Editor’s note: We continue Michael G. Malaghan’s serialized historical novel, “Picture Bride,” based on the Japanese immigrant experience. Malaghan’s trilogy will take 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 from Amakusa fleeing her home for Hiroshima, where she becomes the picture bride of a Buddhist priest in Hawai‘i.
Mike Malaghan is a retired businessman who divides his time between Hawai‘i, Florida and Japan. “Picture Bride,” in serialized form, can be read in the second issue of the every month’s Hawai‘i Herald. (Parts Two and Three of Chapter 1 were published in our May 16, 2014, edition.)
PART ONE: FLIGHT
Amakusa Island – Kyüshü, Japan – October 1904
At the entrance to her home, Haru watched as the flickering oil lamps in the village faded into blackness. Where were her parents, she wondered. She was just about to return to the town when she saw them striding down the path with a purpose she had seldom seen. But what really caught her attention was the woman walking with them — Fumiyo Osawa, the wife of the Buddhist priest.
When Haru heard what the three adults had to say, she stared incomprehensively.
“Can this really happen?”
“I will give the contract man his money back when he comes for you in the morning,” her father said with a feigned assurance.
“But the contract man will want Haru, not the money,” Fumiyo said firmly to dash any thought Haru might have that she could somehow stay.
Haru burst into tears.
“There is no time for crying, Haru-chan,” Fumiyo said, sternly. “We must make it to the port before dawn.”
Haru took but a few minutes to wrap all she owned in a scarf. She bowed to her parents and followed Fumiyo out the open door. At the bend in the river, she paused and turned around. The crescent moon broke through the clouds, illuminating her parents, bent by age and circumstance like sculptured tree trunks in an outdoor museum. She felt a tug on her elbow.
“We must hurry, child,” said Fumiyo in an urgent whisper.
Haru and Fumiyo trekked through the night to reach the other side of Amakusa. Susano followed. The first rooster crowed as an exhausted Fumiyo rapped on the heavy wooden door of a brick house fronted with a Japanese rock garden.
Although surprised by their predawn visit, the young man welcomed the weary hikers into his home. Itagaki Shigenobu made a pot of tea and listened. Fumiyo’s nephew managed a coalmine for Mitsubishi. He shipped the coal to Hiroshima, which had become the homeport of the Japanese navy since the Russian war began. Shigenobu abhorred the Amakusa tradition of selling their children and was eager to help this young girl, whose beauty showed through her fright and exhaustion. He understood why the procurers coveted her.
“My coaling ship has been loading all night for an early morning departure,” he told Fumiyo. “I will see to it that Haru is on that ship.”
Fumiyo gave Haru 50 yen and a letter of introduction to her sister, also was married to a Buddhist priest, but living in Hiroshima. “I must head back now so I won’t be missed.” Fumiyo’s pitted face glowed. She had saved one.
Haru-san’s parents had much to do. They scoured the few pots they owned and beat their tattered futon in the moonlight, rolling it neatly into the corner of their hut. And then they bathed together in the river. Haru’s mother stooped to whisk the dirt floor while her father fidgeted outside. They left the door open for the contract man to enter at sunrise.
As they hurried under the shifting moonlight, they reminisced — the relentless taxes, the poor soil, the typhoons that brought too much rain at the wrong time.
Haru’s father apologized for his gambling.
His wife gave him a gift. “Do you remember the night you came home with 500 yen? A fortune. You took me to the hot springs . . . the only time we slept outside our home — if you don’t count the typhoons when we stayed in the temple.” She didn’t remind her husband that he had promised to buy cement to make a real floor, but lost his brief stake the next sake-drenched evening.
“That’s the night we made Haru,” her husband said, allowing a rare smile.
Then they did something they had never done in their 33 years of marriage. They held hands. They recalled their other daughters’ last visit during the August obon festival. They shared worries over their misguided son.
“Do you think Haru has reached the port?” her mother asked.
While her husband did not know, he returned his wife’s gift. “I am certain of it. Did you not listen to Osawa-san? By this time tomorrow, Haru will be arriving in Hiroshima. Think of it . . . our daughter living in a big temple in Hiroshima. Going to school.”
“We did the right thing,” Haru’s mother said, uncertainty tinging her voice.
Her husband squeezed her hand. “Arigato, Okasan.”
“Yes, Okasan, for giving me a last chance to be a good father.”
They walked silently to the edge of the cliff. The wind lulled. Tiny whitecaps winked 500 feet below. Above, the clouds had cleared. The sky sparkled. They sat down back-to-back. Haru-chan’s mother reached behind her and intertwined her hair with her husband’s.
“It is done, Otosan.”
They wiggled up. Once standing, they reached behind to clutch the other’s hands. They sidestepped to the edge.
They did not flinch.
To be continued in the July 18, 2014, edition . . .