Novel excerpt: From a work in progress…
The first day of my life in another man’s identity began with a flash. Opening my eyes, I was blinded by the glare of fluorescent light. I tried to speak, but my voice was muffled by bandages wrapped around my head and covering my ears. I tried to turn over, but my whole body began to throb with pain. My head was clouded—it felt as if I’d been brought back from the dead after a long time in limbo—so I hadn’t a clue what could have brought me to this state. What happened? I recalled only the heat of flames, shouting voices I didn’t recognize, and being picked up and dragged away. Where was I now? Lying on a bed somewhere, in a room with a window.
Within a few moments of regaining consciousness, I saw the room fill with people. A man in a white coat asked if I knew my own name. When I could not recall it, he spoke a name I didn’t recognize. Other white coats called me the same name and “sir.” Or “Captain.” Over the next hours various people came into my room, each bearing offerings of food, Buddhist pendants, garlands of jasmine, or giant chunks of jade, which they made a big deal of presenting. Everyone was dressed in full Tatmadaw uniform. It was only when I noticed that the white coats were addressing each other by rank that it dawned on me: I was in a military hospital.
I was asked about people I didn’t know, places I hadn’t been, things I could not recall having done. Each time I responded with a blank stare, they would shake their heads and say: “Ah, poor Aung Win. The bump on your head has damaged your memory. Don’t worry, it will all come back.” On the morning of my second day of consciousness, a nurse told me a special visitor was on his way. A few minutes later, the clopping of army boots coming down the corridor signalled his arrival. The door to my room opened and a Tatmadaw private stepped in, followed by a second man wearing tinted aviator glasses and an officer’s cap. I recognized him at once: Khin Nyunt, chief of Military Intelligence and Secretary-1 of the State Law and Order Restoration Council.
The SLORC. Burma’s military dictatorship. A brutal regime I had actively and openly opposed during the previous summer’s mass uprising. A regime whose army I had fought in the Karen State jungle, the last time I was conscious, beside pro-democracy student rebels and ethnic insurgents. An army whose soldiers I had aimed at with Thailand-funded weapons, killing some of them. I wasn’t a Burmese national but an American citizen of Burmese heritage. A Western meddler. A foreign menace. Now here I was, facing one of the regime’s most dreaded figures: since the crackdown in September, countless students and other dissidents had been arrested and jailed, then tortured, executed or disappeared under Khin Nyunt’s watch.
My mouth dried up. For a moment, I lost my breath. But instead of placing me under arrest in front of the SLORC’s top spy, the private merely puffed out his chest and proudly introduced me as “Captain Aung Win, our national hero.” Khin Nyunt appeared to believe him, and that was the moment I remembered my own name and understood what was happening: I am Min Lin.
They think I’m Aung Win.