My family think I’m a little crazy. They say it, then zoom off on their nice new mopeds, or their kids turn on the TV and watch their cartoon American movies.
I smile at them and make as if I do not understand when they speak in English when I’m around.
Hanoi has changed so much. In the early morning I do my exercises near Hoan Kiem Lake with the group of Heroic Mothers, and we follow the instructions of our leader, Vuong. It’s funny how we all still defer to her, she is high up in rank in the Women’s Union. We all have families of our own, but we still call her Bac, elder aunt for her leadership and care.
The green of the lake is often shrouded by mist in the morning, and the traffic is thin. Few tourists are up at this time and it’s just the locals, doing star jumps and playing badminton on the pavements.
We don’t talk about the war and what we’ve seen amongst the Heroic Mothers. Instead we talk about the good and the future, what our sons and daughters are doing- and often how affluent and modern they are.
My grand daughter is a little upstart. She calls me Ba and was the sweetest thing when she was younger. She’s now hit her teenage years and wants to go study in Saigon. Hanoi is boring she says- even though we keep telling her the best schools and university is in Hanoi. She takes for granted what we had struggled for all along, through the war and doi moi. She even leaves food on her plate and doesn’t finish her meals.
When I watch American movies with my grandchildren it is like fantasy. When they shoot the guns don’t recoil, you cannot smell the hot iron, the blood, the burning flesh.
People just drop dead, they do not continue surviving against the odds, writhing in pain.
And the prisons are so clean. Not like the rat boxes they kept us in when they caught us spying for the other side.
I hope that my grand daughter does not see what I and her parents have seen.
I remember how relieved my son in law was when he married into our family and discovered I wasn’t as mad as people said I was.
I acted crazy during the entire war, wearing the same shirt and indigo pants no matter what the weather, standing outside in the rain and the sweltering heat enacting out the great epics of the Trung sisters and King Le Loi.
I would go around the American soldiers begging for money and singing to them off key and off tempo. Everyone thought I was crazy except my comrades at the National Liberation Front. They knew I was carrying documents for them, in my pockets close to my skin. I did not bathe, I stank so no one would want to go near me.
Sometimes it was fun acting crazy. Sometimes I thought I would go crazy when I saw the bodies of my sisters, raped and tortured by the Imperial puppet forces.
Sometimes I was so scared acting crazy was my only escape.
Nowadays I am a kindly grandmother and I can be myself, silver haired and slightly senile. I choose what I hear and say.
I chop meat with a cleaver ignoring the thunks in my head when I sometimes flashback to seeing the bodies of corpses splayed open, blood and bone. We are all blood and bone in the end.
Sometimes at night I wake up and find myself downstairs. My daughter would be holding my hand telling me to shut up.
“You are acting crazy again. Remembering the war again. It’s over.” She would tell me off impatiently when it happened too often.
Then I see the TV news and try and look away. More wars. The Americans invading Iraq installing more puppet forces.
They say I’ve acted crazy all my life. At least I don’t start wars, the only war I had was in my heart when killings would occur and disguised as a crazy woman all I could do was sing louder.
I could never drown out the sounds of screaming and the firing of weapons. Even the beat beat of the bass sounds of my children’s music sometimes reminds me of the thumping of artillery.
But at least I have islands of sanity amongst my craziness.
That’s more than what I can say about the world.