As I walked along the street toward the apartment building that my family lived in for the last decade, a US Army truck rumbled by. When the truck was past me, I saw several white and a few black faces looking out at me from under the brown canvas that covered the back of the truck. Their expressions were grave and they looked like they had not slept in days.
I hadn’t been sleeping well myself. The DMZ was not far to the north. I often heard gunfire and sometimes artillery. But even in Saigon, it was said that things were not any better there.
My brother, Jian, was on the stoop. Two of his friends were with him. They talked quietly, almost whispering among themselves. Jian was five years older than me and he had adapted the teenager behavior and attitude.
“Vuong has something for us,” Jian said to his friends. “Tonight, we’ll hit the Americans at the bridge.”
I stopped. I was at the top of the stoop with my hand on the doorknob. Was Jian saying what I thought he was saying? I did know someone named Vuong. The Vuong I knew worked with the Viet Cong. He had been an old family friend, but he wasn’t anymore. Since he tried to recruit our family, we had cut our ties with him. Or so we thought.
Father just wanted to survive the war with all of his family. And he believed in the democracy that South Vietnam was struggling to hold. Never mind that there were questionable acts committed by our current government.
I stood on the stoop, wondering if I should enter the building or see what else I could hear.
“He has everything we’ll need,” Jian went on. “Guns, explosives, he’s got it.”
Jian suddenly fell silent. His friends were not saying anything either. I slowly looked over my shoulder and saw all three of them staring at me.
“Get out of here,” Jian said.
I didn’t hesitate. I yanked open the door and entered the building.
Night came. The apartment was quiet. I lay on my bed. Light from the street entered my narrow window. A military vehicle went by. You always knew when they were military vehicles, by the sounds they made. They were noisy and sometimes they rattled the building.
A floorboard creaked.
I became alert. I listened. A moment passed, and then there was another creak, but further away from my room.
I heard the door to the hallway open and then close.
I climbed out of bed. Though I stepped softly, I hurried across the apartment to the door and stepped out into the hallway, closing the door behind me.
I looked toward the stairs in time to see Jian disappear from sight. I hurried after him. I was halfway down the stairs when Jian looked back and saw me.
“What are you doing?” Jian asked. He let go of the doorknob and turned to face me.
“You can’t do this, Jian,” I said. “It’s dangerous. You could get killed.”
Jian let out an audible sigh.
“Mind your own business,” he said. “Go back to bed and forget you saw me tonight.”
“I heard you talking earlier,” I said. “I know what you’re doing. You can’t go.”
I saw a flash of anger in Jian’s eyes and he gritted his teeth at me.
“This is none of your business,” he said. “Stay out of it.”
I was going to say more, but Jian flung the door open and hurried away.
I lay awake in my bed, unable to put Jian out of my mind. He was only sixteen. Many would consider him a child. I wanted to tell Father what Jian was doing, but I didn’t know how.
It was around midnight when I heard the gunfire, and then there was a series of explosions.
Father burst into the room.
“Linh,” he said. “Where is your brother?”
The battle had lasted less than an hour. The city was quiet in the morning. Father was out looking for Jian.
I sat on the stoop and watched as people milled around.
A US Army truck went by, and then I noticed someone standing in the alley across the street.
The person came out into the morning light and walked toward me. It was Jian. He was soaked from head to toe, and his trousers were torn. But I saw no blood.
Jian crossed the street and stood before me. His wide-eyed expression suggested shellshock.
“I didn’t fight,” Jian said. “Things quickly turned bad for us and I jumped into the river to escape.”
I stood up from the step I was sitting on and moved closer to him.
“Vuong is dead,” Jian said, and his eyes became watery. “So is Bui and Nguyen.”
I took another step forward and threw my arms around him.
“But you’re alive,” I said.
Rob Darnell has work published in different magazines and anthologies. He loves sports. His favorite teams are the Detroit Tigers, Lions, Pistons, Red Wings and the Michigan Wolverines, His website is RobDarnell.com.
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