Which tells of the final
stage of motorcycling back to Hanoi
and the discussion that
follows their most beautiful ride
Yen Bai, Yen Bai Province
It had been a while since
Hellmantle had had such a vivid dream. He couldn't really understand the
importance of it. Like so many dreams, the setting had been an extraordinary
combination of places he had been to, seen from afar and could piece together,
creating an aggregate of images congregating in a melded whole. There was a
rich man's house that had been taken over and exploited by a son who chose a
life of indulgence and whose house had been the scene of many parties. The
house had vast acreage spreading out to an imposing fence that appeared like
the home run wall in a baseball park. Hellmantle had been part of the party
that had begun in earnest when the rain began to fall and the wind picked up.
For some reason he left his friends at the party and went out to the backyard
where there was a foot of water covering the grass. Stepping out into the
water, he found that when he pushed off he could glide along the top of the
water. When the wind really began to blow hard in gusts he pushed off and proceeded
to glide atop the water. He could use the wind to carry him like a windsurfer
would use the wind, but he could also turn and carom with his feet pointing
opposite directions, leaning into turns like a professional barefoot surfer.
It was a thrill in such
crystallized purity that he could only marvel at how long the magic could last,
wondering whether anyone at the house could see him or was watching him skim
along the surface of the water that stretched to the very corner of the fence.
Fearing that if he took his eyes off of what he was doing he would lose his
ability, Hellmantle surfed and turned and glided and dipped sharply, playing
with warm gusts of wind and leaning into corners that saw him flirting with
wipeouts. But he didn't fall; he just played with his newfound skill to ride
the lip of the rainwater's surface. He could feel the warmth of freshly fallen
water in the arches of his feet, enjoying the tickling sensation and somehow
knowing that the field was without danger. D'Aqs was there but he couldn't see
Hellmantle in the open fields, so when he finally became human again and sank
to the ground, he returned to the backyard patio. When he saw D'Aqs, he asked
him whether he saw him skimming along the water, he answered that he had but
that was all. He was so uninterested. Having just finished surfing on top the
water, leaning into gusting wind and playing with the laws of nature, D'Aqs was
more concerned with getting on the good side of the host of the party rather
than something remarkable; an event to happen once in a lifetime. Such an
unbelievable experience to Hellmantle had been so easily dismissed as
unimportant and of no interest. He stood there in amazement while people
continued to drink and talk about the most trivial trivialities. It was his
amazement at D'Aqs complete lack of interest that stunned him to awake.
Hellmantle was up earlier
than D'Aqs for the first time during the trip. The morning was quiet and full
of moist smells. He sat there on the patio of the guesthouse under the palm
trees pondering his dream. He had read somewhere that walking on water was not
the miracle most thought it was; it symbolized applying ones knowledge to life.
To walk on water was to do what he knew how to do. But what was the dream
saying to him exactly?
"I'm going to miss these
roads," said a sleepy voice. "That was awesome yesterday."
"I know. It was. I'd say it
was pretty special. Today we'll hit Hanoi and the riding will change into a
memory. I doubt I will ever be this way again," feeling alone in his now-fading
"That's usually how it
goes." D'Aqs looked at him closer.
"I'm troubled. I couldn't
"Not sure. Maybe because it
was such a pinnacle of everything yesterday, riding and thinking and existing
on such a beautiful plane. I wish I could hold onto it in my hand but I know as
soon as I try it seeps out of my grasp like trying to hold water in your hand."
"Well then let it go."
"Then it's only a memory."
"Maybe that's all it ever
"I want to know what it all means.
And we need to know what's going on here so we don't screw up. We have the map.
We found the grave of Grampa. What's our next step?"
"Let's keep the plan simple.
Keep your chin up. I've learned to have faith in your instincts Rollo. Stay the
course. You've been correct on all of it when it seemed to me like a wild goose
chase. You have a remarkable gift. It would be a sin for you to overlook what
you have accomplished. I can understand why you feel this way because there's
no one to give you a pat on the back. So I am." He didn't physically touch him
but he knew the words would get through to him. "You say that only God
witnesses these moments of splendor but I have to diagree because I've
witnessed them and I'm not God."
"I'll say." Humor back in
play. Good sign.
did hope that you would have had some closure with your grandfather because
it's obvious how much you look up to him." Hellmantle remembered the
hummingbird and instantly it uplifted his spirit. Uncharacteristically he
looked at D'Aqs in the eye.
D'Aqs. I appreciate that." It was odd seeing his turquoise eyes penetrating
through him but he didn't look away. He nodded with solemn respect.
"Give it some thought while
we ride the rest of the way to Hanoi. Motorcycling I think does something to
you. Stirs your soul in a very healthy way. I only wish that I had something
that did that for me. So count yourself lucky." His eyes shifted to D'Aqs' red
abrasion on his throttle hand. "Yeah, and you don't have a cut or abrasion on
you! Must be divine!" Just like that the glimmer was back in his eye.
The towns they passed
through displayed red communist flags down every main road, all made of the
same exact bright red. The red flags contrasted against the deep green of the
jungles that was striking to the eye. The children were friendly waving as they
rode by but older people looked curiously at them. Still choosing not to wear
his helmet, Hellmantle's hair blew long in the wind, protecting the back of his
neck from the sun. His beard glittered blonde in the light. He wondered if
Rhein was watching him right now, if he could take pleasure from living
vicariously through these moments of expertise and freedom, knowing he would be
doing the same thing if he were alive. The thought caused him to lift his
clutch hand in the air and give the peace sign to the heavens above him, the
cloudess sky reflecting light into his sky-blue eyes.
Right before reaching Hanoi,
the towns became more numerous. To D'Aqs, it was plain to see how effective the
system of communism worked in this country. Without a doubt, Vietnam was a land
of agriculture. Wherever the eye could see, there were rice fields all in some
stage of fruitful production. Hats dotted the sectioned fields within larger
fields defined by elevated walking paths. For D'Aqs, who had a constant need to
categorize and digest the character of a country, it was production en masse
here; no wonder Vietnam was the biggest supplier of rice to China. Communism
here works. Compared to the arid and uncared rice terraces in the
Philippines, every rice field was lush and fully productive, yielding crops
that needed constant attention. To his mind, it was insane to say communism
didn't have some effectiveness in a rural country like Vietnam. Unlike the
West, so few hung out at discothèques and watched MTV while doing drugs and
watching TV. These young men and women were working the fields at a
comfortable, state-sponsored pace. There was very little need for most people
to have something that their neighbor didn't have. The markets here in northern
Vietnam were always full with fresh produce. Was that not the measure of a
healthy society? The hue of green was deeper here than anywhere else he had
ever seen. No Big Macs or Starbucks to mar the landscape of its traditional
beauty. Indeed, the woods were truer than the concrete jungles of modernity.
There was a peace here he had never experienced before.
Hellmantle and D'Aqs reached
Hanoi and found the old French Quarter easily. When returning from such an
adventure, one that called forth the hidden skills of gamesmanship and
survival, Hellmantle could only see the other foreigners as superficial
tourists. He saw their clean skin, well-slept eyes and unsullied clothes.
Contrasting this, Hellmantle and D'Aqs were dusty and windswept as they stepped
off their bikes and walked with a pronounced swagger to the pub.
"Some ginspotting is
what we deserve, n'est-ce pas?" said Hellmantle, licking his lips.
"Yeah, I'm thirsty."
They sat at roadside table
by the window. The red hue that hung around Hellmantle's face was like a
tattletale of their mountain exploits, and was strangely incongruous with the
pampered tourists sitting timidly behind him sipping cocktails and staring at
the television with the same slouched posture that they had back home.
"Just because these wank-buckets
watch the television from a café in Hanoi makes them think they're worldly,"
Hellmantle said, studying the menu. "These are the same people who take a bus
up to see the country and come back experts on the sights, sounds and
smells of this out-of-reach foreign land."
"Yes, of course, but let's
take advantage of this special deal of Margaritas that are the house
specialty." They ordered boiled eggs in the shell and Heinz beans on crisp
toast as well as beer and a pitcher of Margaritas.
"Isn't it reassuring to see
the colonial façade of the buildings that line the streets here?" said D'Aqs.
"Yes, I know what you mean.
After being out so far in the bush it feels like home just seeing them." The
Margaritas arrived and Hellmantle drank the first glass as if it was lemonade.
He poured himself another.
"It tells me that
communication to the outside world exist and that we are again safe. The world
we have just returned from is a world unseen to most."
"But it is there to all to
see. People don't have the balls to go out and see it. Most here don't even
have backpacks; they have suitcases with wheels! They have digital cameras
poised for a quick photo yet the opportunity never comes. They spend the money to
get to a place like Hanoi but then let their precious finite time slip through
their fingers watching television in silent relief. This is why simply going
somewhere ceases to solve the underlying problem. They return as they were
before they left.
"Look at the two of us for
example. People could easily think we had gone native. We could be guys who
have perhaps turned our back on Western ways and had married a Vietnamese girl,
two wanderers in dusty clothes who had chosen to live among the villagers. But to
the sporting eye, we may pass as photojournalists after an extended assignment,
who had been forced to find our object of study and analysis very far away,
perhaps a historical sight or investigating a social issue. And some still, who
may be partial to the military mind, seeing all the dust caught in our beards
and hair, may prefer to think we are young retired military officers who had
chosen to live in a cheap foreign land so our pension has more spending power,
and who through time have adopted more and more of the native ways. Or perhaps
we're Special Forces tasking incognito as travelers? We are objects of interest
to them all.
"But all of them are asking:
‘Where the Hell were you?'"
"Sure, I can see that. All
are possibilities. I see the way they're looking at us."
"For me it will be yesterday
that will remain with me after many moons have come and gone," he said.
"French-engineered roads through the mountains of Vietnam. Who would of
thought? I think I had a moment."
Knowing the act of
explanation of his flow could never truly be communicated to another,
Hellmantle let his thoughts of it reverberate within his own mind. D'Aqs saw him pondering something that took
his eyes inward for a few moments on another autistic journey. In this moment
D'Aqs realized that their trip to the highlands of Vietnam had made Hellmantle
different in some way. Something had been proven because he wore the expression
of distinguished accomplishment. Perhaps it was his chin that was raised
slightly, or the mountain sun still emitting from his eyes, or the skin peeling
on his nose, or the windburn of his face; this change attracted curious glances
from those in the bar still planning their outing. These were the onlookers who
Hellmantle believed talked a fat game but had little substance to back it up.
had a dream this morning that's stuck in my mind all day." He described his
dream but didn't exclude his disappointment at D'Aqs disinterest.
would you feel that way in your dream, that I wasn't interested in your foot
surfing?" Hellmantle ruminated.
because part of me doesn't think you're interested in all this stuff?" D'Aqs
was careful with his reply.
am becoming more and more interested, Hellmantle. That's the truth."
I believe you. But having the day to ponder it, I wonder if there's part of me
that resents the fact that Rhein is dead. In the dream you would be the natural
person I would direct my anger to, obviously having done nothing wrong. My
subconscious mind wants Rhein to be with me, not you." D'Aqs laughed at his
could be true."
think it is."
you come to terms with his death?"
does mean? Come to terms?"
"By stop resenting it
can resent whatever I want."
you can't. Because if you do it will kill you."
"It's potent enough to take
down a man." As Hellmantle contemplated, D'Aqs noticed an aura around him.
how would a man overcome resentment at something so unjust?" The Anglican
minister sat up and put his hands together on the table.
seeing the unjust event as destined, that it happened for a reason."
This penetrated the Hellmantle firewall.
it was fate?"
out of your control." This truck a nerve.
it was in my control! I was the one who dared him to take that stupid jump when
I was too scared to do it myself!" Like a shaken bottle, the restless
because you dared him didn't mean it was in your control. It was the Wineman's
choice. Think of all the times you did one of his dares, or all the times you
did chose not to."
is this? Anglican sophistry?" D'Aqs didn't take the bait. Kept his eyes
firm. Hellmantle picking a hangnail. "It's true, we dared each other all the
saw it Mantlepiece., firsthand for years. Boarding school is one of
those special circumstances when you live with others and see them all the
time, even during class. To be honest, it was fascinating." Eye contact.
when you say it might have been meant to happen, what are you saying exactly?"
He knew exactly what he was going to say but delivered so nonchalantly that
Hellmantle would make an effort to understand its full meaning.
his untimely death gave you the life that has led you to being right here,
right now. Perhaps if you were both hanging out you would still be
pulling pranks and ensconced in mischief so that it would have been
impossible to have the time to read all those books, all those papers all over
your apartment, and go so deeply into this realm of darkness loaded with
knowledge, and achieve greatness." Never had D'Aqs had such focused
attention from him, eyes like lazer beams, a window of turquoise dazzling with
intelligence within, the fierce hunger to understand, a revelation of ignorance
that overwhelmed and crippled, a yearning impossible to ignore that was always
knocking on the door. It were the words Hellmantle took with him when he
finally looked away and thought.
A wave of his hand, drank his beer and then lit a cigarette. "I always. I
suppose I skipped a step in my logic." He laughed. Tremendous relief from
D'Aqs. "I always said to myself, in my own mind, that I killed him. It
was me who caused his broken neck." Confession; words rusty from disuse,
cobwebs blown away in the Hanoi breeze. "But-" He stood up to retreive an
ashtray from the bar. "But it was his choice as you say, just like all my
choices. Not to say it was his fault. But just to say I didn't push him
over a cliff, as it were."
maybe you're right, that it happened for a reason. Being alone is the only way
one can immerse oneself so thoroughly in a subject of this magnitude."
D'Aqs knew he had succeeded in withdrawing the festering thorn wedged in this man's
paw when he heard the way he enunciated his last word. He nodded and drank half
his margarita while marvelling at the healing power of confession.
me one of those won't you Mantlepiece?" Removing a cigarette from his
crumpled Vietnamese pack, Hellmantle handed it to the missionary and flicked
his lighter. "You're a bad influence on me just like back in B-Dorm."
Testi-cleez having a smoke. Never say never." Smoke stung his eyes
like hot lead.
let's get a pint. These drinks are too...too dulce."
are sweet señor."
last time I had one of these things was with you and the Rhein Man. Remember
that? Beside the tennis courts? Must've have been in the fall of that year. I
reaked like smoke for week. And I was convinced I was going to get burned from
the smell!" They both knew what had just happened and why D'Aqs was smoking;
both aware of the danger they had avoided, relieved they had found the only
narrow bridge that wobbled through the crosswinds over the abyss.
was a bit of a kicker to go over the Da River Canyon when we were so
close to the Chinese border," said Hellmantle. "That's when it all started
really, the serious cruising technology."
"And then back down through Viet
"Yeah, that was groovy too,
man. Very groovy."
"It was if I was propelled
"I felt pulled too, all the
way down. Effortless."
"Yes, pulled. Nice
"Holy." They drank
their margaritas and were resting their feet when beer and more margaritas
"Something has changed in
you," said D'Aqs. "Is it religious zeal?"
our quest has become holier now?"
has. With some physical expenditure."
therein lies the pilgrimage. Through physical expenditure and flirting with
mortal danger, we show God we are worthy; that we serve."
that ride, I'm sure we're pretty worthy." They were both drinking margaritas at
a swift pace, thirsty on their last night in Vietnam.
showed the mettle required to find the map and the Great Dane's resting
"And you gave a stranger a
forty-ounce bottle of Irish Whiskey." Hellmantle was back to his reposed,
semi-listening state if chewing on ideas, eyes averted, hand stroking the tip
of his chin.
"Rhein always said: To
conquer is a skill; to continue to conquer is an art."
"You both had a
philosophical bend to you back as kids."
"One can spout as much Carpe
Diem philosophy as they wish but when push comes to shove, only action, or lack
of action, indicates the degree one lives of their life philosophy. This cleavage
separates the ivory-tower philosophers and the thinkers who change the world.
One talks a good game and the other lets their actions reveal their true self.
One is soft and one is hard; they are two separate creatures. One makes
history, and the other makes academic theory."
"Yes." Back to his comfort
zone with illusions of grandeur was a good thing.
"It is to us that this
monumental task has fallen. It is a quest to which I have dedicated my life, in
the name of my fallen brother and for the unmatchable beauty of...of the artist
Asher, to see if these prophecies are true. We can only undertake this quest if
our will is pure and we keep proving that we are worthy vessels as we inch
forward towards the final goal. We are prophecy testers."
Yes. And I'm starting to
think that perhaps all this motorcycling is necessary so the candidate can
prove to God that he has a worthy character."
"Like Galahad. Not like
Lancelot, who was not worthy."
"I don't know what to
believe anymore." D'Aqs took a deep breath of some of the Hanoi lush air. "This
quest is causing me to have unsure footing in the realm of nihilism."
"Well then comfort yourself
by knowing that nihilism is the only path that enables you to think for
yourself. As they say, some times it's time to break open a new bar of soap."
When D'Aqs inhaled he coughed and gagged, smoke coming out of nose.
of a dry heave in there." Hellmantle's laugh interrupting him. "I seem to
recall you did that that beside the tennis courts last time we shared a smoke."
He grinned at the contrast between the trails of wetness below his eyes and the
dusty veneer of his cheeks and the mucous on the edge of his nostril.
"Here, you have-" Instead of
using tissue he always had in his pocket D'Aqs wiped his nose with his sleeve.
remember that because both of you had a good laugh." D'Aqs drank
cocktail-for-cocktail with his old friend, as Hellmantle opened the door to any
memory linked to his twin.
Here ends the third part of
the rich history of Hellmantle of Normandy, where new records of his deeds come
into clearer focus, which will be resumed in the next and final part of this