Sketches from a Notebook – Memories of Vietnam (5)

Sài Gòn – March 1968

Mr. Minh and Lan and I sat listening in the dark of the small family store. The garish phosphorescence of coasting flares occasionally pierced the upstairs window, leaped downwards, and highlighted our bodies, our faces. We could hear the crunching feet of the police as they went from house to house searching. Their nervous words sometimes broke through the clatter and banging of the doors and bolts of the houses to us. The yapping of a neighbor’s little dog once or twice scampered through the alleyway. Then there would fall once more an ominous silence—though really it wasn’t a silence but a rising and falling, nearing and retreating whir or hum or buzz. What is that? we three wondered wordlessly.

What is it?

Still we said nothing in the dim light. We only looked at one another, then at the window, then at the heavily screened door of the kitchen, then at the floor. We kept listening to that whir, that hum, that buzz…

On the boulevard a jeep rumbled past. The police were already next door. Their muffled voices almost quieted that ever-present whir or hum or buzz. I got up from the sack of rice on which I had been sitting. I climbed the steep stairs to the floor above, the steps coughing beneath my weight.

I looked out the window, over the dark red tiled roofs, toward the river. On their parachutes, one by one the flares slowly drifted down, first turning the darkness there into faux daylight, then slowly fading, then finally dying in chemical extinguishment. Here I could feel the whir, the hum, the buzz. It filled the air, alive and moving and doing. Then I saw silhouetted against the flares’ unnatural light what made the devilish, unending sound. Some miles away hovered seven or eight helicopter gunships. They sent red streams of lead into the buildings, the vegetation, the streams, the dim night below them. These were the whir, these were the hum, these were the buzz – rising and falling, nearing and departing, busy on their rounds and swoops of death.

*    *   *

(c) Gregory V Driscoll 2013


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