Lana McGraw Boldt

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Excerpt from Flower of the Pacific

[pp 46-50]

            Entering the small front garden, she closed the gate, leaving the noisy bustle of the street beyond the wall.  She hurried up the curving rock pathway,  kicked off her shoes and went to her tiny room.  She splashed her face with the tepid water her aunts had put in the washbowl and tucked a stray strand of hair back into her bun.  It was customary for her, like the rest of the family, to make a polite report to her grandmother each evening when she returned.  Tonight she'd stopped at one of the market stalls on the way home and purchased some of the tiny oranges from the southern regions.  She was sure her grandmother would approve.  Iris stepped out of her street clothes and donned a kimono.   Again, Oba-a-san, Grandmother, should approve.  Anything to make things go more ease the tension that was tightening her stomach.  It must be the heat.
            It was strangely quiet as Iris hurried down the short corridor to the main room where her grandmother presided.  She kneeled and quietly pushed aside the paper screen, the way she'd been taught.  An ominously silent gathering greeted her as she bowed her head.
            Grandmother was seated on her customary cushion.  Sitting to her right was a guest, dressed immaculately in an olive green uniform and a soft-billed cap with a leather chin strap.  Sitting stiffly in the place of honor, he seemed filled with an importance out of proportion to his slight stature.  He was flanked by her two uncles, their faces masks of indifference.  The children sat strangely quiet at the back of the room with their mothers.  Even the baby, little Kibo, normally quite active, was sitting quietly on a pillow, seriously gumming a knotted cloth.
            Iris hesitated, then moved toward her grandmother.  "I brought you some oranges from the market, Honored Grandmother," she said in her halting Japanese.
            She glanced at the stranger and thought she saw a glimmer of approval in the tiny eyes set in his masklike face.  Something was wrong, and she sensed that somehow she'd just made it a little bit better.   Her grandmother's eyes remained cold.  Iris finally remembered to bow low to her grandmother, to each of her uncles, and then to the stranger.  Uncle Anami almost smiled.  Grandmother noticeably softened.
            "Our guest has come to talk to you," Uncle Anami said slowly, so that she could understand.  He turned to the officious man.  "Sergeant Ito, may I present the daughter of my brother, Chosu."  Iris chafed at the idea that she was so insignificant that he didn't deign even to mention her name.  However, she bowed politely.
            Sergeant Ito merely nodded.  He did not waste his time with the customary Japanese formalities.  "I understand you  were born in the United States?" he asked, with her uncle translating.
            "Yes, Sergeant Ito," Iris answered politely.  Who was this man, she wondered, and why was there such an aura of fear throughout the household?
            "However, your father and mother were born in Japan?"
            "Yes, that is correct."
            He relaxed, becoming almost congenial.  "Very good.  I have come to help you."          
            "Help me?"  Iris was puzzled.  As her uncle had translated that last line, he had smiled gratefully to Sergeant Ito.
            "Yes, it must be of great concern to you that you are not a Japanese citizen."
            Iris proceeded with caution.  There was something about this man, a moral stench, which warned her, made her search her mind for past information.  She looked at his small cruel eyes, his too-full mouth and flattened nose.  Suddenly she remembered what Inga had told her.  Kampetei!  The Thought Police.  "A Japanese citizen?" she asked, stalling, trying to think what Inga would have her say.  "I am pleased that my father sent me to learn about his native land.  I would want my own children to understand their heritage and be proud."
            Sergeant Ito beamed with approval.  As her uncle translated, the family looked relieved.  Reaching into his pocket, the sergeant pulled out an American passport.  Hers!  It must be, but how?  She carefully composed her face, while her mind raced.
            "This is how I can help," the sergeant said.  "I will take your useless passport, and we will go down this evening and register you properly in the family registry.  You are by inheritance a Japanese citizen.  Just this simple formality is keeping our records from showing it to be so.  Shall we go now?  Perhaps one of your uncles would like to accompany us?"  Uncle Anami translated rapidly, his eyes urging her to comply.
            Iris suddenly reached out and snatched her passport from the sergeant's hand.  "I'm afraid you don't understand, Sergeant Ito.  I am of Japanese descent, but I was born in the United States, I grew up, went to school there, and I intend to live there.  I am an American."  She kept her voice low, but her posture was defiant.  She knew they couldn't touch her as long as she had her passport.  She also knew that never again would she be without it, even when she was sleeping.            
            "Iris!" Uncle Anami exclaimed.
            "Please translate," she said stubbornly.  Uncle Anami bowed and apologized as he translated.
            A sudden, chilling gasp swept the room as he did so.  From the droop of her grandmother's shoulders, Iris felt she'd dealt the family a cruel blow.  Yet, she had no choice.
            Sergeant Ito measured her coldly, then suddenly stood and nodded briefly to Grandmother.  "Very well.  However,  there may come a time in the near future when you will wish to change your mind.  It is a simple matter.  Your uncle will bring you to me."  His last statement came out as an order.  He waited while Uncle Anami translated, then abruptly turned and left without a bow.
            "That was not wise," Uncle Anami said fiercely.
            "I'm sorry, but I had no choice," Iris murmured, frightened by the shock in her grandmother's eyes.
            Chilling fear crept into the room, borne on the heavy silence of the family.  Iris quickly excused herself and went to her room, declining supper.
            Each night since the second week after she'd arrived, she'd had a headache.  Tonight it was worse than ever.  She'd always thought it was caused by the fumes from the charcoal brazier, but now she knew it was also due to the constant pressure under which she was living.
            She thought of the dimpled charm of baby Kibo as he played under the flowering plum tree, of the easy laughter of Matsuko and Massaki as they flew their brightly colored kites with little-boy enthusiasm, of the musical laughter of Mieko and Hanako as they picked flowers for their mother in the summer evenings.  She'd always attributed the aloofness of her uncles and aunts, even her grandmother, to their customs and disdain for her personally, but now she realized that it was a part of their real fear of her presence in their midst.
            Yet, they would lose face if they sent her away.  She could no longer endanger them.  She would go to Yokohama this weekend and talk to Eva.  In the meantime, she had much business to tend to in Tokyo.  Inga would again be of help.
            She slid back the paper door that opened onto the back garden, then sat down and looked around her tiny room, grateful for the light breeze.  There was a strange wardrobe-type cabinet that held her futon, the thick comforter that served as a Japanese bed, and the clothes she could fit on the shelves.  The rest of the room was empty, save for her trunk, which she'd covered with a light blanket and used as a dressing table.  It hit her with cold realization.  They'd known where to find her passport.  They'd obviously searched all her possessions.  She shuddered, feeling exposed and vulnerable.
            Never again.  She closed the screen and took out  a needle and thread.  From some underwear, she fashioned a soft packet with a thin elastic belt,  in which she would carry her passport next to her - at all times.  She slipped her passport into the cloth envelope, then reached inside her kimono and pulled out the chain she always wore around her neck.  She unfastened it and slid  Cole's engagement ring off the chain she'd worn next to her heart ever since she'd boarded the freighter.  The small diamond glittered like a piece of shining hope as she slipped it on her finger one last time.  Reluctantly, with tears in her eyes, she took it off and dropped it into the packet with her passport.  From now on, all her connections with America must be hidden.
            She adjusted the slim pocket to fit at the small of her back, then rolled out the futon.  As she lay there, trying to clear her muddled mind and chase away her throbbing headache, she thought of Cole.  He was in the Philippines now.  Closer.  Somehow, the thought cheered her.

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