AN AMERICAN PRISONER IN VIETNAM

Chapter 37

The US ambassador is sitting in the middle. On his right is James Fisher, and on his left, Chi Mai. The table in front of them is covered with turquoise velvet. On the other side of the table is the staff of the US embassy in Bangkok and reporters from international news agencies. James and Chi Mai have tried to put up with the glaring spotlights from dozens of cameras aiming at them. James maintains a joyful smile all the time. The embassy cultural attache’ requests that the photographers stop taking pictures. About ten microphones are already set up on the table. Reporters who stoop in front of the table hold dozens of other microphones. The news conference is simultaneously telecast to Europe and America via satellite. James Fisher contacted his family the moment he arrived at the American embassy. He called them this morning to tell them about this news conference. James knows that at this moment his father is on a plane heading for Bangkok, while his mother, sisters, relatives and friends are in front of the television to watch him. Filled with inspiration and emotion, James glances at Chi Mai before looking straight at the TV cameras. His face is lit up with happiness.

The ambassador begins with a statement:

– “This is a joyful occasion for all the American people. On behalf of my people and my government, I gladly welcome our hero, James Fisher, an outstanding American, who just arrived home after eight years of suffering in the prisons of communist Vietnam.”

The ambassador stands up and puts his arms on James’ and Chi Mai’s shoulders. He then embraces James and Chi Mai. Cameras flash incessantly; then the ambassador kisses both of them.

– “I now have the honor to introduce to you our hero, James Fisher, and Ms. Chi Mai who has helped rescue James.”

James begins to address the audience:

– “Mr. Ambassador, distinguished guests, and representatives of the media, I would not be here today without the noble heart of Ms. Chi Mai, a lady from Vietnam, the most beautiful woman in the world, who has rescued me from the ninth cycle of Hell.”

He holds her hand, and they both stand up. The photographers are busy taking their pictures, and TV cameras are rolling noisily.

– “I’d like to compare her with a rare, wonderful flower which only blooms once every thousand years on the rock of Hell, and I’m the most fortunate man on the earth who has had the opportunity to pick that flower, and bring it back to the world.”

James Fisher kisses Chi Mai on the lips. The kiss lasts seemingly forever. The two lovers sit down. James begins to tell the audience about his prison life. He tells them in a choked voice, about the punishments he endured in the darkness. He speaks for about an hour. However, he leaves out the details about the tortures Chi Mai ordered for him. Neither does he mention the occasion she went to his cell to make love with him. This news conference is not like any that has ever taken place. Journalists and TV reporters are so moved by James’ story that tears swell in their eyes. Even the cameras are shaking, and the pens of the media people are staggering on the memo pads. The listeners are shocked when James talks about “self-declaration,” the most sinister torture in communist prisons. He finally concludes:

– “I’m sorry for not being able to tell you all the details. According to the Oriental people, one day in prison is equivalent to a thousand years in the outer world. If this is true, I’ve been in prison for almost three million years. And nobody can tell you all that has happened during that period of time. I’d be glad to answer any question you may have.”

One reporter asks,

– “What’s your secret for surviving under such strenuous condition?”

James Fisher responds,

– “Holding on to my faith and dream.”

The reporter continues,

– “What was your faith, and what did you dream?”

James Fisher replies,

– “I believe in God and his fair judgment. I believe in my truthfulness. At last, I believe in human beings and their genuine feelings. I used to dream of my dear America, her kind people, and the sympathy between people.”

The reporter asks,

– “What do you think about the USA’s defeat in Vietnam?”

James Fisher replies,

– “The war is over now, and I have come back. After war is peace. There must be no hatred after war. Let’s look at war as at a car accident. One side is injured and maimed, the other side has their car wrecked and has to live with a troubled conscience. People will continue hating one another if they still draw a line between the victors and the defeated. People cannot live on hatred. If I had harbored any hatred, I would have perished a long time ago. “

The reporter asks,

– “Why?”

James Fisher looks at Chi Mai affectionately and says,

– “Because Ms. Chi Mai wouldn’t have looked at me as a human being. She would have considered me a capitalist, an enemy of communism.”

The reporter turns to Chi Mai.

– “Why did you decide to rescue James Fisher?”

Chi Mai replies,

– “Because I’m still a person with common sense and compassion. And because I love James.”

Everyone present is pleasantly surprised at Chi Mai’s fluency in English.

– “Why do you love James?”

Chi Mai says,

– “Love doesn’t need any explanation.”

James Fisher adds,

– “You could understand our love if you believed in fairy tales. Our love is filled with incredible things that don’t make sense; just like a fairy tale. But if you were at the ninth cycle of Hell, you would discover that senseless things sometimes make sense.”

The reporter asks,

– “What is your purpose in rescuing James?”

Chi Mai answers,

– “I’m only fulfilling my duty as a human being.”

The reporter asks,

– “Aren’t you dreaming about a comfortable life in America?”

Chi Mai replies,

– “I have lived in Europe for ten years. I’ve thrown away everything I have and do not expect something mundane like that.”

A reporter interjects,

– “Are you going to forget Vietnam?”

Chi Mai replies,

– “No, never.”

Another reporter asks,

– “James, do you know why the communists kept you that long?”

James Fisher replies,

– “No, I don’t.”

Still another reporter asks,

– “Don’t you hate them?”

James Fisher replies,

– “No. I’ve practiced ‘The Sermon on the Mount’.”

– “Are you going to write a memoir about your prison years?”

James Fisher says,

– “There isn’t anything worth writing about prisons. But I shall write a novel to encourage an understanding and sympathy between nations. My wish is that the USA will share its abundant resources with the poor people around the world, exactly like the Bible has taught. That means “the right hand gives, and the left had doesn’t know.” I think our country has made too much noise when assisting other nations.”

Quite a few reporters ask him questions, and James answers them honestly. He never, even once, talks badly about Vietnam or her people. Chi Mai knows this very well.

– “James, are you going to marry Ms. Chi Mai?”

James Fisher replies,

– “Of course.”

A reporter asks,

– “Do you have a girl friend in America?”

James Fisher responds,

– “Yes, I do. Her name is Susan McCareen. I will tell Susan that after three million years of wandering, everything has changed; and apologize to her.”

The reporters want to ask him many other questions, but James is anxious to see his father. He tells them to ask the last question.

– “Please tell us a valuable experience you’re taking back to America.”

James says,

– “I’ve swallowed a cockroach.”

James giggles in his sleep. Chi Mai pats his back. As he is still giggling, she has to shake him harder. James wakes up after his dream.

– “What are you giggling about, darling?”

James replies, still ecstatic by his dream,

– “I’m waiting for my dad to tell him that I once swallowed a cockroach.” She gently shakes her head. James is obsessed by his dream. He closes his eyes to imagine the last part of the news conference in Bangkok.

—> 38

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