Sayonara by James A. Michener


  “I’ve already …”

  “Be there, Bub. Hana-ogi’s comin’.”

  THE WOODCARRIER: “Japanese girls nice to kiss—yes?”

  I cannot remember how, exactly, I got to Joe Kelly’s house that night, but when I finally turned up the alley from the canal, when at last I saw the little wooden building and the sliding paper doors my heart was hammering like thunder. I slammed the doors aside and rushed in expecting to see Hana-ogi standing there. Instead Joe and Katsumi were horsing around and cooking food. They told me to sit on the floor and from that position I watched this couple in love and it occurred to me that I myself had never lived in a house where love was. My parents loved each other in the required way and I am quite sure that General and Mrs. Webster loved each other, but it was always love for some ultimate purpose: army advancement, social position in Lancaster, children. Here I was visiting the house of love itself.

  “Joe,” I asked as we waited for Hana-ogi, “what was it you told me in Korea? American husbands talk about country clubs and getting junior’s teeth fixed?”

  “Yeah, but if they’re married to Japanese girls they talk about love.”

  “Suppose you went back to the front now …”

  “God fabbid.”

  “What would you talk about?”

  Joe held Katsumi off at arm’s length and said, “Topic for tonight. Ace, I fought to get this baby and I’m satisfied with what I got.” Then he spoke to her in Japanese and she burst into an uncontrolled giggle. She started to jam her hand into her mouth but Joe gave it a terrific belt and said, “Honest to God, Ace, it’s easier to train a dog.”

  As he said this the door opened and Hana-ogi entered. Softly and with infinite grace she slid the doors closed behind her and slipped out of her zori. She was dressed in a gray-blue kimono and her hair was rumpled. She stood so silently that Joe and Katsumi did not realize she was there; so while their backs were still turned I stumbled awkwardly to my knees and started toward her, finally gaining my feet. She laughed at my discomfort and the sound of her voice was so gentle that I was compelled to reach down and take her hands to my lips and try to kiss them, but as I did so she instinctively pulled them away and I noticed with indescribable emotion that they were a decided ivory. I stood aside to let her pass and said, “I am so glad you came.” She did not understand my words but even so she nodded in acknowledgment and I thought that she was less irritated than she had been when I tried to kiss her hand—and for my part I knew that she was twice as beautiful as I had ever seen her on the stage when she was dressed in men’s clothes.

  Katsumi now hurried forward and embraced the actress while Joe greeted her in broken Japanese, at which she laughed heartily, and I got the distinct impression that she was not at all the remote and glamorous girl I had stared at on the Bitchi-bashi, for her gentle good humor was exactly what you would expect from a good, happy country girl working in the city.

  But I had seen only two aspects of Hana-ogi and she was infinite, for when I asked Katsumi what her last name was and when Katsumi blushed and said she wouldn’t dare ask that question I insisted, and when Hana-ogi heard Katsumi translate she grew extremely angry. I couldn’t understand what was happening but Katsumi, blushing a fiery red which showed through her yellow cheeks, said, “Takarazuka girl never tell her real name.”

  “What do you mean, her real name?”

  “Her name not Hana-ogi. Only stage name.”

  “What is her real name?” I insisted.

  Katsumi spoke to the actress and the only word I understood was America and Hana-ogi grew very solemn and spoke harshly, after which Katsumi said, “She will not say her name. Even I don’t know that.”

  Joe interrupted and said, “That’s the way with all professional girls in Japan—geishas—whores …”

  “Wait a minute!” I cried. “This girl …” I reached out to take her hand, but she drew away from me and Katsumi said, “More better we eat.”

  It was a pretty formal meal. I asked a half dozen questions, none of which Hana-ogi really answered and it was not until Katsumi produced an album of Hana-ogi’s pictures that there was any real animation. Then the two girls spoke in rapid Japanese, laughed a lot and sang bits of songs from the famous shows Hana-ogi had starred in. Finally the ice thawed a bit and I learned that Hana-ogi came from the north of Japan, where a woman in a nearby village had once seen a Takarazuka show in Tokyo. This woman had suggested that Hana-ogi apply for the examinations. Her father had been killed in the B-29 raids on Tokyo. Her brother had been hung for what he did to American soldiers in a prisoner-of-war camp.

  Hana-ogi’s willingness to tell of her family encouraged me to speak and I said I had a good start in the Air Force and with my background I surely ought to become a colonel and from there on it was the roll of the dice. I said that if I did become a general I hoped I would be as good a one as my father. She asked his name and when I said Hot Shot Harry Gruver she grew silent and Katsumi said, “All Japanese know Gruver-san—Guadalcanal.” The evening grew formal again.

  Hana-ogi rose and indicated that she must go. I was deeply agitated at having seen her, having talked with her—even though it was in translation—and I did not want to have her go. I said, “Katsumi, please ask her to stay.”

  Hana-ogi replied something sharp which Katsumi refused to translate. When I insisted she stood stubbornly silent, so I appealed to Hana-ogi, who looked at me in a quiet, submissive Japanese way which betrayed no emotion but which dared me to budge her one inch. Softly, as if she were a child of seven, she said, “America … no!” I could sense in her gentle reply a finality of hatred and steel, but she bowed slightly, smiled with an infuriating complacency, and looked back at me from the sliding doors. “America … no!” she repeated softly, but long after she had gone I recalled the graceful way she bent down by the doors to put on her zori, the rare delicacy with which she arranged her kimono, so in spite of persistent apprehension that I was headed for trouble, I determined that no matter what she thought of Americans, no matter what orders Camp Kobe handed down regarding Japanese girls, I was going to see her again.

  For the next two nights nothing happened. I posted myself at the Bitchi-bashi to watch the procession of girls and when I saw Hana-ogi, her hair in the wind, step upon the bridge at the opposite end, my heart actually hammered like one of those riveting machines you fix airplane wings with. God, she was like a medieval princess walking out from the palace. She was so straight and proud and sure of herself. And her black eyes shining out like fires from her golden face …

  “Son, you got it bad!” Mike Bailey warned me on the second night.

  “I’m going to see that girl. Tomorrow.”

  “Son, are you taking this seriously?”

  I turned to look at Mike and he seemed to be a complete stranger. “Don’t you take Fumiko seriously?” I asked. “Who started this, anyway?”

  “Fumi-chan?” he laughed. “Son, a Marine has to be involved with a pretty girl or he isn’t a Marine. But who could get serious over a Takarazuka girl? They got sawdust for hearts.”

  “What is this?” I asked. “A little while ago you were telling me …”

  Mike scratched his head and said, “I had a cousin once who came to stay with me right before a big high-school basketball game. I looked at the ugly little squirt and said, ‘Hell, he can’t be gettin’ measles.’ But he was and I was quarantined. Son, I think you’re gettin’ measles.”

  I said, “Tomorrow night I’m going to storm that Bitchi-bashi and I’m going to have a date with that girl.”

  “Son,” Mike said, “you can’t have measles but, by God, there are the red spots!”

  Prudently he stayed away from the bridge on that third night and as the first Takarazuka girls crossed I felt my heart hammering again and soon there was Hana-ogi, accompanied by three other stars, and I stepped right into the middle of them and took Hana-ogi’s hand and brought its yellow knuckles right up to my lips and kissed it. Then
I said, “I have got to see you,” but none of the girls spoke English and Hana-ogi drew her hand away and started to leave, but I no longer gave a damn so I grabbed her by the shoulder and swung her around and kissed her on the lips. We kept our eyes open and I remember that in this crazy moment I could not tell whether her eyes were slanted or not, but they were very black, like the sky at night.

  She pushed me away and crossed the bridge and I heard behind me the muttering of Japanese men and I thought, “Oh damn, a public mess and I’ll be court-martialed,” but when I turned there was no animosity. The men were laughing and one old fellow with a load of wood on his back pointed at some more Takarazuka girls approaching on the bridge and made motions encouraging me to kiss them too, but I hurried back to the Marine Barracks, where Mike Bailey greeted me with a pair of field glasses and the crack, “It looked good, son. The subtle approach. Grrrrr.”

  I said, “I promised to see her tonight. I did.”

  He said, “Ace, don’t let this thing get you. If you want to make a play for a pretty actress—O.K. But don’t let it get you. Frankly, you looked silly as hell down there on the bridge.”

  In a few minutes a Japanese boy appeared with a message for Mike and he said, “Fumi-chan wants to see me in the restaurant. She wants you to come along.”

  When we got there Makino-san, the cook, had already heard of my behavior and he gave me hell. “Very important in Japan these girls. You do much wrong, Ace-san.”

  “What did I do?” I demanded. “I kissed a girl.”

  “A Takarazuka girl,” he said with reverence. Before he could argue further Fumiko-san appeared, extremely beautiful and very feminine. She did not cry but she did plead with me and said that something like that could ruin a Takarazuka girl and that if Hana-ogi ever lost her job her mother and her younger sisters … “She very poor, Hana-ogi,” Fumiko told me.

  “What do you mean?” I asked.

  “You Americans not know what poor is. Hana-ogi never tasted meat until she came Takarazuka. Never had one nice clothes. Ace-san, you not speak her again—please?”

  She told me that Hana-ogi’s only chance in life—her one opportunity to escape from terrible poverty—was Takarazuka. “I know this girl,” she said solemnly. “Before she come for examination not eat for three days to get … How you …” She indicated a permanent wave.

  She said there was already a likelihood that Hana-ogi might become one of the rare lucky ones—kept on at Takarazuka forever “as teacher of the dancing” when her days as an actress were over. “Here is good life for Hana-ogi-san. There is no other.”

  I asked Fumiko why she risked seeing Mike Bailey and she laughed. “I not great actress. I not poor girl. My family making lots of money again.”

  Then she pleaded, “Do not come to the bridge again, Ace-san. Please?”

  I wanted to see Hana-ogi, I wanted to see her eyes close to mine and her golden face pressed against my lips, but I said, “I promise.” To my surprise Fumiko-san kissed me, her beautiful Japanese face leaning across the table, and she said, “American men so good. Even when Hana-ogi-san come home tonight and say, ‘American men no good,’ I speak her they all right.”

  But although I kept my promise not to haunt the bridge it meant nothing, for the very next morning Joe Kelly wheeled up to Itami Air Field and said with real joy, “Dinner again tonight, Ace!”

  My heart must have bled out through my eyes, for he laughed and said, “Yep. Hana-ogi came into Osaka late last night and talked with Katsumi for three hours.”

  “What did she say?”

  “How should I know?” And he rattled off a jumble of Japanese.

  I wish that throughout the rest of my life I could occasionally know the excitement that captured me that night. I shaved at Itami, polished my shoes and set out for Osaka. I went nearly crazy in a tiny Japanese taxicab. The driver was all smiles and said yes, he understood just where I wanted to go, but we wound up in hell, I think, and in desperation I had to get a little boy to lead us back to the main station and I went to Joe’s house on foot. I thrust back the sliding doors and cried, “Hana-ogi, I … But she was not there. Katsumi was alone, singing to herself as she prepared dinner. I sat on the floor and watched her time-christened movements over the charcoal stoves that Japanese women have used for centuries. For them there were no can openers, no frozen foods. Each item was laboriously prepared by hand and as Katsumi did this ancient work she hummed old songs and it seemed to me that she grew lovelier each day—but how truly lovely I was to learn in a few minutes.

  For little Joe Kelly came busting into the house trembling with anger. He threw a package on the floor and cried, “This son-of-a-bitch of a colonel!”

  I bad heard Joe sound off against officers before and I tried to tone him down, but this time he had real cause. “This bastard, Colonel Calhoun Craford! He rides me. Every damned day he rides me.”

  I happened to be watching Katsumi at the brazier. She never looked up, but I could see a terrible tenseness come over her entire body. Her ankles, in their white tabi socks, trembled slightly and I knew she was desperately afraid for her man.

  For I had heard of this Calhoun Craford, a tough guy who hated colored people. Joe said, “Every guy in that outfit who’s married to a Japanese girl goes through hell with this bastard Craford.”

  Katsumi, aware that Joe’s trouble had been caused by her, now left the charcoal brazier and came into the middle of the room. She pushed Joe down onto a pillow and took off his shoes. “You not to come on tatami with shoes, Joe,” she said softly. She brought him a tiny cup of hot sake wine and when he had drunk this she led him into the other room where there was a Japanese bath and soon I could hear tensed up little Joe Kelly, the dead-end kid, sloshing about in the tub while his patient wife soused him with cold water and rubbed his back. After a while they joined me and Joe scratched himself under the dark blue kimono Katsumi had made him. He said, “To hell with Colonel Craford. Look what I got!” And he produced a bottle of Italian wine which Katsumi took.

  Then, as we heard the soft click of zori on the alley stones, we all fell silent and I think Joe and Katsumi were as excited as I, although their hearts couldn’t have been pounding as hard. The paper doors slid back and there was Hana-ogi in a green-and-gold kimono, her lips slightly parted in a smile, her brilliant eyes glowing from her night walk and her jet black hair mussed by the wind that blew along the canal. She started to speak but I caught her in my arms and kissed her. This time we closed our eyes, but when we finally drew apart—for she was kissing me too—she passed the back of her hand across her forehead and I think she knew then that for a girl dedicated to Takarazuka and a man dedicated to American military life love could result only in tragedy, and she pushed my hand away from hers and gently removed her zori and sat down on the tatami and spoke quietly to Katsumi, who spoke to Joe in Japanese, and all three of them fumbled around, not knowing how to translate what Hana-ogi had said, so she held out her hand to me and invited me to sit upon the mats beside her, and finally Katsumi said, “She not mad no more.”

  After dinner Katsumi said, “Joe, we take walk.” Hana-ogi did not protest and as soon as the fragile doors slid shut I took her in my arms.

  We sat upon the mats unable to say a word. I put my finger on her wonderful face and said, “Nice,” but she could not understand. She gave me some instructions in Japanese but all I could do was shrug my shoulders, so she laughed and grabbed my big toe and pulled my cramped legs out straight and patted my knees, indicating that I must be stiff from sitting Japanese style. Then she made a pillow for my head in her lap and in that way we continued our meaningless conversation on the tatamis.

  It was apparent to each of us that we would meet many times, but that when she passed me on the Bitchi-bashi she would look straight ahead and it was also apparent that she intended us to be lovers—but not on this first quiet night—and that as the days went by we would postpone one decision after another until finally some external force,
say Takarazuka or General Webster, intervened to make the climactic decisions for us, but as she looked down at me with calm eyes, as her wonderful hands held my face and as her slim, graceful legs stretched out at last beside mine on the tatami mats, one question at least was answered. I had often wondered how a self-respecting American could get excited about a Japanese girl. Now I knew.

  When it came time to leave, Hana-ogi refused to be seen with me on the street and caught a train back to Takarazuka. Joe drove me over to Itami, where I took the bus to Takarazuka, but something must have delayed Hana-ogi’s train, because when I got to my room and looked out at the Bitchi-bashi, there was Hana-ogi crossing it in the April moonlight. I rushed down to speak with her but she passed proudly by, her cream-colored zori going pin-toed along the railroad track to her dormitory.

  I didn’t sleep much that night because when I got back to my room I found a letter which had been delivered by special messenger. It contained a routine reminder of recent orders issued by Camp Kobe and along the foot in capital letters I read: ANY PUBLIC DISPLAY WHATEVER OF AFFECTION FOR A JAPANESE NATIONAL BY A MEMBER OF THIS COMMAND IS FORBIDDEN. OFFICERS SHOULD NOT EVEN APPEAR ON PUBLIC STREETS ACCOMPANIED BY WOMEN OF THE INDIGENOUS PERSONNEL.

  I knew that I was entangled in a ridiculous situation, for I could not walk with Hana-ogi in the city and she could not walk with me in the town. If General Webster caught me dating a Japanese girl I would be disciplined and if the Takarazuka people heard of Hana-ogi dating an American she would be fired from the Moon Troupe. It seemed like something borrowed from the play I was in at St. Leonard’s. Then I was a prince trying to prevent my niece from marrying a penniless schoolteacher. The kid who played the schoolteacher was a miserable drip in real life and I remember that on-stage I became pretty outraged, but now it was happening to me, and Mrs. Webster riding herd on me and the Takarazuka railroad company protecting their investment in Hana-ogi were going to be a lot tougher than a Ruritanian prince played by seventeen-year-old Lloyd Gruver.

 
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