June 1, 1967


Ben Cat, South Checkpoint


“Old Friend, how many times have we walked this path?”


“More than can be counted.”


“Would you not think the oxen would know the way?  Perhaps they lead us?”


“They are like my grandchildren,” smiled Mai Nin.


“Ah, then they do know the way,” Ching Phor laughed.  “They just need our guidance.”


“At least.”


“But our gait has slowed.  It is good they are mindful.”


“The children or the oxen?”


“You are worried?”


“One is north, the other is south.  Tranh Nhu Lam embraces tradition, but my little flower, Laureen, embraces the American.  As with her mother, she will follow her heart.”  Mai Nin shook her head.  “To forbid?  To encourage?  My heart agonizes for them, for Ben Cat, for myself.”


“This time an American.  Laureen’s world is a dream, her mother’s dream.  And Tranh, he has the heart of a lion, but the experiences of an ox.  He is of the village.  Do they ask advice?”


“Advice!  Who seeks advice from such a decrepit old woman?  Did their mother listen?  Their paths are as different as their two fathers’, but they share a determination as great as my daughter’s.  The only certainty is that my life will end here, where it began.”


Ching Phor laughed.  “Then we must stay the course together so that we may enjoy the results.”  She hesitated.  “This time the danger is greater.  Not because the commitment is less, nor because the intruder is unfamiliar, but because their instruments are so unforgiving.”


“But Ching Phor, the crops, they come back well, do they not?”


“Aye, they receive experienced care, Ching Phor began.  “Soon we begin the harvest.  Our young men will be missed.  Your oxen will be tested.”


“Ben Cat will not be disappointed by my oxen.  Is it not typical that when the men are needed most they disappear?”


“Only men are surprised by men,”  Ching Phor chuckled.


“Aye, they are predictably unpredictable.”  Mai Nin turned to her friend.  “Do you miss your husband or do you bide your time?”


Ching Phor hesitated.  “Life is the same.  My husband gave me happiness not fulfillment.  Without children, my path has been less complicated than yours, but who will carry on?  Ben Cat is my reward.  Her children are my children, her elders my parents, her adults my friends.  The village has given more than can be returned.”  Ching Phor put her arm around Mai Nin.  “What about you, are you lonely?”


“Lonely!  Ha!  With eight stubborn oxen and two ambitious grandchildren, who could be lonely?  Their future, their dreams, those are my worries.”


“Then, old friend, you must guide with a steady hand for their future and their dreams are at the crossroad.”


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