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Fragments of a Journey

A Fistful of Life

Chapter 3



haiku of contents

A convoy of tanks 

kempeitai and razzia

father imprisoned







Early one morning, my brother, Ed came running into my room, yelling, “Listen! Can you hear them? This is a different sound. Different from the Yanks, different from the Dutch. These are Japanese planes.They're here.”

For quite some time, conversation amongst adults consisted of discussion of war, initially the war far away in Europe. With tyres screeching on the soft asphalt, the truck skidded to a sharp halt, stirring sleeping birds in the midday heat. A soldier in KNIL (Royal Netherlands East Indies army, a military force maintained in the colony) uniform jumped out of the truck and began running albeit rather slowly and seemingly exhaustedly, towards the kampong road.Before he reached the kampong, he discarded his uniform so by the time he entered, he was dressed only in his kattock (underpants).The reason for his peculiar behaviour became clear the following day when sounds of clanging up the road in Sophia Street heralded the arrival of tanks turning into Wilhemina Street and coming to a shuddering halt. White flags with a red ball mounted to the tanks, flew in the breeze, soldiers in yellow-green uniforms appeared on either side of the tanks, shouting in a guttural language never heard before in our quiet cul de sac. As they lined the street, we stood silently watching our new rulers. My first impression of the Japanese army filled me with a sense of eeriness – strange guttural sounds, eyes that could not be seen under their caps from which, at the back, hung flaps of cloth in the style of Foreign Legion caps as worn by Beau Geste in the movies I had watched. However, there was no Digby Geste here to help his more famous brother, Beau, no soft voice of Gary Cooper – instead, a convoy of conquerors dressed in foreign colours with foreign voices, officers with samurai swords hanging at their sides, so very different from the previous military occupants in our town. The day those little round tanks came rumbling into sight, men in yellowish uniforms filling the turrets, others marching behind, that day innocence was strangled in me. Suddenly I knew that life has teeth and the teeth are those of death.


Fragment: the Madurese

Fixed bayonets entering with a shout so ferocious

it made my blood crawl when in the park

a Madurese was bayonetted to death

because he had laughed.

Three steps forward and jab. Shout at the jab.

Blood-grimaced face but not a sound out of his dying Madurese mouth.

Died with the pride of his being intact.


chapter 4

The Camps

haiku of contents

Bangkong, dysentery,

Samurai, Traviata,

Max and energy




There on the other side,
the barbed wire stretched tight.
A group of boys, just like my brother and I unsmiling, faces blank, eyes downcast.

Our mother between us steadying us with her eyes, warning us
when suddenly
the overture to Verdi’s
La Traviata
soared over us through the loudspeakers.

The entrance to our sojourn
into the hell of camps and we all stood transfixed each alone,
 the end to beauty
was here for now.
My mother took a hand
of each of her two sons
into hers, as we entered ...

Later, sitting at her first piano
after all the suffering was done,
she gingerly sounded the prelude to that first act of Verdi’s La Traviata
and my father’s brothers, sisters and mother watched and listened in silence as her tears fell.








Shit streaming down my legs                                                                                 alone

filling the gaps in the floor                                                                                    giving

filling the gaps in between toes filling ultimately the head                                 ending

filling                                                                                                                    tears.

all                                                                                                                         Father, a mere echo
and leaving memory of death.                                                                             of a dream.

Whips on the back                                                                                             What is the use
one, two, three                                                                                                    of lion-hearted kings now?
more                                                                                                                    Friends die.... beheaded
no more                                                                                                               disembowelled
promises                                                                                                              alone
everlasting pain                                                                                                  inside a cocoon of fear.
inside                                                                                                                  What memories should I tell,
sun which devours the skin                                                                                should I not speak about,

sinks madness into the brain sun                                                                       should I swallow,
sun                                                                                                                       spit out?

sun                                                                                                                     What?
where is water
where is
Mother’s eyes seeking inside you for your resilience
your courage
your survival

fragments of a Journey, A Fisful of Life

Jose de Koster

Mask One, by the author, oil on hardboard

Drawing of Japanese  soldiers, on paper, by the author

Mask Two, by the author, oil on hardboard