TET

  Ly Lan

  When I was young I used to stay at my

granddad’s in a small village by a river.  My best

friend was Khanh, a boy who took care of

Granddad’s water buffaloes.  I liked to go with

Khanh to the pasture, especially when his

large khaki shirt pockets were filled with mud

pellets and a catapult hung from his belt.

 

When the buffaloes were grazing or wallowing

in the mud by the river bank, Khanh and I

played games.  Our favorite was “Tarzan.”  We

covered our bodies with banana leaves and

wild flowers.  Knanh was Tarzan, and I was

Jane.  He went hunting with his catapult or

fished with a bamboo basket while I collected

wild fruit and flowers.  At lunch time we spread

out everything we had gathered and had a

feast.

 

Sometimes there were wars, because Khanh

was not the only Tarzan in the neighborhood.

The other Tarzans were much bigger than him,

so we usually had to achieve peace by

surrendering.

 

When the rice was harvested and then dried in

the yard, birds came to pick at the grains or

make off with pieces of straw, flying over the

thatched roofs, or singing gay songs in the

 bushes. Then we children knew that the Tet

holiday was coming.  Students were on

vacation, and hunters were everywhere.

Roasted wild bird was a great treat, and baked

bird eggs were wonderful too.  We buried them

in hot ash.  The eggs might get slightly burnt,

but we eagerly broke the shells and stuffed

them into our mouths.  Nothing tasted better.

 

Khanh sometimes would find bird eggs when

he was climbing trees looking for fruit.  Once

he ran shouting to me that he had discovered a

dong-doc’s nest.  I became excited and ran

after him to the highest coconut tree by the

riverside.  There near the top of the tree hung a

beautiful straw nest.  We stood on the river

bank looking up at it.

 

Suddenly a new, giant Tarzan appeared.  He

grabbed our ears and said, “Get out of here.

That dong-doc is mine.”  We could do nothing

but run off and nurse our stinging ears.

Disappointed, we watched the great hunter aim

his gun arrogantly at the nest.  But the mother

bird was not in the nest.  He waited for a while,

then walked over to us and said, “You see

mother bird, you call me, understand?”

 

After a few minutes khanh decided that the

alien Tarzan only wanted the mother bird and

that the nest was ours if we could get to it.  He

glanced around to make sure no one was

watching, then quickly climbed to the top of

the coconut tree.  He found two lovely eggs in

the next, but just as he was showing them to

me, the mother bird returned home, Khanh

hurriedly hid the nest in a bush.

 

Both of us started shouting and waving our

arms to drive the mother bird away.  I didn’t

want the bird shot by the hunter.  But she kept

flying around and around the coconut tree,

crying out desperately.  “She’s looking for her

children,” Khanh said.

 

BANG!

 

The shot startled both of us, but I saw the bird

flying safely in the sky above us.

 

Bang!

 

The second shot made the bird dart away like

an arrow.  But she soon returned, still flying

around in circles and crying out for her stolen

nest.

 

Bang!

 

I shut my eyes and nearly burst into tears.  But

when I opened them, magically the bird was

still flying unharmed.  Khanh shouted:  “Fly

away, mother bird, or you will be killed!”  I

shouted too.  Both of us shouted and danced

around like mad.  The hunter got angry, gave

each of us a kick, then went away.

 ©1998  Ly Lan

 Ly Lan is a teacher and translator and has been published in some of the leading magazines. A few years ago, she was instrumental in getting one of my stories published in a Vietnamese family magazine.  This is a link to her web site, where you will find more about Ly Lan and also  the story of TET on her web page.  http://vietnamlit.org/lylan/index.html