Breaker & the Sun
ONE GOOD MEMORY
An older man in full uniform approaches us, looking stern and judgmental. He frowns at Tien, and I feel like I want to stand and defend him. Tien stands and salutes the older man, whose crinkly face cracks into a smile. “No need to stand on ceremony here, Tien,” he says gruffly, ruffling his spiky black hair. Then he looks at me. “Don’t let his looks fool you! Tien will take care of you. He’s one of the good guys.”
I frown then. Not sure how to take that. Tien doesn’t seem to mind though.
When the old guy is gone, I nudge Tien. “Are you cool with that? I mean, shit, this must be a little awkward for you sometimes,” I mutter, watching all the white men strolling between groups, their uniforms in varying states of spit and polish.
He shrugs. “It was at first. And yeah, looking like I do, I have to work harder at getting some people to accept me, trust me, but once you know me, well…” He gulps down the rest of his coffee and crushes the cup in his hand. “You can’t help but love me!”
It doesn’t seem fair that he has to work harder. “Doesn’t seem right, man,” I say, shaking my head.
Tien knocks my leg with his knee. “Nope, it isn’t. But what you just said. That right there is enough of a reason to keep trying. Things will change. Name by name. Face by face. I like you already, Breaker!” He’s intoxicatingly hopeful.
I run a hand through my hair. Who would have thought I’d be on this side of the argument?
Tien knocks my knee again. His laugh is full of light. Not sunshine exactly. More like the light from a cluster of stars. It sparkles with magic.
Heart steady. A smile, tinted green, but a smile just the same.
The sun hits the sand, and it sparkles. Palm trees bristle in the warm breeze. If I squint, if I look past the stacks of wooden crates piled on the beach, the dirty men draped over them, it looks like a postcard.
I snap that image for later.
Booze is poured into tin cups, and we sip. We wipe our brows of sweat and tell stories, swap the most mundane details of our lives with each other, building something. This foundation we have to rely on.
Kicking my shoes off, I bury my toes in the sand, watching it cascade over my white, shriveled skin. My feet look like they’ve been in a bath for hours.
I’m staring at them when a disk with colored feathers sprouting from it lands at my feet.
I look up into the expectant grin of a kid, about the same age as Red. He beckons me with his hand, asking me to join the game he’s playing with his friends.
Sarge nods an okay.
Towering over these little Vietnamese kids, I jog to where they’re playing. Quickly, I realize the aim of the game is to keep the feathered disk in the air using whatever I can.
The kids are amazing, back-flipping, twisting, slapping at it with their hands and feet. I try to keep up, and they laugh but encourage me to keep trying.
We’re just kids, playing a game.
Our shouting rattles across the waves. We kick and slap at the ball, we laugh when someone falls over, but offer a hand to help them back up.
My smile cracks open my chest as some fear spills out onto the sand to be collected by the sea.
Some of the other guys join us, and we play until it’s too dark to see.
The sun sprays red and orange over the water, and the kid who invited me slaps my back and winks. He hands me the feathered disk and runs away, laughing and shouting at his friends.
Tien taps my back gently. “Breaker. Where’d you go?”
My mouth feels strange, turned up into a smile.
I’d forgotten about that kid. That good memory.
“Sorry. I was just remembering something,” I mutter.
“Must’ve been a good something,” Tien says, pointing at my mouth.
I chuckle. “Yeah, it was.”