Sayonara by James A. Michener


  She started to cry, the bitter lament for a section of her life coming to an end at age twenty-nine. It was hellish to be there with her, to hear her committing herself to the inverted world of the Takarazuka girls and the green, flowing skirts and me to airplanes and the management of war. I grasped her bands and cried, “Hanayo-chan! Please! It’s our lives you’re speaking of. Marry me!”

  Limply and in despair she drew her hands away. Then, raising her arms as if to embrace the entire sleeping city of Osaka she said with tragic finality, “I Japanese. I always Japanese. I never be happy nowhere.” (As she said it: “I nebber be grad.”) Then the misery of her heart overcame her and she started to cry again. Looking down, to keep her tears from me, she saw one of the crumpled Kodak envelopes used by the P.X.’s in Japan. One of the prostitutes, photographed by some soldier lover, had discarded it. Delicately Hana-ogi stooped for the orange paper and pressed it out. Then with an achingly beautiful hand she pointed to the trademark used by Kodak in Japan: that tremendous and sacred statue of Buddha at Kamakura, the ancient capital. Its vast, impassive face was enshrined as a symbol of the Japanese nation and slowly Hana-ogi’s hand left it and indicated her own symbolic face with its beautiful Japanese eyes and classic mouth. “One poet say my face same like this face of Kamakura. I very proud.” Then in a tender, forgiving gesture she pointed to our dark alley and asked sadly, “Katsumi-san marry American boy, ne? What happen to her, desho?”

  The answer to that one arrived next day in the form of a special Fourth of July present for Joe Kelly, our overseas hero. We had celebrated the holiday by sneaking out into the country with a couple of picnic baskets. In the distance we had heard fireworks going off in some village near Kyoto and Katsumi had said, “Japanese love to celebrate. Even American holidays we enjoy.” But when we got back to Osaka, Joe found the fateful letter tucked under the door. We had all known it must arrive soon but even so we were unprepared. Joe’s hands trembled as he read the bad news.

  “They sending you home?” I asked.

  “Yep,” he said weakly.

  He showed me the sheet of paper which I at once recognized as one not intended for enlisted men to see, and my West Point training welled up. “How’d you get hold of this?”

  “A friend of a friend,” he said.

  I read the impersonal phrases which two months before would have meant nothing to me. “American military personnel married to Japanese wives will be rotated home immediately lest their allegiance to the United States be eroded.” Farther down it said, “This applies especially to personnel whose marriages have occurred since April 1, 1952.” Then there was the usual baloney passage about commanders providing every assistance to men who must make unusual arrangements for wives forced to remain in Japan.

  Joe asked bitterly, “What do they mean by unusual arrangements? Getting her a job in a good whore house?”

  “Joe, take it easy!”

  “It ain’t easy to take.”

  “Joe, I’ve seen hundreds of orders like this. They all peter out.”

  “I think they mean it this time, Ace. Should I write to my Congressman?”

  In spite of my original feelings on this point I now said, “Take it clear to the President, Joe.” I turned and kissed blackened-eyes Katsumi on the cheek and said, “I wish we had a million gals like you back home,”

  Joe said, “This is important to you, Ace, because one of these days you may be tryin’ to bring Hanayo into the States.”

  “I’m already trying,” I said. Then desperately I added, “Hanayo can’t make up her mind but I started the paper work this morning. Just in case.” I noticed that Hana-ogi gasped at this and was about to protest, but Joe interrupted by pointing to the corners of the wood-and-paper house.

  “I had it good here,” he said grimly. “Wonderful wife, baby comin’, friends, a home. Well, that’s the way the ball bounces.” As he surveyed the impending ruin he took refuge in the phrase which our men across Korea had adopted as their reaction to the dismal tricks of war: “That’s the way the ball bounces.”

  For Joe the ball took an evil twist. An implementing letter arrived next day with a cold, hard list of the men who were to be sent home and under the K’s Joe found his name. He took the list immediately to Lt.Col. Craford, who said, “I told you you were goin’ home. I got four men on that list. Everyone of ’em’s been in to cry the blues.”

  “But my wife is havin’ a baby.”

  “All wives have babies. That’s what wives are for.”

  “Can I be transferred back to Korea?”

  The colonel grunted, “You’re the fourth guy who would rather go back to war in Korea than go home to the States. You really prefer Korea?”

  Joe saw a chance to remain in the area and cried eagerly, “Yes!”

  Lt.Col. Craford turned away in disgust and said, “It’s disgraceful when a man prefers Japan to America, but when he’d rather go back to Korea it’s insanity.”

  “Then I can go?” Joe begged.

  “No!” Craford shouted. “You get to hell home. All of you Jap-lovers, get home where you belong.” He looked at Joe’s papers and asked, “Where is your home?”

  Joe said, “Osaka.”

  Craford flushed and said, “I mean your real home.”

  “Osaka,” Joe repeated doggedly.

  Craford banged the desk and shouted, “You get out of here. I oughta court-martial you.”

  Without thinking Joe caught him up on it. “Would that mean I could stay in Japan?”

  Craford became apoplectic and sputtered, “All right, wise guy. All right. When the shipping list comes out you won’t have to look. Because your name is gonna be first.”

  When Joe reported all this I got sore. I’ve watched my father deal with hundreds of human problems and although he’s as tough a general as they come, he always puts men first. In France there was a saying in his outfit: “If your wife is dying, don’t bother with the colonel. He’ll say no. See General Gruver. He’ll say yes.” So I told Joe, “You hate the military, kid, but this isn’t standard. I’ll fight this all the way to General Webster.”

  I caught the train to Kobe and when we stopped at Nishinomiya there was the poster of Hana-ogi smiling down at me.

  General Webster didn’t smile. For the first three minutes he never gave me a chance to get a word in. “Who in hell do you think was just in here?” he concluded. “The Supervisor of the Keihanshin Kyuko Railroad!” He waited for this to take effect, but I didn’t comprehend, so he said in disgust, “The railroad that runs the theater where you’ve distinguished yourself—beyond the call of duty.”

  I waited for the explosion but there was none. General Webster smiled pleasantly and said, “It’s all been settled. The Japanese-American scandal has been solved by the Webster-Ishikawa negotiations.” He bowed and said, “His name was Ishikawa.”

  Mimicking a diplomat he continued, “The terms of the Webster-Ishikawa treaty are these.” He handed me a sheaf of stapled papers and said, “You fly back to Randolph Field. The actress girl goes to Tokyo.”

  “When?” I cried.

  “Both of you exit these parts on July 10—five days.”

  Then, to my amazement, he insisted that I have lunch with him, and when we got to the Officers Club Mrs. Webster and Eileen were waiting. We conducted ourselves with the punctilious indifference you give a man who has returned from a leprosarium, but Mrs. Webster was too old a veteran of the social battlefields to play such a game for long. Her opening salvo was, “Have you seen this month’s show at Takarazuka? The girl who plays the lead is lovely.”

  I was still sore about the way Joe Kelly was being treated, so I said to myself, “If all bets are off, here goes,” and I said aloud, “I know the girl and she’s very talented, but I came to Kobe to try to argue your husband into letting Private Kelly remain in Japan.”

  “Who’s Private Kelly?” Mrs. Webster asked.

  “His Japanese wife is having a baby and he’s being sent hom
e—without her.”

  The general grew red in the face and tried to change the subject but Eileen jumped in on my side, “Rotten trick, I’d say.”

  Her father said, “Don’t scowl at me. It’s an area order.”

  “What happens to the baby?” Eileen asked.

  The general laid down his napkin and said, “I argued with Kelly for half an hour, warning him not to marry a Japanese girl.”

  This did not satisfy Eileen who asked, “Does the Army force them to desert their wives? Aren’t they legally married?”

  “Yes, they’re legally married,” snapped the general. “We have to allow them to get married and then we have to leave the wife stranded.”

  “This is serious,” Eileen protested. “Doesn’t anyone try to prevent such inhuman foolishness?”

  General Webster addressed Eileen directly, “I argued with this boy. Lloyd argued with him. Where’d it get us?”

  But Eileen said, “I’m not talking about what has happened. I’m talking about the injustice of what’s going to happen.”

  Mrs. Webster interrupted and asked, “How are you involved in this, Lloyd?”

  I took a deep breath and said, “Kelly’s from my outfit in Korea.” (From the corner of my eye I saw the general sigh with relief that I had not embarrassed him by mentioning Hana-ogi, but I had no intention of avoiding the issue.) “And it also happens that I’m planning to marry a Japanese girl myself.”

  I had dropped my napalm. The general gulped. Mrs. Webster blushed an absolute scarlet and Eileen put her hand on mine and said, “I always knew you had guts.”

  I said, “Thanks, I guess I’d better go now.”

  Mrs. Webster asked weakly, “The actress?”

  “Yes.”

  The general said, “Lloyd’s not marrying any actress. He’s being sent home on Thursday.”

  I started to leave but Eileen insisted upon walking to the door with me, as if I were the girl and she the escort. “I’m proud of you, Lloyd,” she said. “I wish you all the luck in the world.” We shook hands and I thought of a dozen things to say but none of them made much sense, so I said, “I’m sorry we got things loused up,” and she said, “It was mostly my fault,” and then as I was leaving she laughed and said, “Remember the time I asked you if you ever felt like just grabbing me and hauling me off to some shack?”

  We both smiled awkwardly at this and she said, “That’s just about what you did, wasn’t it? But with somebody else.” She kissed me on the cheek and said good-naturedly, “Well, I’m glad you turned out to be a man and not a mouse.”

  When I got back home I found Joe and Katsumi alone in a kind of dull panic. “I been all over it with everybody,” he said. “Even went to see the consul, but everyone flashes the marriage papers at you and says, ‘You signed ’em. You knew you couldn’t take her to America.’ As if that made everything just dandy.”

  Since I already knew that his name was at the head of the list I hadn’t the courage to ask him what the latest hot dope was, but he came out with it, “I’m first on the first draft.”

  Katsumi, saying nothing, prepared the meal while I watched the door for Hana-ogi. She arrived about seven and I could tell that she had already been ordered to Tokyo. She had a nervousness about her that I had not seen before and I wondered if she was aware that I was being flown home. We looked at each other for a moment as she kicked off her zori and then neither of us could continue the duplicity. She ran weeping across the tatami and cried, “Rroyd, Rroyd! I Tokyo go five days!”

  I caught her in my arms and hugged her as if I intended to crush her then so that she could never escape. “I fly back to Texas right away.”

  She pushed me away and cried, “You leave Japan?” I nodded and she burst into sobs, calling to Katsumi in Japanese. The two girls stood in the middle of the room and looked at Joe and me and for the four of us the world slowly fell apart.

  HANA-OGI: “Not soap In tub, Rroyd-san. Outside soap, please.”

  There is one Japanese custom I had grown to love and Hana-ogi fled to this as relief from the tension of our crumbling home. She went to the bath corner and started a charcoal fire raging under the huge square wooden tub. When the water was hot she called, “Come on, Rroyd-san. I scrub your back.”

  I went into the little room where steam enveloped me and washed down with soap, rinsing myself off before I climbed into the tub. The water was almost scalding and Hana-ogi took a kind of soft bark and scrubbed my back for twenty minutes while we talked of that day’s decisions.

  When my heartache had been soaked away she soaped herself down, rinsed off and took my place while I scrubbed her back. As soon as we exited Joe and Katsumi took over and at nine we were all sitting cross-legged about the sukiyaki bowl while Katsumi served us an excellent meal Hana-ogi said, “We never forget this time,” and the warmth of the bath, the vigor of the scrubbing and the good friendship of our home made us ignore for a while the penalties that hung over our heads. I think we all knew that never again in our lifetimes would we know quite the same intense friendship and love that we shared that night and Joe said glumly, “I hate to think of livin’ in some Chicago roomin’ house—waitin’.”

  Toward midnight the inescapable gloom of our position settled firmly upon our little house so that Hana-ogi and I felt we had to break free and walk in the cool night air. The stars over Osaka were the same that had shone upon America seven hours earlier: Vega and Arcturus and Altair. They recognized no national barriers and I found myself—an officer sworn to protect the United States—thinking that some day we might catch up with the stars.

  But as so often is the case, no sooner had I entertained this fleeting thought than I willingly became more of an American than I had ever been before. For at the head of our alley appeared a large gang of toughs screaming, “Americans go home! America go to hell! Go home!”

  They swarmed down the alley in frenzy. When they reached the house of Masako Fukada, the girl with the G.I. baby, they knocked the door in and dragged her into the street, screaming, “Kill the American bastard.”

  Before I could do anything, Hana-ogi dashed toward the center of the infuriated mob. Although she was risking her life at Takarazuka, and more besides, she dived for Masako, who was being kicked in the stomach, and threw herself across the girl’s body.

  This enraged the hoodlums, who waved their torches and shouted in high-pitched voices that Hana-ogi should be killed for going with an American. I started for them but Hana-ogi cried a warning to stay away. This caused the mob to turn toward me and in the lurid light of their flickering torches these fanatical faces looked exactly like the cartoons of the Japanese barbarians we had kept posted in our ready rooms during the war years. I remember one horrible face rushing at me. It was distorted, evil, brutal and inhuman.

  “You’re for me, you Japanese bastard!” I cried and launched a dive at his belly. Another Japanese swung a club upward at the same moment and I thought my head had been knocked away, but my momentum carried me on and I crashed into the ring leader and felt the wonderful impact of my body against his and the thudding fall onto the ground with him uttering a shaken grunt. I started to smash at his distorted and hateful face. At the same time I had sense enough to shout, “Hey, Joe!”

  The little tough burst right through his own paper doors brandishing a rifle butt. He flailed a path to me and we tried to defend ourselves, but I was bleeding from the face and started to faint.

  “For Christ sake,” the little gangster cried. “Not now! We got ’em runnin’.”

  The next second he collapsed under three Japanese clubs and I fainted. Later I learned that the anti-American mob would have killed us except for the pachinko players. They were at the canal end of the alley, sitting gloomily in the dark after the closing of the pinball parlor and one of them to whom I used to speak in English when I played pachinko heard Joe shout my name. They realized we were in trouble and they knew we were their friends.

  Little Watanabe-san and
the man who was keeping two geishas and the man whose wife beat him and the man who beat his wife and the man who had been in the penitentiary rushed up the alley. I am told there was a violent battle, but I knew nothing of it. The last thing I saw was a Japanese face—not one of the evil masks, but Hana-ogi’s oval and yellow beauty as she lay fearful and with her eyes closed across the body of unconscious Masako Fukada.

  When they brought me to I heard little Joe repeating quietly, “No, no! Don’t send for an Army doctor. Get a Jap doctor.” He was explaining to one of the pachinko players, “I learned it in Chicago. Never call a cop. Cops never help anybody.” When I wakened, with a touchy streak of bruised face, I saw Hana-ogi again. She said, “I not hurt.” Immediately I felt better and as the night progressed I began to feel absolutely good, for our little house was crowded with alley people. They stood about in kimonos or sat cross-legged on the floor, sucking in their breath and sipping the green tea that Katsumi-san served them. They said, all of them and with repeated emphasis, “The hoodlums who attacked you—they were not Japanese. They were Korean communists. We are Japanese. We are your friends.” I remember one young man, a tough, capable laborer who still wore the peaked cap of the Japanese army. I had played pachinko with him and had given his four children presents. He spoke in mumbled tones and knew no English but he said, “They weren’t all Koreans. Many Japanese hate you Americans. But I fought against you in Guadalcanal.” (I thought: “In those days you’d have beheaded me.”) “And you have behaved much better in Japan than I expected. Now I am your friend. Those in the street, they were communists.”

  All the same, next day Masako-san and her American baby left our alley and we never heard of them again. Masako’s mother stood in the roadway cursing the girl for having caused the riot and the other women of the alley looked away.

  That was Sunday. On Monday the Air Force officially notified Joe that he would be flown back to America on Wednesday. To Joe it was the sentence of torture. I found him sitting cross-legged on the floor studying the notice with dull resignation. He looked up grimly and asked, “Why should I be punished? Why should I have to go back to the States?”

 
Previous Page Next Page
Should you have any enquiry, please contact us via [email protected]