Over the past year, there have been countless antagonists in our story – human traffickers, paedophiles, and those who would rent or buy women.
Now, however, P and I have a more immediate menace. He has a weapon, a gang, and a lust for violence. He knows our names, where we live, and the places we go, and he has made explicit threats against us.
P and I are exposed, while he himself remains somewhat abstracted, hidden behind an absurd pseudonym and a host of chilling rumours. I never paid him enough attention to remember his face, and he could be any one of the young men on these streets.
Over the past few days, I’ve been making enquiries into the identity of the so-called Lucky Charm, and the reality is worse than I feared. In fact, I’m surprised I’ve never been aware of the man before, as many of the locals I’ve spoken to here know him by sight, if not by name.
A friend familiar with the local Hmong community warns that “angry Hmong boys have nothing to lose – they can be really, really stupid”. He advised bringing P’s elder brother to town so that he might sit down to speak with Lucky Charm’s father, who may be able to influence his son without any loss of face.
Lucky Charm, however, is said to have beaten up his father, and by all reports is far beyond the influence of his family, which rules out any hope of a diplomatic solution. I’m told he’s part of a local “mafia”, and he certainly has enough friends in town if he wants to make some noise.
He has been described as “an animal” – notoriously aggressive, somewhat psychotic, known to tear off his shirt to fight at the slightest provocation. Lucky Charm is already wanted by the district police for beating up another man who supposedly stole one of his girlfriends.
There are hints at a history of sexual abuse, and those who know him have advised to simply avoid him, even to avoid eye contact. Avoiding him, however, may not be so simple – and while I’ve been making my enquiries, Lucky Charm has been making a few of his own.
Lucky Charm has been trying to get at P and I via her friends and family. He’s been trying to find out who I am, and what my relation is to P. He’s been professing his love for her, threatening violence and suicide, and has now openly declared his intention to abduct her.
One of P’s friends tried to reason with him, explaining her current situation, and saying if he truly loves her he should stop scaring her. Needless to say, it didn’t work.
It seems these declarations of love and violence are standard behaviour for Lucky Charm, with the only real variable being the target. For the moment, I’m hoping that the impulsiveness that drew Lucky Charm to P will draw him on to some other unlucky soul before he acts.
With all that she’s been through recently, this episode has simply been too much for P. Her strength has finally failed her, and her protective shell has cracked. Our psychiatrist friend has been providing P with valuable assistance in such a difficult time.
Yet P stubbornly refuses to remove herself from danger. Mutual friends have organised an excellent place for her where she can be both comfortable and safe from harm, and I’ve accompanied her there. Aware of the risk, and against all reason, P has returned to town. She continues to go out in the evenings to places she knows Lucky Charm has already followed her.
I can give P support and advice – I can’t, however, give her both protection and freedom. While I’d love to see her in a more stable position, in four weeks I’ll be leaving Vietnam, and her life will be what she makes it.
Ten days ago, I shared 50 previously unseen travel images from the Indonesian islands of Bali and Lombok. Today I have another brand new set to share with you, where you’ll see the more subdued monsoonal light as it plays across the people and places I encountered on my twin journeys northwards into the heart of Southeast Asia.
All images are available for sale, with all proceeds helping to fund my ongoing work here in Vietnam.
To see the new images, click here.
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