Vụ led me to the crowded common room, which a served as our office. Our group leader cầu was there,
Tôn, the trade union secretary. Vĩnh was sitting opposite head bowed. But as I entered, he flashed me an uncompromising look.
“Here’s the team leader and youth union secretary. Y can start now,” Vụ told cầu in a tense voice.
“This afternoon, Vĩnh was caught of peeping from hind a bush of manioc at Ngần, who was taking a bath by the stream,” cầu stated gravely despite the smug look on his face “The act was reported by Tôn, who was watering a vegetable plot close by.”
I cast a dazed look at Vĩnh and turned to Tôn. “Did he have his glasses on?” I asked her.
“No,” Tôn replied.
“He’s short-sighted,” I exclaimed. “Without his glasses, he couldn’t have seen the stream from his place among the manioc.”
“Why didn't he say so, then?”
“He couldn’t, could he?” Vụ intervened. “He had his pants down, shitting.”
Vụ patted Vĩnh on the shoulder. “Let’s go home,” he said breezily.
Outside, Vụ grabbed a handful of Vĩnh’s shirt and dragged him behind a stand of eucalyptus.
“I should’ve smashed your face in,” he hissed. “We've watched the girls openly, but you called US a dirty-minded lot. What do you call yourself now? You will never get rid of your bourgeois tail, glasses or no glasses. I am going to re¬port you to personnel at headquarters.”
Vụ shoved Vĩnh to the ground and left in a rage.
I helped Vĩnh up. “I told you to stop, didn’t I?” I reminded him.
“You did, but I couldn’t help it,” Vĩnh explained. “She was always there for me to see.”
A few days later, when Bắc, the deputy director of personnel arrived in a jeep in the company of a police captain, I realized Vụ had really meant business. Although I suspected he would feel at least a twinge of remorse later on, when things developed beyond even his expectations.
Bắc decided Vĩnh's behavior was the manifestation of a bourgeois ideology and an action against the policy of the State towards ethnic minority groups.
He sent for cầu and Tôn, from whom he extracted every detail of the incident at the manioc field and, with those two as witnesses and with the rest of US away at work, he searched Vĩnh' s belongings and discovered thirty-seven nude drawings.
Vĩnh was immediately relieved of all his duties and forced to attend self-criticism sessions every night for two weeks.
His workmates were at every session, listening as Vĩnh did his best to plead innocence. Pale and wan, and terrified, he stood before US and said he had only done it for the sake of art. He said nude models were often used in painting classes and that he had only watched the girl on seven occasions before I told him to stop.
Bắc was unmoved. In his view, peeping at an ethnic minority girl was a much more serious offence than peeping at a Kinh girl, and drawing a girl in the nude was tantamount to propagating depraved cultural material.
Fearing that things might get out of control completely, Vĩnh's workmates, including Vụ and other vocal critics, began to relent in their condemnations.
As the youth union secretary, I asked the audience not to draw a line between our own leering and Vĩnh’s spying through the bushes, lest it be understood that we favored voyeurism in groups over individual Peeping Toms.
I conceded that drawing all those nude sketches was a violation of the moral code of the union, but insisted that as long as the sketches remained in our custody, Vĩnh could not be charged with disseminating a decadent culture.
Bắc jumped up from his seat.
“I expected better from you, comrade secretary,” he said. “I understand you went down there with your friend at least once,” he added, wagging an accusing finger at me.