segunda-feira, 3 de outubro de 2011

The kid survived. He survived the best or the worst the enemy had to offer. Among his captors he became an awesome legend, an insane, grinning devil. Once they put the screws to him and he agreed to confess. He confessed that he had been snatched from a mental institution for violent patients. "Hell," he said, "that's where the U.S. Army got most of us. I thought you people knew that. We either came from nut houses or joints where they got the worst hoodlums locked up. You don't think they'd send anybody over here they gave a damn about, do you?" For some time this prize confession created a considerable stir among the Red big domes. He was full of stunts like that until starvation and mistreatment beat him down almost to the point of death. Still he grinned and hate sustained him.

The gentle and courageous young chaplain who had ministered to the kid following his capture and who had been a special target for persecution by the enemy was attacked by a raging fever and dysentery. A living skeleton now, it was obvious he wouldn't live long unless he received prompt medical attention. Notified of his condition, the guards either pretended not to understand or shrugged indifferently. The kid called on the last of his strength to raise hell and to get the others to do the same until he was allowed to talk with the camp's military commander and its chief political officer, both of whom spoke English. (This was at a time when peace talks had been renewed and the Reds were all seeming benevolence. On some levels, that is.)

"The padre needs a doctor bad," the kid said. "I think he's dying."

"No doctor," the political officer said.

The kid grinned and murder glittered in his sunken eyes. "You want him to die, don't you, you bowlegged little bastard?"

The slap cracked like a snapped tree branch.

"Pig! American slime! I should have you shot for insolence! The political officer's pitted face was mottled with rage. He barked some words of command in Chinese to one of the guards. This scowling fellow stepped forward, his submachine gun ready.

"Go ahead," the kid taunted, still grinning. "Tell your pinheaded stooge to shoot. And then tell the world what supermen you are. Uncle Mao'll probably give you a medal. But get the padre a doctor!"

The political officer, recalling with a shudder how earlier encounters with this fearless, imbecilic one had ended so disastrously, shook his head helplessly. "You handle this insane American dog," he snapped, and stalked off, vowing doubtless to take care of the kid when the present soft policy was canceled.

"Well?" the kid said.

The commandant was tough but not cruel. His look was speculative and a quirk of a smile appeared fleetingly at the corner of his lips. "I wasn't aware you were a religious man," he said.

"I'm not. What the hell's that got to do with it?"

"Nothing. I'll send a doctor."

"Thanks."

The commandant kept his word. Two hours later a Chinese doctor came to see the delirious chaplain.

"Hopeless case," the doctor said in pidgin English. "Die soon. Too bad." He left.

The kid cursed — and kept a long vigil. Some time after dawn the delirium slowly lifted and the chaplain's fever-bright eyes, set in a gaunt face, began to focus.

"It's me," the kid said. "How do you feel?"

"All right."

"Then that damn slant-eyed sawbones was wrong. You're going to be okay."

The chaplain knew the Chinese doctor hadn't been wrong. He didn't doubt that he was dying. But this was no cause for alarm. He waited for the end calmly, without fear. He prayed and then he spoke in a whisper to the kid about an unwrathful God, an unviolent future, a better world. His last words to the kid were "Seek Him, put hate behind you, and try to find yourself."

The kid looked long at the chaplain's wasted body with its bloated abdomen. The padre was a good guy, the kid thought. He had guts.

And faith.

And he was dead. The kid wasn't.

Caryl Chessman, The Kid Was a Killer, 1960.