Letters to Mrs Hernandez, p.1C S Gibbs
Letters to Mrs Hernandez
By C S Gibbs
Copyright 2013 C S Gibbs
Table of Contents
Chapter One - September 1937
Chapter Two - Same Time, Different Place
Chapter Three - July 1942
Chapter Four - A Mindful Farewell
Chapter Five - September 1942
Chapter Six - A Stranger Calls
Chapter Seven - November 1942
Chapter Eight - All at Sea
Chapter Nine - An Innocent Abroad
Chapter Ten - New Horizons
Chapter Eleven - Cafe Culture
Chapter Twelve - It Takes Four to Tango
Chapter Thirteen - Horsing Around
Chapter Fourteen - A Man of Letters
Chapter Fifteen - Captivated Among the Captive
Chapter Sixteen - Lingua Franca
Chapter Seventeen - Felice Navidad
Chapter Eighteen - A Passage of Time
Chapter Nineteen - Knowing the Right People
Chapter Twenty - Dressed to Impress
Chapter Twenty-one - Cold Hands, Warm Heart
Chapter Twenty-two - Divine Inspiration
Chapter Twenty-three - Such Sweet Sorrow
Chapter Twenty-four - June 1943
Chapter Twenty-five - Correspondence in Transit
Chapter Twenty-six - Ceremonial Scripture
Chapter Twenty-seven - The Empire Builder
Chapter Twenty-eight - February 1944
Chapter Twenty-nine - May 1944
Chapter Thirty - Agony in Paradise
Chapter Thirty-one - Capital Punishment
Chapter Thirty-two - May 1945
Chapter Thirty-three - A Small World
Chapter Thirty-four - Fly-Boy
Chapter Thirty-five - Points of View
Chapter Thirty-six - Tokyo Away-Day
Chapter Thirty-seven - A Lovely Day
Chapter Thirty-eight - Unexpected Guests
Chapter Thirty-nine - No End In Sight
Chapter Forty - Business As Usual
Chapter Forty-one - Sight-seeing
Chapter Forty-two - Bon Voyage
Chapter Forty-three - Road Trip
Chapter Forty-four - Closing Number
Chapter One - September 1937
However much the sun blazed down upon the Hutchinson home that Saturday afternoon, there was still a darkness about the house. The long, faceless stretch of identical, red-earth-brick terraced houses, the sort that could be found all around the coal fields of Derbyshire, stretched the length of the road and showed no change in pattern or demeanour, save for the different coloured doors. At number eleven, the coming and going of sombre folk sporting black attire drove away the bright hues of summer.
“He were a good chap, your father.”
Ben sat in the corner of the living room on a wooden chair – one of four in the room – and looked up at the face which addressed him, that of Arthur Luddit, a man of few words at the best of times, who was at this moment failing, even by his own standards, to find something further to say to the boy.
“We'd first worked together at Cossall, Walter and me, just after the Great War. He's been a real pal for all those years, since.” The words began to fail Arthur, but he was rescued by another.
“You'll be the man of the house, now, Ben.” Interjected Bill Edwards, supping wistfully from a bottle of Home Ales and trying to gee up the barely consolable teenager before him. “It'll not be long before you can take his place down the pit – just another year of schooling for you and then the job'll be yours, eh? I expect your mother will be glad of the income?”
“He'll do no such thing, Billy.” A plate of sandwiches parted Arthur and Bill, making way for Ben's mother, who held the plate as though it were a gauntlet to be thrown down. She looked to Bill and awaited further comment.
“Well, Liza, I didn't mean to be rude, like, but I was just being realistic. You've got to look to the future, now, eh?” said Bill.
Liza swept a loose lock of her thick, brown hair back behind her left ear. She reached out, grabbed her son by the chin and fixed her gaze to his.
“You'll not be going down the mines.”
She released Ben and spun her unflinching blue eyes to Bill.
“Walter died before his time – under tons of fallen coal. I shall not lose my only son to the same fate.” Her voice cracked on the final words.
Bill turned to Arthur for support but all of his words were already long spent. He stared at his half-empty bottle of ale, tugged at his starched collar and made a repost.
“Liza, how are you going to manage? Jobs have been scarce around here for a while and the pit's are all we've got. There's now't else here for us. Face it – his dad were a miner and he'll be one an' all.”
Fellow mourners and relatives within earshot picked up on the debate. Some looked at the table in the centre of the room – the only other piece of furniture besides the chairs and the sideboard – and noticed that the provisions of sandwiches, tea and beer were mostly depleted. Condolences were once again offered, tears were once again shed, excuses were made and were followed by exits.
Within twenty minutes, widow and son were alone in the house. Crockery, cutlery, glasses and leftovers were gathered and carried to the kitchen at the back of the house. Liza busied herself, using some still-warm water from the kettle to ready the sink for a large bout of pot washing.
Ben loosened his father's only tie and ruffled his dark brown hair, which had been swept back for the first time with the liberal use of his father's hair oil.
“Mam, if I'm not to go down the mines, then what am I to do?” he asked in a voice quite recently broken.
“You are to study, my lad!” Came the firm instruction. “Bill was right when he said that you've got a year of schooling left, but as for the rest of what he said, I'll have none of it. You shall do your very best and find yourself a career outside of the coal mines. You're a bright lad, Benjamin Hutchinson, but no-one's going to see you shine if you're half a mile underground!”
“But Mam, Bill was right - everyone around here goes down the mines. It's what we all do. There's nothing else.”
“And who put that lot in charge of you and me?” Liza had kept her peace whilst the guests were in the house, but now there was no need for such composure. Her bottled grief was now spilling over, along with exasperation. “Your life is your own, Ben, to do with as you please – you mustn't let others tell you what your place is – you can make your own way if you try.
“You can get your schooling done and find an apprenticeship in Derby or Nottingham – perhaps at the Lace Market or at Rolls Royce . . . you've got to try, son . . . you're not going to end up like your father – he came back from France in one piece only to die for nothing in a pit collapse! I won't have it!”
Liza stopped abruptly.
She closed her eyes for a moment and swallowed hard on another suppressed tear, then continued with a controlled tone and her first smile in a week.
“Having said that, you should always do as your mother tells you! Now give us a hand with this mess, will you? You can dry.”
Chapter Two - Same Time, Different Place
Half a world away, across continents and oceans, the many millions of another island race were busy
Bestriding the Sumida and linking the ancient heart of the city to the newer regions beyond the eastern bank was the Kachidoki Bridge, and making an ungainly and unaccustomed journey across this ancient bridge from the city's old west was a gleaming, black Nissan Type 70 sedan, which was certainly a rare sight on the streets of Tokyo in 1937.
But a few months old, the large car stood out from its smaller, locally built rivals on account of its sensible form, the use of bright chrome along the sides of the engine hood and the capacious and fully enclosed cab, all of which came courtesy of its Graham-Paige design team in the United States.
The four male occupants of the car were all dressed in smart, western suits instead of their usual uniforms – despite the prominence of their mode of transport, wearing civilian clothes allowed them a lesser degree of conspicuousness.
Gliding alongside tramways, the car moved on toward its destination, which lay in the Koto district of this now sprawling capital.
At the destination concerned, all was peaceful. The house was like so many others in the city: a wooden, two-storied affair of modest proportions with a tiled roof and the almost mandatory cherry blossom tree rising mindfully in the corner of the compact garden, all of which was neatly hemmed in by large, wooden fencing, which rose up and obscured the view of any passer by to the goings on within the first floor.
Indoors, Hitoshi Kimura sat at the desk in his study, pausing from his writings to re-fill his fountain pen from a glass bottle of rich, blue ink. The task would have to wait, though, as there was an excited knock upon his study door, which began to open before he could do so himself.
“Otosan! I set two school records in athletics, today!”
“That's wonderful, my son. In which events?”
“In the sprint and the long jump. My teacher says that I have the makings of a champion,” Katsuhiro beamed at his father.
“Those legs of yours are getting so long and strong, now, Katsuhiro. You will soon be taller than your sister – talking of whom, where is she? I think you should go and tell her all about your triumph!”
Katsuhiro nodded in agreement and bounced off in search of his elder sibling, only pausing to tell his advancing mother of his success, before running off to the garden make the announcement for a third, but no less satisfying time.
“The makings of a champion, he says?” Hitoshi addressed his wife as she entered the study.
Masako smiled for a moment, nodded and then sighed. “We must make sure that he does not neglect his other studies, Hitoshi – it is not enough to just be able to run and jump.”
“I fear that is all they want from him in school. A thinker, an academic, is no good in their eyes. All he is being prepared for is to go and fight in Manchukuo as soon as he is old enough. As long as he can run, jump and do as he is told, then the school's task is complete.”
Again, Masako was in resigned agreement. She straightened her cream blouse and blue, calf-length skirt, “I'll go and get the meal ready – our sporting hero should have quite an appetite after his success, today, don't you think?”
Hitoshi agreed and returned to his desk.
In the garden, Katsuhiro had found his sister. Setsu had been sitting beneath the cherry blossom tree, on a wooden bench, revising for her school exams, but all this had to wait once her younger brother had arrived with his great news. Katsuhiro looked every inch the schoolboy in his uniform of starched white shirt and black shorts, but his close-cropped schoolboy hair could not have been more different to his sister's shoulder-length tresses, which were held back in a ponytail. Setsu had finished her studies for the day and was looking relaxed in her jinbei of knee-length shorts and short-sleeved kimono style jacket which was decorated with a red floral pattern.
The two of them shared the same, broad jaw line as their father, along with fairly narrow noses and broad cheek bones, and despite being three years younger than his sixteen year old sister, Katsuhiro was, indeed, almost as tall as she was.
“A champion, you say? Well, that is something to aim for. You could be the best sprinter in the whole of Japan!” Beamed Setsu.
“Yes, my teacher, Kato-Sensei, thinks that I should train hard and try for a regional competition. Then if I am successful, I could be eligible for officer training in the army or navy.”
Setsu's tone changed. “But if you become good at sport, why would you want to go in the army or navy? Why not become a sporting champion and encourage others to success?”
At this, the conditioning that so concerned his father took a hold of Katsuhiro. “Kato-Sensei says that it is the duty of all boys to train hard so that they can perform at their highest level in support of their country and the Emperor. Kato-Sensei tells us that we have to maintain the 'Kokutai' and carry out the Emperor's will. For us all to be in the military is the best way for Japan to remain strong.”
Setsu had heard this tone far too much, of late, “Ah, the 'Kokutai' – thats' what we are all doing it for. We shall all maintain the momentum of the kokutai and move Japan forward. Why can't you just do your athletics because you love doing it? Isn't it enough that we are proud of you?”
“When I fight for Japan, you will be proud of me, then, too!”
“No, Katsuhiro, I will be sad when we hear that you are lying dead in a field, somewhere in China, fighting for your precious kokutai. I can see that there is no chance in reasoning with you, today.”
“Well, the feeling is mutual. I'm going to my room.” With that, Katsuhiro stomped indoors and upstairs.
The door of Hitoshi's study gently and quietly opened – this time, it was Setsu who was making an entrance.
“Otosan, I am worried about Katsuhiro and his talk of joining the army.”
“Oh, Setsu, will I never get this pen filled?” Grinned Hitoshi.
Setsu realized that her father was trying to get his work done and stopped in her tracks. He probably had another lecture to complete for university, or another book underway. She approached her father and silently observed him as he submerged the pen's nib in to the blue ink with his right hand, then with his left, pulled back on the small metal lever that was previously sitting flush along the middle of the barrel. He let the lever flip back in to place and held the nib in the ink for a moment. There was the faintest of sounds as the rubber sac within the barrel expanded and sucked in the ink through the nib. Hitoshi then removed the nib and wiped away the excess drops of ink with a rag from his desk drawer.
“Is that a new pen?” Asked Setsu.
“Yes, my dear. Your mother bought it for me, last week, to celebrate the completion of my book. I have not yet had the opportunity to use it.”
“May I hold it, please?”
Hitoshi handed the pen to Setsu and she held it gently and examined it in the light. The body and cap were made from a blood-red marbled celluloid, offset by the silver nib, clip and cap ring. Embossed on the side of the barrel in English were the words: Pilot Pen – MFG Co. Ltd. Made in Japan.
“Do the letters 'Ltd' stand for 'limited'?”
“I see that your skills with the English language have become very advanced, my girl!” Laughed Hitoshi. He had taught his daughter well.
“Now, my dear, I would like to finally use this pen and attend to a little work before our evening meal. Would you be so kind as to go and help Okasan prepare the food?”
Setsu kissed her father on the cheek and set off with a happy gait to help her mother – the clash of ideals with her brother washed away for now.
After a few minutes, the food preparation was interrupted by Katsuhiro, who was running down the stairs and pointing excitedly at something in the street outside.
“Look at that car, outside! It's a real beauty – I think it's one of those new Nissans!”
It was, indeed, a Nissan Type
The knock on the door was aggressive.
Masako dutifully answered the door.
The face that greeted her was just as straight as those of the other three.
“This is the house of Hitori Kimura?”
“Yes. May I ask who is calling?”
“I am Military Police Captain Jiro Araki. You will stand aside and let us speak with your husband.”
With that, the four men pushed past Masako and began to walk around the house in search of Hitoshi, who at that moment was entering the hallway to see who was calling at the door. He was immediately confronted by Araki.
“Kimura. We are here on the Emperor's business, concerning serious matters of state.”
Hitoshi nodded in agreement, as if he had almost been expecting such a scenario – Araki directed him to sit and stood over him. Masako hurriedly gathered Setsu and Katsuhiro close to her, as the three other intruders began to wander around the house, clearly in search of something.
There was the sound of plunder from the study. After a while, all three men emerged, each one sporting books and pamphlets, which Araki inspected in the manner of a doctor making a diagnosis. He turned with a look of satisfaction and sanctimony, holding two pamphlets to Hitoshi's face.
“The works of Minobe Tatsukichi and Yoshino Sakuzo . . . enemies of the kokutai, if ever I saw them. How can we keep Japan's divine purpose on course with people like you espousing support for this drivel?”
“They are brilliant free thinkers who care more about Japan's future and well being than any of . . .”
Hitoshi's words were cut short by a blow across the face from Araki. Masako screamed and held her children close – both too terrified to speak or move. Araki turned to them and pointed at Hitoshi.
“This man. Your husband. Your father. He is an obstruction to the kokutai.”
“But . . . he is a lecturer,” protested Masako, “A teacher and translator of English and Spanish. How can he be hurting Japan?”
“He is harbouring and spreading the kind of thoughts that will undermine Japan's efforts in the world. He is to come with us for further questioning. Be grateful that we only take him!”
Upon which, Araki summoned Hitoshi to rise and leave with the three henchmen, who left without closing the front door.
Masako, Setsu and Katsuhiro stood and watched through the open gateway as Hitoshi solemnly climbed in to the back of the car, flanked by two of the silent men. Araki took his place in the passenger seat whilst the third accomplice set the car in motion.
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