Back in Hong Kong, where Michael was finally brought in the late summer of 1938 after a considerably roundabout journey, the realists knew it was a matter of time before the Japanese winners took all.
On Christmas Day 1941, Hong Kong became a Japanese possession. During the years of occupation Michael lived quietly at Kowloon, teaching a little in the schools, doing some pastoral work. He was slow in recuperating.
During that time, everyone was under a strain. Food was scarce. Harassment by the occupying Japanese was extreme. And all lived with the sure knowledge that, barring miracles, if the Japanese had to evacuate the city, they would massacre everyone; and if they stayed on, they would eventually kill all they could not enslave.
Still, Michael took all the physical hardship with greater ease than those around him. He suffered two more heart attacks during the Japanese occupation, but they did not diminish his spirit in any way. He did not feel, as his colleagues did, the intolerable uncertainty, the strain of waiting for death at Japanese hands or for liberation by the Allies. As some of his acquaintances noticed, his sufferings were not chiefly in his body or his mind or his imagination. He had come from the interior of China broken in a way neither rest nor food nor loving attention could mend.
To the few who knew his story, it was clear that he had paid only part of his price as an exorcist. He frankly told them of that price. And of his failure. Both they and he realized he would have to liquidate his debt sooner or later.
His waiting creditor fascinated Michael, was always on his mind. For instance, toward the end of the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong, he and a friend were watching a flight of American bombers progress imperturbably like enchanted birds through a rain of Japanese antiaircraft fire. They deposited their bomb loads, and then departed unharmed over the horizon. As the explosions and fires in the harbor continued, Michael muttered: “Why does death make the loudest noise and the brightest fire?”
Some weeks later, a man-made light brighter than the sun mushroomed over Hiroshima. A new human record: more people were killed and maimed by this one human action than by any other ever recorded in the story of man.
I was not to learn of Michael for some years-or of the special price he paid day by day until his death, for his defeat in that strange exorcism at Puh-Chi.
The recent vast publicity about Exorcism has highlighted the plight of the possessed as a fresh genre of horror film. The essence of evil is lost in the cinematographic effects. And the exorcist, who risks more than anyone else in an exorcism, flits across the screen as necessary but, in the end, not so interesting as the sound effects.
The truth is that all three - the possessed, the possessing spirit, and the exorcist - bear a close relation to the reality of life and to its meaning as all of us experience it each and every day.