Remy Tuck had not seen his own reflection in three weeks. He'd lost his shaving mirror in a poker game to a man with jaundice. Remy hadn't tried to win the mirror back. Lately, he played only for food.
He sat under a giant dao tree near the barbed wire, rolling dice on a plank. The faces of the internees around him told him enough of what he must look like. Scooped-eyed and hollow-cheeked, three of them bet with Remy for the prize of an egg, while the rest read or dozed. One of the gamblers, a former mechanic for Pan Am, tipped his sharp chin up away from their game. Remy stopped rattling the dice to gaze through the dao's branches into the dispersing mist of a warm December morning. The faroff hum of an American plane -- the Japanese had no presence anymore in the Philippine sky -- added its burr to the calls of birds and insects in the scrub and bamboo inside the camp, the jungle outside it. Remy put down the dice. The whine of the airplane shifted to a higher tone. Something dived their way.
Remy rose first. He stepped out of the shade of the great dao. The tree provided him a favorite, cool place to sit, read, or run a quiet game of craps away from the guards and the Catholics.
He pulled down the brim of his old fedora to better search the lush horizon for the plane. At age forty-five, his eyes remained sharp, though fading sight was common inside the wire, where vegetables had grown scarce. Remy squinted to squeeze more distance into his vision. By the engine's winding he expected it to come in low. This would be a fighter, not one of the big bombers that hammered the Japanese garrison in Manila every few days. Remy scanned west, beyond the fence. Three miles off, slips of fog clung to the forested slopes of Mount Makiling. To the north on terraced hillsides, bent Filipino farmers trod behind carts hauled by scrawny carabao, water buffaloes. Everything's starving, Remy thought, except the fat dao tree.
Others moved out of the shade with Remy to find the plane. One of the dice players, the old piano player, black McElway, spotted it first. He said with a chuckle, "Hot diggity dog, look at 'im."
The twin-tailed fighter appeared out of the northwest, above the bay, a green sliver returning to Mindoro from a dawn raid over Manila.
"Everybody," Remy announced, "inside."
The fifteen men and women under the tree got to their feet. Some had to reach down to help the ones slowed by the blue ankles of wet beriberi.
Remy hurried beneath the dao to the plank. He snared his dice and the egg he'd been about to win. He returned the egg to McElway, who offered a broad, rickety mitt for a grateful shake. Remy gripped the man's elbow to hustle him and the rest along before any of the two hundred Japanese guards came to do it for them.
Everywhere in the camp, internees scurried for the two dozen sawali-and-nipa barracks. Guards on the dirt paths clapped, beating a rhythm of urgency. They shouted at anyone they observed meandering, "Bakayaro!" Idiot. Some brandished bayonets, jabbing them in the air as if they would skewer any malingerer.
Nearing his own barracks, Remy lagged for one more glance at the fighter coming hot and steady. The plane traced the earth so closely it blew through the smoke from a chimney in the village. McElway climbed the few bamboo steps into the barracks. The old man tugged Remy behind him.
"Come on, man. You don't want that trouble."
Remy made a beeline for the cubicle he shared with McElway and four other bachelors. Throughout the barracks, the ninety-plus men already inside shambled for their own bunks, grumbling at being forced under cover by a hotrodding pilot. Before Remy could poke his head out the window, the fighter screeched past, shaking the sawali walls and bamboo timbers.
Remy hopped up to his top bunk. He stuck his hat on a nail. The snarl of the fighter faded quickly southward. Remy smelled exhaust. Dangling his legs, he pictured the view from the cockpit, of speed and freedom, turning this way or that, no bayonets or wire fences. He imagined a horizon, the soft curve of the world.
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