Sayonara by James A. Michener


  “You wondered what?” Mike asked. “You certainly don’t want to snatch the enlisted man’s wife.”

  “This sounds silly but I flew down here ready to marry Eileen. When she and I started to hesitate about that, I started to wonder about everything else—even about staying in the Air Force. I know it’s ridiculous but that G.I. and his dumpy Japanese girl …”

  Mike stared at me in slack-jawed horror and asked in a hushed voice, “You mean you’re ponderin’ life?” He mussed his hair down over his eyes and sobbed, “Oh, what does it all mean—the eternal struggle—sex—the New York Yankees!”

  “All right, louse it up. But suddenly I felt as if I were in a world of swirling darkness where the only reality was this earth—this earth of Japan.”

  “My God!” Mike cried, clutching his head. “A new Sigmund Freud!”

  I had to laugh, and while Mike phoned down for some cold beer I asked, “Don’t you ever get crazy ideas like that?”

  “A million of ’em. They never hurt anybody.”

  “But to have an idea like that suddenly bust open your whole world … I thought I was back in prep school again.”

  “I think it’s easy to explain,” Mike said after his second bottle of beer, which gave him added authority. “You’ve been fighting like crazy up in Korea and you get this big idea about comin’ down to Japan and getting married …”

  “She didn’t even tell me she was coming to Japan.”

  “Don’t let details mess up my theory. Then when you see the battle-axe her mother is …”

  “She’s not really a battle-axe.”

  “Who threw me out of the Club with Fumiko-san?” The question awakened all of Mike’s animosities and launched him into a tirade against generals’ wives and he never did finish his explanation.

  But next night we were at the Bitchi-bashi watching the stately procession of Takarazuka girls as they approached us through the evening dusk to vanish into the deep shadows. I was deeply moved by the passage of these quiet figures and they appeared to me as members of a military group dedicated to their rituals and promotions the way I was tied to mine. They lived and acted with a sense of their military responsibility while I was conditioned by the rules of my army. They were not free and I was not free, for I believe that no man who flies a plane against the enemy or steers a ship into enemy waters is a free man. He is bound by certain convictions and restraints that other men never know.

  I was pondering this when Fumiko-san came by. She was accompanied by the actress in men’s clothes who had reprimanded us the night before and when the bobby soxers on the Bitchi-bashi saw this tall girl they made a wild dash to surround her and demand autographs. The actress coolly shoved them away but other little girls took their places.

  I said to Mike, “She must be somebody.”

  He asked a Japanese girl who the actress was and the girl broke into horribly confused giggles. She did, however, summon another girl—she couldn’t have been more than fourteen—who spoke English and this child said, “She—is—Hana-ogi-san. Number one girl!”

  I repeated the name and some children near me, giggling furiously, began to chant “Hana-ogi-san! Hana-ogi-san!” and the beautiful actress stopped for a moment on the bridge and looked our way. Mike bowed very low and blew a kiss off his thumb to Fumiko-san but both actresses ignored him and resumed their way into the night shadows.

  KATSUMI-SAN: “Japanese like gold teeth but I get white one for Joe.”

  I had to miss the Monday night procession at the Bitchi-bashi because General Webster sent a message ordering me in to Kobe to report on how my work was going. I knew what he really wanted was to ask me why I hadn’t been around the Club. No doubt Mrs. Webster had commanded him to find out and I wondered what I would tell him. It was difficult for me to explain even to myself.

  It had something to do with the fun of living with a gang of men that you can never explain. The relaxation, the freedom of running down the hall in your shorts, the common interests in a common problem. I remember how my father used to glow when he came in from a six-day exercise with his foot troops. I was a kid then but there was something enormously real and rugged about my father on those occasions. True, he was a fine man about the house—I think a good many other families, mothers and kids alike, would have been glad to have a father like mine—but there were times when he insisted upon living in a man’s world and I think that much of his resolute determination to follow the camp fires rather than the bridge parties had been deeply ingrained in me. I had always liked aviation meetings like the ones at Itami. I liked evenings in Bachelor Officers’ Quarters. I liked going with Mike to the little fish restaurant. And I liked getting a gang together on the spur of the moment, racing through the dark Japanese night and winding up at some American movie in Osaka or Kyoto. Most of all I enjoyed working at the air strip when somebody I knew in Korea boomed in with the latest hot scoop.

  For example, one day a big Swede who flew an Air Force C-47 as a taxicab from one Korean air base to the next arrived in Itami and we had a long night of laughing about some of our experiences in that dismal country. I especially remembered the time he was ferrying a bunch of us into Seoul on a rainy day. The cloud cover was broken and there were only about five holes through which you could descend to the island in the middle of the river where the air strip was. We got tied up behind a Marine pilot who had never flown into Seoul before and be was being extra cautious. He missed the first hole through the clouds, he missed the second and damned if he didn’t miss the third. The Swede piloting our plane began to get irritated and he shouted to the tower, “For Christ sake, tell junior to land that kite.” When we landed the Marine was waiting for us and demanded to know who had called him junior. We looked among us to see who was tallest and a six-foot-four Air Force man stepped forward and said, “I called you junior. You were screwing up the procession.” The Marine looked up at the big man and said, “I’m new around here. I was looking for the island.” The real big man said, “I’m glad you found it cause we damned near ran out of gas.” I started to laugh and for a minute it looked like a fight and all the rest of the time we were in Korea whenever we saw a Marine plane some wise guy would yell, “There goes junior.” I told Mike Bailey about this but he didn’t think it funny. Living with these pilots again I honestly did not want to go into Kobe and sit around a fancy officers club and try to explain to Mrs. Webster why I wasn’t courting her daughter.

  But that’s what I had to do. In his office the general asked me a lot of trivial questions he couldn’t possibly have been interested in and then led me down to the Cadillac. At dinner I looked for Eileen but he said she was in Kyoto visiting a museum and wouldn’t be able to join us. I looked at Mrs. Webster eating her shrimp cocktail and lost my appetite.

  It was a chilly meal and after dessert the general excused himself to do some paper work and I observed silently, “If my father ever becomes Chief-of-Staff I’ll warn him not to put Mark Webster in charge of intelligence, because he sure telegraphs his hand.”

  Mrs. Webster didn’t bother to telegraph hers. When we got to her apartment she asked bluntly, “What’s wrong between you and Eileen?”

  “I’m sure she must have told you.”

  “Lloyd, don’t be evasive. You haven’t seen her in more than a week.”

  It was obvious that this was one time when I’d better stick to the truth. I said, “We had a quarrel. She told me …”

  “A quarrel? Whatever about?”

  I gulped and said, “She’s afraid I’m too much like my father.” Mrs. Webster started at my honesty but made no move to stop me so I finished. “And I think she’s—too bossy.” There was something in the inflection of this sentence that betrayed clearly the fact that I thought Eileen was too damned much like her mother. But Mrs. Webster never batted an eye.

  So I added, “And then I’ve been working.”

  “Ridiculous,” she snapped. “Mark found you this job because there wasn’t any wo
rk attached to it.”

  “If that’s why I got it …” I began with standard dignity.

  “… you’d sooner be back in Korea?” she concluded.

  “Yes.”

  “Lloyd, don’t be silly. It’s obvious to everyone in Kobe that you are an extremely brave young man whom General Webster brought back to Japan so that you could be with Eileen. There’s nothing dishonest about that—if you plan to get married.”

  “We planned that for a long time—sort of.”

  “How do people get married—sort of?” She was sitting on an expensive lounge purchased in Paris and she leaned forward, repeating the offensive words: “Sort of?”

  “I mean there’s nothing definite. Has Eileen said there was anything definite?”

  “Of course she hasn’t. She hasn’t talked with me about this but I can see how humiliating it is for her. The whole hotel …”

  I knew Eileen pretty well and I was sure she didn’t give a hoot what the hotel thought. But Mrs. Webster did because if we didn’t get married it would make her look ridiculous. I said, “We wonder if we’re the right people for each other.”

  “At this stage? Why, you’ve known Eileen for years. Same backgrounds. I don’t see …”

  “But that’s what Eileen said when she started this fight …”

  “A fight! Lloyd, this is just a lovers’ quarrel and it has no more significance than that.”

  “Maybe it didn’t at the start but Eileen’s questions and some of the thinking I’ve done made me wonder if perhaps my whole idea of life isn’t wrong.”

  Now I had struck something serious and Mrs. Webster accepted it so. She spoke very deliberately and at the same time fidgeted nervously with a lace handkerchief. She said, “If an Army man ever questions the big idea of military service he’s lost. Believe me, Lloyd, I’ve seen it many times and it’s the worst thing that can happen to you. From your baby days you were cut out for the service. You’ve never known anything else.”

  I could have contradicted her and said that for two weeks—a long time ago—I had imagined another way of life but that would have raised too many questions which I couldn’t have answered. It was one thing to confide such a secret to an easy-going mind like Mike Bailey’s. It was quite different to give the idea away to Mrs. Webster. In three questions she’d have you undressed and you’d stand there naked to the world, just as stupid and silly as you were back at St. Leonard’s.

  I said, “Wouldn’t it be better all around if your husband sent me back to my outfit?”

  “In Korea?”

  “Yes. That would settle my doubts.”

  To my surprise, she agreed. “It does seem better now. But it would be wrong for two reasons. It would make Eileen seem ridiculous. Couldn’t hold her man. And it would be the cowardly thing for you to do.”

  “Eileen doesn’t need me,” I said.

  “You’re absolutely right, Lloyd. She’s asked to parties every night. But not by Army men. By civilians in Army suits. Suppose she falls in love with one of these civilians? She’ll settle down as a druggist’s wife in Chicago and that’s not for Eileen, believe me.”

  I found Mrs. Webster a lot too tough for an airman twenty-eight years old to handle. I said, “I’ll drop in and say good night to the general.”

  But this woman kept hold of you like a steel trap. She said, “And there’s a third reason why going back to Korea would be wrong. Because you would be running away from your fundamental problem.”

  I wanted to shout, “What I want to run away from is you. I’m running away from your daughter because she’s so much like you.” But a man can shoot down Russians and still be afraid to shoot down his commanding officer’s wife. I said, “I’ll call Eileen tomorrow.”

  She said, “Good. I know Eileen and I know she wants to marry you. Don’t let lovers’ quarrels keep you apart. That would be foolish.” She tucked the handkerchief into her sleeve and added with powerful emphasis, “And don’t let a temporary uncertainty tease you into thinking you’ve made a mistake on your whole life. You’re an Army man, Lloyd. You were bred to it.”

  I found General Webster in a workroom lined with books. He indicated them with a wide sweep of his hand and said, “The colonel who had this suite three years ago got these books together. Practically any subject you might be interested in.”

  I said, “I suppose you know what Mrs. Webster and I were talking about. I think it would be better all around if you sent me back to Korea.”

  The general drummed his fingers and said, “Better, maybe, but it would be so damned obvious. That’s what’s wrong with military life. Every move can be so easily interpreted by the enemy. But damn it all, Lloyd, what’s wrong between you and Eileen?”

  “Nothing’s wrong, sir. It’s just that we both feel uncertain about our getting along—ultimately.”

  “Very sensible.” He poured me a stiff drink and said, “You’re not much of a man unless you’re scared silly by the prospect of marriage. Take me. Night before my wedding your father had to get me blind drunk to keep me from sending a Western Union messenger to my wife’s house.… Father was Colonel Keller—got into that serious scrape with the Persian Ambassador. They called it Persia then.”

  He related in his rambling way the case histories of half a dozen military marriages and of how all the men at some time before the wedding or after had wanted to funk out on the deal. “But in the long run,” he assured me, “marriage is the best thing for any man. It was the making of me. And j’your father ever tell you about his classic wedding? He was engaged to your mother, Lieutenant-General Himmelwright’s daughter, and two days before the wedding he fell in love with another girl. Just about went mad from indecision. But suppose he had gone off his rocker and said he wasn’t cut out to be a general. By God, twenty years later America might of lost Guadalcanal.”

  He poured us a couple of more drinks and said, “Look at it this way, Lloyd. What the hell were you put in this world for? Be one of those washed-up old fuddies with no home of his own, sitting in a club somewhere yakkity-yakking about China?”

  I guess the whisky made me brave, for I said, “Ask Eileen if she’ll have dinner with me tomorrow.”

  “Good boy!” the general cried, whamming me on the back. “I ordered my wife not to speak to you on such a subject. Humiliating to Eileen and all that. But Nancy said there came a time in every girl’s love life … Isn’t that a horrible word?”

  “I’ll call Eileen about twelve,” I said.

  General Webster tossed off an extra one and said, “I feel ten years younger. If you have children, Lloyd, have boys.”

  As I went down in the elevator I saw a new sign which read, “Officers of this command will not appear on the streets of Kobe walking with girls of the indigenous personnel. This order also applies to officers when on the streets of Osaka and Kyoto. Signed, Mark Webster, Commanding.” I thought, “Oh, boy! The general’s wife is really determined to clean up all Japan,” and then I got to laughing because here the American Army was forbidding its men to be seen with Japanese girls, while the Takarazuka army was forbidding its girls to be seen with American men.

  I was still chuckling when the elevator doors opened and I heard my name. It was Pvt. Joe Kelly, wearing a service revolver as big as a cannon. He yelled, “At last the Air Force gave me a break. Transferred me to the Joint Message Center. I got the best job in Osaka.” He waited for an officer to sign a receipt for important mail, then joined me. His Ford was at the curb.

  “Where can I drop you?” he asked, unstrapping his artillery.

  “Look, I work at Itami.”

  “So what’s the difference to me. The Army pays for the gasoline.”

  “And I live at Takarazuka.”

  “I’ll go that way.”

  We piled in and he reported on how things were going with him and Katsumi. “We found a nice house.… Say, Ace! It’s early. Why not drive into Osaka and visit with us?”

  He was so energetic and
I was so interested in him in the way I had explained to Mike that I agreed. He barreled the Ford along the Kobe-Osaka road and I tried to observe exactly what this ancient and historic Japanese road was like. I saw the little paper-windowed houses stretching mile after mile, with never a sign of countryside. I saw the open-front stores that did business all night and the thousands of people moving along the road in the twilight and of how a single lamp lit in any of the houses seemed to light up the whole section of road near it.

  But pretty soon I stopped thinking about Japan and asked, “How fast you driving, Joe?”

  “Sixty-eight,” he reported.

  “Don’t the M.P.’s ever pinch you for flying so low?”

  “They all know me.”

  “I’ll bet they do.”

  “First thing I did was invite ’em over to the house and Katsumi fed ’em special grub.” He waited till a prowl car came along. Then he leaned way out and shouted some Japanese insults at the M.P. and everybody roared and Joe said, “Great bunch.”

  As we entered Osaka he bore to the south until we came to a road which dropped down beside one of the numerous canals. Soon it petered out and four Japanese kids assumed guard over the Fordwhile we hiked up a narrow alley down which two men trudged with wicker baskets of enormous size. As they passed each house light from the paper doors shone on them for a moment creating an impression of deep warmth.

  At the far end of the alley stood an inconspicuous one-storied shack made of wood long since weatherstained to a blackish gray. The porch was outlined by concrete blocks which confined the center of packed earth. The roof was of orange tile, laid in Chinese fashion with a slight swoop upward at each end. In the States we would not have called this a house at all. With its sliding paper doors it would have been a shed, and cows or farm tools would have been kept there, but when Joe slid his doors back, there was Katsumi in a kimono, cooking the evening meal. Promptly she took my shoes and offered me a cup of bitter green tea and said in lovely, stilted English, “It is fine to see you among us to—night.”

 
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