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The Seeker of Buried Treasure

Why would they be there?  Why would General Yamashita  leave them behind? Underneath an old fort in Manila?

He was a shaman. Oh, something very old.  Like the turtle you forgot about that grew to 10x its size in your mother’s garden. 

My uncle looked for the gold bars, you know. Under the old fort.

Why would they be there?  Why would General Yamashita  leave them behind? Underneath an old fort in Manila?

Tell me where I can find it, the treasure that the Tiger of Malaya stole, the gold Buddha, the bullion. 

You remember.

The necklaces of diamonds and jades, ripped from the necks of women.  One had a scar so deep it looked as though a new red mouth had opened there, at the base of her throat.

Tell me why Yamashita was happy when he received the orders to go to Luzon.  Go!  Go!  He was ordered.  Go lead the Imperial Army, salvage its honor, do not retreat, confront that marauding bear, the United States.  Wipe from memory the soldiers singing Yankee Doodle, the Filipinos singing White Christmas.  How those people love Ol’ Blue Eyes. The Packard is the only car the rich will drive.  And the chauffeurs wear white gloves even in the heat.

Ladies’ Home Journal and Life and Redbook are the most popular magazines. American hot dog can be had on a stick or on a bun.  You choose.

The young ladies wear bobby socks and pleated balloon skirts.  Some women are dark but they are still beautiful. Flashing eyebrows, thin like scars, wrists thin as stalks of bamboo.

And their laughter trills among the plants, winds around your brain, Yamashita.  You receive MacArthur’s letter saying Desist, demanding there will be no rape and pillage.  Or, MacArthur writes, I will make you pay.  Make no mistake, MacArthur wrote, I am coming.

Yamashita, did your mind go blank like a sheet of new paper?

Burn it all, you told your soldiers.  Burn burn burn.  So that all MacArthur will find when he enters the City he considers home will be ashes.  His ears will recoil at the wailing of women, filling the space above the smoldering houses.

Here was where the Manila Post Office used to be.  A grand building in Romanesque style, overlooking the Pasig.  Here was the Cathedral, the oldest church in the Islands.  And that is what is left of the old stone Fort that survived almost four centuries.

She was crazed with having to listen to her daughters’ cries and the soldiers’ laughter and her daughters’ muffled sobs afterwards, and then the brief, despairing No!

And there are the bodies of the girl children, torn apart almost limb from limb, and their bloody skirts.  And their dead eyes open, as if still beseeching.  And here are the fathers, cradling their women in their arms.

Ermita was the worst.  If you lived in Ermita, you saw it all.

Who was that painter who stood at the corner of Roxas and Buendia, whose tears fell so copiously that the charcoal smudged and ran off on his hands, making people think he had burned himself—

And who was that woman, grey at her temples, wandering around naked, anguished, no thought for her shame?  And who was that child, curled up by a wall, clutching his stomach and trying to hold in all the blood and biting his lips together so as not to cry out, as if that would help --

And who was the wife who had hidden with her youngest while she heard the soldiers only a few feet away making sport with her two older daughters.

She was crazed with having to listen to her daughters’ cries and the soldiers’ laughter and her daughters’ muffled sobs afterwards, and then the brief, despairing No!  Have mercy!  That was the younger girl, you knew instantly.  The older one sobbed.  And the sucking sounds of something

Sucking

You are wondering who this letter is from

Don’t

Don’t wonder so very much.

Know I am a shaman. I come and I go.

I have some important news to tell you.

Please take my letter—

You understand?  He hangs tomorrow. 

© Marianne Villanueva

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The Seeker of Buried Treasure

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