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.
Haru sat in the tiny waiting room of the Queen’s Hospital, mindlessly twirling her wedding ring around her finger. Watermarks from exposed overhead pipes hugging the ceiling tear-dropped the faded mustard-colored walls. A lethargic overhead fan swished the antiseptic-infused air as ‘ukulele music from KGU’s “Hawaiian Hour” program filled the room. Takeshi held his mother’s twitching hand in his hand. Across from them sat Tommy and Kenta.
Suddenly, the swinging door flung open. Everyone looked up expectantly. Dr. Tebbits had said the surgery would take at least another hour. Haru’s mind flashed. Had something gone wrong?
Instead of a man dressed in green scrubs, in rushed Sachiko, followed by Hiromi, carrying a bouquet of roses. “How is Daddy?”
“We haven’t heard yet,” said Kenta, getting up to offer his seat to his sisters so they could sit together. “Anybody want coffee?” he asked. Two hands went up. Haru nodded. “Kekko desu” — it’s OK — chimed Sachiko and Hiromi, a polite Japanese way of saying “no, thank you.”
Minutes later, Dr. Tebbits walked in, just after Kenta had left to get the coffee. He glanced at Haru and then zeroed in on Takeshi and Tommy. “We need blood.”
Haru stood up and grabbed Tebbits’ arm. “What happened?”
“There’s been a tear in a major artery. We’re sewing it up. Kenji will be OK, but he’s lost a lot of blood.” The strain in his voice did not lend much credibility to his words. He paused. “Where’s Kenta? We need him, too.”
“He went to get coffee,” said Tommy. “Don’t you need to check our blood type?”
“Both your parents are type A, so I know you’ll be A, too.”
Tebbits turned his attention to Sachiko and Hiromi. “Find Kenta and tell him to go to the blood bank in the basement, and stay close in case we need another pint.”
Haru’s face froze in suppressed terror, her mind flashing back to her lying on the beach at Kalaupapa.
“What happens if the person giving blood doesn’t have type A?” she asked in a low tone.
“What does it matter?” Tebbits replied. “You all have type A. We’re in a hurry here.” Then, embarrassed by his rude reply, he said more calmly, “I’m sorry, Haru. If you are type O, you can give blood to anyone. But if type B or AB blood were given to Kenji, his body would reject it and he would die.”
* * *
The Pan Am Clipper airboat carrying FBI Field Agent Robert Shivers taxied into the lagoon at Pearl Harbor. The Constellation’s four whining Boeing engines ruffled the water behind them as the pilot brought the world’s largest seaplane to its pier, much like a Matson luxury liner. Hemenway’s hair strands swirled in the wash as he ambled over to the bottom of the gangway almost parallel to the wharf. He squinted into the afternoon sun streaming over the fuselage encasing three decks.
Shivers, dressed in a black suit rumpled by the 18-hour flight from San Francisco, emerged from the doorway, followed by his wife, who stood a half-foot taller in her high heels. Her well-coiffed bangs flared under a red-brimmed black hat tilted jauntily to the left. Her neat hair and rose-colored lips suggested she had “lady-upped” before landing.
Robert Shivers’ face held a sober expression in keeping with the seriousness of his mission. His wife’s smile and wide-eyed wonder told Hemenway that she was looking forward to a good stay. A slash of wind stole her hat. She laughed as she watched it sail over the wing. A good sign, thought Hemenway. As the couple stepped onto the concrete jetty, Hemenway introduced himself and placed a lei over the heads of each of them.
“What an unexpected pleasure,” said Corrine in her well-bred, Southern accent that widened Hemenway’s smile. He had speculated as to why the Shivers had no children. Taking in the woman’s radiating warmth, he was convinced it was not for lack of trying. If his instincts were right, his “Sachiko proposition” would land on receptive ears.
On the drive into Honolulu, Hemenway pointed out the various landmarks and sprinkled in a little local history. “We have booked you into the ‘Pink Palace’ for the night,” he said, referring to the pride of Waikïkï, the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. “If you like, I can show you a view of Honolulu from a hilltop house. It’s only a few minutes out of the way.”
Shivers nodded an OK while his wife gushed, “Oh, yes, please!”
Hemenway took a left off of the ocean-hugging highway at Aloha Tower and dodged the trams on Bishop Street, working his way up to the lower Punchbowl area. He stopped at a house graced with a wide, wrap-around porch that was within walking distance of downtown.
“Why, I do declare. What a delightful home,” said Mrs. Shivers, stepping into the living room. “And all of downtown within view.”
Hemenway pointed to the Federal Building from the bay window. “That’s your office.” He then led them to the back porch.
“Oh my, Robert,” said Corrine. “Look at that rainbow falling over the mountains. Have you ever seen anything so beautiful in your entire life?”
“You will see many more, Mrs. Shivers. If you are like me, you’ll never tire of them.”
“This isn’t your home, is it, Mr. Hemenway? It doesn’t look like anyone is living here; I mean, no one, not even my mama, keeps a house and furniture this clean.”
“It’s yours to rent if you want it,” said Hemenway. Corrine turned to him open-mouthed.
“Your husband sent us a request for a home, and this is our best choice.”
“A home within the FBI budget,” Shivers added.
“The owner is living abroad and told us to just charge what you can afford. But we have other homes if you would like to look at more choices.”
Shivers saw the sparkle in his wife’s eyes. He stepped over to the railing and put his arm around her waist. In less than a minute, he turned to Hemenway.
“When can we move in?”
Hemenway threw out the palms of his hands. “Right now.” He enjoyed their surprised look. “I arranged to stock the fridge with a few essentials, like milk and eggs, just in case you fell in love with this home.”
“We’ll take it,” said Agent Shivers.
“So much to do, so much to see!” exclaimed Corrine.
My opening, thought Hemenway. “You might like a little help around the house. Many of our female students without their family in Honolulu board in homes in exchange for helping with light chores. One such girl has recently come to my attention. Sachiko Takayama. She’s a senior at McKinley High School, a short bike ride from here. Her father is a Buddhist priest in Honolulu, but due to ill health, he is leaving next month for a more limited assignment on the Big Island, where there is no high school. Sachiko’s brother is our recording secretary for the Committee for Interracial Unity.”
“Oh, I don’t need a maid,” said Mrs. Shivers.
Shivers’ facial expression did not change, nor did his voice. “A Japanese girl?”
“Yes, many live-in students are Japanese. Families prize their neatness, polite demeanor and willingness to help. However, the girls are not maids. They help with the dishes and laundry, but you can’t expect her to iron shirts or to make your bed.”
“I agree with Corrine; we don’t need a . . . a helper.”
Hemenway noticed Corrine’s widened eyes.
“Well, of course,” he said, “it was only a suggestion.”
“She has no place to go?” Mrs. Shivers asked in a low voice.
“I’m sure I can find her a place. This came up only yesterday. Given your arrival, I thought the timing might be fortuitous. Perhaps, I have been presumptuous by assuming you would enjoy a young person who could show you around the town and help with the shopping. I apologize for putting you on the spot. Not a good way to begin a relationship.”
Shivers watched the rainbow disappear as the sun touched the top of the mountains.
“Charles, you have gone out of your way to make us feel welcome.” He waved his hand over the porch railing at the sun turning gold.
“Tell the young lady she can stay for a week or two until you find her a permanent home.”
To be continued . . .