I'm trying something new on the blog: excerpts of books that I love, and I''m thrilled to be starting this feature with A Girl Like You, by Maureen Lindley. This extraordinary novel is about the Japanese internment during the War, and how it impacts one girl, who is caught between both worlds, having one white parent, and one Japanese. I hope you love the read.
Three months after Aaron’s death the order to vacate their home is delivered to them by Mr Stedall, the man they now can’t help but associate with bad news.
‘It’s not my doing,’ he says, his forehead creased in concern, ‘don’t shoot the messenger.’
‘What is it now, Mr Stedall?’ Satomi asks.
‘It’s not good, not good at all I’m afraid.’
‘When was it ever?’
‘November ‘41, I guess.’
The notice of Instructions to all persons of Japanese ancestry, both alien and non-alien, is issued by something called the Civil Control Administration.
‘Never heard of it myself,’ Mr Stedall says.
He has brought the leaflet on his own initiative, knowing that the Baker women don’t go to town these days, where the notices are tacked on poles and shop fronts, and are hard to miss. Better they should know and have time to prepare. Mrs Baker has suffered enough shock for one small woman, surely.
They have four days to quit their home, four days to leave their farm and their lives. No wonder Mr Stedall feels bad at being the bearer of such news. No wonder he rocks on his bicycle as he peddles away from them.
Along with their Japanese neighbours, they are to be sent to a detention camp and must present themselves on the due day at the Angelina assembly area, which turns out to be the hastily re-named bus station, out by the peach-canning factory on the road heading west.
By Executive Order 9066, Franklin Roosevelt demands that all those of Japanese ancestry, those with any Japanese blood at all, are to be excluded from the entire Pacific coast. That means all of California and most of Oregon and Washington too. It means the Japanese residents of Angelina, and it means Tamura and Satomi.
Satomi reads the notice to Tamura, the paper trembling in her hand so that the writing blurs and she has to keep starting over. Tamura sits upright and very still in her chair, the formality of the phrasing confusing her. Surely, it can’t be true, Satomi has put the emphasis in the wrong place, or she herself has misheard. What is a non-alien other than an American citizen?
‘Are you sure it says that? Can it be possible that it says that?’
‘It does say that but I’ll read it again slowly, to be certain.’
When she has finished, Tamura rises from her chair and says quietly, ‘Yes, that is what it says then.’
‘How can this man remove us from our home, Mother? Surely he doesn’t have the right, it’s un-American.’
‘He is the president of the United States. We are nothing to him.’
‘Father voted for him didn’t he? He must have trusted him.’
The shocking news seems too much to be absorbed in one go, but the awful certainty that there is no way out brings them to the edge of hysteria. Something hideous is about to happen to them, something without reason, a horrible thing that they are powerless to stop.
The questions come, each one prompting another that has no answer.
‘Where will they send us?’
‘What will they do with us?’
‘How will we live?’
‘What will happen to the farm?’
‘We must stay together whatever happens,’ Satomi says. ‘We mustn’t let them separate us.’
‘No, we must not be separated,’ Tamura repeats, while harbouring an unspoken terror that even their lives might be in danger.
In the raw panic that overtakes them tending the crop seems pointless, even cooking is beyond them. They walk about in circles, the shock the news has brought dragging at their insides. Satomi as though watching through other’s eyes sees their pacing as spinning, it’s the nearest thing to spinning, she thinks. By dusk they are tired out. Sliding into static mode they wait as though on alert for the ice to crack, the sea to swallow them up.
Sleep is out of the question. Satomi takes herself to her mother’s bed where they talk and hold each other until dawn breaks and they feel the need for coffee.
‘How will we make coffee at this ‘detention center’?’ Tamura asks.
‘I don’t know, Mama, I don’t know the answer to anything. Maybe they will make coffee for us.’
She watches Tamura walk the tidy house, watches her touch every bit of furniture as though taking her leave of old friends. She watches her stroke the curtains, and lock the linen box, and take down the china from the big pine dresser that Aaron made for her.
Seeing her mother’s pain, she determines never to love too much the place she lives in, never to allow any building to hold part of her in its fabric. Yet under the eviction threat she can’t help feeling a new love for the place herself.
After a couple of days the fog in her head clears and memories come flooding as she paces around their property. Memories of Artie kissing her at the side of the log shack, putting his tongue in her mouth so that she could taste the lemonade he had been drinking, sweet and sour at the same time. She recalls his voice as clearly as though he is standing next to her saying it over. ‘Don’t be a tease. Nobody likes a tease.’
In the packing shed she stands in a shaft of light remembering a day when through her fingers she had watched with dread in her heart, her father tenderly, one by one drown five perfect little kittens that had been born in the dark behind the box stack.
‘Two cats are all the farm needs,’ he had said as though speaking of spades or pitchforks. Her father’s certainty seems like something wonderful now, something safe and protecting.
And how old had she been that long hot summer, when she had spied on her parents? Thirteen, she’d been thirteen, and all grown up she had thought then. The memory of the girlish arc of her mother’s back, her father’s rough work hands, the glowing room, is still crystal clear. Tamura had been happy then. Would she ever be again?
It comes to her that wherever life is to take her, the Baker place is the only home she has ever known, and that all her memories of her childhood on the farm will come now with a serving of pain. Order 9066 will in her future mark her past, and make it hard for her to call herself an American.
They shakily go over the list of orders that came with the notice. They are to take with them only those possessions that they can carry themselves. They should include enamel plates, eating utensils and some bedding. They are not to pack food or cameras. Radios are forbidden, as is alcohol. They must report at ten a.m. They must be on time.
Tamura begins packing the one small suitcase they own, while Satomi uses the old duffle bag that more usually hangs behind the kitchen door, housing potatoes.
Apart from a few clothes and the Indian blanket from her bed, there is nothing much she wants to take, so Tamura takes up the space with things that remind her of Aaron. Mania possesses her as she packs his clothes and shoes, a bar of his shaving soap, an old tobacco pouch. She is not to be dissuaded.
‘I need to breathe him in, I want to breathe him in,’ she weeps. ‘And what will happen to them if I don’t?’
‘What will happen to everything here? Just take your own things Mama, just the stuff you will need.’
Sick at heart she watches as Tamura fills the bag, hiding their last small sack of rice in the bottom corner. The sight of it fills her with shame. They are refugees now, to be herded to God knows where in their own country.
Reprinted from A Girl Like You by Maureen Lindley, used by permission of Bloomsbury USA. Copyright © 2013 by Maureen Lindley.