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The American

Tuấn Chột lives down the alley, by a small bridge that arches across a rotten-smelling canal. He has always been a subject of mystery, never showing up to a neighborhood meeting and never been seen outside his house. Well, except one time.

Mrs. Duyên, the neighborhood chief, swore she saw him once at the market. A man that stood nearly two meters tall whose left foot “klacked” whenever he walked. She could not get a glimpse of his face but she knew he was wearing a pair of Ray-bans, something no Vietnamese could have gotten at the time due to the trade embargo.

“I’m telling you ladies, he has got to be American!” Her gossiping passed from one lady to the next to their husbands and children and soon the whole neighborhood was under the impression that there was a white man living in their area. This of course meant everyone swarmed his house everyday, trying to catch a glimpse of the exotic man and waited for him to hand them foreign goods.

“Bullshit.” Tâm’s father tells him. “I know Tuấn. He was in the same paratrooper platoon as me. We served in Quảng Trị before we both got shot and sent back.”

“I mean, that didn’t discount him from being American.” Tâm replies, watching his son Khang running around the house. “The Ray-bans were evident enough.”

“Ray-bans were everywhere in Saigon back in the day. It was a household brand. Geez, why would you even listen to those women?”

Khang quickly grows bored of listening to his father and grandfather talking about things he doesn’t understand. He waits until both the adults aren’t paying attention and slips out of the house. “Another successful mission”, he tells himself, “nothing can stop power ranger Khang!”

Nothing except a dog. It’s a local mutt, weighing a hundred and fifty pounds and stands three times taller than him. The mutt snarls and locks his eyes on the boy. Both stare at each other intently.

A kick of dust. The boy bolts in the opposite direction to his granddad’s house. Behind him, just one ankle’s length away, is the crazy mutt.

“Help! Granddad, help!” The boy wails down the alley.

No one seems to hear the child. Did he scream? Or was it all in his head and the only thing coming out his mouth is silence. The green gate of his granddad’s house inches closer. For a second, Khang thinks about stepping sideways into the house and letting the dog pass him like how they would in cartoons. A good idea on paper, but completely fails in practice.

Khang kicks his right leg and dashes left, banging his head against the metal gate. He stumbles and the dog inches closer to his calf. Khang desperately runs, almost toppling over.

A big shadow swoops down to pick him up and the dog’s nails barely scratches his skin.

“Go on! Get the fuck out of here!” A booming voice commands the dog. The wild mutt whimpers and scurries away from the threat. The voice turns towards Khang. “Are you alright kid?”

“Yeah! Thank you so much for saving my life!” Khang hugs the man before looking up at a friendly, sunbaked face with a left crystal eye. “Woah, you have such a cool eye!”

“You like it?”

“Yeah! Does it give you superpowers?”

“Yes it did. It made me this tall so I can scare away evil creatures.” The man lowers the child and asks. “What’s your name? Why are you running around the place?”

Khang hesitates a little. “My dad told me not to tell strangers my name.”

“Well… My name’s Tuấn. Nice to meet you buddy.”

“Nice to meet you too sir!”

“You said your dad is here?”

“Yeah! He’s visiting my granddad, right there!”

“Oh!” Tuấn smiles gently, as if he realizes whose house it is. “Let’s go join him then.”

The metal gate to the green house slides open and Khang’s dad stands up to check it out. Tuấn walks in with Khang walking beside him.

“Khang! Oh dear, when did you get out of the house!?” His father comforts him.

“I slipped out when you both weren’t looking-”

“Why!?” He speaks so loudly it’s on the verge of yelling. “Don’t you know it’s dangerous? What if you get kidnapped, huh?”

“Hey.” Tuấn separates the two. “Don’t you think you should comfort him instead?”

Tâm leers at him and walks his son inside, scolding him.

“Hey kid.” Tuấn calls out but doesn't know what to tell him. “Listen to daddy okay? You know where to find me next time.”

Tuấn leaves the house with everyone’s eyes on him. “Who is that freak? Is that another beggar? God, why can’t people like him work for a living.” The tall man smiles and walks away silently to his house by the bridge.

“Who was it?” Khang granddad asks.

“Just a hobo. Who does he think he is, walking my kid?” Khang grunts in disapproval.

The granddad smiles. “Sounds to me like you just met the American.”