Sukimoko Sukimoko

Copyright 2017, Dean Adams Curtis

Chapter 1

DECEMBER 8, 1941

There are good prices on many household necessities at the little shop called Sukimoko. Maria sees to it.

The word “sukimoko” refers to a good deal, a fair deal, in the Tagalog language of the northern Philippines. It is what Maria intends for people to get when they stop to shop at Sukimoko, located on the big island in the northern Philippines called Luzon, in the city of Valenzuela, a garden city nestled along the northeast edge of Manila Bay.

Maria has found that by offering her customers sukimokos, what she calls the good deals, she gets more customer traffic in her shop, which results in higher sales. Though she doesn't make as much money as she could on each individual sale, the larger number of sales provides her with greater profit.

One of Maria’s favorite customers comes by daily, a young American woman who reminds her of the actress Katherine Hepburn.

Maria sees the young American woman across the street from Sukimoko, shopping at the rice seller. She points to rice in a wood rice bin, one of eight square bins that are built side-by-side together at the front of the rice seller’s shop, each containing a different grade and type of rice.

The rice seller is Maria’s sister, Irene. From inside the shop, Irene leans over a narrow counter and lowers her scooping bowl, plunging it deeply into the bin of rice that the young American woman has pointed to. Irene brings the bowl back up, filled with rice. She dumps the rice into a small burlap bag. Then, in one quick movement, she pulls a short length of twine from a roll, wraps it around the neck of the bag, and jerks the length of twine along a sharp edge of metal beneath the roll, cutting it.

Across the street from the rice-seller’s shop, her sister Maria’s three-year-old son, Emiliano, runs into Sukimoko, screaming gleefully.

He’s chased by his big brother, eleven-year-old Francisco.

The two boys move like a whirlwind through Sukimoko.

Emiliano knocks over a rack of paper products.

Maria’s boys are already exiting out the back, heading for the tight alley behind the shop, when they hear their mother shout, “Emiliano, Francisco, tigilan ninyo yan!” words that mean stop (tigilan) both of you (ninyo) that (yan).

Hearing the sharp tone of their mother’s voice, both boys come to an immediate halt, and turn, waiting with attention for her next words.

“Emiliano, pick up that paper rack and put the products back in their proper places,” Maria says in Tagalog.

“Francisco, take singko (cinco, five) from the box, buy rice from your Tita Irene (Aunt Irene) for our lunch. Ngayon (Now)!”

"Oh po, Nanay (Yes, Mother)," says Francisco. Words repeated by Emiliano, as the boys move to obey Maria’ directions.

“Well done,” the American woman says, as Francisco darts past her, heading across the street toward his tita's rice shop. “I like a woman who takes command when needed.”

"Like Eleanor Roosevelt, Ma'am," Maria replies with a smile, recalling the conversation she had the day before with the woman, about the American president and his willful wife.

"Like Eleanor Roosevelt," the woman agrees. "And you promised you would start calling me Persephone."

"Yes, Ma'am," Maria opens her ledger book to the page where the woman’s name is clearly printed, Mrs. Bloom, Persephone.

Mrs. Bloom has previously told Maria that she is from the U.S. state of Ohio. She is the bride of an Ohio elevator entrepreneur, whose modest Philippine warehouse is located just down the street, diagonal from Sukimoko.

“I’m bringing elevators to Asia,” Maria once heard Mrs. Bloom's dashing elevator entrepreneur husband, who reminds her of Cary Grant, say to a potential client, as they walked past Sukimoko toward the cockfighting ring.

Mrs. Bloom browses the products displayed for sale on the wood racks Maria has painted bright primary colors. She ruffles the hair of young Emiliano's head as she passes him restocking the rack he has stood back up. When she glances over at Sukimoko's proprietress, its owner (may-ari), female (babae), female owner (babaeng) Maria, is watching her.

“Sentimo (penny) for your thoughts," Mrs. Bloom says with a smile, knowing that Maria understands her, as they have previously spoken many times in English, and as Maria is her most prolific tutor of the Tagalog language, an interesting mix of Spanish and ancient Austronesian, in the Malayo-Polynesian subgroup, Philippine Batanic dialect cluster. Persephone Bloom has a linguistics degree from Yale.

A loud roar begins building from somewhere outside, becoming ever deeper, more troubling.

Maria, Emiliano, and Mrs. Bloom find themselves drawn together into the street. Across from them, Tita Irene the rice lady, limps onto the street with a hand on her nephew Francisco's shoulder for support. Francisco holds a burlap sack tied with twine. Irene's two daughters come out from the shop behind them.

Everyone's gaze is soon drawn upward. The roar is coming from the sky.

A plane passes thunderously close to the ground, traveling fast, vibrating everything and everyone staring up at it from the market street.

The roar continues. Three planes fly over in a triangle formation.

Then, four triangles of three planes pass overhead. Red circles are on their wings and their sides, and on the fins sticking up at their tails.

“Japanese,” Mrs. Bloom says, with a sudden shiver of fear.

“Ja-pan-ese,” repeats Emiliano, Maria’s three-year-old son.

Emiliano looks up to his big brother Francisco, who is looking at the Bloom elevator parts warehouse.

“We should go up on the warehouse roof!” shouts Francisco.

“What does Mrs. Bloom say?” Maria replies.

Mrs. Bloom points her arm at the warehouse. The two boys run toward it. Their cousins, Tita Irene's two daughters, run after the boys.

The four children are followed at a run by Mrs. Bloom, who are all watched by Maria and her sister Irene, whose days of running up stairs are behind them.

The roar continues. Maria steps to Irene's side. She slides an arm around Irene's waist. Irene rests a hand on Maria's shoulder.

As the five runners on the staircase reach the rooftop, a squadron of six Japanese bombers passes over them, almost wingtip to wingtip, as if they're all part of one giant zig-zagging wing.

Tall Persephone Bloom instinctively crouches down, though the planes are a hundred feet above. Three kids duck. Francisco stays tall, almost rising onto his tip-toes. When all straighten, they see stretching across a panorama before them, squadron after squadron of Japanese warplanes.

“Count them!” shouts Tita Irene's 16-year-old daughter Conception, who excels in math.

With that, the four young cousins and Mrs. Bloom each attempt to count, and by this attempt to calm their hearts, which have inevitably been set to racing by the run up the stairs, by being witnesses to such a vast metal flock, and by the roaring vibrations of many dozen airplane engines.

“They’re all going southwest!” shouts Francisco.

“Seventy-two!” shouts Conception.

“Agreed! Seventy-two!” shouts Mrs. Bloom. With that, the count is settled.

They five, on the roof of Mr. Bloom’s elevator component warehouse in northwest Manila, stand silently watching the flying armada move to the southwest, far across the city of Manila. Moments later, they see hundreds of little metallic specks reflecting glints of the sun. When the glitter reaches the horizon, a patch of it blooms with explosions.

“They’re bombing the American base at Fort McKinley,” says Tita Irene’s other daughter, fourteen year old Jesusa, who in practice is called Jessie, and who loves gazing at maps imagining herself exploring areas they reveal.

“They're trying to destroy the American airplanes,” replies Francisco.


Chapter 2

At the exact same time as the children run with Mrs. Demeter Bloom onto the warehouse roof in northwest Manila, on the veranda of the clubhouse overlooking a golf course in downtown Manila, a golf course that surrounds the walls of the old Spanish fort along the river, Mr. Anthony Bloom of Ohio, the entrepreneur bringing elevators to Asia, stands looking up at the sky filled with planes.

Anthony Bloom is transfixed by his view. From behind Bloom comes a woman’s voice he knows well.

“These islands have been dominated in the past by Islamic caliphs, Spanish kings and queens, and most recently by the United States of America,” says Christina Ortegas, a Filipina beauty, and a wealthy heiress of Spanish royal descent mixed with that of refugees from the Chinese imperial court. She stands behind him holding a cosmopolitan. “Now come the Japanese. We Filipinos will again have to bear occupation by a foreign power.”

“Fatalist,” Bloom replies. "We’ll fight them off."

“American optimist,” Christina responds, stepping closer to Anthony, her left fingertips gently running down the center of his back. “Except when it comes to what could happen between us.”

Anthony Bloom doesn’t respond. In the next moment comes earth quaking explosions in the distant southwest area of Manila. Moments later the sound waves from the explosions reach them, miles away though they are, there on the veranda of the clubhouse.

“They’ve hit the fuel depot and planes at Fort McKinley,” says the Ohio elevator entrepreneur.

“Fuel depot, humph,” fumes Christina, spinning on her heels, heading for her locker in the ladies to change out of her golf attire. "I will be dining at the Hotel Manila, should you care to catch up."

Someday soon, Christina told herself with determination as she strode away, she would win the heart of Mr. Anthony Bloom. Then, her mind shuts thoughts of him off like a switch. Her brainpower focuses on her evening ahead. She imagines that she is already dining at the Hotel Manila, where her eyes alight on a handsome gentleman at a table diagonal to her, a suitable dance partner for the evening.

Anthony Bloom steps to a clubhouse phone. He picks up the reciever, awaits an operator, then says, "Valenzuela 6-9000. Yes, I'll hold."

The Ohio elevator entrepreneur is watched. Behind the clubhouse bar, a Japanese man who has been passing as an experienced Filipino bartender from the provinces, conceals a smile. The project, The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, with Tokyo at its apex, today takes a key step toward full fruition.

The Filipino-looking bartender, Japanese Naval Intelligence Captain Yoshi Imai, lowers his eyes, turning his focus to polishing the rim of a glass with a white cloth.


Chapter 3
Fort McKinley

At the same moment as Anthony Bloom and Christina Ortegas are hit by the shock waves from bombs exploding in the distance, the body of former oil rig roustabout, Sargent Rocky Riddle, U.S. Army Air Corps, 27th Bombardment Group, is face down, bouncing off the trembling earth, being bombarded near the north end of the runway at Fort McKinley, Manila. His arms hold his head. Bomb shrapnel and parts of exploded U.S. aircraft sizzle past over him.