Writers on Writing: The Art of the Short Story

By Maurice A. Lee | Go to book overview

Making the Invisible Visible

Marion Bloem


Translated from the Dutch by Wanda Boeke.

“We're in a P.O.W. camp. My friend, a Moluccan guy, is able to make himself invisible to the guards. At night he secretly visits his wife and children. Others also want to visit their wives and come to him for help. He makes sure that they, too, are able to leave the camp without being seen. That night the Japs get us out of bed. Roll-call. He counts, adu … seven are missing.

“The next day all seven have to stand before the firing squad. The Japs shoot. All dead.

“Except my Moluccan friend, he remains standing. Again they aim. They fire. But you can see the bullets veer off. Betud. They can't hit him. The Japs get angry. One cries, 'OK, not you, but instead of you, 50 others!'

“My commanding officer says, 'Kasihan, though, innocent people will have to go in your stead.'

“That Moluccan, a good guy, a friend of mine, says to the Japs, 'OK, give me a glass of water. But I'm doing it for my comrades, not for you.'”

My father pulled an imaginary glass out of the air, looked inside it, sniffed, and drank it down, gulp, gulp, gulp … empty. He wiped his mouth, proudly tossed back his head, and said, “Go ahead. Shoot.”

I grew up with a father, uncles, and a grandfather and grandmother who were good at storytelling. The stories they told, even if they remained true to their experiences down to the last detail, were like fairy tales to me. They used words that were for me sometimes no more than sounds and that did not refer to objects that I knew from daily life.

-65-

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