In south Vietnam, the monsoon rains start in early May and last until November. It never rains during the dry season, between November and April. But in 1975, the year Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese, the weather violated its own rules. I recorded the eerie change in Last of the Annamese.
The passage quoted below describes what happened on 6 January 1975, the day that Phuoc Binh, the capital of Phuoc Long Province sixty miles north of Saigon, fell to the North Vietnamese. In the text, the South Vietnamese Marine colonel, Thanh, refers to “An Nam.” That was a former name for Vietnam, the name preferred by Thanh. It means “peace in the south.” “Vietnam,” the name conferred by the Chinese, means “the troublemakers in the south”:
Chuck waited by the jeep. The sky was in an ugly mood.
“Rain?” Sparky came down the steps into the driveway and squinted at the black clouds.
“Never rains in January,” Chuck said. “Dry season.” A drop of water ran down Chuck’s cheek. They stretched the canvas top over the jeep’s roll bars, snapped the door skins in place, and headed out into the thicket of bicycles and cyclos. By the time they reached Cach Mang Boulevard, fat drops were splattering across the windshield. The orange-and-white propaganda banners overhead were wilting. . . .
[Later that day] it cost Chuck fifteen minutes to flag down a cab in the downpour. The ride through the mash of traffic took another fifteen minutes. At Thanh’s villa, a maid, cowering under a vinyl poncho, nodded, smiled, chattered, and motioned him through the house to the back steps. Chuck descended into the garden now blurred gray in the rain. His feet sank into the flooded grass.
He found Thanh alone, sitting on a Chinese garden seat at the rear of the compound in a grove of bamboo. He was in utilities but hatless, wet to the skin, his sparse hair plastered to his head. Chuck sat next to him. Together they watched the rain.
At last Thanh turned to him and spoke. “Phuoc Binh fall.”
“You tell Mac for me, yes?”
Thanh’s face turned upward again. His eyelids quivered as raindrops splashed down his forehead. “The Heaven.” He pointed upward. “The Heaven weeps. An Nam no more. An Nam was. You listen to her weep now.”
Chuck listened to the rain. He heard the weeping. Thanh was no longer the tiger of Phat Hoa, Thanh the fierce, Thanh the incorruptible. He was just a little man sitting in the rain, a man grown old so quickly. Thanh is a dead man.