Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
Editor’s note: “A Question of Loyalty” is the second historical novel in Mike Malaghan’s trilogy on the Japanese American experience in Hawai‘i. Prior to “A Question of Loyalty,” the Herald concluded chapter-by-chapter publication of his first novel, “Picture Bride,” which chronicled Haru Takayama’s escape from Japan to begin a new life in Hawai‘i as the picture-bride wife of Kenji Takayama, a Buddhist priest. In the second novel, we follow Haru and Kenji’s children through the World War II years.
Malaghan is a retired businessman who divides his time between Hawai‘i, Georgia and Japan.
CONTENT WARNING: The story below contains the use of strong language and racial slurs.
Chapter 54 continued…
The bubba in the paint-smeared pants started to rise. “What the hell?! You boys can’t …”
A white soldier put a restraining hand on his shoulder. “This isn’t your fight,” he said in an accent that pegged him as a Red Sox fan. The rest of the passengers remained silent.
Short Pants shoved the gear stick into first. With some difficulty, the driver rolled over onto his knees and lifted himself up from the ground. Short Pants stepped on the gas while easing his right foot from the clutch. The driver, his dirt-smeared face bleeding, swiped at the closing door a second too late. As the bus pulled away, he pummeled its side with three futile thumps.
Short Pants U-turned the bus to pick up the colored soldiers. The laughter on their ebony faces suggested they were Northerners with no memories of men wearing coned hoods and white sheets with eyeholes to intimidate them. Short Pants pulled up to the colored soldiers who wasted no time scrambling up the steps.
Kenta rushed off the bus to pick up a wallet that had fallen out of the back pocket of one of the soldiers. He hopped back on, watching the driver, his chest heaving, hopelessly lumbering toward the bus, shaking his fist. “You friggen’ Japs!”
Kenta took little note of the few passing taxis, including one with three gawking soldiers. He slumped back into his seat, his knees shaking. A middle-aged white man sitting behind him leaned over and whispered in his ear.
“They may be only n—s, but it ain’t right to not pick ’em up. We always treat our colored folks right. I hope you boys don’t get in no trouble.”
Kenta managed a “Thank you, sir,” and fantasized a good outcome. Really, how much trouble did the driver want to get into? Why would he want to tell the bus company that he lost control of his bus because he had violated regulations about picking up all passengers? Kenta was sure he would flag a taxi and come to Shelby to retrieve his bus. He wouldn’t want to advertise his screw-up.
Short Pants slowed down at the main gate expecting to be challenged, but the MPs just waved him through. He braked at the first bus stop, opened the door and stood up to get off. Agitated murmurs ran though the bus.
“Hey, you can’t just leave us at the gate,” called out one of the passengers. “We gotta get to work.”
Short Pants ignored the plea and continued getting up from the driver’s seat. Kenta stood at the door, preparing to disembark. He stopped before taking a step. The blood drained from his face. The snake twirled, slithered up his gullet and then retreated to whirl out of control in Kenta’s innards.
A smirking Sergeant Doi stood at the door.
“Welcome home, Private Takayama. Perhaps you would like to step down from the bus? You too, Private Moto.”
Two MPs stood next to a paddy wagon, the military police vehicle for prisoners. As Kenta and Short Pants climbed down from the bus, one of the MPs asked, “Do we need to cuff you?”
“No, sir,” said Kenta.
“Where are you taking him?” asked Short Pants, wondering why no one asked him why he had been driving the bus.
“The brig, of course. Whaddya think, this is a tour bus?” snorted Doi. He turned to Kenta. “You’re not the sharpest knife in the drawer, Takayama. You must think you’re invisible. Sergeant Butler told me that he saw you guys leaving the USO.” He affected an incredulous tone. “Including ‘that private that asked for his pass.’”
“The sergeant at the mess hall?” asked Kenta. “But he said he’d see you at the Rainbow Club.”
“He did. But first he checked out a new bar across from the USO and saw you guys coming out.” Doi let out a harsh laugh, more like a grunt. “I guess you neophytes learned fast that the USO is not the friendliest place for Japanese.”
“You promised me a pass.”
Doi cast an eye at the MP. “I did.” He pulled out the pass from his shirt pocket. “I planned to let you stew in your juices for a night and give you a chance to think about respect and then see to it that you got your pass today.”
The MP raised an impatient hand. “Enough. Let’s go.”
A taxi pulled up beside them. The right rear door flew open. The bus driver pried himself out.
The snake quivered.
Seeing Kenta about to enter the police van, he flashed a smile of triumph, but said nothing. He climbed on to his bus as if he had just taken a toilet break and drove off.
The snake snuggled down. Kenta figured he had been right about the driver’s wish to hide his humiliation. He stepped inside the paddy wagon.
Minutes later, the van pulled up to the Camp Shelby prison.
“Follow me,” ordered the MP. Handcuffed soldiers, bandaged soldiers and MPs were all crowded into the reception area. Typists clacked away. A desk sergeant handed Doi a clipboard with a form attached to it.
“Grab a pencil and fill this out.”
After a thirty-minute wait, a captain approached. “What’s the charge?”
Doi stood up. “AWOL, sir.” He handed the sheet to the officer.
The captain glanced down at the paper. “Where did you find him?”
“Getting off from the bus at the gate, sir.”
The man’s head snapped up at hearing Doi’s response. “You’re not saying inside the camp, are you, Sergeant?”
“Uh … yes. Sir,” Doi replied fumble-mouthed.
The officer exaggerated a shoulder droop. “Sergeant, I got brawlers here tearing up bars, shoplifters insisting they’re innocent, hookers claiming a soldier didn’t pay and then beat them up, men picked up in Mobile who really were AWOL. And you bring in someone who you claim is AWOL … on base?” He stared at Doi, exasperation in his eyes. “What are they teaching you people?”
Doi blushed. “But he left …”
“Get out of here. You filed a report. It’s been noted. Your CO will get a copy.”
Doi’s flush deepened. He mumbled a “Yes, sir,” performed a crisp about-face and quick-stepped out the door.
To be continued …