Yolanda's Favorite Beggar

A Story from

A Saigon Party:
And Other Vietnam War Short Stories

by Diana J. Dell

Yolanda lived in a garden apartment across the boulevard from the Saigon USO. It was a two-minute walk from home to office, but the short distance ordinarily took the recreation center's program director a half an hour. The street people and she enjoyed engaging in neighborly banter.

"How's business?" That customary morning question went to the two teenagers sitting astride a Honda motorscooter, ready to begin cruising the streets to snatch cameras and purses from unsuspecting foreigners.

“Pretty good, Missy.” The delinquents, one of hundreds of similar teams nicknamed "cowboys," beamed at the American civilian as though they were innocent altar boys waiting for Mass to start.

Yolanda paused to toss a greeting and 20 piasters to a paraplegic beggar, a former South Vietnamese soldier crippled from a land mine in the Mekong Delta during the Tet Offensive.

"How's twicks, Soul Sistah?" three adolescent prostitutes, wearing miniskirts and false eyelashes over surgically rounded eyes, in unison asked the Ohio native, just as they did every morning since Yolanda arrived in-country 10 months previously. All four laughed at the audacity of the inquiry.

Yolanda bent down to smell the yellow roses in a bucket of water at a flower stall in the middle of Nguyen Hue, known as the “Street of Flowers.” Choosing three in full bloom, she paid the squatting vendor, then presented them to the ladies of the night, who were tottering home on four-inch spikes for some much-needed sleep.

The hard-working girls giggled and blushed when Yolanda uttered the standard Vietnam War phrase that grunts used, "Keep your heads down." Smiling mischievously, the tiny American woman stepped onto the sidewalk in front of the USO.

There, stood her favorite street urchins, a five-year-old boy and his younger sister, selling plastic bags. Not one of the black market stalls on either side of the kids had any plastic bags for sale, though anybody could buy practically anything else, including hundreds of products stolen from the PXs or ships at the dock to rolled marijuana cigarettes in sealed Marlboro boxes.

The boy and Yolanda had a well-rehearsed ritual every day at eight o'clock. When the youngster spotted her stopping to sniff the roses, he started shouting his salesman's pitch in pidgin English with a dose of GI slang.

"Hey, pretty black lady, me got bag you weally, weally need. Bes' bag in town. Numbah one like you. Me sell you beaucoup cheap. Come on, don' be a cheap Chahlie."

For these past 10 months, he had repeated the same words to Yolanda at exactly the same time in precisely the same spot.

And she delivered the single response every day, "How much?"

Invariably, the answer spilled hurriedly from his lips each morning, "One hunwed Pee."

The haggling had begun. Yolanda countered with 20 piasters. The child scoffed at the outrageousness of such a price from, what he was sure to be, a rich American.

More bargaining with elaborate hand gestures followed.

"My final offer is 50 piasters. Take it or leave it," she snapped at the 36-inch businessman, while winking at the old woman stirring noodles in her soup pot a few feet away.

Right on cue, after her final line in her favorite one-act play, Yolanda ambled into the USO. With one foot outside the three-story building and the other in, exactly where she found herself every morning, as though the spots were chalked with a director's X's, she halted and quickly turned around as he announced her victory. Unfairly, his big brown eyes conveyed.

The MP guarding the club watched the transaction and nonchalantly sipped a Coke.

Yolanda very slowly counted the 50 piasters. She liked to admire the little boy, intently staring at the bills to make sure he was not being cheated, even though he was well aware who was tricking whom. They both knew.

A bag cost about a penny, and every day for nearly a year Yolanda paid him a hundred times what each one was worth.

The serious miniature entrepreneur, constantly clutching his baby sister's hand, never thought of himself as a beggar as Yolanda privately did. After all, his customers paid for products. The prices might have been a bit inflated, as everything else was in Vietnam, from the cost of bar girls' Saigon tea to body counts, but businessmen were businessmen and business was business. This was not child’s play.

At five years old, he was the man of the house, supporting his mother and four siblings. He was the breadwinner-boy of the jerry-built shack made of pop cans in one of the larger refugee slums on the outer perimeter of Saigon.

A foul-smelling canal weaved through his neighborhood, providing water for cooking and bathing. It was also the community toilet for his family and the hordes of destitute farmers flooding into the city to escape the bombs as the war dragged on. Abandoned by unresponsive governments, both Yolanda's and the kid's, the displaced villagers and their offspring eked out a meager living as best they could.

Without any thoughts of global bureaucratic apathy or miserable poverty, Yolanda loved haggling over price each morning with the little Vietnamese boy, the one who sold plastic bags in front of the Saigon USO.

A Saigon Party:
And Other Vietnam War Short Stories

Barbie and Ken Experience the War

A Pedicab Driver Peddles Through History

A CIA Hired Wife Bares Her Soul

The Vietnamese Rock Star Interview on AFVN

Yolanda's Favorite Beggar

Saigon Rumors

General Westmoreland's Houseboy (and VC Spy) Talks

The Library Card

A Saigon Warrior's Journal

Vietnam War at Amazon

Vietnam War on DVD at Amazon

Vietnam War Kindle Books


The Literary Hootch, Part 1

The Literary Hootch, Part 2

The Literary Hootch, Part 3

Vietnam War Destinations, Part 1

Vietnam War Destinations, Part 2

Vietnam War Destinations, Part 3

Vietnam War Destinations, Part 4

Vietnam War History, Part 1

Vietnam War History, Part 2

Vietnam War History, Part 3

Vietnam War History, Part 4

Vietnam War Research Material, Part 1

Vietnam War Research Material, Part 2

Vietnam War Research Material, Part 3

Vietnam War Research Material, Part 4

The French in Vietnam

Vietnam War Battles, Campaigns, Offensives, Operations, Programs

Vietnam War Aircrafts

Vietnam War Documents, Speeches, Papers

Vietnam War Cities, Districts, Installations, Places, Provinces

Vietnam War Weapons and Equipment

Vietnam and U.S. Presidents

Vietnam War Humor

Vietnam Religions

The Media: Vietnam War

U.S. Allies in the Vietnam War

Vietnam War Antiwar

Political and Government Figures Involved in the Vietnam War

Trips to Vietnam

The Vietnamese: Vietnam War

Women and the Vietnam War

Vietnam War Films

Vietnam War Fiction Books

Vietnam War Books by Women Writers

Vietnam War Short Story Books

Vietnam War Screenplays

Military Leaders in the Vietnam War

Vietnam War Memorials

Vietnam War Battalions, Brigades, Corps, Divisions, Organizations, Units

Vietnam War Poetry

The Wall: Vietnam War

Vietnam War Quiz

Vietnam War Quotations

Vietnam War Books, Part 1

Vietnam War Books, Part 2

World War II Films (Part 1)

World War II Films (Part 2)

Memories Are Like Clouds

A Saigon Party:
And Other Vietnam War Short Stories