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Authors: Carolyn Marsden

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BOOK: The Buddha's Diamonds
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He saw Lan running with the dogs and other children, flying the kite, a pink triangle against the dark
cay duong
trees. The trees dropped long needles onto the sand.

Now, seeing the flashes of bright paper in the sky, he almost longed for his old life of playing all day.

Though the sky still glowed with early light, the air felt unusually hot and still. The diesel fumes from the boat's engine lingered, mixing with the smell of salt.

Circling lazily overhead, some seagulls,
chim hai au,
waited for fish to be caught in the nets.

Tinh turned his gaze to the far horizon and the adventures that lay beyond. Every now and then a big wave would surge out of the ocean. Tinh always scrambled to the bow, the most exciting spot, as the boat rode over the wave.

The golden boat was new. The old one had rotted with the seawater and tropical heat. This one was five times as long as Ba, seven times as long as Tinh. It was so new that the bamboo shone golden against the turquoise water.

Second Uncle had helped Ba build the boat. When it was finished, Tinh had rubbed sticky water-buffalo manure over the cracks, sealing them. The manure smelled very strong. When he was almost finished and Lan had called him to hunt shells, he'd gone with her.

When Ba found out that Tinh had left some of the gaps unsealed, he'd shouted, “You're foolish to be afraid of a bad smell, Tinh. Our boat could sink because of your carelessness!”

So Tinh had rubbed on more manure until no more light showed through the bamboo.

Then he'd glued two conch shells on either side of the prow. The shells symbolized the eyes of a dragon, guiding the boat, protecting it from being tipped over by huge fish.

On the first trips out, Tinh had been seasick, vomiting over the side. But now his body had grown used to the movement of the ocean.

He was glad he wasn't seasick anymore. After his mistake with the manure, he wanted to do everything right on the boat. He wanted Ba to be proud of him. Maybe one day Ba would make this boat his.

Just then, Tinh's cone-shaped hat blew off and landed in the water.

With his fishing pole, Ba lifted the hat out of the sea and handed it to Tinh. “You're daydreaming again,” Ba said. “When the boat is moving, pay attention.”

“Yes, Ba.” Tinh put on his hat, now dripping, and sat up straighter.

Soon, the boat had traveled so far out that Tinh couldn't see the bamboo huts of the village or even the shore. Only water lay around them, shimmering under the sun and the crystal-blue sky.

Ba shut off the engine. All grew quiet.

A statue of a woman named the Bodhisattva of Compassion,
Phat Ba Quan Ahm,
was tied to the bow of the boat. The Bodhisattva had one thousand arms reaching out to all those in need. Tinh hadn't counted the arms of the statue, but it had many, some hidden behind the others. On the palm of each of those thousand hands,
Phat Ba Quan Ahm
had an eye to watch over those who suffered.

While the Buddha felt like a father, the Bodhisattva of Compassion was a mother, nurturing and protecting everyone, including Tinh and Ba and the rest of the fishermen.

Tinh lit a stick of incense and placed it in front of her smiling face. He pressed his palms together and bowed.

Tinh helped Ba tie two nets to the boat. The small one, like a hammock, caught
ca nuc,
tiny silver fish. The large one drifted farther and captured not only
ca nuc
but also
ca kinh,
diamond-shaped fish, and
ca ngu,
gray fish as big as Tinh's leg.

They also used fishing lines. Tinh cast his line over the side of the boat and waited. As soon as he and Ba caught a few fish, they'd cook soup and eat it with rice wrapped in fresh banana leaves.

This evening, Ma and Lan would be waiting on the shore for the return of the boat and its pot of soup.

Tomorrow, Ma and Lan would load the catch of fish into the
ganh hang,
a contraption of two baskets tied to each end of a bamboo pole. They'd carry the fish to the village of Phong Chuong to sell. With the money, Ma would get rice, vegetables, and rubber sandals. Just before Lunar New Year, she'd buy cloth to make new clothes.

Tinh wished he could buy a remote-controlled car like Trang Ton's. Maybe someday he and Ba would catch so much fish there'd be money not only for necessities, but for such a toy as well.

If the nets could just haul in a little more,
Tinh thought.

Ba caught a fish and reeled it in. Moments later, Tinh caught a
ca kinh.
It flashed and twisted, dangling from the end of the line.

By lunchtime, they had enough fish for the soup. Ba poured diesel over the wood in the round metal stove and lit a fire.

While Ba cleaned the fish, Tinh put the pot of water on to boil and added fishsauce, salt, hot pepper, and mushroom powder.

Ba slipped the fish into the pot.

Tinh cast his line again. A wedge of black clouds had formed on the horizon, far out to sea. A shadow passed over his heart. “Look, Ba. A storm.”

Ba looked and frowned. “We'll fill the nets before we turn back,” he said firmly. “Those are only clouds, Tinh. Rest now and relax.”

Tinh nodded, daydreaming of the way the red car had responded to his every command. He pulled his cone-shaped straw hat over his face and lay back. He listened to the gentle lap of the water, his line drifting.

The sky was unusually quiet, though. Now no seagulls flew overhead. Tinh slid his hat back and took a peek.

The blue sky had grown murky yellow as though coated with a film of diesel smoke. Tinh sat up. The wedge of clouds had advanced, becoming darker, bigger.

He peered overboard, searching for the nets. Would Ba decide to go home soon? If there were big waves, Tinh might be sick again. Besides, Ma and Lan would worry. Many afternoons Tinh had stood on the shore while storms were brewing, anxiously watching for the return of Ba and his boat.

Tinh checked the soup, lifting a bit of fish onto the spoon.

Gusts of wind swept across the water, rocking the boat back and forth. Water sloshed in.

Tinh held the pot steady on the stove. Lan would be disappointed if the soup tipped over.

Shielding his eyes, Tinh scanned the ocean. What were the other fishermen doing? Were his uncles and cousins heading for shore?

He spotted Trang Ton's green boat. Trang Ton's nets rose and fell over the waves.

Tinh studied the boats carrying the divers who searched for shellfish on the ocean bottom. The body of each diver was covered with tattoos to scare away the big fish. The divers stood together, as if talking. One pointed to the sky.

“Let's reel in the lines,” Ba said. But he didn't turn the boat around.

Tinh eyed the storm clouds curling like black dragon breath over the ocean.

The boat rose over a huge swell. But this time, Tinh didn't run to the bow for the ride. His stomach churned with seasickness. He thought of a long-ago storm that people still talked about in which many boats, many men and boys, had been completely lost.

Tinh sat low and chanted the name of the Bodhisattva:
“Phat Ba Quan Ahm, Phat Ba . . .”
He prayed that she would reach out one of her thousand arms to protect the bamboo boat.

Ba gripped the edge of the boat and stared at the clouds. He wet his finger and held it up, testing the direction of the wind. “Let's bring in the nets,” he finally said.

Together, they pulled the nets from the sea into the boat. The nets were half empty and light. Out of the water, the fish flopped, their eyes wide.

Tinh felt like a fish himself, tossed and confused. For a moment, he was sorry for the fish and considered throwing them back.

Starting the engine, Ba said, “Steer us toward shore, Tinh.”

Tinh held the tiller, but with the waves slapping the sides of the boat, his thin arms couldn't hold the course. Ba had to sit on the other side and help.

The water was dense green. By now the clouds had climbed over the sky. They blocked the sun. Tinh saw all the fishing boats turning back.

In the afternoon darkness, oil lamps were being lit along the shore.

Suddenly, the ocean heaved up, knocking over the pot of soup, dousing the fire. Oh, thought Tinh, his mother and sister would go hungry!

Another wave loomed — a small shark silhouetted in the glassy curve — and slammed Tinh against the side of the boat.

Ba reached out to yank him upright.

The wind screamed as it carried sheets of water back and forth across the ocean.

As the boat was swept closer to shore, Tinh saw the beach crowded with families — including Tinh's many aunts, uncles, and cousins — scanning the wild sea for returning boats.

Lan's pink kite was caught in a
cay duong

A thick green wave reared up behind them. Steering the boat was nothing like driving a remote-controlled car!

“Ba!” Tinh cried.

Like a rampaging dragon, the water hurled the bamboo boat onto the sand.

A second wave knocked the boat sideways, and Tinh fell onto the beach.

“Get up,” Ma said, shaking Tinh's arm.

He spit sand from his mouth, blinked sand from his eyes. He heard shouting. He wanted to get up, but felt heavy, as though completely filled with sand.

“More big waves are coming,” Ma insisted.

“Hurry,” said Lan, leaning over him, her thin eyebrows pinched together.

Tinh sat up. He saw whirlwinds of paper and leaves crossing the beach. The tall coconut palms swayed. The ocean was full of pieces of wood, old coconut husks, and other trash.

More boats arrived. Some dragged their nets behind them. People yelled to one another. Trang Ton and his older brother, Linh, yanked on the nets, trying to keep them from tangling.

“Please stand,” said Lan, pulling on Tinh's hand. “Please!” Her voice rose.

A wave swept up. Tinh grabbed for Lan. The water carried her out. She screamed. Her little head bobbed as the wave swelled.

“Ba! Ma!” Tinh called, charging into the green water.

Another wave brought Lan back, depositing her on the sand. She cried and held her leg, which was now bleeding. “Something cut me,” she wailed.

The deep gash was jagged. Behind her, Tinh saw a board, adrift in the foamy surf, a bit of rusty metal attached.

He hadn't listened to Lan and now she was hurt.

Ba gathered Lan into his arms and staggered to the dry sand. “Were you daydreaming again? Why weren't you watching out for her?” he called to Tinh.

“I . . .” Tinh began. But he had nothing to say.

Ma followed Ba, her head lowered against the wind.

Tinh followed, too — poor Lan! — but Ba shouted back over his shoulder, “Take the boat higher, Tinh. Get Trang Ton and your uncles to help you.”

Tinh watched his family disappear through the
cay duong
trees and into the jungle beyond. Lan's accident had been his fault. How badly was she cut? He was left behind, all alone. He felt like sinking down, letting the wind ride over him. But now Ba had made him responsible for the boat.

He spotted it among the others, pitched about by the muscular waves. He scanned the beach. Who could he ask? It took four people to walk the boat up the sand. Who could help him?

Third Uncle's boat had flipped over in the water. Tinh's uncles and older cousins were swimming out to bring it in. And two other cousins were still at sea, their boat a black dot chugging toward shore.

Trang Ton, his shirt unbuttoned and flapping, came running toward Tinh.

Tinh cupped his hands to his mouth and called out, “Can you help me with my boat?”

Trang Ton took a few steps in Tinh's direction, but then his mother beckoned him.

“We need you here, Trang Ton,” she called.

Trang Ton lifted his hands as if to apologize, then turned away from Tinh.

Everyone was busy.

The ocean looked like a pot of soup ready to boil over, sloshing this way and that, a turgid dark green.

Tinh made his way to the boat and held on tight to keep it from being washed out to sea, to keep himself from running away.

He hadn't taken good care of Lan. But he should at least rescue the statue of the Bodhisattva. He should untie her and take her to dry land.

He heard screams. People pointed. Tinh turned to see a giant wave — almost as tall as the palm trees — arching above the horizon, reaching toward the beach. He abandoned his boat and
Phat Ba Quan Ahm
. He ran along with everyone else. When the wave was about to strike, he held tight to the trunk of a palm tree.

The wave shattered, shaking the earth, creating a world of white foam. It climbed high onto the dry sand, reaching forward. When it retreated with a loud sucking sound, Tinh looked around for his boat.

So many boats had been flung onto the beach, so many floundered in the water, that at first he couldn't see the golden bamboo. But there it was — a few steps away, lifted up the beach to the line of
cay duong
trees. Tinh smiled with relief. The boat was safe now, wasn't it?

BOOK: The Buddha's Diamonds
3.62Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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