Children of the Dust

“Ewwww! Look at her eyes, they’re so round and blue… and her skin is so fair she’d probably burn up under the sun.” I slid through the mocking crowd and slumped below the garbage cans, hanging my head between my knees and holding in the tears to prevent my peers from hearing my sniffles. I couldn’t let them know their hurtful words actually took an effect on my six year old self. Not that they could hear me anyway, they were too busy mocking the others, known as “Amerasians.” Our fathers were American soldiers who fell in love with our Vietnamese mothers during their deployment in South Vietnam; however, they were sent back to America within a few years. Leaving us here only to be treated as worthless pieces of garbage.

The sun slowly began fading away and eventually disappeared beyond the horizon. That marks two years since my mom abandoned me amongst the streets of Saigon; she claimed that I was “too much work and an embarrassment to my family.” Regardless of my mom’s opinion of me, I knew my father’s love outweighed it all. My grumbling stomach interrupted my bitter-sweet thoughts and urged me to head toward the orphanage—the last place I wanted to be right now. However, it provided some portion of food and a place to stay during the long, cold nights. I pulled myself off the dirt floor and wiped away any evidence of the tears that previously streamed down my face. In a hurry to fill my stomach,  I darted past the laundry and hurdled over the fence only to find Liêm waiting for me, blocking the back, hidden entrance. Liêm was my only friend, the only person that understood me, he had no family so he roamed throughout the streets and slept wherever he found a place.

“Hey Liêm, I can’t really talk right now. I already missed supper and I’m late for bed.”

“Oh that’s alright, Mai! Do you want to hangout tomorrow after your chores?”

“That would be fine, see you then!”

Liêm shuffled to the side, clearing a path for me to squeeze through the rugged opening.

* * *

Piercing through the broken blinds, the morning sun beamed right into my tired eyes, forcing me to roll out of bed and slip on my clothes for another work day. My chore involved a trip to the market to fetch food for our upcoming meals. I always enjoyed our journeys to the market. That’s where I gained more knowledge of the ongoing war, the Vietnam War. As we gathered the last few vegetables, I overheard an older man softly talking to his wife. I leaned closer to hear the words, “American plane, rescue, escape tomorrow night, and meet at the valley just below the city’s peak.” I quickly put the puzzle pieces together… That’s it, my one chance of leaving and finding Father! I scurried back to the orphanage to find Liêm and prepare for my long escapade out of South Vietnam, I had no time to waste.

* * *

Darkness had now covered the city and each child, tightly tucked away in their beds. I met Liêm near the back of the orphanage and we began quickly weaving between the buildings and soon found ourselves overlooking the valley. Just below lied our only way out, the very plane that would soon soar above this broken city.  Scurrying to the bottom, we rushed into the plane. I’ve heard that President Gerald Ford ordered this mission, Operation Babylift, to evacuate orphans.

The engine began to rev and the pilot prepared for take off. Everything seemed to happen within just a few seconds; and before I could catch a breath, the plane lifted above the city. My excitement created a sharp pain in my stomach, but I was thrilled with the idea of leaving. Liêm’s shaking hands showed that he was nervous.

“You good?” I asked.

“Yah just never been on a plane before.”

“It’s alright, we’ll be down before you know it…. you have nothing—”

My words were cut off by the squealing of the plane as it jolted and began heading straight back down toward the ground. The rattling of the plane forced everyone to cling on to one another in fear of their lives. Before I could fully process what took place, the nose of the plane skidded across the rice fields, flinging everyone to the front of the plane. I gripped on to the metal pole next to me, but the force pulled me forward, slamming my head against the floor. Blood quickly rushed down my face and in that instant everything went black.

* * *

The throbbing pain in my head and the ongoing sirens caused me to awaken. I whipped my head all around in search for Liêm, but only found rubble piled on top of hundreds of people. I pulled myself above the crowd and shuffled around what was left of the plane, only to find Liêm partially pinned under a piece of metal. I quickly embraced him with my trembling arms.

“Liêm! Come on get up, we got to get out of here… come on Liêm, stop messing around.”

I tugged at his body with all my strength and attempted to lift the metal off his broken body. “Come on Liêm, it’s dangerous here, we got to go.” I continued to tug and pull but all strength left my body and defeat set in. I melted to a kneeling position right beside Liêm’s body while tears flooded my eyes and soon began racing down my face. I then realized there was nothing I could do; my one and only friend was gone. “Liêm, liem,” I whispered, but my plea was carried into the night.

* * *

Three years had past since the plane crash. I was now 9 years old and the Vietnam War had come to an end. I no longer had Liêm, but I thought about that incident everyday. If only I had not worried so much about leaving, then maybe Liêm would still be here. My life was worse than ever, I lived off the streets and took any food I could find. Everyday I woke up with the reminder of my worth, only good enough to be brushed aside. I lacked the energy needed to survive and the lychees from the nearby bush were running low. In search of food, I headed to the market and found a booth full of fresh bread rolls. I snatched a few up and quickly dashed toward the outside of the village. I had safely made it to the outskirts and ducked below the trees. When all hope seemed lost, a familiar figure approached. As they came in to view my body froze, no words seemed to come to mind until…




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