“Sister, your letters were pinned on the Church door!”, Sally told me after coming home from mass. I was numb with shock and embarrassment to hear it. I felt like my soul was stripped naked and humiliatingly paraded for the Vietnamese Catholic congregation to see.
Why did they do that? What were wrong with my letters? There were only the two of us in the living room and I wanted to ask Sally to tell me more details. It was getting dark, and yet I wanted to take a train 25km from home to South-East Melbourne to see for myself if what Sally had told me was true. I wanted to ask Father Fatty who had delivered mass that day, if he knew who put my letters on the Church door and what he thought of it.
Shame had killed my courage, extinguished my will that day and for many days and weeks after that. I remained silent, suppressed my memory of that event and went on as if nothing had happened.
I met him thrice and his sister twice in Kuala Lumpur transit camp. My Catholic room-mate took me along when she had to see him. She told me he was a deacon, called Brother Willow. He was a slender man in his 30s with supple gestures, smiley face and wet-looking eyes.
On the day I was to fly to Melbourne for resettlement, his sister – a beautiful and graceful woman named Moon – came to see me off. She held my hands, smiled and looked into my eyes, “Remember to contact my brother when you get to Melbourne, hiMe!” Moon handed me the address of her brother who left the camp a month earlier. When I waved goodbye to her, I saw Moon wiping away her tears.
I didn’t know why Moon was so keen for me to contact her brother given that I hadn’t known her long. When I found myself lonely during my two weeks at the migrant hostel and the first three months at the communal house for the Vietnamese refugee girls, I found fulfilling my promise to her by writing to Br. Willow satisfied my thirst of spilling out my emotions in a strange country.
I wrote about how happy I was to find chillies – my favourite condiment – in an Asian shop near the migrant hostel; about how I learnt to cook ‘Phở’ – a Northern Vietnamese soup – from the girls at my house,…..
When three letters went without reply, I wrote the last telling him that I was not going to write anymore. After a while, I decided to visit him to find out what happened. At his house which he shared with other Vietnamese men, I learnt that he was away working at a factory at the time. “How can a Catholic Brother work in a factory, share a house with other men and not live in a priory?” Lacking knowledge about the religion, the question bothered me a lot then.
Around two years after the letter event, I received the confirmation sacrament. Father Fatty gave me a shock at the ceremony when he called Moon to stand next to me as my godmother. Moon didn’t talk to me. It was the first and last time I saw Moon in Australia.
Why Father Fatty, who was present when my letters were posted onto the Church door, assign Moon as my godmother?
It was later confirmed that Brother Willow left the priesthood. Did some ‘good’ Christians obtain and display my letters to abash me as well as forewarn other girls from writing to monks and make them leave the priesthood?
Thirty years later, the questions I wanted to ask linger in my head still. I also wonder why Moon was eager for me to contact her brother. However, I feel discouraged to try to locate Sally and Moon who must still live in Melbourne, far away from me. And will Father Fatty answer me?
A naked letter posted on the door.
An innocent soul injured in the act,
A person’s dignity that was attacked,
Injustice wildly let out a loud roar.
The dark mystique still lingers in the air.
A public bashing that was to bring shame,
For writing to the monk, so did they blame?
The punishment for it, the soul’s stripped bare?
A mystery still lives on to be solved,
A promise was made to approach the monk,
The purpose for it, who will debunk?
A victim was so faultlessly involved!
by Gerry Balding.