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 begins 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, Florida and Japan.
At dinner, Ualani sensed the tension in the room. She had heard about Haru’s and Ko’s history in Hiroshima, so she offered a solution to the quandary of the visitor’s sleeping quarters.
“We have a plenty of space for a futon in our cottage,” offered Ualani.
Ko had taken an early bath, leaving the ofuro for Haru’s and Kenji’s nightly family soak. Haru waited until Kenji had eased himself into the wooden tub across from her. “We must find a place for Ko. She cannot stay here.”
Seated on his rump, Kenji adjusted his legs around Haru’s outer thighs. “How old was Ko when she stole the money and accused you of doubting the Emperor?”
“We were both 18.”
“Eighteen . . . so young. Such a foolish age. She gave in to jealousy, stole coins, got caught, lost her temper and struck back without considering the consequences. You both had to leave Hiroshima. It worked out well for one of you.” Kenji allowed a sheepish smile. “At least, I hope it has.”
The warmth of the water soothed Haru’s ruffled emotions. “Sometimes, I need to be reminded that I married a Buddhist minister. I’ll contact our Hilo mission to help find a husband for her.” Haru didn’t tell Kenji that she did not want to look in Waimea. That wasn’t necessary.
Haru felt disoriented when she awoke. It was the flood of light — even with her eyes shut. The daily scent of the plumeria tree was a welcome waft into the bedroom — it assured her she was in her own bed. Accustomed to waking before dawn, she opened her eyelids only to squint into streams of golden light streaking through half-opened shutters. Silence in a household full of children. Then she heard Yoshio’s distinct laugh. He was outside.
Haru arose, leaving Kenji, who still asleep. Tying the sash of her nemaki, she traipsed outside, raising her hand to her forehead to shade her eyes from the sunlight. Her eyes hunted for the source of the laughter. Sitting hunched-over on the lawn behind the tomato vines creeping up bamboo poles she spotted Ko and the three children giggling as they cradled bowls of rice. When Takeshi saw his mother, he leapt to his feet and ran to her. Yoshio waved his chopsticks.
“You never told us about Auntie Ko, Mommy.” Takeshi looked behind him. “She has so many funny stories.” He spun his head back to Haru. “Did you really have a secret room at Granddaddy’s house?”
Haru smiled at her son’s enthusiasm and set aside her annoyance with Ko’s contrivance. She recalled Kiyoshi’s sharp words to Midori within minutes of Ko’s presenting herself at their home. “Okasan, our temple supports an orphanage. Send her there.”
What was my motivation the next morning when I rose early to prepare morning rice before Midori awoke, Haru asked herself. It was fear. Raw fear. I wanted a place to call home. What had Kiyoshi told me while waiting at the Hiroshima train station? “Remember, Haru-chan, the essence of Buddhism. One good deed is worth more than a thousand compassionate thoughts.”
Haru tussled Takeshi’s hair. “Yes, in the attic.”
Overcoming her reservations that Ko’s fawning remorse was due only to her falling on dire circumstances, Haru waved. “Thank you for the extra sleep, Ko–chan.” Despite Ko’s glib remarks about the shortage of women, unloading her quickly into a new marriage was not as easy as Ko had imagined. As an educated woman, she was an unsuitable match for the largest reservoir of single men — field hands and paniolo. But ideal marriage prospects, like lawyers or doctors, not only preferred younger women than Ko without the complication of a marriage in another country, but also women whose eyes revealed a less haunting history than Ko’s.
Haru walked over to Ko and the children, thinking, I hope you are right, honorable father, for I think this woman will be with us for a while.
To be continued . . .