I must have been in shock because I don’t remember feeling anything as the horror moved toward us. I simply watched. Some people were shot; others were not. From what I could tell, several adults were let go based on their responses. What had they said? Who were these people? The soldier was obviously looking for specific information. I desperately hoped that my father would have the right answer when it was his turn to speak.
I heard crying. It was Dan and Chau. Lost in time and space, I had forgotten that they were with me, holding onto my hands. I turned away from the killings playing out to my left and focused my attention on my young brother and only sister. I tried to comfort them by saying, “It will be OK.” I had no idea if my words would prove true.
And then it was our turn. The soldier stood before us. He told my father to kneel. Dad knelt. I think he asked my father his name, but I’m not sure. I do remember him asking, “Are these your children?”
“Yes,” my father answered. Then he added, “They are harmless.”
The soldier smiled cynically before responding, “That’s what you say!”
Did my father answer correctly? Would we be spared? I looked up at the soldier, and we locked eyes. I didn’t look away. I held his gaze the way Mademoiselle Laurentin had taught me. Predictably, he engaged me in a conversation. He asked, “Do you love your father?”
I hesitated. I wanted to shout: Yes! But was “yes” the right answer? Or would “yes” get us shot? The word was in my head and in my heart, but I couldn’t form it on my lips. I loved my father with my whole being, and I wanted him to know it. Yet surrounded by hate, I feared that “yes” to love might get us all killed. I shifted my gaze to my dad, thus ending the conversation with the soldier. I needed my father’s help, but he was frozen like me. We simply stared at each other. There was a sadness in his eyes I will never forget.
I don’t think the soldier appreciated my silence. With a flick of his head, he said, “You can go back to your home.”
Did we hear him correctly? My father attempted to confirm what he heard. Slowly he said, “If you let us, we will.”
“You can go,” the soldier said again. Affirming his decision.
Cautiously, Dad began to rise from his knees. We instinctively huddled around him, falsely assuming we were free, but the soldier had no intention of letting us walk away. Our ordeal was just beginning. Tauntingly, he said, “Let’s see how fast you and your children can run to your home.” This wasn’t going to be a clean execution. It was to be a hunt.
I remember my father turning to us and saying that we had to run as fast as we could back to the house. I was a fast runner—the best at Saint Paul Catholic School. But the landscape before me was nothing like the track I was used to; it was covered with rubble and dead bodies. I looked down at my beautiful five-year-old sister and handsome seven-year-old brother clinging to my hands. All my skill as a relay runner had not equipped me for this race.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish