The news broadsided him knocking him off balance. My mother immediately reached out for him to counter his fall. The very thought of his son parading a decapitated head sent his body into convulsions. His trembles were of seismic proportions. It took all she had to stop him from shaking. He looked at the neighbor in utter disbelief. This can’t be true, he said.
He’s walking around right now with the head. You can go see for yourself.
Shaking his head, he said he couldn’t. He didn’t have the strength to see his son. He leaned against my mother and begged her to help him inside. His legs wobbled underneath him as he tried to walk. She ushered him back into the house with the crowd tailing behind them. He kept muttering disbelief, He can’t . . . He can’t.
The crowd followed in silence.
He’s going to die. They are going to kill him. He lamented. He began trembling again. Fear is a cold no blanket or fire can ever warm. He surrendered to his bedroom and requested solace. My mother emerged from his room to the hungry stares of the crowd. Taking on the role of an understudy, she tried to address the crowd but not having fully digested the news herself, she found herself stammering underneath the spotlight.
Khong ngo. Unbelievable, she kept saying to herself.
Why would he do this? She knew he hated the Viet Cong but what would provoke him to do this? The news grated away her knowledge of him. She knew there was only one way to settle this matter. She had to see for herself so she turned to her neighbors and asked bluntly, Where is he?
She followed hurriedly in their wake as they cleared a path to her brother. Her stride was confident, but she was brimming with trepidation. She knew what to expect but knowing what to expect doesn’t make it easier to handle. Her brother was at the far end of the village. She could hear the hushed, harsh whispers of her neighbors. What were they hoping for? She didn’t have a plan. She was the youngest child, what could she say to him? She didn’t care. She summoned all her youthful determination and fought her way through the crowd. The curtain of on-lookers slowly parted and she saw her brother.
He stood in the middle of the street.
The crowd kept a clear distance from him. Some were covering their mouths with their hands. Others just stood in shock, in awe, in terror. His head sank into his collarbone giving him the impression he had no neck. Strands of sweat slowly dribbled off of him like dripping sap. His shirt was torn at the collar and the buttons were ripped off exposing his chest graffitied with scratch marks and welts. His lopsided stance from the loss of a sandal made his silhouette appear even more dangerous. He panted heavily gulping in air with such force his nostrils flared with bullish menace. His eyes had a crazed, maddening sheen to them. The tributaries of veins in his neck and arms bulged out underneath his skin. He looked around but at no one in particular. He didn’t see my mother. She stood in the alleyway horrified by his demeanor. However, it was not his appearance that caused her to recoil in repulsion. Instead, what made her quail in fright was dangling from his bloodied fingertips: the gory result of his confrontation.
She almost fainted in fear. He was holding it by the hair. The head was small about the size of a cantaloupe but more egg-shaped. Most of the blood had drained away. The little that remained began to clot so the leftover discharge trickled out slowly. Void of any sustenance, the head was pale with a bluish tinge. It wasn’t a clean cut. The rough strands resembled small hanging leeches. The mouth was slightly ajar with the tongue acting as a doorstop. The eyes scared my mother the most. Even today, she is still haunted by them. My mother believes the victim’s last fearful thoughts were imprinted on those eyes. They followed the viewer in the same uncanny manner as those in a stationary portrait. But above all, it was the eyelids moving up and down that caused my mother to grab her neighbor’s hand for comfort. The eyelids rested like a compass needle hovering in the middle. She didn’t know whether the fluttering was an involuntary reflex or caused by the swift jerks of my uncle’s hand. Regardless, the head looked alive and blinking.
June 16, 2009