A Past Forever Riddled with Nightmares.


Several Years ago, I discovered that a long, winding bus ride through the South was not unlike living inside a novel. Old characters get off and new characters get on every time the bus stops. This is the story of my trip from Dallas to Atlanta. Part 7


            From all outwardly appearances, Jesus stays busy in the Mississippi Delta. According to the signs stuck along the side of the road, He lives, heals, saves, loves, and is coming again.

Baptist Churches are everywhere.

Some are Free Will.

Some are Primitive.

And if the churches are big and modern with giant crosses or heavenly steeples that touch the sky, they are First Baptist.

I am reminded of the old southern story about the large church sitting on the downtown square with a flashing neon sign that said: If you’re tired of sin, come on in.

Beneath it, some lady had written in wicked red lipstick: “And if you’re not, call 462-9325.

Throughout the countryside, church marques – always lit ­– espouse such wisdom as Do Not Be a Cloud because You Can Not Be a Star,or or You Can’t Live Wrong and Die Right, or Be Fishers of Men …You Catch ‘em and He’ll Clean ‘em, or Never Give the Devil a Ride. He’ll Always Want to Drive.

Church signs, I guess, have replaced the Burma Shave signs on southern highways.

Across the aisle, the signs mean nothing to a Vietnamese woman whose past is riddled with despair.  She moans in her seep, and her eyes open with a jar. She shudders and glances around the bus and sees only the night staring back with eyes as hollow as her own.

It’s quiet, the way it was on a December morning when she left her brother and caught the ten-thirty flight out of Saigon.

Don’t worry, he said.

I’ll be right behind you.

The loose ends have to be tied up first.

Always, there are the loose ends and red tape and money spent in the night to strangers.

He would come and join her in the states, he said, and she settled down and waited.

It wasn’t a good life.

Then again, it wasn’t particularly bad.

There were no bombs bursting upon the fields.

She no longer caught the smell of napalm in the winds.

The years passed.

And one night the telephone rang.

It was late.

It was dark.

It was that time of night when a ringing telephone never brings good news.

“Your brother is in a concentration camp,” the voice said.

It was foreign to her.

It spoke with a thick accent.

“Send three thousand dollars,” the voice said, “or you can forget about your brother.”

“But I don’t have three thousand dollars,” she said.

“Get it.”

“I can’t.”

“I’m sorry”

She never heard from him or her brother again.

When she sleeps, the Vietnamese woman dreams of a brother coming to her, begging and pleading for his life, the life she could not afford to buy.

It was an open market in Vietnam.

Souls bought.

Souls sold.

Lives in the balance.

Screams always awaken her..

They come from deep within her throat.

She slumps beside the window and watches as the darkness bleeds into morning.

The reflection staring back is her own.

She thinks it may be her brother.

“His eyes are closed,” she tells me.


She looks again.

“His eyes are missing,” she says.

All I see are stalks of cotton in dry dirt.

A war did not end when the firing stopped. A war won’t go away until the nightmares end, the war and the endless miles to Atlanta where Jesus lives, saves, and heals.

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