A historical fiction piece.
There were seventeen of us cramped into a small, tight living space in the camp. I shared barracks with women who held babies in their arms, and had children clutching to their hips. I could see the fear in their eyes, and the mournful sorrow of those who wished for it to be over. Just by looking at some of them, I could tell they were malnourished. The hollow imprint of rib cages, and the swollen bellies of young children is what shocked me the most. I stood in the middle of the room, overwhelmed by my surroundings. One of the women, who looked as though she had been at the camp for a long time, paced around me in observation.
“What’s your name?” She asked.
“Virginia.” I said. “Virginia Anderson.”
“My name is Annie. Mind if I call you Ginny?”
I shook my head, my entire body rattled with fear.
“Just do what you’re told and try not to get yourself beaten. That’s the best way to survive this place.”
In the corner of the small room, a soft sobbing sound came from the arms of a mother holding a four year old. I took note of her flushed face, sweat poring out of her forehead, and the constant crying. I had seen it many times before working at the children’s hospital in San Francisco. This young girl had an ear infection. I couldn’t help but tend to her, and give her a thorough examination.
“When was the last time she ate?” I asked the mother.
“This morning. We are only given small food rations.”
I checked her pulse, and tried looking at her throat as best as I could. Without the proper equipment I couldn’t determine whether or not the infection had spread, or how long she has had it. As I kept examining her she became more and more fussy. She needed medicine.
“We need to get her to a doctor,” I said.
“Are you insane?” The mother asked. “You go out there demanding a doctor they will beat you.”
“I have to do something.”
“There is nothing you can do,” said Annie. “The Red Cross has been sending in supplies but the guards compensate them. Keep them for themselves.”
The little girl started wailing and the doors swung open. A guard barged in, headed towards the mother and the crying child. Without uttering a word he picked up the child and pulled her away from the mother.
It was a blood curdling scream that shook down the entire building. I could not tell if it came from the child or the mother, but by the time the guard had reached the door with the child, two more guards came in to hold her back. Everyone was shaken, and fearful of what was to come for that little girl.
I was forced to sleep on concrete slabs along with my internee-mates, and there was very little food distributed to us. We ate nothing but rice and seaweed. Hardly enough for fourteen hours of rigorous labor. Sometimes the work was just parading around the camp, so that the man in charge could have us all accounted for. He forced us to bow towards Japan, making sure we did it precisely how he wanted us to do it. One girl did not understand his request and when she took a bow, she was beaten by the guards. She was only fourteen years old.
I wanted to stop it, but I knew what would happen if I tried. Still it was excruciating to watch a young girl beaten by a grown men. My lips trembled at the painful screams, and the mournful tears. This kind of cruelty and punishment ensued on a daily basis both morning and night. We would line up in formation and the commander would single one of us out for one reason or another. So long as it pleased him, one of us would get beaten. There was nothing but anger pouring out of these soldiers, and nobody knew why.
At night I tried keeping my thoughts from the hellish nightmare I had been in and thought about life back home. I began wondering if going home would even be possible. The nights did nothing but fill my head with fear and anxiety over not knowing if I were going to live through this or not.
On one of the nights I managed to fall asleep, Annie stirred me awake with her crying and screaming. She woke the entire cabin up. I tried to calm her down, encouraging her to talk about it if she wanted to.
“I saw my daughter,” she trembled.
“I didn’t know you had a daughter,” I said.
“They took her from me.” She said. “Like they took hers.”
She pointed at the mother who still sobbed at night for her baby.
“I tried to stop them,” she cried. “She was screaming and kicking, begging me not to let them take her. I tried to grab her from them, but they beat me severely. And the next thing I knew, I heard a gun fire, and her screaming went dead-silent. I knew what they had done to her.”
She sank into my arms, sobbing and pouring her tears onto my shoulder.
“She was only seven,” she sobbed.
I held her closer as she fell back asleep.
I went to bed hungry every night, wishing and thinking about food. After a month I noticed that I had stopped menstruating due to hard work and undernourishment. The women around me contracted the Dengue fever and beriberi fever. Some covered in rashes and others complained of muscle pain. While I was out working in the camp one day, I came upon a small parcel with Red Cross branded on the packaging. I didn’t know what was in the package, but it had to have been resourceful.
That night I pulled the package out of the elastic of my bra and ripped it open to find bottles of aspirin. There had been enough for everyone to take at least one to relieve them from their suffering, even for just a moment. It felt good to nurse people, even just for a moment.
However, the following morning, somehow the guards found out about my little practice. As punishment, each person in my barracks were forced to take turns beating me one by one. When it was Annie’s turn she hesitated as I peered up at her with pleading eyes.
“Do it!” The commander yelled, pointing a gun at her.
By the look in her eyes, I could tell she had given up. I could tell she was ready for this to be over. She just stood there, not moving a muscle at me, and within seconds the commander fired his gun, and she was dead.