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.
A spongy, red, kidney-shaped blotch, streaked with seams of purple, rose behind Ume’s ear and extended into the hairline on the backside of her neck.
Haru froze, speechless. She knew.
Hansen’s Disease was first detected in Hawai‘i in 1848. Moloka‘i’s leper colony held 900 patients at its peak in 1903. Now, Ume would be among the roughly 600 who had contracted the disease.
“I noticed this a month ago, hoping it was some insect bite.” She rolled up her sleeve. Past her elbow was a red rash forming a 2-inch snake. “I visited the doctor last week. He discovered spots between two of my toes and on my lower back, as well.”
Haru understood, but could not utter the word “leprosy.” “Oh, Ume,” said Haru, tears forming in her eyes. She thought of Irie — Ume’s husband’s — jaunty lamp-swinging welcome just last night. “You haven’t told anyone.”
Ume shook her head slowly. “Dr. Uchida has been very kind. Once he reports my condition, I have one week to leave for Moloka‘i. I asked him to wait until you arrived.”
Haru looked at her friend. So lovely. Then the pictures of leprosy patients with their half-eaten faces flashed before her eyes. She wrapped her arms tightly around Ume, as if hoping to squeeze the death sentence from her body. She raised her head, tears trickling down her face, and gazed into Ume’s eyes. Haru silently resolved to visit her friend every year. The visits, not the promise, would be what mattered.
“Kenji said compared to the early days, Moloka‘i’s living conditions have improved.”
“Yes, I can be thankful this is not the 1860s. In those days, lepers were left on the beach with a week’s ration of food.” Ume rubbed the offending lump on her neck. “No doctors or nurses lived on the island back then. The ‘inhabitants
. . .’” Ume smiled at this euphemism. “. . . had no shelter other than what they could build themselves. Government provided little — a shirt, a pair of pants, a sweater. And, a coffin. Drinking water had to be carried from 3 miles away when the stream went dry. The colony descended into chaos and barbarism.”
“Then Father Damien arrived,” said Haru. “He shamed the government and begged business people like the Baldwins to improve conditions.” Remembering Kenji’s updates, she added, “Today, there’s a harbor, clean housing and three meals a day at the village cafeteria.”
“And, a hospital with doctors and nurses,” said Ume. “Father Damien is long gone, of course, but Mother Marianne and her Sisters of St. Francis have taken on his work.” She shook her head slowly. “Why those haole nuns keep going to the island, knowing the risks, I have no idea.”
“Hasn’t Irie noticed . . . anything different about you? That you’re so . . . unhappy?”
“He assumes I’m angry about his plan to borrow money to buy more land. We argued about this before I knew I had this disease. ‘You never know what might happen,’ I told him.”
“Let me stay a few days, Ume,” said Haru. “I can . . .”
“Haru-chan, what must be done . . .” She stopped and fought to keep her composure. “What must be done must be done by me. Irie could not bear to have someone watch his distress when I tell him.” Ume patted Haru’s arm. “Even as close a friend as you.”
“There’s more . . . the real reason I needed to see you. I’m pregnant . . .”
Haru’s hand flew to her face. She stepped backwards in disbelief. “Oh, Ume . . .”
“The baby will be born on Moloka‘i. I want you to come and take it back to Irie.” Ume showed no tears. Her voice became businesslike — like the tone she used when giving the day’s work assignments to her fellow housewives tending to the coffee plants. “I need your help with Irie.”
“Anything, Ume-chan. Anything.”
Ume grabbed Haru’s arm and peered deep into her eyes. “I don’t want Irie or the children to visit me. Not ever. Not even once. They will see the others and know what will happen to me. Someday, they will visit and won’t recognize me. I want Irie and my children to remember me as I am.”
Haru’s soft voice argued, “But Irie has a mind of his own. He will say taking care of you is more important than life itself.”
Ume squeezed Haru’s arm tighter. “If Irie visits, I will commit jisatsu.”
Haru felt the words were rehearsed, as if the purpose of her visit was to hear those words, to understand the conviction behind them. “Wakarimashita . . . I understand.”
Ume released Haru’s hand, rose and strolled over to a row of coffee trees. “The spread of leprosy is uncertain. People sent to Moloka‘i 30 years ago still live; some die within a couple years. I can still do good, Haru. I’ll be a kökua.”
“A helper?” Haru knew enough Hawaiian to understand the word, yet the way Ume said it made it sound like a vocation.
“I know Irie will give me money to build a small house. The newcomers take care of those who can’t take of themselves and hope that when it’s our turn, someone will see us through the last days.”
Haru nodded. “I will pray for you.”
“The gods have abandoned me, Haru. I’m not sure if they even exist. More important than praying for me is helping Irie find a new wife. My children need a mother. The farm needs a gentle, but sturdy woman who labors and sings alongside our workers. Irie is a good husband to me. He will be a good husband to another woman.”
Since Buddhism did not require a belief in the afterlife, the doubting words hardly registered. What struck Haru was the Buddhist charge from her father Kiyoshi. “Child, the day will come when you can pay me back by helping others.”
Buddhism was not about afterlife certainty, but about living an honorable life and showing compassion for others in the present — not because of some promise of reward or threat of punishment after death, but because it is right to do and you want to do it. Her Amakusan birth parents, wretchedly poor as they were, had sacrificed their lives to give her a chance for a good life. They did it for her — not for Buddha, but perhaps because of his teaching.
“I will find Irie a good woman to look after your children and farm.”
Ume bowed from the waist. “Arigato, Sensei
. . .” Rising, she added, “. . . and friend.” Her eyes were moist. “The day is pleasant. Let’s have our lunches outside before you return to Waimea.”
After lunch, Haru drove off under clear, cerulean skies and traveled along the Hualälai road, lined with lush, colorful vegetation interrupted by sprays of wooden buildings bearing signs written in kanji characters. Each village boasted at least one Japanese cinema. Lost in thought, however, Haru saw none of this passing scenery.
The destruction of Ume’s life consumed her thoughts. Neighbors would shun them. School children would be told to avoid contact. The children of many victims stopped going to school. All three surviving families in their Waimea mission had fled to O‘ahu, where no one knew them. Rumors sprouted that the wives of afflicted husbands were forced to become prostitutes in order to support their families.
The One Mile marker caught Haru’s eyes. One more mile and she would be home. Gentle trade winds aimed cotton candy clouds toward home.
At the edge of town, Haru’s mood improved upon catching the burgeoning sounds of trombones, tubas, flugelhorns and snare drums pounding out the popular war song, “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.” She felt pride for her adopted country’s soldiers, who had fought the war to end wars. She knew the horrific numbers: America had lost 100,000 soldiers in the one year they fought. Over the four-year slaughter, Great Britain had lost 800,000 and France 1,300,000, and on it went until the totals reached 16 million, including civilians.
Entering the town center, Haru saw that the celebration filled the central park and spilled over into the street leading to her home. Rather than beeping the horn to clear a path, she parked at the corner. As she climbed out of the car, she saw a mostly haole crowd mingling on the road leading to the town center. To her right on this street, she spied a flurry of kimono, jinbei and yukata. She spotted Kenji laughing with one of the plantation owners whose labor force was Filipino. Next to him, a Hawaiian paniolo was gesturing with his hands, like an Italian, explaining something to a Chinese medicine seller. Haru paused under a jacaranda tree, enjoying this moment of harmony. Wellington Carter, his golden locks spilling out of his cowboy hat, was chewing on a yakitori chicken skewer as he chatted with the only Japanese lawyer in town. And, Mrs. Oda from the trading post nodded her head while conversing with the haole doctor.
One day, my children will be in the middle of the road.
Goose bumps spread over her arms at the sight of two Issei soldiers wearing their American Army khakis, clinking sake cups to a beer mug held by a haole officer.
Strolling home, Haru waved to the mothers of the children attending her day care. They were dispensing bowls of rice, stirring tubs of udon soup and cutting fresh slabs of tofu. The paniolo had brought steaks and were digging pits alongside the temple to make grills. Sachi was helping two cowboys lay hot charcoal bricks on the bottom of a large pit next to a freshly butchered pig. She recognized the clerks from Oda’s Trading Post filling little cups from two sake barrels.
She heard Kame cry out, “Haru . . . look! Sam is back!”
Haru turned to her front porch. The man standing next to Kame was not at all the Sam she remembered. When the gaunt man struggled down the steps, she sucked in her breath. “Welcome home, soldier.”
Behind her, she heard a familiar soft baritone voice. “Sam, it’s good to have you back.” Wellington Carter moved to Haru’s side, thrust out both hands, and shook Sam’s right arm, holding it warmly. “You still have your house at the ranch and, when you feel up to it, a job.”
“I don’t want to be a charity case, Mr. Carter.”
Carter nodded, as though he had anticipated the response, and a small, knowing smile curved his lips. “Then you’d better start work soon and earn your keep.”
Minutes later, Haru’s enthusiasm deflated when she spotted Joshua Bilkerton and Andy Pafko together under a jacaranda tree. Haru had not forgotten their meeting the day she landed in Hawai‘i. She thought of Pafko’s recent tirade enflaming haole opposition to the Japanese language schools. Bilkerton was disgusting. His cane worker mothers had told Haru how he preyed on his plantation’s young teenagers. Seeing them in deep conversation, she suspected the worst.
Both men took a swig out of their flasks, unaware of Haru’s worried interest. Pafko’s love of Jim Beam and mashed potatoes had added to his girth. However, next to Bilkerton’s walrus-sized gut, he was a beanpole.
Pafko shook the mouth of his flask at Bilkerton. “This next legislative session is your golden opportunity,” said Pafko.
“I’m tired of hearing those kids sing the Japanese anthem every day after the little buggers leave their real school, the American one,” slurred Bilkerton, who had won last week’s election for the territorial Legislature.
This guy always misses the main point unless you hit him on the head, thought Pafko. “Now you can stop them.” While looking at Bilkerton’s floating eyes, Pafko resisted hitting him with a rapid list of points. He waited.
“Stop it. Me?”
Yes, stupid. “That’s right. The same way we shut down the German newspapers when we declared war on the Kaiser.”
“They squealed about the first amendment, but we did it anyway,” said Bilkerton, proudly.
Good, the big oaf is following me. “Last year, 9,000 kids were born in Hawai‘i — half of them Japs. That might be manageable if they were being raised American.” Pafko accepted Bilkerton’s nod — maybe he understood the stakes. “The solution is simple.”
“Close them all down?” Bilkerton asked in alarm. “I don’t want any labor problems.”
“Right. So, controlling the schools . . . setting standards . . . that’s the solution,” responded Pafko.
“How can we do that?”
Listen idiot, that’s why we have something called a Legislature, of which you are a member, Pafko wanted to say. “With legislation,” said Pafko. He tilted his head forward. “We need a champion, Joshua. A man to introduce a bill that requires all teachers to be certified in English.”
“None of Takayama’s teachers would pass that test.”
Congratulations, Mr. Dunce Cap. “That’s right. And the man who introduces that legislation will be recognized as a political leader to be reckoned with. Why should all the governors come from Honolulu?” Pafko stared deep into Bilkerton’s eyes to gauge whether his pandering had gone too far.
“You’re right. But I will need some help on the wording.”
No kidding. “I’m the writer. You’re the action man, the hero who will Americanize those little Jap buggers.”
Days earlier, John Waterhouse, the leader of the Big Five sugar barons, had invited the eager Pafko to dinner at the Pacific Club in Honolulu. “You can do yourself a big favor by going to Waimea and encouraging our new legislator to become a hero,” Waterhouse said. His tone suggested that he wanted nothing to do with Bilkerton directly.
“It doesn’t matter if the legislation is passed, and if passed, how crippling it turns out to be. What’s important is to keep those people under siege. We can’t allow this Bolshevik cancer to infect our islands like it has the West Coast.”
To be continued . . .