Hello, the following is part of the ooAsia collection of short stories which I’m working on. This one takes place in Vietnam. These short stories are fictional, though based upon the experience of our travels and encounters. I’m only posting the very short ones online but will publish the entire collection as a book. You can also read the short story from Japan.
The lines that follow are fiction, but their premise is grounded in reality. Sad, harsh, unjust – neutrally blindfolded – reality.
The wheels locked into the dirt and dug a sidewards trench an inch deep, causing clouds of dust and soil to erupt and scatter about. The carcass of the bus screamed whiningly as it leaned into the right turn, and the tons of insensible metal screeched from speed and wear. The driver crushed the gas pedal and ploughed on.
I looked back, alarmed.
“Did you see?” I asked her.
She had, and she screamed to the driver: “Stop the bus!”
I joined in, but the driver never looked back, and already the bus heaved and tugged along, and the turn was left in the dust, too.
At the turn of the century, which also happened to usher in a new millennial, the bloodied head of a nameless boy emerged from his mother’s womb and into the hands of the nurse, who placed him beside her on the mat.
The woman, who was now a mother and exhausted from the long hours of labor, smiled as she looked at the boy lying on his back, his legs scraggling mid-air, alive already. The woman’s brow was damp and altogether too hot, and before the nurse could return to wipe off the sweat on her forehead, she smiled again, looked up to the flaws in the ceiling, evidently relieved, and expired her last breath.
Duc Tran, for his name was like he, not one to stand apart from the rest of his nation, or rather, of its modern history, that is to say, one whose fateful life would always be mixed with the bitterness of its violent birth, was rapidly taken out of the room, placed next to a dozen other babies, all of whom but him were crying, given the privilege of a numbered label, which became the second and most solid reason for his name to be – that he lacked any, and thus was named straightforwardly by the charitable institute that inherited his care, by way of its unimaginative yet not unthoughtful director, who preferred giving the orphaned infants that came to reside in his shelter the commonest of common names, one that would contribute to the prompt return of their life’s normalcy.
And so Duc Tran was born, cared for, and named. And so he went on to live.
Duc grew up near Hue, a large town located mid-way through the longitudinal coastal strip that is Vietnam, a former royal city turned provincial, whose past glories paled by its mid-sizedness when compared to the capitals of Hanoi and old Saigon, which had since been renamed Ho Chi Minh City in the wake of the country’s reunification.
In fact, the town of Hue carried the interesting but meaningless distinction of having also witnessed the youth and upbringing of the spiritual father of the nation.
Of a father Duc knew none but the institute’s director and his teachers, and perhaps that was for the better, because the early loss of his mother had ill prepared him for the added suffering of paternal rejection.
School was not altogether hard for Duc, quite to the contrary, the boy’s aptitude rapidly impressed his teachers. When they discussed his case, some even fantasized that he may grow to be the successor of Hue’s hopeful tradition, a leader of the country.
(These teachers were the older, more nostalgic ones, no doubt, those for whom the voice of Ho Chi Minh and the bells of Vietnam’s independence rang clearly, but who had been too old to enlist during the war against the Americans and their brothers from the South, and thus to witness the full atrocity of human horror on their soil, one which would take generations to wipe clean.)
Duc also shined on the football field, and his physical abilities combined with the acuteness of his vision made the teachers hopeful, that should he not prove himself a political leader, at least could he fetch a good living through his talents as a professional athlete.
He was then thirteen, his spindly legs made him look fourteen, and though such age may seem young to those cradled by fortune, it is plenty enough experience for those whose life is left to their own making.
Was it his teacher, or the director – it does not matter – but a figure of authority had entrusted Duc with an errand. A trivial thing it was, whether he was summoned to carry a letter to a friend, or retrieve a bag of groceries from the nearby shop.
Like all boys his age Duc knew well how to ride the motorbike. He had for years; no Vietnamese – boy or girl for that matter – could remember when they first rode one, so engrained was this method of transport in the cultural fabric of the nation.
He puttered along, smiling in the noonday heat. There was a dip in the road ahead, shaded by an overpass. Duc knew the road well, the motorbike dipped and disappeared under the overpass.
He leaned to the left to take the turn upwards as he exited from the shaded area and back onto the road, and lifted his chin still smiling and that was when he heard the screeching sound of brakes, and realized there was an oncoming truck, which smashed into the motorbike at full force, propelling Duc’s lifeless body dozens of feet away from the wreck.
“Stop the bus!” she screamed, more emphatically. But the driver heeded not.
Already the turn was gone.
It was a second, perhaps not even. A blink of an eye. But that had sufficed to imprint the vision onto us:
We both had seen the body of the boy lying there, immobile, his face turned into the dust, surrounded by a pool of red blood.
His body had seemed unnaturally crooked, one might say stiff. The bus had screamed past the scene, the boy, a human life perhaps lost, slowing not in the slightest.
We had seen it. And we had not stopped it.
Not a soul cared. There was no one in sight.
I do not know whether the boy who suffered the accident was in fact dying, or if the injury was less serious than it looked. I can only hope that he recovered. But to the end I will never know, and am left to hope for the best, while fearing the worst.
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