Courtesy of…our friends in the North
A story of modern day Bru, and their tribulations
Told through the eyes of
J Gavin Allan
It was the second bus ride I had ever taken. Different than the first. Let me explain. There were no women gossiping about the young girl who might be having a baby, without a husband. No silly antics by the chubby, short haired ball of giggles that belched at will. And the seat with its straw like material that left such a scrape on my bottom did not feel uncomfortable. The constant hopping in our seats, from bumpy roads did not appear to rattle our bodies as before.
All these things were replaced by crying young teenage girls, alone and not consoled by the somber faced older females that possessed the stare of stone. And, there was one more thing. My mother did not cuddle me as was the case, and at every opportunity her custom. Though the dreary dwellings along Route 9 protecting the pot-marked road from the encroaching jungle still resembled huts that were not fit for living.
I could understand my mother’s lack of outward affection. She beat me as no child has been beaten before. A girl that knew nothing of strikes or slaps, in an instant was introduced to adult fury. The swelling under my eye and the welt on my arm gave her fill of touching me. My tiny bones ached and were difficult to move. Skin at the top of my head still tingled from the yanking of my very long hair. All this as she dragged me to the bus, after stripping me of my clothes. My tummy still burned from sliding on the rocky ground, helpless in her grasp.
Yes, this ride was different than the first. I did not feel my mother’s touch that was constant. I did not hear her whispers of reassurance at my fear stirred by the smelly vehicle that roared as it moved. And another thing was different. I loved my mother more now than ever before.
The first bus adventure started five days ago. As with all things that would turn to horror, it began with sweetness.
“No children!” The woman, a pretty girl in white became upset at my presence. The orders for the free Health Department examinations were explicit in that directive. The stay might be as long as five days. The quickly assembled medical center was not equipped with a nursery.
They did not know my attachment to my mother. There is a phrase in America, attached to her hip. As a description of me, it was an understatement. Whenever able, not interrupted by a hungry baby or an even hungrier husband, I slept with my mother. Most nights with our arms around the other. The death from fever of my brother and the three-month absence of my father, moved the attachment from her hip to her soul.
Before my father left for work in Laos, his last words referred to my brother’s illness and it’s robbing him of life. “If the Green Hats were here?” An angry smirk would follow. Not satisfied with the treatment of a visiting Viet doctor, my father freely voiced his opinion concerning the magical accomplishments of Special Forces Medics comparing them with great distain for the medical staff from Huế.
But here I stood, due to the unsuccessful efforts of my family members to keep me in the village. They did all they could to pry me from my mother as she entered the bus for the long trip to the medical center. My uncle and aunt gave up and with the annoyance and impatience of the Viet bus driver, I was allowed on.
Standing next to her, or to be precise hiding with my face smashed to her wrapped skirt, I gathered many looks. The women from our village were dressed in sarongs and ems, a triangle halter-top. Their bodies covered as the Viets asked, but I trembled in a lion cloth. One too big for my small little girl hips. At eleven, my form was still childish. There was a constant danger of my cover slipping to the ground.
I did not speak Vietnamese, but knew there was great disapproval of my appearance. The young white dressed woman called to another, who replied with more anger. There was a bit of a scene.
A new woman wearing white from neck to toe looked behind my mother. She spoke enough Eastern Bru to warrant a pull of my arm bringing me into view. Now in front of the woman I adored, I managed to move backward to feel her body. It brought no ease of my shyness. The “nurse” as they wanted to be called, walked to me. Slim with a dress of white, her legs were white also. I did not know if it was some kind of leg garment, or very pale skin. Her features were small and wrinkled a tiny nose as she smiled. Handing me the Nestle chocolate bar caused some difficulty. The idea of paper, and shiny crinkle foil was new to me. My mouth only discovered the joyous taste of coco with mother’s help.
Then the bellow that trumpeted as an elephant to the challenge. The voice sent shivers up my bare spine. I froze in terror, as did all the young women, whether dressed in white or a sarong.