The Strange Men

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: May 22, 2018

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Submitted: May 22, 2018



The Strange Men

By Sarah Hearns

That morning as we were leaving Saigon it was humid with dark, ominous clouds looming in the sky. My Mama and I climbed aboard the creaky boat, almost immediately hands began to guide us below deck. I was only nine at the time and could not understand why we were being forced into the dark, dingy quarters.

“Everything is going to be fine my little one,” I remember my Mama whispering with her delicate voice. I wish she had been right. Four long, restless nights and days passed. My Mama did not seem to sleep, her eyes constantly watching me, as if she was going to lose sight and touch of her little one at any moment. At the end of the fourth day as a fiery blanket in the sky was sweeping over us, dark shapes appeared on the horizon. I heard some of the older men say they were islands. A sigh of relief swept over the boat, everyone began to relax. I went to the railing, beaming with curiosity and excitement. There they were, the dots of hope and freedom we had been travelling towards, black under the red sky. The man had said there were only two, but I saw three. I dismissed the third island and concluded that my eyes were deceiving me, that it was drawn from my imagination.

Not too long after the dismissal of the imaginary island, havoc was spreading across the boat.

“They’re coming for us, everyone get down!” one man yelled. I asked my Mama what was going on, but then I realized that imaginary island had been a ship sailing towards us. Wives were hugging their husbands, thinking this was the end. It was a matter of time until they were aboard our dilapidated boat, the pirates were here and ready. I remember a silence hushed over the crew and the rest of us refugees. One hundred of us were on a boat made for a couple crew members and their load. The pirates looked at each other as if they had just won the lottery. They didn’t look much different from us, brown with dark hair, except they held machine guns and machetes. We were refugees fleeing with valuable possessions. The pirates were not wasting time, before we knew it they were taking all the gold, earrings, jade, anything which seemed valuable to them. Next, they came for my Mama and I, along with ten other young women. One girl’s father and brother protested the capture and were shot dead on the spot. As we were being dragged away, I noticed a boy stab one of the pirates with a pocketknife as if he was protecting his little brother. I don’t know why he was trying to protect his little brother, they were only taking girls. Suddenly the pirate who had just been stabbed raised his machine gun and knocked the boy on the side of the head with the stock. His limp body fell to the deck with a thud. Next thing I knew, my Mama and I were forced under the deck with the other ten young women. We joined around eight other young women whom had been captured earlier. I do not know how long we were under there, not once did they come down to feed us or give us water. When we finally arrived at our destination, each of us had to be carried out as we were too weak to walk, our lips dry from no water, our stomachs gurgling from lack of food.

The building we were brought to was on the coast, water biting at our feet as we stepped out of the vehicle. The building itself was tan, run down, all the windows broken with sheets flowing out of them. The pirates led us to the back where guards were waiting for us. Speaking in a language I could not understand, they all cheered. There were more of them than us, we were surrounded, I held my Mama tight and prayed. I prayed we would get out of this place. I prayed we would not be split up. Seconds later the little girls were split from the younger women. My prayers had not worked, that would be the last time I saw my Mama ever. There were six of us under the age of twelve. I wanted to ask them where they were from, what we were doing here, what they were going to do with us, but in fear of getting in trouble I stayed silent. One of the girls, she looked about seven years old with short black hair, skinny frame and big brown eyes, was still crying from the split. The pirates were beginning to look impatient. I took her hand and whispered in her ear,

“Shush, if you want to see your Mama again you need to be quiet,” she nodded as I looked around at the glares the pirates were giving me. She had stopped crying and the pirates, relieved she had stopped crying, continued guiding us. I did not know where they were bringing us, the little girl was still clinging to me as we walked through the dim, faded, hallway. Finally, we were brought to a room with no windows, no beds, small pieces replaced them on the floor, cement walls, and a small light on the ceiling. I assumed those carpets were where we are supposed to sleep. The room was compact, after assigning us carpet squares, they left, locking the door behind. My carpet square was in the corner, the little girl next to me. For a while none of us talked, instead we sat in silence on our carpet squares, awaiting the unpredictable near future. I began to wonder what was happening to Mama, if she was in a room like ours, if she had a carpet square too, if she was okay. I missed her dearly. The room was eerily silent, as if we were all trying listening to what was happening to our Mamas and older sisters. After what seemed like hours of sitting and waiting, I asked the girls,

“Where are you guys from,” two girls shushed me and told me to be quiet. The other two, the little girl from earlier, and one older kindly answered.

“Saigon,” the older girl whispered with her eyes darting around the room.

“Dalat,” the little girl replied, she wasn’t crying anymore.

“I am from Saigon too,” I expressed to the older girl. “What are your names, how old are you?” I immediately asked.

“My name is Linh, I am eleven years old,” the older girl said.

“Nhi, I am six years old,” the younger girl whispered. The other two girls sat in their corners, staying silent and tried to dissociate from us, as if the guards would come at any moment. They looked like sisters, both had the same nose shape, they were already on the pirate’s boat before the Linh, Nhi and I boarded. I began to ask myself, what had they seen that we had not? The pirates didn’t join us below deck once during the trip, had they before we had been taken? I had so many questions for them but respecting their decision to remain silent, decided to stay quiet.

I did not know whether it was night or day, I missed the wind on my face from the boat. Not too long ago I was free, I just wanted my Mama. I wanted to know where she was and if I could go see her. Finally, we were given food. The meal consisted of tiny portions, it included some bread and rice in cracked bowls with a tiny cup of what looked like water with a hints of mud. I ate the bread, took a sip of the water and spat it out. The guards watched us as they conducted little talk with each other, their curiosity beamed. One of the guards was able to speak a little bit of Vietnamese, he announced they would not leave until we finished the meals. Eventually when the guards turned around I stuffed the food into my shoes. The guards left and the room was silent again. For hours upon hours we sat laying on our beds. At some point I fell asleep and dreamt of life in Saigon. I dreamt of my father, who was long gone now. My Mama has told me stories of that day, the day he took his last breath and left this sinful world for good. That day the Vietcong had bombed Saigon, my Mama and I were in Vung Tau for a day visiting some friends of hers. That day my mom and I’s lives changed, forty two civilians perished, my father being one of them. I didn’t want to lose my Mama too, I asked the guard who spoke a little bit of Vietnamese if I could see her. His simple answer was no but I am not sure if he fully understood my question. I asked where she was, if she was ok,

“She fine, you go soon, they do same you” he replied in his blocky Vietnamese. I couldn’t wait to see her, whatever she was doing I wanted to be with her. He lied to me. We were moved to another windowless room with larger mats on the ground. We all huddled in the corner, the shoes of our mothers still in the room.

“Find mother shoes” demanded the guard, we scurried to the shoes and sat on the mat of which they corresponded. “Good” he said. He then left, moments later the pirates who had captured us came in. Their eyes wide with excitement, I could not understand why, but I knew I was about to find out. After they had talked for a couple minutes, the guard came back in to translate.

“Your mother gone, now you ours, these men take now” the guard said. He lied, I wanted to see my Mama. All of us began crying as the men came in to inspect each of us, our bodies, our health. Soon after more men came in, money was being tossed anywhere. Amidst the chaos I tried to find Nhi and Linh, they were gone. Next thing I knew I was being pulled out of the dingy room by a man. He was much older than I, dragging me through the hallway. We reached outside, the humid air hit my face, the stars shined bright above, I wondered if I was free, until my wrists were bound and I was forced into a rusty car. That was the last time I saw the ocean for a while. Tears were dripping down my face, silently I leaned against the window, watching my freedom fade away.



That night I thought I would never see freedom again. I came to learn that I was sold into the sex trafficking business for around five-hundred dollars that night. Five-hundred dollars was how much it took to change me from free to a sex slave. I spent years in the sex trafficking business until someone bought me out. They brought me to America where they gave me lessons on how to speak English. I am eighteen years old now and live in New york with my foster parents, Elena and Robb. They have tried to help me find my Mama and come in contact with her, but sadly everything has failed. I have not seen my Mama since we were separated at that house in Thailand. Even though I have not seen her in so long, I try to keep her memory alive in drawings. I use charcoal, pencil, anything to keep her memory alive. I remember the way her careless, dark hair fell across her face and rested on her cheekbones. I always wonder if she is doing ok, if she is thinking about me. I am free, I reached our final destination, I hope she did too.



The boat


The Pirate’s house


The bombing of Saigon


The drawing of my Mother

Works Cited:

CHIA S? THÔNG TIN. “Vietnam War.” X? TR?M H??NG, 3 June 2013, Accessed 22 May 2018.

Dan. “Vietnamese Boat People Monument – Westminster, California.”, Accessed 22 May 2018.

Livingston, Denise. “Fine Tuning Drawing Skills.” Creative Endeavors in Art, Accessed 22 May 2018.

Nevodka. “Poor Fishers Houses along Sea Coast, Koh Samui, Thailand.” Shutterstock, Accessed 22 May 2018.

© Copyright 2018 S Hearns. All rights reserved.

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