IN THE LAND where dead dreams go lies the city of Manila,
as it was before the war.
Manila, where the white man didn’t work in the afternoon because it was too hot.
Manila, with its beauty and its poverty and its orchids at five cents apiece.
What could a soldier do with a handful of orchids
if he had no one to give them to?
I used to buy those orchids.
I’d pay my nickel for them and stand there awkwardly holding them in my hand.
I would run my finger over the satin petals and then,
I would give them to the first little girl I met,
because there was something very lonely about buying orchids
when you had no one to give them to.
I began to plan the things I wanted to do when I went home.
The promises I had made to the boys about seeing their parents.
I thought of the things that home meant to me.
The things that freedom, and being home, would mean.
I thought of seeing women again, white women,
and being again where people laughed,
where laughter was good and life was good.
I wondered if ever again things would worry me.
I thought what I would do with my life.
I had never asked to live, but God had spared me.
Now I knew there was an obligation within me to justify my life.
I must do something.
My mind wandered back to the times
when Rass and John and Weldon and Hughes
sat together around the fire in the evenings.
We talked about the things we wanted to do
when we were free and we were home again.
Rass had wanted to go into the diplomatic service.
John had wanted to be a professor again.
“I’m going to be a writer,” I said.
“I’m going to write novels.”
We used to laugh about it.
They were interested in the things I wanted to write about.
Once, when we were very hungry, John had turned to me.
“Some day, Sid, I wish you’d put me in one of your books.”
“Yes, Stew,” Rass said.
“I wish you’d write a book about this, about all of us.
Could you do that for us one day?
Write a book about all of us.
Something that we could keep.”
I remembered what I had promised them.
I would write a book about them some day.
But I felt cold inside and I thought, “No, they’ll never read that book now,
that book I’m going to write about them.
About their faith and hopes, their goodness and their beliefs.”