Yuki looked like a wild horse, galloping through the streets of the small, friendly town, her silky black hair flying through the wind. The glaring sun beamed down at her.
“Japan bombed Pearl Harbor!” she screamed. “Japan bombed Pearl Harbor!”
When two months had crawled by, and the event was forgotten in that small Japanese-American town, Yuki snatched a rusty red radio from her windowsill. The sun was streaming in. It was early afternoon, and a long shadow was cast behind the silent radio. She leapt outside, meeting a group of friends on her dusty stoop. The crackling voice began, reciting a shock. “Recently signed Executive Order 9066 allows people of any race or culture to be evacuated throughout the war,” then it added, “and most believe that Japanese-Americans will be targeted because of the threat posed by the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December.” Yuki could taste the blood in her mouth as she felt the inside of her cheek with her tongue. Yep, she’d bit off some skin.
Another month passed, and Yuki had again forgotten about the day when the rusty red radio spoke those words. Just emerging from an orange grove, she and her friends were making their way home from school. Straight in front of her, her eyes were glued to a familiar wood post, for they had nowhere else to rest. She bent her fingers back until they screamed with a fire of pain inside of her. Her thoughts embraced the post, the imperfect edges, all the splinters from it that had pierced her skin, all the times she danced with joy around it, everything. She ran to the post, her friends close behind her. Cupping her hand so that it rested on it perfectly, she prepared herself to skip around it. But there was a paper in her way. A paper with bold lettering, tied to the post with a confident nail. She usually would have not stopped to acknowledge it, but she surprised herself and stopped in her tracks. She read it with worry—nearly tears—in her eyes. The radio was right. They (and all other Japanese-Americans) had to evacuate to internment camps in six days! Her mind raced. How would they make it? Who would she tell first?
Before she knew it, it was all over. With nothing but clothes and her favorite bandana, Yuki was stepping on cold metal steps onto the cold metal train, her mother and her sister Keiko by her side. Her father had died long ago. The train engine rumbled and started, moving on the rickety tracks. All around her were mothers, their arms wrapped around their children, children with needy, tearful looks in their eyes, and men with their work caps, standing tall, clutching handles. Everyone was swaying with the train. And before long, Yuki felt like one of them too, swaying with the crowd, going to a place unknown.
For one sweaty month, Yuki lived in horse stables. The space was so small that it felt like all the emotions, health, everything was spreading throughout the crowd. You could see and feel everything that the person next to you saw and felt. There wasn’t even enough room to breathe your own breath, say your own words, feel your own things, or think your own thoughts before someone else’s life butted into yours. Yuki desperately needed to start doing karate kicks, her fury and frustration flying with her power.
Finally it was over. But nobody was preparing themselves to float home with relief, back to their beautiful lives. No. They were preparing themselves for something very different. Yuki sat again on a cold metal train, but the air was so fresh and cool, she didn’t mind quite so much.
Wind was blowing through her silky black hair again. Her hair was flying through the fresh wind. Everyone else’s hair was tied up in a tight knot. Everyone else had stiff, short head covers of hair. Everyone else’s hair was bottling up their emotions and freedom. Only Yuki’s hair was free. Only Yuki was still Yuki.
The barracks in Amache were brand new, you could tell. But that didn’t mean they seemed like a good place to live, a place worthy of human beings. People were already settling into their new homes though, and the dust behind the train was settling too, for it had flown in the air, surprised by the train’s passing. When the train left again, Yuki watched steam rise from the top, twirling then disappearing into the sky.
All of Yuki’s friends were far, far away, and karate kicks weren’t helping. Yuki buried her face in her pillow all day, every day, for there was no school. Her hair was tangled in itchy, painful knots. All Yuki could think was, I’ve lost myself, the world is ending, and I’m only eight years old. Then she cried. She hadn’t cried since her father had died. Her tears were silent, but they were tears, dampening her stiff pillow in two dark circles. Yuki thought of the days when everything was going to be all right.
Days passed, and the same thoughts and feelings passed through Yuki’s mind again and again, and she made no progress, whatever that could possibly be. She was a powerless, silent, motionless fire.
She wobbled around on the creaky wooden floor, realizing that her legs were no longer functional. She tried to stretch her arms, but they were too stiff. She tried to squeeze her eyes closed in pain, but they were filled to the top with fresh tears and dried with dry ones.
The last of Yuki’s personality was dying down, as was her life. She was struggling to live. The fierce temperatures seeped into her. Everything had to be over, there was no other way she could be living in such pain. This thought calmed her. Just take a deep breath, and in moments it will be over, and you won’t have to do it anymore.
Everything from true life was a memory now, the only spark of her world she was able to carry with her was her clothes and her bandana, and they only made her lonelier, for as she wore them through the days, they caused her only to think of the past. The food and meal process at the camps had the same effects, only taking her farther into the past, to a sensitive place that she rarely touched. Her father was a great cook. He whipped together the best of meals, and they were right there on the table waiting for her the moment they were done. Now, crowds coming from out of nowhere lined up, waiting for what seemed like forever, for freezing cold rice and potatoes.
She thought of the days when she and her best friends had hid out in Miss Breed’s small-town library just for the fun of it, staying there for as long as they felt like it. And Miss Breed had always just given them a smile, letting them giggle and sit there, never telling them what to do, when and how, as Yuki’s mother would have. Then, as if the world had read her mind, Yuki discovered that she got a letter. There was a slightly dented corner, but her name was right there on the front, and that was all that mattered. Then, smaller, as if the writer was less important, was the name Miss Breed.
I was just thinking of you. Every afternoon I absentmindedly wait for you and your friends to arrive here, giggling and talking. How are the camps? What was it like to live in a horse stable for a month? I miss you, and I hope everything’s OK.
Ten days had slipped by, and Yuki had written back the best letter she could. With Miss Breed’s support by her side, Yuki managed to get out of bed and out of the building. Far away on the horizon was a snow-covered mountain. Nearly just as far away she saw adults working, leaning down to the ground with metal bars by their feet. A ball flying through the air caught her eye, and to her surprise, there were some older girls, about Keiko’s age, eleven, playing volleyball and smiling. Throughout their game someone would give an occasional shout to a teammate. Old people sat and chatted, sometimes in English, other times in Japanese. Yuki felt like a baby bear, just coming out of its den for the first time, a whole new world to discover, one very different from its old one.
All of the sudden, Yuki felt someone breathing on her neck. She automatically blocked out all other noise, and she could hear the heavy breathing beside her. She turned, and it was a guard. She stepped back. Yuki once again felt the pain of the skin inside her cheek squeezed between her teeth.
“I won’t hurt you,” said the guard, in a gentle father-like voice, one she hadn’t heard in a long time. He seemed almost hurt, but more sorry that she was scared of him. Yuki let out a sigh of relief, as if she knew she could trust him. He had long skinny legs, and he was tall, towering over her. Her relieved grip on the skin in her mouth tightened. But then he made a surprising move, and Yuki knew that he wasn’t truly a guard inside. Seriously, Yuki, now you’re becoming Keiko?
The guard bent down and squatted by her side. He looked her right in the eye and said merely, “Hello.” Then he stood up, and their fixed gazes wandered again.
The sun fell, and at nearly the tip of night, midnight, when all the lights are dark, and the camps dead silent, a whisper rose from Yuki’s mouth. It seemed like she had almost broken a spell.
“I met a guard.”
“He sounded like a father. He was nice.”
“He squatted and looked me in the eye.”
“Did you see?”
“Good. Do you see without really seeing?”
“Would you like to meet him?”
“What? We have to wait until morning?”
“Well can we go then?”
“I just know.”
“So then you do see without seeing.”
One restless month had passed, and never had the right day come for Keiko to meet the guard. Just moments after Keiko and Yuki had settled into bed on the Fourth of July, Keiko whispered to Yuki, “Today. Now.”
Slipping outside, Yuki in her bare feet, Keiko in slippers, the two moved through the dust. Yuki leaping, Keiko gracefully tiptoe-sliding as if on ice. As they approached the guard, he had his hands behind his back, his eyes glued to the sky. Keiko nodded. Yuki looked up at the sky, joining the guard. The sky was filled with stars, each shining with its own special beauty, though disguised by how it blends with the many.
The world continues, I’ve found myself again, and I’m only eight years old. I’m more than I was before.
Be Like the Cactus 1
by Kimii Nagata
Let not harsh tongues, that wag
Discourage you. In spite of
Be like the cactus, which through
And storm, and thunder, can