My dad was born in Manila during the second world war in the midst of the occupation of the Philippines by Japan. He was born under the house, although his birth certificate doesn’t say this.
One day when he was only a few months old, his mother was taking him down the street to visit a friend. She turned a corner to find herself face-to-face with a detachment of Japanese troops. The commander’s eyes lit up when he spotted the baby in her arms. He spoke no Filipino and she spoke little Japanese. Through gestures, he conveyed to her that he would like to hold the baby.
My grandmother hesitated. She knew the stories: Filipino babies had been bayoneted by bored patrols of Japanese troops for sport. She handed over the baby. He cooed and giggled. The happy commander, juggling the baby on one arm, fished around in his pockets while she waited with terror in her heart.
He found what he was looking for and handed it to her: a black-and-white photo of a woman holding a small baby boy. With his troops behind him and my grandmother at his side, warily watching in case his mood turned, he paraded up and down the street with my dad in arms, talking to him in Japanese and smiling at my grandmother. Some minutes later, he handed the baby back and my grandmother continued her journey.
The next day, someone knocked on my grandparents’ door. It was a Japanese soldier, and in his arms was a big box of rations, sent by the Japanese commander. “For the baby”, he said, in halting Tagalog, smiled briefly and left.
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