It had been days of continuous monsoon over the outer districts of Saigon and the pattering of the rain was relentless on the aluminum rooftops. In a small house across from the Red Bridge in Thu Duc district, two policemen, An and Dang, searched a student’s personal belongings.
“So how was it like in America?” An asked while Dang rummaged through the student’s backpack. He had just come back to Vietnam after completing his bachelor’s degree and as per protocol, his belongings must be checked for “reactionary” material--anything that poses a threat to the party.
“It was fine, I took some braille classes when I was there.” the student responded confidently.
“Yes! It was actually pretty fascinating.”
“Dang here knows braille, too, don’t you, Dang?” he laughed loudly as the young cadet unzipped the main section of the bag. The contents slowly emptied onto the coffee table. A folded hoodie, a couple pens, a tube of toothpaste.
The student turned towards Dang who’s searching. “You look really young! Did you recently enlist?”
“Yes I did,” he answered shyly. “This is actually my draft.”
“Oh so you applied to the police force instead?”
“That’s right. I think it would benefit me more to um-” there was a long pause before he continued. “-contribute to the people who are close to me.”
The student caught on to the answer and smiled kindly at him before asking again. “I heard Marxist-Leninist is a really hard class to take in police school. How was it, from your experience of course?”
The bag emptied out a little more with every question. Socks, keys, toothbrush, a sketchbook.
“It was a hard class but I’m glad I took it. It really helped me understand how the party operates and that it was all for a better good!”
The answer was so rehearsed that the student felt confident in what’s about to happen. The backpack was at fifteen percent capacity. A couple physics notebooks, a calculator, a box of Andes chocolate and then-
A coverless book with blank pages.
“What is that?” An questioned the student, his face stern and his tone collected.
“A book my college gave me to practice reading braille. It’s really hard to read if you’re not used to it.” he smiled at the older officer and turned to Dang. “You can tell him what it’s about.”
As Dang ran his fingers over the bumps he realized what he was reading. The title said “1984”. A chill shot down his spine when An turned to him. “So what is it kid?”
Dang took a huge gulp and answered as calmly as possible. “A farewell to arms.” he held the book up. “Your favorite, boss.”
An laughed out loud and slapped Dang on the shoulder before standing up. “You joker, you.” He put on his hat and motioned the cadet towards the door. “Well, thank you for letting us in and checking your belongings. You have a good day now!”
The two officers left and walked to their motorcycle. Before the two drove away, the student ran out and shouted at Dang.
“Hey!” the shout got his head turned. “Do you want to borrow it some time?”
A smile appeared on the cadet’s face and he nodded. Little did he know, that nod of his would have him lead a fiery riot down in District 3 a month later.