Sayonara by James A. Michener

  Teruko-san was transformed. Instead of a gracious elderly lady she became a vigorous, stage-stamping dancer much better than even her best pupil. She led them through one single step for a long time and I detected one or two girls who looked as if they might honestly become dancers and I realized that Teruko-san had intended that I see in these struggling children—they were fifteen I judged—the Hana-ogi of some years back and as I looked at these lovely faces now perspiring as Hana-ogi did when she had run through the alleys to our home, I could imagine the days and years she had studied.

  When the girls left, Teruko-san said, “I have wanted you to understand exactly what you are doing.” She led me to the gate and to my surprise dismissed the interpreter and walked with me back to the dormitory, which was deserted in the late afternoon. She nodded to the guard and took me to a small room, pushed aside the paper door and told me to enter saying, “Hana-ogi.”

  The room was as beautiful as the girl I loved. Along one wall were the lacquered drawers and trays and chests in which she kept her belongings. The rest of the room was bare and clean and glimmering. There were eight creamy white tatami, so it was not a big room, and six bright cushions around a very old brazier of gold and green ceramic in which charcoal rested on a pile of gleaming white sand. A low table and four jet-black bowls for food completed the furniture except for one shelf which held copies of the plays Hana-ogi had acted in. The only ornamentation was a single Japanese print in excellent colors of a bridge suspended in the moonlight over a rocky gorge with a crescent moon low in the sky. I felt that I was growing to understand Japanese prints, and the more I understood them the more I liked them.

  But this time Teruko-san had been too clever, for it had been her intention that I see this room and lament that I was taking Hana-ogi from it; but it had quite the opposite effect. The room cried out in the late afternoon shadows that I should go ahead and marry its owner. No woman so vital as Hana-ogi could be destined for so narrow a prison. The wood of the room was beautiful, but Hana-ogi was more so. The tatami were neat, the books were important and the Japanese print no doubt represented one of the peaks of art—but so did Hana-ogi, and in addition she was a glorious woman, one who delighted in hurrying through the dark alleys of Osaka to join the man she loved.

  But if her room gave me permission to love her, what I saw next gave me a direct order to do so, for as Teruko-san and I passed down the hall from Hana-ogi’s room I happened to look through sliding doors that were ajar and saw the room next to Hana-ogi’s.

  It was remarkable in that it was also of only eight tatami, but it was crowded with dolls and fluffy brown bears and pillows edged with pink and blue lace streamers and tables with birds blown out of glass and corners filled with delightful odds and ends. It was the room of a young girl who enjoyed all aspects of life and it abounded in that happy clutter so loved by people who don’t have to make up their minds. I looked at Teruko-san and she said, “Fumiko-san.” Then she pointed to the table, low and exquisitely carved in the ornate Chinese style, and with no English at her command told me that that was the table Fumiko-san’s father used when he committed hara-kiri in the debacle of August, 1945. The room frightened me and I wanted to get out of it.

  At the entrance to the dormitory I bowed very low and said, “Domo arigato gozaimasu, Teruko-san.” She was pleased that I spoke even that trivial Japanese, so she bowed equally low and said, “Do itashi mashite, dozo,” and I hurried to the train that would take me back to Osaka just as fast as possible.

  How can I recall the journey of a young man desperately in love as he moves across the picture-book landscape of Japan to a city of canals where he will meet his beloved? My train crossed the Muko River and I could see the Bitchi-bashi, where I had often waited for Hana-ogi and where young girls now passed swirling their green skirts. For a few seconds I followed the footpath that led to the dormitory and here four of the great stars walked arm in arm. At the dormitory itself I saw Fumiko-san entering the dark and towering wall of cryptomerias.

  Now I was in the countryside and I could see the rice fields crowding right up to the last inch of railroad tie. Beyond were the trim clean villages with roofs of red tile and temple roofs of golden tile. In the fields were old men pulling harrows and women digging, while along the village streets children laughed and played loud jumping games.

  There was a momentary thrill as the train pulled into the junction town of Nishinomiya, for I knew that when I looked across the station platform I would see a gigantic poster for Swing Butterfly with a huge picture of Hana-ogi in the middle. I spent my time waiting for the through express, wondering what the people on that platform would think if they could have known that in a few endless minutes I would be with Hana-ogi and she would be slipping into a gray and blue kimono so that she could sit upon the floor with me for a howl of cold fish and vinegar rice?

  The express from Kobe roared in and I avoided the coach where the officers of General Webster’s command sat very formally in freshly pressed uniforms. Instead I sought out a back car from which I caught glimpses of the Inland Sea and soon we came to where the river emptied into the sea through great concrete culverts, and promptly we entered Osaka itself, where the train plunged through a canyon of ugly houses hung with laundry and into a tunnel which brought me to the noisy, crowded station. As I approached the canal I was alive with excitement. I was young and I was coming to the end of a journey that I wished I might make each day of my life: from Takarazuka to Osaka, where Hana-ogi was waiting.

  And when I reached home the wonder of my journey was increased, for there was Hana-ogi waiting for me with the news that Joe had driven a colonel to Tokyo and Katsumi would be gone for two days on business of her own. Once more we had a home to ourselves. I slipped into my blue-and-white cotton kimono and shared cold fish and rice with her. When the meal was over I said, “Teruko-san came to see me today. She showed me her dancing school. The one that could be yours some day. Now I know why you want to stay at Takarazuka.”

  She sighed and said she was glad that I understood why she could not come with me to America, but I added, “And I also saw your little room. With the lovely print.” I made my hands fall like the gorge in her solitary picture. At this she blushed and held her hand against the stray-hair sideburns along her cheek. I said, “And when I saw that bare room which holds you like a prisoner—no life—no one to love …”

  I caught her in my arms and a tremendous surge of love attacked us and later when I lay upon the tatami watching her select her clothes for tomorrow I said, “So we’ll be married as soon as possible. You’ll love New York. You can see hundreds of shows, some like Takarazuka, but none of the actresses will be beautiful like you.”

  I was imagining her in New York, so I rose and showed her how she could pull the wanton hair that crept upon her cheeks up into place. She did so and studied herself in a mirror. “Now you look like an American girl,” I said. She pulled the hair back down and said, “Japanese way more better.” But I convinced her that if she wanted to she could look almost American, so she tucked her hair in and the Japanese sideburns were gone. This sounds strange, but I believe that on a New York street few would recognize that she was from Japan.

  PHARMACIST’S MATE: “In Kobe there’s this guy who can straighten her eyes for eight bucks.”

  In the morning I begged her to stay with me to the last minute, but she insisted upon leaving early and asked me to call a taxi. I recall the language we had finally invented for ourselves:

  Hana-ogi: Rroyd-san, you takushi preeze. (Please get a taxi)

  I: Daijobu, I takushi, get, ne? (All right, I’ll get one.)

  Hana-ogi: I rike stay with you. Keredomo I train go, honto (But I must catch the train, really.)

  I: More sukoshi stay, kudasai. (Stay a little longer, please.)

  Hana-ogi: Dekinai, Rroyd-san. No can stay. (I’m sorry. I can’t stay.)

  I: Do shi’te, whatsahurry? (Hey, why hurry?)

  Hana-ogi: Anone
! Takarazuka, my job-u, ne? I job-u go, ne? (Listen, I have a job.)

  I: Chotto, chotto goddamn matte! Takarazuka ichi-ji start now. Ima only 10 o’clock, ne? (Wait a minute!)

  Hana-ogi: Anone! Rroyd-san, you mess my hair, ne? I beauty saron go, make nice, desho? (Desho is the sweet meaningless word which makes the sentences of Japanese girls musical and tender.)

  I: No, no, no. Anone! You takusan steky now. (Listen! You’re plenty pretty now.)

  But she left, nevertheless, and my last warning was that she must have her hair done American style. Toward evening Joe blew in with some Suntory, the Japanese whisky we had both come to like so much, and we had a quiet celebration while we waited for the girls and pretty soon Hana-ogi arrived in her new hair-do. It was a transformation. “Wow!” I cried. “She could walk down Fifth Avenue and knock them all dead.” She blushed nervously and I believe she would have been pleased with her American look except that Katsumi arrived and ruined everything.

  She had bandages over her eyes and peered out through slits. Joe immediately guessed that she had been in an accident but I remember looking with a certain agony at Hana-ogi and muttering to myself, “Oh, damn it to hell! She’s gone and had that lousy operation!”

  And I was right. Dear, good Katsumi wanted more than anything else to look like an American. Then Joe would be proud when he took her home; so on the first day he had left her alone she had sneaked over to the quack doctor in Kobe. For eight dollars he had slashed her upper eyelids to make the Mongolian fold fall back into place. He had performed this operation over a thousand times and sometimes his remodeling enabled girls to lose their Japanese look completely.

  Proudly Katsumi stood before us and dropped away her bandages. Joe cried, “What have you done?”

  Even more proudly the little girl opened her eyes slowly, one by one. “Now I have good eyes,” she said.

  The result was horrible. I gasped and Hana-ogi looked away. But Joe just stood there. He was about six feet from her when she turned to face him and he could see that what had been a glorious and typical Japanese face was now a conglomeration. I was watching Joe but no one could ever guess what he thought just then. Once he started to speak but stopped. Then he went over and kissed his wife and said, “By damn, Katsumi, you look more like an American than I do.”

  “I so proud,” she said, dropping her new face against his arms.

  There was a moment of silent intensity in the room and then Hana-ogi said, “Rroyd-san, we walk take, ne?” Joe looked at me and asked belligerently, “Whatsamatta, anythin’ wrong?” and I replied, “Nothing at all. I think Katsumi looks swell.”

  But as soon as Hana-ogi and I reached the canal she cried, “Why she do that? She not proud to be Japanese?” Deftly she thrust her two forefingers onto her upper lids and pulled them up into mere slits, crying, “I like Japanese eye. I like!” Then she started to sob and I tried to comfort her, but she pushed me away and with strong fingers clawed down the strands of hair that I had tucked up and they fell upon her cheeks in the Japanese style. As she did this her fingernails caught in her flesh and a thin stream of blood trickled down to her chin. I tried to wipe it away but she cried, “I proud to be Japanese. I not want to be American. I like Tokyo, not New York.”

  I had to stand there in the cool night and watch her slapping at her face until the blood stopped. Then she turned to me defiantly and said, “You no like Japanese girl, eh? You ashamed Japanese face. You want me cut my eyes, too?”

  I put my arm about her and kissed the torn skin. I said, “When you pulled your eyes far up you looked like the Utamaro print. You were beautiful But that day in Kyoto I wasn’t prepared for such beauty.”

  I was about to say more when she clutched my arm and whispered, “Ssssh!” pointing to a group of young streetwalkers lounging by the canal They were the unlucky ones who had not been able to grab onto a O.I. for the night. Osaka was a leave city for our troops in Korea and had accumulated more streetwalkers than any other city in the world, so that any one girl’s chances were slim. They recognized Hana-ogi and gathered about her.

  “Is it true,” they asked, “that you are marrying an American?”

  When she said she didn’t know they were depressed, for to them the highest dream they could envisage was to trap a G.I. who might take them to the States, but they knew there was little chance, for American chaplains and Japanese secret police investigated all girls, and prostitutes were weeded out. Unemployed for the night, they pressed in on Hana-ogi and asked, “Have you a picture?” She had none, so they produced strips of paper on which she printed her name in the Chinese characters used for all names. One of the girls studied her signature and asked, “What’s your real name, Hana-ogi?”

  At first the actress refused to say, then, feeling deep in the Japanese mood, she said softly, “My name was Kaji.” Immediately the girl touched Hana-ogi on the wrist and cried, “You are kaji, kaji!” Then she twisted her hands high into the air.

  I asked what this meant and Hana-ogi said, “In Japanese my real name means fire.”

  One of the girls who knew English struck a lighter some G.I. had given her and cried, “Fire, fire!”

  Another girl quickly called, “Cigaretto, Major?” I passed a package around and in the night I could see a ring of little flames, and later Hana-ogi said defiantly, “I am proud to be an actress for such girls—for all the girls in Nihon.”

  When the streetwalkers had departed I resumed my argument and asked, “What did you mean when you said you didn’t know if you were marrying an American?”

  She made a sign with her hands, like a flame falling through night air, and said, “The fire goes out.”

  “No!” I cried “There are some fires that never go out.”

  She leaned against a tree growing near the canal and said, “Long ago Teruko-san loved the Supervisor. They were very happy and were going to commit suicide at Kegon Falls. But they didn’t and now he’s a famous man and she’s a famous woman and they meet sometimes and have tea. She speak me today.”

  “But the flame didn’t go out—or she’d have forgotten. Believe me, the flame was still there.”

  Then she said an astonishing thing. “You’ll go home and marry Eileen …”

  “Eileen?” I cried. “Where did you hear …” I had never spoken her name.

  “Yes,” she said. “You marry Eileen (she pronounced it Eireen) your father tell me.”

  “My father?”

  “Yes. General Hot Shot Harry. He come see me late one night.”

  Bitterly I kicked the earth, for I could feel my father ordering things again. “Did he talk you into this?” I demanded.

  “No! He say if I want to marry you O.K., but he know I never do it.”

  “What did he tell you?”

  “He very nice, very kind man. He speak you marry Eileen. I think so too.”

  I pleaded, “Don’t believe what he said. Years ago he dragged me into a life … I’ve done all right but it was never my decision.”

  She touched the insignia on my blouse and asked, “You no happy? Air Force?”

  I cried, “It’s been one life … I’ve liked it … But there could be others.”

  She grasped my hand tightly and said, “Sometimes I have been afraid of you because you are in uniform. My brother was in uniform and he became cruel. Your army hang him. I am afraid of uniforms.” Then she put her head on my shoulder and said, “But you—your father—good men.”

  I was deeply agitated and struggled desperately to get down—for once in my life—to the hard bed rock of living. I said, “Hanayo, you are the hope of my life. If you leave me all the things …”

  She said in Japanese, “I know, Rroyd. For me you are also the key. With you I could become a woman and a mother and we could travel in London. I could love you and help you …”

  She became exquisitely tender and I knew then that with her as my wife I could find the solid basis for existence that had so far escaped me; and I was aware th
at for her, too, I was the only escape she could ever know. If she rejected me now she could become only the glorious outline of a woman, imprisoned in little rooms or on mammoth stages—loved only by other women.

  I lifted her in the air and cried, “Then we’ll be married?”

  She stared at me and said, “No.”

  I dropped her gently to the bank and kissed her impassive, golden face, thinking bitterly of the stories I had read about white men in strange lands. Always the yellow girl tried to seduce these clean-cut men away from their decent white sweethearts, for everyone knew that yellow girls plotted evil ways to lure white men. And if the yellow girls succeeded the white men sank lower and lower toward barbarism. “Damn it,” I cried, “this story’s all loused up!” When Hana-ogi looked up in surprise I said, “I’m a West Point honor man. In the story you’re supposed to beg me to marry you. Hanayo-chan, please beg me.”

  She started to laugh at my comic plea, but then I think she glimpsed the empty years that faced her, for she took my hands and held them to her face, confessing in a tone of Japanese doom, “I don’t want to become the lonely old woman who teaches dancing.” (I recall her words: “I not grad be woman old in house dance teach no man come.”)

  Her lament burned my heart and I cried, “Then marry me.”

  This time she answered in a lower voice, still freighted with that inevitable sense of tragedy that seems to haunt the Japanese, “I never intended marrying you, Rroyd-san. Japanese-American marriages are no good. We read about Japanese girls in America—what happened in Cedar Rapids.”

  “Then why did you come to live with me?” I demanded in anguish.

  She pressed her lovely head against mine and said softly in Japanese, “I know it was wrong. But for me it was my only chance in life to love a man. No Japanese man would marry me—what the man in museum told you. Oh, maybe a fish-catch boy or a rice-plant boy, maybe such a man would have me. But Japanese men are very cruel to wives like me. Rroyd-san, in all the world you were the only man I dare love.”

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