The sun beat down at the back of his neck. He once asked for a hat, but his captor, who he was told to call “Boss”, simply roared with laughter. The markings he made at the back of the barn told him he’d been there forty days. Boss would check on him soon, and if he counted only sixteen buckets of grapes, there’d be no dinner.
He made his way down a stretch of vines, dragging a bucket with him. Every other day, a car would pass down the road that split up the fields. He thought about running to them many times. He could wave his arms and muster something in English. He knew “help” and “please”. Perhaps they would understand. Yet, his reflection in the pond made him believe they would not stop.
Suddenly, a bang. He looked up and saw a truck roll towards the side of the road, tire flapping against the ground. He continued snipping grapes off the vine in his hand as a man got out of the car, kicking the door shut. He could see the man making his way over at the corner of his eye.
He did not know what to do other than nod.
“Looks like I got myself a flat. You happen to have a spare?”
He gulped, searching for the right words. This was his chance. How could he explain?
Before he could attempt an answer, footsteps caused them both to turn. Boss approached them with a smile.
“Hello there. Something the matter?”
He had lost his chance.
The man tipped his cap. “No, sir. Just a flat is all. Wondering if ya’ll could help.”
He became aware of the thumping in his chest as Boss turned to him. “You heard him, boy. Run along and see if we gotta spare.”
“Well, actually,” the man remarked. “Was wondering if you could take me into town. I got an appointment I’m late for, so I’ll come for the truck later.”
Boss paused. “Sure thing. Just gotta grab my keys.”
The keys were always kept in a hidden place so he could not escape. Boss threatened him with a look before making his way to the house.
The man grabbed a leaf from a vine. “Such beautiful plants. Grapes any good?” He pulled out a pocket knife. “My wife and I sure love wine.” The man handed him the leaf and knife. “Drink it just about every night with dinner.”
He stared for a moment before realizing the man’s intentions. His hand shook as he put the knife to the leaf, trying hard to carve the letters: H… E…
“Now I prefer red myself,” the man continued. “But the missus loves white.”
He could hear Boss open the door.
The man grabbed them from his hand and stuck them in his pocket. Boss jingled the keys in the air. “Right this way, sir.”
He watched them get into the car. Its rumble echoed into the long, desolate highway, twisting like the grapevines around him.