Sayonara by James A. Michener


  I remembered and as the sweet song of the noodle vendor echoed down our alley we fell asleep.

  OSAKA GIRL TO MARINE ON LEAVE FROM KOREA: For Japanese dancing Hana-ogi now ichi-ban.

  If Monday was peaceful, Tuesday was not. Hana-ogi and I woke about eight-thirty to find that Joe had left for one last appeal to Lt.Col. Craford. Katsumi, sensing that we would want to be alone, went out to lament with friends, so I started a fire and Hana-ogi, wrapped in a sheet, tried to get breakfast, but I kept pulling the sheet away until she finally surrendered it altogether, whereupon we propped a chair against the sliding doors and let the fire go out.

  At eleven Hana-ogi dressed for Takarazuka. I tied her obi for her and she insisted that I leave the ends dangling almost to the floor. Taking a few mincing steps she cried, “I maiko girl!” Then deftly she swept the ends together in a bow, symbol of older girls, and said, “I virgin no more. I married woman.” So far as I can remember those were the last words she said that morning. I watched her go down the alley and all the women in the open-front stores and houses called out to her on that summer morning.

  She was gone only a few minutes when Joe came back. He was licked. He threw his cap on the floor and asked in final despair, “Ace, what can I do?”

  “Take a deep breath,” I said. “Stick it out. They’ll have to change the law.”

  “In Washington they got fifty senators like Craford. You think they’re gonna change the law?” He looked wild-eyed.

  “Joe! Ease up.”

  “How can I? Ace, I’m a no-good punk. If I go home without Katsumi it’s pool halls and hamburger joints. I couldn’t take it.”

  “For a while you have to.”

  He sat down cross-legged on the tatami and said grimly, “In Chicago I killed a man. A mixed-up affair—not all my fault. They couldn’t pin anything on me. I’m not apologizin’, because it could just as well have been my fault. Because I was no damn good. And if I lose Katsumi I’ll be no damn good again.”

  I knew there was something I ought to say, some standard word of courage, but I couldn’t think of any. Joe said, “A guy like you, from a good home—you wouldn’t understand. For the first time in my life I’m livin’. At night when I hear Katsumi come up the alley shufflin’ her wooden shoes—later when she puts that crazy hard, little pillow next to mine—when I see the plain goddamn, goodness in that girl …” He looked down at the tatami and I guessed that he had tears in his throat. I wanted to say that I knew but I was tied up.

  “Joe, promise me you won’t get into trouble with Col. Craford.”

  He looked up at me as if Craford were already dead. “Him?” he sniffed, “The only time I believe in God is when I think of that fat slob. God must be keepin’ score on bastards like that. Otherwise nothin’ makes sense.”

  I said, “Remember, Joe. You promised you’d make no trouble with that …” I searched for a name and suddenly the total misery of Joe’s problem rose in my mouth like bile. I grew purple and cursed Craford for several minutes, I cursed my father and General Webster and Mrs. Webster and every convention that made it impossible for Hana-ogi and me to marry. Then I stopped, but I was still quivering with accumulated fury.

  Joe looked up at me and said, “Thanks, Major. I thought you felt that way.”

  I was still shaking. I said, “Even so I believe things’ll work out.”

  He said, “I don’t.”

  There was nothing to add. He knew how I felt. He knew I was with him. Maybe I had steered him away from some hot-brained mistake. That’s the best I could hope, so I went over to Itami to clear out my desk and borrow Mike Bailey’s car, but as I left the air base for the theater, where I was to see the last performance of Swing Butterfly, I had a disgusting experience which even at the time seemed to me a premonition of tragedy. Outside the main gate of the air base at Itami a broad road stretched for more than half a mile. It was filled with cheap dance halls, beer joints, razzle-dazzle dives and plain whore houses. In front of each establishment lounged gangs of young girls and the stretch was known as “The 1,000 Yard Dash.” It was claimed that any American in uniform who could negotiate this honky-tonk strip and keep his pants on would receive a prize of $1,000 for heroism beyond the call of duty.

  As I drove out of the air base for the last time I saw the frowsy halls: “Village Bar,” “Club Little Man,” “The Flying Bull,” and “Air Force Heaven.” Then, to my disgust, my car stalled and three girls promptly surrounded it. One climbed in and said, “O.K. General. Where we off to?” Immediately an M.P. appeared and hauled the girl back onto the strip and gave me some brotherly warning, “Watch out for her, Major. She’s no good.” He saluted and pointed to a saloon up the stretch. “If you want something real nice, Major, you can trust the girls at the ‘Silver Dollar.’ ”

  When I got my car started I saw with dismay that from the other direction had come a Packard from Toneyama Heights, the nearby residential district where the big brass lived, and in it were two colonels’ wives who knew me. They watched with disgust as the three persistent little street girls started to climb back into my car as soon as the M.P. had left. As I chucked them out I thought that some day in the future I would recall Hana-ogi and I would have to speak her name to someone and if he had been at Itami he would remember “The 1,000 Yard Dash” and the brassy prostitutes and he would wink at me and say, “Boy, do I know those Jap girls?” But he wouldn’t know, and nothing I could ever tell anyone who had seen Itami would explain Hana-ogi. I shivered at the wheel of my car and mumbled, “All this should have happened fifty years from now. Then maybe there would have been a chance. In my day there was no chance for such a marriage.” I saw myself in years to come. Junior officers would boast, “You can say that General Gruver looks tough and formal but did you know that when he served in Japan he ran off with a geisha girl? Yep, took her right out of a house.” But they would never know.

  However, the distaste of this experience along the strip was expelled by Hana-ogi’s exquisite performance. When I had first seen her I had been insulted by her burlesque of Americans and I had been unable to appreciate her ability. Now my reaction was different, for I discovered that even against my will I had to laugh at her lampoon of Americans. The reason was simple. She had studied with intimate care my mannerisms and now reproduced them in burlesque form. When she lit a cigarette she mimicked me, when she propositioned Madame Butterfly it was me trying to kiss her on the Bitchi-bashi. This time I, more than anyone else in the audience, enjoyed her burlesque of Americans.

  As her big dance number approached I became apprehensive, for I suspected that her aping of Americanisms would dull her Japanese touch, but I was wrong, for in her samurai there was now a freedom and swagger that no maiko girl, as Hana-ogi termed the virgin dancers, could have created. Hana-ogi was the artist. Even more than mistress or wife, she was an artist, and if her American jitterbugging was more hilarious for having studied an American at close hand, her Japanese classical dance was stronger for having known that American not as a subject for study but as a lover—as one who cried eagerly to marry her. I understood what she had said the night before. She was now a better Japanese.

  When intermission came I wanted to rush backstage and embrace her and tell her that no matter if she lived a million years cooped up at Takarazuka, I would be with her every time she danced—but I was not to see her, for I could not get into the dressing-rooms.

  CPL. SHARKEY: “You damned Buddha-heads, you gotta stand back from the door.”

  So the rapture was lost. The great deep rapture I felt when watching Hana-ogi perform was never reported to her, for as I took my seat at the beginning of Act II an M.P. came up to me and asked, “Major Gruver?”

  “Yes.”

  “You’ll have to come with us.”

  The curtain had not yet risen, so Hana-ogi did not see me leave and I was grateful for that, for I was trembling. I thought that Lt.Col. Craford was shipping me home early, but when I got outside and I saw two othe
r M.P.’s with guns I asked, “What’s up?”

  “Airman Kelly,” they said.

  “Joe?”

  “Yep. Deserted.”

  “Impossible. I saw him this morning.”

  “We know. We thought you might tell us …”

  Another M.P. broke in and said, “He was called special at 1300. He was scheduled to fly out tomorrow but a special plane came through and Col. Craford said, ‘Get him on it.’ ”

  The first M.P. said, “I checked him in at the airport at 1250 but before the plane took off he beat it.”

  “We figured you might know where he is.”

  “No! Last time I saw Kelly …”

  “When was the last time?”

  “About 0815. No! It was 1120.”

  “You know where he lives?”

  “Sure.”

  I had a dry ugly taste in my mouth as the siren wailed into Osaka. At Itami I asked, “Did the plane take off?”

  “Yep. It’s desertion.”

  I began to sweat. Now Joe Kelly was really done for. Insubordination and desertion would be the charge and he might never get Katsumi into the States, so I asked, “Jesus, are you sure he deserted?”

  “I checked him in. Sharkey saw him leave.”

  We stopped at the canal and I led the way to the alley, where two M.P.’s tried the door. It seemed to be barred, so they were going to break the freshly mended paper, but at that moment it seemed like my house and I didn’t want the paper broken, so I said, “Maybe a chair’s against it. I’ll use the window.”

  One M.P. came with me to the back of the house while I forced open a window and started to crawl in. While my leg was still suspended I saw Joe. He was on the floor with his head blown apart by a .45. Across him, obviously having died later, lay Katsumi with a kitchen knife plunged completely through her neck.

  For a moment I didn’t call out or anything. All I could do was look at the floor—at the two lovers who had needed each other so much. The M.P. came up and looked over my shoulder. Then he called loudly, “You better break the door down, Sharkey.”

  I watched the frail doors bend and break. I heard the clatter of wood and the tearing of paper and the doors through which Hana-ogi had so often come at dusk, dropping her silken packages on the floor, were gone. Sharkey took one look and said, “Get the camera. You wanna catch this just as it happened.”

  Sharkey barked to a man at my shoulder, “Eddie, you inform the Jap police.” Then he saw me and said, “We’ll need you here, Major.”

  I got down out of the window and walked around to the front of the house where a crowd had gathered and where children were screaming the tragedy across the canal to other children. An old man pried his way in through the broken doors and came out to report accurately upon the double suicide.

  I was numb with helpless anger. Of all the people in the world, Joe and Katsumi Kelly should have been protected and kept alive. I thought of them laughing and helping each other and I got all sick inside, but then I thought of Hana-ogi, who would be coming home soon and I grew panicky for her because the photographers had arrived and were taking pictures like mad.

  And then I saw, on the outskirts of the crowd, two of the little prostitutes Hana-ogi and I had met the other night. They were already working the main streets and had stopped by to witness the tragedy. I said to them, “You remember Hana-ogi?”

  “Sure, Major.”

  “You watch up there. Tell her to go back. Please.”

  “Sure, Major. You got cigaretto?”

  The other girl pointed to the house and jabbed herself in the stomach as if with a knife. “They kill?”

  I nodded and they stared at the house with grim fascination. “Japanese girl and G.I.?”

  I said yes and the little girls moved toward the head of the canal where they could intercept Hana-ogi while the reporters swarmed at me. They were bright young men, most of whom spoke English, and I had enough sense to keep my mouth shut, for if I had said anything at all I would have blurted out, “They wanted to ship him back to America but he insisted upon staying in Japan.” Finally I composed myself and said, “He was with my outfit in Korea. This is a complete shock.”

  The reporters saw somebody else and swarmed away but one stayed and asked, “Aren’t you Ace Gruver?”

  I nodded.

  “You the one living with Hana-ogi?”

  I wanted to shoot him dead but everything had collapsed now, so I nodded grimly and he pointed up the canal.

  There at last she was, Hana-ogi. Late afternoon sun played upon her tousled black hair and illuminated the fall of her kimono. With eager pin-toed steps she hurried along the canal, coming so close that I could see the slant of her adorable eyes and that sweet mouth always ready with a teasing smile.

  The two prostitutes stopped her, informed her of the suicides and tried to prevent her from joining the crowd. She ignored them and started coming toward me down the canal bank but the newspaperman who was standing with me broke away, ran toward her and spoke rapidly. She peered across the crowd searching for me, and when she failed to find me she broke away from the guardian prostitutes and the warning newspaperman to fight her way resolutely toward the very spot where the police waited.

  In that moment I could see the reckless collapse of her world and instinctively a shout rose to my lips. I called in panic, “Lo, the postillion!”

  She stopped. The smile that had crept upon the edge of her lips vanished and her lovely face once more became an impersonal mask. Standing on tiptoe, she peered across the crowd, still seeking me, but I hid myself so that she would have to go back. After a moment she turned away from the crowds that shoved toward the suicide house and I last saw her moving with extraordinary grace back to the main street. The summer breeze, drifting down the canal, tugged at her kimono and twilight rested on her hair. I can still see the folds of cloth meticulous about her neck. Then she moved behind a pillar and I never saw her again.

  For just as I started to run after her, Lt.Col. Craford waddled up and he seemed almost to relish the tragedy. It proved he was right and that guys like Kelly were no damned good. He saw me and lurched over to repeat his warning that he was shipping me…

  “You bastard!” I cried. “You stinking bastard!”

  He jumped back as if I had kicked him and began to bluster but I couldn’t take any more. “You swine! Kelly told me what you said to him, you bastard! You killed this kid!”

  He was astonished at my outburst and suddenly became aware that if I was really outraged I might carry the fight to my father, so he tried to pacify me, but I said, “Don’t be afraid of me, you dirty bastard. I’m not going to squeal on you—but you murdered this kid.”

  He withdrew and a Japanese police official said, “You come with me,” and for three hours while I ached to seek out Hana-ogi I had to answer questions and fill out reports as to the death of Katsumi-san. It was after ten o’clock when I was released and I caught a cab whose driver gasped when I said Takarazuka, but he drove me there and at eleven that Sunday night I hurried past the cryptomerias and into the dormitory where Hana-ogi lived.

  Apparently I was expected, for old Teruko-san and her grim-faced interpreter were waiting for me. “Hana-ogi-san is not here,” they said firmly.

  “I know she’s here!” I cried.

  “Hana-ogi-san is on her way to Tokyo.”

  “She cant be! I saw her!”

  “Please, Major Gruver. Hana-ogi-san is not here.”

  Unthinkingly, I forced my way past the two women and along the corridor on which Hana-ogi lived. The Takarazuka girls peered at me as I stormed past, then sighed when I reached Hana-ogi’s empty room. It was so empty. The little things that made it hers were gone.

  From the next room Fumiko-san appeared and said, weeping, “Hana-ogi-san really go, Major.”

  I turned around like a madman. It couldn’t end this way—across a canal, over the heads of a hundred people at the scene of a suicide and Hana-ogi departs forever. ??
?She’s here!” I insisted.

  I stood helpless and then saw in one corner of her room a zori that she had forgotten. I stepped across the tatami on tip-toe as if she were still there, reproving me for not having removed my shoes, and I lifted the zori and it seemed as if her powerful, inspired foot were there in my hand, with the big toe clinging to the zori strap and the Japanese music beginning and the samurai dance about to start and Hana-ogi … oh, Hana-ogi …

  “Hanayo-chan!” I shouted. “Hanayo-chan! Where are you?” From their doors the beautiful Takarazuka girls stared at me impassively. The world seemed to grow dark and I screamed, “Hana-ogi, don’t leave me.” Then I felt Fumiko-san put her hand on my shoulder. “You go now, Rroyd-san. Is no more.” And she led me to the roadway.

  GENERAL WEBSTER: “Whatever makes you a better man makes you a better husband.”

  General Webster called me in to Kobe next day and said, “That was a dreadful affair last night in Osaka.” He asked me if I had heard any rumors that Lt.Col. Craford had handled the affair badly. I wanted to put a blast on the fat blubber-gut who had murdered Kelly, but something old and powerful inside me argued, “Why start a military mess?” and I kept my mouth shut. Then I shrugged my shoulders and said, “I guess Craford handled it O.K.”

  But immediately I knew that I was reverting to the man I had been when I first argued with Kelly against marrying a Japanese girl. I was defending the Army against the man and I felt ashamed of myself. I must have shivered, for General Webster said gruffly, “Lloyd, don’t take this so bitterly. Kelly’s dead. Nobody can do anything about it. You told me yourself he was a dead-end punk—beyond saving.”

  I looked at the general. A man under his command had committed suicide rather than return to the United States and he was shrugging it off. I asked, “What about that colonel in Tokyo who shot himself rather than leave his Japanese girl? Or the major in Yokohama? Were they punks?”

 
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