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‘Malilimutin’

12:05 AM May 29, 2017

Last April, I received a text from Barangay San Lorenzo, Makati, that a doctor will give a talk on forgetfulness, titled “Malilimutin.” It was no surprise to me at all that I forgot all about it and was unable to attend. A pity!

But strangely, I remember that when I was about two years old, living somewhere in the Bicol province, I peeped through a slit in our shuttered window when from out of the bushes appeared two Japanese soldiers. My eyes must have popped from fright. At that time, circa 1940, people would mislead the Japanese occupiers by shutting down all windows and doors. I don’t know what happened to the animals or the usual chickens and dogs that hung around our yard. There was only one monkey chained to a pole, and the two soldiers played with him a bit.

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I remember, too, that I was all alone in that house at the time, my heart pumping faster and faster and my mind racing to think of what to do should the soldiers come up the house. But, luckily, they went past and out the front yard’s low bamboo fence.

One very early, chilly morning, some children and myself were placed in a carabao-drawn cart and taken to another place. It was the style then to keep moving from one location to another, going deeper and deeper into the woods.

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Next, I remember being seated on the floor, about a meter away from a bench were some very old-looking men and women were chattering away. The talk was almost always centered on the Japanese and the latest news about them. I remember this scene because the old man directly in front of me had a left leg up the bench and his brown, shiny testicles were peeping through his flimsy shorts. I dared not to say a word but tried to digest what they were all talking about.

Another chilly morning and we were carted off to the train station and my father and uncle put us on a train headed for Manila. I was too young to get excited.
Our baon consisted of boiled camote and boiled bananas. It was the first time in my life to wear a pair of new brown shoes.
I stared at them throughout the train ride except when I was fast asleep.

In a store below the house we were brought to was where I had my first taste of original halo-halo, Japanese version. It was composed of milk, sugar, red beans and ice. Things happened so fast, and my eldest sister and I were placed in a convent for orphans. I was already three and a half years old when Pearl Harbor was bombed. On Dec. 10, Japanese forces landed in Manila. Those who were already here suddenly appeared in military uniform. This is how I remember those events.

Our classes were disrupted and we were always prepared for a surprise visit from the Japanese for a head count. The nuns would sit us far from each other so that they wouldn’t miss some of the girls hidden in the tower which was our shoe room. These girls had foreign-sounding names like Tanner, Lingenbrink, Murphy, Moser. Some of our foreign nuns were taken away. When they returned they were just skin and bones, but still brimming with unbroken spirit.

I remember all these but if I were to introduce my best friend to someone, I am sure I will completely forget her name. I wouldn’t remember what I had for breakfast this morning if my life depended on it.

Such is the plight of senior citizens. We often cross from one room to the next, forgetting what we did that for. But asked what happened during the Japanese Occupation, we can tell the story in full detail.

Shirley Wilson de las Alas will be 79 years old soon but feels, she claims, like she is in her 50s.

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