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Nguyen Long Chien

I have just turned 70. If my aunt is still alive, she must be over 120 years old. She was the second sister before my father in a family of seven siblings.

Illustration: pexels-anna-tarazevich

When she was eight years old, she was badly burned in a fire that destroyed nearly half of the cottages in a remote countryside, near the foothills of the Truong Son Mountains, in Quang Nam province, perhaps before Bao Dai returned home. Severe burns disfigured her face, but did not make her worse thanks to her gentle eyes and kind smile.

Her grandfather married her to a village across the river: Non Tien – a village with a poetic name. The village is beautiful because it is close to the foot of the mountain, green all year round, tall trees, there are small houses in the distance that look like in fairy tales, scattered along the curved riverbank. The river whirled through the village as if to linger and waved its hand in salute before turning and flowing downstream; The river water is clear and you can see the fish swimming – a peaceful village.

When I was a child, every summer the water dried up, I walked across the river to visit her often. Her house has two guava trees that bear fruit all year round, when ripe, small round guava fruits have a gentle aroma, the inside is bright pink. Occasionally, she sent me and brought home to her brother, my father, bundles of fish or eel, wrapped in a green banana leaf that was heated over the fire, with a little water inside, tied with a string stripped from a dried banana peel, very strong. . On New Year’s holidays, stop following your father over to her house.

He did not forget to ask me to bring a basket of sticky rice containing a couple of boxes (liters) for her to cook sticky rice. Her family was difficult, her husband died early, she had to take care of my two brothers. Those were the most peaceful years in my hometown, a couple of years after the founding of the republic.

Then war appeared. Initially, they were guerrillas who returned to the village at night, and during the day they were district soldiers. Their presence is like water and fire. As long as there is a “revolution” there is no “nation.” They never met. But if they meet, then there will be blood spilled, not from one side, but also from the other.

I hurriedly followed my parents to evacuate to Hoi An, before the US landed in Da Nang and the war broke out. The reason my family had to leave the village was because I have a brother who is a “national” civil servant, staying behind would be in danger of being in trouble because of being a “sham” family.

Since then, my family and her family have not been able to communicate with each other. The war situation, communication at that time was very difficult, the fifty-kilometer road from my hometown to Hoi An was full of dangers, there were always landmines or always fighting.

After the war ended, I heard about my aunt’s family. Her eldest son was the head of the hamlet and was “revolutionary” taken into the forest during an ambush in the mountain village at the top of the village. My aunt could only swallow her tears, because of her advanced age, she had to take care of my brother’s two young children.

My sister-in-law is sick today. My brother separated from the time he was arrested until my aunt had to evacuate to Da Nang in the year of Mau Than 1968, taking with her two fatherless grandchildren, their mother remarried because they thought her husband was dead. After a while, she couldn’t take care of her and was forced to send her son to Hoa Khanh orphanage. My father did not help her, because my brother, who supported the whole family, died a year ago in battle.

From then until her death, a few years later “liberation.” The two orphaned grandchildren are scattered, not knowing where to go. Until now, after a long time of searching, I found them again in a place nearly a thousand kilometers from my aunt’s village.

She died due to old age and was buried in Nam O cemetery, during the period of starvation after 1975, with no relatives, no one knew when there was an order to relocate because of the state planning. I don’t know where her body has drifted.

Her death at an old age was not as tragic as the deaths of my two brothers, later told. Hunger and forest malaria in the 1960s, was a terrible obsession for those who were arrested with my brother alive. Because he was so hungry, my brother often found out where the prison’s cassava was grown late at night, thanks to the later time, the prisoners were not kept as harshly as they were at the beginning. Things would probably not go smoothly to the prison officer, if he didn’t share the baked cassava roots, when he went to work outside with a few friends, he was also very hungry.

A brother hid baked cassava and brought it back to the camp to eat more late at night to avoid hunger and was caught red-handed. My brother’s name was revealed. They locked my brother apart from his fellow prisoners for a while, in secret isolation. It is not clear how he ate or drank or if he was subjected to any kind of torture, but when he was returned to the camp, he was very weak and he was as silent as a mute even though he loved to talk.

The inmates did not understand that he voluntarily did not speak or were forced to not let him speak. Hunger was overkill and unfortunately, he was arrested again and for the last time. Cassava roots are not important but discipline is important. Prisoners are all “understood” by the prison guards very carefully, not to steal, even if they starve to death without food. Salt and boiled cassava was a common meal in the years when the US sprayed reclaimed substances. In those years, in prison, no one knew where the prison was and there was no visit like later.

My brother was taken to another place one evening, disappeared until now for nearly 60 years, there is no news of him, and no one knows whether he is alive or dead. It hurts to talk about you, but it hurts me even more when I hear about the death of your younger brother, Th. mine.

Mr. Th. After serving in the insurgent army outside the district for a few months, he threw his gun back at the unit and fled home, not according to “revolution” but according to the message he sent to my aunt’s house at that time. She was suffering from malaria and her two grandchildren – the children of her brother in prison, whose mother had gone away, were suffering from dysentery.

He panicked and didn’t know how to take care of the health of his mother and two children. It is not possible to go back to the county to get medicine or bring mother and child out there. Out of fear, he quit the army.

At that time, the villagers scattered elsewhere. A few went to the forest under the “revolution”, the rest went to the temporary settlement to live, with no one left to help him in that difficult time. He has a friend in the same village, who was a guerrilla but escaped because he had to stay at home to take care of his wife who was sick with malaria. The two invited each other to go around the garrison of the district capital by crossing the forest, wading across rivers and streams, back to Ai Nghia town, about twenty kilometers away, to buy Western medicine to treat the sick.

On the way or on the way back, both were captured when they fell into an ambush of Nung soldiers, accompanied by a few local soldiers (Nung soldiers displaced to the South, recruited and paid by the US army). . They tied up the two and brought them to a deserted place to exploit. Both of them always complained “not the Viet Cong.” Rifles hit the back, shoe kicks to the chest.

His friend was in so much pain that he went to guerrilla, but now he doesn’t follow him anymore. Testimonies were not convincing for the troops that had several people shot dead by guerrillas the day before. Resentment drove them crazy, they didn’t shoot his friend, but hit them on the head with the butt of a gun.

The face and skull were covered in fresh blood, not knowing which one was broken. My brother testified that he was not a Viet Cong and it was true, but a dagger hidden in his “precaution” while on the road was the strongest accusation. The more he complained, the more fiercely the Nung soldiers fought, and when he fainted, he could not speak even though he was not dead. One of the ferocious people took the confiscated dagger, put it in his mouth, and pulled it hard to both ears. He died not from the blood coming from the cut on his face, but from the butts of a gun hitting his head.

My aunt was given a place by the local authority to collect his body. It is said that my aunt could not cry anymore; Her eyes were dry and red, and she sat down beside him, stroking her son’s face with her hand, her other hand lacing her dry fingers through his blood-stained hair. “Go home, my mother texted you back a few days ago, why are you still lying here. Go home, go back to your mother, baby”…

When I lived in the South for many decades away from home, I went back and tried to find out and was asked by one of the soldiers or they heard about the death of my brother and his friend. When I heard where my aunt was, I sobbed “go home,” I couldn’t hold back my tears.

My aunt’s family, her husband died early, she stayed there to raise two children – one of whom was buried in an unknown place, one died tragically by her own hand, and the grave is still here. My two grandchildren are lost and need food and my aunt, she is no longer in this world to light a candle for my brother. And I, I don’t know where her grave is to light an incense for her. In front of the tomb of Mr. child, I painfully called out in my mind, “Miss!”

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