The sisters Arcelli, Mely, Dely, and Letty scamper around the dingy, damp, dark house. Letty, youngest at four years old, crawls to the bedside and bunches the heavy beige cotton blanket on their Tatang’s body. Arcelli, eldest at twelve years old, limps to Letty and tucks in the blanket under the old man’s waist.
“Letty, tara nga dito (come here),” Arcelli says, and grabs Letty to the other side of the bed against the straw walls.
Thudding footsteps march closer. Pak! Pak! Pak! The harsh, raspy voices of the soldiers echo.
Arcelli and Letty pile blankets and pillows on their Tatang. Domingo Salazar, father to the four girls, groans and rolls his head on the pillow: “Sauna nanaman (Another sauna)?”
The Filipinos call it “sauna” when the Japanese soldiers barge into the civilian houses to gather all the able-bodied men to kill. Many men jump into the Pilar River that runs behind the family’s house. Tall, toothy weeds spout from the water. They jump into the water and hide inside the bushes despite the stench of dirty water.
Letty pouts her thin lips and clenches the blanket into a ball. She nods.
Japanese words ring in the little girls’ ears. Harsh sounds. Pointed consonants. Flat accents. Vowels breathed, unspoken.
Their Inang sweeps her hand across the room and hisses, “Padating na sila (they’re here), sh! Sh! Mely? Dely?” With drawn eyebrows and a scrunched nose, she squints around the small square straw hut for her two other daughters.
Mely and Dely’s bare feet thump on the bamboo-woven floor. Mely carries a white, metallic urinal pot, an arinola, and drops it beside the bed. The yellowish liquid swishes inside. Droplets splatter and cling to the blanket.
Dely holds a bowl of watered-down rice and a spoon. She joins her sisters beside the bed and they kneel.
A howl pierces the silent room. The wooden door blasts open. Two soldiers clad in murky brown uniforms, auburn cross-body holsters, brown leather shoes caked with mud, and heads crowned with brown hats and white cloth sticking out from under like flaps, storm inside.