Otter Days

Sali: A story of survival from world war ll

Chapter 1
Short-term prison

 I walk around in my old cluttered house; I remember all the things that had lead to me getting that trinket, or that souvenir. Then I found something, it was an American flag, the one that had endured the entire journey from China. I close my eyes, remembering that troubled time,
As I stared out at the window, I looked longingly at the beautiful mountains, wishing to hike. I watched as a Chinese guard passed by, making sure everybody was there. Every day of the last 3 years, I have felt like I have been in a momentary prison.
I am actually at a school, but no one really knows the difference anymore. We work on trading reading, writing and arithmetic. The reason it feels like a temporary prison is because of the Dak`ans. They were the Japanese guards. They do a head count every day. If you are not there on time, the Dak`ans will take you to what they call the principals office. I call it, the torture chamber. One time I saw a boy get taken there, he did not return until lunch period. By then he had three forming bruises on his arm and one black eye.
“Sali!” I jumped to attention; Ms. Greton had just called my name. As I looked a her, I tried hard to keep defiance out of my eyes, “Yes?” I said cautiously, I could get into trouble for inattention. “What is the capital of this wonderful nation we live in?”
I stood up from my seat and replied, “Wonderful, Hmmm. This nation we live in is a cruel communist one. This ‘wonderful nation’ we live in, kills off old people just because they are a nuisance to feed.
I could’ve gone on, but her eyes were boring into me, I knew I could get into some hot water for mouthing of like that. “The capital of this ‘WONDERFUL’ nation we live in,” I purposefully put a touch of sarcasm on the word wonderful, “is Beijing.”  I smiled smartly and sat down on the hard, wooden bench that served as a desk. “And how do you spell it?” She said, smiling sickly. I could feel my face reddening, and then paling, I had no idea. Just when I knew I couldn’t keep quiet anymore, the bell rang.
I didn’t smile, but let out a small sigh of relief. It was short lived. “Sali!” I jumped for the second time that day. “How do you spell Beijing?”
   “B-e-j-i-n-g, Beijing?” I said unsurely. She looked at me with a menacing smile.
“I am afraid not, it is B-e-i-j-i-n-g! Now, because you were obliviously not paying attention, we will have to suspend you for one day, tomorrow.” She said this all with an almost evil look. Yep, just like a short-term prison.  I ended up heading home that day with a bruised arm. Even though I had already been suspended, I still got punished for, ‘carelessness’ as Ms. Greton put it. As a 14 year old boy living in Ce`ng (in sort of sounds like tongue with a C), I wandered around the city, or lack thereof, until sundown. Then I usually headed home, faced my drunken father and hysterical mother. I have several brothers and sisters; it is because my father is unfaithful to my mother. In the end, the abused women -‘counterfeit mothers’ I call them- drop their unwanted children at our small, dismal home. So my mother now has more kids than she knows what to do with. Many have died of sickness. My mother does not make a big effort to save them. When one gets sick, she says, “Well, if you die, then there is one less mouth to feed!” She is not the most comforting woman.  There is one ‘unwanted’ that means something to me, her name is Lotae. She was two years old when she was dropped off at my mother’s doorstep.  The way she had looked up at me with big hungry eyes, I knew right then that I would save her even if I had to starve myself in the process. I almost did do just that. At every meal, I sat beside her and whenever mother and father looked away, I snuck a large majority of my meal.  I nurtured her and cared for her when she was sick. I looked after her with a motherly air. I couldn’t help it. This was, of course, around the time of World War 2. Our village was taken over quickly, due to our lack of weapons. Everyone was hoping that America would come to our rescue. After an unsuccessful bloody revolt, we were guarded more than ever. We were desperate for any help.  Then one important night, a man went on a covert mission. His purpose? Deliver a letter to America at all costs, even if it meant his life. The mission was successful. One time, -before the war- after coming home from school, I remember seeing Lotae. Her big brown eyes looking straight at me, then she smiled big, wide grin, stretching from ear to ear.  This was before the war began; she had been a tall six-year-old with a peaked face, apparently not getting enough food. I gave her a real smile, which was rare for me. She ran up and hugged me until I could hardly breathe. I picked her up and threw her over my shoulder. As I stumbled down to the creek I tripped on a rock and we both fell to the ground, laughing. I looked over at her, she looked back at me.  
That moment right then was one of the good days I remember. Something that is most vivid was when the American missionary came, Lotae and I were the only ones in my family –and the village- that had accepted Jesus.
I remember that moment so clearly, that one moment of peace before war began. Like the calm before the storm. Then of course the American mission. All this occurred not long before Pearl Harbor. Then the Americans announced war on December 8. Then, the people decided to send out a letter to America, requesting them to come to our aid, I was chosen to write it. A man was chosen to deliver the letter. He was told to deliver it at all cost, even if it meant his life. He snuck out in the dead of night, boarded a ship to civilization. He was discovered, after he delivered it. The man was found in the river three days later, dead. With a bullet wedged in his shoulder and his legs blown off. Three months later, after the mission, America came to the rescue.

Boom! Boom! The bomb shells fell all around us. I scooped Lotae up and started running. I could feel her getting heavier and heavier the further I went. I looked down at her. She had extreme fear gripping her heart. I lost my footing and we tumbled down the embankment, we stayed there. Trying to conceal ourselves. I held her tightly not wanting to let go. Then I heard an English voice, “Hello! Does anybody need help?” An American.

Chapter 2

“We’re down here!” I suddenly realized my mistake and clamped a hand over my mouth. He could be taking prisoners. None the less, he found us, cowering in the river edge. He hauled me to my feet, I found I could barely stand. “I am not going to hurt you, come along with me, that’s it, alright. Come along little girl.” He picked up my poor trembling sister and carried her to the chopper. “Are you alright?” I nodded my head, not trusting my voice. We were being rescued! Finally!  I could only hope we were going to America. I climbed into the helicopter, relieved and excited. As we rose into the air, I could see Lotae’s excitement as well.  Then, as if we were in a bad dream, I could hear the Japanese shooting from below. We slowly pulled away, I remember thinking, and how amazing are these American planes that can deflect bombs. Then we started going down, faster and faster. We were about to crash land. The pilot tried fiercely to pull up, but it was no use, we were going to collapse. With a quick movement the American man grabbed the parachutes; I had never seen one but had read plenty about it. I grabbed Lotae’s hand and she me, and we strapped them on and jumped into the wilderness. The American jumped after me, though I don’t remember. Lotae was holding onto me, not screaming, but with extreme fear in her eyes. She pulled on the string, her parachute never opened. I pulled mine and tried to maneuver her way. I landed hard and tried to catch my breath. I started running in the direction it looked like she had landed. I reach the treeless spot and fell to my knees, I had been too late.  She lay there on the ground; there had been nothing to break her fall. I could feel the tears running down my face. I brushed them away only to feel more. I moved forward, and then her hand moved. Her eyes opened. “ Sali?” She asked in a shaky voice. “I’m here, I am right here. You’ll make, don’t worry.” She looked at me, eyes shining, “I am going to Jesus now. Don’t hold me back, and Sali,” I could feel the tears coming again, “Yes?”  “Thank you,” A small trickle of blood flowed out of her mouth, then, she closed her eyes. I laid on her, trying to hear any beat or sound, none.
        I felt a hand on my shoulder, “Boy?” 
The voice I spoke sounded nothing like my own, “Yes sir?” 
“Let’s head out, we got a long trip to go.”
“Where are we going?” I replied in English.
“There should be a camp about 100 miles east of here. Now, I don’t have my compass with me, happens you know the way?”
 I now finally got a chance to look him over. A tall young man, muscular, yet thin. He had a smudged face and a gun slung over his shoulder. He had a dark hair and sharp blue eyes. I saw his wound, he had his left shoulder wrapped up. I continued to stare at it, it was obliviously a bullet wound, not very deep or else he would be dead by now. “Boy!” I snapped out of it. 
“That way,” I pointed opposite of the village. “Because, the mountains are north and the village is west.”
“Thanks boy, hey, uh, what’s your name?”
“Yeah, well, sorry about your, what ever she was. Hey, you speak pretty good English!”
“Thanks, I had good teacher.”
“Alright, at least communication will not be a problem. I hope.”  And so the journey began. It started out a little awkward then one thing led to another and soon we were chatting like old friends-in English. I was teaching Sam (That was the soldier’s name) some Ce`ng words and Sam taught me some English words. After several days of doing this, one night as we were sitting around the campfire, Sam asked me, “So, was that girl your sister or what?”
“She was my father’s daughter but not my sister. We are or were what you Americans call half-brother/sister.”
“Were you two Christians?” I looked at him strangely
 “Yes, an American came to our village. He told us. Where do you live in America?” I asked.
“I live in a place called St. Paul, Minnesota. I have a Mom, Dad and two sisters.”
“What are your sisters names?”
 “Their names are Christy and Katrina. Both are 12, they’re twins. How many brothers and sisters do you have?”
“Are you a Christian?” I asked.
“Yes Sali. I have grown up with that all my life.”
“So, what are you going to do with me?”
“I don’t know, I have never done this before. Usually when we rescue people we bring them to our camp and then help them go to America or somewhere else.”
“Do you want to be brothers?” I asked, surprised by my own boldness. He looked at me with confusion written all over his face, “What do you mean? I don’t understand.” I did my best to explain. “Well you see, in my tribe, if you have a wonderful friend that has done something for you, then you swear to each other that you will be brothers until you draw your last breath. Then you each take some blood and give it to the other. Then you are brothers by blood.” I could tell he wanted to do it. “I want to, but, what have I done?” I looked at him with a big smile, “You got my sister and I out of Ce`ng, you helped me out of the plane, you were there when she died. I have already thought of you as my brother many times.”
“Of course I will.” As we swore to be by each other’s side forever, we had smiles as big as the mountain. I was now Sam Bauding’s brother and he mine.

Chapter 3

“Put your hands up!”  I awoke to German soldiers all around me, then I realized, backup. The Japanese were allies to the Germans, so when Japan was starting to get beat, replacements.  I was hustled to my feet, I was old enough to be in the army but I had always pretended to have a bad leg. I knew now there was no escaping it. As for Sam, I glanced over at him he too was still groggy. They will get their information out of him and then kill him. There was nothing we could do. We were marched back to their camp. I looked up at flags, I spat on the ground beside them.  I looked over at Sam; I could tell he knew what was happening. I was taken one way and he was hauled another. Now that Lotae was gone, I felt like I leaned on him with all I had. I looked up at the sergeant who was yanking me along, “Sir, where we go?” I asked him this in the meager German I knew. “Shut up stupid boy” was all the reply I got. I was roughly shoved into one tent measured and thrust into another. Here I found myself among several others, men and boys alike. I was given the hideous uniform. I wanted to spit on it, but knew I could be killed for that. Instead on putting it on, I walked out and headed towards the tent Sam was put in. Unfortunately, I missed the label that said, POW. Prisoner of War.  I walked in and nearly threw up. The tent was full of alive stinking bodies, all tied to a metal pole. They had meager clothes on, if any. They looked like they had been abused in every way. Before I had fully recovered from my shock, I was thrown once again into the tent with clothes. This time Sergeant stood over me and watched me dress. I felt very uncomfortable. I was beginning to really hate this place, not that I hadn’t already. I glanced out of the tent, and saw Sam. I had heard a lot about how if you where a Jew you could be put in a concentration camp where people dropped dead in the ditches. I had heard that you could be burned alive or killed off if you were old. It was a scary thought. I knew they could throw Sam into one of their many concentration camps.

Chapter 4

He was being pulled toward one of the many tents. I knew what was in there without having to look, torture. You could see it in the guard’s eyes and Sam’s. “Sam!” I yelled. As I lunged toward him, Sergeant caught me and, through his cigar tainted breath, heard him mutter, “Be still or you’ll be joining him.”  To which I replied, “My wish is your command,” And once again I ran towards him. The Sergeant wasn’t prepared for this and was unable to catch me. I ran towards Sam, an almost scary concentration filled my face. This was my brother and I was going to be with him to the end.  I had gotten a little too passionate; they were not going to get rid of a perfectly good soldier like me through torture. They were going to give me a taste of death though. I was put into the tent of the stink. When Sam came back, I could see they had done several of the worst things to him, the cat-o-nine on his back, and the GEio`o. I found out that the GEio`o is the machine where it pokes and pricks every important organ of your body. If it is not stopped quickly, you will die of internal bleeding. Luckily, Sam’s was not that bad. I was forced into the tent, after passing Sergeants yellow grin. He reminded me somewhat of the American Grinch. With his German green uniform and yellow big grin, yep, just like him.  I was given the royal treatment, though it wasn’t nearly as bad a Sam’s. With his shoulder already bad, this didn’t help. I was able to coax him into a more comfortable setting but the wounds were hard to look at. I tried to remember what my mother would do. As I examined Sam’s arm, I did my best to talk to him, try to calm him down. I did this diligently until Sergeant saw that I was helping things not moaning or groaning.  Just as soon as I had got there, I was gone, once again headed towards the clothes tent, now I had a guard and the Sergeant watching over me. I looked myself over in the mirror; I looked almost like those prison/school guards, pacing back and forth.
        I was now escorted roughly into a large lean-to; I walked in and filled my lungs with the wonderful smell. This I guessed was the mess hall. I hated these men more that I even knew, but they could cook like nothing else. I walked slowly to the line, and felt very awkward. I was the youngest person there. And being jostled from every which way from men 35 years older than me was not very comforting.
        I remembered how I had gotten here, the many nights working to get to the US camp. Those campfires spent by Sam’s side, all over. Hummmmmmmmm, I couldn’t figure out what that sound was. Hummmmmmmmmmm, it sounded close and very familiar. I thought back to the US rescue, almost like it. I dropped to the ground. I was not in the mood to get something blown off. I jumped up and started running. I ran into the POW tent and screamed, “Everybody down!”  They all did their best to shrink down. Then, out of the smoke and flames left by the bombs, came the American soldiers. Sporting the American uniforms, and holding the beautiful American flag. I watched them in awe, and then realized I should help.  I pulled my German uniform off and threw on my old clothes. I was given a gun and told to break the chains. I went right to work. I could feel my muscles burning, but my chest was alive with the thought freedom. I could feel it very near, and I knew I was helping get there. When the last prisoner was freed, we were helped onto a chopper and taken to the nearest hospital. I refused to get checked before the ones who were hurt worse. I watched as one after one, these Americans were helped and given treatment for the wounds for fighting for another’s freedom. I watched as Sam was released, I could feel the tears rising, but I swallowed them and went to meet him like a man. I gave him a hug and he handed me my most prized possession, the American Flag.


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`Otter Days