The next two hours brought her bare footsteps to a drier field where the corn was sparse. She toiled on, followed by Natalya in her little cart. The dust kicked up and stuck to the nude’s sweat all over. She looked and smelled disgusting, but she was used to it by now.
It was five o’clock, when she was beginning to dread the approach of the Interrogation, when Natalya said, “Stop,” in the native language. She appraised the prisoner’s gross appearance from head to toes, like a dirty sweaty animal, then motioned for her to follow. Natalya drove the cart to the edge of the little ravine and pointed to the creek at the bottom. “Five minutes.”
There was a little creek running down there. She supposed she should be grateful. It was always a relief to shower after a hot day in the fields, but for her it was usually done in the most humiliating way possible, shooting a fire hose at her in the prison yard as dirt and grime were blasted away. Evidently Natalya decided that today she was too disgusting to sit on the bus and should be cleaned now. At least in the ravine she would be free from the jeering stares of the guards, and the other inmates.
She slipped into the cool water with relief. She stayed under as long as possible to cool her head, which felt especially hot, then emerged and rubbed herself all over as the dirt sluiced off her body and made little brown clouds in the water. For five minutes she was alone . . . She allowed herself to close her eyes for a moment and think, “Aaaaahhhhh. . .”
After five minutes she was expected back up at the field, so she climbed up the ravine, fingers and toes digging into the dirt wall to get traction, and poked her head up so that she could see the field again. She saw everyone else far away, hardly in sight. Natalya had left something hanging on a stick, like she would do in the prison yard. But -- instead of the usual rough gray rag that she would scrape herself dry with, before it was immediately snatched away -- here was a big, fluffly, clean white towel!
The nude prisoner looked at the towel, with an open-mouthed astonishment that she had been trained not to display. And then at the guards and inmates far away. Natalya was out there in her cart, watching the day’s final exertions of the other inmates.
The towel -- the towel -- she looked up and down the ravine -- it curved, the creek with it, just deep enough for her to swim downstream --
Should she just dry herself and go back to the bus? Or just run? How long before they wondered where she was? The towel hung on a low point and seemed out of eyeshot of anyone else. Was this a trap?? The nude prisoner, fingers and toes stuck in the side of the soft ravine, her toned butt muscles flexing with her racing thoughts, looked at the towel and then at the distant guards. She had to decide fast!