Barry was somewhat surprised to learn that inmates of the Yang-Suk foreign friends camp did not have to clean their own dishes—just like they did not have to do their own laundry.
“They have nearby villagers who do all that,” Anne explained. “Most of them are older women. They’re happy to get the work. There are a lot of widows in North Korea, struggling to make ends meet.”
When they were done eating, Barry followed Anne and Tanaka’s lead, as they took their used trays and cups to another counter that opened into a dishwashing station.
This entailed standing in another line. From the rear of the line, Barry could see older women in white aprons, collecting the trays and cups for cleaning.
Again, it was a lot like a school cafeteria setup. Despite the minor inconvenience of standing in line, it wasn’t too bad. The mundaneness of it all almost made you forget where you were; and Barry suspected that that was by design. There was, within the North Korean context, an illusion of a comparatively luxurious lifestyle here.
Barry noted, however, that an armed guard was standing near the spot where the prisoners were dropping off their trays. The guard was scanning the crowd, looking for any sign of disorder or recalcitrance, no doubt. His hand rested near his holstered sidearm. Not a typical sight at any of the school cafeterias that Barry remembered from his student days.
Yes, they were prisoners here. That wasn’t altered by the fact that the North Koreans didn’t make them clean their own dinner trays or do their own laundry. The older women working in the canteen were slave laborers, too. No one in this country was truly free. Except for their Supreme Leader, perhaps.
Afterward, Tanaka and Anne headed out of the canteen into the main compound. Without waiting to be invited, Barry followed.
“So what do people do around here in the evenings?” Barry asked.
“Sometimes there are lectures,” Tanaka said, with undisguised irony. “About the superiority of the North Korean system, and the goodness of the Supreme Leader.”
“Baka,” Barry said. The Japanese word for “idiotic” or “stupid.”
“Mmm,” Tanaka said, nodding.
“Well, then, I suppose I’ll go back to my room, and think about my new station in life.”
“You’ll get used to it,” Tanaka said.
After a pause, Tanaka said, “No, not really. But it could be worse, I suppose. It can always be worse.”
“That seems to be the motto around here.”
Barry gave Anne a look, and she returned a frown, then turned away.
“If it’s okay, I’ll sit with the two of you at mealtimes. I don’t see myself making too many friends around here. Everyone seems to speak some language other than English. And you two are sparkling dinner companions.”
“Not really?” Tanaka said with a smile.
“No, not really,” Barry laughed. Tanaka laughed at the joke, but Anne merely gave him a wan smile. “No, seriously. You both seem nice. I appreciate you letting me join your little group.”
“Of course,” Tanaka said. “Dozo.”
Anne nodded, without saying anything.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” Barry said.
Anne smiled and nodded curtly.
“I’ll see you two tomorrow at breakfast,” she said.
Then she walked away.
Whatever charm Barry might have had with women before this, it certainly wasn’t working on this Anne Henry.
I should never have left the Ichiryu Hotel, he thought.
With Anne gone now, Barry asked Tanaka: “So tell me, Tanaka-san, how did they get you?”
The Japanese man let out a sigh. “They had been watching me for some time, apparently. I lived with my wife and son in Hokkaido, just outside the city of Sapporo. Sapporo wasn’t our home city, but we had an apartment there, while I was on assignment for Toyota.
“One night, after dinner, I decided to drive down to the local market to get a small bottle of sake.”
Tanaka paused before continuing. The memory obviously took an emotional toll on him.
“I parked my car and went into the store. Then I made my last purchase as a free man. When I walked outside, they were waiting for me in the shadows. One of them grabbed me. They put this hood over my head—it contained some chemicals that…knocked me out.”
Barry nodded, thinking how similar this was to his own abduction.
“And that was it. A few days later, I woke up inside a ship. They injected me with something that put me back to sleep. Then I woke up in North Korea.”
“The sons-of-bitches,” Barry said. “Who do they think they are?”
“Their own lives don’t even matter to them,” Tanaka replied. “So our lives don’t matter, either. For me, the worst part of all this is thinking about my wife and son. To this day, I’m sure they have no idea what happened to me. They don’t know if I’m dead, or if I…just ran off. Even in Japan, that happens, you know: Men desert their families.”
“Sure,” Barry said. He couldn’t help remembering all that he lacked in the fatherhood department. In that way, at least, Tanaka was a better man than he was.
“So that’s my story,” Tanaka said. “How about you?”
“Much the same,” Barry said. “I was on a business trip in Osaka. They caught me with my guard down.”
Barry couldn’t bring himself to tell Tanaka about “Keiko”—Mi-kyung. That wound, and the humiliation and rage that festered beneath it, were still too fresh.
Back in his room, Barry lay on his cot and looked at the ceiling for a long time.
Tomorrow he would begin “work”—could he properly call it that?—for the North Koreans.
He would tell them how to market this hellhole of a country as a tourist destination.
Or he would try to, anyway.
All the while, he would be focused on looking for the means and opportunity to escape.