James is counting each time the gong sounds. He is unable to sleep because of the anxiety of waiting. For eight years, James didn’t care how much time had passed. Now he’s counting each meal to know how many lonely days and nights have gone by. In the daytime, he looks through the little air vent at the desolate scenery outside his cell. At night, he watches the immense darkness surrounding him. James can feel his loneliness spreading all over, even permeating through the cement floor to the soil underneath. Chi Mai has turned his prison life upside down. She came like a wolf and left like a graceful deer, leaving him with just gentleness to savor on every minute.
During the past two weeks, James has felt his existence to be so meaningless. He has no hope that Chi Mai will return. Why does she have to come back? She didn’t promise him anything. She only said she hoped to be back. There’s nothing to be sure of. He suddenly worries about the troubles she may face for her decision to stop torturing him. She has said to him, “Your troubles are over now. It’s time for mine to begin,” hasn’t she? James wonders what troubles she is facing now in Hanoi. Her last words before parting continues to haunt him. “Don’t forget your Bible, even if I don’t come back here again.” With love, for somebody in James’ state of mind, one can forget everything.
James feels he is going insane. He is willing to kneel on the dirty, muddy floor of the underground cell, day and night, just to be able to talk to her once a week. Just to talk. He is fascinated by her voice. James craves for the chance to look into her eyes so that he may visualize the Rio Grande where he had swam in his childhood. James likes to think about the new beginning of his life since the moment he came out of the barrel with blood oozing from his nose and ears, and a smile on his face, when Chi Mai approached and said to him, with tears in her eyes, “James, I’m very sorry.”
James’ new life started from that moment, that wonderful moment for anyone who considers love as his or her goal of living. If the young people in America and Europe could rediscover life the way James did, this world would be changed for the better.
However, suffering doesn’t attract people the way pleasure does. So very few people have found out the real meaning of life like James. James is a fortunate and greedy person. Having been comforted during the worst moments of his life, he wants to hold tight to this newly found comfort, never to leave it until he dies. “I want you to go back to America,” Chi Mai told him so, with tears in her eyes. Her tears revealed a wonderful love. James never resented her, but if he did, those tears could have the power to clear away any hatred in him. James doesn’t hate anyone. The things he hates are doctrines, ideologies, and social prejudices, which separate people from one another. James has thought about so many things, just to occupy his mind, so that he doesn’t have to keep on thinking about Chi Mai.
The truthful soldier has proved himself to be a steel bar going through harsh treatment and punishment of hatred, only to find out he is defenseless, being tortured by love. James has fallen out of reality into the world of imagination and daydreams. He is infatuated with Chi Mai’s image. James wishes he could be hung by his thumbs, his toes dangling, his face glued to hers by a passionate kiss.