from Flower of the Pacific
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 smoothly...to ease the
tension that was tightening her stomach. It must be the heat.
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.
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.
then moved toward her grandmother. "I brought you some oranges from
the market, Honored Grandmother," she said in her halting Japanese.
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.
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.
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.
Sergeant Ito," Iris answered politely. Who was this man, she wondered,
and why was there such an aura of fear throughout the household?
your father and mother were born in Japan?"
that is correct."
becoming almost congenial. "Very good. I have come to help you."
me?" Iris was puzzled. As her uncle had translated that last line,
he had smiled gratefully to Sergeant Ito.
it must be of great concern to you that you are not a Japanese citizen."
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."
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.
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.
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.
Uncle Anami exclaimed.
translate," she said stubbornly. Uncle Anami bowed and apologized
as he translated.
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
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.
was not wise," Uncle Anami said fiercely.
sorry, but I had no choice," Iris murmured, frightened by the shock
in her grandmother's eyes.
fear crept into the room, borne on the heavy silence of the family. Iris
quickly excused herself and went to her room, declining supper.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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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