It is a hot, lazy summer in an isolated mountain village in Japan. Floods have washed out the only direct link to town, a suspension bridge. The teacher refuses to travel the long, treacherous path along the ridge, so the village children find time on their hands.
The narrator of this story is searching for bone fragments in the village crematory when Harelip, the local Tom Sawyer, appears with a wild-dog puppy that he has captured. Suddenly the narrow sky of the valley is filled with the shadow and roar of an enormous airplane.
Harelip shouts that it is an enemy plane, and the dog escapes in the confusion, but a more important “catch” is at hand. The next morning, the children of the village awake to find an ominous silence and all the adults gone. They are out searching for downed American airmen. The distant war, noted only by the absence of young men from the village and an occasional death notice, does not have much meaning for the children until the adults return late in the day from the mountains. They bring with them an enormous black man. The boy is reminded of a boar hunt, the hunters silently circled around the captive, who has the chain from a boar trap around his legs.
The enemy excites both fear and curiosity among the children. He is put into the cellar of the communal storehouse and a guard is posted. The storehouse is a large building, and the boy and his younger brother live on the second floor with their father, an impoverished hunter. His gun, always at the ready on the wall, “gave a kind of focus” to their “humble home.” They have no furniture, and food is hard to come by in the war years. Yet the boy is excited at the thought of sleeping in the same building as the exotic prisoner who has fallen into their midst.
At first the captive is kept under close guard and treated as a dangerous animal. His smell is overpowering, and he seems like an animal to the children. The next day the boy goes with his father to town, to sell some weasel skins and to report the capture. The boy is uncomfortable in the town, conscious of his poverty and dirtiness. The local officials will not take the prisoner off the hands of the village until they receive orders from the prefecture offices. The boy and his father return to the village at sunset with the unwelcome news.
The boy carries food down into the dark cellar, guarded by his father, who has his shotgun ready. At first the captive only stares at the food, and the boy realizes in shame that the poor dinner might be rejected. The black man, however, suddenly devours the meal. Gradually the boy loses his fear of the American as they bring him food every day, and vigilance is relaxed: “I began to feel that he was docile and quiet, like some gentle animal.”
The village elders are angered when they learn from the clerk sent out from town that they will have the responsibility of guarding the prisoner until the officials...
(The entire section is 1195 words.)