Short story by Pham Van Anh

Επιμέλεια: Εύα Πετροπούλου Λιανού

Translate by Hoang Yen


A devoted heart for fatherland

Truong Son forest in the season of changing leaves. The night was dark and the leaves were pouring, causing the nocturnal animals to suddenly dive and run under the sound of rustling flying leaves. The quiet mountain peaks shivered slightly with murmur sound of cars in quiet and deserted night. In the car, the staffs of the Institute of Malariology, Parasitology and Entomology in slumberous sleep no matter shaking by forest road.

The space is density because all sides are gray rocky mountains. Water evaporates from the lake’s surface into this thin layer, mixed with the cooler air from the land. They mingled together into dense mist and fog bands. Which making the enemy troop’s flare drop aimlessly could not dispel the fog, just cover all prospects by damp yellow.

Daybreak, the car stopped at a military’s station. The mountain’s steam gives off a humid air, with the rotten leaves’s fishy odor, the smell of sweat of salty rocks and the pure taste of nature. Occasionally, the sound of deer is reverberated from the debris forest, seemed confused about where to go. Professor Dang stepped out of the car from the cabin, looking tired but his eyes were still bright, his gentle gaze followed each of that his officers’s shadow carrying military personal clothes and equipment leaving the car.

The laughter and greetings of the soldiers at the station and the guests resounded loudly. They broke the silence of early morning, making the migratory birds sleeping on the tree’s shade nearby. Flock of bird fly in hust high up to the sky. Nature is bright in the pure early morning, gradually removing the gloom and malice of a sacred wood and untamed water.

Huan quickly ran out to take respectfully the special box from the professor’s hand:

– Professor, last night the car crossed the demarcation line, now it has arrived at the military’s station. Comrades from the military’s station said that It takes 40km from here to march on foot to reach our institute’s research station in A Luoi district.

-Professor, please go inside to rest first, let me carry your luggage for you.

Professor Dang warmly said:

– Thank you, please help me to get this box to a safe place. As for my personal belongings, I will bring them myself.

Huan did not dare to discuss further, holding the box and watching the professor put on his heavy backpack and the document he always carried with him. Since joining with professor in training, he knows that his leader is very persevering even though he is nearly 60 years old and has medium stature. Further more interminable nights in the laboratory that waste his health spent a lot of his energy. But no matter how tired he was, he did his own work, without asking anyone for help.

Although they had been prior notification of this special task mission when they learned that the leader is Professor Dang, all the brothers enthusiastically approached to greet him. The brothers were all very young, but the story of a talented professor who refused all the honour and wealth from foreign country. Who volunteered to return to serve the revolution in the midst of the extremely difficult and fierce resistance background of war against the France Which had become a legend in the whole army about patriotism and national spirit. Further more, his research and pharmaceutical product are made up by him and his comrade Which saved the millions of people. Comrade Binh, the station chief to held the professor’s hand and was moved:

– Now I have just met the professor, on behalf of my family I would like to say thank you. Do you know, during the Dien Bien campaign, my father and my uncles also participated in fighting and transporting food and supplies to the soldiers. Everyone who was injured by the enemy’s artillery. Fortunately thanks to the professor’s Penicillin. My father’s legs and my uncle’s hand were not amputated. Their wound was promptly treated, almost completely healed until the victory day.

– So you are really the descendants of heroes. Comrade is following the path chosen by his father, which is to make sacrifices for the fatherland, independence and freedom of the nation. I was very excited about hearing the story of the comrade’s family, what a passionate patriotic family! – Professor kindly replied.

Everyone in the station wanted to come a little bit closer him, especially Thom, she is a station’s nurse who kept staring at the famous doctor like a legend. Noticing her intense gaze, the professor smiled.

– What’s your name, comrade? Looking at you, you must be the same age as my daughter?!

– Yes, professor, my name is Thom, I am a nurse of the military station. I am 22 years old, I have been working here for nearly 3 years – Thom bashful.

So you’re the same age as my daughter. It’s precious, you’ve spent the best your life in this forest – he’s a little melancholy.

Professor Dang to toss and turn in bed all night. He got up, took a tiny flashlight, flipped the paper over and started writing on the notebook to his daughter: “Nguyen Anh misses you, daddy. I am on my way to B to research a vaccine from mosquito spore to apply to product of anti-malaria medicine for the army. The battlefield is much fiercer than I imagined, but the whole team is determined and full of confidence that they will succeed. On the way, I met young soldiers, full of vitality as you, to hold out bloody road for many years. They gave me more motivation, urging me and my colleagues to quickly research and find medicine treatment for malaria, not to let the soldiers die of severe disease. As long as we can eliminate malaria in both North and South, Dad will die without regrets.”

The next morning, the mission marched through the forest on their foot. Thuan, the courier as a guide walking briskly to lead the way, on the dense foliage of the forest after days of being sprayed with chemicals. The bare black tree trunks rise up the bewildered sky. In this area, the enemy scattered many scouts and commandos, so it was very necessary to ensure secrecy. The delegation was cautious, quietly following the group, stepping on Thuan’s footsteps one by one to ensure safety, no one said a word to anyone. During a long day of marching from dawn to dusk, finally they arrived in research station. Everyone was exhausted, took advantage of eating some rice balls and then hung up the hammock to sleep.

Early the next day, the military station sent a logistics team to help build a house. But the soldiers were only used to putting up tents, so they needed the coordination and guidance of the delegation. Professor Dang to grasp thoroughly with whole brothers and sisters:

– Comrades in the military station supported us with materials and some skilled workers. However, I suggest that you also join with the brothers in building houses and making a laboratory neatly and scientifically. Which helps us convenience of research. Our mission is very important, related to the lives of comrades and companion-in-arms who are fighting on the battlefield. Therefore, we need to make more efforts to quickly settle down in our living and working places.

Minh looked around the forest, she felt bewildered. She was a young intellectual of Hanoi, following her father’s profession of studying pharmacy, so she almost does not know how to build a house with bamboo and neohouzeaua. Not only Minh, but also almost all the doctors, technicians and nurses of the delegation were ignorance of this. Realizing that the atmosphere seems awkward, Thuan communicates agilely:

– Building a house is not difficult, comrades. Soldiers were also familiar with high-tech tasks such as join pillars, build wood truss, rafting. As long as the comrades support corrugate the walls and neohouzeaua roofed, it can be completed in just two days. But for the houses used as laboratories, it is necessary for comrades to clearly indicate the requirements, sizes, with or without windows, how to soundproof, heatproof how to insulate, and what comrades must do together? Only that everybody can help.

Huan waved his hand:

– If we do not know, we could learn, the comrades quickly assembled machines, chemicals and test tubes to the high mound.

The faraway forest suddenly echoes the sound of a very strange bird, both as tardily, fitful and panic… It sounded like someone from the forest resounded “forcing her to tie up”. The delegation stopped to listen. Professor Dang, holding a chemical bottle in his hand, walked towards the high mound, stopped and turned around to say cheerfully:

– Comrades, what do you hear? even wild birds also support us. It is reminding comrades let “fix difficulties”.

Everyone laughed off, they excitedly arranged their luggage, cleaned up shrubs to prepare the ground to build a house. Soon the simple leaf- roof house gradually formed under the forest canopy. While in the laboratory, Professor Dang heard the rumble of low flying planes. He raised his eyes slightly, peering over the bamboo screen, which shone the faint rays of light flickered faintly in morning light into the room, and then returned his attention to the test tubes. He did not sleep all night, intently monitoring each clinical response of malaria prevention therapies. The doctors and technicians’s effort in the mission traveled throughout the forest to collect samples, analyze and test chemical reactions in many hard days. The professor wants to take advantage of every moment to quickly find a drug that can erase diabolic disease. From her room, Doctor Minh also heard the noise, she hurriedly went out to observe. Heaven and earth buzzing reverberated with an indescribable feeling, all of which seemed to ripple with a feeling of death, destruction and devastation. The working area is now only Professor Dang, together with her and 2 nurses.

The men had returned to the army station to receive food that was supplied by the rear yesterday. She suddenly remembered that the professor ate very little yesterday’s dinner, the remaining rice was cooked and shared for each person, he watched the young brothers and sisters eat rice with a few grains of salt, then he opened his mess-kit to take some salted shredded meat – his own standards to share with his colleague. The plane hummed overhead and then flew away to made Minh out of her thoughts. She listened to the echoes of the mountain’s tiniest sounds and the hum of enemy’s air force, then softly knocked on Professor Dang’s door: “Professor, I see that the enemy’s planes hovered on the mountainside, so I suggest you temporarily withdraw to an air-raid shelter. The professor spoke confidently and excitedly:

Keep calm, continue to observe. Now a specimen has shown signs of good metabolism, I need more time to verify. We are not far from success. Try to persevere longer enough and then we withdraw. As soon as the professor’s words finished, Minh heard the sound of bombs rumble somewhere. And then a flash of lightning slashed the sky, flare – up columns of red fire, scroll up like water cannon, whirling all beings aloft in its violent, destructive vortex. Huan and his comrades carried rice shoulder and returned. Early this morning, he felt anxious in a strange way, so he urged everyone to walk quickly. In his hand, he also held a string of grilled stream fish that everybody reserved for the professor to eat. Just crossed the slope to the top of the hill, the whole delegation felt flabbergast When looked down at the mission’s house area. In the early morning sun, all that remained before their eyes was the spine – chilling gray patches. The smell of plants, the smell of burning skin and flesh still entwined on each black tree top like a blank poker, drawing in the sky an exclamation. The pressure of the bomb overturned the pillars and burned everything black. In the smoky laboratory, Professor Dang lay down beside a row of broken bottles, his face still as fresh as he was sleeping. He clutching tightly a test tube in his hand.

Under the gentle morning sunshine, sparkling yellow silk, his face was serene and satisfied.