General Trinh is delivering papers
by: Walter Guest
"Watch how I walk," Hao said. He went in front of Kincaid and demonstrated a rolling kind of shuffle. The rubber thongs on their feet limited much variation of movement.
"I can do that," Kincaid said. He demonstrated.
"That's good. We walk single file. Never side be side. I'll go first. Watch me and watch the Rhade we pass. Copy the movements."
They were outside Thai's house. Hao started down the dirt street. Kincaid followed close behind.
"Where are we going?"
"To the bus station. We could catch a cyclo but you need the practice walking." A cyclo was the pedicabs that could be found all over the country.
Kincaid had switched his belongings to an AirFrance canvas bag. That was very common even among the poorest people. Hao carried one also.
As they waked he copied Hao's movements and tied to imprint them in his mind so they would become habit. He saw the similarity in the movements of other Rhade that they passed. No one seemed to pay any attention to him.
They kept silent whenever anyone was near. The first time they were alone Kincaid asked, "How old is your sister-in-law?" It wasn't the subject he was most curious about.
"She is twenty two."
That did not satisfy Kincaid. He was about to pursue the subject when Hao continued. "She was married to my brother for two years before he was killed. Now she is my responsibility. That is our custom. She looks like a child but she has a woman's needs. It is a heavy responsibility. I wish she would marry again but there are few men now of her age and many women. Women who have never married."
Hao stopped talking as four Rhade approached on the other side of the road. Two were women. The women were naked above the waist. They were not the first Rhade women Kincaid had seen, but others did not have their breasts exposed. He didn't stare, but it was an effort.
When they were past Hao said, "My brother's wife had little chance to find another man in our village. Among the Rhade, it is bad luck for a man to marry a widow, especially one who is so young. So I moved her into town. It has done no good. She would be better off working in a bar in Saigon or Nha Trang."
Hao fell silent while they passed a woman tending a fire outside her front door. A little way past Hao said, "She's pretty enough, don't you think? She could work in a bar, couldn't she?"
"Sure," Kincaid replied. The girl was pretty enough to get the job, but most of the bar girls had to be prostitutes.
As if he had read his mind, Hao said, "It would be a better life that sitting around in Pleiku. She is not happy here."
They turned onto a paved road and crossed a bridge. The houses were closer together and the traffic heavier. The next time he had a chance to speak Hao said, "Rhade women are different, Steve. They are aggressive. You probably have never met women like ours."
Kincaid didn't understand what he meant.