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The Bomb Squad
The moon hung in the sky like a giant firefly, unfurling a white carpet on the South China Sea. Twenty eleven-year-old boys crouched behind palm tree roots, peering through a veil of darkness for one thing.
“I see one!” Thai, a scrawny boy with glasses, whispered excitedly, pointing to a long black object that lay in the cool sand.
The pack of boys ran towards the long shadow, heedless of the death it contained. They were defending their country from the Pháp nhân—the French who had stomped on the soul of the Vietnamese people for the past century.
“It’s just a smelly old log,” one of the boys spat in disappointment, kicking it. “Ow.”
The other boys laughed, punching their friend playfully in the back.
A sharp caw of a gull cut the night. The boys turned around to see Nga standing there in the darkness, a huge grin on his face.
“Follow me,” he said softly, then swung a leg over his bike and pedaled back into the jungle.
Excitement rippled through the boys as they rushed toward their bikes and pedaled furiously after Nga.
Fifteen minutes later, the boys were bent over a dark ten-foot long object, furiously sawing it to pieces.
“I can’t believe we found one,” Bao, a chubby boy, grinned.
“Yeah, it’s been a week,” Nga said, gritting his teeth as he nonchalantly pulled off the warhead and chopped it into pieces.
“Careful Nga; it could explode,” Bao warned, wiping the sweat off his brow as he hacked into the shaft.
“Yeah, yeah,” Nga muttered. He knew how dangerous it was. He just didn’t care. Anything to get the Pháp nhân out of the country.
Bombs on their backs, the boys started their three hundred mile journey to the bomb factory in Nhà Tráng, their hearts pounding with pride.
Two hours later, Bao spotted a fat rat. “Breakfast!” he yelled. “Con chuô?t!”
With rocket speed, Bao hurled a stone from his slingshot, knocking the rat unconscious. The other boys gazed enviously at the tasty rat, their tummies rumbling from lack of food.
“Don’t worry,” Bao said. “It’s for all of us.”
The other boys were already furiously rubbing sticks together, eager to roast the only food they had had in two days.
Fifteen minutes later, the delicious scent of roast meat tickled their noses.
“Roast rat!” Bao said proudly, holding up the juicy rodent for all to see.
The boys’ mouths watered as they watched Bao cut the rat in twenty equal pieces.
“Me, me!” the boys cried, holding out their hands for a share.
Soon, the boys were back on the road again, pedaling furiously toward the sinking sun.
The next few days, they didn’t have much luck with finding food. Thai had found a few lychees—milky white eyeball sized fruit in a prickly red skin—but it hadn’t been enough to staunch their hunger. Nga’s stomach twisted like an angry eel. He didn’t think he could last much longer. His inner thighs burned from pedaling all day and all night, and he was starting to hallucinate from hunger.
“Break!” gasped Thai, flinging himself onto the side of the road under a scraggly palm tree.
No one argued. The boys threw themselves under the tree as well.
An old farmer approached them through the bushes, his face wrinkled with a century of cares.
“I’ll trade you boys some dried fish and bread for a new tire of yours,” he bargained, holding out a small banana leaf package of sardines and a crusty, golden baguette. “I have another wheel here you can use.” The man held up a rusty old bicycle wheel with soft tires.
Nga looked sadly at his new bicycle wheels, then hungrily at the package of fish and bread.
The boys were silent. No one wanted to trade their wheel. The 300 mile journey was hard enough as it was. To do it on a bum wheel was impossible.
“I’ll trade you,” Nga said, looking the man straight in the eye. “You can have my wheel.”
The old farmer smiled and handed Nga the package of fish and bread, which Nga handed to Bao to divide among the boys. Then, he bent to unscrew his bicycle wheel.
Nga felt a warm hand on his shoulder.
“You know, you don’t have to share with your friends; it’s your wheel,” the old farmer said, his eyes dark with concern.
“I know,” Nga said quietly.
“Alright, that’s your decision…” the farmer shrugged, disappearing into the brush with Nga’s wheel tucked under his arm.
The boys gobbled the fish and bread like young wolves, then forced themselves back on their bikes for the last of the grueling 300 miles.
“Only fifty more kilometers!” Nga sang, waving his hat in the air as he rode into the sunset on his wobbly bike. His stomach was half-empty, but his heart was full.