by Linda Rubi Arbon (as narrated to son Aldous Dempsey Arbon)
“There was only a candle that was burning orange against the spread of our dark room . . . from afar it was only a tear of light that evening. I could only see the back of my mother framed in an open window as she stood with her hands on “akimbo.” I could only listen to her.”
“Our Father who art in heaven . . .
Hail Mary, full of grace . . .
I believe in God . . .
Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy . . .
“I recited these prayers on my knees, haltingly . . . hardly,” my mother began her story, her eyes fixed against the blackness of the night, her memory against the bleakness of that fateful day, October 13, 1944.
The Japanese reached the shores of Siquijor when World War II broke out.
“. . . and my heart was pounding hard,” she continued. “My mother was trembling, she said, as bombs dropped deafening sounds, as bombs hunted anybody’s life, or my mother’s life, or the life in her womb.
“The only time she stopped praying was when she had to struggle and fight stomach pains. She was laboring intensely. Ultimately the pain subsided and the grimace of her vanished. A baby cried.
“’I gave birth to you at that time,’ my mother had said to me.
“How hard was the life of Mama, I thought silently to myself. Against the pang of war, there was a birth pang; the first brought death, the second brought life.
“The Japanese soldiers horrified, terrified everyone. The sight of bayonets was enough to bring everyone into hiding, into a frightening silence – where life was a dangerous decision between shutting one’s mouth and breathing out a whisper.
“I could not cry, I had to be stopped if I would, my mama said – afraid that my cry would be audible to the presence of lurking enemies.
“There was a moment of silence. There was an urgency of decision.
“The family had to flee, to walk, to run without stopping to a safer place in Maria, 25 kilometers from the frightened village of Helen in Larena. Away from the sight of bayonets, away from the sounds of bombs, the family had to escape to protect the newly-born Linda and her two-year-old sister Jocelyn.
“Both girls had to be carried in a wooden bed and an old hammock.
“My mother said: ‘As far as I could remember that was the only time I prayed so hard. With a rosary in my left hand, I called in quick succession Mama Mary, Jesus, San Jose, San Vicente and a roll of saints.’
“She continued: ‘I couldn’t remember the number of times I repeated the mysteries in the rosary as we fled through the hills.’
“The bombing brought massive destruction to the island. Thousands died – men, women, innocent children. Women, too, became sex slaves to the Japanese soldiers.
“The pains were extremely agonizing and unbearable. We cried in sleep and there were times we couldn’t eat meals; if we could, we ate in the cover of dark.
“But I survived, my sister did, the whole family, my relatives, too.
“The candle was almost gone. The night was older.
“She said: ‘Let’s go to sleep now. I am going to tell you that it’s my faith that has made us live again.’”