It was another raidless night –the fifth in a row.
This morning Escolta was full of people again. Some were even buying. A few picked up the pretty Christmas cards and looked at them in a tentative way. Some put them down but others, pocketing caution, bought. In the street I heard children singing.
In writing during war, a man attaches perhaps undue significance to little acts. He discovers nobility in deeds he would otherwise dismiss, in times of peace, as the work of stale custom or habit. The ordinary run of men acquires a certain splendor in the midst of pain. Suffering may not ennoble, it does magnify. A man calmly eating his lunch during an air raid challenges Roland.
The alarm finally came, at 1:50 in the afternoon. It was almost welcome. The false lull created uncertainty –the unbearable state. A man was divided between hope and knowledge that the enemy might and could come at any time. Now the enemy had come again and a man knew where he stood. After the first bad moment, a man knew there was only danger, which is better than the expectation of it.
There is, when an alarm is sounded, a half-ashamed desire to burrow into the earth. One need not be ashamed, really. The fear of death is a legitimate emotion, like jealousy or love, and it is only what you let it do to you that is important, that is good or bad.
Fear, as an occurence merely, is an act of God. None’s to blame.
We are all afraid.
The alarm caught my friend and myself on Escolta. We entered a big department store and went down into its basement where we used to go buy records. There were several floors of reassuring concrete above us and the place was air-conditioned. Somebody played a record of “Intermezzo”, and the soft, thin plaint of the violin added further to the illusion of safety and complete insulation from what was going on outside. You’d never know what hit you.
While we waited, my friend looked about him. While we waited for the thing to be over, my friend said in a hopeless voice:
“From the cave, man has progressed to the basement, which is only another name for a cave. There is air-conditioning but the principle is the same. We are still cave-bound. There has been no change. Thousands of years have passed, millions and millions of men have come and gone, every day the world is older, man is older, and there has been no improvement. You can kill more at a time now, that is all. That is the only progress.”
He was in the Manila Hotel the first time the Japanese planes came over the city, the first time we had the enemy directly over us. There was absolutely nothing to tell us that we would not get it then. The people in the hotel –Filipinos, Americans, Britishers, Spaniards– if they thought of death at all, they did not show it. They went on talking, laughing, eating, drinking while the planes roared overhead. And certainly the lean figure of death must have seemed to these people, in the midst of so much wealth and abundance, but a frail legend, true for the poor, inapplicable to them.
It was not a matter of courage, it was a matter of unbelief.
“In a corner, I saw a girl saying the rosary.”
The girl believed in it.
In the afternoon, while we were having a drink in a bar, my friend saw someone he knew and asked him to sit with us. The man had just come in from Nichols which had been bombed and he had a dark bruise on the forehead. And a story.
“I work for the quartermaster corps and I was on my way to pick up a car at Nichols Field. I was almost there when the bombings began. I saw two soldiers and I asked, ‘Is there a raid?’ a foolish question. ‘Is there a a raid!’ they said, so I got out of the car and ran to a house by the road that had been bombed before and flung myself on the ground close to a wall that was left standing. I had on my best pair of pants, too. Then the bombs came nearer and one really near and a bit of flying debris hit me on the forehead, here, and all I could think of was: Yah, you sons of bitches, I’ve paid the last premium on my insurance!”
When the raid was over and the bombers were gone, he went on to Nichols Field, and, he said, after picking his way carefully around the bomb-craters, found that the car he was supposed to pick up was not there –thus making a nice well-rounded tale.
The official communique said that “in the afternoon of Monday, December 15, a USAFFE patrol met and engaged a Japanese patrol somewhere south of Vigan. Excellent morale was shown by our men, who succeeded in pushing the enemy patrol many miles northward. Darkness stopped the fighting. There was a number of enemy casualties.”
Japanese planes on the ground at Vigan were also reportedly attacked by our air-force. Twenty-seven planes were caught on the ground and 25 of them said to be destroyed. One plane was shot down in the air. This brought to 70 the number of enemy planes officially claimed destroyed in the Philippines since the war began.
Today, Japanese motorboats, estimated at more than 100, tried to land troops in Lingayen Gulf. The first attempt was beaten off entirely, most of the boats being sunk by artillery fire from a a Philippine division. The same division also mopped up all Japanese troops which managed, in later attempts, to land.
Today the Japanese bombed the city of Iloilo.
Going through Ermita in the dusk, I saw an American soldier talking very earnestly to a pretty mestiza in a yellow dress. Man lives simultaneously on several levels: military, economic, political, erotic.