Sunday, 2017-06-11 00:23:16
The weather forecast said that today’s temperature might hit 39 degrees Celsius and that it was the hottest spell in the year of our lord 2016. Worse still ,a power cut plunged the whole town of Đong Thinh into darkness. In the daytime, the eternal hum of the cicadas made the atmosphere even stuffier.
To beat the summer heat and winter chill, Nam’s house built with special materials and firm foundations, costing him much more than an ordinary concrete structure. If small earthquakes didn’t hit the town so often he would have had it built half-timbered like his grandfather’s house in the northern province of Phu Tho. “As they say, a lack of foresight might lead to danger later,” he said to himself.
From early that afternoon, he had tried to cool the house down by wetting the floor and walls. Yet his efforts were in vain. Nam and his wife had a fitful night’s sleep in the stiflingly hot atmosphere.
“Try to get some rest darling! Don’t worry too much about the hot weather. What will be, will be,” he told her.
“Never mind the heat, why haven’t you got a lawyer for your trial yet?” she snapped.
“I’m innocent, damn it. Why do I need a lawyerto justify my actions?”
“Headmaster Thanh said that…,” she stuttered.
“Oh jeez, don’t tell me about him!”
“He’s a reasonable man.”
“I think we’re poles apart on that subject.”
“Don’t be stubborn! If you go to prison, what will become of me and the kids?”
“Chill out! No one puts me in a corner, or a cage!”
“Fine! Whatever happens, you should admit you’re a bit insane.”
“Me? I’m fit as a fiddle and sharp as a tack.”
“We can use what happened to you in your defence!”
“Did Thanh tell you that?”
“No, I contacted some investigators. They took care of everything. I evengave them your case history. You might be immune from criminal liability.”
“I’ll never plead guilty.”
“Maybe you are insane.”
“Really? Do you think I’ve a few screws loose?”
“I don’t think so. But I’m your wife, I have to protect you.”
“Oh no no! I want justice.”
“What kind of justice do you mean? Might makes right, you see. Many people have sued Headmaster Thanh for his wrongdoings. But it doesn’t matter, he keeps getting promoted.”
“Let’s sleep honey. I need some shut-eye before court,” Nam said, turning towards the wall.
* * *
Nam’s wife Hoai remembered that when the local government suggested building a school part funded by the community, her husband was thrilled his lifelong dream of helping children soar high would soon come true. He told his wife to withdraw all their savings for the school. He also gave his monthly salary to feed the construction workers.
“Nam’s acting like he’s going to live in this school,” remarked the teaching staff.
To their surprise, when the building was half-finished, Nam took the bulldozer and destroyed it completely.
“I only wanted to destroy its back wall,” he confessed his act to the police. “But would you Adam and Eve it, the whole building’s gone,” he added.
“Did he lose his mind?” some people asked his wife. She didn’t know what to say.
She also remembered the morning when she taught her trial lesson at the old school in front of experienced teachers and the school governing board. She arrived 15 minutes early and saw her future husband, a fellow teacher, among the audience, arranging seats for the board. Half an hour later headmaster Dao Tien Thanh and his staff arrived.
When she finished her lesson, she was heartily praised by Mr Thanh and some of his colleagues.
“Although Miss Hoai is only a newcomer with little experience, she is one gifted teacher, we’re lucky to have her,” Thanh declared. For some reason, the female teachers were annoyed.
“He didn’t take his eyes off her rack, he doesn’t care about her skills,” they bitched.
When it came time to hire another full-timeteacher, he chose Miss Hoai despite there being some far more experienced candidates.
“We hire based on talent, not seniority,” saidThanh.
This worried a lot of the part-time teachers. Some of them had slept with him to try and get hired.
One day, Hoai brought him with a bottle of Chivas 18 and an envelope containing scores of million dong in gratitude. The headmaster’s wife was out of town.
“Thanks, you beautiful beauty! No need for the presents though,” he said to her. Suddenly, he seized her hand and made his nefarious intentions clear. “I’ve already given you the job, now I’d like you to give me a little something,” he said, licking his lips suggestively. She didn’t realise this job would cost her her dignity. Suddenly, he grabbed her tight to his quivering body. She turned away, too embarrassed to fight him off. Just then, her lover Nam threw the door open. Immediately, Thanh released her.
“I told her that there’s only one job available and she’s got no experience. She’s tried to seduce me, which makes me very upset,” he explained to Nam. Stunned, Hoai ran home, like a loser. When she reached home she saw a message from Thanh on her mobile phone. “Forgive me, please. It only happened because of your beautiful beauty!” it said.
“I told him that we’re together,” Nam said to her. “Sorry if I screwed up,” he went on. She blushed all over. Nam told her he and Thanh had gone to the same provincial teacher-training college. Upon completing his military service, he became a teacher at Thanh’s school thanks to this ex-classmate.
“Thanh was a good and smart student,” Nam said to her. “The problem lies in his father-in-law who has only two children – Thanh’s wife and her elder brother who died of an overdose. The old man was afraid that when he retired, his son-in-law would get nowhere in life. So, he did his best to make Thanh the headmaster, even though Thanh was only a graduate with less than one year of service. As a young man in power with little experience, he’s likely going to be a disaster. I’m very worried for him,” concluded Nam.
* * *
“Nam is my saviour,” Thanh once said to Hoai.
“Anyone would have done the same as me,” Nam explained to her. “As a freshman, Thanh had a secret crush on his female classmate Tham. She was not beautiful, yet her father was a high ranking official. Thanh was poor, she had no interest in him. On an excursion to a lake, Tham was horsing around and fell into thewater. Thanh came to her rescue. Although he was a good swimmer they got in trouble pretty quick. Without me, they both might have drowned,” Nam finished his lengthy narrative.
Thanh was greatly thankful to his ex-classmate and offered him lots of favours, but Nam never needed Thanh’s help. As a good teacher, Nam’s students were often successful in the provincial, even national competitions sometimes, so he was often offered promotions on merit. Yet he didn’t want fame or fortune, only to mould young minds. He even refused the post of vice-headmaster offered by Thanh.
“Why did you refuse point-blank?” asked his wife. “Some of us can only dream of that job,” she added.
“I couldn’t take it and be true to myself.”
“However, Thanh still has a lot of influence, all the way to the central level of politics,” Nam confessed.
“So surely you shouldn’t refuse him,” she retorted.
“That means siding him. Once I accept any corruption, how can I say I’m honest?” he answered resolutely.
She had always regarded Thanh as a dishonest guy, like so many others in school or town. Over the years, many teachers and their students’parents had lodged petitions against Thanh to the local government. But all their efforts came to nothing. It seemed like the more letters were sent, the higher he rose: from headmaster to chief of the district educational department, then to membership of the District Educational Committeeand finally the Deputy Chairman of Administrative Affairs of the district.
After hiring Hoài at the school, he also acted as a matchmaker for Nam and Hoài’s marriage. To everybody’s surprise, as a district deputy chief, Thanh ignored Nam’s objection to Hoai teaching during her probation. Furthermore, he was ready to help Nam in many other matters. When he was headmaster, he had dreamt of building a beautiful new school. When the project got underway, some sycophants suggested that the building should be called the Dao Tien Thanh School.
As project master, together withhis dishonest assistants, he bled the project dry of funds. When he was accused of corruption, inspectors examined the structure and quickly decided the accusations were without merit, ending the matter.
When the structure was destroyed by Nam, he was judged guilty in the court of public opinion. “Your husband’s actions may regarded as those of a lunatic,” Thanh said to Hoai. “You’d better take him to a mental hospital. I’ll put a good word in for him to the judge.” He also paid Nam’s bail. Hoai was worried about her dare devil husband.
* * *
Nam’s trial in Dong Thinh town was full of attendants with many dashing newsmen from Hanoi in attendance. Surprisingly, Nam was represented by none other than Dao Tien Thanh himself.
After the public prosecutor had his say, Nam was allowed to make his case.
“Respectful jury, today in this court of law and in front of these witnesses, I have an opportunity to declare my innocence. In my view, I had to destroy the building to protect the school children and their teachers. The structure was constructed inappropriately. What would happen if the building suddenly collapsed while classes were in progress?”
While Nam was talking, his wife glanced at Thanh and saw him smiling scornfully.
“You need proof if you’re going to make these accusations,” said the chief judge in a serious voice.
“Previously, I went to a mental hospital due to a head trauma. But now, I have completely recovered. I’m capable of taking responsibility for my words and actions,” replied Nam.
To Nam’s surprise, the judge stared at Thanh. In his case history, his injury had been mentioned in the dossier signed by the district deputy chairman, purportedly as a detail for mitigation. However, the defendant’s attitude seemed to contradict this.
“What’s your proof to say that the building was wrongly constructed?”
“To the best of my knowledge, the structure is built on an unstable area of land where lots of minor earthquakes have occurred,” explained Nam. “The most recent one took place at about 10:30 a.m. on September 26, 2014, measuring 4.2 on the Richter scale. During that calamity, a tile fell down and hit my head while I was teaching, resulting in my head injury. In the design for the building, the architect predicted some natural disasters might happen. Therefore he wanted twisted steel rods for the foundations and common rods for other places, but I never found any twisted metal rods in the trucks coming to the construction site. Worse still, at the back of the structure, bamboo strips were used instead. These dishonest officials put our children in danger. That’s why I want to expose this corruption which stains us all in this court.”
The crowd was stunned silent for a while. A few minutes later, many of them returned home to fetch shovels and axes. They went to the site and began digging up the back of the structure in defiance of the policemen protecting the site. When the back of the foundations were taken up, a lot of bamboo strips were exposed.