Viet Nam News
by Hoàng Hải Lâm
While walking through the cave suddenly I saw a ferocious-looking hunter a few metres in front of me. He had unkempt hair, a bushy beard and hairy arms, with a gun in hands aimed at me. I hid behind a tree trunk, frightened to death.
The ecotour party was now deep in the cave. I hadn’t wanted to come to the cave at all, it seemed like hell to me, and now here was Death, appeared before me. “He won’t mistake me for an animal,” I said to myself. Then he inched towards me, finger on the trigger.
Bang went his gun. I fell onto the foot of the tree. I was trembling with fear. I touched my blouse, covering my hand with red liquid. “Have I been shot like a wild animal? Or was he a clever animal with a gun?” I asked myself again and again.
Tears dripped down my cheeks. “In a few minutes I’ll die,” I said to myself.
I thought dying would be very painful, but I just felt a bit worried. “Why has he tried to kill me?” I asked myself. I closed my eyes, and felt liquid drip onto my face above. I swept my hand over the face. “Blood!” I cried. I looked above and saw a monkey with blood dripping from a gunshot wound.
The hunter tackled me to the ground, just as the poor animal fell to the floor. Blood was bubbling out of its mouth.
I screamed in terror. After that I just sat on the roots of the tree, as still as a stone and speechless, until my mates came to me. They asked me a lot of things, yet words failed me. They carried me straight to the hospital. I had no physical injuries but the doctor on duty declared I had lost my voice due to shock.
“I’m unable to talk for the time being, but nothing else happened to me. Let me go home, please,” I wrote on a piece of paper for him.
However, I was kept back for further evaluation, as a mental patient, of course.
* * *
My 30-year-old doctor was called Sin. He was a mixed race man, with one parent Caucasian and the other Asian. He was good-looking, yet he had a sorrowful face, like that of Jesus. Everyday, he would speak to me for an hour in the morning and one in the afternoon.
“You’ll stay here until you fully recover from the trauma, Miss,” he said.
“That’s fine, as long as my family don’t know I’m here,” I wrote to him. “I’m actually still on holiday as far as they know!” I added.
In a terrible nightmare, images of that queer-looking stranger appeared with his gun aimed at me. Meanwhile, a big monkey was staring at me, showing its teeth then crawling towards me. When I woke up I was so panicked that Sin had to tranquillize me.
One day I sketched two separate portraits of the stranger and the monkey, each on an A-4 sheet then let my doctor see them, one after another.
“Oh, you’ve tried to draw me, haven’t you?” he asked. “You’ve portrayed me as an animal, whereas the other picture is a real animal that looks like me!”
A moment later, he said, “The first seems similar to my father to some extent.”
“Your father! Whereabouts does he live now?” I wrote my question on a piece of paper.
“I don’t know exactly. Previously, he fought in South Viet Nam, When the war ended, he left for a Western country, one of his comrades-in-arms told me so.”
“How could you recognise your father’s face?” I wrote.
“By instinct, Miss.”
“It think I met him recently in Brai cave,” I wrote again.
“It’s a wonderful cave, but unknown to most people, except for ecotourists. It’s about 200-km northwest of here. During the war, it was a shelter for soldiers of both sides,” I scribbled frantically.
“The war ended a long time ago. I don’t like pictures dealing with battles,” he said before leaving.
I smiled. Suddenly, he turned back, staring at me again.
“Your treatment is drawing to an end,” he told me. “If you’re still unable to speak, I’ll inform your family of your condition,” Sin warned me. “I wonder why nobody has come to visit you yet!” Sin added sympathetically.
I smiled again.
“It doesn’t matter,” I thought to myself. “There’s lots of fun to be had here. Many patients in this mental hospital laugh more than they talk. Most of their conversations are incoherent. I’m told that if anybody just laughs and says nothing, he’ll be seen as insane.”
I was thought to be a madwoman too because I could not talk! Worse still, my portraits about Sin were condemned as defaming his reputation.
After lunch I took a deep nap until late afternoon. Waking up I found a bag of forest fruits by my side. To my surprise, I also discovered a long monkey tail among them. I shrieked loudly. At once Sin rushed in. He injected me with tranquillizers again. Soon, I was asleep. In my druggy sleep, I felt something touching my body again and again. It felt like somebody was lying on top of me. I woke up at once, startling my assailant and forcing him to flee. But I knew it was Sin who tried to deflower me. When I asked him about it, he seemed greatly repentant.
On another occasion, I made a picture in which he was eagerly clinging to a female patient. Close to them was a female monkey with a gun aiming at them both.
“That female monkey was going to shoot you out of envy,” he mocked at me after looking at the picture. “Forgive me, Miss! I acted inappropriately because you looked very attractive. I’m not even as good looking as you painted.” Saying so, he nearly crumpled it up.
I snatched it back. After that, I jotted down a few words at the bottom of the picture, “I really don’t mean to find fault with you. Don’t regard it as a beautiful work of art. The man I sketched is the one who offered me the fruits with a monkey tail.”
“Wow, that wicked hunter!” he exclaimed. “We failed to catch him that day. What was left behind was the bag of fruits on your table. Maybe, he has been arrested by the police,” Sin told me.
“Why? Because of his visit to a patient?” I wrote.
“Hmm, he had no identification and he had an old AK47.”
“Who called the police?” I wrote.
“So that guy is your father!” I scribbled.
“Are you mad? I’m a human being while he’s only a brute!”
* * *
I left hospital at my parents’ request although I was still speechless.
Sadly, while my job at my parents’ company was left vacant, I stayed at home to play video games and sleep. Sometimes, I dreamt about my paintings, that horrible hunter and the fatal gunshot. One morning my mother handed me a newspaper where there was a photo of that detained hunter.
The picture shocked me so much my voice returned.
“Have you read it?” I asked my mother.
“You can talk! Yes, I read it, my beloved daughter! It turned out that this wild man had been hidden for forty years in the forest and cave after the war.”
I went out to look for Sin.
Holding a newspaper in both hands, he stared at me. I could not guess what he was thinking about, his attempt at raping me or the hunter.
In the late afternoon, Sin arrived at my place to take me to the prison where the hunter was detained.
The wild man smiled vaguely.
Sin talked to him in English which I did not understand well, except for a few words like war, family and children and the Vietnamese name Thy. The hunter was nodding his head, eyes brimming with tears.
Sin and I left the prison in his car. He drove me home without any explanation.
“Thanks a lot, Miss,” he said when I got out.
“What for?” I asked.
“He is my father. Thy was my mother who passed away a long time ago. He has lived in the forest for years. Both of them promised to meet each other again in the wilderness some day,” Sin told me before he drove away.
The gunshot, the war and his father’s love for his sweetheart named Thy!
I was unable to draw a painting dealing with these matters. Nor was I bold enough to tell anyone else about their story.
Today, sitting calmly, I put it down on paper with my belief that love and happiness can come to any human providing they cherish hope and wait for each other at all costs.
Translated by Văn Minh