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.

Chapter 121

Mosquito Flats. Taka stood next to its edge, looking at the piles of trash piled high against the unpainted back concrete wall of the Nippon Theater at the corner of ‘A‘ala and Beretania Streets. So different from the movie theater’s regal front entrance. A rat too big to fit into a shoebox showed its disdain by ignoring Taka’s footsteps and kept chewing on something smeared red. Ketchup, Taka hoped.

He glanced down at his notes detailing Candi’s circuitous route to her Cunha Lane home. Looking right as Candi’s hand-drawn arrow indicated, he studied the faded three- and four-story tenement buildings streaked with industrial soot and cooking oil. From postage stamp-sized länais, blouses, trousers, bras and panties danced on stubby clotheslines. Underneath the balcony’s bent rebars, wrinkled-faced Chinese men with long-hair queues and their aging picture brides with bound feet mingled with Japanese teenaged prostitutes in high heels. The whiff of sweet opium masked the stench of garbage. A shout in Tagalog caught Taka’s attention just in time to see a shirtless young man toss a pair of dice hard against a wall down a nearby alley. He shook his head thinking about how the Mosquito Flats families had arrived on the same boats as the Mö‘ili‘ili families — full of the same dreams. How did this separation happen?

Taka took a deep breath, as if he was about to step into a sewer, and began snaking through the narrow urine- and cabbage-scented alleyways of Blood Town, Tin Can Alley and Hell’s Half Acre, following Candi’s map. So, he thought, this is where Horace’s Kalihi gang and the neighboring School Street gang fought border skirmishes to control their turf.

“Don’t worry about your safety,” Candi had said. “Our streets are crime-free in the sunshine
. . .” She couldn’t resist an impish smile. “Most of the time.”

“See the parade,” she said. Taka’s mental light bulb switched on. A vanilla blur of white canvas “Dixie cup” caps, white poplin shirts and white drill slacks prowled the grey ghetto canyons. Navy payday. Admiral Stirling’s “stay on base” orders had been lifted. The flesh hunters trolled, their eyes roving like snipers choosing a target. Pouting lips and sly eyes in hip-slit dresses promised an erotic interlude without having to order a watered-down whiskey for a bar whore plying her wares in a nearby River Street speakeasy.

Taka forgot his mission momentarily as he caught a come-hither set of eyes drawing his attention to the girl’s black hair draping to her narrow waist, contrasting dramatically against a red Chinese cheongsam tight at the neck. He turned away just long enough to spot a street sign nailed askew to a telephone post: Cunha Lane. He found the house number smartly painted on a sturdy wooden postbox at the edge of the road. A surprise. A real house. Tiny, but still a house — corrugated roof bent at two edges, yellow paint fading, but clean and graced with a porch just wide enough for a row of mismatched straight-backed chairs. The royalty of slum dwellings, thought Taka.

At his knock, Candi opened the door.

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