AN AMERICAN PRISONER IN VIETNAM

Chapter 30

James Fisher counts every day of his life now. His notion of time and place once more flares within him. James is willing to die, for he knows he will die in peace during his dreams. James loves Chi Mai. He looks at her as a human being, and loves her as a human being. Chi Mai loves him in the same manner. He doesn’t care to find out from what wonderful moment he began to love her. Neither does she need to know when her compassion and sympathy for him turned into love. What definition will mankind give to their love? The whole world will wonder how a communist warden could love a capitalist prisoner. Is this the water that extinguishes the fire; or has the fire dried up the water? Water and fire are like the sun and the moon, capitalism and communism, which will never get along or compromise. But what has made fairy tales feasible? Without fancy imagination, could fairy tales exist? Whoever questions the fancy imagination of fairy tales? People still read fairy tales and are fascinated by them. “Once upon a time…” What revives the princess who has slept for a thousand years if not the love of the prince? What causes her death but the curse of the witch? Both the prince and the princess are human beings. It was human beings, not the fairies, or even God, who have resurrected other human beings.

This is a wonderful explanation for the fairy tale about James Fisher. In his age, the sorcerer is the ideology, the doctrine of which is the curse. Human beings have died because of the sorcerer. Thanks to human love, people have been resurrected. At last, what remains is mankind, and what lasts forever is love. The world has been created by unreasonable factors. The things that were considered reasonable one thousand years ago have been proved unreasonable. Sometimes it is the unreasonable which gives this life a romantic flavor. What some people consider reasonable may just bring trouble and suffering to mankind. This is especially so when two ideologies are in confrontation. The people under their influences will be in trouble. In order to prove that they are reasonable, either side will set up prisons, concentration camps, and all forms of punishment even after a deadly war is over. But the unreasonableness in love only creates romantic myths and fairy tales. It would be naive to expect that love and feelings would be reasonable.

– “James…”

– “Yes?”

– “What are you thinking, my dear?”

– “About you, about me.”

– “What about me?”

– “A communist.”

– “And you?”

– “A capitalist.”

– “James, you must be going crazy because of your approaching death. You once told me it is man who creates ideologies and doctrines. Doctrines can’t love one another. Neither do they like to meet. No Catholic priests ever preach Buddha’s teachings in the church. Neither do Buddhist monks talk about the Bible in their pagodas. There has been hatred between communists and capitalists. But as human beings, people meet and love one another regardless of color or race. Love is not obligated to explain. When people are in love, they forget everything that surrounds and threatens them. They only care about themselves and those they love. James, think of me as Chi Mai, and you as James Fisher. I’m afraid you may go insane because you’re thinking of death. Tell me the truth, James, are you afraid to die?”

– “No. I’m not.”

– “Then, don’t bother to think about anything. Haven’t I promised that I’m going to make you feel wonderful while dying?”

– “But Chi Mai, why don’t you volunteer to kill me?”

– “There you go again, James. You said you wanted to die according to your God’s will, and your will, too. I’ll try to please you.”

James goes back to his work. Now he can work continuously for an hour without feeling tried. With his hoe, James has brought down the termite mound. Chi Mai still sits 90 feet away from him while he’s working. James wants to talk to her for he knows he’s going to die. He puts down the hoe.

– “Chi Mai.”

– “Yes?”

– “Why should I keep on hoeing if I’m going to die?”

– “Because if you don’t, your death will be more painful.”

– “That’s fine with me.”

– “Even if you die as someone who has lost his truthfulness?”

James is silent. Chi Mai smiles in a naughty way.

– “James, you can have a break now.”

He leans against the foot of a tree, smoking a cigarette.

– “Are you sure you’re not afraid to die?”

– “Definitely.”

– “If you survive through all of this and go back to America, will you be thankful to the Communists for having imprisoned you?”

– “You bet I will.”

– “On whose behalf will you thank them?”

– “On behalf of an American who used to be indifferent to the suffering of mankind.”

– “Can you tell me what you’ll be thankful for?”

– “Thanks to the Communists, I know what loneliness, suffering, punishment, hunger and thirst are. I know how to appreciate a cup of water, and I’ve learned much about man’s ability to endure. Thanks to them, I know more about myself and other human beings around me. I’ve learned also how to dream the dreams of others. But the thing I’m most thankful for is having the chance to know you.”

– “What do you know about me?”

– “You’ve brought me to a new understanding of life. You are the comfort that God has sent me in my lowest moments of depression and hopelessness. Perhaps I’m the only person in this world who is fortunate enough to have picked a precious flower that only blooms once on a rock in Hell.”

– “It’s a shame you’ll never write a novel to dedicate to me. Neither will you tell a fairy tale that takes place in Hell, nor will you say something to thank the Communists.”

– “I know.”

– “But you have told me. That’s enough. You deserve to be called a truthful American, James.”

– “Thank you, Chi Mai.”

– “Is the truthful American afraid of death?”

– “No, he isn’t.”

– “Truthfully?”

– “Yes, absolutely truthfully.”

Chi Mai places her hand to her mouth to hide a mischievous smile. Standing up, she says,

– “James, go and stand at the grave.”

James is dumbfounded. He does what Chi Mai asks.

– “Look at the bottom of the grave, James.”

He looks at the grave, where he will rest forever.

– “The shackles on your legs will be removed. You will kneel on the edge on the grave. Instead of confessing to a priest, you will close your eyes and dream. At the moment you are deep into your dreams, I shall put a bullet in your head. Just one shot is enough, and you’ll die instantly. You’ll fall into the grave and I will cover you with dirt. There won’t be any flowers thrown into the grave; instead they will pour chemicals in to speed up the decomposition. Then one day, your skeleton will be exhumed for sale or trade. Your skeleton may be more valuable than those of other GI’s. Are you afraid to die now, James?”

He shakes his head.

– “No.”

– “I doubt your sincerity.”

– “Some day you will doubt no more.”

– “Are you afraid to die if you can’t die in your dreams?”

– “No.”

– “What about practicing to die once, James?”

– “Practicing to die?”

– “Yes. After a few practices, you’ll never fear death.”

– “That’s a good idea.”

She handcuffs him and asks him to kneel down. After blindfolding James, she pushes him from behind, and he falls into the grave. Chi Mai laughs.

– “Does it hurt?”

– “Yes, it does.”

– “When you actually die, there will be no pain. Lie down, and I will cover you with soil.”

– “Don’t. Don’t, Chi Mai.”

– “Are you afraid now?”

– “No.”

Picking up lumps of soil, Chi Mai throws them at James’ legs. He shouts.

– “Stop! That’s enough, my dear.”

She says,

– “Begin to dream now, James. Nobody can shout and dream at the same time.

She continues throwing lumps of soil at him, and he keeps on shouting. Then she jumps into the grave.”

As James is still blindfolded, she orders,

– “Lie on your back, and put your arms over your head.”

James’ arms are not behind him; so he can raise them over his head.

– “Begin dreaming now, James.”

He scowls,

– “I don’t understand you, Chi Mai.”

Kicking his legs gently, she says,

– “How can a person with a two hundred year background understand some one with more than a four-thousand-year history?”

Lying on top of James, she kisses him, and puts her hands under his shirt, caressing his flesh. James begins dreaming. Adam and Eve aren’t in the grave. These are only two primates who know how to be shy.

When it is over, James asks,

– “Chi Mai, why do you blindfold me?”

– “Because people usually close their eyes while dreaming.”

– “ Why do you have me in handcuffs?”

– “Because nobody dreams with their hands.”

Chi Mai opens his handcuffs and removes the blindfold.

She climbs out first and helps him get out. – “James, would you like to die in this manner?”

He smiles.

– “Yes, I would. At least a few times more.”

She says,

– “I’m sorry. You can die only once.”

He looks at her passionately,

– “What about a few practice deaths before the real one?”

She doesn’t answer him.

—> 31

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