In this excerpt, the small teen, Long, who is large in spirit and hatred for the French colonialists, insists on trying to shoot a rifle and almost ends up shooting an Allied plane. Setting: Tan Trao – Tonkin, French Indochina – July 16, 1945. Enjoy.
“Can I try?”
“We don’t allow skinny school boys to shoot,” said one of the gruff soldiers.
“I’m not a school boy.”
“Well, you should be.”
“I wouldn’t go to a French school if you paid me,” snapped the precocious teen.
“Well that’s good because there aren’t any French schools around here, and I wouldn’t pay you to wipe my boots. What are you? Eight?”
“I’m fourteen, and my uncle says I can join the revolution in eight months.”
“I didn’t know they were allowing babies into the army now,” another soldier jested with him.
“I’m not a baby.”
“You could have fooled me. You have to be taller than a rifle to actually shoot a rifle.”
The gaunt, malnourished, height-challenged youngster scoffed at those petty remarks. He may have been small, but he had the spirit of a warrior who wanted nothing more than to help the revolution. His uncle had taught him a hatred for the French that bred easily amongst the weary-laden souls living in a war-torn colony that had suffocated under eighty years of the foreigners trying to squeeze blood from their Asian turnip. The French, somehow, found a steady stream of income where there was no money or resources, with only the raw-boned determination of the Vietnamese peasants willing to work all day for a bowl of rice gruel. The abuse was all well documented—the rubber plantations that used corvee labor in near slave-like conditions to produce the sap to profit the large French corporations. The French imposed a quota on alcohol that each village was required to purchase whether they wanted it or not and whether it took away from their necessary grain purchases. They opened opium dens, addicting large portions of the male population while forbidding the sale of opiates of any kind in France itself. They purposefully kept the education system unattainable for the vast majority of the population, giving a French education to just enough Annamese to fill the necessary low-level administration posts in order to serve the colony and the French Empire.
“Come on. Let me try one.”
“Go ahead. Teach him a lesson,” said one of the soldiers.
“All right. Here you go.”
He put the outdated French relic on his shoulder and pointed it down-field towards a broken wooden crate with an “x” painted across it.
“Watch this,” said the cocky young man.
His eye lined up along the barrel and pulled the trigger hard but nothing happened.
“You have to pull it back further.”
“I know,” said Long.
“You know about as much as my ox.”
He flinched once and pulled back with his finger as hard as he could. The barrel went flying upward and the shot rang out into the heavens as Long blew back onto the ground.
“What are you shooting at?”
“Must be that plane there,” chimed in another soldier.
On the horizon, the rolling hum of a C-47 pierced the sky.
“Idiot! That’s a friendly plane. It’s the Americans.”
Long hoped that the trajectory of the bullet didn’t find its way into the path of the Allied plane. As he watched it get closer, shouting could be heard in the camp.
“They’re coming! They’re coming!”
“Slim. You better hurry or you’re going to miss it!” yelled Long.
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