Koiso ate his words yesterday or perhaps took a bigger mouthful. In a New Year’s Day radiocast he proclaimed that Leyte was no longer decisive; “the entire Philippines…is the crucial battlefield.”
The Burmese military cadets are out on furlough over the holidays and the Burmese military attache has been hunting all over the city for a pig to give them one decent meal before they go back to their rations of rice and pickles. Today he called us up again to ask if our cook could help him locate a pig in the black market. At first it seemed hopeless. The cook knew where to get the pig but he claimed that his friend the meat-dealer had a son going into the army today and that nothing, not even a thousand yen, would persuade him to go out to the black-market pig-farm. My friend the colonel however was his usual persistent and resourceful self. He asked for the man’s address and in one hour he had the pig. One bottle of Japanese whiskey had worked it. Cost of the pig: 600 yen; of the whiskey: 300 yen.
In the evening there was a farewell dance for Eddie. It was the first ever held in the chancery. The cold hall looked different with the desks out of the way, a fire actually blazing in the shuffling dimness; a phonograph provided dance-music muted to a whisper to defer to Japanese prejudices. We all took a turn or two but most of the dancing was done by Nisei girls and all those young Filipino students who were going to be made over into grim and earnest Japanese.
Almost on the stroke of twelve the air-raid siren sounded. We were having a New Year’s Eve dinner at the embassy and the sound of the signal made everyone homesick. We fell silent around the table and looked at one another, remembering Manila before the war where the sirens of the government ice-plant and the ships in port had always joyously called in the new year with one great and happy shout. The past teased us with a lawyer’squestion: where were you on the eve of the 1st January 1941? I found I could not answer, it seemed so many lifetimes ago and there was nothing to link us with it except this thread of sound, a sound that we remembered as strangely eager and exultant and which how had turned shrill and lonely with tortured apprehensions.
Outside the skies were empty but there was a tiny blaze in the distance and the fire-engines were already out hooting to work. All around us the darkened city seemed to wait breathlessly; only that small bold flare challenged the uneasy night like the first campfire of a conquering army, glimpsed over the horizon.
A few minutes later one of our interpreters came rushing in. He had feared that it was the embassy on fire and, laughing at his fears, we shook off our own depression. He had with him airplane tickets to Manila which he had bought the afternoon before for Eddie Vargas. We were congratulating Eddie when the neighborhood association patrol went howling outside the compound. It seemed there was a light showing. After a futile search all over the building it turned out to be in the chauffeur’s quarters, which was rather disconcerting because the chauffeur is the head of the association.