Thuy first sees Kim when he is 13, a boy wild under the crushing tensions of war creeping up over the horizon.
He talks of make-believe battles with his friends, imagining the defeat of their government oppressors and the Americans who've forced them into this stuffy village. Hamlets in English, Thuy can barely recall. The language doesn't sound nice in his head, let alone on his tongue, and it's just as bad as French. These damn colonialists keep on coming, they keep on taking what little his family has, and it's more than enough to make his blood boil. He's fucking tired of feeling anxious all the time, of being afraid.
But all he can do is dream - at least until he's older. Then, when he becomes a man, he'll be able to be more than just a poor farmer's son. Maybe he could join the army and reunite this god forsaken country, or go out and meet Viet Nam's enemies himself, just as he pretends to do with his friends. He can only assume they share this same dream as him. Everyone else does. The degenerating bamboo walls that surround them, with their spikes and barbed wire, make everyone feel more like prisoners than the valued assets they're supposed to be.
Thuy marches home dissatisfied like most days. He's just learned to fill a rifle magazine from the school their government's set up. Sneering, he wipes the rust off his hands on his pants. If the Viet Cong finds them, there would be no way in hell that this village could survive. He's about to mumble his usual curses when he bumps into a little girl, trips over her as his daydreams take him too far from reality. She's so small that he doesn't even see her until he falls to the ground, yelping as his shoulder makes impact with a sharp rock embedded in the dry soil beneath him.
"Watch it!" Thuy spits and glares at the kid. He can see beyond her messy bangs that she's on the verge of tears.
On her knees, she turns to him with her head bowed and hands clasped together, squeaking a pitiful "I'm sorry!"
The boy sits up and raises a brow when he continues scanning her further. The realization that he doesn't recognize her comes as a surprise, because everyone knows everyone in this small settlement. He should know her name, or at least, her face. "Forget it. Who are you?" Thuy asks simply.
She wipes her tears away, "My name is Kim."
Kim. It's beginning to ring a few bells but he can't come to a conclusion. How odd, he thinks, feeling sore as he gets back up on his feet. He sighs and offers the little one his hand, which she takes gently. Instead of letting go once she stands, Kim tightens her grip, and Thuy frowns. "Can you help me go home?" she suddenly asks, looking up with hopeful eyes.
"What, you don't know the way? We live in the smallest place in the world. How could you not..."
She just shakes her head.
Thuy huffs through his nose and wraps his fingers around her tiny hand. "Fine," he says, "Where do you live?" Eager to get this over with, he already starts walking toward the houses, dragging the girl along. She can barely keep up with her short legs.
"My daddy's name is Trung. He's a farmer."
This makes Thuy stop in his tracks. He frowns, "Trung… Trung is my uncle."
He doesn't expect it when Kim gasps loudly. She holds his hand in the both of hers and bounces excitedly, "You're my cousin, then!"
Now he remembers. Back in their old village, probably five years ago, Thuy attended the blessing of a baby. He was only eight then, so the memory has faded for him. And with her being so young, forgetting that she's even existed had to be easy. She is one among many older sisters in her family. And with her being a girl, she's probably been kept inside most of the time unless her mother had to bring her out to the rice fields when no one else could watch her. Thuy was never near the fields - he was always off adventuring out near the distant jungle. Still, the notion that he could forget such a close relative exists causes heat to rise in his cheeks. He has to admit to himself that he could be an idiot sometimes.
They walk to Uncle Trung's hut together, taking just five minutes out of the day to get there. Thuy knocks on the door and feels Kim hide herself behind his legs. Before he can ask what she's doing, the door opens, and he turns his attention to the man who answers. "Thuy?" asks Uncle Trung. The boy rubs the back of his neck. He's never really visited family on his own unless it was to run errands for his parents.
"Good evening, Uncle," Thuy offers a tight-lipped smile, "I was just returning from the school and I-"
Kim jumps out from her hiding place. "Surprise!" she cheers, giggling between syllables. Uncle Trung plays along and acts shocked as he goes to pick her up, eyes wide and mouth open. Thuy scratches at the back of his wrist.
"Why did cousin Thuy walk you home?" Uncle coos at Kim, but looks to his nephew for an answer.
"I almost tripped over her. She said she got lost."
"Oh, I see. She's still learning how to explore on her own, you know? Thank you, I'm glad she's safe."
"I mean no disrespect, sir - just out of concern - maybe someone should watch her when she's out and about. She's still very young and curious, so there's a real chance that she could run into the wrong person…"
Uncle throws his head back in a fit of laughter, and Thuy flinches. "The wrong person - like you?"
The boy pouts. Uncle Trung waves a hand at him, "I'm only making fun, no need to get angry! I'll consider it. Thank you again, Thuy."
Thuy nods, but just as he's about to leave, his uncle calls after him, "Also! Tell your father I must speak with him soon. It's very important, you hear?"
It's not long until he makes it back to his own home. Their hut, unlike most of the ones within the walls, crumbles against the weakest winds and lightest showers. The soldiers who stop by sometimes always fail to stay true to the promise that they would fix it. And it's not like the family can do repairs themselves, because if they could, they would. There aren't any resources here to spare. They can only make do with what those government officials offer them, and it isn't much.
He enters the home and finds his father sitting on the floor at their table. He's looking through a decaying photo album. Father doesn't take long to notice him. "Ah, Thuy. How was today's lesson?"
"It was alright. Learned how to load a magazine."
His father scoffs, "Useful for this day and age, isn't it?"
Thuy sits across from him and observes the old photographs. Through the bleeding film, he can recognize the faces of family, close relatives who have gone missing or gotten killed, either by Northern or Southern hands. He clears his throat and looks away. He doesn't have the energy to be angry right now. "I visited Uncle Trung today," Thuy mutters, slouching on the splintering surface in front of him.
"My cousin? Why?"
"I bumped into his youngest daughter. Walked her home. He said he wanted to speak with you."
"Yes, Kim. It's been quite a while since you've seen her, hasn't it? She was only a baby then."
Thuy nods, "I just find it funny that I had completely forgotten about her until now."
"Well, she was a sickly little creature way back when, always inside. From what I hear, she's become strong, livelier than her sisters, even."
"I can agree with that," the boy chuckles stiffly, recalling how bright her smile seemed to be. He repeats himself, "Uncle said he wanted to meet with you soon. About something important?"
Father hums in acknowledgement and recollects the photo album, standing in order to shuffle back and put the hardbound book with the rest of their memorabilia. The chest is hidden away in a hole they dug in the ground when they first moved, at the darkest corner of the entire hut. He wipes his hands and stretches his back, "I have news for you, too. I think you'll like it."
Thuy perks up, "What?"
"We may be going back soon."
"To our farm, our house…"
"Home," Thuy jumps to his feet and goes to his father. He looks up at him with the widest grin he could manage, not at all minding the stinging in his cheeks. "Where is Mother? Does she know?"
"Yes, she's out speaking with the neighbors to see if there's any more information we can get our hands on. Just… Don't tell anyone else yet."
All this could only mean one thing: their government's failed them. Anyone with a brain understands that the VC is far from a nonthreat. They're dissolving the hamlets not because the people are safe, but because the plan isn't working. A strange sense of triumph overcomes Thuy when the thought comes to him, one of validation, the knowledge that he was right about the state all along.
He goes back to his place at the table and taps his fingers against the worn bamboo. He'll celebrate the homecoming with his friends once it's official. For now, however, Thuy will just have to wait.
A/N: Please let me know if I've interpreted the events of the Vietnam War incorrectly.
Thuy's story in this fic is an alternate one. A very, very different one in comparison to the source material. It will cover his childhood with Kim, then follow the events of the musical closely up until the Fall of Saigon. Afterward, it's totally divergent.
I plan for this to end with Thuy and Kim together.
Additionally, this is mostly inspired by Kwangho Hong's performance as Thuy, so I will attempt to match his interpretation of the character. I hope you'll enjoy it.