Monday, December 7, 2015

World War II Fiction - Excerpt, Cecilia Brainard's When the Rainbow Goddess Wept

Ten hours after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Manila.  

I'm posting the first chapter of my novel, When the Rainbow Goddess Wept, which is about the coming of age of a young girl in the Philippines during World War II. The World War II pictures are courtesy of Wikipedia.

 Rumblings of War
Excerpt from Cecilia Brainard's When the Rainbow Goddess Wept:

Mother Ignacia, fourth-grade teacher at Santa Teresa's School, made us pray for peace, and she kept our souls clean by taking us to weekly confession and communion.
“If war should catch you with mortal sins in your souls, you will end up condemned, with chains, and you will roam the earth for all eternity,” she warned.
It was a scary thought: I, Yvonne Macaraig, entangled with heavy chains, barred from heaven, barred even from purgatory, destined only to drag myself and the chains, and scare people away. There was a condemned soul who frightened the people in the house down the street from where we lived. He had borrowed fifty pesos and never paid it back, that's why his soul was not at peace.
To prepare us for the feast of the Immaculate Conception, Mother Ignacia talked about the Virgin Mary. “She did not have a speck of venial sin,” Mother Ignacia said. “She was spotless, perfect. She did not commit concupiscence. Does anyone here know the meaning of the word concupiscence?

No one replied. I, sitting right under her nose, avoided her eyes and looked down at my folded hands instead.
“Esperanza?” Mother Ignacia's voice rang out. My first cousin stood up and looked around pleadingly. I stared back helplessly, wishing I had a clue to what this word meant. “Not paying attention again!” the nun barked. “I'll have to talk to your mother about you.” Backing up so she could survey her class better, Mother Ignacia said, “Pay attention, class. Com means with, and cupere is to desire or to want — therefore,” the nun pursed her lips, “the word concupiscence means a strong abnormal desire. In short, class, it means lust. During your examination of conscience, girls, don't forget concupiscence. You don't want a bomb falling on your head and you ending up condemned. Reflect on the word eternity — that means forever and forever, not just a week, a year, or a hundred years — forever.”
For good measure, I included concupiscence in my list of sins. Esperanza and I had written down our sins on pieces of paper during recess. “I'm not writing down concu–whatever–that–is on my list,” Esperanza announced defiantly. “I don't even know what it means.”
“It has to do with kissing and things like that,” I ventured. “You know, like what the lovers do in the back of the theater.”
“Then your father and mother commit sin all the time,” Esperanza said. She was ten, a year older than I was. I had to think about this for a while. “But they're married,” I countered, “that doesn't count. Only those who aren't married commit that sin.”
“Mother Ignacia doesn't know anything. She's old and dried up. I hate her,” Esperanza said.
“Anyway,” I continued, “I'm writing down concupiscence on my list. This is what I've got: bad thoughts, twice; late for Mass, once; talked and laughed in church, six; concupiscence, one.”
“You have to mention biting the host. That's bad,” Esperanza said. “You're always biting the host and one day blood will come out of that host. You'll see.”
Before Mother Ignacia herded us to the nearby church, and when Esperanza was not looking, I added “biting the host.” There was no point, I figured, in taking chances.
There were two priests hearing confession: Father Ruiz, who was young and handsome and loved by the high school girls, and Father Odell, who was old with skin like parchment and lips that arched down­ward. We were in Father Odell's line.
Esperanza went in first and she stayed in the confessional for a long time. When she finished she stuck her tongue out. I entered the con­fessional and pulled my list out of my pocket. It was dark in there and I could not see my handwriting. I opened the door to allow a sliver of light in, but Father Odell shouted, “Shut that door!” I closed the door and stared into blackness. My list sat uselessly in my right hand and I finally crumpled it and stuffed it back into my pocket.
“Well?” Father Odell asked.
“Bless me father for I have sinned, my last confession was last week. These are my sins,” I began, then I panicked, completely for­getting what I had written down.
“Yes?” the priest said gruffly.
I cleared my throat. “Uh — these are my sins. I had bad thoughts, six times; and I was late for Mass, two times. I talked and laughed in church, three times; and I committed concupiscence — twice.”
“What?” Father Odell shouted.
“Twice, Father, twice.”
“You committed what?'
“Sins, I committed sins, Father.”
“I know you committed sins. Who has not committed sins. All men commit sins. But you had bad thoughts, then what?”
“Oh, that — concupiscence — that means lust, Father.”
There was a long silence and I thought the old priest had fallen asleep, when I heard a pained sigh. “For your penance, say five Hail Marys and three Our Fathers. Bad girl.” Then he slammed shut the window.
I later learned that Father Odell had also called Esperanza a bad girl. “He's mean,” we agreed. Esperanza, whom Mama accused of having “a mouth,” continued, “And he even smells like a goat. I'll never confess to him ever again, even if I end up dragging chains for all eternity.”

Papa and Mama and Lolo Peping — our grandfather — picked us up after school. “We had confession,” I said, throwing my bag into the backseat of the ‘39 Ford, where Lolo Peping was dozing. He was our mothers’ father. Because he was old and addled, he often called us by his daugh­ters’ names. “Don’t wake your Lolo Peping. How was confession?” Papa asked with one hand propping up the pipe in his mouth. Esperanza rolled her eyes upward and slumped into the seat. “He called us bad girls.”
Papa shook his head. “Girls, don’t listen to everything the old priest tells you. You are good girls. Very good girls — well, most of the time you are good girls.”
Esperanza and I giggled and sat back, feeling better about ourselves. “Are we going for a ride?” I asked.
“Papa has to see Max down at the pier,” Mama said.
“Where the prostitutes are?” Esperanza asked.
“The ideas you girls get! It’s just a bar, and they’re bargirls,” Mama insisted.
“Bitong says the girls there are good-time girls,” Esperanza con­tinued. “When he goes there, he pays for the drinks and the girls drink them fast and they have quick hands.”
“That’s enough, Esperanza. Nando, you’d better talk to Bitong about his language in front of the children; and he hasn’t been taking care of the garden — that man is so lazy. He does nothing but sit around polishing his boots. Esperanza, I hope you stayed out of trouble today, your mother’s growing gray hairs because of you.”
“The child was good, Angeling. Did you hear? They went to con­fession today. Their souls are lily-white,” Papa said.
“Mother Ignacia says we must be ready at all times because there’s no telling when war will come to Ubec. It’s all over the rest of the world — in China, in Europe, everywhere,” I said.
“Nando, Nando, did you hear that? Is that sort of thing good for the children to hear?” Mama said. “There will be no war in Ubec. What do we have to do with these Hitlers and Churchills? Isn’t that right, Nando? Why, General MacArthur himself said he’ll be dining at the Manila Hotel this New Year’s.”
Grandfather stirred and mumbled, “MacArthur? Murderer — quarter of a million Filipinos, dead.”
“Pa, we’re talking about Douglas, not Arthur MacArthur. Go back to sleep,” Mama said. Lolo Peping leaned against the door, mumbled a few more words, and began snoring.
Papa continued, “Angeling, it’s all right. The children are old enough to know those things. There are those who say there won’t be any war, but it is prudent to be prepared.”
Mama began sniveling. “Oh, Nando, I just can’t believe it. Ever­ything’s been fine — the baby, Lourdes and her business, even Papa’s been better.”
“Lolo Peping bought another sack of rice and more dried fish and mongo beans so we won’t go hungry if war breaks out,” Esperanza added. “Laydan says she doesn’t know where to put all that food,” I said, remembering the cook’s lamentations as she tried to stuff the food into the downstairs storage room.
Mama began sobbing. “Now, now, Angeling, don’t get yourself upset. We’ll deal with
things as they come.”
Esperanza and I looked at each other, then glanced outside. Mama was “expecting,” so she was very moody. Papa drove down Mango Avenue, past the house of the American family, and we giggled when we caught sight of the ten-year-old American boy, an albino with pink skin and white hair.
“He has cat’s eyes,” Esperanza said, “that’s why he wears sun­glasses. He’s going away.”
“Oh?” Mama said.
“Yes, the American family’s moving away in case war comes to Ubec. Too bad, I wanted to see his eyes up close.”
We stared at him until Papa turned around Fuente Osmeña plaza. The huge dry fountain pointed at the cloudless sky. Vendors were ar­ranging their wares around the grounds for the afternoon and evening promenaders. Papa continued down Jones Avenue toward the sea. He stopped by Monay’s Bakery to buy sweet bread aptly called Pan Monay, which Esperanza and I happily gnawed on. Papa then drove past the old Spanish fort to the wharf.
Papa was an engineering professor at the University of Ubec, and he liked to teach. This afternoon, he lectured, “In olden days, Ubecans traded with Siamese, Chinese, and Borneans. The people lived in huts along the shoreline, right along here.”
“When the Spaniards came they built that fort and the old church,” I said.
“Very good, Yvonne,” Papa said. “And when did the Spaniards arrive in Ubec? Esper, do you know the answer?”
“Ah ... Magellan arrived in 1521.”
“Excellent!” Papa said.
“He was Portuguese,” I added, “but he sailed for the Spanish flag.”
“Angeling, did you hear that? These girls are geniuses!” Papa exclaimed.
Esperanza and I smiled at each other. Papa did that often just to make us feel good.
Outside, piers jutted out into the sea and ships rocked to and fro as the waves lapped the mussel-encrusted pier posts. The air was salty with a hint of tar. There were seedy restaurants, and Mama said you would get cholera from those places. Small hotels and bars lined the street. Papa slowed down and topped in front of a bar lit up with colored lights. A huge red neon sign blinked above: SLAPSY MAXIE’S.
Sailors streamed in and out of the bar. Heavily rouged girls in Carmen Miranda-type dresses clung to the men’s arms. No sooner had Papa switched off the motor than Nida, a big woman, burst out of the bar and rushed to the Ford. “Nando! Missus! Long time no see. Come and see the addition. There’s a Norwegian ship in town so we’re busier than hell, but I’m glad to see you.” Nida wore a bright pink dress with a hibiscus print. She had ample breasts and hips. Nida had what people called, “a past,” meaning she was once the mistress of the Chinese restaurateur Ong King Kin.
“Is Max in, Nida?” Papa asked. Max and Papa had met in America where he went to school and where Max boxed and drove a cab. Gadamit — Max liked to say, just like a New Yorker —gadamit to hell!
“He went to get more rum. We ran out.”
“I have to talk to Max about something.”
“Is it about the Japs invading? Max says MacArthur has formed a guerrilla regiment,” Nida said.
“Just to be on the safe side,” Papa said, and Mama burst into tears.
“War — oh, Nida, what’ll we do if there’s war?” Mama said.
“Now, now, Missus, I didn’t mean to get you all riled up. It may never happen. Who’d want Ubec, anyway? This stinking little city? Ma­nila maybe, because it’s the capital and all, but Ubec? Don’t worry about a thing. It’s December, Angeling, we should be thinking of Christmas.”
Grandfather suddenly woke up. “War? War? Damned Americans. Kill every single Cano. Butchers.”
Nida stared at us with an expression combining bewilderment and amusement.
“Oh, Pa, go back to sleep, it’s nothing,” Mama said.
“War is a pit toilet,” Lolo Peping continued. “I saw the Pasig River turn red from blood; I saw the damned Canos slaughter Filipinos like pigs —”
“Pa, that was forty years ago. It’s 1941, the Americans are our friends now,” Mama said.
“Don’t be foolish, child. Americans are tricky people. That Cano Dewey told Aguinaldo they’d help him fight the Spaniards, and what happened? They betrayed him, that’s what happened. And they tricked the Macabebes that way — little Macs, the Canos called them. Damned traitors, may they rot in hell for turning against their own brothers.”
“Instead of hell, it would be better, Lola, if they’re condemned forever and ever. They can drag chains for all eternity,” Esperanza said.
 She nudged me and we giggled silently.
“Nando, isn’t it time for us to go? It’s almost suppertime. Poor Laydan’s meal will turn cold,” Mama said. Papa started the car. “I guess we’ll go, Nida. Just tell Max we came by.”
‘’I’ll tell him to see you,” Nida said.

We lived on Colon Street in the old section of Ubec. Our two-story house cut the huge property in two. On one side was a courtyard with a stone well, a magnificent centenary flame tree, and flowering frangi­panis and hibiscus bushes. A verandah with potted plants and an over­hanging bougainvillea vine ran along the full length of the house. The bedrooms, dining room, living room, and library were located upstairs, while the downstairs area and the other side of the property were work and sleeping quarters for the servants. An outdoor dirty kitchen with a wood-burning stove jutted out as a separate wing downstairs .
Ever since my grandmother died years ago, my mother and aunt had been taking care of my grandfather. He sometimes had the notion that my grandmother was alive and he would wander around Ubec searching for her. This afternoon, however, he was merely pulling weeds around the flame tree.
The maid, Lupita, who was keeping an eye on grandfather, sat with us around the stone well. Lupita carne from an island called Payan, which virtually disappeared at high tide. The women's favorite pastime there was passing the fine comb through one another's hair to search for lice. Lupita liked Ubec, which she called a “big city.” She especially enjoyed the vaudeville shows and the movies — she was crazy about Betty Grable and Susan Magalona. She also liked the radio soap operas, and the Friday evening Amateur Hour held at Fuente Osmeña.
“The well's due for a good cleaning.” Lupita commented. “Prob­ably next month.”
“I can still see the little fish down there,” I said.
“Catfish.” Esperanza picked up a pebble and dropped it into the well.
“Don't do that, you'll dirty it up, and we'll be drinking the water and everything,” I said.
“Last time they cleaned the well, they found a dead frog,” Es­peranza said.
“That's disgusting talk, Esper,” Lupita said.
“I like it when they clean the well,” I said. “Last time the men found some blue and white little vases. They were real old with Chinese scribbles. I still have one.”
“I have mine,” Esperanza said. “I put flowers in it. It's in front of the altar.”
“Bah, you should pray, Esperanza. You're so naughty,” Lupita said.
We had not noticed that Grandfather had moved toward us. “Look!” he shouted, pointing at the monkey chained to a bamboo pole. Momoy, as we called him, was grooming himself by meticulously picking imaginary fleas from his stomach. “Look!” Grandfather said once more. “Before man sinned, he was innocent, like that. Man's original sin wasn't eating the forbidden fruit; it was Cain's murder of his brother. Yes, indeedy, that was man's first sin.” He nodded several times, then he looked at the sky and began counting.
The three of us stared up to see what had caught Grandfather's attention. There was nothing unusual, just the clear blue sky. I studied Grandfather, who was pointing upward, now counting in the hundreds.
 “What's he doing?” Lupita whispered.
“He's counting,” Esperanza said.
“The stars,” I ventured.
“Could be,” Esperanza said.
“But it's daytime. There are no stars up there.” Lupita appeared puzzled.
 “Lolo,” Esperanza called out, and Grandfather paused and looked at her. “Are you counting the stars?”
“No, hija, I'm counting all the dead, but you have just made me lose count. Now I have to start all over again.” He looked up and started from one all over again.
“He's crazy.” Lupita scratched her head as Lolo Peping resumed counting.
“Don't call our grandfather crazy,” Esperanza said.
“He's certainly different.”
“Eccentric, that's what he is, eccentric,” Esperanza declared.
“That's right, eccentric,” I added, but later when Esperanza and I were heading for Sanny's store, I said, “Maybe Lolo Peping does have loose screws.”
Esperanza paused and in a grown-up voice said, “I've been ob­serving people for a long time now, and most act like their screws are loose. What that means is that Lolo Peping is no different from them and is normal.”

“Oh,” I replied, thoroughly impressed with this logic.
Sanny’s sari-sari store was a delightful place with everything anyone could imagine. Sanny kept it well stocked with standard supplies like rice, corn, coarse salt, mongo beans, agar-agar I and spices. She covered the walls with brooms, kites, coconut husks, coconut shells, woven mats, magazines, and periodicals. She also had forbidden cakes — fluffy pink ones that Mama swore would give us stomachache if not cholera. There were lemon drops, rice and corn cakes, salted plum seeds, and little paper and wooden toys that we could buy for a centavo or two. While I wandered about, Esperanza went straight to the shop­keeper. “A box of Guitar matches, Sanny,” Esperanza said.
“What you need matches for? Matches no good for children,” Sanny replied. She was Japanese, around twenty-five years old, with a six -month-old baby girl called Sumi. Sanny had difficulty pronouncing some words. She was beautiful, with a lovely oval face and petal-smooth skin.
Without hesitating Esperanza lied, “Mama needs matches.”
Outside I asked, “What's that for?”
You'll find out,” she replied.
Along the way, she stopped under a lomboy tree and picked up some leaves. We went straight to the yard, and she gestured for me to be quiet. I checked on the grown-ups having merienda on the verandah and looked back at Esperanza. “What are you doing?” I whispered.
She was rolling a leaf into a small cigar. “I've seen Laydan do this,” she said, referring to our old cook, who spoke in a monotone.
 When Esperanza finished, she pulled out the matches from her pocket and lit the cigar. My eyes grew big, certain that Papa, Mama, Lourdes, or their visitor, Max, would notice us. But they were engrossed in their talk — about war as usual — and Esperanza took in a big breath and blew smoke out her nose. I was impressed. “Let me try,” I said, grabbing the cigar. The smoke grated my throat making me cough.
“You don't know anything, do you?” Esperanza said, but she had a greenish cast to her skin. “I'm dizzy,” I said.
“I feel like throwing up,” Esperanza admitted. She snuffed out the cigar on the earth and, closing our eyes, we sat quietly to catch our breath. We could hear the grown-ups talking.
“So, Max, will Ubec fight to the finish?” Lourdes asked. She was short and fat, with a faint smell of cinnamon. She was younger than Mama, although people often mistook her for being older. Mama was taller and more glamorous. Lourdes said she grew old from the cross she bore. What she meant was her husband, who had left her when Esperanza was only a baby. Actually, Mama said it was a blessing in disguise that he took off with another woman because my aunt became very successful in the catering business she was forced to do so. My aunt had a good business mind just like my grandmother.
“To the end, Lourdes,” Max said, smiling broadly. He had his nose broken twice in America, and it leaned to one cheek. Although he looked fierce, Max had an easy smile and laugh. There were few Filipinos in America when Papa was there, and when he and Max ran into each other, they became friends. Papa returned to the Philippines while Max stayed in America, hoping to make it big as a boxer. He never did and he eventually returned to the Philippines to settle down. When he mar­ried Nida, everyone was sure the marriage wouldn't last. Nida wasn't exactly the sweet and passive Filipina that Max bad dreamt of back in the States. But as things turned out, Nida and Max were happy together.
“Maybe we should burn the city like the ancient Filipinos did when the Spaniards were attacking. Didn't Chieftain Tupas and his men send the women and children to the hills while they torched the village?” my aunt continued.
 “They lost anyway. But I suppose they didn't want to turn over an intact village and port to the Spaniards,” Papa said.
“Spaniards, British, Americans — they come to Ubec,” Mama said. She put her cup of chocolate down. “You'd think Ubec was the wealth­iest city on earth instead of a sleepy seaside place. What do we have that these foreigners want?'
“Ubec is part of the Philippines, and the Philippines is strategically important,” Papa said.
Lourdes waved her right hand, indicating it was all a lot of fool­ishness, but the men continued the conversation.
“It'll happen,” Max said. “Quezon's still hoping the gadam Japs will skip the Philippines, but they're in China, Formosa, Korea. And the Japs aren't real nice. Co-Prosperity for East Asians is their slogan. Co-prosperity my ass — ay, pardon my language,” Max said.
“People believe the slogans because Westerners take advantage in Asia. Europeans treated the Chinese like dogs, in China, mind you. Not that the Japanese treated the Chinese better.”
“We're ready. MacArthur just has to give the word. We'll be kicking gadam Jap ass if they try to kick us around. Hell, I wasn't a boxer for nothing,” Max continued.
“Max, Max, try Lourdes's empanada,” Mama said. “All this talk of war. There won't be any war. And if the Japanese did have the nerve to attack, why the Americans will wipe them out in no time at all. The USAFFE's ready; the Armed Forces have modern planes —”
“Angeling, I heard the airplanes are antiques, American rejects; and the Filipinos in the USAFFE look like Boy Scouts in their short pants,” Lourdes said.
“Boy Scouts?” Mama asked, incredulously.
“I saw a picture of them, young boys, in short pants.” “Ay, madre mia, you mean our future depends on Boy Scouts? Maybe Papa's right after all, to stock up on all that food.” Lourdes nodded.
“Boy Scouts,” they cried in unison, and the sisters chuckled as they shook their heads.

When the Rainbow Goddess Wept is available from:

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