Historical novel, No. of words: 49,015
UST Publishing House, 2011
by Antonio Enriquez
Before dawn that day, hundreds, maybe thousands, of civilians had gathered on the mountain tabletop, fronting the valleys below. They were farmers, carpenters, coconut-gatherers, corn- and rice-shearers, and laborers. There were former civic officers, sabes tu, like Mayor Agustin Perez and minor officials and civil servants and Philippine Constabulary officers like Captain Pedro Santos.
Somebody along the line, not me, said: “But why are we going with the Japanese Forces?”
“To keep them company .... ” said another, laughing a bit beside me.
“They’ll miss us ... the blank Japanese,” said still another, in our row, but did not laugh;
“if we don’t go with them.”
“Ay, will they miss us,” I said.
“It looks that way, hoy!”
We all made light of the forced “evacuation,” to relieve the tension and worry gnawing at our minds.
“Move!” the kempeitai cried. “Move. Move. Move.”
“Grro, grro, grrooo,” screamed a Japanese officer from the other end of a column in Engrish, reddish in the face as only a red hue can show in yellow skin.
“He means let’s go,” a man said to me, and jerked me gently when I did not move from my line.
“I know … no need to push,” said I, pretending anger in spite of the gentle push.
“Ay. But I did not, you know … ”
“O, o,” I said, a trace of false anger noticeable in the harsh tone of my voice. Turning toward the man, whom I had recognized earlier — “Ay, it’s you, Captain Santos.”
“Yes-yes,” he replied. “And the mayor is with us … somewhere. The Japanese officer thought of bunching us together, those who worked at City Hall … sabes tu.”
Pues we started down from the mountain tabletop to the valley below.
“A division … some 20,000 Japanese troops,” someone said, in a loud voice, in front of the line.
“Yes, that’s what I heard.”
“Gende yo cre,” said a Chabacano-speaking farmer. “I don’t believe.”
“No; si no quiere bos,” he replied. “No ... if you don’t wish to.”
“That’s too many soldiers, imagine 20,000. That’s why I don’t believe.”
A voice behind us said, “Come on, move.”
“Move, move,” the Japanese kempeitai shouted. “Waatts da mat ter?”
Ahead, a flabby, slow-footed man did not move.
“Did you not hear the kempeitai, hah?” said a fellow next to him. “You want to lose your head, amigo? Come on, move already.”
Said the flabby man sternly, “Who wants to lose his head, do you?” The fellow spun around, and recognizing Mayor Perez, immediately apologized. “I’m sorry. I didn’t recognize you, Mayor.”
No reply from the mayor but he moved several breast-lengths from his place.
Captain Santos’s aide, Sergeant Arcilla, leaning from his line peered out and said, “Mayor Perez is in front of us. Heard him talk to someone there, over there.”
Neither Captain Santos nor I bent in front of our line to where Arcilla pointed. We were all of us together, and here we had a common denominator: all servants and lackeys of the kempeitai captain.
We rested in the middle of the slope. An hour or so later, the kempeitai captain came to our group, a young native woman in tow. She was maybe in her early twenties, dressed in native garments, colorful though tattered, with anklets round her shanks, which made gleeful ringing sounds everytime she moved them. Her name was Talibon.
“Yu kip ‘er,” said the Kempeitai. “Tayk ker of ‘er.”
“Yes,” we said.
He went off without another word.
She stood there before us, scrubby but proud. Though a bit unsure of herself as we were strangers to her, she never lowered her head to us, as common native women would, bowing in respect before Christians and city officials. But likely she didn’t recognize the mayor. But how about the constabulary men who were still in uniform? Living out there in the mountains the closest sight she had of military men was when they raided her barrio or went after a tribesman for thievery or murder. Usually murder.
She is astonishingly beautiful, I thought. Never have I seen a more beautiful native woman.
Later, sitting on a treeroot, she told us what happened. Her husband was a native chieftain, who, with some of his forest warriors, was killed in an encounter with a Japanese patrol. Armed only with long knives, blow guns, slingshots, poison-tipped arrows, and spears, the chieftain and his forest warriors were massacred. They stood no chance against modern weapons which spat fire.
As she fled, conscripted Filipino “volunteers” captured her and turned her over to the kempeitai. For reward the secret police promised them leniency and an increase in their food ration. No longer would the kempeitai bash their heads for forgetting to bow at a passing Japanese officer and serve last week’s gruel topped with swarming flies.
The orphan boy Tibo was running down the slope and crashing through the bushes and thickets. He shouted, “Oy, oy, oy.”
He ran several times up and down the slope. Soon he got tired, and you could see it as his feet started to wobble in a sort of a funny way.
Much aware of the steepness, I descended slowly and carefully. I had no wish to slip. Behind me my wife Emma followed, going down much slower. An extra packet with her jewelry and a small statue of the Virgen Milagrosa swung from her hips. Other trinkets too, which she had not told me she had brought with her, hung in the other packet.
We halted a while to catch our breath.
“You don’t need them, Emma,” I said to my wife, “none of those trinkets.”
“We’ll need them when we get back … to barter for food.”
“If! For food .… ?”
Really, I could not believe what I heard.
Soon she will have to discard them, even the Virgin’s statue. I swore, “May I die!”
The further we were from the mountain tabletop and lower down the steep, the heavier became our camp packs on our backs or shoulders. Without making a sign, everyone halted to rest, not just us, the Bocaviejas, but the other evacuees too.
After half an hour’s rest, we started going down the mountain side again. At this point, the Japanese troops having marched earlier and faster were over the first hills, and no longer could they be seen leading the march. After climbing up and down the mountain sides and cliffs that morning found us in a valley that was verdant with plants and wild flowers.
Behind the green vegetation and wild orchids, and outlining the edge of the valley, were clayish mounts of rocks. This as far as your eyes could see. Isolated brush, with little blades of leaves, and small clumps of scrubby woods grew nearby.
As my wife Emma and the orphan boy were crossing the shadowed part of the valley, I sat down on a rock and waited for them. That part was flat as a pan, and the two would have made quicker progress if not for some clusters of rock blocking their way.
Bending a little, I massaged my bad left foot, sabes tu, without the small toe. I had crushed it with a hoe, there at our small farm, some years ago, so I did not have to report back to work. That was two or so years ago at the construction of the Japanese airfield in the seashore barrio of Calarian.
It was beginning to hurt me.
Will I be able to endure the pain? I asked myself. We’ve just started and already my bad foot is hurting so much. Rayo!
Not hearing her approach, I did not lift my head until Emma spoke. “Is it your bad leg again?” she said. “Is it again bothering you?”
Not lifting my head at her still, although now I heard her clearly. “Si, Emma. It’s my toe again.”
The little toe was hurting although it had been amputated. What a big joke.
Mutilated. Self-inflicted. Cut off. It’s all the same. No toe.
Ironical! I said to myself, smiling and twisting my lips at her. Now, I lifted my head, and looked up at her. In disbelief, the irony unfading. “How can a toe hurt when it’s not there, gone for two years already,” I said. Come on, tell me!”
“It is just in your mind, Paolo.”
“Don’t you tell me … just in my mind. ”
I continued massaging the muscles of my bad foot. Emma went to a spot behind another rock where she hid her jewelry and the little statue of the Virgin Mary. Before walking back to me, she gazed about her looking here and there. Maybe if she sees anyone suspicious, she’ll unbury them, I thought.
Then I heard a murmuring sound, not much farther down the slope. It came into my ears, like a soothing balm, making me forget the pain in my left foot: thinking, I’ll cool myself a bit, and skip among the rocks toward it.
Going down the slope, I slid a little although it had not rained, not in the cool sunny month of May. What made it slippery was the eternal shade from the forest foliage, which kept the ground damp the whole year round, even during the dry months.
Grabbing at shoots and stems of thickets and undergrowth to prevent from slipping down the steep, I continued my way down slowly. Ahead of me a stream of pebbles rolled down fast, and ceased rolling seconds after I reached the bottom of a gorge.
Along the bank I halted to listen to the murmur of the stream grow louder. It hummed in my ears, while on its bed ran clear and crystal-like water. Up ahead the land before me, farther from the cluster of rocks, were stunted thickets and brush. The ground was and level flat as one’s palm once again.
I wrenched my head up toward a mount of rocks along the river bank.
“Hoy, Emma, come down here …” I shouted at my wife. “The water is very clear and beautiful.”
“No-no,” she shouted back.
“Yes. Come down. Why not?”
Behind the rocks where I had left her she raised her head but ignored me. The orphan Tibo was on the other side of the clump of rocks; he could not see me, even if he were to stare down the slope. There were just too many jutting rocks between us.
I did not call her again. Instead, I gazed across the stream at a high bank. On its head stood a patch of woods with more trees of very small trunks than there were on the slopes. The small-trunk trees grew straight up with little branches at the end of which were bundles of green leaves. But I did not cross the stream to get to the high bank, for the cool and clear water here was more tempting. I put both my feet — even the foot without the small toe — into the water.
Frio, bien frio el agua, I said aloud in my mind, Won’t it be great if I cool my bad foot the whole morning? Cool them until the pain is gone.
Just then, from the slope overlooking the gorge, I heard the kempeitai captain calling us. We were to join those others evacuating, too; they were now starting the march into the jungle.
O, o, to the Japanese we were just evacuating, not retreating and hiding from the American airplanes — thinking, But whom is the kempeitai making a fool of — at the wild cats and monkeys here!
Ramiroville cor. Macanhan UCCP Church Compound
Macanhan, Cagayan de Oro City 9000