Every morning after breakfast the Vietnamese would show up. There were only a handful of them allowed through the Grunt security, and they all lived in Dai Loc just over a mile and a half away. Mama-San walked the dirt road with her daughter, and Hua rode his bike with Papa-San.
Papa-San was not related to Mama-San and was older (maybe 60). He had worked closely with the French which made him an enemy of the “Viet-Minh” during that era of the war. When the French occupation ended, the Viet-Minh executed thousands of their sympathizers. Papa-San was tried and sentenced . . . his right hand was cut off (a visible lesson for everyone). The Vietnamese population had been brutalized long before the American military arrived, and it was part of our mission to make things better for them. So far, it seemed we were succeeding in this endeavor in spite of ourselves.
Papa-San was a barber. His tools were kept in a woven covered basket attached to his bike. My last haircut was a month ago, and I was getting a little ragged so I sat down on Papa-San’s wooden swivel stool. He used a hand clipper (not electric) in his left hand and held a long-handled comb in his teeth. His right-hand stump was used as a brace on my neck which kept my head still. Sometimes we were touching heads during the process; it was a very “intimate” haircut. This was the first time a barber ever trimmed my eyebrows. When finished, he brushed my head and used a hand mirror to get my approval. I gave him the verbal “number one” without a thumbs up (thumbs up had a derogatory meaning).
When I tried to pay Papa-San, he wouldn’t take my money. I insisted so he compromised with “Ca phe,” and motioned with his metal cup to his mouth. I said, “Coffee?” He answered, “ca phe nong!” The translation from Hua was . . . all he wants is hot coffee in the morning.