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.
The blood drained from Haru’s face. Five years had passed since Ume died — it was just after the Massie trial. Haru had last visited Irie and his three children three years ago.
Haru rose to her feet, putting her hand over her mouth in a hushed “Excuse me.” In the living room, she picked up the phone that had been left lying on the dining room table.
“Teiko-chan, my child! What happened?”
“Oh, Haru-san,” came the halting voice of Ume’s eldest child. “Our lives . . . they have not been good for some time. On your last visit, you did not see what had become of our family. Otösan was drinking shöchü again, but he sobered up for your visit. My mamahaha,” said Teiko referring to the stepmother who had long ago replaced Ko — who had run off to California — “hired her cousin to manage our coffee farm.” She spat out the word “cousin” in an ugly voice, leaving no doubt the man was anything but a cousin.
“When Otösan got tuberculosis, he almost died and never really recovered. Drank and slept. I think he wanted to die. Then that cousin moved into the house, came to the ofuro when I was bathing there and . . .” Her words disintegrated into weeping that tore at Haru’s heart.
Haru decided that this was not the time to hear the whole story. “Where is your father now?”
“We . . . we buried him . . . today,” Teiko said between sobs. “Haru-san, I’m afraid of that man.”
“Where are your brothers?”
“Oh, they are here. They love their new daddy. He takes them fishing, teaches them baseball.”
Haru held the phone, too stunned to speak. She did not ask about the stepmother. In such convoluted arrangements, it would not be the first time a stepmother overlooked her companion’s interest in a teenage daughter. If only Ume had not been so stubborn and had let Irie follow her to Moloka‘i. He and the children would have . . .
“Haru-san?” Teiko’s plaintiff voice drifted across the line.
“I’m here, Teiko-chan,” said Haru. She realized the girl had no one to turn to and must have agonized over calling her mother’s friend from long ago who had not visited in years.
“Can you get a bus to Waimea?”
“Yes, I think so.”
“Teiko-chan, pack your personal belongings and go to the Waimea mission.” Haru then explained that she could stay with Sam and Kame until they arranged her passage to Honolulu. “You are a sweet child. We look forward to your staying with us.”
After calling Kame, Haru returned to the living room. But her mind could no longer focus on Wai Ching’s plan to cope with the implications of Patton’s “Orange People” report.
Haru hardly recognized the young woman walking down the wobbly gangplank in a blue dress. Too short to be appropriate, thought Haru. Her stealthy glance at Kenta, who formed the other half of the welcoming committee for Teiko, confirmed her judgment. Still, Haru couldn’t help remembering her walk up the steps of the Fudoin Temple when she was six years younger than Teiko. Haru surmised the girl was carrying all her worldly possessions in the knotted cloth bundle she clutched in her hand.
“Teiko-chan,” said Haru as the girl stepped onto the pier. “I am so happy you are here. You have a home with us.”
Teiko bowed deeply. “Arigato, Haru-san.”
“Hello, Sister,” said Kenta reaching out to take Teiko’s free hand.
Haru gasped, and her knees buckled.
“Okäsan! Are you okay?” asked Kenta, letting go of Teiko’s hand to support his mother.
Sister? Haru mentally repeated Kenta’s greeting. Somewhere deep inside, could he know without really knowing? She dismissed the thought as absurd. “I’m fine, Kenta,” she said, regaining her composure. “Just a flash. Must be showing my age,” she laughed.
The nervous girl bowed slightly to Kenta, a gesture seldom exchanged between Nisei. “I’m sorry to disturb your family.”
“Please don’t feel that way, Teiko-chan,” reassured Kenta. “We were so sad when Okäsan told us your father had died . . . and that you were not welcome in your own home.” Teiko lowered her eyes.
“We have plenty of room, and our family welcomes you,” said Kenta.
Haru could not help but notice Kenta’s appraisal of the girl whose snug summer dress emphasized generous curves. Her thoughts skipped to Teiko coming out of the bathroom with only a towel wrapped around her and tiptoeing to the girls’ bedroom with dripping wet hair. The girl would be treated like a sister until her boys started thinking she was anything but a sibling. And for one of her boys, she was indeed a sibling.
Kenta gently took Teiko’s bundle and pointed past Aloha Tower. “It’s just a few minutes’ walk to the car. I’ll drive through downtown to give you a glance at Honolulu.”
Despite Teiko’s objections, Haru insisted that Teiko sit up front. “You’ll have a better view,” she said.
Playing tour guide, Kenta pointed out all the local landmarks. Sensing that Teiko was getting a bit overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of a big city, he assured her, “Don’t worry, Sister. You’ll get used to it all.”
“Thank you, Brother,” teased Teiko.
Haru sat quietly throughout the banter. What had she expected? Kenta was doing his best to make the girl comfortable, just as Haru had requested.
It was only after she had hung up the phone that evening after impulsively inviting Ume’s daughter to live with her family that she realized she was inviting Kenta’s sister to live with them. She did not regret the invite. Giri, she thought. She owed it to Ume, who had given her a son.
Ignoring the flutter in her heart over the flirtatious exchange between the two teens, Haru piped up, “Let’s do a little shopping. River Street is a good place to start,” referring to the main shopping street in Chinatown.
“These days, there are more and newer shops on Bishop Street,” said Kenta.
“Kenta . . .” said Haru, disapprovingly.
Kenta understood his mother’s tone and did not want to be dressed down in front of Teiko. “Hai, Okäsan.” He found a parking space off River Street.
Haru smiled as they stepped out of the car and began walking down the street marked with overhanging signs in bold red Chinese characters. Her smile vanished at the first Chinese clothing store, where pictures of Life magazine’s coverage of what was being called the “Nanking Massacre” were taped to the bottom of the store’s front window. The sun-bleached photographs included a picture of a Japanese soldier tightly gripping a sword poised high over a kneeling civilian. Additional photos captured a wailing child sitting on the ground, wailing, and a trench full of dead corpses guarded by imperial soldiers casually smoking cigarettes. Haru caught the eye of the proprietor behind a cash register who, noticing Haru’s yukata, spat on the floor and turned away.
“Maybe it’s better if we shop on Bishop Street, after all,” said Haru.
* * *
After several hours of shopping, they finally arrived at the Takayama home, carrying shopping bags into the house with Teiko’s new wardrobe.
“Tommy can help you get registered for the university. The next semester starts in late January.”
Teiko look dumbfounded.
“No rush, of course,” said Kenta, sensing the girl’s distress.
“I never finished high school,” she said.
Now it was Kenta’s turn to look surprised. All of his fellow Nisei at McKinley High had graduated.
Haru hurriedly explained, “When her father got sick, Teiko had to drop out of school to take care of him.”
“Wakarimashita. We can enroll you at McKinley for the spring and summer semesters to get enough credits to graduate.”
The anxiety would not leave Teiko’s eyes. “I don’t know . . . It’s been so long since I’ve been in school. Maybe I’m not smart enough anymore.”
“Don’t worry about that,” said Kenta. “I’ll help you with your studies.”
The smile that flashed across Teiko’s face rewarded Kenta. Haru, however, noticed the exchange with trepidation.
To be continued . . .