Iewung’s Inheritance Chapter Five
Om awakes to find Chenda has gone off with Grant. She starts to explore the island and finds the camp’s community. It looks like an ordinary village but has more to it than meets the eye. Very soon all hell lets loose. Chenda has the race of his
life dodging incoming fire as he heads back up river.
Om continues where she left off;
‘When I woke up it was late afternoon. I went outside to find Chenda. His boat was gone again, so I assumed that he had too. I’d never been further inland than the hut, so I did then, there were many trees. I followed a beaten
track that rose gently through the trees toward the centre of the island. Here and there amongst the trees were small huts, some had people sitting outside, eating, repairing fishing nets, nursing babies and seeming very peaceful and happy. When
I reached to top of the slope through the trees I came to a big flat clearing, it was about two hundred meters square and had wooden houses on stilts that raised them about three meters off the ground. Just like the houses in Moo seven near Dad’s
mansion. There were many houses along all four sides of a square facing inward. I walked out into the middle of the square and stood there watching dozens of children playing. Everything looked like an ordinary moobaan, the children playing, people
underneath the houses in hammocks taking a nap, sitting on the stairs that lead up to their home, eating petty-aow or ka-nom (snacks). In the center of the square was a tall wooden tower, it must have been at least fifteen meters high. The tower
had a small platform at its top and a man was sitting on a chair in the middle of it. Above his head, on a flagstaff, was a red flag. The flag bore a black silhouette of a man’s head. The tower was draped with fronds of palm and banana
leaves from the height where it cleared the tree line to the very top, which was roofed over with palm fronds too. The biggest house was on the South side of the square, it was huge and very grand compared to the others. I went over to the big
house. Its floor level was three meters off the ground like all the rest, but different to the in every other respect. Above the door was a sign made of wood with the words “Dab krueng chon” burned into it. I learned later that these
words mean; “declaration of all out war against the establishment!” I began to wonder just who these people are, why are they here, why are they so diffident toward Chenda?’
Om paused, I could sense that she was reliving and important event, just like I do when I want to relate an experience accurately without letting my emotions get in the way. More so, what I shall leave out that might show me in a bad light!
Om didn’t speak for an age; I’m looking into her eyes, they have misted over. Her confusion is palpable; the hair is standing up on my neck. Where did all of this lead her and her mysterious people? Om started speaking, her voice
‘I….eh.. was just thinking how different my life has been these past twelve years, raising two children in this hovel with Chenda, he’s an animal now and he was an animal then….b..bb..but he was amazing animal then. .. Oh
She was struggling to get her composure, I could feel already that most of her real life, her living, really living had happened back then….
’I didn’t here the explosion, more sort of felt it’;
Om continued, her speech faltering;
‘It went off right between feet, burnt the inside of my legs, my ears were ringing, I..I..
couldn’t hear. I looked down; there was nothing to see, well except for a black mark on the ground, I looked up, all the children
were running, there mouths moving, their mothers appeared, gathering them up like so many kittens and running with them. As they ran they were looking up toward the top of the tower. At the top of the tower the man was waving furiously, his mouth
was moving; although I couldn’t hear him I could tell from his face that he was shouting, well more likely screaming. Soon every one had left the square, just me and the man in the tower remained. He threw something I watched as it skidded
across the square. It left a trail of white smoke in the sky, half way across the square it flashed. More smoke, and silence, the silence was terrible. I did not run, I didn’t know where to run to. So I started to climb up the tower. By
the time I reached the top my hearing started to come back…..I could here this crackling noise….in the distance….and then the man in the tower saying;
“Are you guys OK?”
‘More crackling…….and then I knew the answer was on coming over a radio. I reached the platform at the top of the tower and the man pulled me in. He said;
“Are you alright honey, I'm so dreadfully sorry….I nearly died when my Thunder-flash bounced right up your skirt? Come here let me look at you”.
'He lifted up my skirt and sucked air between his teeth. I was embarrassed. He told me that my legs were going to be OK but they’d probably sting a bit for a few days, but that my bum would need treatment because my nylon panties
had melted and were stuck to my skin!
The radio crackled again…'
”lock down…lock…down…..we’re making a run for it!”
“OK Chenda…lock…down….done…five minutes…ago…Good Luck!….. See you tomorrow”
“OK honey, we have to stay here for a while, that is until Chenda passes by on his way up river”
'With that he picked up a pair of field glasses and looked into the distance, I turned and looked out too, it was breath taking, from where we were on top of the tower at the top of the hill we could see the Mekong winding away into
the distance. He was transfixed, his breathing was heavy, by then I knew something was terribly wrong. Soon I could hear a faint crackling again, in the distance, it was louder now, the man in tower was muttering under his breath';
“Gawn…go..on…gaawn…go..on…you can do it…go..go…go…for..it”
'By now his breathing was so heavy that he was gasping, sweat dripping from his brow. He stood up wiped the sweat away from his eyes and handed me the glasses';
“Go on, you have a look honey”
'I took the glasses from him a looked in the same direction, he said';
“Do you see it? That white streak on the river about two clicks away? That’s Chenda’s boat”
'I could see it, just the white streak, a long way behind it there was something black, following, I could see little flashes too, but that’s all. After about fifteen minutes I could see that the white streak was a boat, Chenda’s
boat. The man in tower tapped me on the shoulder. I handed the glasses back to him without a word and he returned to his vigil, staring down river. The he got quite agitated, he was shouting';
“here they come, Christ their closing on him, how can that be? Chenda can outrun any thing on the Mekong!”
'I got the glasses back, now I could see the boat and the people in it, one was standing and seemed to be shouting at a man that was bent over that hump thing in the middle of the boat. Another man was at the rear and appeared to be
driving. I couldn’t understand what I saw. The long tail screw was out of the water and yet the boat was whizzing along. It, the boat, seemed to be up high in the water. Foam was boiling out behind it. I looked behind at the other boat,
it looked a bit like a navy boat, it too was whizzing along. There was a big gun mounted in front of that bit where the driver sits. That was where the flashes were coming from, and that crackling that I could hear earlier. As far as I could see
there was about six hundred meters between them and the boat that was firing was gradually catching upon them. I gasped, the man that was driving Chenda’s boat straightened for a moment a then slumped forward over the wheel. I gave the
glasses back to the man and he looked too. He swore an oath I’d never heard before and said';
“God damned American’s. Why, Oh! Why can’t the American’s mind their own fucking business?”
'I was puzzled, Americans, why would they want to shoot my Chenda?
He kept the glasses so I didn’t know what was happening, that is until he turned round and started looking from the other side of the tower. Then I knew that Chenda had passed the island and was heading away from us again. My heart
sank, I was beginning to wonder if I would ever see hum again. Then I got another turn with the glasses; while I was looking I could hear him mumbling behind me, on and on about Americans. The two boats were upstream of us now the gap between
then was still closing, as I watched I had an over whelming sense of dread. Just as it seemed that Chenda could not escape his boat lifted higher in the water and surged forward at an amazing rate. Chenda made what looked like two kilometers upstream
in the time it had taken the American boat to make one kilometer. Then I knew that Chenda would escape';
“OK honey, I know what you are going to tell me, they’ve fixed the boat and got away; my name is Oz by the way, we must get you down and get someone to attend to your burns. By the way, who are you?’
'I told Oz my name and how I came to be there. As he was listening he returned to looking up river;
“We’ll hold on here for a bit longer. With luck the Americans will give up and come back down river. If we see them coming down stream we’ll know that Chenda got away and is safe”
'Sure enough within a quarter of an hour Oz breathed a sigh of relief and I knew Chenda would be OK. Oz told me that indeed the yanks had come back down river and passed Chenda’s island without giving it a glance and that was
exactly what he’d hoped for.
While we were climbing down the ladder to the ground Oz didn’t speak as he was breathless from carrying my weight. When we were on the ground Oz took me to one of the smaller houses. He lifted up the stairs, which seemed to be hinged
at the threshold of the house, as the stairs swung upward a hole opened up beneath their footing and revealed another flight of stairs leading down into the ground. Another man appeared from below and I was lowered down to him. At the bottom there
was a tunnel along which the man carried me. After awhile the tunnel got wider and finally opened up into a cave. The man took me to a woman and asked her to attend to my injuries. She was lovely, and very gentle, speaking to me softly in Lao
as she was working. I hadn’t noticed the pain during all of the excitement but now I was in agony. The woman told me that her name was Mala, an Indian name which means ‘Necklace’. Mala coated my legs with a dark green, almost
black, poultice which looked like boiled swamp cabbage. Then she set to work to remove the remains of my nylon panties which had melted and in places, had welded themselves, to my skin. You cannot begin to imagine how painful that was. While she
was working I could hear Oz talking to another man';
“Is lock down complete, have you checked everything yourself?”
'I could tell from Oz’s voice that this man was senior to him. Though he did answer Oz’s question's;
“Yes the men have broken out the armory and armed them selves, the topsides detail have set all the demolition charges to the buildings and have run abridge mega test on all the detonator lines. Five men have gone to the creek to prepare
the boats. Don’t worry Oz we’re in great shape. I’m sure that Chenda will follow code orange and lie low up river until the day after tomorrow in the small hours. He’ll come back and moor in the creek just incase the
Americans send a search party up rive………”
'They were walking away while they were talking so I didn’t hear any thing else. When Mala was finished she coated the whole of my pelvic area with the same slimy green poultice. The relief was amazing, such that I actually fell
Om paused; she looked at me as she moved to the primus and started to brew some coffee. She looked at me with a motherly smile and was saying;
‘Oh dear Songchai, you look so tired. I’ll make some supper. We’ll talk again tomorrow;'
I was glad of the reprise. My head was swimming. This is my dear little sister and she has had such a traumatic start to her life. As I drifted of to sleep that night I began to understand why Om is so much stronger than me.