• Audrey Chin

Afghanistan - Again the heart bones break (2)


The headlines say it all. 'The Taliban has entered Kabul' 'The Afghan president has fled' 'The US embassy is being evacuated'. As the pictures by Rahmat Gul, AP Photo and the iconic one of the 1975 evacuation from the Saigon US embassy shows, it's American withdrawal redux.

This is what happens when we rely on an unreliably ally. And that we may remember the lesson, here's another excerpt from my Vietnam war novel As the Heart Bones Break:


'It was night when he shook you awake. From outside you heard the thrumming of helicopters and underlying that sound, a dull roar, as if the whole city was gather beneath the hotel's windows, muttering. 'It's tonight, I can feel it in my bones,' he said. "Let's take a walk to see it all with our own eyes, So, we'll never be fooled by what's reported in this or that newspaper, by anything I might have written over there," he pointed to his typewriter.

'Chu Hai never lied in his reports but he did edit for his audience. The story of the XXX soldiers he and you met stripping in an alley before melting into the darkness went into the photo-essay the magazine published about the last days. So did the one about the children fighting over a pile of guns and ammunition left under a tree. Others know the images because of the pictures in the press. It's the originals that remain in your minds' eye, etched there on the night of April 29th 1975, during you walk with the man closest to your heart.

'There were the other images and sound bites that didn't make the cut. But they too remain in the archive of your memories.

'You remember the transvestite in the barber shop famous for its blow jobs. Oblivious to any observer, she was transforming herself back into a boy, her hip long hair falling in dark clumps onto the floor as she snipped an snipped. You remember her mascara'd eyes and her lipstick smudged lips when she turned for a second to look out into the dark, right at at the two of you. You remember yourself shouting a warning through the broken shop window. "Be sure to wipe all your makeup off, Comrade."

'There was the conversation Chu Hai and you overheard in the crowd stretching three streets down from the American embassy. "You'll come with us," the father's voice was raised. "I can't, I love her," the son declared. You saw the father loosening his grasp on the son's wrist and turning towards the embassy, the young man stumbling away from the helicopters that could take him to safety.

. . .

'The two of you walked away from the city under an unusually dark sky . . . Entering Chinatown, you were surprised how empty it was. The throngs of pleasures seekers, traders, thitves and pickpockets had melted away. The whizzing red and yellow neon signs were switched off. There were no pimps in front of the gambling halls and cabarets. The shop fronts were either shuttered or shattered. "Where's everyone?" you asked. "Outside the embassy or cowering at home or here," Chu Hai pointed to the small thatched houseboats bobbing in front of you.

. . .

'[Afterward] you walked out into the melancholy early morning with him, your head on his shoulders. The sunshine hurt your eyes. You were incredibly thirsty. Chu Hai led you down the boulevards towards town, hoping to find a sidewalk coffee vender on the way. But all of them seemed to have gone into hiding.

'At the entrance to the Martyr's Square you saw a group of children in khaki uniforms. Bereft of its usual traffic, the roundabout was enormous even to your citified eyes. To most of the members of the Northern Army, recruited from hamlets in the Central Mountains, such an expanse must have been a new conception.

. . .

'Your final memories of that day are of Saigon seen through the eyes of the teenagers from a Scout Platoon of the 324th Division. Your devastated city became once again your teenage Pearl of the Orient, a place of plenty, the object of a dream carried all the way South through the rain and the jungle, through years of sacrifice.

'"We raided a warehouse last night. It was full of medicine and machines I never saw before," a stocky brown boy confided to you. "We ate instant noodles from the supplies. There were at least ten different flavors. And all we had to do was pour hot water over them and they were ready," his friend contributed.

'The first boy pointed to the nearly hundred year old trees fronting the boulevard to the Palace, the black tarmac'd road you were walking on. "Look at all this. You have so much, why didn't you fight harder to defend it?

Fiction? Reality? 1975? 2021? It is all much of a sameness isn't it when the names of persons and places we care about are redacted? That's the sad sad point. Because none of the persons and places actually experiencing the withdrawals are fictional characters. And none of it is happening in some imagined setting. It is real. It hurts.


So, a minute of silence please. And let's not forget next time.

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