The Lost Sisters of Bataan is my dedication novel to the women and men who fought in the Philippines during the Japanese occupation. Your criticisms and comments are welcome.
April 30, 1942
Zorka did not know what to make of her feelings for Ken Suzuki. She was flattered by his persistence to see her. When the Red Cross issued her per diem to travel to San Francisco, he announced that he, too, would travel to California on the same dates via the same way. They sat together on the bus that left Minneapolis in the early morning and headed straight south to Iowa. When they reached Des Moines, they walked a mile to catch a streamliner locomotive headed to Denver with a connection to San Francisco. They sat on a bench outside the depot waiting for their train to arrive.
“I’ll escort you and retrace my steps back to Manzanar.”
“More recruiting for the language school?”
“Yes.” He lit a Chesterfield and looked up at cloud clusters moving across the sky. After a moment he revealed, “My mother would cuff me any time I spoke Japanese at home.” He altered his voice into a nagging pitch. “Americans, Ken. Never forget, you are an American. We are counting on you.” He sat up straight and slowly shook his head. “How–how–”
“Yes, strange that I’ve enlisted to learn Japanese at,” he enunciated for a pretentious effect, “the Military Intelligence Service Language School.” He exhaled the smoke from his lungs and dropped his cigarette. A family with five kids shuffled by their bench. Upon seeing Ken, their eyes widened, and they snapped their attention elsewhere like they had seen something unsavory. Ken squashed the discarded cigarette under the ball of his shoe. “Not only that, I am ordered to persuade my generation to learn Japanese and be ready to die for our country. And that same country doesn’t trust me. We are nothing more than guinea pigs.”
“Desperate times call for desperate measures? You believe that’s what the politicians think, Ken?”
He frowned. “That’s a clever irony, isn’t it? Get the enemy in peacetime to fight the enemy in war?”
Zorka gave him a sympathetic smile. She wondered how it would feel to be in a no-win situation. “But think what will happen when you serve, Ken. You’re doing something about stopping the war. It’s a noble pursuit, and I admire you. Others will, too.”
He rubbed his cheeks as if to wipe away his sulking. “Maybe.”
“Won’t you get in trouble for the detour? I mean, I don’t need to be escorted.”
“I asked the finance clerk at the school to wiggle me in an extra day and to replace a stop at Kansas City with seeing you off in California.”
“Oh, Ken. That’s home for you, right? KC? You should go see your parents!”
Ken brought her gloved hand to his lips. Zorka looked into his infatuated eyes and was impressed with his romantic gesture, but it felt inappropriate to keep him from seeing his family. They bought a sandwich and some coffee and boarded the train. Their cabin contained discarded newspapers with angry headlines, so they gathered up a few and settled into their paired seats. Des Moines rushed past their view and disappeared. Trees bordered the fields and farmsteads.
When a town appeared in view, the sounds of the train altered as air ricocheted off the houses near the tracks followed by a loud whoosh and the clacking of the wheels hugging the tracks beneath them. As they rocked side to side, Ken squeezed her arm and kissed her behind the newspapers. Zorka blushed. When his fingertip dared to trace her breast, she felt the stirrings of arousal combined with the pricklings of entrapment. He moves too fast! In an erotic fog, her body responded notwithstanding the warnings in her head.
Rays of sunlight fell over fields of tilled, black earth. Green sprouts of corn teased with the promise of a profitable harvest. Zorka thought of the allied soldiers in Europe. This corn will help to feed them. She said a prayer that they would hurry and save her Aunt. Where was Aunt Lotti? In a ghetto? A work camp? Dead? She stared at the fields of green shoots passing by her train window, consumed with patriotic pride and akin to Ken in that way. She wished her parents and Panna understood why she left. Zorka recalled the three-part, discordant chord the other night. Zorka arranged for Panna and her parents to meet in the parlor and braced herself.
Mother: “What? How can you do this to me? Kade runs away to Chicago without an explanation. Now both my daughters leave me? I cannot bear this, Zorka!”
Father: “Your schooling! The Red Cross chapter here isn’t enough? All the way to the Philippines? No, Zorka, no.”
Panna: “I’m your best friend! You must have planned this for weeks. How selfish and mean you are.”
At the Nebraska border, the uniformed rows looked no different. Zorka got in the habit of reading the billboards aloud; most of them demanded citizens buy war bonds. When the night came and the cabin was dark, Zorka was glad Ken simply held her hand. They dozed with shoulders pressing. The next day, after the stop in North Platte, their train car emptied except for an elderly couple at the front. Ken read Franklin D. Roosevelt’s April 28th fireside chat recorded in the recent edition of the Chicago Tribune. Zorka read advertisements demanding women to do their part on the home front.
“This great war effort must be carried through to its victorious conclusion by the indomitable will and determination of the people as one great whole.”
Zorka jumped in, “Do you have tires lying around? Drop off your spare for . . .”
Ken interjected, “… a few bogus patriots who use the sacred freedom of the press to echo the sentiments of the propagandists in Tokyo and Berlin.”
Zorka, “On May 1, pick up your victory seeds at Shulman’s Market and plant your own garden. Remember…”
Ken finished with gusto, waving his index finger in the air, “‘. . . it shall not be imperiled by the handful of noisy traitors–betrayers of America, betrayers of Christianity itself–would-be dictators who in their hearts and souls have yielded to Hitlerism and would have this Republic do likewise.’”
She clapped. The elderly couple turned to look back at them. Zorka stood and walked to the newspaper rack attached to the wall at the head of the cabin. They frowned at her. “Good morning,” she said and returned to her place. To get to the window seat, she crossed in front of Ken who was keen to give her a helping hand. Zorka’s mood crashed when she read the headline from the San Francisco Chronicle. “Bataan’s Peril Grows as Japs smash forward! Invaders pour in new troops with tanks, artillery attacks, and dive bombers.”
Ken rubbed her back. “Try not to worry. Your sister sounds resourceful. You have to be if you’re a nurse, right? They are trained to stay calm under pressure.”
Zorka remembered the way Barbara focused on reciting a poem to stay calm. She remembered a patch of time when it seemed like her parents argued daily. Zorka peeked around the corner of the living room where Barbara was forced to sit on the couch and listen to the argument. Zorka spied from the hallway and watched Barbara mumbling with her eyes closed. After their father fled the scene, Barbara opened her eyes and tip-toed out of the room while Mother wept in her armchair. Zorka asked what she was mumbling, to which Barbara replied, “I was reciting Christina Rosetti. ‘Another year of joy and grief/Another year of hope and fear/O Mother, is life long or brief?’” Zorka was six. Barbara was sixteen. To Zorka, her sister was a mystery, spending time behind the pages of a book or walking from room to room reciting lines from poets with strange last names. Zorka grew up thinking her sister floated on air. Barbara had an ethereal knack of performing her duties with one foot on the ground and the other far away in the past. Nothing seemed to upset Barbara.
Outside of Omaha, the train passed an enormous factory complex of some sort. Zorka asked the conductor what it was. He informed her it was a Martin bomber plant making B-26 airplanes. “I’ve been told it’s one of the busiest in the country. My wife’s sister-in-law lives around here. She tells me many of the workers are women. Who knew they could solder metal and twist a wrench like the men?” He chuckled to Zorka. “With the men fighting on the front and women picking up the slack in the factories, you’ll see, we’ll win this war yet!” The train groaned to a stop under rain clouds. Luggage was stowed. Zorka closed her eyes and listened to the muffled stomp of passengers boarding while the crew mumbled outside. Soon a swoosh of air wrapped around her ankles and gave her goosebumps. The train accelerated as she listened to the patter of rain hitting the cold window. The night arrived, and she shivered. They huddled under their coats. Ken took his hand and gently positioned her head on his shoulder. In the darkness, at some point in the night, Ken pressed her palm over his trousered groin. She felt his bulge and did not know what to do. The impropriety of the action as well as the curiosity of where this was leading stunned her. She removed her hand and made light of his gesture by spanking his arm. What am I doing? One action of complicity led to another. Where was the stopping point? Did she want one? She sighed and excused herself to the bathroom.
* * * * * * *
On the horizon of the Colorado plains, they passed by another large complex. A passenger on the train told her it was a factory redesigned to make munitions instead of cans of paint. Zorka chatted with a grandmother whose three granddaughters worked at the artillery plant outside of Denver. At the Denver stop, Zorka watched recruits boarding buses on their way to Camp Carson at Colorado Springs, a training base for soldiers. It appeared to Zorka that the whole country participated in the war effort.
They changed trains that would travel through the Rockies in a westerly direction to Salt Lake City, then cut through Nevada and reach San Francisco in two days. Once more they sat in the back of the train carriage where it was less crowded. The conductor snipped their ticket and moved on. Ken and Zorka spent the day composing harmonies together. She pulled out her viola and played their score, and a few of the passengers clapped. They sang the lyrics Ken scribbled down on paper and laughed when they sang off-tune. Passengers booed. Ken whispered to her, “We better leave the singing to Bing Crosby.”
When they did not talk about the war, they compared their families. Zorka noticed the similarities. Religion was important. The mother ran the house. Dad was aloof and worked. There were differences. Ken Suzuki was an only child. He was on the baseball team in high school. In college, he liked to play in local jazz bands on 12th Street in downtown Kansas City. Ken graduated as an architect last year. He wanted to move to Chicago and work for a firm. “By the time I’m thirty, I want to start my own firm.” He asked her what she wanted to do with her life. Zorka had no idea. It was assumed she would marry someone from the neighborhood and have children. “My family pushed me to become a nurse for the war effort.” Zorka’s throat tightened. “I–I’m not like my sister Barbara.”
At the stop in Salt Lake City, two men in army uniforms passed through their cabin. Zorka guessed a training station was nearby. A tall man with freckles sneered at Ken. “Hey, Nip. Stay out of my way unless you want me to show you what I’m going to do to your cousins.”
Ken’s body tensed. He sat erect and clenched his knees. Zorka was in the aisle seat. Her cheeks flushed with anger. “Save it for the battlefield. He’s in the U.S. Army and not the enemy.”
His blonde friend showed off mangled teeth. “All Japs are the enemy.”
Ken grumbled to her, “Stop. It’s not worth it. They’re getting off.”
The tall freckled one leaned down to Zorka’s ear. “What’s wrong with you? Sitting with the enemy?”
His friend stunk of body odor. “She’s cute.” He touched a lock of her hair. “Let her stay, and you scram Jap.”
Ken stood and pushed around the two men taking Zorka with him. The soldiers stomped away snickering. Ken stared at his stony reflection in the window and did not say much until the California border. A billboard greeted them displaying a caricature of a Japanese soldier with squinty eyes looking like a rodent caught in a mousetrap. Zorka made a goofy face at it, and Ken smiled at her attempt to cheer him up.
She took note of his sad eyes. “What’s Manzanar like?”
Ken chortled. “Let’s just say I’m glad my folks live in Kansas City.”
She stared at him, at his struggle to put into words his incredulous thoughts. “I understand that the west coast is scared of the Japanese invading the U.S. I understand the hatred aroused by the attack at Pearl Harbor. I believe if the Japanese Imperial Army is not stopped, it’s only a matter of time before they do invade California, up the coastline, and into the interior of the country.”
His eyes jumped around the cabin while he spoke with an earnest sophistication that beguiled Zorka. “What I can’t understand is how in the world did citizens–the children and grandparents–become the target? Paranoia put the families into the camps. And the very country that proudly stands for individual liberties stole them from legal citizens without a second’s thought.”
With her eyes, Zorka followed the neckline of his military haircut which accentuated his high cheekbones and the lines on his forehead. She acknowledged it was his uniqueness as a burgeoning linguist spy which gave him an aura of distinction and complexity unlike the Jewish boys and men in the neighborhood. His poise forged the impression he was older than twenty-four. She tried to imagine him huddled over a drafting table drawing up plans for a building. She was fond of how his lips smirked at one side when he smiled. There was a smell to him she found alluring. Like browned butter and mint. The longer they traveled, his scent grew stronger but did not offend.
She made these mental notes about him while he organized his thoughts. He turned to her and took in her stare. Was he blushing? He finished, “I do all of this–recruit at Manzanar, work at the language school, agree to become a spy for Uncle Sam–because the country needs to know me as an American. When they see the Nisei serve and admit that Japanese Americans did not sabotage the country, then maybe everyone will forget to hate us.”
Curiosity won out. When they arrived in San Francisco the next morning, Zorka decided to surprise Ken by renting a hotel room with a view of the bay with her own money. She forced him to close his eyes and led him to the third floor, room 303. “Ta-da!” The space was airy. The window was open and a breeze rustled the sheers. Ken opened his eyes and grinned at her as he went about inspecting the room. Zorka watched him with wonder. Will I ever meet another man who shows me such affection? She heard the squawk of sea birds. Brushing aside the curtains, she admired the slanting streets and the sunlight flickering on the water in the bay. Ken stepped up behind her and pulled the sweater off her head. He unzipped the back of her skirt. She heard him rustle out of his uniform. She took a big breath and turned to face him. He sat on the bed and encouraged her to straddle him. As he explored her body with his mouth, he replicated the rocking they had experienced on the train. She relaxed and copied the rhythm with her hips.
He said, “Let’s do this forever.”
She responded, “Let’s do this today.”
Zorka dispelled all thoughts and languished in the passing of time signified by the sun altering the white walls of room 303. Their blended limbs shared the changing hues of gold and rose until the sun’s influence left the room. In the shadows, the shade of their skin turned violet. When the room was dark, they took comfort under the blankets. Without sight, they dozed and sought the warmth of the other as would newborn puppies.
It was noon before they dressed and left the room. Ken went to purchase his bus ticket to Manzanar while Zorka reported to the Red Cross center. A woman wearing a crisply ironed blouse with a name tag of Sylvia Henshaw explained that due to the Japanese invasion in Manila, The Red Cross suspended orders of new recruits until further notice. “It may be weeks or months before we can send you. Musicians like yourself are not considered essential. It has been classified as a hot zone. Too hot.” Zorka tried to mask her disappointment. Sylvia Henshaw’s orangey lipstick glistened. “The center is packing plasma to be sent to Schofield Barracks in Oahu. From there, the shipment goes to Australia. You are welcome to stay in San Francisco and help us here at the center while you wait.” She left the room.
Zorka looked through the window to the inner facility and watched girls, women, and old men packing plasma in an assembly line. Damn! Now what? A worker in the office closed the bottom file drawer to a metal cabinet. Zorka had not noticed her. The woman was petite with perfect posture; the wrinkles around her eyes suggested she was nearing the age of forty. In seemingly slow motion, she approached Zorka as though she waded through the water. Picking up a stack of papers, the woman pretended to explore the contents with her back to the volunteer workers packing plasma. She aimed bug eyes at Zorka and spoke with cool confidence. “Get yourself on that plane to Hawaii. From there, you can catch a military flight. There are civilian pilots who will take you to the Philippines. Or, have the Red Cross in Hawaii get you on a merchant marine or a civilian ship.” Zorka blinked from the surprising advice.
“I was an officer’s wife in Manila. They shipped all the women off the island two months ago. But some women refused to leave.” The officer’s wife rubbed her fingertips together in a repetitious, circular movement. Zorka was hypnotized. The wife said, “What do you think you are going to do down there?”
“My sister is a nurse. Last we heard, she retreated to the jungle.”
“The jungle hospitals have been evacuated. If your sister is a nurse, she’s probably hiding out in the Malinta Tunnel on Corregidor Island.”
“Malinta Tunnel,” Zorka repeated. She felt dejected. Her eyes dropped to the small suitcase by her ankles. Inside was the book of poetry by Christina Rossetti. She had plans to deliver Barbara the book in person. The door jingled. Ken walked in with his perfect smile. He kissed Zorka on the cheek. Zorka noticed the grimace of the officer’s wife. She reached for a piece of paper, scribbled, and folded it in half. Leaning over the counter, her long forearm stretched toward Zorka in a methodical way. She rolled out her wrist and handed Zorka the note. “When you get to Manila, go to Dewey Boulevard in the Ermita district.” Zorka looked at the contents of her note: 233 Isaac Peral Street. Mrs. Gladys Savary.
The officer’s wife squinted at Zorka. “There are ways to help. An underground.” She opened her eyes wide and examined Zorka like a breakfast morsel. Zorka found her attention unnerving.
“One of their leaders is Gladys Savary. She owns a popular French restaurant called Le Restaurant de Paris.”
Ken grabbed Zorka’s hand. “Come on, let’s get going, Zorka.”
They left the Red Cross center. Zorka tried to forget the bug lady who frowned at them. She focused on Ken’s news. “I am leaving for Manzanar tomorrow morning.”
They went back to room 303. He turned on the radio and George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue flooded the room. Every time Ken took off an item of her clothing, his fingers tapped over her skin like he was playing the piano. He played her arms, her stomach, and her legs which made her giggle. Then, he surprised Zorka by reaching into a paper bag and placing chocolate candies on her skin in a long row like a train. He set about eating the pieces off her hips and feeding her the caramel-covered ones since those were her favorite. In her curly, dense hair, Ken murmured he loved her and wanted to marry her. “How do you feel about me?”
She shifted and the chocolates fell off her body. “You are talented and fun. I do care about you.” She sat up and faced him, sullen with his pushy seduction. “But let’s face the facts — interracial marriages are illegal. Our families wouldn’t approve. No one would approve.” She exhaled slowly. “I just want to focus on finding my sister.”
He chewed one of the chocolates with slumped shoulders. After a pause, he snapped his head up and his eyes flickered with hope. “I will be patient. Please. Let me write. We’ll be friends for now.” He kissed her neck and her body betrayed her.
She told him, “Stop talking.”
He ignored her request. “You’ve got my number and address at school.” He kissed her ribcage. “I’ll be graduating in a couple weeks. You’ll be at the Red Cross chapter in Manila.” He sealed the plan when he covered her with his body. “I’ll write to you there.”
She moaned and listened to Gershwin on the radio. The piano exchanged themes. G Major to C Major. I love the bantering between the orchestra and the piano.
He stopped moving. His eyes glistened with apprehension. “You’re not going to see me again, are you?”
Zorka croaked, “I am sorry. No.” That silenced him. He withdrew, dressed, and left just as the Rhapsody in Blue coda ended in B minor with passion. Zorka watched him exit the room and threw a chocolate caramel at the door.
Zorka climbed the ramp to board a plane to Oahu. She stared out the small window as the plane lifted, and she felt the inertia in her stomach. This was her first flight, and the bumpy ride scared her. She shut her eyes and tried her best not to think about it until the plane steadied over the Pacific Ocean. It was so loud, that she gave up trying to talk with any of the passengers. Once the captain rose above the turbulence, Zorka breathed with regularity.
Ken haunted her with the echo of his passionate pressure and feathery traces. She experienced the emotional hangover, cocooned within the plane, the equivocal pairing of sadness and anger that he was gone, and she had caused it. He had caused it. She was without the coddling attention of Ken and felt vulnerable. When the plane landed several hours later at Hickam Field, Zorka hitched a ride with her viola and suitcase to the Red Cross barracks a half an hour north at Schofield Barracks.
Zorka wondered about the recuperation efforts since the attack on December 7, 1941 and asked the Army corporal sitting in front of her. As the bus drove by Pearl Harbor, he said, “It’s what you’d expect after an attack. As of today, the Navy divers are hard at work on the USS Arizona, Oglala, and West Virginia. Patching and covering holes in the hull. Siphoning the mud. Recovering debris.” Zorka whispered a prayer for the lost souls interred within their coffin ships.
At Schofield Barracks, she was directed to a building painted in camouflage and home to the Red Cross. The staff accepted her orders, and she was escorted to the barracks where she found an empty metal bunk bed that squeaked. She chatted with other female volunteers asking for information. She strolled over to the canteen, basking in the sunshine, and the delicate breeze lifted her mood.
A Navy sailor wearing white crackerjacks tried to buy her a rum and coke. It reminded her of the night in the Jazz bar with Ken and Panna. Was that two weeks ago? Is that what we were? A two-week fling? She asked for ginger ale.
The bartender seemed nice. “Whaddya doin here, sweetie?”
“I’m with the Red Cross, looking for a ride to Manila. Can you help me find,” she looked at the small piece of paper in her hand, “Pilot Kay Weese? I was told she hangs out here.”
A woman with black-braided hair sat at the far end of the bar. She swallowed a shot of tequila and asked for another. The name Weese was patched above the breast pocket of her coveralls. She eyed Zorka. “You’re with the Red Cross? You want a hitch to Manila? Not a smart idea. It’s nuts down there.”
Zorka walked over to her. She sipped her ginger ale. “Why do you fly there, then?”
“I get bored easily.” She drank the shot, smacked her lips, and put a dollar on the bar. “Come on, you can help me get ready for tomorrow morning’s flight, and I’ll do my best to talk you out of going.”
Zorka struggled to keep pace with Kay Weese’s robust movements. They transferred several duffle bags from the woman’s barracks to a jeep and drove to Wheeler Army Airfield adjacent to Schofield Barracks. Kay drove inside the hangar where a silver DC-3 was parked. Inside the plane flanking the vessel were two green benches able to carry a dozen passengers. The rest of the space was open for cargo. Zorka sniffed hydraulic fluid and engine oil along with the stringent odor of ammonia and vomit. Cans filled with spittle and butts sat underneath the benches. As instructed, Zorka dragged a duffle bag to the back of the plane. She whiffed the smell of a decomposing mouse and it made her gag. Kay saw Zorka pinch her nose. “What you smell are back-to-back runs, moving nervous soldiers who drank too much the night before. Add the evacuation of civilians who pissed themselves with relief because they made it out of Manila alive. The maintenance crew will hose her down eventually.”
Kay drove Zorka around to different buildings on the base. They entered with an empty box and came out with it overflowing. The reaction was similar at each stop. “You’re going to make a drop over the camps to the survivors? Watch your ass, Kay. Good luck.”
Zorka admired how nonchalant Kay handled herself while collecting donations. She had no problem asking officers or enlisted or civilians for a contribution. She asked Kay, “I heard you deliver the mail. You’re a private contractor and not with the Red Cross?”
“I’m aligned with a couple of key players. I fly to Australia for the Red Cross in the big plane. I flew for Lt. Jackie Cochran back in the early 1930s as a one of the Ninety-nines. Jackie arranged for my clearance to ferry the mail and personnel throughout the Pacific a year ago. Once in Australia, I volunteer for Captain William Bradford. He’s in charge of the Bamboo Fleet. I fly into the Philippines to deliver quinine and whatever I can smuggle to the nurses and soldiers. He accepts my help because he knows I have over 3,000 hours in the air, and I’m crazy enough to fly his Duck.”
“It’s a Grumman Navy amphibian aircraft. Shot up by the Japs so much, it is a holy mess patched together with rubber inner tubes and bicycle tape.” Kay parked the jeep outside the women’s barracks. She jumped out and covered the boxes with a tarp. They went inside to the common area, and she grabbed an orange Fanta from the refrigerator and offered one to Kay.
“We’ve got an hour before chow. This is a good time to relax.”
Slipping off her boots, Kay lay on the couch and closed her eyes. Zorka crossed to a club chair by a picture window and watched a palm tree sway. She wished she had time to explore the exotic beauty of the island. Across the street, the sun’s rays shined on a rhododendron bush and ignited the Fuschia blooms. Anja would approve of such a beautiful specimen. She thought of Abba and missed their quiet conversations. All her life, her father had encouraged her to play for him. Their habit after the evening meal was to meet in the parlor where she gave him a solo performance. She conjured the image of his long index finger tapping the arm of his chair like a metronome. Her thoughts moved to Panna. She must write to her and try to explain her actions. Plead for forgiveness. After chow, Zorka decided she would write to them all. And Ken? Should I apologize to him, too?
Zorka thought Kay might have drifted off, but she grabbed the end of her braid and flipped it like a rope while talking with her eyes shut. Zorka wondered if Kay was talking to her or thinking aloud. “I don’t know how much longer I can sneak into Bataan. Most of the airfields are bombed so bad I can’t land. Bataan Airfield. Kindley Field. Del Monte. Clark Field. Cabcaban Field. Destroyed or confiscated and used by the Japs.”
Zorka did not interrupt her.
“I’ve been landing on roads and rice paddy fields cleared by the Filipinos. Most of them hate the Japanese for invading their country. Many help the U.S. as much as they can. But not always. Whole villages are hiding in the jungle. Some Filipinos have caved to the Japanese. Last month I heard U.S. pilots and their crew were turned in by the Filipinos and now they sit in POW camps wondering how to escape. They are tortured for information. Starved.”
Kay sat up and looked at Zorka. “Malaria is rampant. Bombings happen daily. If you go to Manila, you might get captured and imprisoned in Santo Tomas, if you are lucky. The other camps I know of are horrendous. The Japs don’t follow the rules of the Geneva Convention. Whatever our nurses or soldiers have to eat or bargain with is smuggled in.”
Zorka asked, “Where are you going?”
“There’s a priest and Red Cross Catholic nurses who are going to the interior on a Humanitarian Mission to Camp O’Donnell. I’ve got medical supplies for them and some canned food.” Kay did some stretches and checked her wristwatch. “There’s a civilian underground in Manila. I’m going to try and get these donations smuggled into Malinta Tunnel on Corregidor Island.”
Kay signaled to Zorka that it was time to get ready for chow. They took turns freshening up. “What’s your plan, Zorka?”
She pulled out the little slip of paper the bug lady had given her in San Francisco. “Le Restaurant de Paris. I’m supposed to ask for Gladys Savary.”
Kay laughed. “Gladys is part of the underground. She’s great.”
Zorka sighed with relief. “I’m hoping she will help me get a job, so I can find my sister and help her stay alive or escape.”
“Is your sister with the Red Cross, too?”
“No, she’s an Army nurse. The last time I heard from her, it was in January. The Japanese invaded in December and personnel retreated into the jungle.”
Kay released her hair and scratched her scalp with her fingernails. She rebraided her hair. “I made a few trips to the two jungle hospitals. Then the Japanese attacked from the sky and flushed them out. The nurses escaped to Corregidor Island and are holding up in the Malinta Tunnel.”
Was Barbara there? Zorka washed and dried her face and hands. “What about the patients?”
Kay dropped her head. “They were marched along the East Road to Camp O’Donnell. I hear the road is littered with the dead. I’m trying to figure out the best way to smuggle goods to the survivors. It’s a nightmare. I seriously recommend you stay here at Schofield Barracks.”
* * * * * *
Later in the evening, Kay stood in the middle of the barracks and shouted to the women, “Ladies, last call! Show me the goods. The nurses need whatever you can give!”
Aiming for the box Kay carried, women pilots, nurses, secretaries, and Red Cross volunteers amicably threw tampons, shoes, socks, brassieres, hairbrushes, pads of paper, pencils, and bars of soap while Zorka helped pack the last empty duffle bag. After a restless night thinking about Ken, the Hawaiin sun shone through the barracks window and Zorka woke up. They ate quickly in the mess hall and drove to the DC-3. Kay sat in the cockpit going over a pre-flight checklist. Her copilot arrived. She called him Eddie, and they chatted while Zorka took a seat closest to the cockpit. Soon soldiers and two civilian engineers claimed a seat while stowing their possessions underneath the bench. They pulled out the butt can and smoked cigarette after cigarette. Nervous energy filled the plane. Zorka smiled but did not engage in conversation.
Kay entered the cargo area and took out a pen and a dollar bill from her coverall pocket. “Okay, friends. Let’s see your short-snorter.”
Zorka watched Kay inspect the dollar bills. She handed the pen to them.” Sign your names. A private looked at his buddy sitting next to him. “What’s this?”
Eddie flipped a switch and controlled the gas with a lever. The propellers rotated and the plane roared to life necessitating shouting the answer. “A souvenir. Wherever you fly, passengers sign your dollar bill. It becomes a good-luck piece. When we get to Australia and have a drink, if you can’t produce a short snorter, you have to buy a round. Try to get as many signatures as you can.”
Kay handed her short-snorter to Zorka. “Sign.” Zorka obliged. Kay said, “Hey, don’t you have a dollar?”
“Sure.” Zorka took one out of her suitcase. She passed it around the plane. When it returned to her, she had nine signatures scribbled on both sides. Eddie whistled to Kay and gave her a thumbs-up sign. “Rest easy, folks. Here we go! Only 5,500 miles to Australia. The first pitstop is Wake Island followed by a stopover in Port Moresby, New Guinea. We’ll reach Port Darwin, Australia tomorrow.” She pointed to the rear of the aircraft. “If you need to use the head, the can is behind the curtain.” She double-checked that the cargo was securely fastened and made her way back to the cockpit. Before getting into the pilot’s seat, she squatted in front of Zorka and looked at her with an expression of “last chance.” Zorka thought about Barbara and prayed she was alive and safe in the tunnel on Corregidor Island. For the POWs, she thought about her Aunt and the rumors of Jews in Europe locked in concentration camps. She could do nothing for Aunt Lotti in Budapest. But maybe in Manila…
“Get this stinking plane up in the air, Kay.”
* * * * *
After an alarming ride in a carromata, Zorka walked down Dewey Boulevard looking for Isaac Peral Street. She tried to steady her nerves and looked down so her hat shielded her face. The Filipino driver spoke Tagalog and no English. She said the address and he nodded enthusiastically. More than an hour went by driving around Manila Bay in the horse-drawn cab, and Zorka started to panic. She kept repeating the address, but he never arrived. He stopped at a major intersection, and Zorka recognized Dewey Boulevard on the street sign. That had a familiar ring to it from her conversation with the officer’s wife in San Francisco. She tossed a two peso note into his lap and leaped out of the carriage with her viola case and suitcase. The driver yelled at her, but she ignored him and walked briskly away.
When she intersected Isaac Peral Street, she turned down a wide street festooned with magnificent Acacia trees. On the sidewalk, it was like walking inside an arboretum tunnel. The neighborhood contained ornate homes hiding behind massive shrubbery and enclosed with wrought iron fences. Zorka looked for the house numbers. There are 233. She walked into the courtyard and admired the Spanish-style stone home. A fanciful sign with an ornate spelling of Le Restaurant de Paris welcomed her. She ascended wide steps and entered the lobby and removed her hat. She asked for Mrs. Gladys Savary.
“I am she.” Gladys Savary was thin and tall with painted lips and wore an expensive suit. She looked at Zorka with indifference and glided past her. Gladys frowned. Inside the restaurant, four Japanese soldiers sat at a corner table. They were loud and yelled at the waitress. Then they called for Gladys Savary in choppy English.
“What you mean no more beer? How about we search your place?” The Japanese officer stood and took out his pistol. He was tipsy and pushed Gladys toward the kitchen. Her face was a stone, and she led him with poise to the back room. Zorka sidestepped to the hallway and stood underneath the staircase and waited. She felt like a child hiding from her parent’s arguing. There was muffled yelling and a gunshot went off. Zorka’s heart pounded as she stood frozen in place. Soon, the Japanese officer staggered back to the table, and the four soldiers left grumbling with displeasure. The patrons in the restaurant sighed with relief when Gladys emerged from the kitchen and greeted her guests calmly, apologizing for the intrusion. Gladys ambled to the reception area and stood behind the podium. She held her shaking hands behind her back. Zorka marveled how Gladys could keep her composure. A Filipino worker brought Gladys a wet washcloth to apply to her cheek where the Japanese officer slapped her. Her cheekbone was puffy and red. Some internal decision snapped her into action. Gladys picked up the reception phone and dialed a combination of numbers.
She spoke firmly. “Twice he has come to my establishment. He is a nuisance and insufferable. That goes against your code of conduct. He destroyed my pantry. He should be reprimanded.” She listened to the response. Her expression altered from anger to disgust. She hung up the phone. She inhaled and exhaled. Then she noticed Zorka standing next to the staircase. “Come out and quit lurking. Who are you?”
“I was given your name in Oahu. I was hoping you had a room I could rent. I wanted to talk to you about–”
“All my rooms are booked. Sorry. It’s only a matter of days before they will shut me down. I’m trying to figure out my next move. What’s your name?”
“Here, breakfast is on me. But then you better move along.”
“To where? I have come to find my sister. I think she might be in Malinta Tunnel. She was a nurse at Hospital No. 2. In the jungle. Her name is Barbara Kiss.”
Gladys lit a cigarette. She offered one to Zorka who declined. “Well, Zorka Kiss, your timing couldn’t be worse. The Japs have destroyed Manila. The Filipinos are the only ones allowed to move about. The rest of us, Americans, British, French are either locked up or forced to leave. You came here for nothing.”
Zorka thought for a moment. “Mrs. Savay?”
“You may call me Gladys.”
“Gladys, I am a musician. I was told there were nightclubs needing musicians for their orchestras to entertain the Japanese. I want to help the underground.” She whispered, “I know you are part of it. Can you at least steer me in the right direction? I want to be around when my sister is freed from that tunnel. I want to help in the meantime.”
Gladys posed with one hand holding up her cigarette and expressed a look of disdain. “In the meantime, you’ll end up in a camp or get shot. Or worse. Where are you from?”
“Go home to Minneapolis where it’s safe. Wait for your sister there.”
Zorka looked out the window. She looked up and down the street. “Should I go this way or that way?”
Gladys examined Zorka by walking around her and puffing her cigarette. She picked at Zorka’s sweater and touched her hair which was corkscrew curly and barely held in place at the base of her neck. Zorka did not need a mirror to know her hair was an unruly mess with ringlets coiled down her back. Zorka thought Gladys acted like a cat. Svelte. Arrogant. Classy. She picked up a pad of paper on the podium. “Go see Dorothy Fuentes down at the wharf. There’s a strip of nightclubs and casinos. She just opened Club Tsubaki and would need musicians and pretty women to flirt with the Japanese officers. Are you up for that?”
She took out a card from the top drawer of the desk. Here’s the address. Tell her Gladys sent you.”
For the first time, Zorka was optimistic. Seeing her smile, Gladys tried to douse it. “Have fun with the Nips! If they don’t kill you, and you bide your time waiting for the Americans to return, you might see your sister. That is if she hasn’t died of malaria or starvation first.”
Zorka nodded, unruffled. “Thanks for the encouragement, Gladys. I’ll take that breakfast first, please.”
Gladys asked a Filipino employee to escort her. “Here. Put these drab clothes on and keep your face covered. You’ll go when it’s dark. A boy around ten approached the table with bright eyes and a shy smile. “Manuel will keep you in the shadows.”
The rain came suddenly with voracious energy. The pattern was intense deluge followed by a break as if the storm needed to take a deep breath before it dumped more water on Manila Bay. At 2000 hours, Zorka followed Manuel out of Le Restaurant de Paris and walked in a downward direction. The slanting street caused the rainwater to slap against her ankles. Zorka knew she was in for blisters and ignored the uncomfortable squishing and rubbing inside her shoes. She could see the lights flickering on the wharf ahead. During one of the torrential intermissions, Zorka asked Manuel how far they would need to walk to get to Club Tsubaki.
His face was in the shadows, the silhouette of him darker than the night. “Club Tsubaki is down this street.”
Zorka followed him block by block at a pain-staking pace. One more mile. Half a mile. They were out of the elite residential neighborhood and into a commercial street of tall buildings lined next to the other. They quickened their pace.
That was when they collided with three Japanese soldiers turning the corner.
Zorka crashed into the chest of one. His mouth was open and his breath stank of booze. Zorka was not sure what happened to Manuel. He squeaked and twirled and disappeared into the rubble of a bombed building. Her viola case and suitcase slid across the street. She looked up into the hungry eyes of the three soldiers. They grabbed her arms and pulled her over to the street lamp to have a look at her. They hollered as though they had won the lottery. Zorka was glad the rain drowned out their voices as they chittered in Japanese to each other. It was a harsh, strange sound. They pushed and pulled her across the street to an abandoned building. One smashed the glass door and opened it. More laughter. Another one spoke halting English. He pulled on her hair and exposed her ear. “American girl. You are dog.” He backhanded her jaw. She fainted.
Zorka awoke on the floor to the sounds of thudding and garbled voices as if she were suspended in a tank of water. Woozy and disoriented, she felt detached from her body. In her semi-conscious state, she saw their uniforms in swirls of grays and blacks and tan. Slanted eyes and drooling mouths spit on her. She turned her head away, thankful her unruly hair covered her face as a shield. Outside, a street lamp illuminated the rain pelting down with a fury.
She was a rag doll. She tried to scream, but she only heard it in her head. When she raised her hands to protect herself, the one who liked to hit her, did so until she stopped resisting. She floated out of her body.
They left as suddenly as they arrived.
Zorka tried to move but her body parts would not cooperate. She wanted to cry, but her sobs were stuck inside her. She flinched when someone entered the building, crouched, and attempted to cover her exposed body with her jacket.
She gasped, “Manuel?”
He pulled her up to a sitting position. She tried not to cry. “Come, miss. I take you to a friend. She is close by. A friend of Gladys.”
Zorka wobbled up to a standing position. Manuel repositioned her skirt and put a shoe back on her foot. Zorka vomited when she smelled the bodily fluids of her assailants. “Come now, miss. Before others see you. Please! Curfew is at ten o’clock. Then I go to jail, too. Please, take a step, miss.”
They left the building and walked into more rain. This time, Zorka looked up and was glad the water washed the smells off her. Her head pounded and she could not see well, for her right eye was swollen shut. She slobbered the air in and out of her bruised mouth. When she inhaled, the pain in her ribs was acute. The tender mash of her pelvic area pulsated.
Zorka had an urge to laugh. This surprised both of them.
“They all tried to warn me, didn’t they?” Did she say this or think it?
She stood in the street convulsed with laughing spasms. It hurt her ribs to do so, but it only made the impulse of release stronger until her cackle turned into sobbing and her wailing diminished into a mew like a lost kitten. Manuel scrambled to pick up her viola case and told Zorka to carry her instrument. He held her suitcase with his other hand, and they shuffled down a side street for a block. The rain paused. She concentrated on the water rushing in the gutters as he dragged her along. Manuel propped her up against the front of an apartment building.
“Here, miss. Don’t move.”
Manuel raced up the stairs and knocked on a door. Zorka heard voices mumbling. Down the stairs came a woman in the dark. Zorka could not see her but through a small slit in her left eye. She was a black woman who shook her head and clucked with alarm. She was thin but strong and half-carried Zorka up the stairs to her apartment. Manuel placed Zorka’s viola case and suitcase at the landing. She heard him race down the stairs and the night swallowed him up. She fell into the apartment anxious for the door to close as if doing so would shut out the beasts of the night.
She heard the door bolted shut, but no matter how hard she clenched her eyes, the beasts waited for her in her mind.
Thank you for taking the time to read.