“You should not have brought him here, little sister,” admonished the petite Japanese woman.
“It is time my husband met my family, Momo-chan,” Sakura protested.
Sitting cross-legged across from the two women, Richard Oliver did not let on that he was able to discern the gist of their conversation. He went through the motions of sipping his green tea in an abortive attempt to hide his discomfort.
“You have dishonoured our family by marrying this gaijin instead of one our own people. May I ask why--were there no Japanese men in America?” Momoko pressed.
“Richard was very kind to me--to many of our people--when they put us in that internment camp during the war,” Sakura explained while stealing a glance at her husband. “During the three years that we were incarcerated, he brought food and medical supplies to the camp every other week. Because of this, and since he paid for these himself, he earned his own people’s contempt. I think he suffered as much as we.”
“If his actions brought him dishonour, why did he persist?”
“It is because of what his God Jesus says in their book, Momo-chan--that if you visit a person in prison, it is the same as visiting Jesus in prison,” Sakura clarified.
“That makes no sense, why would their God be in prison?”
“The concept is alien to us, I admit. Richard-san explained it this way: the Christian God is pleased when a person shows compassion to another who is in need. It was during these visits that I came to know, respect and love him. We married after the war.”
Momoko’s two young daughters skipping into the ramshackle wooden room derailed the conversation. Upon spying the large American man towering over their mother and aunt, they fell back shrieking, “Gaijin!”
“Konnichiwa, Nanako-chan and Yuko-chan,” Sakura said quickly to reassure them, “I am your aunt, just back from America. This is Richard-san, my husband. He is your uncle.”
“No!” cried one girl, “He cannot be our uncle--he is a gaijin!”
“Tell him to go away!” added the other before both fled the room.
“Gomen nasai,” Sakura said to her husband, embarrassed by her nieces’ shameful behaviour.
Although wounded by their words, Richard reassured her in English. “No need to apologise.”
“So sorry, Richard-san. I should not have brought you here,” Sakura whispered back.
Momoko rose. “Please excuse me, but I must prepare lunch.”
A fit of coughing from smoke seeping under the door woke Richard in the early morning hours. Leaping from the futon, he shook his wife. “Wake up, Sakura-chan, there’s a fire!”
Upon opening the door, they were horrified to see that a fire raging in the kitchen had spilled into the hallway, cutting off access to the back of the house. Beyond the flames, Richard could just make out his sister-in-law and her daughters cowering against the wall, with no avenue of escape.
Darting back to their room, the American snatched two woollen blankets. He handed one to his wife and girded himself with the other. “Go outside and have the blanket ready!”
With that, he flung himself through the fire, paying no heed to the flames that caressed his feet and arms. Upon reaching the end of the hallway, he picked up one girl and placed her on her mother’s back. The younger one he put in her arms. Then removing the blanket from himself, he wrapped it around the lady and her daughters.
On many past occasions, Richard had questioned God’s judgement in giving him such a large frame. Now, finally, he understood why. Without difficulty, he scooped the diminutive Japanese lady and her two daughters into his burly arms, and ignoring a fresh fit of coughing that racked his chest, charged headlong back through the fire.
Fleeing the house to enter the cool night air outside, Richard stood still while his wife used her blanket to smother the fire from his clothes. Disregarding his injuries, the large man then set the precious bundle he carried carefully upon the road.
As Momoko and her two daughters emerged from the makeshift cacoon, they examined the American from a completely new perspective.
Drawn by the commotion, fire and smoke, dozens of neighbours came rushing over. Some looked on while others rushed about collecting buckets of water. Several children pointed to Richard and shouted, “Gaijin!”
Although they still clung to their mother, Momoko’s daughters shouted back as one, “He's not a gaijin, he's our uncle!”
Matthew 25:40 (NIV) The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'
Gaijin – ‘foreigner’ or ‘outsider,’ sometimes used with derogatory connotations
Gomen nasai – polite form of ‘sorry’
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