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.
Nearly six thousand miles away, Kenji rose from bed and padded into the bathroom where he emptied his full bladder. A chill ran through him upon seeing a pink stream flow. As he washed his hands, Kenji tried to recall what he had eaten at dinner the night before that would have caused the pink color. Nothing came to mind. By evening, his stream had returned to its usual marigold yellow. He sighed with relief, thankful he had not alarmed Haru.
The next morning, however, his urine streamed rose-petal red. At breakfast, Kenji maintained his usually calm demeanor, although he drank more coffee and orange juice than normal. An hour later, he watched in dismay as a deep crimson stream rained from his body. A visit to the doctor would surely result in a simple remedy, such as taking a few sulfur tablets to control an infection. No need to alarm Haru.
Dr. Tebbits had remained in Waimea for 11 years before moving to Honolulu to satisfy his wife’s desire for a more cosmopolitan life and a better education for their four children. Shortly after the Spanish Flu epidemic, he had met Gertrude, a German nurse. She had accompanied her father, a representative of the A & P grocery chain, on a cattle-buying visit to Parker Ranch. The Takayamas’ friendship with the Tebbitses, begun in Waimea, had continued with regular dinner exchanges in Honolulu.
Gertrude greeted a nervous Kenji warmly as he entered the Dr. Tebbits’ clinic. “What brings you to our clinic today, Kenji?”
Kenji paused, embarrassed. Even though there were no other patients in the waiting room, talking to a nurse — even a family friend — about his most private body functions made him feel uncomfortable.
Gertrude leaned forward and in her most reassuring voice said, “I’ve been a nurse for 20 years, Kenji.”
“I passed blood in my urine.”
Kenji watched the unguarded alarm in Gertrude’s face turn impassive as the door to the examination room opened and a very pregnant Hawaiian lady waddled out. Gertrude hooked the door with her fingers before it closed. “Bernie, you have a distinguished visitor,” she said, waving Kenji in.
“Sensei . . .” greeted Dr. Tebbits. He and Kenji referred to each other as “Sensei” out of respect, but the tone of voice carried an obvious professional affection. Hearing Kenji’s complaint, Tebbits asked for a urine sample. When his patient returned with a half-full plastic cup, the doctor examined its reddish contents with no change of expression. “We’ll let Gertrude take an X-ray.”
Minutes later, Kenji’s gut tightened as he watched Tebbits’ frown line deepen as the doctor’s eyes focused on a shadow on the film.
“Cancer?” he asked, his matter-of-fact tone camouflaging his heart flutter.
Dr. Tebbits understood the Japanese propensity to avoid hearing bad news from doctors — cancer was referred to as “stomach trouble.” But, Tebbits remembered a dinner conversation in which both Kenji and Haru claimed they preferred being told a true diagnosis.
“Most likely,” he nodded. “I can’t be certain.” Pointing to the shadow on the X-ray, he said, “You can see this snake-like line on your right kidney — maybe two inches long.” Tebbits turned back to Kenji.
“When I cut you open, I might find nothing. Or . . . I might find that the cancer has spread and all I can do is sew you back up and advise you to put your affairs in order. Those are the two extremes. Unlikely extremes.”
Pointing back to the X-ray’s shadow, Tebbits continued. “Given the location, we might be able to save half the kidney. Even if we have to take out the whole organ, you can still lead a normal life with just one kidney. Eat and drink modestly, flush yourself out with a lot of water, and you’re fine.”
“Where do you do this?”
“Queen’s,” said Tebbits, referring to the hospital Queen Emma had established in 1859. “I can do this myself, but I would rather have Rudy Hornsby, the internist, perform the operation, with me acting as his assistant.”
* * *
That evening, after finishing a dessert of homegrown strawberries topped with a dollop of vanilla ice cream, Kenji forced a smile at Haru.
“Let’s take a walk.”
Serenaded by cicadas and surrounded by flickering fireflies, Kenji revealed his condition. Back home, Kenji stopped at the bottom of the porch. “I’ve had a good life, Okäsan. Maybe it’s my time.”
“Maybe you are ready to leave us,” said Haru, tugging the sleeve of her husband’s yukata. “But we are not ready for you to leave. Where is the fighter who charged into the Adams’ church to preach tolerance in front of all those haoles? You have told me often that spiritual toughness extends life. Now it’s time to follow your own advice.”
“This is cancer.”
“Yes, the forbidden word, Otösan. But Tebbits-Sensei told you that kidney cancer is the one cancer that can be cut out before it spreads. How many times have you talked about the hidden blessing in tragedy? How the Great Buddha sends us tests to reveal a more enlightened path . . . a change in direction?”
Kenji stared at his wife. “You have something on your mind,” he said warily.
The Takayamas’ porch light caught the gleam in her eyes.
“Let’s return to Waimea. I am getting too old to attend all these temple meetings. Chairman of this, organizer of that. I feel like that frog in the pot of water boiling so slowly he doesn’t know he’s being cooked.”
Haru gave Kenji’s sleeve another tug as her words tumbled out faster. “Kame wrote me that Izawa-san, the Waimea priest, will be asking for a transfer. If the bishop knows you want to return to your former parish, he will grant the transfer. Most priests have retired . . .” — she almost added, “or died,” but caught herself — “by your age.”
Kenji fought his first impulse to object and then caught himself. Maybe the Buddha had noticed his grey hair.
“Bernie said to expect a decline in energy for a while. I think he means forever.” He waved away a buzzing mosquito. “But what about the children? Where will they live? Kenta is attending the UH; next year Sachiko follows. And Tommy?” He let the thought hang.
Haru welcomed the question. It meant a “how” consideration, not Kenji’s usual stubborn “no” to sudden changes.
“Wai Ching can find Kenta dorm space at the YMCA’s Atherton House. He’s in charge, after all. Tommy has a job. He can move in with Takeshi and share expenses. He should be doing that anyway. And I am sure Takeshi can ask to find Sachiko a position with a haole family, helping out with chores for room and board.”
“In a stranger’s house?”
“Don’t look so surprised. We have helped families from Waimea find haole homes for their daughters when they come to Honolulu to attend school. Their English gets better, and they pick up some spending money.”
“Let’s wait until after the operation,” said Kenji. “If it is successful . . . we can consider a return to Waimea.”
Haru widened her smile. “It will be successful. I’ll call Kame.”
Before Kenji could object, Haru had walked up the steps into the house . . .
To be continued . . .