Shinkyo Station was a mass of people stumbling in the dark. There were supposed to be about fifty in our assigned group, the dan. It was a minor miracle that my husband and I found them, huddled in front of the government travel office in front of the train station.
“Good. We made it,” he said.
But I didn’t see anyone’s face that I recognized. I collapsed, so thoroughly exhausted that I couldn’t do anything. The families of the Kanto Army formed nervous lines around us that steadily snaked into the train station. We were told that our group’s departure would not be until seven that morning, long after these military families left on the first trains. I spread out a single blanket on the bare dirt ground, and together with the children, curled up into a circle to sleep. The only comfort I had was the knowledge that my husband was near us until we had to leave.
An uneasiness, the unfamiliar sensation of being surrounded by so many people, grew like a web in my brain. In my sleep, I must have breathed in the soot-filled air. A fit of coughing woke me from the desperately needed rest. It was dawn. Now we were surrounded by a crowd that had grown through the night; how did we sleep without being trampled? My husband was nowhere to be seen. As I looked for him I was relieved to see faces I knew right in front of us—Mr. Daichi and his family! Their kind, friendly faces lined up near us was reassuring. Between Mr. and Mrs. Daichi sat their teenage daughter, Seiko who hid her pretty face in her father’s shoulder. Mrs. Daichi held their baby. It turned out that my husband had gone to the office to get more instructions.
The chief of our General Affairs Section, Mr. Shibata, was busy trying to organize our group. “Is Mr. Fujiwara back yet?”
Mr. Shibata waited anxiously for my husband’s return. By the time my husband came back, it was already past seven. Now we were told that our train would depart at nine.
“What did the director say?” Mr. Shibata impatiently asked.
My husband said, “He told us to make our own decisions on how to select the men.”
The two of them moved away from me and began discussing matters in lowered voices so that I couldn’t hear. But I knew they were deciding which men would accompany us on the train. By us, I mean the women and children. Four men were selected. The families of the lucky four joyfully crowded around their own husband or father.
“Who should we choose as dancho, to head the dan?” Mr. Shibata looked at my husband’s face.
“Mr. Tono would be good,” I distantly heard my husband say.
Mr. Shibata hesitated, then said, “Hey, Mr. Fujiwara. Why don’t you go on with this group? You’ve got three young my children… I can explain everything personally to the director later. Even if you stayed behind with us, it’s just a matter of two or three days anyway.”
My husband didn’t answer. I stood up unsteadily and went closer to him. “Dear…please come with us,” I said.
My husband looked at me accusingly, as if to blame me for embarrassing him. “I will not go,” he said very clearly to Mr. Shibata. Then he shouted so that everyone could hear, “Mr. Tono. Mr. Tono, you’ve been selected to head this dan.”
I couldn’t believe it. I witnessed my husband sacrifice his own family. For what? For the sake of appearance, for the sake of honor. He did what he was expected to do in his position, I suppose. Back then, all I could do was cry like an ordinary,
helpless housewife. Tears poured down my face.
Night gave way to morning, and Shinkyo Station became clear in the light. The station as much more crowded than it was when we arrived in the middle of the night. Lines and lines of people formed, most of them women and children. Japanese soldiers ordered everyone about with hoarse shouts and barks. My husband brought a bundle wrapped in our large furoshiki cloth, the cloth I used to wrap my packages. He must have picked it up from our house on his way from the office.
“You might end up throwing this away but if this bundle stays at the house, it won’t do any good there either,” he said. It was mostly clothes. In my husband’s other hand hung a basket full of my freshly picked tomatoes. Seeing my fresh vegetables made me happier. As the children and I ate the sweet, juicy tomatoes, I watched my husband’s eyes—red, bloodshot eyes that hadn’t had any sleep at all. There was one hour left before our train was supposed to depart. It was a terrifying sixty minutes.
The motorcycle sidecar that was supposed to fetch Mrs. Tono, our dancho’s wife, came back loaded with baggage belonging to someone, I don’t know who. But Mrs. Tono was not aboard. Mr. Shibata shouted something at Mr. Daichi. People argued, discussed, bickered. I listened distractedly, no longer capable of caring. At eight o’clock we were allowed onto the train platform. Then we were assigned to an open freight train car with the number thirty-five painted on in black and white. It wasn’t a passenger car, just a freight car used to transport logs or rocks with no roof overhead, no seats.
My husband dragged us onto the car, with our children and our bags. But by the time we got on the freight car, the ‘good seats’ on the car floor were already taken by the nimble people. We were left with the worst spots, in the front—right where the train’s steam engine would shower us with smoke and coal dust.
Mr. Shibata then called out, “All right, men, we’ve got to get back to the office!” They were leaving us.
My husband loved two-year-old Masahiko with a special tenderness. He was a lively little boy who looked just like his father. My husband picked him up and put his face close to his son’s. He spoke using his usual paternal tone. “Masahiko-chan, remember your Daddy’s face, all right? Don’t forget me, all right? Do as Mommy tells you. Okay? Listen to her; listen to her well. All right?” He nuzzled Masahiko’s frightened face and set him down beside me.
Then he turned to our eldest son, Masahiro, who stood in a daze. My husband knelt down, faced him, and placed his hand on his small shoulder. “Masahiro, how old are you?”
“Five,” he said in a small voice.
“That’s right; you’re five years old. So you’re old enough to understand what Daddy has to say. Listen to me carefully, Masahiro. You are going on this train with Mommy, your little brother, and the baby to a place that is far away. Daddy has to stay behind in Shinkyo. I am not going with you, so you need to do as Mommy says and be a good boy.”
Masahiro obediently said, “Yes, Daddy:”
My husband then turned to look at me and simply said, “Dewa tanomu yo—I leave this matter in your hands,” just the way he asked me when he needed me to do an ordinary task, and then he stood up. It was a man’s job to be strong, not sentimental.
This might be the last time I would see my husband. The last time I would see him alive. I couldn’t possibly utter the word ‘good-bye’—not like this. I stood up and said gently into his ear, “Please stay alive, dear. Stay alive. Do whatever you have to do, just please stay alive.” I whispered this over and over into his ear.
Without saying a word, he took out his watch from the pocket of his tailored government jacket and gave it to me. It was his precious Longines pocket watch.
“Kodomotachi wo tanomu yo,” he said, asking me formally to take on the responsibility for the lives of our three children, a terrible burden to place in my hands, and then he turned his back to us—to get ready to jump off the train car. Just then, a small towel tucked into his waist brushed against his hand. He stopped, came back to us, took the towel out, and put it around Masahiko-chan’s head and face.
“Don’t let him get sunburnt. He’ll get too hot.” He said this without losing control over his emotions. A father worried over his son. Then without hesitation, he took a big leap off the freight car and lightly landed on the station platform. He ran to catch up with the other men.
Long after I lost sight of him in the crowd, I kept looking and looking, hoping that he would reappear. The cold Manchurian wind penetrated me, and sliced my heart.