There was no alarm last night. In the morning the people got out of their beds, rubbed their eyes in the chill light of dawn and congratulated each other for having a good night’s rest with a feeling usually reserved for birthdays and anniversaries.
At the office a girl called me up. She was living in Pasay and her nerves were somewhat shattered from the recent bombing of that area. To restore her calm she had been doing a bit of reading. Now there was one story –mine, as a matter of fact– which she particularly enjoyed. But if she might be frank —
“By all means.”
What, to be brief, was the point of the story?
“I am so stupid,” she apologized.
“That’s all right.”
“Have I done something?”
“You have only hurt my feelings.”
She had a nice voice –soft, clear, with a hint of laughter in it. It was charming. One must not let these opportunities slip by. One recalls Arnold Bennett’s advice. There is no harm in trying, if you get five per cent on your investment, you are doing well.
I told her I was the stupid one for not making my point absolutely clear –the duty of any self-respecting writer. I assured her that if she came to the office, I would be only too glad to clear up the obscurity. I will be in the office tomorrow, I told her in the friendliest manner possible, till 10:30.
“But I understand,” she said, in the friendliest manner, too, “you are never in the office before that.”
And hung up.
One of the papers is running a column devoted to the little incidents of the war — amusing sidelights, brief anecdotes that go to show how the great international upheaval has affected the little man. The column is called, inevitably, “C’est la Guerre.” This, I suppose, falls under it.
There was no alarm in the morning and the city worked uninterruptedly. The dealers in rumor were not idle. In the High Commissioner’s office, a man sidled over to one of the over-worked staff and, in a low but carrying whisper, announced:
“The Saratoga has been sunk!”
These harbingers of imaginary disasters seem to find strange comfort in their thankless occupation. The war confers a semi-legitimacy on quirks and neuroses one tries in decency to dissimulate in the clear air of peace. War makes that delicate unbalance, that ever-so-light tendency toward hysteria you are so ashamed of, respectable.
USAFFE headquarters did announce that the enemy bombed Olongapo this morning, for the second time since the war began. No details were available, but it was probably a light attack. The situation on the land appeared unchanged. “There has been no major activity on any of the land fronts,” said one release, with the terseness that the Army has adopted in all its communications with the annoying press. “No change in the situation on the ground,” said another release.
It has been an air-raidless day. The last two nights were also raidless. We must not get used to this natural quiet. We must not miss it too much when it is gone.
The Philippines was still quiet. “There is no change in the situation on the ground,” went the USAFFE communique. “No air activity has been reported since yesterday.”
The city spoke uneasily of the lull before the storm.
Today the inter-island vessel Corregidor struck a mine near the mouth of Manila Bay and sank in a few minutes. The ship was packed to the gunwales with passengers leaving the city for the southern islands, thus reintroducing the “Samarra” theme.
The number of people on board was estimated at from 600 to 1,000. The exact number may never be known. Government officials used their influence to make the ship’s agents issue them and their friends tickets. Many went up the gangplanks just before the boat sailed, thinking to get their tickets from the purser afterward, when the boat was out at sea. Each, in one way or another, properly sealed his fate.
Later in the day, I was shown a wire from a man in Iloilo asking a friend in the city to secure a ticket for his mistress on the Corregidor. The war caught the woman in Manila and the man wanted her with him. The friend, I need not say, got the ticket.
Walking home in the afternoon, I heard someone playing the piano in one of those small apartments on the ground floor whose window opens right on the street. The piano was old and the player uncertain. I suddenly remembered that I had not heard music played for quite a while.