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1st January 1945

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’s question: 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.