THE ROAD

They let Kert down and took him back to the room. Bruised and beaten, he couldnít write anything just then. He sank wearily down on his bedding and sat rubbing his wrists, trying to bring back the circulation.

"If you give promise to write later, you may rest now," Hatchet Face offered.

Kert nodded in agreement and lay down. There was a momentary sense of failure and shame as he dropped into a vaguely conscious stupor and then to a sleep of fatigue. When he awoke, not knowing how much later it was, the guilt feeling was stronger. There was a bowl of rice on the table and another of soup, both cold. He tried to eat, but his jaw hurt. He decided he wasnít hungry anyway. There were paper and pencil on the table, but there seemed no point in trying to write anything until Hatchet Face came back and gave a better idea of what was to be written. Just thinking about it brought shame again—until Kert analyzed it a bit.

Writing this wouldnít be the same as the phony confession they wanted. This only had to do with himself and his fight with Hatchet Face. It had nothing to do with propaganda stuff—who started the war and things like that; it was just a personal issue. Kert felt considerably better; but he couldnít get rid of the feeling of being disappointed in himself for giving in.

After Hatchet Face explained what was wanted in the "self-criticism," Kert set about to keep his part of the bargain. The chinaman said it would be all right to mention the punishment he had received, smilingly commenting that perhaps it was a good thing he had been punished, because it provided something more to write about. Kert didnít find anything particularly humorous about that.

"Today I fought with my interrogator," he wrote. "I know that it was wrong for me to fight with him the way I did. I did it because I was angry. I was angry because the interrogator slapped me. Still I should not have been angry, and I should not have hit the interrogator while I was angry. After this I must remember not to get angry. I promise myself I will try hard to remember these things."

Hatchet Face read the "self-criticism" and approved it, except to insist that another sentence be included. After the sentence, "I was angry because the interrogator slapped me," was added: "The interrogator slapped me to wake me up."

Hatchet Face noticed the uneaten rice. "Why do you not eat your food?" he asked.

"I canít eat. My jaw is broken."

"Broken?"

"Yes—where you hit me with the flashlight."

"Hmm. Well, I will tell them to bring you more soup, not so much rice."

Nice—Kert thought. No mention of a doctor. Well, with the kind of doctoring they gave prisoners, maybe he was better off. So from that point he did the best he could. He wrapped his head with the towel at night to try to keep from moving his jaw in his sleep. He learned to eat rice by mashing it first in the soup and then with his tongue. He had to be very careful when he opened his mouth.

With the self-criticism out of the way, they went back to the old routine—pressure for a confession to germ warfare. Hatchet Face used all of his old tactics, except personal threats. The guard stopped coming in with him after the self-criticism had been written, but there was always one just outside the door when the interrogator was in the room. When Kert was alone, and sometimes even when he wasnít, he continued to analyze.

He realized now fully what a mistake it had been to lose his temper. In this situation a fellow should control his feelings, especially anger. Hatchet Face was trying not only to find out what mood he was in, but trying also to control his moods. The chinaman had forced him into that display of anger. Perhaps that was one of the main tactics in their whole strategy, trying both to fathom and control his emotions. They tried to make a guy sad by talking about his home. They tried to lift his spirits by giving himí good news, just so they could make him feel sorry for himself when they brought bad news later. Kert resolved to show no signs of any emotion at all.

He did very well at it. Hatchet Face apparently noted the difference. The chinaman hardly could have known just how well Kert had figured out the strategy, but he recognized that no progress was being made with the prisoner. In fact he had changed in the wrong direction, from the enemyís point of view. In cases like this, there had to be alteration of strategy. After a boring morning some three weeks after the beating, in which Kert was almost entirely incommunicative, Hatchet Face made an offer that seemed in no way connected with what they had been talking about.

"Would you like to go out in yard for exercise today?"

Kert looked at the chinaman, unable completely to conceal his surprise. He was so dumfounded he forgot to answer.

"It is nice day with sunshine. It will be good for you, I think, just to be outside and perhaps walk around the yard."

"Yes," Kert replied.

"After lunch you may. I will speak with guard and he will tell you when to come back in."

"Could I eat my lunch outside?" Might as well ask for more while heís in this mood, Kert thought.

"Ah, yes. Like picnic, eh? Yes, you may eat lunch outside." The chinaman smiled, almost as if heíd given Kert a pat on the head.

"Goody, a picnic!" Kert jeered to himself. He was really happy for the chance to go outside, but he didnít kid himself into thinking the enemy was going soft. Aloud Kert said, "Thank you." The sarcasm in his voice was not heavy enough for the chinaman to notice.

After lunch, Kert walked around the yard for a while. It was only about thirty by forty feet of ground, surrounded by a fence of cane stalks woven together between a few wooden posts. The fence was so high he couldnít see over, but the outline of another house was visible through. He sat down after a time on the ledge of the foundation of his own room and gazed about at what little there was to see. A distant, forested hill was visible over the top of the fence, and he watched two hawks circling a tall pine at its peak. Removing the clothing from the upper part of his body, he leaned back to get the sun on his chest and stomach. He rubbed himself to remove some of the dirt and scaly dead skin. Maybe theyíd let him have a bath, if this was the start of a session of "lenient treatment." With shirt and jacket under him he stretched out on the ground to get some sun on his back. Later he rolled up his trouser legs as far as possible. His white legs reminded him not to remain exposed to the sun too long. He got up after a little, put on his shirt, and walked around some more.

There was a glimpse of blue through the fence. Another prisoner by the house on the other side. It was impossible to see well enough to recognize features. Kert stopped by the fence, wanting to peek through, but the guard called and motioned him away. Heíd best be careful, or the guard would make him go back in the room. It might be someone he knew over there—maybe one of the others he had been with between stretches of solitary.

Tiring a bit, Kert sat down again in front of his room. Elbows on knees, hands at the side of his face, he studied the ground between his feet. Two ants struggled with a wisp of leaf several times their size. He followed their slow progress to a hole at the base of the foundation on which he sat. Thus engrossed, he was distracted by the small sound of a pebble falling in front of him. Looking toward the sound he glimpsed the last motion of a paper-wrapped stone, rolling to stop a few feet away. He glanced in the direction of the guard. Apparently the soldier had not noticed.

Kert reached down and loosened the tie on one of his shoes. He stood up, stretched, and started the walk around the yard again. After one circuit, he stopped with his foot alongside the stone and knelt down to retie the shoelace. He put the stone in his pocket as he stood up again and continued the walk.

Later that afternoon, after the guard had told him to go back in the room, Kert took out the stone and unwrapped it. It wasnít a very long note. It said only: "Do as they ask. No need for you to suffer more. My fault for giving in first. BENDER."

Kert thought about the note that night. He guessed maybe the ones who were the first to give in would be held primarily responsible—technically at least. Still, that wasnít any excuse for him to follow.

Hatchet Face didnít show up all that afternoon or evening, but the following morning the chinaman was in to see him right after breakfast

"Was it a pleasant afternoon?"

"It was different."

"Yes, I suppose this does get pretty monotonous for you."

No answer. Kert was thinking how to ask for a chance to bathe in the stream. Finally he just blurted it out.

"How about letting me take a bath at the stream today, and wash my clothes?"

"A bath, hmm?" The chinaman seemed to be considering.

"I havenít had a chance to even wash my hands for two weeks. Is that part of your Ďlenient policyí?"

"You know the reason you are not enjoying all benefits of our lenient policy. The ordinary prisoners enjoy it and want for nothing but to go home. Prisoners like you are shown leniency, only if they show good faith." He paused, thinking for a moment. "I will leave you to consider your position again and think about these things. I leave paper and pencil and chair, in case you decide to write." The chinaman counted out ten sheets of paper. He would count them again when he returned. "This will be enough, I think. If you need more, ask guard."

When Hatchet Face was gone, Kert sat in the chair. He put the papers aside, placing them on top of Benderís confession, which was always left there. He didnít intend actually to write what they wanted; he just sat in the chair and thought.

No doubt heíd get to bathe all right, if he did what they wanted. Heíd caught glimpses of the blue figure in the other house—Bender, going to and from the stream. It sure would be nice to have a chance to wash, but the price was too high.

For several days it went on that way, the main pressure being monotony. Mostly, instead of staying around to coax or threaten, Hatchet Face only came in briefly, a couple of times a day. Heíd glance at the blank papers, sometimes count them to see that all were still there, and perhaps remark, "It isnít a good day for a bath anyway."

The desire for the bath was becoming an obsession. Kert thought of trying to escape. He decided he must do that, and began plan- ning. The planning took the place of his obsessed desire for a bath.

The pressure of monotony wasnít so great, as he thought about escaping. He tried to figure a way to slip away from the guardó maybe when he went to the latrine or something. But that just didnít seem like a logical plan. Then one day, on the way to the latrine he noticed a piece of broken glass. He picked it up on the trip back, much as he had picked up Benderís note before.

That night he waited until after the guard changed. The relieving sentry flashed his light into the room, then closed the door. Fully clothed under his blanket, Kert rolled onto his stomach as soon as the door closed and began cutting at the wall with the broken glass. It occurred to him that if the sentry should return, he would have to sit up to cover the hole and pretend he couldnít sleep. The guard would be suspicious if he were fully clothed. He stopped and removed his blue jacket.

The dry mud came away quickly, cutting readily with the glass, but the cane was very tough. It went a little easier when he got a small hole all the way through. Now, he could reach his hand out and slash at the outside, too. After cutting awhile, he broke off pieces with his hands, holding onto them so they wouldnít fall and make noise. Getting too eager, he pushed to break a piece off, and another piece fell from beside it, landing on the outside with a soft thud that seemed almost deafening. He covered up the pile of dirt with his jacket and slid himself up to a sitting position in front of the hole, listening.

The guard was coming. Apparently he had heard. Kert dropped his head into his hands. He was rubbing his temples when the guard shined the light in.

"Suee-jo".—"Sleep," the guard said softly.

"Suee-jo ma-mandi," Kert answered. "Wo-de bing."óIíll sleep later; Iím sick."

"Ne-de bing?"—"You sick?" the guard asked in a sympathetic tone.

"Ma-mandi okay," Kert assured him. "Suee-jo ma-mandi." He told the guard later heíd be all right and would go to sleep. He didnít want the guard to bring Hatchet Face or a doctor.

"Ahh, hao," the guard said. He closed the door and walked away.

Kert turned back to his work, hoping the guard wouldnít come back. He needed only a few minutes to enlarge the hole enough to crawl through. The guard didnít come back. Kert squeezed out through the hole, then reached back in to pull out the few things that seemed worth packing along—a small towel, a piece of soap, a bit of string, and his cup. Then he pulled out the blanket, bundled it roughly, and moved off into the cornfield.

The sky was light, but the moon was obscured by the peak he had seen from the yard. Kert worked toward the peak, through the small fields, avoiding houses as much as possible. Once clear of the settlement, he felt much relieved. The fields ended in a patch circling the base of the ridge. He followed the path for some dis- tance, until he found a place which seemed suitable for climbing. Maybe from the top he would be able to get some idea of where he was, and what direction to go.

Once off the trail, Kert stopped and tied the blanket with the piece of twine. There was no sign of excitement back in the village. He moved slowly up the incline, taking care not to dislodge any rocks. Logic enabled him to overcome the desire to hurry. No sense in trying to outrun a million chinks. Have to outsmart them.

His climb was stopped by a sheer cliff too high to scale. A path at the base of the cliff brought him to the edge of a gully which led up to the ridge line. There was the sound of running water. Kert worked his way toward it and found a strong spring spilling fresh, cool water out over the rocks. It was wonderful to drink. Such a change from the flat tepid "kai shwee." A high spring like this, with no cultivated fields above it, would not be contaminated. He drank his fill, scooping the water carefully with the cup from the natural bowl that had formed in the rocks. He moved some small rocks a few feet below the spring to make a little waterfall so he could wash his hands.

Though the night was cool, here by the spring, Kertís face was flushed and warm. He soaked the small towel in the cool water, removed the sliver of soap from his pocket and scrubbed his neck and face. Feeling a little chill after that, he moved on up to the top of the ridge.

It was nearly daylight when that objective was reached. He got a bearing on the polar star before it faded completely, and found the only clear view from this point was into the northwest quadrant. All other directions were obscured by ground higher than the ridge. To the northward, the waters of the Suijo reservoir quietly reflected the lightening sky, and beyond that, blue-black in the pre-dawn light, were steep hills on the Manchurian side of the Yalu.

The village wasnít visible. It couldnít be much more than a couple of miles away, but the low ridge which Kert had skirted during the night, obscured it from view. Deciding it would be dangerous to try to move on in the daylight, Kert sought for a place to hide. Nothing on the ridge line looked suitable, but that wasnít good location anyway. The chinks might come up to this high place to look around, too.

There was a rocky area with considerable brush, back in the direction of the spring. Kert backtracked to that point and found a ledge well screened by brush and trees. Getting up onto the ledge required considerable effort, but once there he had a good view of the valley floor.

Activity in the valley indicated that the search was on. In twos, threes and fours, the soldiers were fanning out to the ridges on the far side of the valley. No doubt others were doing the same on the near side, though Kert couldnít see them.

Kert felt a bit chilly. Though the sun was up now, it wouldnít touch in this spot for a long time—maybe not at all, judging by the amount of moss on the rocks. He unrolled the blanket and wrapped it around himself. There was room to curl up on the ledge quite comfortably. With the warmth of the blanket, he drifted off to sleep.

It was mid-morning when Kert awakened. A vagrant fly had found him, one of the biting kind. There was a waking dream of his brother, when they were both kids, accidentally hitting Kert with a "B-B" shot. Kert slapped and rubbed the cheek where the fly had bitten.

The air was warm now—sweltering, in the blanket. Though the sun didnít strike the ledge, it touched all around. Vapor rose from the moisture on the lush foliage. There wasnít a trace of breeze.

The bothersome fly, almost caught by one of the slaps, had called for reenforcements. Gnats were swarming now, and dozens of the small ffies. Kert draped the towel over his head to keep the insects from biting his neck and the gnats from buzzing in his ears. He sat blowing the pesky creatures away from his eyes and watching the valley.

It must have been noon, when he felt suddenly hungry. Tire- some as it had been at times, it would be nice to have some rice now. There wasnít a thing about that looked edible, not even any long-stemmed grass to chew on. There was some of that by the stream, but he hardly dared to go there just now. He found a pine cone lodged in the rocks. It must have rolled down, because there were no pine trees in sight. Kert tore the cone apart slowly with his fingers and ate the little seeds one by one. His jaw was still tender, so he chewed carefully on one side of his mouth. There couldnít have been more than a dozen seeds in all. The meal was neither filling nor satisfying, but it was at least time-consuming. With the seeds all gone, Kert chewed on pithy portions of the broken cone. He knew it wasnít food, but it was something to keep occupied.

At mid-afternoon, the searching soldiers began straggling back through the valley. Still no one had shown up along the stream here, unless they had come and gone while Kert slept. It might be safe now to move from the ledge, if he kept under cover. The thought of another drink of the spring water had been plaguing him for quite some time.

He found himself quite stiff and sore when he moved down off the ledge. That was to be expected from the previous nightís exertion, after such a long period without exercise. Then, as he followed a small game trail toward the spring, Kert felt a sharp pain in his right foot. A mere pebble had caused the pain; the soles of both shoes were nearly worn through. Stepping more carefully, he proceeded to the spring.

After drinking, he decided to bathe. It was a perfect spot, with the afternoon sun shining in to make it comfortably warm. The growth around provided concealment. He moved more rocks to form a catch basin below the spring. The remains of the soap was so small there wasnít much point in being sparing with it. He scrubbed with the towel, lathering as much as he could.

Rinsing required considerable time, but there seemed no reason to hurry. The warm sun dried his body quickly, but the air felt so good on his fresh-scrubbed skin, he sat naked for a time on a large rock and contemplated his circumstance.

He really didnít have a thing in the way of equipment or food. Perhaps there would be food in the fields, but he had no matches, even if he did find something and a place to cook it. The bone in his jaw was still weak; heíd learned that from chewing on the pine cone.

In the movies the hero always found some way out of these predicaments. If he didnít have a match heíd light a fire by striking a stone with a nail out of a shoe, or something. Hell, Kert didnít have nails in his shoes. One more night of walking and he wouldnít even have soles.

Well, when it was all added up, even though he was free and the chinamen had no idea where he was, what the devil could he do? Wander around for a few days, wear himself down still more, and cut his feet to pieces on the rocks. Maybe he should go back and give himself up; but even that had its problems. It would hardly do just to walk out in the open until somebody saw him. Better, perhaps, to slip back into the village after night—maybe even get back into the room.

And that was what Kert did. He sneaked back in after dark, finding a bit of grim humor in his success. The hole in the back of the room was unrepaired. There wasnít likely to be anyone inside, and no guard was out in front. Kert crawled back in through the hole. Feeling around in the darkness, he found that the table hadnít been removed, but everything else had. He rolled up in the blanket and slept till morning.

When he woke, he felt very hungry and thirsty. Since there was no guard, he simply opened the door and went to the latrine. The sun was not yet up. Only a few of the houses in the valley showed smoke of breakfast fires. Kert thought it must have been hunger which had awakened him so early. He strolled to the edge of the yard, stopped at the gateway in the cane-stalk enclosure, then stepped out into the roadway for a moment and looked in both directions. Deciding it would be best to remain in the yard rather than to be apprehended wandering around the village, he moved back into the enclosure.

There was a rustling sound in the corn field on the other side of the fence. Kert glanced that direction, but could see nothing through the cane. He listened idly at first, head down in meditation, then his curiosity was aroused by an odd sequence in the noises from the field. There was a grubbing sound, then a rustling of leaves, followed by soft patting. The sequence was repeated at regular intervals. Kert moved to the fence toward the noise and stepped up on a large rock to see over the top.

Adjoining the several rows of corn which bordered the road was a plot of potatoes, about twenty yards square. This was the source of the sounds. The old woman who lived in the neighboring house was working there. Kert had seen her before, when she grubbed the soil and planted in the spring. Old, she was—no telling how old. They often appeared aged at thirty. Weatherbeaten, with stringy grey hair. Now, as she bent to labor, her withered breasts swung down below the edge of her short homespun jacket.

There was nothing in all this that would have made Kert continue to watch, had he not noticed that the woman cast furtive glances about as she worked. "Why?" he wondered, "Itís her field, isnít it?" Then he noted the strange thing she was doing.

First she loosened the dirt around a plant with her grubbing hoe, then she pulled it up. On each plant were some five or six tiny potatoes, far from mature. After removing all but two or three, she carefully set the plant back in place and patted the dirt around the roots.

"Poor ignorant soul," Kert thought. If sheíd only wait a couple of weeks the potatoes would be much larger. Most of those she removed were no bigger than marbles. Why, from one plant, if sheíd let them mature, sheíd get as much as she had in her basket at the moment, and it looked as though sheíd pulled plants all around the edge of the plot. And then to put the plants back in the ground! Did she expect them to continue to grow? It was hardly conceivable that they would.

The woman pulled up plants all around the edge of the plot. Finished with that, she took a broom made of small willowy sticks and scurried around obscuring the marks made by her hands where she had patted the soil. As she was doing this, she caught sight of Kert.

At her first sight of him, the look on the womanís face seemed one of shock—or was it fear? Then recognizing him, her expression changed to a toothless grin. She spoke softly, as though he could understand, nervously indicating the plot with a sweep of her hand and showing him the little potatoes in her basket. Glancing furtively about again, she picked up her hoe and scurried away. At the edge of the plot she turned to look back at the prisoner. Another toothless smile and a slight bow which seemed almost a curtsy, and she disappeared in the corn.

Puzzled, Kert moved away from the fence and seated himself in front of the room heíd occupied. Hearing the woman who lived in the other end of the house bustling about her kitchen, he recalled his hunger again. The woman came out of her kitchen to get some pine boughs for her morning fire. She didnít see Kert until she had picked up a bundle and started back. She dropped the bundle in her surprise.

"Podo!" she said quite loudly—"prisoner!"

Kert glanced at the woman, but acted as though it was perfectly normal for him to be sitting there. The woman rushed away, when she had collected her wits, to a house up the road a short way. There she babbled in Korean to the Chinese sentry about the "po-do." The guard knew she was talking about a prisoner, but he may not have understood anything else she was saying. He was hesitant to leave his post, but the woman took him by the arm and dragged him to a point where he could see Kert. The guard was at a loss. He glanced back and forth between Kert and the other house. There was a prisoner to be guarded there, too.

"Wheh," the guard called to Kert.

"Wheh," Kert said in return, waving his hand idly as though in casual greeting.

"Zuma?" The guard called. That meant, essentially, "What?"— perhaps, "What gives?"

"Wo-de boo ju-do," Kert answered innocently—"I donít know."

The guard must have realized about that time that he didnít have to worry much about the returned prisoner. The prisoner would hardly return just to run away again. The soldier called out loudly to attract another guard and apparently the word was relayed to send someone up to his post. Then the guard looked at Kert again.

"Ma-mandi, ahh?" he said.

"Ma-mandi okay," Kert replied. "Ma-mandi" seemed to mean so many things—"wait"—"slowly"—"later."

A soldier came running around the corner of the house and stopped short, puffing. He looked at Kert curiously for a moment, then broke into a grin, and spoke rapidly in Chinese. The Korean woman poked her head out of her kitchen. She spoke to the new guard, didnít get much of an answer, looked at Kert, shook her head, and ducked back in.

The guard came over close to Kert, set his rifie butt on the ground, and started talking. Kert figured the fellow must be asking where heíd been. He might as well try to tell the soldier something.

"Wo-de-wash-wash," Kert said and made washing motions with his hands. The guard thought a moment, trying to grasp the prisonerís meaning.

"Washi-wash?" the soldier asked quizzically.

"Ahh," Kert nodded. The soldier laughed aloud.

Several more of the guard company arrived at that time, followed by Hatchet Face. The interrogator had a look of amazement on his face. The soldiers were jabbering to each other and laughing, the first one probably telling the others that the prisoner had only gone away to wash himself.

"What are you doing here?" Hatchet Face asked.

"This is where Iím supposed to be, isnít it?" Kert found the situation almost amusing.

"But where have you been?"

"Taking a bath," Kert said simply.

Hatchet Face considered that for a time. "You do not try to escape?" he asked finally.

"No. I told you I wanted a bath, but you wouldnít let me have one. So I decided to go on my own."

"All this time you take bath?"

"Well, I had to walk a ways to find a good spot where I could have privacy. While I was at it, I took several."

Hatchet Face shook his head. He didnít understand this at all.

"How about some breakfast?" Kert asked him. "Or donít I get any?"

"Yes. Of course, you will have breakfast." The interrogator sent one of the soldiers for food. "What did you eat while you were away?" he asked Kert.

"I wasnít hungry then," Kert lied. "I just wanted a bath."

For a few days Kert was permitted freedom of the yard and a daily bath. He wondered if it was part of the strategy, or simply lack of any plan for the moment, since his return was perhaps more unexpected than his departure. He made the most of it, taking sunbaths and walking in the little yard. The guards were even more lax than before, permitting him to stand in the gateway and look up and down the road—even to look over the cane fence at the old womanís potato patch.

Kert was doing just that one day, when four people came to the potato patch—the old woman, her daughter, and two men. The prisoner watched as the group circled the edge of the plot. Several times one of the men pulled up a plant, counted the little potatoes on it, and spoke to the other man. The second fellow made notes on a pad. After inspecting a half-dozen plants from various spots around the edge of the plot, the rows were counted and the number of plants per row. More figuring by the man with the pad, after which he spoke to the old woman. She nodded glumly in return.

With a word of parting and exchange of bows, the men turned and left. The old woman gathered up the several plants which had been uprooted. Glancing first to see that the men were gone, the woman looked at Kert. Her smile of success made clear what had just taken place. The men were tax assessors. They had computed the number of potatoes she must turn over to the state at harvest time on the basis of a few of the plants from which she had stripped potatoes only a few days before. Kert smiled understandingly in return.

 

It didnít take long for the novelty of Kertís return to wear off and for Hatchet Face and his co-workers to get back to the business of trying to bring him to submission. Perhaps they even tried a little harder now. Or maybe it only seemed that way because, having tried to escape, Kert realized he wasnít prepared to. Even if he had equipment, he didnít know woodsmanship and the other things that a man needed to know to get out of such a place as this.

The enemy really hounded him now. Three of them took turns, day and night. He never knew when he would get to sleep or for how long. He tried to keep track of days by making a small calendar on a piece of paper. Hatchet Face noted that and took the scrap of paper away. Searching his pockets for more paper, during an interval of solitude, Kert discovered Benderís note. Heíd forgotten to destroy it. Kert read the note once more and then got rid of it on the next trip to latrine.

That night, or it may have been the next, Kert found himself sitting at the table with Benderís "confession" in front of him. He was using is as a pattern, trying to write a similar one about himself. Nearly a page was written, but Kertís mind was so befuddled he couldnít seem to think any more when Hatchet Face came in. Strangely, the chinaman didnít even read what was written—just asked the prisoner how he was getting along with it. Kert told him he didnít think he was doing so well. He was too tired even to notice the chinamanís gloating sneer.

"Then you must get sleep," Hatchet Face told Kert. "Tomorrow is plenty of time; there is not so much hurry. After all, it has been a long time waiting for you to do this."

Kert went to his bedding and flopped on it.

"I will put out the candle," Hatchet Face said. "You should not try to write more tonight. Just sleep."

In the darkness, Kert thought about the chinamanís last remark. "Sleep," the chinaman had said. Hatchet Face was always telling him what to do—what mood to have. "You must not be angry." "You must not be homesick." "You must consider yourself."

Maybe he should pray, Kert thought, but he couldnít think just how to do it. It wasnít that he didnít believe in God; he just couldnít think of anything to pray for. God gave things to man, yes;. but what could be given to man at a time like this? It was Kertís view that a man had all of Godís gifts all the time, and so it was entirely a matter of whether or not a fellow used them properly. God had given him a good mind, and "anything one mind can conceive another can fathom." So he ought to be able to figure this out. If only his mind werenít so confused, right at the moment. God gave him this mind, it was up to Kert to use it. In a way, perhaps, Kert prayed, though he didnít think of it as prayer.

Then as he tried to figure it out, the thought came back to Kert that Hatchet Face was trying to control his moods and emotions. He remembered that the chinaman had told him to go to sleep—and just as though he were under some sort of control, it was with that thought that the fatigued mind passed into sleep.

The next morning Hatchet Face brought the rice. Kert didnít awaken until the interrogator came in.

"You still sleep," the chinaman said as greeting. "Are you rested?"

"Mmm, I guess so."

"You have not washed yet," Hatchet Face spoke as though Kert normally had a chance to wash. "Perhaps you like to go to stream and wash before eating?"

Kert jumped at the chance. Hatchet Face went out the door with him. As the prisoner started down the path to the stream, the chinaman called after him, "You should hurry so your food does not get cold."

When Kert returned, Hatchet Face was seated outside the door. He followed Kert inside.

"I waited to ask if I may read what you have already written," the chinaman said.

Kert looked at him, surprised. Why did be bother to ask? "Sure, sure," the prisoner said. As he watched the chinaman scan the paper, Kert was almost certain Hatchet Face had been in the room and read it while he was washing. There was a trace of a smirk on the chinamanís face. Or was it only the prisonerís imagination?

"You do well enough," the chinaman said. "Keep working on it, but do not hurry. There is a saying, Ďhaste makes waste." This time Kert knew he was gloating.

The phrase, "donít hurry," stuck in the prisonerís mind. Hatchet Face had said something like that the night before, too. Heíd also said something about it had been a long time. Yes, it had been; and with all that time gone by, here in what he was doing now— writing this—all that time was wasted. "Donít hurry, donít hurry— ma-mandi—"

There was that note of Benderís too; how did that happen? How did Bender know what he, Kert, was in solitary for? Yet the note had said, "My fault for giving in first." So Bender somehow knew what Kert was being pressed for. And how come Bender was in solitary still, after heíd signed a false confession, if that was all they wanted? Sure, Bender was getting to wash, and maybe even getting other things better than some of the rest, but he was still by himself. And if he meant what he said about it "being his fault," it must not be very pleasant for him, being all alone. Then again, maybe they didnít dare put Bender with a group; maybe nobody else would have anything to do with him. Or else Bender might feel so ashamed he preferred to be alone. In any case, now that they had one thing from Bender, the enemy seemed able to get anything else they wanted from him. So now Bender was helping the communists to break others—that note! Suddenly with that thought, Kertís analytical mind had another of the answers to the complex problem.

No matter what you did, or how much, the pressure would never stop if they wanted something more. If a man broke once, he would break again. And the chinks would keep coming back for more from him until they drained him dry; until he was of no more use to them. So, when the communists were finished with a fellow, so would everybody else be. A man didnít take the pressure off by giving in to the enemy, he only let himself in for more; he only put himself on that one-way street—"Collaboration Road."






© 2002, 2003 by Lynn Waterman; used by permission of the author, Duane Thorin.