Monday, December 22, 2014

Beyond Paradise, Christmas excerpt, part 3

Read the rest of the story--(available in digital format, eBook from Amazon, Nook, Smashwords.

Christmas at Los Baños

The transfer to Los Baños took place two weeks later. Except for missing Frank, Ann, and the girls, I was glad to leave. Too many memories lingered in the halls and courtyard of STIC. I looked forward to seeing Papa and meeting Freddy Urs. I still had the money for him that his mother had given me before I left Panay.
We traveled by railcar to Los Baños, which was approximately thirty miles south of Manila. Ironically, Los Baños—“the baths”—had been a resort famous for its curative waters. Laguna de Bay, a huge lake, bordered the edge of town, and nearby was the picturesque volcano Mount Makiling. The internment camp had originally been an agricultural college. It felt odd walking along the rows of fruit trees—tangerine, kalamansi, mango, papaya—toward the gates and fences of our prison camp.
We arrived dusty and travel-worn, anxious and excited. I held Mother’s hand as we were asked to line up. It was hard to stand at attention for roll call while at the same time my heart was bursting to see Papa. My eyes strained to see the men in the crowd assembling around us. Please, God, let Papa be here.
“Take your bag, miss?” A tall, very thin boy came up beside me.
Papa emerged from between the rows of men and took Mother in his arms. My family had never been much for public displays of affection, but today was an exception. Their embrace made up for two years of living apart from each other.
“Your father is a good man,” Freddy said, filling in the silence. “We watched out for each other.”
After a few minutes Papa came over and gave me a big hug. “Louise. Louise. I barely recognize you.”
“Have I changed so much, Papa?”
“Only that you are prettier than I last remember. A grown-up girl whom I hardly know.”
I blushed, keeping hold of his arms. All three of us embraced. A million thoughts swam through my heard—was this real, we were actually all together at last? I looked from Papa’s face to Mother’s, and back again. I didn’t realize I was crying until tears reached my lips. They tasted sweet.
“Oh, Freddy!” I suddenly remembered Freddy. “Here’s some money that your mother gave me as we were leaving Panay.”
“Keep it. I don’t want it.”
He was so different from Mrs. Urs. Serious and sensible, with sad black eyes. His dark hair kept falling into his face, and he had to push it away with his hand.
“Freddy was a godsend. I don’t know where I would be if he hadn’t helped me through a bout of dysentery last winter.” Papa drew Freddy into our family circle.
“Maybe we can use the money to buy ourselves a Christmas feast.”

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