The Prisoners

Sister, do you know I have your jade bracelet, the one you swore was lucky, that you said saved you that time you almost drowned? How long did it take you to realize it was missing? And when you realized, did you know I stole it?

I took it the day the Japanese came. The day they threw me in a truck with five other girls, knees tight to their chests. I could hear nanay’s wails rising over the motor as the truck picked up speed.

I took your bracelet right off your dresser and put it in my pocket, where you wouldn’t see it, but it would still be mine. I held it for hours, the whole time I rode in the truck with the other girls. It will protect me; it is my secret.

Dust blew in our faces, but I forced my eyes open, watched as we passed through our barrio and the road grew unfamiliar.

“Where are we going?” the girl beside me asked. She had the smallest frame of all of us. Her face was small too, and pale, with delicate features except for her eyelashes, which were like sleeping spiders.

“Why us?” another asked. Her voice was low, her face contemplative. My eyes passed from girl to girl and I wondered what united us, as if this knowledge would foretell the future.

We all had the same questions, but most of us said nothing.

I strained to make out any landmarks in the dark but could not place my surroundings. The gravel road ahead remained unmarked and unchanging in the headlights. The other girls were huddled together, faces hidden in each other’s shoulders, crying themselves to sleep. It was still pitch black when the soldiers tore us from the truck, but I could see we’d arrived at a military barracks. A high metal chain-link fence surrounded it.

“Where are we?” the girl with the spider eyes asked.

No one responded. We did not know the answer.

An officer dragged me into the room that would become mine, closed the door behind me and left me there alone. It was a small room with a tiny, high window, furnished only with a bed and a single flower on a nightstand.

I sat on the thin mattress, my limbs numb and weak. I had no belongings but your bracelet and the cotton shirt and skirt I was wearing. Though they were dust-covered and sweaty, I kept them on, and underneath the sheet I clung to my shirt with a balled fist. Beyond the walls, the muffled shuffling of the girls in the adjacent rooms was like a mother’s whisper. Hush, hush, it said, and I slept.

I awoke to the sound of banging on my door and a man’s voice shouting in Japanese. My head ached.