A novel by DUYEN ANH
English Version: Vu Trung Hien
Tiểu thuyết MỘT TÙ BINH MỸ Ở VIỆT NAM của Duyên Anh, bản tiếng Anh, xin được gửi đến bạn đọc xa gần, với hy vọng nó sẽ được một nhà làm phim để ý tới, và thực hiện thành phim. Chapter 1
Tiền tác quyền từ nhà sản xuất phim sẽ là một cách thiết thực nhất để giúp đỡ gia đình bà quả phụ Duyên Anh, cũng như thực hiện được giấc mơ của tác giả: xây dựng một ngôi trường sơ cấp tại làng Tường An, tỉnh Thái Bình, nơi Duyên Anh ra đời.
James Fisher is disoriented and confused. His tormentors have succeeded in creating a perception of distorted time and space. A cell deep in a tangle of dank, musty caves burrowed under a rain forest keeps James in solitary confinement. It's the blackness, the absence of light that brings him constant anguish. He sits in darkness, eats, drinks, urinates, defecates, and breathes every breath in darkness. All around is empty and dark, like his soul. Day and night, in his mind's eye, he concentrates, forces himself to visualize familiar faces, familiar locations from former, happier days. And when they come, so do the tears. James languishes, as if in a trance. Vicious, self-defeating thoughts surface. The struggle to resist them is constant, but futile. His lodging is a fiendish, diabolical hell, worse than any depicted in a movie, or described in a book. Time itself is evil, endless, desolate, shrouded in loneliness.
Loneliness becomes a smell, a flavor. It bores into his bones one hour, one day at a time. His solitude drips ice cold a drop at a time, freezing the humanity in his soul. Solitude is coupled with fear, the fear of losing his spirit, the fear of not caring anymore. This state of fear has been crafted and manipulated by sadistic fanatics who enjoy inflicting punishment. They are extremists who themselves have been manipulated to serve the cause. They live to brutalize their captives, to twist their thoughts, to corrupt their beliefs and brainwash their long-held convictions. Their treatment fires his determination not to give in to his tormentors.
James' luck ran out sooner than most. Through a low layer of dense fog, his B52 bomber took off at 02:55 AM, from Utapao Air Base in Thailand. Exactly twenty-seven minutes later, they began their bombing mission over Hanoi. The bomb bay doors were rattling open when the first burst of flack shook the plane. Flying through a rain of flack, it was almost directly over the target when a SAM 6 missile struck the tail section of the plane, tossing the B52 out of control. Only James and two others managed to parachute before the plane exploded.
The fire from the anti-aircraft guns and the fiery bullets from the North Vietnamese planes nearly blinded him. The noise and the light made the blood freeze in his veins and his heart nearly stopped. He closed his eyes and committed his life into God's hands. A few tugs on his parachute let him know that bullets had strafed his chute. Fear paralyzed him, and he forgot to pray. From the height of his jump, a northeast wind caught and whipped his chute away from the edge of the city toward the rice fields east of Hanoi.
James escaped a quick death, but began a vegetating life. He was surrounded by guns, their muzzles were pointing at his head and chest. His captors ordered him to stand up. They pulled both of his arms to the back and tied them hard with a rope. He was blindfolded and taken away. He was not considered a prisoner of war. They looked at him as an enemy of ideology, the ideology of which those who tied his hands and blindfolded him were just stupid and pathetic tools. When the air fight ended and the sky was calm again, they removed the black cloth from James' eyes. With his arms still tightly tied to the back, he was paraded along the streets filled with angry crowds. The female guerrilla, poking her gun against James' back, ordered him to bow his head. He was walking between a hail of cobblestones and curses that fell all over him. James became a wicked monster that deserved to be punished. This first game of ideology filled him with fear. James was brought to an underground cell in what was known as Hanoi Hilton. He did not stay there very long. After completing his initial declaration of personal history, James was transferred to another “hotel”. He no longer had the chance to associate with the other American POW's. Due to his constant refusal to sign a readily typed statement, and read it into a tape recorder, he was again blindfolded, tied, and taken to another camp. James could not discern which direction they were taking him. All he knew was that he was thrown into a truck which lumbered for quite a long time over a number of different rough roads. He was taken from one camp to another constantly. At every place he was taken, it was one darkness after another. James was lying in darkness, standing in darkness, sitting in darkness, eating in darkness, and drinking in darkness, sleeping in darkness, urinating and defecating in darkness. Opening or closing his eyes made no difference. The clearest sound he could hear was the roaring of airplanes in the sky. Then when James could only feel the beating of his heart, he was blindfolded again and taken outside to the daylight. As soon as they removed the cloth from his eyes, he immediately fell down, unconscious. After having been tortured by darkness, he now felt even the light was pitiless to him.
He could do nothing but close his eyes tight. Like a blind man, he dreamed of seeing life as it was. Placing both hands over his eyes, James opened his eyes a little, and the light penetrated the little slits between his fingers. James gradually acclimated to the light. He ultimately was able to open his eyes wide, without having to cover them with his hands. And his life went on, in those concrete coffins, one after another, with their steel door and little vent hole. In every prison camp James was transferred to, he was always the most specially treated guest in the most special solitary confinement cell.
Born in 1946, James was the firstborn child of Republican congressman Allan Fisher from Texas. James' ancestors were among the first pioneers who conquered the west. Spending his whole childhood by the Rio Grande, James was fascinated with the legends of Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett. Loving to live near nature, James enjoyed hunting game birds and trapping wild animals in the forest. His childhood idols were Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. James had been craving for adventures on the Mississippi like Huck. He was impressed with the glorious friendship between Tom and Huck. As he was getting older, James became interested in literature and philosophy. He held high respect for the noble characters in the novels of some American and European writers. These individuals were leading exemplary lives marked by their abundant love for humanity. James hated violence and was disgusted with crimes. His whole family were Christians. With a love for technology, he majored in mechanical engineering, instead of studying law like his father. Perhaps James did not like politics. And possibly it was destiny after all. In 1969, James got a bachelor's degree in Aeronautic Engineering. Being drafted the following year, James volunteered to serve in the Air Force, and was assigned to the B52 Air Base in Utapao, Thailand. The air fortress was shot down on James' first flight, and he was captured. His captors did not consider him a war prisoner. They wanted him to admit having committed war crimes.
As a soldier, James participated in the war. He never initiated this war. He had repeatedly declined to sign the prepared statement to admit any crime. He was not guilty. Troubles began to besiege James due to his assertive attitude.
James was ready to accept those misfortunes. According to him, a man can be deceitful in many ways, but he cannot deceive himself. James' life was made miserable. He was made to understand that he was mistreated only because of his refusal to admit that he had committed war crimes. James was not aware of any other plots that his captors might carry out to destroy him.
James Fisher was blindfolded and taken to many different locations. His last transfer was the longest. He did not know whether the truck was heading north or south. By counting the number of meals he was fed on the way, James tried to guess the distance he had traveled.
Now, James is here in a special cell that belongs to a place that he would describe as legendary and unimaginable, if by some miracle he would be set free to go back home to tell the story of his imprisonment.
His cell conforms to a set pattern. It is the same as the truth that does not change whether in the Soviet Union or in Vietnam, in the French language or English, Polish or Ethiopian. Perhaps all the cells where James has languished have not been built for the Americans. If James tries to stand on the tips of his toes, his head touches the ceiling. His arms have hardly stretched out when they touch the walls. James has to lie down on his side, in a shrunken position, because if he lies down straight, his head will touch the pot that contains his waste. James does not like to turn his head to the other direction. He is afraid of the wind that blows through the slit at the bottom of the door. Twice a day, a guard bangs at this door to let James know that mealtime has come. There is an opening as big as a pocketbook cut into this door. The opening has a latch on the outside that may be opened by the guard to put in two cups of rice, a cup of other food to eat with rice, and a cup of boiling water. During his first day in Hanoi Hilton, James was given bread, steak, fresh vegetables, coffee and cigarettes. Since being placed in solitary confinement, James has to eat rice like any other prisoner. His ration is a little better, but meat is scanty. James feels that his health has deteriorated quickly since being fed with mustard green and beet soup cooked with some dried shrimps, instead of beef soup with carrots and potatoes. James tries to remember the feeling he had when tasting Vietnamese prison food for the first time. How can he remember that feeling? One feeling is being laid on another; just like one layer of wave is overlapping another continuously in the ocean.
James was given four plastic cups and one plastic spoon. Prisoners are not allowed to use aluminum, stainless steel, or iron tools. The guards are afraid prisoners may use these tools as weapons to kill them and escape, or even to commit suicide. After each meal, James leaves these cups in a corner of his cell, ready to pass them out to exchange for food and water on his next meal. His ration of water does not exceed half a liter each day, at any time of the year. James urinates and defecates into the plastic pail at the end of his cell. At the end of the week, at midnight, the guards open the door of the cell. James is taken outside to an open bathroom. He takes a bath and washes the only garment he has. He also dumps the waste from the pail and cleans it. Then he is given another garment to change, and they take him back to the dark, ill smelling cell where the light only shines through the bottom of the door.
That weekend event is really the happiest moment that James always looks forward to. He also is given some toilet tissues and a locally made cigarette that he smokes while they are waiting for him. James inhales deeply every puff of the cigarette. He swallows each and every smoke he can have. He vaguely feels the feet of the smoke dancing in his lungs. He enjoys its sweet flavor and feels that its mysterious smell has bewildered his soul. The cigarettes he used to smoke at home cannot be compared with this cigarette he is smoking in prison. With this mundane comparison, James discovers happiness in misfortune. He notices and knows quite well that after every four baths, it is time for them to shave his head. The same hair clipper is also used to shave his beard and mustache. James always enjoys this monthly shaving; for he is allowed to go out of his cell. He loves to look up at the sky, watching the glittering stars, and filling his lungs with fresh air. He enjoys to the fullest those wonderful moments. He takes advantage of each second and minute available to muster as much nature as possible to last for a whole week.
James is also issued a rush mat and a thick blanket. He is given shots against all sorts of illnesses, except hunger. When he is sick, a doctor examines him and takes care of him. James has never caught malaria. Neither has he been seriously ill.
At first, James tries to keep track of time by counting a day by his two meals, a week by each bath, a month by each haircut, a year by a "Great Feast" with beef, fresh vegetables, bread, coffee and cigarettes. But as the years drag by, James gradually runs out of hope, and no longer has any idea of time or space. His greatest fear is silence. Except for the interrogation sessions, when James has to write his personal history and is able to speak and listen to his mother tongue, at all other times, James is wrapped up in silence. The sound of the guards banging on prison doors, the voice of a human being, the Vietnamese language, all of this he longs to listen to. But they are too miserly to give to him even those sounds. Out of the fear that is boring into his heart, James does not care for anything else. He roars and shouts. He recites poems. He sings the National Anthem and love songs. He calls out the names of his grandparents, parents, sisters, friends and lover in order to lessen his longing for them, also to help him not to forget his native language. He calls out to America with his most ardent and loving words. He calls out the names of every state in the nation, each city, each river and lake, each desert and border, each hill and mountain. He calls out the names of great people in his beloved country... " I left my heart in San Francisco..." His voice is lost in emptiness. "Oh my darling, Oh my darling, Oh my darling Clementine! You are lost and gone forever..." and thus, James becomes more panicky.
James suddenly understands. Fear and hunger have weakened and degraded human beings. For what? So that James will beg them to let him sign the prepared statement denouncing his country, and admitting that he had committed war crimes. A little flame has lighted up James' common sense. He suddenly wakes up and realizes it is essential to struggle with himself. This struggle is not only for his survival but also to be worthy of God's will for him as a human being. According to James, a man can be destroyed, but he cannot kneel before the conditions that aim at humiliating any human being. James knows very well that he needs only to admit that he has committed war crimes, then they will treat him well, giving him steak and bread, coffee, and even wine. If that happens, he will lose his honor of being a man. He will have sinned against his fellow human beings; for he will have admitted crimes he never committed. James Fisher is a descendant of those who conquered the Far West. His ancestors had experienced suffering, thirst and hunger. Indians killed some of them; their heads scalped; their bodies tied and stretched on mountain tops. They had put up with the scalding heat of the wild desert and the piercing cold of the mountains in the wintertime. They had watched death slowly permeating their flesh and bones. However, they bravely moved on, shedding their pioneer blood on the new land. James knows he cannot betray his valiant predecessors. He needs to fly over the physical temptations. James lulls his body to sleep. He believes a man should only be honored when he can subdue his desires at the moment he is weakest and most miserable. James feels encouraged. The Indians had scalped the heads of some of his ancestors. His captors here are trying to scalp his thoughts. While his captors want to rip off his human dignity and destroy his integrity, James knows he should train his stomach to forget all the amenities of America. James believes he can forget these amenities because he has reminded himself of his ancestors' struggles for a place under the sun. He thinks of Jesus and His teaching about the narrow door that He wanted mankind to open for a clear, ideal view into the horizon. James has become an extraordinary human being. He has conquered himself. He has refused to let his captors condition him. He has risen above the punishment of hatred. James feels he must be prouder than Hemingway's character in "The Old Man and The Sea". The skeleton of the fish is just the accomplishment of a man in his conquest of nature. The peace that James is enjoying is the achievement of a man who is victorious over the punishment of hatred and ideology, in an age when a lot of people have wandered too far from their beloved land of birth. James Fisher, just by chance, has met Buddha. Buddha voluntarily chose the road of misery. James unfortunately falls into the land of misery. Buddha aimed at delivering mankind from the sea of suffering, while James tries to rid himself of suffering, and enlightens himself in his struggle for survival. James no longer cares for the mundane things in daily life. He eats just to survive. He stays awake to dream and sleeps to caress his loneliness. James wakes up every morning with the songs of birds, and in the evening, the wailing call of langurs lets him know that night is coming. James guesses his new address: The Jungle.
Suddenly, one day, his tormentors open the door of his cell and take him to the office of the warden in the middle of the day.