Short Story Winner, LISP 2nd Quarter 2020
OPERATION FREQUENT WIND by Wendy Eiben
April 29, 1975. A young boy and his mother flee their home during the fall of Saigon.
The streets of Saigon are both eerily quiet and strangely loud as Quan peers out from his second floor apartment window. Hundreds of people, all moving with a purpose that Quan does not understand. A low distant rumbling that his mother tells him comes from the bad men.
No school again today. He misses French class and art. He watches the crowd, wondering why so many seem to be going somewhere all at once.
“Quan! Come. Eat.” The boy scampers from the window and takes a seat at a small table. On the radio, the American broadcast tells them that the temperature outside is 105 degrees and rising. Quan shovels rice into his mouth wondering why April weather would be so warm and is this why everyone seems to be moving about like ants on a hot day.
His mother turns off the radio and takes her pink wool coat from the bed. Quan watches as she buttons the coat and then pulls open the top drawer of a small dresser. She shoves folded papers into the pockets. And money. More than Quan has ever seen.
She only wears the coat that she got from Miss Emily on special occasions. Quan wonders what this occasion is and if everyone outside will be celebrating, too.
“Hurry. We must go” she says. Quan shovels one last bite before taking his dish to the sink.
He goes to their shared dresser and pulls his worn, tattered coat from the bottom drawer. It fit better when he was still four. Still, if this occasion requires a coat he wants to be prepared. He pats his pockets. Empty. Looking about the room he spots his most prized possession. A small, tin boat, its paint worn from near constant handling, that one of the American soldiers had given him.
He is told that his father wears an American uniform and has curly hair, like Quan’s. The hair that gets him teased by his classmates who all have straight, black hair like his mother. Every time he visits the Americans, he looks for him. His mother says that he is gone to America but will send for them soon. “Be patient” she tells him. But still he looks.
Quan pockets the boat and follows her out the door.
Quan and Tien leave their building, his hand tight in hers so that he is not swept away with the crowd going somewhere.
“This way” she says as she pulls him down an alley and to a tall apartment building on the next block.
An armed man in a South Vietnamese uniform guards the door.
His mother pulls the money from her pocket and presses it into the man’s hand. “Miss Emily sent me” Quan hears her whisper. The guard opens the door.
Quan and Tien make their way up a dark, winding staircase, climbing higher and higher until they stop at a heavy metal door at the top.
Tien forces the door open. Dozens of people crowd the roof top. Armed soldiers keep them dangerously close to teetering over the edges.
An armed man blocks their path. He holds out his hand, demanding money. Tien shakes her head.
“There’s no more” she tells him as Quan cowers, holding onto her leg. The man stands, gun trained on them, not letting them past.
Quan steps forward, reaches into his pocket, pulls out the boat and offers it to the guard. The guard looks at the offering and grins. He shakes his head and steps aside allowing them by.
They move to the edge of the roof with the others. Quan peers to the ground far below. He can see the gates of the embassy where his mother works.
People are scaling the fence, climbing over each other in a mad effort to reach the other side, only to be pushed back to the ground by the American soldiers guarding the top.
Quan looks away. If he is to see his father, he hopes that it is not now.
Quan looks at the others huddling on the rooftop. Among them, another mother with a small girl. The mother speaks quietly to the girl as she pins a note to the outside of the girl’s shirt. Quan has been practicing his French all school year. The note tells him that the girl wants to be a doctor when she grows up.
He wonders how a girl, much smaller than he, already has such a plan for her life. He looks down at the boat still in his hand and wonders if he will be a sailor like his father with the uniform and curly hair.
A loud thundering from above and strong winds cause Quan and his mother to crouch low to the roof. A helicopter approaches the crowded rooftop.
“Get back! Get back!” the armed men shout, pushing and shoving the crowd back to the edges of the building, allowing the helicopter to begin to lower itself over the small hole created.
People push their way past the armed men, rushing the helicopter as it gets closer, hovering just above the surface as to not send the roof collapsing into the upper floors of the building.
Men and women charge from all corners, throwing themselves into the open doors of the helicopter.
Tien forces her way through the sea of bodies, pulling Quan behind. The helicopter is full.
“No more!” Shout the guards. Tien pushes past the armed men, lifts Quan and forces his tiny body into the helicopter.
“Make yourself small” she screams over the thunder of the blades above. He pulls his knees in tight, tucking himself against the mass of bodies inside.
“Another helicopter will come. I’ll be right behind”
The guards push the people back and the helicopter lifts high.
The small girl sits next to Quan. “Where are we going?” she asks.
He looks at the boat in his hand and his mother’s pink coat disappearing in the distance below.
“To see my father.”