Fiction: Carry On- A Fictional Reflection on Operation Frequent Wind
By Elise Folley
arttimes November 2016
Rust from the railing on my hands. My arm is bleeding. On my lap, rests the bag. My eyes can hardly focus. I know it’s an older, red carpet bag. My cousin gave it to me before I came to Vietnam. She found it in a pawn shop and thought it was darling. It has worn leather handles, and its heavy fabric is covered by an irregular pattern of thick white stripes and gaudy flower clusters. Blue and yellow. The flowers are blue and yellow. My hands are on the bag. They were on the railing then.
A voice came up through the air vents, while I was still in my towel, “Evacuate. Only bring one bag. Evacuate!” Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” played incessantly over an abandoned radio. My hair was wet. I threw the carpet bag on my bed and shoved in my identification, money, and some jewelry. I grabbed the thermos and candy sitting on my bed stand and pushed those into the bag as I tripped down the hall. Tootsie Rolls spilled out behind me.
Everybody was already on the street. Where do I go? Where are the buses? A few boys under a mattress in a gutter watched me cross the street. They didn’t know. I saw a man, who helped with intelligence at the embassy, running down the street. I spoke to him for the first time, “In English. In English, please.” He didn’t speak English, but he pulled me roughly by the hand to the next block. We added ourselves to the thousand bodies pressed together, pushing toward the helicopters. I could hardly breathe. Even the air above our heads felt heavy with vomit and sweat. The din didn’t sound human. I couldn’t make out a single voice. The noise was the look in the eyes of a drowning man as he pushes another under the water in order to breathe. It was animal. We were an animal with one vibration and no thought.
My guide found a passage the desperate throng had not yet filled. He dropped my hand and ran ahead toward where the buses were supposed to be. I couldn’t seem to balance myself. He came back and yelled to me in Vietnamese. Yes. I said, “Yes,” and followed him toward the embassy.
I felt smothered, as the noise covered my face in the courtyard. The man shook me, and I climbed the steep stairs to where a chopper waited on the roof. Several strong arms pulled at me from below the steps. I couldn’t see a single face in the crowd of would-be refugees. Now, I clearly see all the faces that circled me only half an hour ago. I can stop and look at each one. One in particular stands out. I almost saw her face then. I did see her arms. Old, brown, wrinkled hands straining to lift a young child above her head. The skin under her arms stretching painfully. Her eyes set on mine. She barely whispered a prayer that I take her son. As I boarded the helicopter with my bag in hand, she looked at me as if I was not a woman or even a person. She was silent and broken. I want to step back. Throw her the bag and lift her son to myself. I don’t think I am a woman. If I am, why isn’t my shirt wet with her baby’s spit? Why are my hands fingering these useless leather handles instead of smoothing his fine, black hair?
I abandoned my son and betrayed the only woman who ever appealed to all in me that is human. If he rested against me now, crying quietly, I could have carried him and brought him into a free world. With the contents of my carpet bag, she might have been able to bribe a boatman for a passage out of Vietnam. But even if they found her, she would have died saying a prayer for me, the mother of her child.
I heard her last prayer, and I remain barren.(Elise Folley lives in Peru, NY)