Saturday, October 6, 2007

Tears of an Old Soldier

He was already old when I was still a small kid, a Chinese who had been with Chiang Kai-shek's army. When his general fled to Taiwan, amid the chaotic retreat he crossed the border into Vietnam and journeyed all the way southward to a small mountain town where my family would move to much later on.

He was all alone in the world. His Vietnamese was practically non-existent, and his stutter didn't help either. Still he attended the same church as we did, and that's how we came to know him. After a few years my family moved again, and soon my tender mind forgot all about Mr Yang.

Twenty years later, after all the upheavals that had shaken our country to the core had subsided, he showed up at our door in another province, accompanied by my sister who lived in a big city. Mr Yang during all these years had been eking out a living by collecting recyclables and once a month taking them to the big city to sell. One day he stopped by a church, bumped into my sister, and that's how he showed up at our door all smiling, to the delighted surprise of my parents.

Mr Yang was still alone but his health had been on the decline. Worse still, now that land had increased in value, his neighbors started to encroach on his property, taking advantage of a shaky justice system and his own inability to communicate in our language. He had told all this to my sister's husband in Chinese writing, because nobody could understand what he said.

The only person who had been able to figure out the meaning of his impeded speech was my father, who unfortunately had become deaf for some time. After all these years Mr Yang most probably had loads in his heart and mind to pour out, but now even that consolation was denied to him. He turned to the rest of us but was only met with helpless smiles.

Mr Yang has since passed away, but sometimes I still see him sitting by himself at the back of our house that day, tears rolling down his face.

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