Our Piano Teacher
It was mealtime. The bombs started coming down in and around the American Air Force base. Their impact was like a thousand earthquakes. As we stumbled from our shaking house father looked to the sky and knew right away what was happening. What we all feared. The Japanese had come. He yelled at mother to take me and run. She carried me, running, and told me to close my eyes, to not look. But I did look. I saw the bodies lying about the street. Some burning, some crushed. All unmoving.
It became clear that we had to leave and that meant leaving father. He was a civil engineer and one of the only Philippine men who worked with the Americans at the base in Luzon. The Japanese would come looking for the men and their families that worked with the Americans. Taking almost nothing we headed for the train that would take us to family in Bicol. A province in the south. Arriving at the platform all we saw was the train pulling away and hundreds of stranded women and children frantic and helpless. The Japanese had reached the town already and were seen marching to the base. Death or worse awaited.
From her purse mother produced a piece of bamboo about 10 or 12 inches long. It was hollowed out and inside was a stack of gold coins she had as a dowry and had been saving these many years. We ran to the street and climbed into a taxi. Mother said she would give the driver every coin if he would drive us to the south. This is how we escaped Luzon. We arrived a long time later and looked for our friends on the train but the train had not arrived. Japanese airplanes had strafed the train until it and all its passengers were obliterated. Every woman and child.
We all lived under false names during the occupation. I went to school and studied the piano every day. It seems I possessed a great talent for music. After a year, it happened. Two Japanese soldiers, weapons readied, came to the door and let themselves in. They were here to look for the wanted. We would be forced to prove who we were or who we were not.
Before the men and their translator could start, one of the soldiers pointed to the piano and said something I could not understand. With haste I was ushered to the piano by my mother and told to play. Like my life depended on it. At the age of eight I sat down at the piano and flawlessly played Beethoven for the Japanese soldiers.
When the song was done both soldiers bowed low to me. Twice. And never returned.
the teacher’s gnarled hands
show their strength