Requiems in Blue

    Andrew Lam

I am dead, floating in a blue abyss.

Itís not my fault! Donít you dare question my humanity! I have combat medals from that war to prove that I fought for them. Besides, thereís nothing in the regulation book about picking up boat people. I left enough food and drinks for seven days. Seven days, goddamn it! Enough so they could get to the Philippines. The Navy is using me as a scapegoat by putting me on trial. Iím a hero hung out to dry . . .

We had to do it. He was going to die, you know. He drank too much sea water. He suffered from diarrhea, from dehydration, from vomiting. We knew he wouldnít have survived much longer. So we slit his throat in three short and easy strokes. Young people donít survive hardship very well. Young people need much food, much water, have too many dreams, too many passions, and are therefore quite vulnerable to history.

I am floating in a blue abyss.

We opened his stomach, took out the liver, the heart, the intestines. We cut his flesh and soaked strips of it in the sea water to cook. An old woman who had survived through three wars cut the meat into small pieces. The blood we collected in the two plastic buckets and distributed among ourselves. Those who bailed water were given the good meat. Those who did nothing we gave bones and bad meat. If we waited for him to die the blood would have thickened and we would not be able to drink it.

I wonder Ė I wonder what I tasted like, the salty flesh, lean and red, must have provided a tough chewy texture. Did they distribute me evenly? To the scrawny children and the dying housewives? Did they give some to poor cousin Ngo? Did he eat my flesh, too? Did they eat everything?

We donít want to talk about it anymore. Please. We didnít want to kill. We only wanted freedom. But in this case one leads to the other. Itís as simple as that. What do you want to hear from us anyway? Literary innuendoes, metaphors, ambiguities, subterranean meanings? Well, for us, thereís only irony. We find no peace now, no true freedom. Oh, we ate everything alright. His genitals, his buttocks, his ears, his biceps, his thighs, his chest. But we left the head alone. When we threw it in with the rest of him wrapped in a bundle into the sea, there wasnít much left even for the poor hungry sharks, only hair and bones. Tell Ė Tell us this: Where did that big shiny American ship go?

It was a strong body from playing soccer and swimming. They, my girlfriend, had loved that body very much, the dark skin, the round, thick chest. She loved tracing her tongue on every curve, every muscle. With her delicate fingers she pretended that my torso was her zither. Oh, and Mother, how she nourished that body. So often she fed it with sweet and sour catfish soup and, my favorite, fish sauced-shrimps on rice.

Itís the Vietnamese interpreterís fault! He said they had an engine. He said it was working. Besides, I saw that they had a sail. No, no, I knew the sail couldnít get them far. But the engine, you see, I thought it was working! The interpreter assured me that it was working. I took his words for it. And why, may I ask, shouldnít I take his words or it?

Cousin Ngo, prosper, if just for me. Am I not a part of you now? Tell, if you can, my story.

The ocean was so vast, an endless carpet stretching in every direction. The people started to weaken. The engine was dead for a long time and the boat was leaking. We were drifting, drifting, and dying slowly under the harsh sunshine. On the thirteenth day, a woman named Tham was the first to die. The captain and his men threw her into the ocean. The next day two more died. Then the next day, six more, three of whom went crazy and jumped overboard and drowned. It was as if they heard the ocean called out their names and they went to it willingly. Some people called it sea madness. I myself heard a voice, but I chose not to listen. Then that night the U.S. warship came, ablaze with bright lights. It looked like a floating city. I cried. I was so happy. I thought we were all going to be saved. But it didnít pick us up. It gave us some water and oranges and ham, but all was consumed within two days. Afterward, we were strong again, enough to bail water.

I am floating in a blue abyss.

Look here, my crew and I were on an urgent mission. As it was, we could not burden ourselves with boat people every time we spotted them. Weíd never get to where we were ordered to go. In retrospect, I might Ö could have made a difference, yes. But it was a judgement call and I abide by it.

Strange that we were more hungry than before that ship came. Before, we all gave up hope and were willing to waste away, to die together, but not after. Days passed. No ship came. People started dying again. My cousin, he drank too much sea water. He was dying. He kept saying, I canít go on, I canít go on. Me, I was too weak to stop them. Afterwards, well . . .who, tell me, who wouldnít want to survive?

We are cannibals.

I am floating in a blue abyss.

Back home we heard of so many wonderful stories about this country. No, we didnít think about the trip itself. We saw the photos sent back from crossed eyed Thien, our neighbor who escaped before us. How tall heíd grown in America, how handsome, even his eyes were no longer crossed. A beautiful two-story house stood behind him, a shiny black car, a BMW I think, pared in his drive way. He had a new name too, Peter. Mine, by the way, is no longer Ngo but George, so call me George, OK. Anyway, in the photo Peter waved to us, calling us to join him. One night my cousin whispered, Cousin, why not us?

Thuy dreams of me often, those delicate fingers pluck now on empty air in the dark.

We? We are alive. He is our savior, our saint. We drank his blood, consumed his flesh and we are both nourished and cursed by his flesh. What we did, we simply did to survive. We, perhaps more than many other Americans, saved perhaps the Donners and the Reeds, know the true price of the fare.

I am floating in a blue abyss.

Iíll tell you something else: The moment his blood seeped past my lips I had a vision. I saw double tiered freeways, tall miror high-rises, computers and microwaves, even Disneyland. The images were so vivid, it was like watching a video. They were not hallucinations, I can assure you. As you know, I live in LA.

I am made a scapegoat, a hero hung out to dry, thatís what itís all about!

We survived. yes, we survived. But now we have our sleepless nights. We hear voices in our heads, taste blood in our apple pie, smell the ocean stench in our Colgate. When we are hungry we close our eyes. We chew our food without much pleasure. We drive fast down the freeway so memories wouldnít catch up. But, inevitably, they do, they do. We can not, for instance, look at the ocean from this side, for instance, without crying. We cook everything twice. We light sandalwood incense and beg for forgiveness on full moon nights. Our youngest children, too young to remember the journey, sometimes stare at that ocean, wide eyed, mesmerized. A few even chant in some strange, inexplicable tongue. It was an exorbitant meal that we are still unable to digest, a story so terrifying, so sad that perhaps only that blue and vast ocean can tell.





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