A Novel

by Toshiko Shoji Ito
Chapter 7: Betrayed

    It was mid-February 1942. A three-inch glaring headline in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer read, “ALL JAPS TO BE EVACUATED IMMEDIATELY!” Tomi was stunned when she saw the news. She never dreamed it would happen. Moreover, the one person she had counted on had betrayed her. She never thought her President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, would be part of such a plan. She had seen his kindly face many times on “Eyes of the World” newsreels in the moviehouse with his elegant clip-on glasses perched on his aristocratic nose and an elegant, slender cigarette holder dangling from his lips. But there he was on the front page of the PI. The President was signing Executive Order 9066 to evacuate all alien Japanese and Japanese Americans living on the West Coast to internment camps. How could he do that?
    Her whole world came crashing down. The cocoon she wrapped around herself in recent weeks had given her a false sense of security, and now it was ripped apart. She was bitterly disappointed and frightened by the turn of events. The rage she felt began to smolder and fester, but it had nowhere to go. In the end, she smothered her feelings and accepted the inevitable, as did her friends and family.
    “Gaman yo!” said her mother. You must endure!
     “They’re giving us two weeks to get ready to leave,” George announced after reading the article.
     “Two weeks! We can’t get ready that soon,” wailed Tomi. “How are we going to get rid of everything? How about my piano?”
     “Our piano,” corrected George.
     “Oh, who cares? You know what I mean.”
     “Stop your whining, Tomi, and start packing,” her mother scolded. “The Baptist Church will allow us to store some things on their property and we can sell the big items, like the piano,” she said without looking at Tomi.
     “What?” said Tomi in disbelief. How could her mother think of doing such a foolish thing? But she didn’t dare challenge her mother to her face; that wouldn’t be proper.
    Tomi’s love for music was born out of loneliness. When the house was empty, she would play the piano to escape into another world where she could express her feelings through music.
     She had admired Alice Uno from the day she started taking piano lessons from her five years ago. Alice’s gentleness and patience helped accelerate Tomi’s musical progress. She taught piano while she worked on her degree in sociology at the University of Washington.
     Tomi loved to go to the wooden house where Alice lived. It was a large, two-story house. She had never seen a lovelier home except for those where her mother worked. She would count the 12 steps leading up to the white porch that stretched across the front. The music room was Tomi’s favorite. There were two black grand pianos, which were placed back to back in the spacious studio.
     Occasionally, Alice would accompany Tomi on one piano while Tomi played the melody on the other. Together they would finish the piece with Alice adding a crescendo of chords, which made the room resound with the rich, vibrant music.
     “There,” Alice would say. “This is the way I want you to learn to play.”
    Tomi never forgot the overwhelming pure joy as music flowed from both pianos. Music was the sanctuary in which she found solace. It was the one place where her spirit could soar into another dimension and set her free from the harsh reality of the world.
    Tomi soon found that her mother had her own ideas concerning the piano. Kiku put out word that the piano was for sale for $25. A private school offered to buy the magnificent Baldwin upright grand piano. Two men and a woman came to check out the piano and close the deal. As soon as the trio arrived, Kiku invited them into the living room where they sat gingerly on the edge of their chairs, looking very uncomfortable. Tomi sensed their uneasiness and prayed her mother would not ask her to play. With a hard smile Kiku said to the trio, “My daughter, she play for you now,” and motioned Tomi to the piano. All three declined the offer and murmured some feeble excuses, but Kiku insisted her daughter play for the guests. Tomi and the trio reluctantly shared five agonizing minutes of unsolicited classical music while Kiku stood beaming the whole time. She knew the trio would never forget that experience. Nor did Tomi.
    When the door closed on the three visitors, Kiku crossed her arms across her chest and said, “Huh!”

* * *
The frantic pace to meet “E-Day” (Evacuation Day) quickened. Tomi had no time to stay depressed for very long. There was less than a week to go. Huge posters with instructions to the evacuees were hammered on telephone poles and posted on bulletin boards. The house was a shambles, with clothing and furniture scattered in disarray. It was a race against time. Everyone worked feverishly
to get things in order.
    “Do you know that last bulletin said we could only take what we can carry?” Tomi asked her father.
    “Do not be foolish,” said Saburo. “How can we manage to survive on what we can carry? You must be mistaken.”
    “No, Papa. Here, I have a copy of the instructions. See?” she said, handing him the sheet of paper.
    “You know I cannot read all that complicated English writing,” he scolded. “Read it and translate it properly.”
    “Yes, Papa. It says exactly what I told you. Only one suitcase per person and whatever you can carry.”
    “Not only that,” George added, “it says every member of the family must be registered at the Control Center.”
    “Very well, George,” said Saburo. “You will go with me now to register.”

* * *
When George and Saburo came back from the Control Center, Tomi noticed her father’s grim expression. George was visibly angry
and slammed the front door as he entered.
     “Look!” he yelled, shaking 20 long white tags. “Look at these dumb tags. You know what it says? Nothing! No name, just numbers. We are now Family #17337. Not only that, we have to wear these tags just like our baggage.”
    Tomi looked at the numbered tags and felt a shocking wave of humiliation and disgrace wash over her. This was the last straw.
She was no longer a person; she was a number. The rage within her was rekindled. Tomi promised herself that someday she would
show the world she was somebody. I’ll show them, she thought. I’ll show them!
     Meanwhile, Kiku kept packing as she listened to George’s outburst. “We will have to do the best we can with what we have. There is no other way. Shikata ga nai,” said Kiku. “It can’t be helped. Now, stop complaining about those tags and help me pack. Gaman yo!”
    Saburo scowled but said nothing. Tomi knew her father was working up a tirade to vent his frustration, and she quickly escaped to her room. As she rummaged through her belongings, her eyes drifted across the room and rested on a beautiful Japanese doll dressed in silk brocade. It was enclosed in a glass case edged with a thin, black lacquered frame. The exquisite porcelain face was offset by a jet-black wig and miniature silver hair jewelry. Tomi wondered who would keep the doll for her until she returned to Seattle again. She decided to ask Mrs. Alice Hill. Tomi occasionally babysat for the Hills on weekends. She carefully put the encased doll into a specially made wooden box. She would take it with her this weekend to the Hills to explain why she would not be back to babysit.
     Saturday arrived, and Tomi took the bus to Mrs. Hill’s home. As soon as she arrived, she knew something was wrong. The blinds in the house were lowered and there was no sign of the usual hustle and bustle of daily life. The children, Nick and Sue, were nowhere to be seen. She knocked on the door, but no one answered. Tomi knocked harder, and finally Alice Hill opened the door a crack.
    “Hello, Tomi,” she said softly, almost whispering.
    “Hello, Mrs. Hill. I just came by to tell you I won’t be back after today. We’re going to be evacuated.”
    “Yes, I know. I read about it in the PI. I am so sorry.”
    Tomi was surprised to hear Alice apologize. Why should she be sorry? No one else was.
    “By the way, Tomi, I don’t need you tonight,” she said and glanced at the large wooden box Tomi was carrying.
    “That’s okay. I really don’t have time anyway. But I have to ask you something. Could you please keep this doll for me until I come back?” Tomi extended the box toward her.
     Alice opened the door a little wider. “Oh, no. I can’t,” she said as she pushed the box away.
     Tomi took a deep breath and said, “It’s a Japanese doll my uncle sent to me many years ago from Japan. Please, Mrs. Hill,” begged Tomi, “I have no place to leave it.”
    “You don’t understand, Tomi. Several of my neighbors work for the FBI, and if they see you here, I don’t know what they will do. You have to leave. I’m sorry.” Alice spoke rapidly and ran her words together. Tomi could see that she was very frightened.
    “But, Mrs. Hill, you know me. I’ve worked for you. I’m not a spy or anything. You know that.”
    “Yes! Yes! I know, but you have to leave now. Just leave that box on the porch. I’ll…take care of it later. Bye, Tomi,” said Alice in a low voice, and she softly closed the door.
     Tomi was hurt and bewildered. She had come to this house many times to babysit and suddenly she was no longer welcome. Mrs. Hill’s behavior puzzled Tomi. She felt abandoned. Tomi walked away from the house and turned to see the outline of the delicate, light wood-grained box sitting on the porch, discarded. She remembered Mrs. Hill’s warning about the FBI, and Tomi could almost feel unseen eyes following her to the bus stop. She knew one thing for certain—she would never see her doll again. Tomi boarded the bus with a heavy heart. As she sank into her seat, she was overwhelmed with sadness. Someone from the back of the bus mumbled, “Jap!” She felt herself cringe inside but sat staring straight ahead until she got to her stop.
    Tomi climbed the hill to her house and just as she walked into the kitchen, George appeared and asked, “Where’ve you been? I’ve been looking all over for you. The JACL is having another emergency meeting at the Nippon Kan this afternoon, so I think we better go.”
    Tomi was still feeling the sting of rejection and could only nod in agreement. George noticed her pensive mood.
    “What’s wrong? Mack again, huh?” he teased.
    “No, I just got back from Mrs. Hill’s house.” Tomi proceeded to explain to George what happened. “I still don’t get it. I didn’t do anything wrong,” she insisted.
     “Hey, it’s only a doll,” said George lightly.
    “You know it’s more than the doll, George.”
    “Yeah, a lot more,” he said grimly. Neither said a word for a while. There was an uneasy silence between the siblings, as they struggled with their own feelings. Finally George spoke.
    “By the way, Mack called and said he would pick us up.”
    “You mean he’s really coming?” asked Tomi in a mocking tone.
    “What’s with you two, anyhow?”
    “Well, he’s always catering to his mother and, besides, she hates me.”
    “Ignore her,” said George.
    “I can’t. Whenever she sees me, she gives me a dirty look.”
    “Well, did you know Papa doesn’t like you going with Mack? He thinks you’re too young to be going around with him. He told me to tell you.”
    “What do you think of Mack, George?”
    “I like him. Give him a chance. He’s a nice guy.”
    “Hmm,” she murmured. “We’ll see.”
    “God, you’re a brat.”
    “Uh huh,” she replied.

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