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.
The sun was setting as Haru laid out their best tableware. Tonight, she would serve Kenji’s favorite fish, unagi — grilled eel marinated in soy sauce, sake and sugar. She lifted the lid of the rice pot and tasted the freshly cooked rice. It was soft and fluffy . . . just right. It was the last of the rice harvested from the paddies of Niigata in now -Japan. Haru had been saving it for a special occasion, like tonight. She smiled.
Haru mentally rehearsed her pitch. She would begin, “We need to change our school . . .” She planned to present it during dinner tonight. Haru had begun converting Pafko’s newspaper rant and her luncheon encounter with the Waimea women into a reasoned proposition for a change in the Japanese language school’s curriculum.
Earlier, she had strolled to the park to join the spontaneous end-of-war celebration with Ualani and Sachi, who had become her extended family. She secured today’s only postal delivery, a letter from Ume, in the fold of her sleeve. A few hours later, Haru spotted the little food stands. “Here’s some money for food. I’m going home, but you can stay with Yoshi and Takeshi and watch the fireworks. Kenji and I will dine alone tonight,” she told Ualani and Sachi.
Ualani grinned. “I understand.”
Ualani didn’t really understand, but Haru gave her a conspiratorial wink. “Nothing gets past you,” Haru said. She glanced over at Kenji, who was talking with fishermen from Kawaihae. “If my husband hasn’t left the park by 6, remind him to come home.”
Walking home, Haru opened Ume’s letter and began reading it. Expecting the usual chatty family gossip, she stopped in her tracks after reading the short note. “Urgent. Please visit as soon as possible.”
Haru’s years of counseling women at their temple had taught her that the source of most married women’s distress was either money, or sex. But Ume? Haru wondered.
For now, she had little time to speculate. Kenji would be home soon, and she hadn’t given the purpose of tonight’s dinner enough strategic preparation. Maybe she should do it another night . . . No! That would play into Kenji’s “Tomorrow is always a better day” ploy of avoiding prickly topics. And what better day? The Pafko editorial and her luncheon with the Waimea women had given her the resolve to convince Kenji that they must change their schools if they were to save them.
Speculating on Ume’s plight had to wait until tomorrow, when she would make the 90-minute drive to Ume’s Kona coffee farm in the morning.
Satisfied with the rice, Haru picked up several pieces of wood from the tin pail and fed them into the belly of the stove. Once Kenji understood that the issue was not the language schools per se, but a matter of switching the emphasis from preparing children to return to Japan to showing how Japanese values fit in with America, they could discuss the necessary changes. Thinking she and Kenji needed to be able to read each other’s facial expressions, Haru lit extra candles and set them on the dining room table.
She looked at her watch — it was time to take the pan of hot water containing the flask of sake off of the stove. Drinking sake with dinner was a once-or-twice-a-month treat for Haru and Kenji. She knew that a little sake put Kenji in a good mood, but she had also learned that too much of it brought out a dark streak in him. Holding the flask with a towel, she heard Kenji’s footsteps coming up the porch. She set the flask on the table.
“Tadaima . . . I’m home,” Kenji called out, removing his shoes at the front door.
“Okaerinasai,” welcomed Haru in her most endearing voice. She returned to the kitchen and dropped the cut vegetables into a sizzling saucepan filmed with a solution of soy sauce and sugar. Kenji inhaled the sweet waft and glanced at the table, where his eyes settled happily on a covered lacquered box. He knew what was inside — his favorite — unagi strips on hot rice. Kenji looked at the meal appreciatively and then sat down and wiped his face and hands with the hot oshibori towel. Haru carried in the vegetables on two small Imari dishes and placed them next to the lacquered box. Her eyes roamed the table. Satisfied that everything was in place, she sat down, lifted the flask and filled Kenji’s sake cup. He returned the courtesy.
“Kampai . . .” he said as he took a sip. “Ah, my favorite meal. Arigatö.”
Haru could tell by the glint in Kenji’s eyes that he thought tonight’s private dinner a prelude to dessert in their bedroom. If her appeal to his common sense worked as she had designed, his expectations would have a happy ending.
Haru lifted the cover off the lacquered boxes releasing a whiff of fragrant steam. Picking up her chopsticks, she began asking Kenji about his favorite subject — his opinion on anything. “Tell me your thoughts on the war ending.” She leaned forward on main points and between bites of food, alternated with such attentive and agreeing phrases as “Hai” and “Honto ni.” She kept refilling his sake cup half-full. She knew the imbibing-limiting ruse came up short when Kenji shook the empty flask with an expression that demanded a refill.
Haru rose. “I’ll heat the water, Otosan.”
“Not necessary. Room temperature is fine.”
Haru smiled and in a warm and contrived voice responded, “Hai,” and retreated to the kitchen to refill the flask. A minute later, under his watchful eye, she filled Kenji’s cup to the brim.
At the end of the meal, she served ice cream that Sachi had churned the day before.
And then she began . . .
To be continued . . .