AN AMERICAN PRISONER IN VIETNAM

Chapter 18

Chi Mai is very upset now. She was successful in using her police techniques with all the political prisoners in Siberia. Still, she has difficulties with James. In the communist world, whether it is in the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, China, or Vietnam, brainwashing techniques and torture tools are almost the same. The difference is that in Vietnam, the Pavlov system is not used. It is only used in the Soviet Union on prisoners who are involved with US strategic intelligence, or with high-ranking diplomats whose voice may damage US global policies once they return to America.

James Fisher is not a spy. With her professional eyes, Chi Mai knows that James is just a normal POW who has proved himself to be more resilient than the most stubborn reactionaries in Siberia, those who had openly challenged the authority of Kremlin leaders. The police techniques and intelligence principles she has learned from her communist instructors always emphasize this instruction: “Once captured by the enemies, don’t let them torture. Tell them all they want to know. Your organization has changed completely since you were arrested.” Chi Mai has found this instruction to be true. Her Party leaders, while in prison, did everything and anything they were ordered to do in order to survive…and to become leaders eventually. Typical of them was her most respected chairman, Ho Chi Minh. In one of the poems he wrote while in prison, Ho lamented:

Everything is bitter in this life

The most bitter thing is the loss of freedom

I can no longer say or do what I want

Instead, they lead me around as if I were an ox or a buffalo

The great leader Ho Chi Minh, a world figure, was as obedient as a buffalo, ready to do whatever his captors wanted him to do, in order to avoid torture. The soldier James Fisher is quite different. Signing a prepared statement won’t harm any American. But James keeps on refusing to do so. He would rather suffer instead of doing what he knows is not right. Chi Mai cannot understand this American soldier. She thinks about this strange man during the day. At night, thoughts about James come to her when she suddenly wakes up. It seems to Chi Mai that she has been haunted by this prisoner. She is even haunted by some statements he has made which upset her: “If I have to die here, it’s God’s will. I have lived my life as an honest man, and I will die a truthful man” and “When a person has to endure suffering, he can do it in an amazing manner.” Chi Mai smiles, and murmurs to herself, “With this new game, he won’t be able to endure at all. Neither can he die according to his God’s will.”

She pushes a button. The guard opens the door.

– “How is that American prisoner doing?”

The guard replies politely,

– “Comrade, he sleeps and eats well.”

She asks,

– “Have you left a pen and some paper on the table in his room?”

The guard stands at attention.

– “Comrade, I have done what you ordered me to do.”

Chi Mai makes a sign for the guard to leave her office. She stands up and begins to pace the room. Then, opening the door, she walks out towards the path leading to the forest in front of the prison camp.

She sits down at the foot of a tree, her back leaning against it and her legs stretching out comfortably. Suddenly, Chi Mai misses Paris so much. Her thoughts drift from Paris to an unforgettable memory in Moscow, where she met Boris Ilitch Kanazev. Boris was an architect who didn’t join the communist party. He was ten years older than she. More than an architect, Boris was an artist who was very broad-minded. He didn’t want his mind to be bound by any doctrine or condition. Boris could play the guitar and had a lovely voice. How Chi Mai enjoyed listening to him as he sang Moscow Afternoon by Chostakovich. Boris was often criticized by his superiors as a person who was inclined to individualism and revisionism. He knew by heart many of Pasternak’s poems. Boris admired Pasternak’s attitude and adored the poet’s literary talent. He had told Chi Mai that poets, writers, and artists didn’t need the Party. That was why although Boris was a bright architect, he wasn’t supported by the Party, and was not promoted. He didn’t care; for he led a very simple life.

Chi Mai met Boris during her first days in Moscow. As she had grown up in Hanoi, a member of the ruling class, none of her classmates dared express their love for her. Chi Mai didn’t care for any of them either. In front of her, they looked poor and toady in a pitiful manner. Their only dream was how to have enough food to eat tomorrow and not starve. As a girl growing up, Chi Mai had vaguely wished to have a boyfriend; but due to the fact that she belonged to the superior ruling class, Chi Mai had to remain single and lonely throughout her school days. Then she graduated from college and was sent to Moscow to be trained in police arts. She met Boris Kanazev at the moment she was craving for affection. Chi Mai fell in love immediately with that special man, Boris, and spent a wonderful summer with him. He was surprised to learn that she went to the Soviet Union to learn the arts of policing. When he advised her to change to another subject, she told him that her party had selected it for her.

Chi Mai and Boris lived together all summer. Chi Mai hasn’t forgotten the enchanting feelings she had every time Boris made love to her. They were planning to get married, but the two parties and governments decided to oppose their love. A party member could not marry anyone who was not in the party. As he wasn’t a party member, Boris was sternly recommended to cut his relationship with Chi Mai. She was harshly reprimanded by her father, and had to write a letter of confession, admitting her mistake to her Party. Chi Mai had spent many nights sobbing, crying herself to sleep. She wasn’t allowed even to talk or smile at Boris if they chanced to meet in the streets. At last, Boris was transferred to Kiev, while Chi Mai had to sign an affidavit, pledging never to see or date any local young man. The Party would select a suitable husband for her. The decision of the Party to have her end the relationship with Boris made Chi Mai suffer silently. She had no one to whom she could confide her sorrows. And she dared not even think of disobeying the Party’s decision.

After graduation from Moscow Police Academy and completing KGB training, Chi Mai’s heart was still filled with Boris’ image. Although being deeply in love with him, she dared not go to Kiev to see him. Neither did he go back to Moscow to look for her. Since then, Chi Mai has not loved another man. Her wonderful first love she had offered to Boris. While in Paris, she met a young Frenchman who declared his love to her. Chi Mai kept silent. She neither accepted nor refused his offer. Her Party had had complete control over her sentiments.

Chi Mai utters a sigh. The melancholy chirping of cicadas remind her of Paris, Moscow, and the enchanting moments with Boris. She is sitting here by herself, in desolation, doing the work ordered by her Party, the work that Boris had advised her to avoid. Her Party has been her common sense, her mind, her dreams, her happiness, and her love. As a party member, she must love no one but her Party. Never in her life has Chi Mai dared to ask why is it so. Why can’t a communist love anyone who is not a member? Why can’t she love someone who is not of her own race?

Chi Mai wearily stands up. There’s a light trace of sadness on her face.

—> 19

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