The front and rear double doors of the Big House were closed and barred every night at 6:30. This meant that two thousand or more people could no longer escape the heat, noise, and confusion of the rooms and corridors — unless they were young and fleet-footed.
Fortunately, Catesy and I were young, and nimble on our feet. the moment roll call was over, we literally flew down to the west patio to find a vacant spot.
But about five hundred people had the same idea. All of them carried petates, native grass mats, which were woven with such fancy inscriptions as “Happy Thought,” “God Bless Us,” and “Felicitations.”
The patio was about the size of an extremely large swimming pool, and when we got there, puffing like a couple of steam-engines, it was jammed with men and women. Hurriedly, we leaped over arms, legs, and bodies until we found a spot large enough for our petate. We spread it on the ground and settled down with a sigh of relief.
“Happy, honey?” whispered Catesy as he squeezed my hand.
“Alone at last!” I sighed blissfully, though anyone hearing my remark might have taken me for a madwoman.
Every cubic inch of space was packed as tightly as in Coney Island on a torrid Sunday in July. Instead of the sea and sand, we had hard ground and four stories of gray concrete walls on four sides of us. But how blessedly fortunate we were to see a small square patch of the sky and stars above!
Here men and women dreamed and planned their future, and for an hour or two they found peace. Catesy and I talked about some of the wonderful times we had spent together, and for a short time we almost succeeded in forgetting our sordid environment.
“We’d be honeymooning in Europe if —”
My voice choked in my throat, and Catesy took me in his arms.
“Just wait and see. The Americans will be back in a few weeks, and instead of a European trip, we’ll go around the world. Would you like that, honey?”
My eyes were wet with tears and, as we kissed and embraced, for a moment we were far from Santo Tomas.
A flashlight glared in our faces. It was one of our morality squad men who patrolled the east and west patios.
He went into his speech, though his heart wasn’t in it. “No demonstration of affection is allowed by order of the Japanese Commandant.” He had repeated this phrase so often that his voice sounded like a tipstaff droning a jumble of meaningless words in a hot country courtroom.
We left shortly afterward.