Michael G. Malaghan
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
Editor’s note: We continue Michael G. Malaghan’s serialized historical novel, “Picture Bride — A Family Saga,” based on the Japanese immigrant experience. Malaghan’s trilogy takes readers from turn-of-the-20th-century-Japan to Hawai‘i in the picture bride era; the Islands during World War II, highlighted by the exploits of the Nisei soldiers; and beyond.
The novel, which is now available as a printed softcover book, opens with 12-year-old Haru-chan, fleeing her home in Amakusa, Kyüshü, for Hiroshima, where she becomes the picture bride of a Buddhist priest in Hawai‘i.
Author Michael Malaghan is a retired businessman who divides his time between Hawai‘i, Florida and Japan.
Sunny skies and the laughter of children lifted Haru as she and two other wives rinsed lettuce leaves at the water pump when Sachi came running toward her, out of breath. The front of her pale-green yukata was splattered with red splotches. “Setsu Kurume is puking blood!”
Haru stared at the blood spots and grimaced. She hoped it wasn’t what she thought it was: the Spanish flu. “Change into a fresh yukata after you go to the ofuro (bath house). Then boil the one you are wearing.” Haru looked at the two distressed wives. “I’m off to see Setsu.” On her second hurried step, she stopped abruptly. “Someone ask Sam to join me.”
By now, Haru knew the name of every family and where each was located. While most refugees slept in tents, the Kurumes were one of eight lucky families crammed inside the temple’s school annex. Not so lucky now — for them or for the other seven families.
After retrieving the medical kit Dr. Tebbits had given her, Haru dashed to the school annex, recalling the doctor’s admonishment when the pandemic returned to Honolulu shortly after the strike began. “If the flu attacks,” he said with the resignation of one who expected it would, “set up an isolation area immediately.”
“When I got sick the year the war ended, the disease left quickly,” said Haru.
“I remember,” said Tebbits. “It didn’t seem so at the time, but you and Kenji were fortunate. Your attack was mild.”
“Immunity,” said Haru, letting Tebbits know she remembered an earlier talk. “Why has it come back?”
“The strike restarted the killing — just as the Advertiser predicted,” Tebbits said, referring to a December front-page editorial demanding that owners and unions put the health of the community above their selfish interests. “The disease had pretty much run its course. But now all these strikers jammed together . . .” He let the thought hang.
Haru parted the hanging bed-sheet entrance to the Kurume space. Ignoring the stench, she knelt beside Setsu who managed a mute smile. The dripping mucus from her nostrils, along with the damp red stains around her ear canals and the bluish tint of her face, told Haru that Setsu would most likely be the camp’s first death. By instinct, Haru put her hand on Setsu’s forehead, felt the dry heat, and then reached into her first aid bag for a thermometer. While she waited the required five minutes for Setsu’s body temperature to register, she sponged the woman’s face with a damp cloth.
When Sam arrived a few minutes later, he took one look and shook his head.
“Sam, you know what must be done.”
“I will have the building cleared in an hour,” said Sam. “This will be our hospital.”
The nearest neighbor, overhearing the exchange, started to protest.
Sam pivoted, anger rising in his voice. “Even if you move now, it may be too late for some of you. I have seen this before. I survived my attack. Many of my comrades didn’t.”
The neighbor drew back as if Sam had pushed him.
Raising his voice so everyone could hear, Sam ordered, “Start packing. I will arrange for tents in the clearing behind the tree line. You will have to stay isolated for three days. We will bring food — you build your own latrine.”
He stepped back inside the Kurumes’ draped enclosure as Haru withdrew the thermometer from Setsu’s mouth. She held it up to the light from the window. “One hundred four point eight,” she said in a tone just above a whisper. Haru felt a tug on her apron. She looked down to find a young boy, his trousers slopped over his heels.
“Is Mommy going to die?”
Haru squatted and hugged the boy. “Can you go to the stream with a towel, soak it in the cool water and bring it to your mommy to keep her head cool?”
The boy nodded, picked up a towel and dashed off.
Haru looked at the forlorn face of Setsu’s husband, who had just entered.
The next evening, Setsu was buried; three days later, her husband followed her to the grave. Then the oldest child. A family from Setsu’s village took in the surviving children who were now immune.
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