”

“By chance.”

“Is it important?”

“Yes, it is. But love is more important”.

“How do I know your love?”

“Easy. Even a fish in the river knows I love you too”.

“If I’m no longer virgin, do you still love me?”

“Still”.

“If so, then I love you very much”.

Sen was happy, took Truc’s hand.

“Let’s go to the isle, Truc!”, he said.

“By what?”

“Boat”.

“Not by boat. We’ll swim to the isle”.

“What if our clothes are all wet?”

“It’s sunny. They will be dry soon”.

Sen pulled Truc up. They went to the wharf. He threw her bag into the boat and pushed it to the middle of the current. They jumped into the water. The isle was in the middle of the river, as large as a half of a soccer ground.

At the embankment, grew a big and old Indian almond tree, its shadow covered a large place of the river.

“Truc, listen. I can catch fish with my bare hands”.

“Really?”

Sen disappeared in the water. Truc watched the waves, knew that he was diving under the roots of the tree. After one minute, his head popped up, in each of his hand was a tilapia, and between his teeth was the third one.

“How can you do that?”

Truc took the fish out of his mouth and pushed the boat to the embankment.

“There are many holes down there. Their caves. I just put my hand into them and I catch them”.

Ashore was a new world. It was anEdenthat God had just built for one minute. It was wild, simple and poor. There were a cottage, a loofah trellis, a vegetable garden and a small pond. Truc liked the pond very much though she saw only few water-lilies. She ran around it, bent her body forward to look at the water, saw a really round sky, and a really beautiful face.

Truc came under the loofah trellis, touched the green ones which hung right in front of her face. The black hornets flew over yellow blossom to suck the flower-honey. Truc looked at the sky through the leaves, saw the sunlight on the downs of the green leaves, of the luffa buds.

Truc came to the vegetable garden.

It was still wild and simple. Grass grew everywhere on the path. A locust flew up in a sudden, the crackling sound of its wings scattered  on the silence of the sunlight. Truc chased it and saw it stop on a branch of a guava tree.

And Truc climbed the guava tree. There were few green guavas but she wanted to look for something she could eat.

Sen jumped up, grasped a big one. Adam gave it to Eva of Vi Thuy village. Truc bite it. She made a very crispy noise. At that moment, she realized a bush full of red chilies. The chillies were as beautiful as an unexpected  bunch of flowers.

Truc jumped down and came near it.

While Truc was observing the red chillies, Sen went to the Indian almond tree, opened her bag, took the cellphone out of it, pressed the keys, but he only heard some pip pip pip sounds of the key board.

The rustic guy didn’t know that he was out of the coverage area.


21.

Akinari had been bad-tempered and bored with eating. In the evening, he used to come to the luxurious restaurants, ordered his favorite food but he couldn’t eat them. Because of that, he didn’t want to do anything with sex.

In his sleep, he used to dream about fire. And in the hot fire, he saw the old man’s shadow holding a bottle of alcohol, came to him. About one step far from him, the old man opened his mouth, sprayed out a stream of green fire like a snake, pecked at his forehead. He screamed and woke up, his body was all sweat.

At that time, director Minh was going to finish his work of leveling the ground. All means of vehicles were working on sewer system and covering the road with stones.

Minh hadn’t seen Akinari for the whole day. Minh couldn’t talk to him on the phone, either, because he locked his cell-phone. Minh thought he had been somewhere with some girls therefore he stopped connecting him.

Four days later, again Minh called up Akinari to ask him how to solve problems about the sewer but again he still couldn’t connect him. Minh called up Yashimo company and he was told that Akinari had come back toJapanfor his treatment.

A new boss fromHong Kongwas appointed to replace Akinari temporarily. Minh wanted to meet the new but he was busy with meetings round the clock.

Minh called for a friend who was the manager of Akinari.

“What did Akinari come back toJapanfor?”, he asked.

“For his treatment”, she answered.

“Did he tell you when he returned toVietNam? There’s some private things between he and I”.

“I think he’ll never return toVietNam”.

“Why?”

“Because I feel something very serious”.

“I heard he had pulmonary tuberculosis. That kind of desease isn’t serious. He can have his treatment inVietNam”.

“I don’t know. But I smell a rat when I see the attitude of the Japanese”.

That was all Minh knew about Akinari.

*

At eleven am, Minh got a call from his “daddy”. He knew there was “some thing” so he drove his car to meet him. In the back yard, Ba Tran lay in a hammock, looking at the fish tank.

“Did Akinari run away?”, asked Ba Tran.

“No, father. He came back toJapanfor his treatment”, Minh answered.

“What did you and Akinari do to Truc?”

“No, father. Nothing”.

“Why Truc quitted? Exactly, she left. Without taking her luggage. Without coming back to the company. It’s nothing to you?”

“I looked for her information already. She’s at home now, in her hometown”.

“You sold her to Akinari. Now you’re a slave trader, huh?”

“Father, I just helped her so that she could make a little money”.

Ba Tran threw the cigarette end to Minh.

“It turned out you considered her as a prostitute. Huh? You know his uncle is my friend?”

Minh stepped back, flicked the ask off his shirt.

“Yes, I know. I still remember uncle Quynh”.

“I thought you remember only money”.

Minh sat down on a chair, kept a safe distance.

“Father, doing business is our job. You gave me an obligation to make money”. 

“But not ‘at all costs’. And people said that you loved her. You wanted to marry her. I was happy to hear that, but it turned out you didn’t love her a dame. Why you don’t have the human emotion, Minh? You even made the old man die burned in his tent. You behaved like an animal. You should think again to give the blessing to your children!”

“Did you give the blessing to me, father?”

“If not, how can you become a big businessman, a billionaire like this?”

“You followed the revolution, denounced the land owners in public, insulted them, killed them, then when the revolution won, you and your comrades deposed the right to own land of the people, collected all the land for yourselves, became the giant land owners. That is how you gave your virtue to me, father?”

Ba Tran tried to sit up, glowered his eyes to see his cruel son. He was furious but he had nothing in his hand to throw him.

“Son of a bitch! You’re a son of a bitch!”

Minh looked up, bursted out laughing defiantly.

“No, I’m not a son of a bitch. You forget I’m a son of the Prince? Because he’s a cold man so director Minh is an emotionless man. That director Minh lacks human emotion is understandable. But it’s very difficult to understand the communists. They always say that they are working on the social fair and free the class, but they are savage, greedy and heartless like the asexual persons. My company is a private one, and I can’t take people’s land if I don’t have the guidance, the support, the approval, the share-out… of the government. Father, I’m only one wheel in the machine.


22.

Both Sen and Truc prepared their home like the two little mynas. The nest was on the isle therefore two mynas had to fly across the river everyday. They carried dry straws, thin grass. They chose soft and good-smelling grass. They chose the straw which still had the smell of new rice.

In the early morning, from the cajeput forest, the bees flew to their home, put honey into a glass jar on the eating table, then flew back to the cajeput forest in the distance of twenty miles. The green parrots brought the apricot jam which was very delicious, and, from the trees along the riverbank, the monkeys jumped to the leafy branches of the Indian almond tree, brought ripe fruits to the newly couple.

The next day, Cinderella sent Truc three chestnuts.

Truc hung embroidering threads around her cottage and the white butterflies flew down from nowhere brightened the corner of the garden. The cottage turned out a small castle made by thousands of butterflies.

Truc threw the first chestnut to the grass, all at once, a splendid wedding gown appeared. She hadn’t worn it yet then Sen rowed his boat back.

“The officer didn’t sign our marriage certificate”, he said.

“Why?”

“He said you and I should have the blood test”.

“Oh my God! We aren’t inSaigon. This is just a  village! Why there’s such a lot of procedure!”

“Maybe they thought that you have just come back from a big city.”

 “Okey! When will we go?”

“Right now. I’ll take you to the district”.

They rowed the boat and finished all the procedure at noon.

*

The next day, again both of them rowed their boat to the district.

“You stop here and wait. I’ll go and get my blood test result for about fifteen minutes”, Truc said.

Truc stepped on the land and blended into the small students who were coming home from school. Sen looked at them, thought that he would have his own children like those. The students walked in the sunlight, many of them didn’t wear hats, their hair was sun-burned, their skin was tanned, they played “chase-and-catch” into the sedge field along the riverbank.

A man was rowing a boat full of fruits. He passed by Sen’s.

“Brother, can you tell me the time?”, Sen asked.

“I don’t have a watch but it may be noon soon”, the man answered.

Sen looked up to the land. His sight was blocked by the alang grass. Whenever a shadow appeared and disappeared alternatively, he stood up to see. Finally, Sen stepped on the land, and waited for Truc by a tree.

There were no students around, there were few people coming home from the market, and there were only dry sunlights and the silence on the yellow dirt road.

Suddenly, the horror came and overflowed Sen’s mind. Sen walked to the hospital. There was no one there. The security might go to have lunch. The sunlight brightened the yard. Sen ran straight to the blood test room.

It was empty. Tables and chairs were silent. Sen ran along the corridor of the hospital, all he saw was a woman sweeping the yard and a small dog near by her. Sen wanted to cry.

“Truc! Truc!”

“Who do you want to look for?”

“My wife”.

“Pregnancy test?”

Terrifiedly, Sen ran to everywhere, looked into every room. Finally, he came out the duty room again. There was a nurse there.

“Hi, miss! My wife came here about one hour ago to get the result of her blood test, and I haven’t seen her up to now”.

“Maybe she’s in the market”.

Sen ran to the market. Only few people there.

“Truc! Truc!”

His voice was hoarse. And he was scared. The scare was cold, covered his body, made his legs tremble. Sen returned to his boat.

“Truc!”

It was not the call anymore. It was the cry, reverberated from the river face and spread out with the tiny waves.

“Truc!”

The call was getting weaker and weaker like the dying sound.


23.

Who’s ever seen a death sentence? It was big or small? Long or short? Or it was just as big as a palm?

A piece of soft paper, with its ivory color, as light as a leaf, but it made Truc’s arms tremble. “Positive”. Truc felt the terrible disaster from that cold word. It appeared in front of Truc as a bloody face of a monster.

“I’ll keep it dark, but tomorrow you must come back here to be consulted about the treatment”, a nurse said.

Truc dropped to her knees, bursted out crying.

Few people stopped, looked at her, and left.

Then Truc left, too, but she didn’t come back to Sen who was waiting for her. Suddenly, the horror disappeared. Sen disappeared, too. Only the hatred stayed. And Truc ran straight to the road for fear that her enemy would run away before receiving a knife into his chest.

*

In the city, Truc saw people and vehicles kept indifferently running outside her life. She sat there with the feelings of strangeness, loneliness and coldness.

Suddenly her cell-phone rang.

“Hello, Truc? I haven’t seen you for a long time”, Khoa’s voice sounded into Truc’s ear.

Yeah. It was Khoa. He was a realtor and Truc didn’t remember when or how she had known him. He invited her to come to his birthday party. Ah, maybe he could help me to revenge, couldn’t he? Truc said ok and she told him the address so that he could come and pick her up.

The party was held at a restaurant in district 4. Because of being sad, Truc drank all the beer they filled her glass.

Just drinking, no word said.

The party ended at about ten pm. The boys surrounded her, suggested to take her home.

“I’m homeless”, Truc said.

“So where will you sleep tonight?”

“Please give me a lift to Binh Thanh district”.

“It’s very far, honey”.

“Well, you can take me to the bus stop”.

Okey. Four boys rode two motorbikes. They made Truc sit between two of them. Truc was so drunk that she could do anything to object them.

After they had put Truc down on a bed, she realised that it was a strange room. She was scared, sat up in a sudden way. She opened a fridge, took out a bottle of water, drank it and poured it on her face. When she regained her self-control, she recognised Khoa, who was in front of her. Three other boys were in the bath-room, joking, laughing.

Truc sat huddlely, holding her knees.

“What do you want?”, Truc asked.

Khoa grinned. He took off his trousers. And his shirt. He came to Truc, intended to sit down next to her then three boys naked and all wet went out of the bath-room. One boy said.

 “Sweetheart! Frankly, we, men, looked strong but very ephemerous. You will knock-out one by one.”

Truc emptied the bottle of water, threw it to the wall, stroked her face then her hair backward. Khoa sat down. Three other boys stood nearby with arms akimbo waiting for their turns.

Truc looked straight into Khoa’s face. She said:

“Four of you are really cowardly. You think four versus one?”

“No. We will do it with you one by one”, Khoa answered.

“And you’re the first, right?”, asked Truc.

“Of course”.

“So, just turn on the light. Because I’m very beautiful. Don’t you like to contemplate a beautiful body?”

“Good idea!”, one guy said and laughed.

Then all lights in the room were turned on.

“Stand aside. Let me take off my clothes”, Truc said.

But instead of taking off her clothes, she threw out a paper on which there was her blood test result.

“I got H.I.V. Just read it”.

Khoa took the paper. He stared at it for some time then he threw it down the mattress. His penis became as flabby as a flat bubble, dropped down between his two thighs like a rag. He mumbled, “sorry, sorry”, then he got back his clothes, left the room.

“The next!”, Truc said.

But all of them together ran out of the room.

*

Next morning, Truc bought a loaf of bread and paid for it with her last money. But a ray of hope flashed. Why I didn’t go to Pasteur Institute to have a blood test for one more time? Why? 

Truc decided to come to a cell-phones shop and sold her phone for the price of five hundred thousand dongs. She took a bus to Pasteur Institute and work on the procedure of testing blood for fifty thousand dongs.

The result was still positive. No more thing to say. It was Akinari did give her viruses of H.I.V.

At that time, in her mind, there was no space for sadness. It was full of arrangements and hatred. The plan would be prepared carefully, scientifically and efficiently.

Truc stopped by a telephone booth and called Minh.

“Hello, director, can you guess who?”, she said.

“Oh my God!”, Minh sounded cheerful at the other end of the line. “I’m soooo lucky today! Where are you?”

“InSaigon”.

“Just come back and work with me again. My father told me to go and look for you. He shouted at me a lot. We will talk about this over lunch, ok?”

“Ok. You pick me at Phu My post office”, she said.

Truc hang up. Then she went to a drug store near by. She bought some things she needed. After that, she returned to the post office, waited for Minh.

*

Minh and Truc met each other in a restaurant.

“Where’s Akinari?”, Truc asked.

“He’s come back toJapan. For his treatment”, Minh answered.

“What kind of desease has he got?”

“Pulmonary tuberculosis”.

“Very good”, Truc thought. “You haven’t  got pulmonary tuberculosis, Akinari. You’re gonna die. Now I’ll judge Minh. He’s just a culprit”.

“What are you smiling about?”, Minh asked.

“Nothing. I’m thinking…If I didn’t meet you, I wouldn’t know where to stay”.

“After lunch, you’ll stay in a hotel. Tomorrow, we’ll look for a house to rent”.

“Ok”.

When both of them entered a hotel, Truc said:

“Come back to your company. It’s time for work. I need to take a nap. After work, you come back here and we’ll go shopping”.

“No, I have nothing to do in the company this afternoon. I’ll stay here and fan you so that you can sleep well”, Minh said.

“I don’t need you to fan me. There’s an air-conditioner in the room”.

“Hey, don’t make difficulties for me. I’ve missed you very much. I don’t wanna leave you, really”.

Truc took off her shoes, kicked them to the room corner. She said:

“I’ll have a shower”, then she went to the bath-room with her bag.

Minh watched TV to kill time. After a while, he sat up, took off his shoes, his socks, then his clothes except his underwear.

“What takes you so long, honey?”, he asked.

“Wait a minute, I’m making up”, Truc answered.

Finally, Truc opened a door and got out of the bath-room, covered her body with a white towel. She didn’t shampoo therefore her hair was still dry.

“It’s your turn to take a bath”, Truc said.

Minh told her that he had done it at home then he held her back and helped her to lie down. Truc embraced Minh’s neck, too, and she kissed Minh’s cheeks.

“Hey, don’t be too hasty”, she said. “Just lie down and I’ll massage your back. Relax. Relax, honey. We’ll have all afternoon together”.

Minh couldn’t do anything but obeyed her.

Truc rubbed slightly his back, massaged his shoulders, then put a long kiss on the nape. She let her hand down and down, massaged his bottom.

When Truc sat on Minh’s thighs, he clearly felt her pubic hair gliding on them.

Suddenly Minh felt a stinging pain.

“What?”, he shouted.

Minh turned his head round and saw Truc was injecting him with a syringe. 

“What are you doing?”, he asked.

Truc pulled the needle out, threw the syringe to the floor and got out of the bed.

Minh sat up in a sudden way, “you’re injecting anaesthetic into me?”, he said with a threatening voice.

“Anaesthetic? For what?”

“To steal money in my purse! When I paid for the meal, you saw a wad of US dollar bills there”.

“No. You’re wrong. It wasn’t anaesthetic. It was blood”.

“Blood? What blood?”

“My blood”.

“What do you mean ‘your blood’?”

“I want you to be contaminated virus H.I.V. like me and Akinari. Injecting my blood into you is better than making love with you. Got it? Besides, I’d rather die than make love with a kind of man like you!”, Truc answered.

Minh punched the bedside very hard, “You’re a whore! Oh Akinari!”, he shouted.

“It’s too late to understand it”, Truc said. “Akinari was in the period of AIDS. His pulmonary tuberculosis was merely an opportunity disease. And maybe he could have ‘slept with earthworms’ inJapan!”.


24.

In wartime, after the waves of B52 carpet-bombing, we survived then searched the way to our unit. We used to cross those regions, those forests for many times, but at that time we didn’t know where to go.

Because the ground had changed completely.

The forests were killed, the trees sprawled everywhere, broken and burned. Smoke became heavy with the smell of corpses and the smell of gunpowder, therefore it couldn’t fly up. The flames were scattered everywhere like the bloody open wounds.

All of us were puzzled, losing our ways among the newly created hell under the iron wings of the flying fortresses B52.

We had four people, all were wounded and one of us had a leg cut. We had to rip our shirts to tie his wound and stop it from bleeding, and we took turns carrying him.

We went to the areas where the flames were off. The sunlights of the afternoon still shone. Suddenly, a black, giant mass blocked our sight.

It looked like an immense black desert. No one knew what it was, what the phenomenon was. Perhaps we just got out of the forest because the sky was very large, but the ground was black, flat, cold and absolutely quiet.

Wild animals died. Birds were gone. That was why the ground and the sky were silent. We were standing among a very large space, no obstacles, no smoke and fire, no thorns, but we didn’t know which way to go.

I carefully came near that black desert. When arriving at its border, I sat down, put a hand on it.

It wasn’t sand. It wasn’t water, either. It wasn’t leaves or barks. It was husk. The burned husk still gave me a rough feeling on my finger tips.

It turned out we lost the way and went to the plain. It was a ripe rice field! Oh, how beautiful and fragrant a yellow, ripe rice field was! And then it turned into a black desert in one minute.

*

The change of Quynh in this morning was as devastating as the change of the ground after the bombing.

It wasn’t Quynh any more, it was a dead figure from a catacomb. With white hair. With a face of a pre-historic man. And a look full of darkness.

I embraced my friend terrifiedly.

“What’s up?”, I asked.

“Truc was missing. She might be dead”, he answered.

A young man was standing behind my friend. He was shy and doleful. I looked at the red eyed young man, his eyes were red because of tears, but I still couldn’t guess what happened.

“They were preparing for their wedding when Truc discovered she had H.I.V. Then she disappeared”, Quynh explained.

The young man asked me:

“Uncle! Where can we find Truc, uncle?”.

I couldn’t answer that question.

“Let’s go to the places where people used to suicide”, Quynh said.

“If she wanted to kill herself, why would she come here?”, I said. “I think she wants to get revenge”.

“You may be right”, Quynh said. “But can she get her revenge successfully? And what will happen after that? Either She’ll be killed or she’ll commit suicide”.

“I think Truc’ll look for her death. If she dies here, no one knows her and it won’t give any effect on her family”, Sen said.

So we set off. Quynh went with me on my motorcycle, Sen drove my son’s motorcycle. We went to Binh Loi bridge, it was famous for the suicidal cases. The residents around told us that there had been no suicidal cases for one month. We went toSaigonbridge, then the gate of the train station. It was a hopeless search.

On newspapers, there was nothing, either.

Finally, we went to Minh’s company. The guard said that the director went abroad already.

We decided to meet Ba Tran. He still lay down on a sofa made of rattan. His body was thin and dry, hollow inside his striped pijama.

Ba Tran said:

“Don’t worry, Quynh. I already knew everything”.

“Then where’s Truc?”

“Luckily In her despair, she thought of me, and she came back here”.

“How about Minh?” asked I.

“He disappeared”, Ba Tran answered. “But I don’t care about him any more. I consider him dead”.

Sen stood up. He called, “Truc! Truc!”.

The next room’s door opened slightly and Truc stepped out. Sen ran to her, knelt down, held her legs. And cried.

“Come back, honey. Get away from this place. It’s not our world.” He said.

“But I can’t marry you, Sen! I can’t lead you to death with me”, she said.

“But I’d rather do that. We’ll live on the isle. It’s our private world. We’ll live there, love each other there, and die there”.

Quynh stood up, too. The former captain of the Viet Nam Cong Hoa Army now became a tilting reed in the cold wind of the hell which was approaching. He tried to follow Truc, but when he was on the threshhold, he collapsed lightly as a rotten wooden pillar.

Truc and Sen returned to help him out to the street. They stood on the sidewalk to wait for a bus. At that time, the sunlight shone brightly and the street was full of smoke and dust.


25.

Minh completely didn’t intend to commit suicide but he had swum to the off-shore at night. He took a risk. Because the sea at night-time was absolutely different from the sea at day-time when it was a spectacular scene.

At night-time, the sea was a dark, cold and boundless cave.

Swimming in the sea at night was like hanging himself above a bottomless abyss. He had the feeling “losing his footing”. Beneath him was an endless cave, the octopuses swam around, the sharks, the sea snakes, the monsters were looking for him.

He wanted to know if he was afraid of death. Yeah, he was. “But why am I afraid?”, he thought. “And of what am I afraid, because I nearly die?”

Then he continued swimming to the off-shore. In some time, he felt losing directions. It was dark around him. The waves were as big as monsters appeared suddenly, then covered him. He kept on floating in that very dark and giant pan.  

He lay on his back on the water and saw the stars twinkling in the sky. They looked like the owls who were staring at him. And waited for him to talk. 

“I nearly die! Nearly lose everything! Karma is coming! To only me. Why only me?”, he shouted. “Prince! You’re my father but I’ve never seen you. I heard that your power has covered all the country. Who are you? You’re only one person or a group of people? Or you’re only a shadow, a virtual character, an invisible force?”

A big wave came, dipped Minh into a dark, immense cave. He moved his feet, rose up from the water and was very surprised seeing a peak was bright with lights. At first he didn’t know where it was, but when he saw a string of lights drifting slowly to that splendid peak, he knew it wasParadise, a famous resort. Suddenly he woke up, and got out of the gloomy mood.

At night,Paradisewas like a heaven. “Why wouldn’t I go there to become a King instead of diving in this dark and savage abyss?” He thought, “I was still young, I had to live splendidly, fiercely. I had to regain the time that the death would take away from me”.

*

Minh shouted in a large room of the five-star hotel on the peak.

“Hey, prince! I’m paying this fucking debt for you! But I don’t surrender these fucking viruses H.I.V. I’ll live my last years gloriously. I’ll live in the paradise, live in the lust, live in blowing up. I’ll live “like the overflowing sea” as the lyrics of the song I used to hear. I’ll breed. I’ll breed the excellent race to all over the four-thousand-cultural year-VietNam”.

I’m fucking not as powerful as you to make all the Court scared. But I have so much money. So much dollars. I’ll create a kingdom and I’ll be the King of it. In the past, the kings had hundreds, thousands children. Now I’ll breed and I’ll be like them. In the past, if our ancestor, “Uncle Liar” from Ngang village, had bred and had lots of lying children, now I’ll breed a different race, extremely intelligent, excellent and heroic”.

Minh opened a window. The sea wind blew the curtains and made them flutter as the sails gliding on the waves. The lights on the cable cabin were twinkling, the canoes were moving beneath them, drawing the white bubble circles on the very black sea.

Minh rang the bell. The hotel manager appeared and bowed him.

“Five dolls.” Minh ordered.

“Eh? Why you reduce the number, boss? I know you’re the champion in the boudoir”, she said.

Some moment later, there was a noise of talking and laughing outside the door. Minh sat on an arm-chair made of rare wood on which was carved the dragon heads, he sipped a glass of his favorite wine.

Five beautiful girls rushed into the room. As sweet-smelling as jack-fruits. They surrounded Minh, kissed a lot on his forehead, his cheeks, his lips.

Minh was completely loosen up, let them do whatever they wanted. They took off his clothes, even his underwear. Minh’s “flag-pole” popped up like a spring. The girls cheered:

“Wow! High quality! High quality!”.

Minh ordered them to stop.

At a corner of a desk there was a beautiful recycle bin made of rattan. Minh emptied it then put it on the desk.

He opened a wardrobe, took out a wad of one-hundredUSdollard bills. He shook them like the cards then threw them into the recycle bin.

“Today we’ll perform an act called “breeding”, Minh said. “You take off your undies. After you’re bred, you’re titled to go to the recycle bin and get two one-hundredUSdollard bills. After that, you come back to your position”.

The girls were accustomed to that game therefore four girls stood at four corners. The fifth was crawling around the middle of the room, singing:

Let’s live the river’s life

to know how to love the source

Let’s live the mountain’s life

to reach the high goals

Let’s live like the overflowing sea

to see the wide wharfs

Let’s live and hope

to see the immense life

(a song by Pham Minh Tuan)

Minh looked up, bursted out laughing as a dramatic actor.

“Very good! Very good! The lyrics are really impetus!”, he said.

Then he held his “high quality” dick, walking to one corner, singing:

Let’s live like the overflowing sea

to see the wide wharfs

Four other girls couldn’t stand it. They wagged their bottoms and shouted:

“Hey! Quickly! Stop singing! Breed us, please!”


26.

Analects Lung Yu wrote: “The man at the age of seventy can do whatever he wants without breaking the rules”.

At that time, a seventy-year-old man could penetrate the “Tao” of the heaven, the virtue of the earth, the rules of the nature, the essence of life and death… so his attitude was deliberate, his behaviour was leisurely…

But the Prince’s age-of-seventy wasn’t like that. He didn’t care the Tao of the heaven. He knew only the power, because it ruled the society, it controled everyone.

Hence, millions of people died under his hand, one of his son was killed by his own guard to protect him, another his son was crazily spreading viruses H.I.V to a lot of women, and he was still calm like nothing happened. His face was cold. His look was like the ash. There were no human images in his eyes. They’re always blank like the endless space.

He was usually quiet, but he didn’t have the easy life. He was emotionless but he had full ambition. He was moveless but very strong. At the age of seventy, his sex life was still virile. If the writer Lin Yutang said that the sex life of the Queen Wu Zetian began when she was sixty, we would be able to say that the Prince was Wu Zetian’s master. Once he told director Thu: “When you lance me with a needle, if my blood’s still bleeding, I’ll still be able to breed”.

People said that King Minh Mang usually talked about himself: “one night, make love six times, have five foetus”, perhaps in the Prince’s blood, the quintessence of the ancestor still existed?

The Prince didn’t want to keep his position, he withdrew at the right time but his power was still cover all over the country. Hence, his longevity celebration was held monumentally inParadiseresort where director Minh, his illegitimate son, had performed the impressive “breeding” shows just a short time ago.

With those shows, he gave out over billions of virus H.I.V. to nearly one hundred young girls. Then these girls “share” them with thousands of young men.

The celebration was held inParadiseat random, but it looked like a harmonious co-ordination: the son came here to sow, the father came here to harvest.

The harvest was very exciting. There were full of flowers. But there were no gifts. The Prince didn’t need gifts. Those for the small-minded people.

The Prince already had the whole world.

*

At first, the Prince felt uncomfortable hearing such a monumental longevity celebration.

“What farce are you doing?”, he asked.

“Sir, it’s a rare chance. This resort is the largest, and very modern, very luxurious. The owner respects you and he wants to have the honor…”

“You intend to put me on a stage of the comedies? Hm?”

“No, sir. That place was like the heaven. The air is as solemn as the Elysium…”

“Stupid!”, the Prince bursted out laughing at the man who was cowering. “Do you know what the Elysium means? It’s the death world”.

The man knelt down, “I’m guilty, my Highness”. He bowed, “please spare me”.

But the way they spoke like the clowns in the stage making the Prince change his mind. He wanted to observe whatever their underlings were doing. And he nodded his head.

After he agreed, a forest of flowers grew up, the birds flew around, singing, the pretty girls with beautiful clothes performed wonderful dancing.

The Prince sat on a sofa made by ebony on which was carved a beautiful dragon head hidden in the clouds.

There were hundreds of guests, included the mandarins, businessmen, generals, singers, Misses, journalists, writers, young talents…

Quynh Vi was one of the young talents. She would give flowers to the Prince and would read a short speech which was written already.

But when she got out of the changing room, ready for her performance, she heard a voice from the rest-room.

“Quynh Vi!”

She turned around and saw a hand waving at her.

“Come here”, the same voice urged.

Quynh Vi came near. The rest-room door opened slightly. A hand appeared, pulled her inside and the door closed.

After that was the silence!

Then a very beautiful girl got out of the crowd, went to the Prince. The guard looked at the white dress, checked the card on her chest, bowed and gave out his hand to signal her.

She came to the Prince, put flowers on his thighs, gave a kiss on his cheeks but she neither stepped back nor read her speech. She sat down on the sofa.

The crowd was silent. And waited.

The Prince was pleased seeing a beautiful girl sat next to him.

“What’s your name?”, he asked.

“Quynh Vi”, she whispered. “Uncle! It’s ok if I ask you a question?”

“Just go ahead”.

“Do you love brother Huy? He’s just your son”.

The Prince startled. He looked into her eyes.

“You know Huy?”

“Yes. When I was young, I used to go flying kites, go fishing with him”.

“But Huy wasn’t my son”.

“Aunty Thu told me that brother Huy was your son. Why did he die, uncle?”

The old man became agitated, confused. He thought he had just fallen down into the hell and heard the judgement. He intended to move a little out of her but she leaned her head to his shoulder. The crowd bursted out clapping. The girl took her opportunity, withdrew the syringe hidden in the flowers, thrust the needle into his bottom.

But no one knew that on his body, there were two places whose skin were very thick:

One was his face. It was as thick as a spathe. It was cold to the curse and the scream of grassroots, it was moveless, heartless to the misery of people, it was like a cadaver’s. 

Two was his bottom. It had been sitting on the power chair for over half of century, and no matter what happened, it didn’t move therefore his bottom skin turned into horn, it made the needle of the girl break.

The Prince turned around, grasped Truc’s wrist but she escaped from his claw in time and blended into the crowd very fast. The syringe dropped down on the floor. A kind of light brown liquid ran out.

The Prince moved his lips’ corner. His face was as cold as a mummy’s. Then a very dry sound got out of his grey, thick lips:

“Arrest!”

Secret agents and guards pushed the crowd aside to chase the girl. Truc hid behind the stone holes, moving, taking off her dress, put it into a bush. And now Truc had only a pair of shorts and a tight pullover on.

Truc stood silently in a stone hole, looked for a way to run out to the slope. Outside, the guards were searching her very carefully therefore she couldn’t show up.

“Hey! I found her dress!”, one man shouted.

“Surround the stone cave!”, another man ordered.

The whistle sounded again, and the guards worked along with the secret agents to control the situation.

But Truc absolutely wasn’t scared. What was more scared than viruses H.I.V? But Truc didn’t want to be arrested either.

“Hey! I found the card!”, outside there was a voice again.

“What’s the name on the card?”

“Quynh Vi”.

“Yeah! It’s her!”

“No! It isn’t her”, a very cold voice suddenly sounded. “Real Quynh Vi was tied, her mouth was gagged, was locked in the rest-room. This is an unidentified assasin”.

This cold voice was from the leader of the security team. He got out of the darkness, gave signals and his men walked into the stone cave.

Truc decided to step out. She climbed the cliff, tried to be on a stone cape above the sea. The guards saw her, they splitted into two groups, followed her from two sides of the slope.

The sea under was very black. Like the abyss without its bottom. Like the hell opened its mouth, waiting. The sea was recognized due to its rumbling sound and white bubbles when the big waves were beating the cliff.

The higher she climbed, the stronger the gust was. Truc tried to climb to the end of the stone cape and hoped the guards not to arrive there.

She was right. On the left slope, few men gave up. On the right slope, one man slipped, almost fell down into the sea. He screamed horrifiedly and after his friends pulled him up, he bursted out crying.

Truc sat totterily on the top of the stone cape. She waved at them.

“Come up here”, she said.

But all of the guards were moveless.

Few minutes later, the leader decided to climb by himself. He was big and swift but he was still careful. He passed a few large stones, jumped over a hole to grasp the stone cape where Truc was sitting. He took out his gun, cocked it, shouted in the wind:

“No way to kill the Prince! He’s immortal! You don’t know that, do you?”

“You’re wrong”, Truc shouted back. “He’s just a walking dead body. His bad smell was spreading all over the world”.

The leader moved to Truc step by step but she still sat there, silently. When he was far from her about ten steps, she stood up.

Then, like an albatross, Truc jumped out to the space, lightly, lonely and quietly. The darkness and the steam of waves covered her shadow. The sea under was very black and rumbling.

It seemed there was a cloud coming and carrying her.

Or the big waves rose up, rolled itself and stopped to pick her up?

Or the wind carried Truc to the off-shore?

Or because Truc was an otter of the waterway Hau Giang, therefore the sea greeted her in the mother’s arms?

Truc already knew that jumping down into the water from the height of hundreds of meters was so hard that it could make her fainted so she tried to take a deep breath when her feet touched the water face. Few seconds later, she rolled herself half a circle to move her head forward, then she bent her back, popped up over the water with all her effort. It was a very important movement to survive.

Right after that, the first thing she saw was the bright light at the half-way to the peak, but she didn’t swim to that.

She continued swimming to the off-shore where she saw the twinkling lights of the fishing boats.

On the mountain, the leader of the security team climbed down to his men who were sitting and waiting.

“She committed suicide”, he said.

He shouldn’t have said that sentence because all of them had already witnessed the horrified jump. 


27.

The sound was rhythmic, dry, round and warm. The woman sat in the dark, she had her hair down like a Taoist nun but wore black clothes. The sound of a wooden bell like water drops fell down the stone veranda very fast, like the round pebbles were thrown continuously into the face of a quiet and cold pond.

Then a guest came. Lightly, blended into the dark like a cat put its paws into a twilight and virtual space. The Taoist nun didn’t know about the guest. And the guest didn’t want to show up, either, just sat quietly in a room corner.

The sound of wooden bell was like the melting of an object which didn’t have its power to reform itself. A life used to be full of events now it was falling apart, turned into pieces of dry sound, “clop-clop-clop”, dropped down to the floor and dissappeared. The broken of that sound hadn’t touched the floor then blended into the dark, they were carried away to the invisible circle by the thin fragrance.

The Taoist nun was knocking her life, knocking a soul that was very dry.

And the sound suddenly stopped. The stick dropped down. Like in the Chinese legend, Boya was playing music on Han Yang river then a string was broken and he knew an intimate friend was overhearing him. He ordered his soldiers to land and found ZhongZiQi

I didn’t think I was ZhongZiQi, but obviously my light move made the sound stop.

“Hello”, I said. I still sat at the dark corner to check the memory of a woman who had been diagnosed “may get Alzheimer’s”. 

“I knew. Since you first stepped in”.

“You heard my footsteps?”

“No. There was a little change of the light”.

Then I walked out, sat crossing legs behind her.

“Your mind’s still very clear”, I said.

Thu bent her head down, bowed the Buddha three times then turned around. There was still a pretty woman, there was still a beauty. Only her look were rather dark because of the Karma.

“I really think you’re all right”.

“But I’m scared. Sometimes I feel completely lost, I don’t have any concept about myself. As if I dropped my ego somewhere, as if I didn’t exist. I’m scared very much. Why do you look for me?”, she asked.

“Few days later, I may go to find Tran Vu’s grave”, I said.

“Tran Vu? This name is very familiar”.

“Oh God! You don’t remember Tran Vu? He was a writer. He committed suicide in front of you!”

“Oh I’m sorry”, Thu was horrified. Then she covered her face, “I thought you’re talking about a mister captain, your friend”.

“Captain Quynh”.

“Yeah. Captain Quynh. Why don’t you ask him to go with you?”

“He’s very weak, especially after he heard that Truc had died in the sea”.

“Poor her”, she said indifferently. It seemed she didn’t know who Truc was and why she died at sea.

I held the woman’s pale hand. I completely unexpected that Thu would come back to the Central Committee R with me.

“Across the stream. On a mound. But how far was it from the stream?,” I asked. “And it was next to what? A tree or something?”, I tried to remind her of one detail left in the memory.

“I don’t remember. Why don’t you ask Muoi Thao?”

“Muoi Thao died. In Ho Chi Minh campaign”.

“Yah, yah… Muoi Thao died already. She died already”.

The memory had fallen down. One by one. Fluttering like dried leaves. Whatever left was the mortar of the ruins, of the castles, of the stone veranda with grass…

Because I didn’t have more information of Tran Vu’ grave, I asked Ba Tran to set off  with me.

No one knew that in the group there was a person who was alleged died at sea. It was Truc.

*

In 1974, the Central Committee R was moved from Westside of Mekong river inCambodiato Chang Riet village in North Tay Ninh.

At that time, if you wanted to come to R from Tay Ninh, you had to follow the national road 22 to Xa Mat, then you went straight into the deep forest, it took you all day if you went on foot.

In fact, the base R wasn’t located at one place. It included many different offices on a large area, no residents, only the smugglers brought necessities such as, sugar, milk, sodium glutamate, tooth paste… to sell to soldiers and guerillas. They carried merchandise on black Honda 90cc fromCambodia.

The officers of R used to use bicycles. Their monthly subsistence fee was only one hundred fifty VNCH dongs, enough to buy a tooth paste Perlon, a box of cigarette Ruby or Ara. All of those were from the smugglers.

They weren’t as many as the smugglers of the North border but they were the real cowboys of wild-west of Tay Ninh on the iron horse tiredlessly. They not only sweated but also accepted bombs and bullets, flying fortress B.52, trapped mines, heavy artilleris pouring down to their heads any time. They followed the soldiers, followed R, followed the Revolution, they sacrified their lives too, they lived and died with the Revolution too, but simply because of money. The Security Department of R knew that, therefore they let them freely “did business” for a long time.

Talking about this force of moving special ordnance, no one forgot an old master. You could call him a genius, an X-man in the trading field of the world. His name was Sen, an old Chinese man. He also had a black Honda 90 brought fromCambodia. Besides it, he had brought many things: a wife, a little daughter, three dogs, and a flock of hens and cocks.

From 1969 to 1974, Central Committee R had been located at the upper ofSaigonriver which was in Cambodiathen had been moved to Tay Ninh province, Sen always followed their feet. At first, the soldiers taught him how to dig a tunnel to avoid being shelled, when they moved back to Tay Ninh, his family could dig the tunnel for themselves. The tunnels were the tranchéeswith A-shaped, professional and strong.

*

I drove the car Zace of Ba Tran and we arrived in Tan Bien at over nine a.m. Ba Tran told me to turn to a path-way but I didn’t see it. I saw a road running in the middle of the rubber forest. At the end of the forest, there was a bumpy path-way running among the endless fields of manioc trees.

“The scene was different from it had been before”, Ba Tran said. “We may lose the way”.

But the car went on slowly. On the left, there was a block of houses with new roofs. I drove the car to the middle of the yard. It was a simple factory but rather large. We didn’t hear the sound of machines though, just a bad smell of manioc flour which had been kept warm for a long time. 

Next to a large water tank were few women who were washing manioc. I asked them:

“The base of Central Committee R is on this way, isn’t it?”

They looked at together, it seemed they didn’t know anything.

“Please let me meet your boss”, I continued. 

One woman led me to a spiral rusty stair. Her boss was a big man with a round face.

“You want to visit R?”, he shook my hand warmly. “Just around the corner. But why don’t you follow the way of the tours?”

“We follow our memory”, I answered. “But the scene changed a lot”.

“I’ll give you a guide”, he said.

The guide was a twelve-year-old boy. He felt like the car. I told him to sit next to me to show the way.

Fifteen minutes later, we arrived at vestige zone of R. We parked the car there, bought tickets like everyone but then Ba Tran talked to the tour guide:

“In the war we stayed here but today we come here to find a friend’s grave. Can you tell me where the Department of Researching and Classifying is?”

The tour guide nodded his head and told us to follow him. I gave some tips to the boy and told him to come back because we might stay here for few days if we couldn’t find the grave.

On the way, no one said anything. Truc was gloomy. Sen gave her some water but she didn’t drink, just held his hand for some time then let it go.

We came to a rather empty place because the forest was sparse. The wind blew through the space which was full of the moving shadows.

“There’s a stream in the left, isn’t there?”, Ba Tran asked.

“Yes, there is”.

“We want to cross the stream”, Ba Tran said.

“I’m sorry”, the tour guide said. “I’m taking tourists to everywhere but just inside the vestige”.

“Ok, we’ll go by ourselves. You can come back, son”, Ba Tran said.

“No. I can’t. I take you go out and I’ll take you come back. This is our regulations”, the tour guide said.

We couldn’t break those regulations.

“That’s ok”, I said. “I will meet the leaders and ask for a special permission”.

We had lunch at the vestige zone. There were eggs, dried beef and some wild animal meat. Truc ate one piece of boiled manioc. I gave her a glass of orange juice, she took it with a withered smile and the eyes with tears. I took some tissues out of the bag and gave them to Sen. He wiped her wife’s tears.

“Daughter,” I told Truc. “You’re going to meet your dad. He was just around the corner”. 

Quynh Vi came and sat next to Truc. She took Truc’ hand. And she put her hand into Truc’s.

“Would you like some deer meat?”, Quynh Vi asked.

Truc nodded her head. She chewed some rice, looking into the forest. Quynh Vi embraced Truc, kissed her back.

“Sister Truc, if you cry, I’ll cry with you”, Quynh Vi said.

Truc took Quynh Vi’s hand, caressed her pretty one. Then she smiled.

“Why do your wrists have a bruise?”, she asked.

“That day, you tied my wrists very tightly. And my ankles”, she answered.

“I’m sorry”.

“Why you’re sorry?”

“Because I should have talked to you first”.

“No problem. I was surprised a little bit. But after that I understood. You were very risky”.

“Did you feel scared?”

“No. But I was worried about you getting shot”.

“To me, now, life and death are the same”.

*

That day we couldn’t get the permission because the director of the vestige zone was absent. And it was dark until he came back therefore we stayed for one more night after we had got it.

The tour guide lit a fire. Everyone sat around it. Truc looked fresher when she looked at the fire growing from the exhausted ground. Sen sat next to his wife. He said, “If you’re sleepy, just lean on my shoulder”.

Truc smiled, throwing a dry leaf into the fire. Ba Tran took a stone as small as a jackfruit seed out of his shirt pocket, “I picked it up at the forest edge after lunch”, he said. “Can you guess what it is”, he asked.

He gave the strange thing to Quynh Vi. She observed it for some time then passed it to Truc. She played it with her palms, “I think it’s a kind of ore”, she said.

“No. It’s not an ore. And it’s not a stone, either”, Ba Tran answered. 

He got it back then burned it with his lighter. It let out some smoke with a fire was as wavering as of the oil lamp. “It’s a piece of napalm bomb”, he said. “It’s a kind of phosphor and people call it solid gasoline. When it’s burned, the heat can come up to one thousand degrees C and the smoke is black. In the war,USarmy usually threw  bombs MK 77 with the weight of three hundred kilograms down here and Cu Chi region. It’s a kind of chemical weapon with its immense destroy.” 

“But, uncle, why is it wavering now?”, Quynh Vi asked.

“Because it has been buried in the dirt, in the sun and rains for few tens of years”, Ba Tran explained.

“How long did you live here?”, the tour guide asked.

“I was moved to this place in June, 1974”, Ba Tran answered.

“You were lucky to survive after the fierce war”.

“The war wasn’t always fierce”, Ba Tran said. “Sometimes it was very quiet. At that time, we were garrisoned next to the river, in the afternoon, I usually asked my some comrades to swim, and we often swam to the other side. There was thelandofCambodia. We stayed there for some time then swam back. We dropped by a palm shop, ate “hu tiu” of the old Chinese Sen”.

“Wow. You were a real gentleman”.

“Oh”, Ba Tran smiled. “At that time I was a vice-minister of the Revolutionary Government of South Viet Nam, I got the monthly fee was one thousand five hundred VNCH dongs but I didn’t have the chance to spend it. I had been saving it for a long time and it became few ten thousand dongs. At that time, a bowl of “hu tiu” was very delicious”.

“But how strange a shop of “hu tiu” like that was!”

“Yeah”, Ba Tran answered. “In the River Wharf, a chinese old epic story, there was an errant inn like that. The Resistance seemed more interesting due to it…”.

The tour guide listened carefully and took note, then he said “thank you” a lot.

*

The next day, because we set off early, it was just over eight o’clock when we waded across the stream. There, the forest was very clear because there were many moors with alang grass and the many ponds that were formed by giant holes of bombs. The holes were fully covered with wild grass, thorn bushes and tree roots. All of them weavered together in the very thick way. 

We had been walking along the stream for one hour but we couldn’t see any mounds. All we had was a vague sentence of a woman whose mentality wasn’t stable: “Beyond a stream, on a low hill”. 

But it wasn’t as simple as what she said. Because the stream was very long, it could have begun from somewhere inCambodia, ran through many forests to Vam Co river. It would take you few days crossing the forests to go to the upper.

Walking, walking, but all we saw were the grass moors and thorn old bamboo trees. Ba Tran walked slowly and difficultly therefore Sen and I had to help him to step over the thick thorns covering some small holes of bombs like the traps.

Truc looked more flexible than the day before. She usually splitted herself out of the group, searched all of the bushes “which were hiding a mound like whatever Thu had said”, she thought that.

At noon, everyone was exhausted. Ba Tran could hardly walk any more steps. Sen spread a piece of nylon on the ground which was full of dry leaves and he helped Ba Tran to lie down. 

Quynh Vi rolled up her trousers, caught the leeches on her legs. Seeing the blood bleeding, she bursted out crying. But Truc was still searching the big bushes.

Suddenly, there was a call behind the leaves, “Uncle Ba!”.

Ba Tran turned around to the voice that just called him. The tour guide and a man about fifty years old ran to him.

“I found it, I found it”, the tour guide gasped, and said.

“Where?”, I asked.

He pointed at the man, “This is uncle Hay, he used to be a contact man of R”.

Ba Tran sat up in a sudden way, stared at a black man who was standing in front of him.

“Oh my God!”, he cried. “Brother Hay, you still alive? Do you remember me?”

“How can I forget you?”, the man answered. “You and I used to go to the kitchen to ask for over-cooked rice”.

“Where do you live now?”, Ba Tran asked.

“I have a field of manioc trees. Near here”, the man answered. “This brother just told me that yesterday there were some city-people came here to look for brother Tran Vu’s grave so I run to you hurriedly. Because I buried brother Tran Vu with my own hands”.

Then the man gave out his wrist in front of everyone.

“Brother Tran Vu left this watch to me. It still works very well. It’s a Swiss watch…”, he could hardly finish his sentence and he bursted out weeping.

Truc cried, too. She knelt down in front of the strange man, shedded tears.

“She is Tran Vu’s daughter”, I introduced.

The man helped Truc stand up.

“We must go back”, he said.

He guided everyone to cross a moor with water, to go to another forest. Truly there was a low hill there.

The writer Tran Vu’s grave lay alone on the hill top which was covered by thorns. On his grave, there was a log with a carved sentence: “Writer Tran Vu, died on 14, May, 1974”.

“Those are Muoi Thao’s writings”, the man said.

Truc sat on the grass, put her hand on the dirt grave. The forest was quiet at noon. It held its breath. The birds stopped singing when they heard the girl’s crying. I lay on my back, looked at the deep and blue sky above the leaves that were rustling. 

The sound of crying was as light as a breeze. It was as sad as a lullaby. A daughter lulled her father. You couldn’t hear it either in normal life, in folk verses or in folk-songs. It was the lullaby of the fate. The lullaby of the war.

Her crying was lulling me, too, lulling a human condition, so ephemeral and ungrateful.

*

Finally, we decided to stay for one more night at the field of manioc trees of Hay.

The old men gathered together, talking and drinking. Quynh Vi didn’t know what to do. At first she talked with Truc because Truc kept on crying but then she thought she should gave Truc back to her husband so that they could comfort each other. And Quynh Vi joined the old men.

“Grandpa! Can I drink a little?”, she asked me.

“Just a little is ok”, I answered.

Quynh Vi tasted brandy and then emptied her glass. I served her a piece of wild boar steamed with ginger, she felt like, asked me for one more glass.

We talked about the exhumation of Tran Vu’s grave. That matter was simple because no requirement of a “revolutionary martyr title” nor a burial service in a luxurious City cemetery. We simply brought his bones back to his village. And we could be able to do it in one day.

Before we went to bed, I signaled to Ba Tran to go out.

“Do you see little Truc was in despair?”, I asked him.

“You mean she’s got H.I.V? I knew that. I’ll take care of the expenses carefully”, he said.

“How about the assassination of the Prince?”, I asked. “The police didn’t find any bodies in the sea therefore they’re examining the fingerprints at the scene. That’s why Truc can’t appear in public, it’s not good for her treatment. Now she can’t come back to her hometown. Her situation’s very tragic”.

“I can arrange to give her a place”, Ba Tran answered.

*

At that time Truc was lying on a small bamboo bed in the kitchen. Sen sat on a chair next to her, held her hand and caressed it.

“Stop crying, my dear”, he comforted her. “You keep on crying and make people sad. You used to be a strong girl”.

“Yeah, I was”, she said. “Because previously I needed my strength to revenge. But now I don’t have any chances to do that. Only me face up to the situation myself. You see: my father died tragically like this, lay alone in the forest. My mother died in the sea. And I’ve got H.I.V. It means my life finishes. What do I live for?”

“You live to be my wife”, Sen said. “It’s a very important thing”.

“How can I become your wife?”, Truc asked. “You think I’ll be intact like this? No, it’ll come to the AIDS period and my body will be hurt. AIDS is very contagious. I must go to a hospital and you must take care of me. My body will turn ugly and terrible. Then some day I’ll be hunted. What did you do to deserve it?”

“I love you”, Sen said. “And I volunteer”.

“But I don’t volunteer”, Truc said.

“Don’t be stubborn. Sleep, my dear”.

Sen embraced Truc and kissed her cheeks. She held him tightly, her cry was stuck in her dry, hurt throat…

*

Both I and Ba Tran got up early. There was still fog over the manioc leaves in the garden out there. We brought our things to the car and smoke cigarettes while waiting for the children. The men who would help us to dig the grave also came early. They walked, chewing some bread.

Quynh Vi made coffee in a five-liter container, poured it into the paper glasses then gave them to people in the car.

“Eh?”, she asked. “Where are sister Truc and brother Sen?”

No one answered. Quynh Vi jumped out of the car. “Sister Truc!”, she called.

But only Sen ran out, he was agitated.

“She’s gone since the early morning”, he said. “I didn’t know where she went. I haven’t seen her since I got up”.  

One man in the car said:

“In this early morning I saw a girl wearing clothes of the city people, she went towards the vestige zone”.

I told everyone to get in the car and drove it to the gate, ran very fast towards R zone. In the car, I asked:

“She wore jeans and a black pullover, right?”

“Yeah, that’s right”, the man answered. “Up here no one wears clothes like that”.

I sped up, expected to catch up with the girl. The car shook hard like we were on the waves. It took me only fifteen minute to the vestige zone but I didn’t see Truc.

I left people behind, pulled Sen to run with me. The workers kept staring at us because they didn’t understand what was happening. We had been running for half an hour before we waded across the stream. We kept on running until we climbed the low hill.

Next to the grave, we saw a person kneeling or maybe lying. When Sen and I came near, it was Truc, but she was writhing on the wet grass.

Sen ran to her, carried her, but her slim body that was struggling against the Death hopelessly. Sen tightly held Truc on his chest and felt that his wife’s body was getting looser in his arms. He collapsed, still holding his wife very tightly. He opened his mouth, wanted to shout loud, but the sound was mute. His jaws were hard. His face was as white as a joss-paper.

I sat on the ground, holding my knees, bursted out crying like a child.

Then Ba Tran and everyone arrived. He had been standing quietly, looking at Truc for a long time then he said:

“Strychnos nux-vomica!”

It was the same poison Truc had used to kill the Prince.

And today, again she used it to meet her father.


28.

Thu walked through her house gate as driftedly as a shadow. She vaguely saw her husband sitting on a rattan chair in the flower garden, his face was towards the river. On a table in front of him, there was a glass of black coffee.

Since the day he came back from Cho Quan hospital, he didn’t answer her questions when she asked him. Maybe he didn’t want to answer. But maybe his hearing was getting worse.

Previously, after visiting her son’s grave, Thu lost the way and drove her car to Phu Giao. She had to ask the way many times then after passing Hoc Mon, again she lost the way and found herself in the junk place.

By chance, she saw a stone statue of the Buddha left at the road-side. She stopped the car. The statue was about forty centimeters high with its nose was broken. It was made of the blackish rough stone and looked like a Champa statue.

She got in the car, sat behind the streering wheel, put the statue next to her, and then, her mind was blank, she didn’t know where she was and where she intended to go. That status made her scared. After concentrating herself for a long time, she could remember the way home.

Thu embraced the statue, walking down to the flower garden. There was a small hill there which was covered by the green grass, surrounded by the white and grey stones. She put the statue on the hill-top then prayed for her son with some joss-sticks.

Her husband was still sitting on a rattan chair, looking at the river. She stepped slightly on the grass, came near him.

“Honey! Come and see a statue of the Buddha!”, she said.

But her husband was still quiet. She put her hand on his shoulder. They were cold. Then the skinny body of his tilted to one side, fell down on the grass.

The dead body had been stiff.

On the table, there was half of coffee left in the glass. And at a leg of the chair there was an old book.

It seemed he died in a sudden way. Perhaps because of a cold wind from the river blowing towards him.


29.

A woman drove the car Innova around the town. It ran into a field, then to the riverbank. Seeing boats by boats, she felt scared. She got out of the car, asked the boatmen.

“Do you go to Can Tho?”

“No”, they answered. “We go to Can Duoc”. 

“Where’s the highway?”, she asked.

But when they answered her, she looked at somewhere, looked at the sunny clouds. Then she left the car, walked along the riverbank.

People thought that she took a walk but she kept walking until the evening and lost her way in the mangrove swamp. Seeing an old man come back home with his fishing rod, she stopped him.

“Where is the base R?”, she asked.

The old man saw a rich lady but the face was pale so he asked back:

“Who do you want to look for?”

“The writer Tran Vu”, she answered.

Then she waded into the field.

Thinking she was a ghost, the old man ran away. One hour later, some militiamen held the torches, looking for her.

In the dark, they saw her sitting on the edge of the field and they took her back to the car. Due to the address in the car’s registration book, they brought her back home.

Few weeks later,  she was seen in a poor neighborhood. She idly went around a low wooden house which was deserted, with a torn sofa on its verandah. Her hair was ruffled, her clothes was shabby. She looked like a beggar therefore people ignored her.

At night, she was seen sleeping on that torn sofa, with a cigarette between her lips. At midnight, the civil guards stopped by her, they asked:

“Where are you from?”

“The base D”, she answered.

The civil guards laughed and left. The night following they didn’t ask any questions. But one night, a stranger who made up heavily, wore a two-string pull, low trouser-belt jeans, showed off her navel dropped by. She held a half bottle of brandy.

“Hey, sweetheart! This is my place!”, she said.

The woman was still sleepy.

“Is that you, Muoi Thao?”, she asked.

The stranger beat the bottle to the veranda, then pointed its sharp bottom to the woman. The woman turned around her body but she still closed her eyes.

“Mother, you really forget me?”, she said with the sleepy voice.

The new-comer startled, stepped back. Then she threw the bottle, embraced the woman.

“Oh! My daughter-in-law! My daughter-in-law!”, she said.

Then she bursted out crying, cried a lot, wetted her daughter-in-law’s face with her tears, her nose mucus, and her saliva. But the woman just indifferently covered her face with her hands.

Then the new-comer roared again like a cow:

“Do you have money, sweetheart?”

She put her hand into the pockets of the woman to search for money.

“Damn it! You’re very rich but why all your pockets were empty?”, she said.

But the woman still closed her eyes. The new-comer touched the woman’s ears and asked:

“Where are the ear-rings?”

The woman was silent.

The new-comer held the woman’s wrist, grasped her watch in a blink. And she also disappeared in a blink. Half an hour later, she came back with a bottle of alcohol and a roasted duck. She displayed all of them on a newspaper.

“Hey, wake up, sweetheart! Drink for the reunion day!”, she said.

The woman sat up. 

“Drink to the dregs!” she said then raised up her glass hesitatedly, suspiciously:

“Eh? But where’s this place?”

 “It’s your house”, the new-comer answered.

“And you? My comrade? Who are you?”

The woman asked, emptied her glass. Tears were pouring down her face.

Saigon, January, 19th, 2009

DAO HIEU

English translation by Bich Nga, revised by Trinh Y Thu

One comment on “A LADY FROM “R” – novel

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