The soldier knelt down to carefully scoop up water with his hands and drink it. Musn't spill a drop, he might not be able to drink again for the rest of the day. As the warm water slid down his throat, he thought of her.
He had been in this prisoner of war camp for over a year now. They had been promised decent treatment by their captors but as soon as the officials left, the prisoners knew it had only been lip service. What was shown from the propaganda department was entirely different from reality. Only the thought of her buoyed him on to endure it.
He and his fellow prisoners quickly learnt that rules can be subjective to a guard's mood that day, to retaliate could mean death, and that maggots in bread shouldn't be passed up, because it was extra protein.
Day in and day out he toiled along with the other prisoners, sometimes being pressed into manual labor for whatever needed doing around the camp, but most of the time simply going out of his mind with despair and futility. Why did he ever enlist? Why did he get sent here? Why hadn't his country rescued them yet? How much more could they endure of this hell? But he was lucky; he had her to think of and keep him sane.
He had a secret. A small photograph of her, his beloved, back home waiting for him, was his lifeline to survival in this hell hole. He kept it hidden from his captors in a small crevice between the boards of their bunkhouse, wrapped in cellophane to protect it from the elements. He hadn't even let his fellow soldiers know about it, lest it be stolen; or worse, found by their captors to bring torture down among them all. He rarely went to take it out and look at it for fear of drawing attention to himself and the hiding place, but just the knowledge it was there kept him going like a small pilot light in a cold oven. As long as that photograph was there, he would live through this so he could go back to her.
Months went by and he saw some of the other prisoners die from malnutrition, and despair. He clung tight to the knowledge that she was back home, waiting for him, so he must survive this no matter what. In his darkest moments he only had to think of her bright smile framed by that soft blonde hair and he felt he could go on for a few more hours, at least.
In time the prisoners were rescued and soon on their way back home to civilization. As soon as he stepped off the train in his old hometown he was mobbed by family, friends, and well-wishers wanting to welcome him back home from the war. He appreciated the greeting, but he only had one person on his mind to see. He scanned the crowd but didn't see her. He pulled a friend aside and asked where she was.
"Didn't you know? She up and married that Chicago fellow shortly after you left for overseas duty....surely you knew?"
He hesitated a moment before responding, "Yeah....yeah I knew."
As the friend turned away he sank slowly to the ground, clutching her photograph, wishing he had died back in the camp.
Submitted for GBE #64, topic: Hidden