This journey to Hiroshima is long, and very cold. The last thing I see on a guard’s watch, before I fall asleep, is that it is 12:30 am.

Droplets sting my eyes awake. I’ve been sleeping and waking as the hours drag. The tent fabric covering the trailer is sweating from the heat of our bodies and the paraffin lamp that has been ablaze since we left. I catch a glimpse of the time again – it is 3pm. We have been traveling for close to 16 hours.

Then the tent fabric comes loose at the corner, letting in freezing, howling wind, and snowflakes. The guards quickly tie it back in place.

I lie on my back and look up. I’ve been sleeping on my side all along and it is now aching. I wonder what is in store for us in Hiroshima. My stomach is growling from hunger. Will we even eat before fighting?

I take a deep breath and inhale a wretched smell – someone must have used the plastic bags that are our portable toilets to relieve themselves. Luckily the tent fabric comes loose again at the corner of the roof. Chilly winds drive out the foul stench.

The truck comes to a sudden stop. I search for Nqo and find her asleep near my head. Keys fiddle in the door locks and they open with a clang.

Nqo opens her eyes, startled. It’s as if her eyelids are the gates to a stream, because at once a tear tumbles from one eye, crosses the bridge of her nose to the other eye, then runs quickly, sideways, down her cheek … until it disappears into her ear.

I reach out my hand to Nqo, but she recoils.

“I’m sorry,” I whisper.

Nqo closes her eyes and shakes her head slightly. She doesn’t want to hear a word from me right now.

“Damn! I forgot we have to offload these tyres first!” says the man at the trailer doors.

The tyres are offloaded, leaving a gap for the freezing, howling wind to hit us, uninterrupted. It’s as if we are inside a freezer. The skies are grey. We look around: we are deep inside a forest.

“Get out!” shout the guards.

The barrels of their rifles are painful on our backs so we hurriedly jump out of the truck without looking, Nqo first. She hits the ground, falls, doesn’t stand up. I jump. The surface is tiny pebbles. It is slippery but I find balance. I jump over Nqo and go to stand with the rest of the captives a few meters away.

Two guards loom over Nqo. “Get up!” one yells.

Nqo is holding on to her knee, grimacing.

The men pull her up. “What is your problem?”

“I’m hungry and I’m hurt,” says Nqo.

“Stand up straight. If you can’t stand up we have no choice but to kill you – right here and now!”

Nqo straightens her injured knee. She doesn’t even wince a tiny bit as she bravely says, “I’m alright. Really, I’m fine.”


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