Winter 1954

Tran Dan

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Exactly like in the Bible: I began to write my diary in purple ink. Exactly like in the Bible: I ran away. And, exactly like in the Bible: 24 hours before I began the diary, I removed the bullets from my gun and threw them into a drain. I brought the gun to Mrs Hoa’s house, at a moment hesitating between afternoon and evening. Mrs Hoa went up into the house ahead of me. I’d never stood close to her before, so I took some time to observe her carefully. She had just been cooking over a hot stove, and her cheeks were flushed, with a few beads of sweat on her forehead, so that her face was shining. Her body was lean and firm, with the smell of a country girl. I gave her my pistol. My hand touched hers for a moment: both our hands were warm. In the 7 minutes that I stood close to Mrs Hoa, I asked four short questions, and she answered me, briefly, four times. Then I left, at a moment hesitating between afternoon and evening, in the middle of a sudden winter freeze. The streets were empty; after 5 pm the windows were shut tight. On a dark and rainy night like this, even at 4 pm the shops lock their doors. In the darkness, there was only a little light from Bur’s house, and from the house with the red lantern at the head of the street. For 30 days I’d been planning my escape, in this city of mine where bandits pillage both day and night. Since the month when the cold wind began to blow, small bands of paratroopers and men from armoured units like mine have gathered together, guns in hand, to force their way into people’s houses to extort money [1]. It is a city without order. In the evenings these days, Hanoi goes early to bed. Commanders and soldiers of all political parties are looking for things to scavenge, taking what they can and getting the hell out. I paid no attention to scavenging. Exactly like in the Bible, I focussed on escaping; plenty of the officers were also running away. That evening, the Viet Minh soldiers had occupied Mai Linh, so at night the capital was in ferment. 23 hours before beginning the diary, I disguised myself as a worker. I put on a blue cap, blue cotton trousers and a blue cotton shirt, a blue sweater, and canvas shoes. I carried a straw bag, with a washcloth and a change of clothes stuffed inside, all dyed blue.

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