– 9 –
The mass of people finally stops. Instead of seeing a camp, they see several trucks. The Japanese start shuffling people onto different trucks. They pause to look at the passes and then push the people onto a truck. Libby grabs her daddy tight. Herman puts his arm around Beling. A soldier grabs Libby and pushes her onto the middle truck. Then Antonio. Then Herman. Beling’s held back. The soldier brushes the mud off her pass. He smacks her on the side of her head. Libby and Herman pull her onto the middle truck as it starts to move. The soldier yells at the moving truck, but it keeps going.
Another ten miles to go. At least in the truck, they have a chance to rest. Antonio watches all the trucks plow through the sea of people who still crowd the street. He pulls Herman up when they approach the gates. They stand in awe. Soldiers on the ground push the gates aside. The truck moves through. People start jumping down from the truck. Another line. Soldiers yell at the people to move faster. The speakers blasting announcements.
You are in the kaikontai area. You will be picking foods for our troops. You will be given a cup of rice a day for your efforts. Some of you will work in the jungle to pick fruits. You will be shot and killed if you try to escape. All children over twelve will work in the fields. Children under twelve will stay behind. You are in the kaikontai area. You will be…
The announcements continue on. The final woman gets off the truck. The Japanese count everyone. A soldier points to the empty field of mud. The people quickly disperse. Libby watches the bags. Herman, Antonio, and Beling gather coconut fronds.
“Daddy,” Beling starts to joke, “next time we should pray for rain or Americans. Not both. Not at the same time.”
Antonio laughs, “Yeah, baby. It’s funny isn’t it? No rain for a year. No Americans for three. When it rains it pours.”
Herman laughs as he wipes the rain from his face. Beling helps Libby with all the fronds. Herman and Antonio go collect more. Libby holds one up while Beling ties them together. Thirty minutes later and they’ve built a decent shelter. Antonio ties down the fronds on the roof. Herman walks over to where Mr. Flores tries to build a shelter. He brings extra fronds with him. Beling and Libby join them. Beling starts humming a beat. Libby smiles.
“Y na boneninito y banderan Japones,” Beling begins.
“Soh y talo agaga,” Libby joins in.
The girls, now singing at the top of their lungs continue, “Ya yoreya APLACHA!”
“One more time!” a Japanese soldier demands. A group of the soldiers now gather around the two girls. “That’s how the praise of the Rising Sun flag should be sung.”
The girls giggle but humor the soldiers singing, “Y na boneninito y banderan Japones, Soh y talo agaga, Ya yoreya aplacha!”
All the Chamorro laugh when the girls finish. The Japanese walk away with looks of pride in their eyes. Beling turns to finish tying the last knot for Mr. Flores. Libby skips back over to her daddy humming the tune.
“Those Japanese are so stupid,” Herman laughs to himself.
“Why do you say that?” a young girl asks who overheard him.
“Do you know the song?”
“My older sister sings it. I’m only six. They say I’m too young for school.”
“Do you only speak Japanese?”
“I speak a little bit of English.”
“Well, I’ll sing it to you in English but it won’t be the same. ‘The Japanese Flag is very pretty, The center is red; the border is white.’ That’s how it’s supposed to go. But see, in Chamorro the word for ‘white’ is apaca. The word for ‘dirty’ is aplacha.”
“Why does that make the Japanese stupid?” the little girl asks with a confused look on her face.
“You probably didn’t notice when we were singing since you don’t know Chamorro, but when we sing it, the words are ‘The Japanese Flag is very pretty, The center is red; the border is dirty.’ The Japanese never notice when we change the words. They’re stupid.”
The little girl laughs and runs around the camp chanting aplacha. Herman makes it back over to his hut and sits down. The family sits in their new shelter and tries to dry off. They share stories. Libby shares breadfruit with Herman. A soldier stands in front of their shelter and instructs them to follow him. He makes a few more stops collecting other families then heads to the front gates.
“You will all be working in the jungle,” he instructs, “picking food. There are soldiers constantly on patrol. They will be watching you. Your day begins at dawn and continues until dusk. After you complete a day’s work, head to the rice line located at the center of the camp to pick up your bowl of rice. Be glad you’re in the jungle where there’s shade and shelter. Now go.”
The gates slowly open and the people walk out into the jungle. Chop. Pick. Chop. Pick. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Five days of this grueling schedule. Every morning the family rises early with hopes they’d be able to have a bite or two of the food they brought. The rain pours. And pours. And pours. The broad leaves of the banana trees offer some shelter. The sun sets and the family rushes back to the camp. Two nights there wasn’t enough rice for everyone. They need all the energy they can get.
Day six offers a little change. Herman wanders off too far into the jungle. He’s alone. Alone is not a good place to be. The leaves rustle all around making him quiver in fear. He quickly turns around and starts to run back to the camp. Before he gets too far, he hears shouting in the distance.
“Hafa adai! Hello! How are you?” A Chamorro man yells. “Stop! Wait!”
Herman stops running and turns around. The man reaches Herman and shakes his hand. Leaves still rustling behind him.
“I came from Merizo. Early this morning seven other men and myself lead a revolt against the officers in our camp. We killed sixteen. Sixteen Japanese! We managed to escape and canoe out into the ocean. There, Americans picked us up. There are hundreds of ships off the island right now.”
“I don’t know who you think you’re kidding mister,” Herman says in disbelief. “Everyone knows what happens to the people at Merizo. There’s now way you could kill that many officers. There aren’t any Americans –”
“Hi, I’m Sergeant Johnson,” an enthusiastic young American soldier exclaims as he suddenly appears. “Don’t be afraid. Take these back to your camp and spread the word. Americans are here! The Chamorro people are being liberated!”
Herman grabs the chocolate bars and cigarettes. With a smile on his face, he runs back to his camp. He spots Beling and Libby resting under a banana tree.
“Hey, lazy heads! Look!” he shouts as he pulls the chocolate bars out from under his shirt. “I met an American soldier in the jungle. Sergeant Johnson. They’re here. The Americans are really here!”
The girls grab the chocolate bars from Herman. Beling opens one corner of her bar. She bites down hard. Her eyes roll back. A huge sigh of ecstasy leaves her mouth. Herman passes out the cigarettes to the men working in the area. He tells them all the story about what happened in Merizo. Chatter spreads through the crowd. Every person passes on the story adding his or her own exaggerations to it.
By the time dusk falls, rumor has it two men killed thirty-seven Japanese soldiers at Merizo. The men escaped and swam twenty miles to the Americans’ ships. One man almost got sucked under the ship so he had to hold on to the anchor the ship just happened to be raising from the water. Whatever the story was, the fact is the Chamorro are ready. Smiles are returning to their faces.
Beling and Herman skip dinner. They figure the sooner they sleep, the sooner tomorrow comes. The sooner tomorrow comes, the sooner the Americans save them. Libby eats half of her dinner before going to bed. Antonio doesn’t sleep. He stays up and waits. The sound of the rain falling on the roof becomes hypnotic. His eyelids start to get heavy. He drifts off to sleep. Slowly. Ever so slowly.
Gunfire wakes up everyone in the camp. Outside, they see flashes of light. They hear Japanese. Then English. Japanese. English. The soldiers frantically try to fight off the Americans. A small group of Japanese officers gather in the back of the camp. Beling hears them count to three. Hitotsu. Hutatsu. Mittsu. She turns just in time to see them all fall on their swords. Her attention is drawn back to the gates falling down. Americans finally break through.
“Hurry!” an American soldier shouts. “Gather what you can quickly. We need to get you out of here as fast as possible.” He extends one arm and points to the east while rotating the other in the same direction. “Move! Move! Move!”
Everyone grabs what they can and follows the soldiers out into the jungle. The faster and farther away they run, the more it already all seems like a memory. The sound of gunshots fades in the distance. No one knows where they’re going. They just run. Fast. The Americans were leading them. They’d follow wherever it was. However far away they had to run. Before they knew it, they ran seven miles. Two more to Agat.
Someone grabs Beling’s arm. It’s Stella. She tightly holds onto Beling’s hand and catches up to the rest of the family. Hugs can come later. Kisses too. Right now they must run. Finally, they reach Agat. Trucks await the people. For once, they didn’t mind hopping into the back of a truck. The family loads up.
The sun peeks over the top of the truck just in time to reveal Beling’s Guahan. She presses her face into the warmth of the sun. Her first tear of joy in almost three years instantly dries up in the heat of the sun. The rain stopped. The palm trees sway in the wind. The waves roll. For one moment. This moment. Beling feels home. Home and free.