A young woman is sitting at the desk. Dressed in the uniform of the Public Security Force, she has her hairdo like that of Pier Angeli. A straight nose on an oval-shaped face, with rosy light skin and two black eyes sparkling with traits of intelligence and mischief. Her cheeks are naturally pink. The only make-up she is wearing is a light touch of lipstick. Her teeth are wonderfully even. If she were wearing a western-styled suit, one could have thought she was an actress from Hong Kong. James Fisher stares at her. The first time he ever looks closely at any Vietnamese woman. She is the complete opposite of the female guerrilla who was escorting him amidst the angry crowd many months ago.
The young woman smiles.
– “Will you sit down, James Fisher?”
James is surprised.
– “You speak English?” he asks.
– “Yes. I also speak Russian, German, Chinese, and some French. In this language field alone, I am better than you, and most of your fellow Americans.”
James sits down on the chair across from her. – “I have carefully studied your file. My superior has assigned me here to work with you directly, without an interpreter.”
She opens her little briefcase, picks up a packet of Winston and hands it to James.
– “You are welcome to smoke it all. It’s a gift from my government.”
She gives him a box of matches.
– “With me, everything begins now.”
James opens the packet of Winston, pulls out a cigarette, and strikes a match to light it up. He draws a deep puff in, and slowly lets the smoke escape. He looks at the smoke. His country appears before him. The deep feelings for home make his eyes heavy and sore. James is filled with emotion.
– “Thank you.”
She shakes her head.
– “ You’re welcome. My name is Chi Mai. Nguyen Chi Mai.”
– “Thank you, Miss Chi Mai.”
– “You have not pronounced my name correctly.”
James taps the ash into the ashtray.
– “I will try to say it correctly.”
She waits until James almost finishes the cigarette before pulling out a can of Coca-Cola. Looking at him in a teasing way, she smiles.
– “I guess you’re craving for this?”
– “I crave for anything from home.”
– “ Can you count how long you’ve been away from home?”
– “I count every minute of it.”
– “Do you know exactly how long?”
– “I cannot keep track of time, so I don’t need to remember.”
– “It hasn’t been too long. But it will last indefinitely. My leadership used to be in prisons of the imperialists for dozens of years. Do you know what they compare it with?”
– “No, I don’t.”
– “One of our leaders has said “twenty years in prison is like a nap at noon “. Only the communists can look down on being imprisoned. You capitalists are afraid of imprisonment. For your people, a day in prison is like a thousand years in the outside world.”
Dropping the prison subject, she looks at James.
– “Go ahead. Drink it and your craving will lessen a little.”
James pulls up the tab on the can. One can hear the sound of pressure being released. He slowly enjoys the flavor of the drink. Winston cigarettes and a Coke are two common things in an ordinary life. But in this unimaginable world, each puff of smoke, each sip of drink, is filled with overwhelming emotions. For James Fisher, he thinks he is inhaling the smoke of California and drinking from the Potomac River.
– “You’ve been away from home for quite a while, haven’t you, James?”
– “You miss your family a lot, don’t you?”
– “I miss them very much.”
– “Should I apologize to you?”
James is surprised.
– “For what?”
– “For the way they mistreated you.”
– “I mean the guards here.”
– “The policy of my government, or any communist government, is not bad at all. Don’t you know that at Sing Sing in America, prisoners are treated in a very barbarous manner? And that’s the local policy of the warden and the guards, not that of the US government.” James Fisher innocently agrees.
– “I guess you’re right.”
– “ I regret that it’s the same thing in my country. Our president is so busy with the state affairs that he doesn’t have time to sleep. That’s why sometimes, an apparent phenomenon is misunderstood as the core of a matter.”
She shakes her head in a sympathetic gesture.
– “ Since I am here now, what has been going on must stop. You will be housed in a more comfortable room. Special food will be prepared for you. Your health will improve while you’re waiting to go back to America.”
James holds his breath. He swallowed hard. Happiness seems to be crawling inside his arteries. James pinches his thigh to see whether he is in a dream. Knowing that he is still awake, James begins to suspect his hearing ability. He trembles.
– “Excuse me, Miss.”
– “Yes, go ahead.”
– “Will you repeat what you’ve just said?”
Combing her hair with her fingers, she slowly replies,
– “Your health will be taken care of while you’re waiting for your trip home.”
James says hastily,
– “Do you mean I am going to be released soon?”
She says firmly,
– “I say your health will be taken care of, and you will go back home.”
– “And it is you who will decide the day of your return.”
James is speechless. He is going back to America. He is going to tell his parents, sisters, friends, and his lover what has happened to him in this unimaginable land, and they probably will not believe him. They may think he has lost his mind after so many months and years in solitary confinement.
– “Are you tired, James?”
– “Not yet.”
– “Shall we talk for a while?”
– “All right.”
She gently raises her head.
– “Have another cigarette, James.”
James lights up a new cigarette.
– “Do you know where you are now?”
– “No, I don’t.”
– “You are in a concentration camp for political prisoners and reactionaries who oppose the revolution.”
– “But I…”
– “You are different from them, of course. In fact, you are unique and should be separated from them. You can have no contact with them. This camp is called Ly Ba So.”
James Fisher does not know who Ly Ba So is, nor does he know where it is. She is well aware of that.
– “Our policy is that here or anywhere, no one has the right to inflict physical harm on you. Our regime respects human beings. All forms of torture have been abolished in a communist society. Do you agree with me?”
James nods. He has never been beaten or tortured.
– “Prison guards in capitalist countries continue to torture their prisoners. Have you read the works of Marx and Engles, James?”
– “No, I haven’t.”
– “That regrettable! Once back home, you should read Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin.”
James is silent. She cleverly changes the topic again.
– “What is your lover Susan’s last name?”
– “A descendant of Scotland?”
– “You’re right.”
She again reaches for her briefcase and pulls out a thick envelope. She picks up a photo, looks at it for a moment and says,
– “She is very beautiful!”
Then she gives it to him.
– “You can have it.”
James looks at his lover’s face. His hand is trembling. She follows each gesture he makes and every change on his face.
– “Thank you,” he says.
– “They still have your wallet. I will try to get your family photo in it and return it to you.”
– “Thank you.”
– “Will Susan wait for you to come back and marry her?”
– “I hope so.”
– “I don’t think so.”
– “What do you know?”
– “Most of the American POW’s wives have divorced them. By the way, a lot of things have happened in your America. Your President Richard Nixon was impeached because of his dirty tricks. You are a miserable victim of Nixon’s.”
– “I don’t think so.”
– “The person who was selected to succeed him was Gerald Ford.”
– “Anything else I should know?”
– “You will know many more things on your return.”
– “Do you know anything about my father?”
– “You mean Congressman Allan Fisher?”
– “One should bear in mind that it will never be because Congressman Fisher criticizes or praises my government that you will be released. I want to repeat: You are the only person who determines your day of return.”
Chi Mai continues,
– “Your father also criticizes the irresponsible attitude of both the Pentagon and the White House, because the big shots in your government have repeatedly stated that you are dead.” James is shocked. He quickly puts out his cigarette.
– “That is why you need to go home soon. So that your dad’s voice can be heard loud and clear from his podium.”
James holds his head in pain. The pain is more intense than anything he has endured during his long years in prison.
– “The Americans have been defeated in Vietnam…”
Then she lowers her voice.
– “The American people want to forget the humiliation of Vietnam, and also the POW’s here. The Americans have lost Nicaragua. They are going to lose El Salvador. The American government has forgotten you. They don’t care to remember you. They sent you away and abandoned you. James Fisher, listen to me…”
James drops his hands and looks up at Chi Mai. She stands up.
“Peace has come already, do you understand?”
She rings the bell. The guard opens the door and enters.
– “James, go to your room and think about it…”
He says goodbye to her and follows the guard.