The small house nestled into a Pasadena neighborhood where two middle school girls sipped lemonade and swayed idly on the porch swing. Giggles emerged between hushed tones while they waited for Kita’s mom to prepare miso soup.
“Lunch is ready.” Mrs. Nakumura’s voice rang loud enough for everyone to hear.
“Come on.” Kita jumped up and grabbed Helen’s hand. They came to the kitchen along with Mr. Nakumura and Kita’s older brother, Makoto. The table was laden with rice, vegetables and five bowls of soup.
Makoto pulled a chair out. “Here, Helen.”
“Thank you, Makoto.”
“Let us give thanks.” Mr. Nakumura bowed his head.
After the blessing Helen picked up her spoon. “I love your soup, Mrs. Nakumura.”
“I am glad. How was your church?”
“Good. Pastor Bentley preached on love. How about your church?”
“We learned about Jesus’ birth. Does your family celebrate Christmas?”
“Oh, we love Christmas. We have a lot of Swedish traditions. I’m in charge of making the rice porridge this year.”
Conversation was interrupted by the black rotary telephone in the living room. Mr. Nakumura stood and picked up the receiver. Concern swept over his face as he hung up the phone, walked over to the mantle and turned on the wooden radio.
In that moment, everything changed.
. . . the island of Oahu. Japanese forces have attacked the U.S. Pacific fleet with a sudden and massive air raid. Peace talks appear to have been a subterfuge . . .
The stunning news reports kept coming. No one uttered a word. Kita’s stomach turned in knots.
The telephone rang again. Makoto answered and turned to Helen.
“Your mom wants you to come home.”
Helen looked at Kita with solemn eyes. She leaned forward to give her friend a hug. “I’ll call you later.”
Kita rose from her chair. “I’ll walk you home.”
“No,” Mr. Nakumura spoke up. “You can talk to Helen later.”
* * *
Kita leaned against Helen’s locker and peered down the covered walkway until Helen approached.
“There you are. Why weren’t you on the bus?” Kita stepped back from the locker to allow Helen access. “I could have used a friend. Everyone was glaring at me.”
“My mom drove me.” Helen threw a book in her locker and grabbed another. “I gotta get to class.”
“Wait. Why didn’t you call me yesterday?”
The bell rang as Helen stepped away from Kita. “I – I had homework.” She turned and headed for class.
Bewildered, Kita watched her friend walk away. Looking down, she realized she had the wrong textbook for English. She hurried to her own locker where a red painted message greeted her. Snap the Jap!
Kita drew in a sharp breath and covered her mouth with her hand.
“That’s right, Jap.” A boy’s voice came from behind, followed by a shove. “How dare you show your face here!”
Suddenly Kita felt something wet on her neck and realized it was spit. The second bell rang and the boy ran off.
Kita fell against the lockers and heaved shallow breaths. With tears welling she dropped her books and ran out of the school. Three miles later she staggered into her house and fell into the arms of her mother.
“Why is this happening?” She spoke between sobs.
Mrs. Nakumura stroked her daughter’s hair. “There is no sense to it, Kita. We should not have let you go to school. Things are going to be very different now.”
* * *
Kita sat on the steps of Helen’s house. She stood when Helen approached with school books in hand.
“Helen, are you still my friend?”
Helen stopped. “I don’t know what to say.” She looked down and brushed her hair behind her ear.
“How about, ‘I’m sorry everyone hates you, Kita. But I still love you and will always be your friend’?”
“Um . . . I don’t know if we can be friends anymore.”
“My parents say your family could be spies.”
“Are you serious? We have treated you like family. Yesterday you ate at our table.”
“I know, but . . . “
“Do you really think we agree with what Japan did yesterday? This is our country. We love America.”
Helen sighed and finally looked Kita in the eye. “I know. It’s silly. You guys are wonderful.”
Kita smiled and looked at her friend with longing.
Helen set her books on the steps and gave her friend a tight embrace.
“I’m sorry, Kita.” Helen stood back and held out her pinky. “Best friends forever?”
Kita slid her pinky around Helen’s and smiled. “Best friends forever.”
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