Monday, October 5, 2009
Tip of the Bayonet
"I was flipping the persimmons when I heard the sound of gun shots."
"Gun shots?" Obviously she survived the event, since she was sitting right in front of me. Nevertheless, my eyes couldn't help but enlarge a bit.
"Yes. You know we dried those persimmons, among other things, after the harvest so they would keep throughout the winter." People used to dry fruits, vegetables, and meats to survive the long and cold winter in a country where there was no such convenience as markets in the neighborhood.
I could see it in my minds eye - a little girl squatting by a sea of persimmons being dried in the square atrium surrounded by rooms, turning them one by one. Her cheeks were red from the sun, and her shiny dark hair was braided into two queues hanging down both sides of her face. A piece of red yarn tied them up at the ends.
"I knew it was the Japanese soldiers because grownups had been warning us to run and hide as soon as we heard the gun shots.
So I took off running as fast as I could. I didn't know where to go, and my parents were no where to be seen. I guess they were working. Everyone had to work all the time back in those days. There were no idle hands in anybody's household. I wasn't flipping those persimmons for fun either.
The only grownup I knew who was in the house at the time was a sick aunt. She rested in her room all day long from an illness that I couldn't name. I ran into her room and cried out, 'The Japanese are coming!'
She said, 'Quick! Hide under the bed and be very quiet. Don't make any noise.' I rolled under the bed and squeezed myself against the wall with all my might. I heard the running footsteps coming into the room. I heard someone yelling at my aunt in a language I didn't understand, and my aunt answering in a pleading voice, 'They are not here. The men all fled. There are no men here.' I'm sure she must be gesturing while she pleaded.
Just to make sure she wasn't lying, a soldier swept under the bed with his rifle. I could see a faint shimmer on the tip of the gun - it was a blade. I stayed very still and quiet while watching the blade moving from side to side. The blade passed in front of me a couple of times and missed me by an inch. The soldier finally decided there was nobody under the bed.
There was some more yelling, and then the soldiers left the room. Neither one of us said or did anything for quite a while. Finally my aunt said quietly, 'I think it's okay to come out now.' I crawled out from under the bed and slipped off to find my parents. I don't remember if I thanked her or not, since I was still quite frightened by the experience.
I went back to the old house forty years after I fled the country and, to my astonishment, the aunt who hid me was still living there! I gave her my belated gratitude and asked her if she remembered what had happened that scary day long time ago. She did, but she remembered the event a little differently from me. She said I hid in her bed under the comforter right next to her, and not under the bed. I was a little confused when I heard that."
I was finally able to breathe after she finished the story. She had a shiny reflection in her eyes, and a smile on her lips. I think the aunt's memory was probably failing her. I think if she was hiding in bed next to her aunt, she probably wouldn’t have seen the rifle or the blade.
I thank God the room was dark enough that the soldier didn't see the little girl under the bed. I thank God that she was small enough that the blade missed her. I thank my great aunt for her quick wit - whether she hid her under the bed or under the comforter - that spared my mother from the possibly horrific fate. They both were very lucky.