The Hill of Tears
The autumn sun rose high as we stayed on the hill, silently crouched, even after we could no longer see the vapors left behind the steam engine of the train. The crowd at the train station disappeared, and everything had settled into a frightening lull. We wept silently as we faced the distant mountains. One by one, the women whose husbands had left, went alone to a rock or a grassy spot to grieve in private.
“Mrs. Fujiwara.” When I turned around, I found Dancho Oe standing. As the head of our group, he had accompanied the men to the train platform.
“I was asked by your husband to return this to you.” In his hand, Dancho Oe was holding a blanket and woolen underpants.
“Why?” I said as my eyes filled with tears.
“He was worried about you. He thought you would have a hard time,” he said. “He also told me to give you this money.” There was three hundred yen in his hand.
“What an idiot!” I scolded my husband silently. Going to the gulag in Siberia, why did he give me back his most precious things? It’s like some sort of love suicide. Maybe he thought if he left these things for the children, I’d be satisfied. But now every day, every night when I saw this blanket, I would be reminded of him. I was so angry at him for leaving me, I forgot to thank Dancho Oe—he stood there, waiting.
Finally, he said, “Mrs. Fujiwara, you might not know about it…a while ago, at the marketplace on the way back from a meeting, I lent your husband forty yen…”
“What…what about forty yen?” I mumbled. A look of annoyance flitted across his face.
“I lent him forty yen,” he said.
“I don’t give a damn about forty yen,” I thought. I couldn’t stand to look at his face as he tried to collect on a loan—to bring this nasty business up when my heart was breaking. I paid him the forty yen. The thought suddenly surged through me, “From today…I’ve got to be strong.”
Near our shinto shrine house on the hill, the other women stood in a circle and looked towards me. They were the women who had always been alone, their husbands missing since we left Manchuria. From the hill, they looked down at the seven women who just lost their husbands, and whispered amongst themselves. I looked at them, then they averted their eyes, as if they had been saying something bad.
One of them, Mrs. Nagoshi, said to me, “Okusan (Ma’am), it’s going to be hard for you now.” She had one nursing baby and was the youngest wife in our group. Was she trying to be polite, or comfort me, or provoke me? I didn’t know. I’ve got to be strong. I looked at the faces of my children.
Masahiro, still stunned, came near me, and from time to time looked up at me, trying to understand what had happened. Masahiko-chan was angry—the pain of separating from his father overwhelmed him. I worried about Sakiko and went back to my room, the boys following close behind. It was unusual to find no one else in the room. She was asleep.
I picked her up and said, “Sakiko. Daddy is gone. Sakiko, he’s gone.” I rubbed up against her sleeping face and sobbed. I felt so miserable, but my three children understood me best. Masahiro, with his eyes full of tears, stared at me. For three days, I was in a daze. A voice, somewhere inside me said, “You’ve got to get a hold of yourself,” but I could do nothing. Wherever I was, I was in tears, and consumed by heartache.
The four men left behind went back and forth to the main office of the Japanese Association. They talked importantly amongst themselves. Mr. Narita, who until now had been ignored, became one of the inner circle of men. When they announced that the age limit of forty, Mr. Nagasu was exuberant, and for two or three days, he worked energetically, and annoyed me by saying, “Okusan, it’s no use crying. You must get to work.” He bossed the women around and stuck his nose in the cooking pot, commenting on the food. Then on the night of the third day, he suddenly became quiet and his head drooped. I thought he was sick and asked Mrs. Daichi about him.
She said with a worried look, “It turns out that all of the men are doomed. Unless a man is really sick, everyone of them—up to age forty-five is going to be sent away.”
“Is that true?”
“I think so. I don’t know what to do.” Her husband, Mr. Daichi would be sent away and their daughter, Seiko-chan, would be devastated. I don’t know where that rumor came from but the remaining four men suddenly lost their spirit and began packing up their things. Four days after my husband left, I finally came back to my senses. There was no time to grieve, I knew I had to think about the future.
The morning of the fifth day after our seven men were taken away, the same station master knocked on our door, just as he had done before, to bring bad news. He announced that the remaining four men would be shipped away. The next morning at 8 a.m. the remaining men up to the age of forty-five gathered together at the school. Former Dancho Oe; Mr. Nagasu, no longer proud; and poor Mr. Daichi, held his daughter, Seiko-chan’s hand. Mr. Narita, a weak man who was often feverish, couldn’t move with the other men. Thankfully, because of his illness, the authorities let him stay.
I went through a repetition of the same horrible events of five days earlier, but this time I was the witness. Dancho Oe handed over the dancho responsibilities to Mr. Narita, then he talked in private with his older sister, Old Woman Oe. After three months as our leader, Dancho Oe was feared more than respected by us. Now he bowed his head, like a beggar monk, before us women and spoke.
“Thank you all for everything. I ask you to take care of my sister,” he said humbly.
I bowed my head to the man who at one time, forced my husband to apologize for some silly offense, with both hands on the floor. I hated him before for that, but now I felt nothing. Seiko-chan cried out in anguish, “Papa. Papa,” as she clung to her father. The fourteen-year old girl couldn’t be stopped by her mother and she held onto Mr. Daichi, crossing the hill with him. All of us were in tears watching them.
“Take care of yourself. Don’t do anything rash,” Mr. Nagasu said to his wife and five-year old daughter, Hisako, as he kept turning his shoulders around, over and over, to see them as he walked down to the station. This once proud man was crying, and I felt guilty for my earlier feelings about him.
Dancho Narita, with his fever, struggled to keep his reddened face up and stand on the hill. We watched the train go past the hill again. This time, there were much fewer men on the train.
From our vantage point on the hill we heard Mr. Nagasu calling his daughter. His voice was cut by the wind, “Hisako…oh, Hisako…oh.” His dark face strained to see his only daughter, and that voice…by the time the vapors floating horizontally from the steam engine faded, the train was on the other side of the mountain and his cries were gone.
I took tally of my group. Now we had:
Males: only Dancho Narita.
Females (Married women): sixteen.
Young single women: (Mrs. Kurashige’s young sister, Kuniko), one.
Unmarried older woman: (Mr. Oe’s older sister), one.
Total: thirty-nine people.
Under the leadership of our sick Dancho Narita, our small group of thirty-nine women and children would have to go forward beginning tonight, together with new tears.