letuanthewriter


 

 THE LAST AMERICAN 

IN VIETNAM

                                                                              A story by Lê Tuấn



The narrow streets were clogged with abandoned, out-of-gas Jeeps or 4x4 vehicles. A couple of them were still smoldering after having been set afire by military personnel, mostly high-ranking officers, who had retreated from the front line. Also packing the streets were civilian cars, scooters, bicycles, cyclos, taxies, and people carrying suitcases, boxes, and clothes still on hangers. The scene reminded Mark Mason of the recent pictures that captured a panoramic view of Highway One – dubbed the Boulevard of Terror. The pictures showed tens of thousands of refugees running desperately on Highway One, making the harrowing trek southward to escape death, war, and Communism. The advances of the northern troops and the retreat of the southern army had triggered the exodus. They all ran toward the south without knowing their next destination or even the next stop. They left behind everything. They unchained themselves from their physical and spiritual attachments: their homes, their land, their cattle, and the tombs of their ancestors. A caption in a news magazine said it best: Those people had voted with their feet.”


Mark took in the scene while his Vespa was at a standstill, not able to move an inch. These people, who were blocking the streets, were also trying to escape. But unlike their compatriots on the Boulevard of Terror, they knew their destination: America. They were trying to get to Tan Son Nhat, the only airport still open, to Bach Dang Pier at the Saigon River, the only port that moored the ships with the capacity to transport the masses out to the sea, and to a dozen or so helipads maintained by the U.S. Embassy and the C.I.A. and scattered throughout the capital city of the Republic of Vietnam. The mass was so dense. It made him think of the procession that took place every Christmas Eve on Tu Do Street leading to the National Cathedral. That was the only time Mark had seen the mob on the streets without any form of protestation against the corrupt and totalitarian government.


A volley of gunfire rang out somewhere to his immediate right, creating an opening. The crowd flattened down in an attempt to dodge the bullets. Mark Mason took the opportunity, gunned his Vespa forward, negotiated the scooter expertly on the crowded pavement, climbed on the sidewalks, and drove across the grass. He was able to gain about one hundred yards when the mob started to move and closed in again, blocking his passage. He would have to do something – anything - to find a way out of this impasse to get to the house in Ban Co where Thu, his love of the last ten months, was waiting for him with the suitcases ready.


He had told her that as soon as he got to the house, they would be going to the embassy and boarding a chopper that would take them out of the country. When he left the embassy, on an impulse, he had made a detour across town to Hieu’s, a Vietnamese journalist friend he liked and respected immensely. Mark had forced Hieu onto the backseat of his Vespa and took him to the embassy, and handed him to a grim-faced marine standing guard on top of the barbed-wired wall. The detour had cost him one precious hour. Now the traffic was going to delay him some more.

Mark looked at his watch. It was four o’clock in the afternoon. It would get dark in three hours and still he was trapped in the middle of the street with the mob. Ban Co was a little more than a mile away; Mark decided to leave his Vespa and try to get back to Thu on foot.


The normally crowded marketplace was like a ghost town. Empty cardboard boxes, rotten vegetables, stinking fish, and a dead dog littered the muddy lane that led to Thu’s house in an alley adjacent to the market. Mark reached the narrow alley, turned left, and entered a two-story house.

Unlike the market, the alley was buzzing with people going back and forth. Groups of people gathered around a radio – television programs on Channel 9 wouldn’t start until five o’clock - to hear the latest developments of the war, or to be more specific, to find out how far the Vietcong army was from the doorstep of the city of Saigon, South Vietnam’s last bastion.

The radio was also on inside the house but it was tuned to the U.S. Armed Forces F.M. station where the crooning voice of Bing Crosby was delivering a perfect enunciation of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas. The untimely broadcast of the popular song was a pre-arranged signal to all Americans in Saigon to go to the nearest rendezvous spots. Its message: The time is now. The evacuation was at full speed.


Thu was trying to zip up a large suitcase lying on the floor in the inside room. Mark kissed her and reached over and snapped the suitcase shut. He then lifted the two suitcases up with his hands. They were heavy.

Darling, we have to go now. The signal’s on.”

Thu was holding a picture frame in her hands.

Let me put this in also, please.” It was a picture of her and her father.

And my mother’s not here yet, anyway.”

We sent her a telegram seven days ago. If she wanted to go with us,

she would’ve been here by now,” Mark said impatiently.

I’m sure she’ll come. We just have to wait for her. You know how

hard it is to leave everything behind,” Thu implored.

If we don’t leave now, we are going to be left behind.”

The suitcases were getting heavier in his hands. He put them down

on the floor.

Mark, please be patient. Try to understand. I love you and I have you but I’m all she has. She’ll come. Trust me. She won’t let her only daughter down.”

There’s no more time.” Mark was exasperated. “Look, Thu. I want

your mother to go with us but we can’t wait for her. We have to get into the embassy right now.” He picked up the suitcases again and started for the door.

If you have to get back to the embassy right now, just go. As soon as

she arrives, we’ll go over there and find you. I know she’ll come.” Thu was resolute.

How can you be so sure?” Mark stopped.

Because she loves me and because she knows that I need her…”

Mark turned around, dropped the suitcases and went to Thu. He

grasped her shoulders and shook her violently in desperation.

Listen to me, now, listen. You don’t need her. You have me,” he

shouted and suddenly paused and looked deeply into Thu’s eyes. “What do you mean when you say she knows you need her?”

Thu looked back into the light blue vastness of Mark’s eyes for a long time before she answered.

Because when a girl is with child, she always needs her mother.”

The hands gripped Thu’s shoulders tighter as Mark leaned closer to

her.

What…what did you just say?”

I’m pregnant, Mark.”

Mark’s body stiffened. His heart stopped. The hands on Thu’s shoulders felt heavy. For a moment, his face showed no emotion then suddenly the hands slid down Thu’s body, stopped at her still tiny waist. He picked her up, whirled her around in slow motion. Somewhere nearby, there was a heavy burst of gunfire. In Mark’s state of ecstasy and deliriousness from the news, it sounded like firecrackers during the lunar New Year’s celebration.


The emotion caused by the news blocked the urgency of the situation in Mark’s mind. He carried Thu in his arms and climbed the stairs. The love they made was slow and sweet.


It was nine o’clock when they lay quietly and contently in each other’s arms and still Thu’s mother hadn’t arrived. They had drifted off to a short sleep, oblivious of the historic events unfolding in the capital. Mark removed Thu’s arm on his chest, got out of bed, dressed and went to the balcony, looking in the direction of the embassy. The sky was dark. The constant noise caused by the landings and takeoffs of the helicopters all day long had ceased; only sporadic gunfire and the sound of traffic remained. The usual hubbub in the alley during the day was absent. It looked as though people were either out on the streets, trying to find a way to escape, or holed up seeking safety inside their homes. It was eerie. Mark stood on the balcony for a long time sorting out his emotions and options. He loved Thu. He liked this country and its people. It was too bad that everything had come down to a humiliating defeat. Mark was sure that the Vietcong army would be here in a few days. What would happen to the twenty some million people in the south now that their fate was sealed? He decided that he would try to coax Thu to go into the embassy either tonight or tomorrow morning, even if her mother didn’t come, before it was too late. He would come back to the house every hour, if necessary, to see if she had arrived and take her to the embassy. He thought about his Vespa abandoned on the street. He might need it later, if it was still there, to haul the heavy suitcases. Thu wouldn’t leave anything she couldn’t pack behind. He knew. She was a frugal person.

Mark felt thirsty. He came back inside, admired Thu’s beauty in repose, bent down and gently placed a kiss on her forehead, then went downstairs and opened the fridge, took out a large water bottle and drank deeply. The silence drew his attention. Then his eyes turned to the small radio on the commode: the F.M. station had fallen silent; static had replaced White Christmas. The U.S. Armed Forces radio was off the air for the first time since 1967. Somehow he didn’t feel panic. He climbed the stairs again to tell Thu that he was going out to see how things were but Thu was still asleep. He put a light blanket on her; his eyes lingered on her nakedness. He went downstairs, opened the door, slipped out and closed it behind him.


Mark went to Phan Dinh Phung Boulevard. The front end of the marketplace on his left was deserted, its dark stalls shuttered. Just like the alley, the street was eerily quiet. Mark started to walk toward the embassy.

He turned right on Le Van Duyet Street and made a left at Tu Xuong. He was following a hunch that he might have a chance of finding his Vespa on this street where he had abandoned it earlier. At the corner where Hai Ba Trung Boulevard and Tu Xuong met, he found it lying in a corner, next to the wall of a villa. He lifted it up, tried to kick the engine alive but failed. The motor wouldn’t start; either it had run out of gas or the carburetor was flooded. Anyway, it was useless. Mark leaned the Vespa against the wall again. It was very dark on Tu Xuong, a narrow street with high-walled villas and tall, ancient trees. Hai Ba Trung was wider and lighter. Mark thought of a conversation he had with Hieu not too long ago. Hieu had said that it was ironic that Tu Xuong would ever meet with Hai Ba Trung simply because the former was a lazy poet whose wife had to support him while he wrote poetry; whereas the latter were a pair of female warriors who had led the Vietnamese in war and scored a huge victory against the Chinese. Mark thought if history was to be believed, the heroes and heroines, the kings and generals that rose from the land called Vietnam were extraordinary. Mark wondered if Hieu had been able to get on a helicopter. He quickened his pace. The cathedral lay in the shadow to his right. Five hundred yards ahead was the embassy. And it was under siege. Hundreds of people had set up camp on the sidewalks and on the pavement of Thong Nhat Boulevard, in front and around the American embassy. They were waiting for a chance to get inside the compound and from there, fight again for a seat on one of the choppers that would take them to the aircraft carriers of the Seventh Fleet anchoring offshore. Mark got closer to the mob. There were still lights inside the compound but the first thing that struck Mark like an uppercut to his jaw and made him panic for the first time was the absence of the Marine guards. Mark scanned the top of the barbed-wired perimeter: no guards. His eyes darted to the observation post on top of the building: no guards. The marines were gone. Mark knew when the marines escorted Ambassador Martin to the last chopper, the evacuation was terminated. The last chopper had taken off and he, Thu, and their baby were not on it. The people outside were, unknowingly, sitting next to a dead embassy compound.


The anger that came was powerful.

For reasons, Mark later told Thu, that he would never be able to explain fully - whether he and Thu were left behind and they now shared the same fate with the naive people waiting in vain while there was still time to find other ways to escape, or he was angry at his own government for having abandoned an ally that had become a liability, or for other motives - Mark charged into the throng, walking recklessly, shoving obstacles aside, stepping on bodies, limbs, suitcases, blankets until he reached the tall iron gate. There was a huge boulder on the right side of the gate. He climbed on it, faced the crowd and started to talk. He spoke loudly; his voice amplified in the darkness.

Everybody, listen. The embassy is closed. The Americans have left.

The last chopper has come and gone. Why don’t you disperse, go home, and find some other ways to escape in the morning,” he spoke first in English, then in Vietnamese.

The mob began to stir at his first words. By the time he finished, the

noise had become deafening.

Who are you?” somebody barked.

Mark tried to answer but the shouts and commotion drowned out his

response.

Break the gate down. He’s lying.”

Jesus, Mary and Joseph! What are we going to do?”

The Americans have abandoned us.”

God almighty, they left us behind.”

The Vietcong are going to kill us.”

I worked for the Americans for twenty years and look at me now.”

My husband is inside; I have to go in there with him.”

Then the crowd got angry. Their tone turned nasty.

Goddamn fucking, double-crossing Americans.”

Where are you, Nixon? You promised us!”

You goddamned wimp, Gerald Ford.”

Damn you to hell, Martin.”

Fuck your mother, fuck your sister, fuck your daughter, Henry

Kissinger.”

Mark noticed that Henry Kissinger’s female relatives got fucked a lot. In many Vietnamese eyes, Dr. K. was Judas, the turncoat, the evil. The angry shouts by the men continued amid the wailing of women, the crying of children. Now the crowd turned on him, the last American standing.

Fucker, son of a bitch, get off the rock.”

Get that goddamn American down here.”

Get him off that fucking rock.”

Pull the fucking, double-crossing American down here.”

Let’s kick the shit out of him, fucking American.”

In a stupor, Mark Mason watched the crowd surge and arms reach out to grab his legs. There was no escape and he didn’t know if he wanted to escape. An immense guilt had taken the place of earlier anger. He found himself falling into the grip of the mob. His jumbled mind was telling him that he was being punished for the shady dealings and the double-crossings his government had committed. He, Mark Mason, the good American, was paying for the sins of all those ugly Americans - the Nixons, the Johnsons, the McNamaras, the Bundies, and the Kissingers - sitting in Washington. Then excruciating pain came as fists, briefcases and rocks rained on his body and he lost consciousness. As the beating intensified he no longer felt the pain.


Eternity had gone by. Something cold was dumped on Mark’s face.The beating had stopped. People had lost interest in venting their anger against the double-crossing American. He struggled to stay where he was, on the ground, in the twilight of consciousness.


Something told him that he shouldn’t wake up. He fainted again briefly. A few minutes later, Mark stirred and opened his eyes. He raised his right arm to look at his watch: The Seiko said twelve o’clock, midnight. The act of opening his eyes made him exhausted. He closed his eyes again and felt a jolt on his wrist and then his arm was pulled violently away from him, but he had no strength left in him to resist. Just as he was about to be lifted up to the sitting position, something snapped and he fell backward again. He howled in pain as his back hit the ground. When the pain subsided, he opened his eyes and raised his wrist again. The watch was gone. His wrist hurt. His whole body hurt. “I have to get back to Thu. She’s waiting for me,” Mark mumbled in his semi-comatose state. Gathering the last ounce of strength left in his tattered and bloodied body, he raised himself on his hands and knees and started to crawl.


The saga of Mark Mason, the Last American in Vietnam, and Thu, his pregnant girlfriend can be found in: 


                                                                                            

                                                                               MOTHERLAND

                              A novel by Lê Tuấn 

                                Available on Amazon.com

 http://www.amazon.com/motherland-Novel-tuan/dp/1452804958/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1273689891&sr=1-2


back to homepage:

http://letuanthewriterswebsite.yolasite.com/


Make a Free Website with Yola.