By J Gavin Allan (told though her mother’s lips)
In a flash I knew mother was right. The snort bellowed through the undergrowth and was felt by my bare feet. I ran as fast as any boy. My tears were waiting patiently for me to stop. I feared crying would slow my escape. Again the moan traveled along the jungle floor and up to my thighs. I screamed for mother. I begged her to appear and give me the beating that was promised if I disobeyed.
Louder this time, much louder. I could smell the breath of the beast as if it stood behind me. Monkey’s screeched and an owl flew through my vision as the noise disturbed its morning slumber.
“Mama! Mama!” The universal call of distress. But there was no answer.
I now knew my fate was sealed. The beast must be sick. It had not caught me due to infirmity. This much I knew. My death would not be quick and full of mercy. The ailing tiger was too handicapped to catch anything in the jungle. Anything, but a little girl.
With one last burst of energy I intended to fly through the jungle. As my momentum carried me through a thorny vine, I ignored the scrape and torn strip of skin from my stomach. I was naked. Naked and at the mercy of this soon to be dead monster. A snort signaled the location of the tiger. He had moved to my side. The gods must be controlling his attempt for an easy meal. I knew that tigers would be the carriers of spirits. It is impossible to kill a tiger unless they wished it. A Green Hat once killed a marauding beast that preyed on a neighboring village. But he was one of the Warrior Monks from the West. They were linked to the gods.
Fatigue must have set in on both of us. As I slowed, so did the crunching steps of my admirer. I thought in those terms, I so wanted an admirer. That was why I had disobeyed my mother. I was twelve years of age. A man of the village already picked my friend Mai, Vietnamese for Cherry Blossom, for marriage. He was a scout for the Green Hats. That is why I went to the banks of the Xepon. The Vietnamese nun that gave Mai her name called me Dung. It means a beautiful appearance. I should be married. I wanted a husband. Strolling innocently in the calm waters of the Xepon, patrols returning from the hunt would be far enough away that my nude figure would not be thought of as scandalous, yet close enough to be teased by my beautiful budding body. Or so I hoped. I could not fool mother. She knew my young body was growing too fast. Not in height but in desire. She told my father to arrange a marriage, soon. She said. “Your daughter’s blood grows hotter everyday.” If she could only see me now?
Thud! The sound knocked me to the ground. I closed my eyes and prepared to be eaten. I would not scream or cry. The gods most have decided.
My head was jerked upward causing a shooting pain down my neck. The least of my worries. He took my long black mane and pulled me to a standing position. That is when the dam burst.
The yelling and scolding at such hysterics did not abate my tears. He stood tall, dressed as a Green Hat scout. Their clothes matched the jungle.
He asked me if it was Northerners. I remained petrified. Only the stare intensified. The humid condition of the jungle appeared on my expression. A film of sweat flew from my face. Shaking my head till I halted the tears, he yelled. “Was it the Cong?” Southern brothers of our enemy. I still made not a sound. He stood bravely with boldness in his eyes, thinking of me as a frenzied little girl. I was a child, not to be taken seriously. Then a moan that shook the immense rubber tree by our side, and stripped the teenage boy of the bravado that was so easily shown to a naked hysterical child. With my hair still clutched in his grasp we darted from the sound. Pushing me forward he cursed for his rifle. It flew from his hand, from the shock of this insignificant waif.
The beast was before us. The lumber of the elder of cats was easy to pick up, even for an irrelevant little girl. I crossed my foot over the other ready to sprint to a jungle path that I knew led to the water. A tug from his hand sent my head reeling. Why was he always pulling my hair? Was he afraid to touch my bare shoulder? I showed my own bravado as I slapped the boy’s hand from my head. He grabbed me. I prepared for a beating that would be the prelude to being the beast’s breakfast. His blows did not follow. He dragged my exhausted body to a specific spot. A specific spot in this thickly coated floor under a tropical canopy of vegetation and ever expanding flora. His eyes held hope. Hope of what? Before I could make a sarcastic remark concerning the apparent lack of intelligence in the young boy, my first admirer appeared. My legs became paralyzed. I thought my lungs would burst, before his mighty teeth would puncture them.
The boy relaxed, whispered for me to remain still. I heard the words but was preoccupied with the chill surging in my groin, which began to spread its way through my skin. I now knew total horror, as I felt my urine released from my fear. The sobbing was twofold. I had turned toward the young boy and straddled his leg for protection just as I sprayed by cowardice. A good part of his pants and most of the booths so prized by Bru men, gifts from the Green Hats, were drenched by my shame. The ultimate climax of this adventure warranted the tears, but also my last minutes on earth were filled with cowardice.
I remained next to him, for I wanted the punishment to be quick. I’m certain the tiger eyeing us was becoming impatient. But, there were no blows. I heard not a malicious sound. Looking to see what could be delaying my beating, only a smile appeared. The eyes that spit out such anger and contempt for the little village girl now showed nothing but compassion. Stroking my hair, he whispered that, “it will be alright.” I looked further into the deep brown pools that resembled the Xepon in January. They held moisture and warmth that filled my heart with strength. I stood straight to resemble his stature. I would be strong. A ceremony was not the only way two people might wed. Certainly dying together at the hands of a monstrous beast, controlled by the spirits that frolic, as children in our jungle must count for something.
As the tiger approached, my husband…I can call him that…I peed on him! (That part always brought a round of laughter to them both when recalling the tale.) The beast took cautious and deliberate steps to our position. I could smell the stale, foul odor of his breath. It was a pity to be killed by a beast with such little time to live. The decaying organs spread an aroma of death that hung with the humidity.
My husband, in those moments, that is what he became to me, held me close, slipping my frail body behind him. He was acting the MIKE Force scout. Brave, confident always in control. I decided to act my part also. The part of a twelve year-old girl falling in love.
“What is your name?” My question might be considered inappropriate at this time, but his immediate answer vindicated my girlish curiosity.
“Hot Stuff,” He was in front of me now. The tiger looked ready to pounce.
“The Green Hats call me Hot Stuff.” The tiger was very considerate with our flirtations. “I burned some Cong out of a hole. He was a sniper.” He laughed. “He no sniper no more.” I moved to his front, only to be pushed back.
“Be careful.” Whispered as if there was something else to worry about. “Don’t move. I don’t know where it begins.”
I didn’t have the intelligence or interest to ask where what begins?
The tiger was within range of a leap. Maybe twelve feet of more? Maybe less? My future husband ran his fingers through my hair, as he tightened into a fist. He was pulling my hair again. Was this some sort of marriage ritual, I never known about? The beast hunched his back. It would be over soon.
My scream was born from the sight of the tiger lunging into the air, and being thrown back. Of course by my hair. But the following screams were ear piercing.
Again, I froze. It was over 100 degrees and spent most of the morning shivering and shaking as if the forest had turned white with snow. But that feeling lasted seconds. The painful, horrific cries were coming from beneath us. The tiger screeched and yelled in a high pitch-frightening octave that shook my soul.
Hot Stuff walked to the edge of the pit. Looking down, his expression became sympathetic for the struggling beast. Turning toward me, he wanted to shield my eyes from the sight. I wished to oblige. Holding him tight, the bawling cries of the tiger wailed in a split tone.
Giving me his jungle looking top, I wore it as a dress. This meant we were paired, just as Mai and her scout.
Hot stuff took a compass from the blouse pocket and looked in two directions. I looked in only one. My vision trained on the pierced skin of the tiger. Blood ran over the yellow fur and black stripes. The bamboo stakes held him in place. His anguished cries were diminishing, until the last spike pierced through the once mighty skin. The gods most have led him to the pit filled with pungi sticks. A trap built by our enemies to bring death to the Green Hats and their men. The spirits of the jungle used the dying beast to protect the Green Hats. I knew they were from the gods.
Concerning my writing, please consider this fiction. Unless something is 100% true and accurate, it is fiction. For me…99% of the truth does not make it non-fiction. My writing for all my tales are anywhere from 5-10% non-fiction to 90%-95% imagination. In the case of Bru tales, the percentage goes up concerning non-fiction. I am not a political or social commentator. I wish only to bring stories to touch your heart. Tales of the Montagnards (the mountain people of the Central Highlands of Vietnam) will do just that.
This will explain their character. Americans that worked with them from 1961 to 1973 would often say…if I have to die for someone, let it be for these people…someone else can die for the South Vietnamese.
The South Vietnamese called us Moi (their word for savage) The Americans called us Friend.