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  • They called him the coconut monk, although he wasn’t a monk, he just slept under a grove of coconut trees.

    No one remembered how he first came to the village. One day, it seemed, he appeared and stayed. Uninvited.

    His black cotton pajamas were patched. Tattered. Full of holes.

    He had a scratchy beard. His skin was broiled from the sun. Brown as cardamom. Wrinkly.

    Some said he wasn’t really crazy. Just pretended. To avoid military service. To escape the back-bending labor in the rice fields

    He often slept under the shade of a coconut tree. With a breeze, the fronds quivered like a fan. Their raspy sound lulled him to an even deeper sleep. Snoring.

    One thing was certain. He was odd. He laughed at funerals. When people slept, in the middle of the night, he sang.

    Sometimes, he sat on a rock, just crying, for no apparent reasons.

    The children made fun of him. Sometimes they threw rocks, pebbles at his back. He didn’t seem to care.

    Their parents left scraps of food for him to eat.

    My great-grandmother believed that he had the power of the prophecy.

    She told my mother, how the coconut monk would often walk around the village telling them of his dreams, dreams of imminent doom. In a trance, he would shout:

    O Mothers and Fathers! Sons and Daughters! Sisters and Brothers! I see crimson! I see blood! I see oceans of grief! I see tides of suffering! By fire! By water! I see drowning! I see forest burning!

    Prophecy or not. The coconut monk’s words eventually came true.

    One million people died during the Vietnam War. Blood.

    The landscape (twenty-percent of South Vietnam) was scarred by napalm. Fire.

    Three hundred thousand people perished in the open seas trying to escape their homeland. Water.

    As for the coconut monk. He too became a victim of the war.

    One day. He was walking in an open field, when he saw an American fighter plane in the sky.

    Frightened. Panic. He tried to hide. He ran towards the forest.

    And so he died. A mistake. No one ever told him. When you see an American war plane, you should remain motionless. Otherwise, they will assume that you are a Viet Cong. They will shoot. They will kill.

    The villagers gathered his body. They buried him under a grove of coconut trees.

    Some say, even now, you can still hear him singing, laughing. Crying.
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