Here is another offering from my latest manuscript, Unwanted Heroes. The novel highlights the way we treat war veterans in the US. It focuses on the struggles of an Asian-American Vietnam war vet who tries to put the voices at bay before his whole life falls apart. The scene below takes place outside a coffee shop by the Ferry Building in San Francisco.
Meet the two characters:
Narrator – Will – a young Englishman who has come to San Francisco to write. Works as a barista.
Mr. Tzu – His boss and a Vietnam War Vet.
I think for a moment. “If you wanted to tell the world something, what would it be?”
He takes his time gathering his thoughts. “I would want them to know of my brother and his struggles. I would want them to know of our relationship and how I lived a lie and denied even my own precious brother because I was afraid he would take me down with him. I want America to know that heroes come in all shapes and sizes, not just Hollywood Chuck Norris or Schwarzenegger.”
His face is serious now, focused. A single bead of sweat drips down the left side of his forehead.
“We are Asian, but we are also American like they are and we have paid dearly for our membership. Just like the blacks, poor, and Latinos that sign up today. We’re crazy and homeless, but we’re still goddamn heroes and they need to respect us.”
His eyes seem unfocused, far away, as he picks his words.
“They need to know that they can’t sweep under the carpet, or more likely, under the bridges and into the shelters. They should be ashamed that a man risks his life for his country but can’t get medical help, or psychological help. He has to prove to insensitive bureaucrats that he deserves benefits that are his by right. Rights that he earned in the jungle and the prison camps.”
His face is stoic and he shakes his head, perhaps to himself, perhaps to me.
“They should know to treat us as heroes, to treat us with respect. We are the…unwanted heroes.”
He stops to catch his breath and reaches for his iced tea. He looks over and sees me madly scribbling. He waits as I catch up and when I look up, he is smiling.
I show him a page with phrases scrawled all over, with arrows and frantic scribbling out. I snatch the pad back and write at the top of the page in capital letters: “UNWANTED HEROES.” My pulse is racing. “Let’s get to work,” I whisper.
Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com