Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Caper PART 3--Retrieving Two Bags of Gold from Sadec

copyright © Kim Roberts

When Mother held me tight in her bosom, we looked into each other’s eyes, the whole universe was reduced to just us and our world—in a little corner of our lower house where she taught me lessons while looking out to her betel leave garden. We needed no validation, no affirmation, no crescendo, and no tempo, just us and our deep heartfelt feelings and bond for each other in stillness. That wasn’t just a mother and child love and relationship. It was a sacred, lifetime, solemn vow.
(my mother and me when I was 2 and 3)

(Continued from PART 2)
As soon as the SUV’s hood was popped open, Le Tran got out, waltzed toward the front and raised the hood. He then tilted his head away from the steaming hot engine and hovered over a coolant liquid tank and a radiator hose. With his head down, he discreetly looked behind him. I came out, handed him a dirty towel for him to clean the grease above the coolant tank. He gently cleaned a groove between the tank and the engine and slipped a newspaper wrapped package into the gap then gave the towel back to me.

 By then we had left Sadec around noon and arrived in Long An province a little after 3 o’clock. Minutes after entering My Chau, a small business center building, we were cleaned, fresh, recharged, and perky. Le Tran got a table by the window of a restaurant, I positioned my chair so the SUV would be in view. The aroma from a baguette and curry beef stew I ordered smelled heavenly. Minh Thu was about to order a salad but I shook my head. She then ordered a chicken and rice dish.  “Yes, it’s better, no raw vegetable or salad,” she said.

Leaning back in his chair, Le Tran gave me a peculiar stare, “I don’t know what to make of you. I’ve lived and worked in this system since 1975. I know for fact, no way that the secret police would not approach you within 1 hour. And yet you were in Sadec for over 4 hours then left unscathed. A miracle! What’s now? Why weren’t they alerted of your presence?”

I winked at him then narrowed my eyes and looked through the window to the road and beyond, “They knew. But they were confused. And don’t be so sure. There is a shock wave in Sadec right now. Those who have self-appointed interest in the gold are exploding. They are working on a plan to track me down and catch me if they can.”

“Is that all?” he asked.

“No,” I answered. “I have to work on how to handle the gold money from now on. And how Minh Thu and I can get out of Vietnam unscathed. That will be my next challenge.”

“What’s the story behind the gold?” Le Tran studied my face and inquired.

 “That’s a long story. I will tell you during our trip to Hue,” I answered.

“What? Hue? Hue? Really?” he turned and stared at me with a double take then asked, “Do you know how long and what it takes to drive to Hue? Going through Nha Trang, Qui Nhon, Da Nang, climbing the dangerous Hải Vân Pass (Ocean Cloud Pass), then Hoi An, before getting to Hue. Days and days. No, no, no. Am not going.”

Minh Thu bounced on her feet, “I want to go. I always wanted to go there. Hue, yes! Please, please drive us, Le Tran.” 

Le Tran shook his head from side to side while keeping his eyes on me. I dropped both arms on both sides of my armed chair and rested my chin on my chest then stared him down. Nearly five minutes, he gave up, looked to the side, shook his head, then looked back at me.

“What else do you want to do besides driving you and Minh Thu to Hue? And why?” he asked.

I smiled from ear to ear, “Because you are the best driver ever. Because your daughter told me she dreamed of eating the best Me Xung Hue (sesame, peanut candies from Hue). We are going to give her a dream-come-true. I promise, no more tension this time. No suspense. We will have so much fun. I need to disappear for a week to ten days. And I always wanted to observe the way Vietnamese people live along country roads. I need to let the dust settle in Sadec. They will come to accept the fact that the gold is gone.  Hopefully, they will get used to the thought that maybe, just maybe, that I am uncatchable.”

“Oh, no. Oh no, no,” Le Tran blurted out.

“What now? No what?…what?” Minh Thu asked.

“You didn’t listen to what she said? She implied that she plans to go back to Sadec. Don’t you get it?” Le Tran turned and looked at Minh Thu to be sure she understood. Then he turned to me, “No, I will not drive you back there again.”

Minh Thu turned to me, eyes turned wide and pouty lips, “I won’t go with you either.”

I remained stoic. In my head, I was planning a new plot.

When we got to the SUV, Minh Thu and I got in. Le Tran popped the hood, checked the oil and water levels. When done, he got behind the steering wheel. As he threw his jacket on my laps, a package wrapped in newspaper with some grease on it landed on the floor under my legs.

“Do you still see Mrs. Muoi on Dong Khoi street?”  I asked Le Tran as he started the engine and the SUV slowly rolled forward.

“Of course. I am related to her. I see her often. She is 80 now, you know. Old, fragile, health issues like heart, high blood pressure, lungs…. But she’s still a matriarch. Her mind is clear though,” he answered, while lighting another cigarette and threw the match out the window.

“Drive me directly to her place the moment we get into Ho Chi Minh City. I want to pay her a visit,” I said while tucking the package neatly under the floor mat.

“Uh oh, no, no…” He yelled.

“What? What? What’s wrong now?” Minh Thu asked.

“Minh Thu, I know your aunt. She’s going to ask this fragile elderly lady to be the custodian of the package while she goes to Hue. But that’s extremely risky,” he said, suddenly and immediately he stepped on the emergency brake as a truck whirled and nearly hit our SUV. At the grinding sound of the tires that skid on the road, I felt my body was being jerked back, forth, and around.

Looking at the truck and the truck driver’s face, as pale as a corpse, I felt melancholic as I turned to Le Tran, “Living life is risky. You and I live dangerous lives because we wanted to choose our risks. It’s our ability to choose risks that sets us free and makes us superior to others.”

Then I added, “Mrs. Muoi and I have gone back a long way. She has channeled money from me to take care of my family in Sadec year after year, after 1975. Especially, to care for my mother before she died. Then helped me look after my sister.”

“I know about it,” Le Tran said, “In 2000, I drove Mrs. Muoi to see your mother and delivered to her $1,000 U.S. dollars from you just before your mother passed away.  And I heard from Mrs. Muoi you sent your sister a few thousand dollars to build your mother a tomb she always wanted and you paid for praying services at several Buddhist temples in Sadec. You sent so much money but she hardly spent it. We all knew about your filial piety but we don’t know why it’s so intense. Because of her love for you?” Le Tran added then rolled down the window and puffed the cigarette smoke out.

Silently, I conjured up Mother’s images and how she convinced me to give up my dream of becoming a person of letters for her dream of me as a rich and famous lawyer. She said while stroking my thick hair, “You must. You already were my lawyer when you were only 12. Your clever business contract writing saved me from what could have been my worst business nightmare.” And I remembered her enormous, irresistible power over me that pulled me out of the Faculté des Lettres University after I had passed the Baccalaureate II in Philosophy. I ended up spending four years studying French Roman Law while working full time for President Nguyen Van Thieu and never had time to pursue a study and a career in painting and writing.

As I closed my eyes, I could see inside her heart and the deep love she had for me—so much so that she almost ruined my entire life by trusting a family member to care for and protect me—and he turned out to be the worst Iago, as the character Iago in Othello, a name my husband and I called him. Fortunately my husband was not an Othello type.

“Is that true? And you love her and did it all for her?” Le Tran was persistent as he repeatedly coughed, cleared his throat and asked. The cigarette smoke seemed to have gotten inside his lungs.

Remained silent, I was thinking, “How could I tell him that it’s a private matter. I did it for her. I did it for love—my love. So, I did it for me.”
Through a curtain of tears, I looked at the line of coconut trees running back as we were moving forward. A rest area with a thatched hut coffee shop appeared. Dozens of hammocks hung between the trees with a few travellers resting in hammocks while having coffee. Among them, a woman was breastfeeding her baby. The scene then faded away as a mental image emerged in front of me as fresh and vivid as if it happened the day before.

“Voici ma main!  Elle a cinq doigts.  En voici deux, en voici trois.  Le premier, ce gros bon homme, C'est le ...” I spread my left hand and pointing at each of its five fingers with my right hand while repeating after my mother until I was able to recite all the numbers in French.  Mother was pleased that I was a three years old fast learner.  She held me close to her bosom.  I felt her breasts then lifted her blouse and sucked on the nipples, a reward from my mother for doing well. 

“What happened to the old man and the little fish?” Mother asked me.

Keeping my hands on mother’s breasts and my head under her blouse, I reluctantly released one of mother’s nipples, “A small fish in hand is better than a big fish in the water.”

“Good. Some more stories, yes?” Mother asked. Then she began to tell me and make me repeat after her “Muc Lien Thanh De,” a story of a Buddhist-nun daughter who went through the burning hellfire to save her sin-condemned mother.  Gradually, before I turned four, I knew by heart most of La Fontaine fables.

When Mother held me tight in her bosom we looked into each other’s eyes, the whole universe was reduced to just us and our world—in a little corner of our lower house where she taught me lessons while looking out to her betel leave garden. We needed no validation, no affirmation, no crescendo, and no tempo, just us and our deep heartfelt feelings and bond for each other in stillness. That wasn’t just a mother and child love and relationship. It was a sacred, lifetime, solemn vow.

(END of PART 3)   www.facebook.com/sadecinmyheart   © K. N. Roberts


Next. PART 4: A fun adventure during our road trip to Hue, then another spine-chilling trip back to Sadec, and my plan to disperse the gold money to good causes. Most importantly, how to dance my way out of the airport and safely slip the rest of the money out of Vietnam.

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