Raymond Holmes in Brampton, Ontario. He writes plays, novellas and short stories. His stories have been published in Unleashed Ink, an anthology created by the Barrie Writers Club, The Northern Appeal, a Simcoe County literary magazine and Commuterlit, a Toronto based ezine. His plays Boris and Hermanand The Lonely Vigil Of Emily Baxterhave been performed at the South Simcoe Theatre in Cookstown, Ontario. The latter play was awarded third prize in the 2014 Ottawa Little Theatre Playwriting Contest. His play The Pooman, will be read at the South Simcoe Theatre in June, 2018. Raymond also enjoys making furniture and playing the violin, although he admits to performing the latter activity rather poorly.
AN ENEMY IN OUR KITCHEN
That incident in 1953 when I was nine years old has festered in me ever since; a malignant thing pressing on a nerve. The curtain of carefree, innocent childhood opened to reveal the occasionally hateful, intolerant world of adults.
At public school that year, Rick Sakamoto sat in the desk behind me. Some kids in our class called him names like “slitty-eyed chink.” His race didn’t matter to me. I liked Rick and wanted him for a friend.
A quiet, polite boy, he possessed a remarkable, natural talent for drawing. Anything I drew appeared stick-like and silly, but Rick and his HB pencil made it look effortless. He could sketch military aircraft and war machines that appeared realistic and I admired him for that ability. World War II had been over for eight years by then, but movies and the army surplus stores along Toronto’s Queen Street kept it alive in our imaginations. It was all heroism and excitement to us.
On several occasions I invited Rick to see my collection of model fighter aircraft, but he always declined, offering some excuse. After my birthday, I asked him again.
“We can have chocolate cake and you can see my collection of lead soldiers,” I said.
He accepted. I felt light and excited.
I thought that mild, October day in the classroom would never end. The hands of the wall clock crept like a puddle freezing over. At last the 3:15 p.m. school bell rang and we ran out through the large double doors of the building to my home three blocks away.
Upon entering through the back porch so as not to disturb Dad in his store-front barber shop, my Mother smiled and greeted us as we walked into the kitchen infused with the fragrant aroma of her cooking.
She cut two slabs of dark, three-layer chocolate cake covered with thick icing left over from my birthday the previous Saturday and poured two tall glasses of milk.
We were enjoying this after-school treat when the kitchen door opened and Dad entered. He started to say something to Mom then looked over at us. His mouth curved down; the face twisted and flushed.
“What’s hedoing here?” he said, jerking his head toward Rick.
Mother’s face warped. “Jimmy—please—don’t—” she pleaded, before being cut off by Dad’s yelling.
“You—get out!” he said to Rick. “We don’t want your kind in this house.”
My mind raced and stomach fluttered. What had we done?
Rick’s yellowish complexion whitened. His eyes widened and stared like a cornered animal; right hand suspending a fork in mid-air; unmoving mouth filled with cake.
After a tense, silent interval, my father jabbed a finger at him and spewed a staccato command like a volley of bullets.
“Get – out—of—here—now.”
I watched horrified as Rick laid down his fork, wiped the milky moustache from his mouth with a shirt sleeve, then got up and left. My body stiffened; the skin on my neck and face crawled.
As the screen door on the back porch clicked shut, Dad screamed through the half-opened window, “Don’t ever come back here again,” before returning to his shop, slamming the kitchen door behind him.
The colour slipped from Mother’s ruddy face. She looked down at the floor; white-knuckled hands scrunching her apron into a white rope.
Things had moved so quickly. The world seemed upside down. I wanted to hide.
“What did we do? What’s wrong?” I burbled, through tears.
Mom’s chin trembled. “You boys didn’t do anything wrong.”
“Then why did Dad yell at Rick and tell him to leave?”
“Because Rick is a Japanese boy,” she said.
Why did that matter? I thought Rick was Chinese like the people who owned the corner restaurant.
“Why did that make Dad so mad?”
“During the war, the Japanese attacked the Americans at Pearl Harbour in 1941,” she explained. “Canada believed they were our enemies, too. Some people, including your father, still hate all Japanese people even though the war is over now.”
“But Rick didn’t do anything bad. That was before he was born.”
“Yes, I know.”
“Then why did Dad blame him?”
“Sometimes grown-ups do, and say things that are wrong and unfair.”
I glanced at the kitchen door leading to the shop and stiffened. Would my father return and punish me?
The next morning I dreaded going to school. Mom yanked the covers off me and said to get up. How could I face Rick sitting behind me in class? I felt ashamed of what had happened.
I pushed breakfast away. Mom sat down beside me and curled her arm around my shoulder.
“Listen. What the military people in Japan did was bad, but Japanese people living here in Canada can’t be blamed for that,” she said. ”What your Dad did was wrong, but the War caused a lot of pain and suffering. War is just a game to you boys, but many people were killed and maimed for life. Some Canadians, including your father, want to blame all Japanese people for what happened no matter where they were born.”
“But that’s not right,” I said.
“I know, but some people can’t forgive what happened in the past.”
“But the bible says we have to forgive others. I don’t understand why Dad can’t forgive.”
“Sometimes when a person feels wronged by a group of people they seek revenge. Innocent people can be hurt.”
“Will you ask Dad to forgive Japanese people and let Rick come here,” I said.
Mother shook her head with eyes sadder than I’d ever seen before.
“I’m afraid my asking him won’t do any good, son, but you must not act the way your father did. Always treat others the way you want to be treated and speak out when bad things are done to them. Wrongs added to wrongs will never make a right. They’ll just make things worse. Hate hurts the hater too.”
“I’m afraid to tell Dad he was wrong. He’ll get mad at me.”
“I understand,” she said. “Perhaps with time your father will realize that what he did was hurtful. Good people like your Dad still have faults.”
She stood up, bent down close to my face, and put her hands on my shoulders. “I want you to do something very important.”
“Apologize to Rick. If you do that, I will be very proud of you.”
What could I say that would make the previous day’s hate and abuse go away?
On the slow walk to class my shoes scuffed along the sidewalk. I saw Rick standing alone against the schoolyard fence watching a group of boys kicking a ball around.
What would he do when I approached? Would he strike out at me? I didn’t have the heart to fight back. I kicked at the black cinders covering the yard, avoiding eye contact.
“I’m sorry about yesterday,” I mumbled. “My father was wrong to say those things and make you leave our house.”
Rick’s shoulders curled in and he bit his lower lip. He wasn’t angry which surprised me.
“He can’t forgive what Japan did in the war and hates all Japanese people for it,” I said.
Rick raised his head. “It wasn’t your fault. We’re used to it now,” he said.
I knew he was bullied, but did you ever get used to it?
“It happens a lot,” he continued. “My parents moved here to get away from it, but last week a man spit at my father and called him a dirty name.”
“Where did your mom and dad come from?” I asked.
“British Columbia. My father was a fisherman. So was my grandfather and great-grandfather. My Dad had a big boat. We have a picture of it.”
“That province is far away in Western Canada. It’s on the map in our classroom,” I said.
“Mom, Dad and my uncle lived near the ocean. My parents said it was nice. There were mountains and lots of trees.”
“Why did they leave?”
“They had to.”
“The government made them go. They said all Japanese people were Canada’s enemies because of the war.”
“My mother told me about that. She said it wasn’t true.”
Ricks lower lip quivered. “They told my parents they couldn’t live near the ocean any more. The government people came at night and took away their house and everything else. A strange man said Dad’s boat was his now. All they could take with them was a suitcase. Mom cried when she left her house.”
A cold dread penetrated me. How could someone take away everything you own?
“Where did they make them go?”
“To a camp far away from the coast. They gave them a small cabin to live in. I was born there.”
“Gee, that’s awful,” I stuttered.
Rick’s head dropped. Sniffling, he went on. “They worked hard all day growing stuff and stayed there a long time. My uncle hated it, hurt himself, and died. After the war, government people said my parents had to go to Japan or move east. They didn’t know anyone in Japan so they came here. My dad works in a factory now, but he’s sick a lot. Mom has bad dreams and pains in her head.”
“Can’t they go back?” I said. “Wouldn’t things be better there now?”
Rick’s face hardened and his voice elevated. “Dad says there’s nothing to go back to.”
“I’m sorry,” I said.
A defeated look crossed Rick’s face. He wiped his eyes. “Gotta go now—bye,” he said, before turning and walking away to our classroom.
From then on things weren’t the same between us. I felt guilty about what happened in our house and sorry for his family’s ordeal. My father’s words must have cut his heart like a knife. A barrier arose between us; a wall of hurt that saying “sorry” a thousand times couldn’t break down. He still sat behind me, but we rarely spoke, and he stopped showing me his drawings.
Some boys kept calling him names. I wanted to beat them up for that, but they were bigger and tougher than I was.
After Christmas, Rick moved away. I never saw him again and always wondered what his life had been like. I hope it was good.
Decades later the Canadian government issued an apology to Japanese-Canadians for what was done to them and offered compensation. I read that announcement with adult eyes, and memories of that long-ago day returned like the taste of sour milk.
Many of the Japanese people directly affected by those actions were in their graves by then. They were Canadians; born here, who happened to be of Japanese ethnic origin. The idea that Canada could do that to its rightful citizens was chilling. Could it happen again?
Yes, there was an enemy in our kitchen that day, but it wasn’t little Rick Sakamoto.