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, which is now available as a printed softcover book, opens 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, Georgia and Japan.
On the morning of March 24, Taka was eating a late breakfast at a brown, wooden table in the student cafeteria after having attended his 7:30 a.m. Asian history class. He shook his head like an older brother catching his much younger brother with his hand in the cookie jar as he read the Advertiser’s fawning, front-page coverage of the “great” Clarence Darrow’s arrival at Honolulu’s cruise ship pier. Pafko’s accompanying editorial would have one believe that, at age 74 and with a lifetime of court victories behind him, Darrow’s dazzling oratory would soon put all this unpleasant murder indictment business to bed by convincing any jury of the righteousness of bringing back a not-guilty verdict for the four defendants.
Taka’s anger grew, not with Pafko, but with himself. It wasn’t enough to just shake his head in disapproval. He swirled the final morsel of his over-easy egg into the rice remains on his plate, lifted them to his mouth and washed it down with the last of his coffee. Taka rose, crumpled the newspaper in his fist and walked over to the trashcan. He jammed the offending newsprint on top of napkins and paper plates and then fast-stepped to the bike rack.
As he pumped his legs down Kapi‘olani Boulevard, he began drafting his next column in his head. It was a touch of arrogance considering his predicament — after all, he was an unemployed writer.
Twelve minutes later and out-of-breath, Taka stormed into the Hochi office. His father was right: He was a voice. He recalled the last time he likened his cause to Don Quixote fighting windmills. One of his pals who had heard the bromide once too often reminded him, “Don Quixote never gave up.”
Taka also missed the buzz of the copy room and the adrenalin of pounding keys to meet a deadline. As he walked down the aisle leading to Makino’s office, seasoned newspapermen looked up from their typewriters and greeted him. He returned their smiles, straightened his back and stepped up his pace. He belonged here!
As Taka entered his editor’s office, Makino smiled wryly. It wasn’t quite a smirk. “Taka, my young frustrated idealist . . . have a seat.”
On Makino’s desk, Taka could not help but notice a press pass printed with his name: Takeshi Takayama.
Taka’s eyebrows rose. “You knew I’d be back?”
“Don’t flatter yourself. I saw you charge in. I’m guessing you want your desk back.”
“This Darrow thing . . .”
Makino waved him off. “If it weren’t for your mother, I would have thrown this out. You quit. You ran away from the fight. I never did.”
“Yes, sir,” Taka said, sinking lower in the seat. “I made a mistake.”
“Listen to me. It’s a good thing for the Japanese community that I did not fall prey to hopelessness during the last sugar strike, to the Legislature’s attempt to ban our language schools, to the immigration wars.”
Makino picked up the press pass and twirled it with the index fingers of each hand. “We did not win every battle, but if I hadn’t fought, we would have lost them all.” His eyes hardened as he handed the pass to Taka.
Taka took the pass. “I promise never to walk out like that again.”
Makino folded his hands over his elbows resting on his desk. “You must live all your life knowing you quit when it got tough. Will this be a life pattern, or have you learned something?”
Taka opened his mouth and started to say something.
“Stop! There is nothing you can say. You have a lifetime to live out the answer.” Makino pointed the thumb and index fingers of his two hands at Taka like two side-by-side derringers. “Taka, you are the cusp of the new Japanese in Hawai‘i. A Nisei. An American of Japanese ancestry. A new type of citizen that Anglo-America will have to abide with as it did with the Irish, Italians and Jews. Our community needs bright young people from your Nisei crop. You have the makings of a good journalist.”
Makino dropped his hands to the desk and paused to let all of this sink in before getting to what, for him, was the main point. “You want a meaningful life, Taka? You want to make things happen? Fight injustice? Be a catalyst?” Makino leaned over, his eyes intent. He lowered his voice and slowed down his cadence. “Do you want to make a difference? A real difference?”
Taka straightened his back. “Yes. Of course.”
“Watch the trial, Taka. Each day, ask yourself, ‘Do I want to report on the events that shape people’s lives, or do I want to enter the arena?’”
Taka’s eyes opened wide, as if to say, “I don’t understand.”
“If you have your mother’s spirit, if your quitting in the face of adversity was an aberration, you spend the rest of your life proving it will never happen again. I think you would make an outstanding attorney. Watch Darrow . . . and Kelley,” referring to the lead prosecutor in the case. “Could you do what they do? Could you represent litigants in court to fight injustice? Could you ask people to vote for you as their legislator?”
Makino held Taka’s gaze and was heartened that the younger man did not look away.
In that instant, Taka saw another future. He saw himself standing in front of a witness stand, asking a withering question that revealed a previously hidden truth. And for a fleeting second, he was dressed in a black robe, sitting high on the bench, delivering final instructions to a jury. But did he have the nerve, the intelligence and the persona to enter this arena?
To be continued . . .