The truck leaves, and we are forced to run for a long distance, full tilt, in a dense, dark forest. The ground is cold, rough. Snot and tears run down our shivering faces. After a while I hear the sound of running water. We reach a river, a river so big that we can barely see the opposite bank.
Through the fog of the river we see a shack floating. Lights flicker in the windows, and as it draws closer, we realize it is a boat. We are ordered to jump in at speed, and rush to sit inside the boat. Thankfully, it’s a bit warmer than outside.
The boat moves for a while, but just as we are getting used to the warmth, it comes to a stop. It is dawn. A rope is tied around each of our waists, linking us together.
“When I say jump you all jump together and swim to the river bank!” orders one of the guards.
We haven’t had time to even look and locate the shore in the gloom, when another guard yells: “Jump!”
I can’t feel the bottom beneath my feet when I’m in the freezing water and we all frantically swim, or tread water. Then the rope tightens around my waist. We are pulled to shore. We all stand shivering on the river bank. I gulp down air so cold it seems to freeze my heart and lungs. All of us are coughing, our teeth clattering in unison.
We haven’t caught our breath yet when we see bare-chested figures emerge from the forest. They are Japanese teenagers. They are guarded by another group of men with rifles, just as we are. Their hair looks scruffy, their knuckles dark and rubbery, like car tyres. They pass us and don’t even glance in our direction. They run into the river and bathe in the freezing water.
“What are you looking at? Come!” The guard yanks the rope, pulling us into the darkness of the forest.
Soon we are running again. It is difficult with the rope around our waists but we adapt and find rhythm – because the alternative is death!
Eventually we reach a well-trodden footpath. We can see parts of two buildings between trees in the distance. One is low down, the other up a steep hill. The top one is big and beautiful. The one at the bottom is small, roughly-built and uninviting. We are pulled along to the house at the bottom.
I say a silent prayer, hoping it is just us in this house. I’m scared of the other captives we saw when we got off the boat. They looked mean and feral.
Walking in line we enter this house. It is warm inside; the wood in the fireplace crackles. A man with a grim, tense frown appears from another room.
“When the others come back from bathing, you will fight them. They are Anana’s team. They are your enemies. You are my team. My name is Wufen. If you win, I win. I don’t tolerate defeat. Are we clear?”
“Start warming up right now!”
I’m stunned. Our clothes are wet. We are cold, tired and hungry. And now we have to fight?
Tell us: Who do you think the other Japanese boys are?