It finally came and they only had 7 days to put things together and made their way out of the country peacefully. They hoped their plan work and had never wished a shoot out with commies. Their plan to escape was on that wednesday night; however, they were not so sure about it. And, that night could be changed at anytime.
Although they both organized and planned the escape, they now depended on five "dearly" students in the last difficult and dangerous moment. They needed Tan and Khanh to move gasoline barrels, which had been hiden in different locations, to Tan's family coconut garden next to the boat yard. They also wanted Nghia and Xem to bring rice, water and supplies to Phuoc's family boat. And, they somehow had to come up with a plan to have Phuoc guard the boat that night because his parents wouldn't go. And, of course, they would not want anyone to steal their fishing boat, which had just been built for a week.
He started to get scared after his friend informed that they had collected enough fuel for the boat and decided to go next week. He was so scared that he did not sleep at all. In reverse, his friend still slept and snored as usual that night. And the next morning, the same friend acted as nothing would have happened and no decision had been made. He had not respected anyone before, especially those in his age, but he now admitted that his friend was also his hero.
He did not recall when he knew Hoa because they had been friends for years from preschool age. Their parents' houses shared the same back wall in a city and they had schooled and worked together since 1975. He also could not remember since then he had respected his friend's courage and intelligence. But one thing he knew for sure was Hoa had taken care of most of the difficult and dangerous tasks. His contribution to this plan was so small (compared to Hoa's) and he sometimes played a role of an advisor when something needed to be changed.
They lived in the north side of the Teacher Houses One and came
home at 1PM when Hung and Khiet, who lived in the south side had
gone to school. He tiredly lie in his bed while Hoa was laying student
records on the table between 2 beds.
-"What are you doing?", he asked.
-"Sign student records", Hoa replied.
-"But I thought we're about to ..."
Hoa stopped him there and said after a quick look through windows
-"Records still need to be signed". Hoa then asked him if he had a class that afternoon.
-"Not a class, but I'll be with students specialized in Math at the Principal's office".
-"Bring them here", Hoa ordered. "We have work for them".
Hoa's voice sounded the same as normal and without fear. And, Hoa's face looked so innocent that he thought for a moment the decision which they both had made the night before had never been existed. However, he realized that Hoa meant it when Hoa lowered his voice on the phrase "work for them" and that scared him to think everything for real. He sat on the bed passively while Hoa's signing student records and found himself praying for his friend. He prayed God to give Hoa the necessary strength and intelligence for 7 more days to lead students complete the last part of the plan. Then 15 of them had a chance to leave Vietnam secretly and without a shoot out.
God answered his prayer and Hoa somehow had students complete everything as the plan with an only incident. Nghia got stopped when bringing rice to the boat but he managed to give a cop a satisfied answer without being caught. And, Phuoc was going to guard the boat that night.
He and Hoa lastly came to Tan's coconut garden. There were 6 rows of small willows on the beach which were planted by students on first days of that school year. Although this was in a "hot" spot, between the National Guard Post on the left and Cop Station on the right, they might have the element of surprise because none had ever gone from here. The spot was the least place commies had to worry about, especially in the night when they all gathered to get order and instruction for the voting day in the next morning.
However, there was still another challenge before they could get the boat out in the open water. The boat yard had a natural gate about 100 meters long and 10 meters wide in the rising tide. And, commies always had a machine gun M-30 and they, of course, would shoot at anyone going out without a permit, especially at night. Therefore, the boat had to be rowwed out in silence and they'd better not start the engine until it was well outside the gate.
-"You two came right at 11PM", Tan said.
He turned around and saw 2 students; Tan and Khanh, lying on the other side (of Hoa). Hoa asked Khanh to gather big students and 2 soldiers (Be to help stealing guns and Hung through buying fuel). Hoa then turned to Tan and asked him to crawl around for a head count and remind others to stay silent. And, Hoa started giving out instructions to get things and people out to the boat when he was surrounded by big guys. Hoa explained everything in detail and kept reminding them work in silence again and again.
Tan was finally back and Hoa asked him if everything was OK.
-"Yeah", replied Tan. "Oh, we have 25 persons, included Phuoc on the boat".
-"Twenty five people", Hoa repeated.
-"Yes, twenty five!"
He and Hoa took a long look at each other. They were the only 2 men
who knew the number of people and that was not 25, but 15. He
quickly thought the other 10 had to be cops and they were definitely
out here to get him. He took the gun (Colt-45) out of his jacket while
he asked Khanh to do another head count and, if possible, to identify
people in the garden. Khanh crawled away and disappeared in the
dark then Tan suddenly said
-"Teacher, something's wrong with teacher Hoa".
He turned back and saw Hoa's face turned green. Hoa's body was
trembled so hard and his teeths kept hitting each other in cadence.
For a moment, he thought that Hoa was frighten but Hoa had not
shown any fear since they planned the escape. Therefore, he
hesitated a little before he said
-"Who has tiger balm? Put some on his temples while others keep him from shaking".
He looked around the garden while firmly holding the Colt-45. Everything was normal and in silence. He couldn't understand why cops still had not made their move. What were they waiting for??? He was in extreme caution but not scared. He found out in the last 2 days that holding a gun in his hand could help him get rid of the scary feeling and he now had 2 guns; a Colt-45 and an M-16. He could shoot until the last bullet before he turned the gun to himself, he thought.
He suddenly realized students still around and they might get hurt if
a shoot out occurred. He told students to crawl away. He then turned
to Hung soldier and gave him an M-16
-"Shoot anyone coming at us", he ordered.
-"Shoot whom?", asked Hung.
-"Shit, shoot anyone attack us", he repeated with a firm voice.
There was a person crawling his way. He looked around but could not
see anything else moving beside that object.
-"Who is it", he whistled.
-"Teacher, it's me, Khanh"
He carefully watched and waved Khanh after he clearly identified him
-"See anything .. strange?" he asked.
-"No, but we have exactly 25 people", replied Khanh.
-"Anything strange", he firmly asked again.
-"Strange? No, but we have some girl students and lady teachers with us"
-"Girl students and lady teachers", he happily repeated.
His voice sounded so happy that it raised louder. He quickly crawled
to Hoa and informed him that. Although he got no response (from Hoa),
He still repeated again one more time before he turned back to Khanh
-"Run to the boat and ask Phuoc if everything's OK out there. If not, just one of you come back to let me know"
Khanh went to the boat for 15 minutes and came back. He asked when Khanh was still several feet away and had not stopped crawling
-"something's wrong out there?"
-"No, but there's a person still awake in a boat next to ours", Khanh answered.
-"OK, take an M-16 with you and ask if he wants to go with us", he ordered. "If not, tie him up".
-"I can't", Khanh resisted.
-"He's my uncle", Khanh insisted.
-"Let me do this", Hung soldier said.
-"OK, stay to keep Phuoc calm after the tie up".
When Hung soldier disappeared (in the boat), he asked Khanh and Be
soldier go to help others bring fuel barrels and other things to
the outer row of willows. He stayed and looked after Hoa, who was
still trembled once in a while at that moment. He again put tiger
balm on Hoa's temples and a little in front of his nose. Time went by
slowly and half an hour seemed lasting forever with people carrying
stuffs back and forth in the garden. They finally got everything out
to the front row (of willows) and those big guys crawled back to him.
-"Miss anything", he asked.
-"No, I checked", Tan answered.
-"Teacher, the storm may come before the rising tide and we have to get the boat out of the gate before it comes", Xem suddenly said.
He looked up and saw dark cloud almost right on top of them and wind
with misty had started. Though Hoa looked better now, Hoa was sure
not well enough to offer him anything. He had to do it alone by
himself. He looked at his watch. It was 12:10AM. He then thought
for a moment and ordered Tan and Khanh gather everyone to his
position, which was right outside of the garden fence at that time.
-"Tell them to crawl slow and avoid making noise", he said.
Ten minutes later, they were all at the fence. He told them that he
was going to let ladies out to the boat first and when all guys went,
each had to carry something. He repeatly warned them that the boat
might still be stranded; therefore, guys should not get aboard, but
only things they carried.
-"But teacher Hoa asked to bring fuel and supplies out to the boat first", Tan resisted.
-"It's now changed because of the weather", said he.
All guys were silent in agreement. Hoa suddenly asked while he was
about to let ladies go.
-"You guys had long poles???"
Hoa had sat up. Not only did he look fine, but Hoa also reminded them the most important thing to help poling the boat out. He ordered Tan to get 4 long poles before he turned and said to Hoa.
-"Watch the guys! I'm going with ladies when the moon was covered with the next dark cloud."
The boat was really stranded and 16 of them guys tried to push could
only move the front of the boat to the right or left. The back still
got stuck in sand. Phuoc who just came down from the boat kept
blaming on ladies while pushing and Hoa finally asked him
-"why because of them?"
-"They were all back there in the cabin", Phuoc resisted.
-"Keep guys pushing" he said to Hoa. "I go aboard to get them to the front",.
The boat finally moved out and they started jumping up with guys
pushing in the front first. Hoa was the last person aboard. Three big
students; Tan, Khanh & Nghia, and Hung soldier used long poles to
push the boat, which was about 25 meters long, to the gate. He and
Hung teacher tried to get the boat out in the open water. While Hoa and
Khiet teacher took care of the engine in the back with two other
students; Xem and Phuoc.
-"Do it slowly!", he said. "Whoever gets tired, raises the hand and I will have someone to replace".
The boat moved slowly to the direction of the national guard post and
they turned right into the gate. It was all quiet on the beach.
Although he saw none raising hand, he still had 3 other students to
replace them 3 big guys. He then turned to Hung soldier and said
-"Give Hung teacher your pole. Don't try too hard and watch yourself from falling into water".
When the boat was in the last 20 meters of the gate, the wind blew
harder and those boat pushers could not keep it straight. Hung soldier
and the 3 big students were back at the job and the boat again moved
smoother. And, when it's finally out in the open water, he ordered them
to turn the boat to the West.
-"We should go to the East", Tan insisted.
-"No, to the West so we won't be a target", he confirmed.
Then when the boat headed to the West, he ran back while yelling as
loud as he could, "start the engine, start the engine". But he heard no
response and the boat was still without engine. He got upset and
swore out loud
-"Damn it, I said, start the engine".
He got to the engine room and Hoa was there still wrapping a cord
around the engine wheel.
-"What the fuck did you guys do?" he again swore with anger.
-"Teacher Khiet wrapped the cord in the wrong way (because of fear)", Phuoc insisted.
Hoa finally got the engine started and "all hell broke loose". Guns
sounded everywhere and red flying bullets made scary sound around
the boat in a quiet night. He quickly lay flat on the floor while Hoa
yelled out loud from the engine room.
-"Everyone on the floor! Xem, turn the boat to the West".
-"No NO, keep it straight!", he yelled back. "It's already to the West. We're going to hit rocks if we turn".
He was afraid and did not look back; therefore, he did not know where commies shot at. However, he knew one thing for sure, the gun sound got smaller and smaller while the engine still sounded the same.
A big wave suddenly hit the boat and wetted him. And, by the time,
he managed to crawl to the front next to the mast, the storm came
violently with rain and billow after billow. The wind howled
horribly and water was every where around him. He wrapped his
hands around the mast and started vomitting hard. Tan suddenly
appeared and asked if he was OK
-"I got sea sick and can't hold on to the mast any longer", he said. "Tie me up with it. Oh, do you know which way we're heading now".
-"Teacher Hoa just asked Xem to turn the boat around to the East. And, I have to go to the engine room to help bailing water out. The pump can't seem to get it all out", Tan replied and disappeared after tying him up.
He vomitted again and again and finally got himself unconscious in a small boat out in the middle of a big storm.
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