Having alighted from a Graham car now parked In front of the spot where the chapel used to be until last month when a typhoon leveled it to the ground and the bell fell from the ceiling did not break. Work had started on it when the Saps came. Many people were afraid, and we heard all sorts of news. The trail led father Inland beyond the waterless creek were the barrio schoolhouse stood. On both side of the muddy trail are fields now planted to corn, hemmed on all sides by coconut trees, In our backyard are kilns for drying, copra, and heaps of firewood from the forest of Alfonse.
My elder brother Carlo knew that forest by heart. Had helped him gather firewood and he was not afraid of the dark. “Sells,” he would say, “you have a chicken heart and the memory of a turtle. I wondered where he was, my strong , big brother, as I watched the enemy soldiers go under the shreds which stretched on a long line to the west backyard. These were empty she now, but formerly on Mondays. Which was market day, they were full of products from the town all the lovely things that money could buy: many colored print cotton for dresses and skirts, threads all colors, dried fish and rice cakes, toys and black magic.
The vendors shouted their wares and demonstrated the use of medicines and oils, and the whole place hummed with noise, and everybody liked it, and when folks wowed their teeth in smiles, everybody else did the same and nobody was afraid. The Japanese soldiers stood under the empty sheds, smoking at ease and talking loudly. Some of them pointed at the smoke coming from the crater of Mount Mayo In the distance. Others were cleaning off the mud from their boots with bayonets. Father stood at the door, his white hair shelling In the sun.
Mother knelt before the image of Santa Rosa in the altar room in our house, surrounded by the maid and my 1 OFF feast of San Juan a year ago in November. I stood at my father’s side at the doorway, itching the sun on his hair and his lips that moved but said nothing. And I was thinking of my Brother Cairo, who knew the forests of Alfonse by heart. I didn’t know where he was, and Father and Mother had been very sad about him One Japanese soldier with a long sword at his side walked toward my father and spoke to him in the dialect.
I opened my mouth in amazement. As he talked he looked very much Like the Japanese we knew who sold bicycles in the capital of the province where father often took us to see the movies. The man was smiling and sashaying quiet it was in the own of San Juan, and how nice the afternoon was, and how victorious the Japanese army, “We are friends,” he said, but Father, ordinarily quick to smile and respond with a kind word, looked stern and said nothing The the Jape talked some more about living closer under the benevolent influence of the Emperor.
He looked around him, standing beside Father – Father never looker taller – and he said, “you know, I have been here before/” miss I know, ” Father answered. Mimi still got those unbeatable roosters of yours? ” he asked Then the Japanese looked toward the cornfield and waved his stubby arm as if to encompass everything round: muff don’t plant corn all year around, do you? ” Mimi have been here before,” Father answered “l know,” the Japanese said, “you plant rice. WHen do you start planting? ” “After a while,” said father “where does the barrio lieutenant live? Beyond the creek Near the schoolhouse? Not far from there He shahs been told we were coming I know father answered “goodbye,” said the Japanese soldier, smiling still. ” We are coming back. ” Then he marched his soldiers toward the creek where lay the barrio farther inland. The dogs barked at the sound of the marching feet. Soon the sound of both dogs and men was aridly audible. Father walked in the sun and stood among the cornfields, through the ears of corn, and I went along and watched him “when do we gather them, Father? I asked “before Christmas maybe, Son,” he replied, his voice so soft and kind I wanted to cry Before dusk the Japanese soldiers came back, the dogs barking after them. One soldier held crumpled in his hand the American flange which they had hauled off the bamboo pole in front of the schoolhouse. Another soldier off the bamboo pole in front of the schoolhouse. Another soldier in the rear carried on his left shoulder a worth Christmas tree around which dangled tinsel and silver stars.
I remember how every year before the Christmas vacation, our teacher in the barrio school made us go to the peak of the sanitarian hills for the ago trees that looked liked pine trees. We used empty gasoline cans for the base and placed stones and rockers in the can to keep the trees steady. We decorated the trees with tinsel and stars. We wrapped little gifts and sang Christmas songs all week. When we sand “Joy to the world” miss Nasal put her fines on her lips and stopped us, saying ” you don’t have to shout” it We had been looking forward to all this when the enemy came.
There was shooting in the town and men came hurrying in the night with frightful store’s that made the men bite their lips and the women murmur their prayers faster and louder in tears. Then my brother disappeared like most of the young men in the village. A great sadness was everywhere… As the Japanese soldiers piled into the truck waiting near the chapel, the soldier with the sword waved the little Christmas tree at the people who had come out of their houses to watch them go. He waved it at us and the silver tars fell as he shouted in English, “Merry Christmas” A few days before Christmas we gathered the corn from the fields.
THe days were cold in spite of the sunshine that flooded the hills. And at night it rained briefly and after a while the moon shone. There were many tinny moons on the wet green leases in the meadows, among the ingathered cornstalks. Father did not want brother Carol’s wife to work, but she insisted. She had grown pale and here eyes were always red from weeping. Brother Cairo had not returned. Every time a strange man came to our door, she would rush o meet him nervously, hoping there was word about Cairo and fearing man carried bad news “Nana,” father told her, muff do not have to work.
Stay home and see the maid does not burn the rice” But my brother’s wife preferred to stay in the fields. Father cut the ripened cornstalks; it was better, he said, than burning it later, and we gathered the ears and piled them in heaps. In the evening I was going to haul them in a cart to store in the bin south of the bathhouse. At the midday when the sun shone directly above us, I told Nana, “look, we have no more shadows. ” She smiled wanly. And then the maid shouted from the doorway of our house, “Come and eat! ” Her voice filled the hills and I ran toward home, watching the littler formless shadow right beneath my feet.
And I heard Father say ” when it comes to eating, Sells is always first. ” IN the afternoon, Nana did not stay home either. Her shadow looked veering and she was very quiet. There was still much to do. Even the maid joined us. Evening was coming on. Mount Mayo looked blue and mysterious in the distance, a thin smoke from its Crater curled like a ribbon and lost itself among the clouds. Then came the sound of airplanes. They swooped low, skimming the treetops, the red rising sun on their wings visible in the afternoon light.
Their shadows darkened the fields as they flew above us. After a while father bent down once more and started cutting the cornstalks with vigorous angry strokes. Nana had to run to the nearest coconut tree, very pale and trembling as she stood in the shade. “Let me take you home,” said Mother as she went to her and held her hand. “Get the carbon now and the cart,” Father said to me, and don’t stand like an idiot. ” I was still looking at the planes that had circled around the volcano the drone of their machines fading n the distance.
When I came back with the carbon-driven cart, the sun had almost disappeared behind the Sanitarian hills, And evening closes in the completely on my way to the bin south of the bathhouse That night was gathered around the doorway under the shed in front of the house and waited for the corn roasting in the fire. The smell filled the house and made your mouth water – if you like roasted corn. And we did. The entire ear is thrown into the fire, husked and all. It is a low fire mostly glowing embers. The husk is burned black and cooks the grain Just right.
I always cooked forward for nights such as this after a heavy day, the corn hot in the hand and did not quite understand. “But what happened to the Americans? ” asked Mambo, one of the listeners, his face red and wrinkled in the lamplight. “The papers from Manila say the Japanese are winning everywhere, and the Germans stand on Russian soil,” said another man whose face I could not see. But he was an old man. Everybody was old. The young men were gone. Only the boys and the women were here and the old men whose sons had not come back. “l don’t believe anything,” said Father, speaking for the first time.
Later that night, after all men had gone, we went into the house to go to bed. Father blew out the lamp on the table, and suddenly, to my eyes, it was brighter outside on the hills. The lightest wick, half-buried in oil in a deep shell at the foot of the image of Santa Rosa gave out a faint glow, and from where I lay, I could see the painted flowers at the feet of the saint. The glowing embers on the stove sizzled and died as Nana sprinkled waster to extinguished the fire. Then she went over to the open window and sat there, her head in her hands against the window sill “Come to bed, Nana.
Mother called. “What are you doing there? ” But to my brother Carol’s wife sat there saying not a word, she sat there for a long time. I felt so heavy inside me, I could not sleep. I shouldn’t have eaten so much of that corn. In a few days it would be Christmas, but there were no more pretty things in town, and the schoolhouse beyond the waterless creek was closed and there was not much fun anymore. People looked very sad and quiet. Their eyes were sharp and no longer full of mischief and laughter. Father, who had always been gay and who used to sing at night, was tight-lipped and unsmiling.
Since brother Cairo had gone, no one had touched the guitar on the wall, Mother prayed most of the time, ever since the fighting in the town Egan and Japanese soldiers kept coming and going all the time. Nana was always looking out toward the trail that curved down the hill and disappeared in the forests. “Look,” said Nana suddenly, her voice shrills and excited, “men are coming up the hill from the forests of Alfonse. I can see a torchlight coming up this way through the trees. ” Father went to the door quickly, and true enough, there was torchlight coming up this way. And the dogs had started barking. L shall light the lamp,” said mother “Glee me a match” “Don’t be crazy,” Father replied, “how do you know they aren’t laps? ” “must be Cairo and the boys,” Nana cried as she brushed against us crowding the doorway, wanting to go out and meet them. But Father held her back. “Cairo will not come by torchlight,” he said. We could see the group now. They were not the enemy. Some men and a child… And soon we knew who they were. There was a girl. We knew Mart and her little brother Bounds. THe man who held the torch was their fatter, Going Matins. Then another man, tall and thin.
THey stood directly in front of our house and greeted us loudly. Father gave mother a match and lighted the lamp. Going Matins blew out the torch he was holding, Father asked them in. IN the days before the big shooting in the town and the bombing of the capital of the province, Going Matins and his children came frequently to our house. On market days Mart took one of the stalls in the backyard and sold cakes while Bounds and I roamed around aimlessly. Going Matins managed Father’s roosters, arrange bets, and tied the spurs around the rooster’s legs. Going Matins brings me good luck,” Father would say.