A little girl was looking for coins in their cupboard when she found a long black metal. It was too heavy for her small arms but she got curious and inspected the item. She pulled at the sheath. It was a sword. She asked her grandmother where it came from. Her grandmother, Nina told her the tale of the sword.
In 1936, World War II was already taking shape in Europe. It took 5 more years before it reached Philippine soil. When the Japanese occupied the Philippines the school a block away from Nina’s home was turned into Japanese army barracks. The school occupied a whole block surrounded by four streets on four sides. A sentry was staged on both sides along the two roads that led to the public market. People who passed by needed to bow to the soldiers manning the sentry. People who did not bow soon enough were slapped. Nina’s elder daughter was one of them. Because of Japanese army atrocities against the Filipinos, Nina’s eldest son, still in his teens, joined the guerilla underground movement.
Nina owned a stall at the public market and she passed the sentry every day. One day she met the Japanese Commander on his way to his office at the barracks. He was an old man, about 15 years older than her. She didn’t speak Japanese and the man did not speak Tagalog. Their friendship began with just one look into each other’s eyes. She was invited into his office. She was given some goodies as gifts and then sent home.
The Commander had been lonely for his family he left in Japan. He was not looking for an illicit relationship. He just wanted the company of a human other than his army. Nina married in her teens and was beautiful at 40 years old. She loved her husband and six children. That same love compelled her to keep the friendship with the Japanese Commander as protection for her family in a city occupied by the enemy. She was invited time and again to the Commander’s office where they ate and talked in broken languages and gestures. Goodwill transcends the language barrier. Their platonic friendship gave the old man time off from war in those fleeting moments. The Commander gifted her with bags of Japanese money they were printing and other privileges. Her home was exempted from soldiers’ searches called ‘sona’.
In October of 1944 Gen. Douglas MacArthur arrived in Leyte. The Commander was being sent to battle. Nina was summoned by the sentry soldiers as she passed on her way to her store. The Commander wanted to say goodbye. He gave her his sword as a token of their friendship. He said if any Japanese soldier should come at her door she should just show the sword and she and her family would be safe. She never saw the Commander again.
See other articles on friendship:
The Jeepney Dispatcher
Kindness of Strangers
Tamboy – A Legend on His Own Street