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 begins 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.
With Sam and Kame in her wake, Haru had stepped inside the torii gate, her smile angelic. Two flanking torches gave her copper skin a golden glow and her formal yellow kimono a noonday brilliance. Her gaze rippled over the crowd until, at the front, she met Uno’s shocked eyes. What fates, she wondered, had conspired to break that wheel and bring her to this moment. Not only had she violated her “no one will notice me” pledge, but she also realized that her kimono, chosen to show respect for the Shinto service as she did when visiting a shrine in Hiroshima, had been a mistake. She was a kimono-adorned peacock in a sea of casual yukata-clad hens.
If Haru thought she had dressed inappropriately, her future congregation did not. Accustomed to attending both Shinto and Buddhist services in their home villages in Japan, they were proud that the wife of their first local Buddhist priest was elegant. They had no idea of their expected role in Uno’s scheme to harass Haru and Kenji back to Honolulu. Rotating their heads back and forth between Haru and Uno, they murmured, “Haru-Sensei” and “The priest’s wife.”
Barely controlling his rage, Uno nodded his head in acknowledgment as a senior official might to an underling. That was when Haru saw the growling spectacle behind Uno. While Ualani had warned Haru, her gentle mind was unprepared for watching a barking child crawling on all fours. She knew of milder exorcisms from Kiyoshi’s telling back home, but had never grasped the enormity of a possessed spirit until now, if that was what had happened. Tears welled in the corner of her eyes. She held back the urge to run forward and embrace the child. She must maintain her composure, she reminded herself.
Haru smiled at Uno as if he were a favorite uncle she had not seen for some time. She bowed to the waist in deepest respect. Then, she short-stepped — a gait forced by her kimono and geta — down a narrow aisle shaped by the crowd shimmying aside.
Sam and Kame hung back, their faces registering something between wariness and fear.
Uno watched her promenade toward the front as his fists balled in anger at himself. His own wide-eyed hesitation had given this abomination a grand entrance. At the front, a body’s length from Uno, Haru bowed a second time in acknowledgement of the elder Uno’s priestly status. Her eyes scouted for a place to sit; two couples scooted sideways to make room for her.
A kava server brought Haru a sloshing calabash. She hesitated. At the entrance, she had spotted the last of the communicants lifting a calabash to their lips. Determined to pass this test, she lifted the gourd to her mouth. Despite the added cinnamon and honey, she wrinkled her nose, but took two shallow sips. A slight numbing of the tip of her tongue justified her caution.
Regaining his composure, Uno’s hard eyes fell on Haru. What had he to fear? All the better she was here. She’s nothing more than a foolish girl, he thought. Oh, how she will soon regret her arrogant intrusion.
The terrier’s snarling at the cage brought Uno and the crowd back to the main event. Fushimi, perhaps remembering a time he instilled fear in dogs, growled in defiance of the terrier’s challenge and waddled to the front of the cage. Sachi, still on all fours, yelped in alarm.
Uno raised his face and howled at the moon, holding his cry as long as any mezzo-soprano. His wailing set off the fox, the terrier and Sachi into a barking cacophony. He let out his breath, lowered his head and heaved his chest to take in big gulps of air.
“EVIL!” bellowed Uno, whose booming voice emanating from such a small body, never failed to awe his audience.
“EVIL!” Taut neck muscles flanked Uno’s thorax like chopsticks.
The congregation sat as still as a terra-cotta army.
Uno stretched his neck forward like a cobra. His eyes burned from deep sockets. Keeping his torso and legs as still as sculptured granite, he swiveled his head regally. He savored the fearful, expectant effect his searing eyes had on his close-to-the-front flock, each of whom, he was certain, held the illusion that not only had he made personal eye contact with them, but that he had peered into their very souls. Even those disrespectful paniolo quieted down in anticipation. He owned these people.
Uno gave Haru a quick glance. He resisted a smug smile, even as he relished her awed expression and the teary edges of her eyes. He refocused on the crowd, his crowd. This night of the Inari would never be forgotten.
Uno had misread Haru. Disgust, not awe, rankled her senses. The evil that Uno spoke of resided within the man, thought Haru. She had a way with animals — Kiyoshi had called her “his little zookeeper” — and she had learned which sounds placated fright. As she had when coaxing a scared dog from the bushes, she now whistled soothingly. No one noticed, except the terrier, whose ears fluttered and its snarling lowered an octave.
“Look at Fushimi,” commanded Uno, pointing to the cage. “His kitsune fox spirit has possessed this simpleton, Sachi.” At the sound of her name, Sachi bobbed her head and growled. Uno roared, “The fox demon will never leave her.”
As Haru whistled at a pitch only the dog heard through the dim of the crowd’s murmurs, Uno returned his gaze to his audience and let his hands drop to his sides, palms out and shoulders slumped, like a doctor who has arrived too late to save his patient. He paused for effect then pumped his fist into the air. “Only the stronger spirit of the dog can save this child now.”
The crowd burst alive, shouting or whispering as their nature dictated.
Uno swiveled to the waiting Shika. “Bring Fushimi,” he ordered.
Shika passed off the terrier’s leash to Uno. He glanced down at the dog. Why isn’t the dog trying to rush the cage? The thought passed as he caught Haru’s hand covering her mouth in shock. Wait till the dog goes for the throat, little one.
Shika strode solemnly to the fox’s cage. She unhitched the door and swung it open. Fushimi wobbled the few steps into familiar arms. Shika carried the trembling animal to the platform.
Uno raised his free hand. A sudden rush of wind ripped through the treetops. He waited for the rustling leaves to subside. Then his voice boomed. “Now! Now is the time for the dog and the fox to face each other, and when the dog kills the fox, its evil spirit will flee from the girl like a frightened rabbit.”
The crowd buzzed with excitement like Romans at the Coliseum. Three men in the crowd popped up as if watching racehorses reaching the finish line. Then five more. In seconds, the entire congregation was on their feet. Rising, Haru maintained a soothing whistle, louder now to compensate for the stirring crowd.
Uno turned the dog loose. The terrier’s eyes flashed at the fox. Haru whistled. The terrier’s ears twitched and then he hunched down and began stalking the fox. He growled low.
The fox’s cloudy eyes stared at the shadow of the dog. His legs trembled. His tongue hung. Sachi snuggled next to the fox. She spoke her first word in months. “Water.” A kava server rushed to fill a calabash with water from a jug kept outside the fox’s cage.
No one noticed Haru’s puckered lips.
The terrier sniffed the fox.
“KILL IT!” raged Uno to himself. Why didn’t I move the child away from the fox? Why is this idiot server rushing to bring water at another idiot’s command?
The server handed Sachi, now sitting on her haunches and petting the fox, the calabash of water. She held the offering to Fushimi’s mouth. The fox lapped the water while the dog barked menacingly.
Haru switched to a command whistle. The terrier quit growling, stood up and looked Haru’s way. Like his audience, Uno followed the dog’s eyes. Adrenalin surged. He wanted to scream “STOP!” His mind rumbled on, struggling to regain the initiative. Haru whistled again. Uno felt the urge to rush and strangle the girl, but stood dumbstruck.
The woman on Haru’s left handed her a bentö box of leftover chicken and rice. Haru held up a well-chewed drumstick. The dog, which Uno purposely had not fed that day, jumped off the platform and walked over to Haru, who let the terrier take the bone from her outstretched fingers.
A calm Sachi picked up the fox and began walking normally.
The standing crowd pushed closer to the unfolding miracle. A hushed commentary washed over the drama.
“She walked . . .”
Sachi dropped to her knees and hand-fed the fox bits of rice. Sitting back on legs, her lopsided smile lingered on Haru. “I’m Sachi.”
Behind her, Haru heard more murmurs.
“She’s talking to the new priest’s wife like a normal person. The spirit of the fox has fled.”
The fox wobbled back toward its cage.
In the back, Sam was one of the few who noticed the fury in Uno’s eyes.
Having eaten all the chicken from the bone, the terrier put his paw in Sachi’s lap and licked her happy face. She picked up the dog in her arms, stood up, and in a clear voice said, “I want this doggie.”
Haru rose, positioned herself alongside Sachi, bowed to Uno and then turned to face the crowd. “Uno-san has driven out the evil spirit from Sachi without any killing. He is truly a great Odaisan. The dog will go with Sachi to her home.”
Someone farther back in the tightly packed circle of humanity shouted, “Banzai!” A second “Banzai!” rang, setting off a chorus of frenzied men and women, bellowing, “Banzai!” in cadence.
Wide-eyed, Uno watched the crowd stand and bow to Haru, strolling toward the exit like a princess with her attendants. This upstart sorceress would not be leaving Waimea, he thought. He realized that theirs would be a war of attrition.
Haru turned to bow to Uno one last time, but when she saw the force of evil in his eyes she could not bend in supplication. In an instant, she knew her victory had birthed a vengeful enemy. She felt a tug on her kimono. Thinking an angry devotee of Uno was about assault her, she jumped back and turned.
A man holding a fedora with the full moon illuminating pleading eyes on a weathered face said, “Send us wives.” He bowed and retreated, stepping backwards into a crowd of men dressed in plantation shirts and trousers.
An older couple approached and bowed. “Daddy, I am better.” Haru noticed Sachi made only fleeting eye contact with her mother.
Her father’s eyes misted when he bowed to Haru. “Our town has long needed a real priest,” he said, skipping over the fact that he had asked Uno to intervene.
“It is late,” said the mother, who bowed also, but in a hurried manner. “I trust this is the end of . . .” She let the thought drop.
Before Haru could contemplate the future of this sad family, Sam caught up with her.
“You have won the hearts of Waimea, but not without danger. Tomorrow I will visit Uno with other paniolo and tell him you are under our protection.”
“Arigato,” said Haru, wondering what type of life she was facing in her new country if she needed protection within 48 hours of her arrival.
Uno did not notice Shika approaching him.
She put her mouth to his ear. “You have conquered the great spirit of the Inari, Otosan. You have used the newcomer as your tool to expel the evil.”
Uno stepped into the shrine, knowing she would follow him. Assured he was out of sight, he whirled and cuffed her face with the back of his hand. “You stupid cow! The purpose of tonight was not to exorcise the fox spirit from the dumb child, but to exorcise the Buddhist priest and his arrogant wife from this island!”
Shika, who had been pummeled many times, had learned to fall down at the first hit. Cowering, she gasped. “Remember the humble man wins.”
Uno spit in front of Shika’s prone face. “A platitude for cowards.”
To be continued . . .