Michael G. Malaghan
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
Editor’s note: We continue Michael G. Malaghan’s serialized historical novel, “Picture Bride — A Family Saga,” based on the Japanese immigrant experience. Malaghan’s trilogy takes readers from turn-of-the-20th-century-Japan to Hawai‘i in the picture bride era; the Islands during World War II, highlighted by the exploits of the Nisei soldiers; and beyond.
The novel began with 12-year-old Haru-chan, fleeing her home in Amakusa, Kyüshü, for Hiroshima, where she becomes the picture bride of a Buddhist priest in Hawai‘i.
Author Michael Malaghan is a retired businessman who divides his time between Hawai‘i, Florida and Japan.
Part III – Home
Waimea, Hawai‘i Island — December 1909
The salt spray stung Haru as she stood at the bow of the SS Humuula. Her fingers curled around the railing in front of one of a dozen empty cow pens crowding the cattle transport’s upper deck. The ship pitched forward toward a shadowy protrusion rising from the moonlit sea.
As tired as she was, Haru welcomed the chance to be by herself after a night of holding a sick bucket for Kenji and changing the cold compress to soothe the back of his neck. Still, Haru welcomed the opportunity to nursemaid her new husband, to prove early on her devotion to him. While tending to him, she realized that she had fallen in love with Kenji before she even considered marriage. She had read every letter he wrote home, listened to his mother Midori’s stories of his childhood and held imaginary discussions with him as a distant brother, even though she was, in reality, his adopted sister. Tears welled in her eyes as she thought about how quickly her sisterly affection had shifted to a vision of a shared life, raising children and building missions for the overseas Japanese.
Another jolt of spray bounced high over the bow. Haru pulled back and, through mist-covered eyes, caught a hint of dawn slipping over a majestic mountain.
But why had Kenji spit out that word at her? If only Midori were here to counsel her, she thought. She could not reach out to Kame, who needed Haru’s illusion of strength, not a sobbing older sister. She was utterly alone. Being a student had been so simple. A thought struck her: As the wife of the priest, she would be expected to dispense advice and comfort wives. Who could she turn to for support and guidance?
In the next instance, she lifted her chin, gritted her teeth and flicked away a teardrop. “Enough of such thoughts,” she whispered fiercely. Thousands of picture brides had preceded her without the advantages of an education or a priest for a husband, and here she was feeling sorry for herself. She would show Kenji that she was a worthy wife and wait for him to approach her.
Haru’s tiny fists gripped the railing harder. She would never display her body to him again.
Haru recognized Kame’s excited voice from above. She put on a smile, then turned and waved to her. Kame stood next to Sam and the captain. She was holding the wheel and wearing an impish smile under her purple eye. She pointed ahead, beyond the bow.
Mauna Kea. The glow of the sunrise formed a golden halo over the majestic mountain. Early winter snows glazed the dormant volcano rising 33,000 feet from the bottom of the ocean — 13,796 feet from sea level. Mt. Unzen, and even Mt. Fuji, seemed like mere hills in comparison.
“The best view of Poli‘ahu is from the sea,” said the voice behind her in a courteous tone. She turned to see Sam striding over to her at the railing. “What is Poli‘ahu?” Was it her imagination or was there more of a spring in his step this morning?
“According to Hawaiian legend, Poli‘ahu is the snow goddess who protects Mauna Kea from Pele, the goddess of fire and volcanoes.”
“Ah, so desu ka?” said Haru as the first rays of the sun now revealed a ship anchored offshore. “That looks like a twin of our ship.”
“That’s the SS Mauna Kea, which was built at the same time,” said Sam, taking out a tobacco pouch and cigarette paper. He stooped to avoid the wind, twisted the pouch into a funnel shape and jiggled the tobacco over the paper. Licking the gummed edge, he rolled the cigarette and brought it to his lips. He pulled out a matchstick from his shirt pocket, struck it against a timber beam and lit his cigarette behind a cupped hand. He inhaled deeply as he stood up. Smoke drifted from his nostrils.
“Look toward the beach and then to the right,” said Sam.
Haru set her eyes on some horses, their sombrero-topped riders driving cattle along a wide, black lava sand beach.
The sound of clacking geta on the deck announced that Kame was joining them. Her cocky smile told Haru that she’d had a better first-night experience with Sam than Haru had had with Kenji.
Taking another deep drag on his cigarette, Sam pointed to the horned steers hoofing right to left along the beach. “The day before the cattle board the ship, we drive them from Waimea to the Pu‘uiki holding pens a few miles from here. At midnight, we make some coffee, saddle our mounts and drive the herd to the beach.”
The cattle boat’s engines throttled down. The ship edged closer to the anchored Mauna Kea.
“How are you going to get them on the ship?” asked Kame.
Sam let out a soft laugh. “Watch and you will see how we load them.”
As they stared at the paniolo prodding the cattle into the holding pens, Kenji, his face pallid, shuffled over to Haru’s side.
Sam drew a final drag on his cigarette and flicked it overboard. “Reverend, your color looks a bit better this morning.”
“Yes, I’m feeling . . . steadier,” Kenji replied, trying to smile.
Voices drifted from the shore. As the last Hereford was corralled into the beachside pens, a cowboy raised the gate of another pen fronting the water’s edge. A horned beast bolted into the surf. Two paniolo rode along each side of the steer to keep it from turning. A collie barked at its hind legs. As the water rose and then splashed over the rust-colored back of the steer, a paniolo dropped a lariat over its snout, tightened the cord around the jaw and then, in one fluid motion, looped the rope round the steer’s neck to keep the cow’s nose above water.
“A steer’s huge lungs keep it buoyant,” said Sam. “But, unlike horses and dogs, cattle are not natural swimmers.”
A second lasso from another paniolo dropped over the struggling animal’s neck.
“I bet those long boats are going to drag the cattle to the mother boat,” said Kame.
Sam raised his eyebrows in appreciation. “Those are whaleboats. We’ve adopted them for our surf roundups.”
The paniolo and his horse, harmonized like a two-headed Minotaur, delivered the struggling bull to the waiting long boat.
“The boys have it easy today,” said Sam. “It’s trickier in rough seas.”
Five paniolo stood in the whaleboat, their hips swaying and knees bending to maintain their balance, and attached steers along the hull until six snouts were strung on both sides. Four cowboys picked up oars, sitting two to a bench, and began rowing. Muscles on their shirtless arms, shoulders and backs strained as their boat dragged a dozen unhappy beasts 200 yards to the cattle ship.
A blur and a splash drew Haru’s eyes from the whaleboat to the Mauna Kea’s waterline. Attracted by shouts on the deck across from her, she lifted her eyes just in time to catch a barefoot man wearing only his underwear dive from the deck. She followed his descent into the sea, where he pierced the surface near another diver with long hair, bobbing in the gentle waves.
“I was a diver in my early years,” said Sam, standing between Haru and Kame. “Most paniolo can’t swim. Being a diver is dangerous work, but it was better than shoveling dung in the stable.”
“Why dangerous?” asked Kame.
“Horns and back feet,” said Sam, pointing to the long boat. “Watch . . .”
Haru gazed down as the tethered cattle closed on the Mauna Kea. Inside the whaleboat, a bronze-backed paniolo leaned over the side and untied the rope holding a horned steer to his whaleboat. He held on to the chin lasso and raised his arms to keep the treading Hereford’s nose above water.
Haru’s line of vision caught a sling device being lowered over the side of the ship. She turned to Sam and pointed. “What’s that?”
Sam straightened his back. “That’s a belly sling. It has four parts. The big piece of leather you see dropping — the apron — has to go under the cow’s belly. A metal bar is sewn at each end of the apron. If you saw it up close, it would look like the hem of your dress. A metal triangle is attached to the ends of each metal bar.”
“Hai, wakarimashita,” said Haru, nodding. How different this man is in his own element —nothing like the humble supplicant at the teahouse yesterday.
“I bet the fourth part is the rope,” said Kame.
“Right,” said Sam, his smile applauding her quick comprehension. “The rope is strung through an iron loop the size of a fist that is welded to the tips of the four triangles.”
Haru leaned over the railing. The belly sling hit the water next to a kicking bull. A second swimmer grabbed one of the metal triangles and began pulling. Haru could see him spreading the leather apron, which was sinking. Without hesitating, he dunked his head under the rolling swells, kicked his feet into the air and disappeared.
Haru’s eyes scanned the rolling surface near the steer. “How long does he stay down?”
“As long as it takes to get the sling between the front and back legs of the cow. He has the lungs of your famous Hiroshima pearl divers,” said Sam with pride.
Haru’s eyes returned to the water as the submerged diver popped up on the other side of the bull. He leaned his head back and raised both hands, thumbs up.
Haru followed his gaze to the boom operator, who was whirling his arms in a confusion of pulleys. Her eyes did not linger, dropping back to the sea. The slack in the rope disappeared; the taut leather apron hugged the sides of the steer. Haru had expected the cow to thrash. Instead, the animal hung as limp as her cat had when draped over her arm. She followed the steer’s ascent until an outstretched hand caught the cow’s front foot to help guide the swinging boom. The steer descended slowly until all four feet met the deck, where men armed with cattle prods nudged the beast into a deck pen.
“Sugoi!” said Haru, turning to Sam. “That’s more complicated than a kabuki dance.”
“Eleven more to go,” said Sam, looking back at the whaleboat. “We’re shipping 60 Herefords today. When the last steer is boarded, one of the whaleboats will take us to shore.”
Shrieks erupting from the cattle-loading ship brought Haru’s eyes to shouting men peering down. She followed their gaze to a thrashing steer that had broken loose. She sucked in her breath upon spotting the panicked faces of the two divers, flailing their feet and arms while trying to avoid the cow’s kicking legs and swirling horns. One of the men cried out. In seconds, purplish water swirled around his pained face. The other diver was trying to jerk an ensnared leg free from the sling caught around the bucking cow’s back legs.
She raised her head and turned to Kenji and then Sam. “Why isn’t anyone jumping into the water?”
“There are no swimmers on board,” said Sam, shucking his boots and dropping his jeans. He raised one foot to the deck railing and in a single fluid motion, rose to the top and dove into the water.
Haru turned around just in time to see Kenji throw off his yukata and jump into the water.
By the time Kenji’s head bobbed up, Sam had pulled the sling off the steer’s leg. The gasping diver flipped onto the sling. The boom operator reeled him safely over the rescue drama and held the position, ready to drop the sling back in the water to rescue the three remaining men.
Haru turned her attention to the bleeding diver whose arms moved too slowly. The struggling steer floated closer to him. Kenji was swimming over with Sam close behind when, suddenly, a voice bellowed.
To be continued . . .