“I wish all of us could escape from this place, Anton. But it is impossible. Many have tried in the three years we have been here. Many people have died in front of our eyes. We have resigned ourselves to living this life of being prisoners, and going out now and again to do Kapo’s dirty work,” says Hinshi.

“What do you mean by dirty work?”

“Sometimes we are forced to count money after Kapo and his men have been on a bank robbing spree. Sometimes we are taken on speedboats to offload stolen goods from hijacked ships in the deeper ocean. We do all of this while being whipped to work faster. Sometimes …”

Hinshi shakes head. His voice tails off. Tears fill his eyes.

“Sometimes what, Hinshi?” says Anton.

“Sometimes we are sent to dig graves deep in the forest. Places we don’t know, because we are loaded in trucks blindfolded. We dig graves for … corpses with gunshot wounds to the head. As you have seen.”

“That is terrible,” says Anton.

All of us have folded ourselves on the floor by the walls. The river rages in the distance, dropping the temperature further. It’s so cold it feels like we are inside a mortuary. We sleep fitfully through the night.

We are woken by someone fidgeting with the door lock. Hinshi switches on the lights.

We can’t believe our drowsy eyes because Hinshi – and everyone in his group – is in a sprinter’s stance, like at the start of a race. It is as if someone has shouted ‘On your marks!’ to them. They glance at each other anxiously. We watch on, confused. The door opens.

Two guards enter. One carries a big bowl of noodles, another a five-litre water container. They stand in the middle of the room. It is dead quiet. The guards lower the bowl of noodles and the water container to the floor and, guns aiming at us, slowly move back.

A soon as the guards close and lock the door all hell breaks loose.

The scramble for food and water by Hinshi and his group is like nothing I have ever seen before! Many go for the bowl as if diving into a swimming pool. The bowl is snatched away by person after person. Hands grab handfuls of the noodles. A foot here, a fist there – it is all-out war for the food! Strings of noodles are snatched away as they are about to enter a mouth. The bowl flies into in the air, spilling and splattering the remaining food. The karetekas kneel and eat straight from the floor.

Our group is stunned into silence. Soon we’re coughing because the battle for food unfolding in front of our eyes has caused a cloud of dust to fill the dirty room.

The noodle bowl is empty in seconds. The battle for water has led to it spilling all over the place; at least that helps to settle the dust in the room.

It is clear in their famished eyes that almost none of them got even a sip of water. Some are mysteriously also bleeding from gashes that can’t possibly come from fists and kicks.

A whistling wind suddenly fills the room. We all look around and see that a brick is missing from the wall. We then see the shortest of the guys from Hinshi’s group sitting in the furthest part of the room. He is devouring clumps of noodles in both his hands. There is a bloodied brick in his lap.


Tell us what you think: Will the starvation rations of food now unite, or further divide, the two groups?