The Viet Cong embodied everything he loathed. He witnessed their oppression and cruelty. Maliciously torturing those who dissented from their views, they were indifferent to their victims’ age, sex or creed. Women were brutally beaten and raped in front of their children. Men, stripped of their clothes and dignity, were publicly humiliated and tortured. Children, whipped into obeisance, were forced to dig trenches and holes for landmines. He didn’t believe the future the Viet Cong promised especially when all he could see was the dire reality they delivered.
On the day of the beheading, my mother started the day as usual. She woke up at the roosters’ crow to make breakfast for my grandfather. Afterwards, she left to work in the rice paddies before the noon sun blistered everything in its reach. When the temperature became too unbearable, she returned home to cool off and to prepare lunch.
Like the incessant buzzing of a small fly, she paid little attention to the faint, indistinct screams outside. Rapidly, the screams grew louder and more distinguishable. She realized people were bellowing out my grandfather’s name. Then suddenly, a stampede of neighbors barged into the house. With fearful eyes and flapping hands, they all started to speak at once. The noise was incomprehensible.
Afraid that his home was under attack, my grandfather ran out of his bedroom brandishing a machete he kept underneath his bed. The cacophony shot up another octave as the crowd high-tailed a hasty retreat out of the house away from my grandfather. He quickly stowed his machete away when he realized there wasn’t any threat then went outside with my mother to question the petrified neighbors. Before he could speak, the agitated crowd lunged at my grandfather and began to pull him towards the center of the village.
A voice called out from the crowd, You have to see him! You have to see what he has done!
Tearing free from their tentacular grasps, he asked calmly, What is going on?
Your son, Noan, another voice screamed out, You have to see what he is doing!
At the mentioning of his son’s name, his neck whipped back sharply as he choked in some air. With his voice cracking, he asked carefully, Noan? What did he do? Where is he?
Like most bearers of bad news, the crowd hesitated in their response. They were anxious to tell him the news when they were in route but now, as they stood facing him, seeing his eyes wide with alarm and the quickening of his breath, the message was hard to deliver.
What did he do? he pleaded again. He scanned their faces searching for answers. Somebody please tell me what happened.
His closest neighbor cautiously approached him. Your son had a fight with the Viet Cong.
The Viet Cong? He looked nervously around as if the mere utterance of them summoned their presence. The Viet Cong had begun harassing him and demanded his pledge of support. Their presence had put all the villagers on edge.
Yes, he and the other men met with the Viet Cong and a fight erupted. Most of the Viet Cong fled but one was killed.
Someone was killed? Where is my son?, he cried out.
Prodded by the crowd, the neighbor said softly, Yes, somebody was killed. Your son didn’t get hurt but €
But what?, my grandfather queried.
After the fight, they took the dead body and then they…cut off the head.
All eyes were on him as if he was on trial. My mother remembered him standing there, still as a frightened animal. He had hinged his hands together and the tips of his thumbs were resting on his chapped lips. At an angle, he looked like he was in quiet supplication. His gaze distant but concerned. He pooled his thoughts and asked timidly in short bursts, Did ..he..do..it? The words sifted through his netted hands.
I don’t know. But I know he’s walking around town, continued the neighbor.
Fine, I will go talk to him, he assured the crowd.
Wait, you don’t understand. I haven’t told you everything. He is walking around but he’s not alone.
Who is walking with him?’
It’s not who but what. He’s carrying the head of the Viet Cong around the village.
June 16, 2009