|About Us||Site Map||Search||Italiano||Bahasa Melayu||Home|
Home at last
She got into the shower and let the warm water run all over her. She just stood there as the room became misty with steam. The shower water hid the tears that began to run down her cheeks, but not the pain that she felt in her heart. "Why did they do that? Why today?" She had no answers, only the knowledge that the day, Awakening Day, her day, had been ruined. Yes, she had received the award. After all of these years, all of her devotion to the cause, her unswerving loyalty to the Emperor and the new order he brought to their land, she had been recognised, accepted, a grand dame. But who would remember it? Her day had been destroyed. It would go down in folklore if not history as a day of rebellion and disrespect, of bared flesh in the very face of the greatest man of his times. Tawdry rocketry, indecent exposure, childish stench, vanishing culprits. Her memories of her satisfaction in such an honour being bestowed, her pride in seeing her son at the side of the Emperor's man - all stolen from her by the coarse and loutish acts of those who didn't deserve the benefits of the Imperial peace. She began to sob, and had to sit down on the squat stool in the shower. She would neither forgive nor forget, she decided.
"I'm sure I saw Della in the crowd today". The thought had come to her several times, but she continued to dismiss it. After all, why would she? The last she had heard of Della she was picking fruit or something out west, wasting her talents and her education, trying to fight her destiny. The shower water began to cool, and Mrs Welsh at last emerged, dried herself and put on warm pyjamas and a kimono, and then put the kettle on again.
She opened the velvet-lined teak case with its Imperial mon on the lid and took out the medal. Its red silken ribbon, embroidered with alternating white chrysanthemums and yellow wattle blossoms, tumbled onto the table. She stroked the milled edge of the medal, admiring the embossed portrait of the Emperor on the obverse, with its trilingual inscriptions running around the edge: 'Hirohito Nipponensis Imperator Dainanensis Rex' read the Latin version. She turned it over, seeing the entwined wattle and chrysanthemum stems illuminating a central plate inscribed with the words "Adela Welsh, Honourable Subject of the Emperor, accepted in to the Order of the Double Blossoms, 31st May 2622 Showa 39'. She rubbed the gold surfaces with her sleeves, burnishing the already brilliant surfaces. Then she tenderly placed it back in its case, leaving the lid open, and put it next to the smiling photograph of Tom. As she lit a jasmine incense stick she heard the kettle begin to whistle.
Peachy sunset at Thomas Welsh's apartment
The apartment was about mid-way up the Governor's Tower, on one of several floors set aside for the vice-regal household staff. The tower itself was located on the highest point of the Ku-ring-gai ridge, and the views were expansive. Thomas' apartment, situated on the prestigious south eastern side of the tower, looked out across the harbour and the city towards the Pacific Ocean and the south coast. In the daylight an urban mosaic and a vast expanse of moody blueness; at night a fairyland of silver and golden lights and the floodlit arch of the great bridge. Just now, as evening was falling, the city and the sea were bathed in a pale pink light with mauve and golden tints in the shadows and clouds. The lights were coming on, but the living swell of the sea could still be seen. The dusk light filled the apartment and painted its spartan interior peach. Spartan, but not bare. As with all things Thomas Welsh did the interior displayed all the elements that marked him as a man of a certain style. Black and white formed the main decorative motif, the furnishings low and plain, the fittings clean-lined and scandinavian. An ikebana of fifteen pale aspidistra leaves in the Ikenobo style placed slightly off-centre on the low sideboard counterfoiled the antique scene of red herons leaping into flight on a black-edged gilded Japanese screen set against the opposite wall.
They had known each other for nearly a year now. Thomas had joined the Governor's household staff in June and Peter Sabu had joined the Official Secretariat a month later. They had met a few days after, and liked each other straight away. The Governor encouraged his staff to socialize as well as work with each other. He encouraged a strong esprit de corps among them, and fostered a sense of community, an identity that excluded others and focused upon serving the Emperor's man. They all worked together, lived together. When they left the Tower it was never alone, although they rarely needed to leave on anything other than official business. The Tower contained all they needed - their workplace, home, shops, library, temple, cinema, gym, rooftop gardens.
Thomas and Peter Sabu had discovered they shared some interests. They both liked reading, both liked Kurasawa films, broth frequented the gym, especially the swimming pool and the aikido dojo. Both had achieved their black belts and were fairly evenly matched on the dojo. They often fought each other to a draw, neither being able to best the other. Their friendship had deepened over the months, and recently had developed a certain edge, a tension, a desire to be together every time they were apart.
Peter Sabu was wrapped in the stillness of the moment, and moved to sit, lotus-style, on the tatami floor. He heard the shower stop falling, and felt the hair in his arms stand up. Thomas came into the room wrapped in a deep green kimono. His bare feet were almost silent on the matting.
Della left Parramatta Station and followed the instructions to the safe house that East had made them all repeat but not write down. She wound her way along the lanes and passages of the Old Town, coming at last to a tiny terrace house in a run-down quarter near Queen's Wharf. The salty, slightly rotten smells of the river were rising in the cool evening air. A thin tabby cat was curled up in a cardboard box on the little verandah. Six mewling kittens tumbled around her, suckling at her swollen teats or pushing their siblings away to make more room. Della knocked at the door. Her knocking echoed down a hallway sounding hollow and empty. The thin tabby cat looked at her imploringly, beseeching Della to take the kittens away and release her from the confines of the box and motherhood. Della smiled at her: she had always liked cats "I'm a cat person, not a dog person" she reaffirmed to herself.
The lock rattled and the door opened. A small woman, Javanese perhaps, beckoned Della into the gloomy hall. She furtively looked up the street before closing the door and locking it. "This way" she said, leading Della along the passage into a kitchen at the back of the house. The room was cold, with only a table and two chairs. East sat at the table, and pointed at the empty chair, motioning for Della to sit down.
Della stood for a moment, stunned. "Go now" his command echoed in her head, and she quickly plunged through the gap, then along the lane and into the street, and within what seemed like only a few seconds she found herself back at the Station. Just as rapidly a country train arrived at the Western Line platform. She boarded a half-full, half-empty carriage and sat down in a seat by herself. It was only then that she opened the bag and looked at the ticket. 'Nippon Dai Nan Government Railways NDNGR - One Way - Overnight - Sidoni to Dubbo - 31 May 2622' it read. The door to the carriage flew open and wind gusted inside. "Ticket. Ticket please" called the conductor. She held her ticket up for his inspection and hole punching. It was going to be a long trip on a hard seat, and she was beginning to feel hungry. She reached into the bag and took out a small bento box.A sensual combination
Thomas Welsh and Peter Sabu sat together on the tatami floor, lotus positioned, surrounded by cushions, facing each other. The soft light of the lamps fell across them, subtly illuminating their features and subduing their flaws.
Thomas reached out and ran his fingers over Peter Sabu's cheek and lips. Peter Sabu closed his eyes. Thomas' hand slowly moved around his ear to the nape of his neck, then down below the looseness of his kimono and along the back of his shoulder. As he did he could feel the goose bumps rise on the smooth skin. Peter Sabu's hand began to stroke the skin around the side of Thomas' neck before sliding along his shoulder, pushing the kimono open until it suddenly fell down to his waist. At almost the same moment Peter Sabu's kimono slid open. They both pulled away from each other, eyes open wide, and looked at each other exposed from the waist up. Chests were smooth shaven and almost perfectly formed. Muscles were taut beneath their silken skin, nipples dark and hard. The honey colour of Thomas' skin was accentuated by a white scar line along one of his lower ribs. Each looked at the other with only desire.
No resistance, only desire. Just Thomas and Peter Sabu, two bodies into one, beyond time and place.
The front line passes Tom by
Japanese forces had broken through the Hawkesbury Line a few days before. They had swept down through the orchards of the Hills districts, capturing the high ground and then moved into the wealthy North Shore suburbs. There was said to have been some terrible fighting, hand to hand around Hornsby Junction, and a small garrison still held the now besieged Barrenjoey Lighthouse. The harbour and the river then formed a new, if temporary frontline. There had been rumours that the Harbour Bridge was to be blown up to prevent them crossing it, but this had not yet happened. Instead, the two armies faced each other across a no-man's land of bridge decking. The action then moved to the west, where the invaders had swung around in a wide arc centred on Parramatta and began to move towards the southern suburbs. The fighting had been increasingly desperate as the Imperial Army inexorably moved towards the city centre.
Now they had reached the hospital and university grounds at the city gates. Just before getting into their bed shelter the men had seen the last Australian soldiers falling back past the hospital towards the airport. Now they could feel it, the sense that they were between two fronts, two worlds, one advancing, the other retreating, an interregnum of suppressed terror and fear of the unknown.
The ward doors flew open as they were kicked in. The Royal Prince Alfred Hospital emblem in the frosted glass of the door smashed and fell to the floor. The men could see the boots and lower legs of several Japanese soldiers as they ran through the ward. Two of them began looking under the beds, turning over furniture. The men grasped each other tightly, sweating, breathing heavily. The bed shelter split apart. The men stared at the bayoneted gun barrels. The noise of invasion vanished, replaced by the stillness of the last moment. The two soldiers glared at them "Aussie boys, put hands on heads, lay on floor, face down". The men obeyed like robots, the pain of their injuries replaced by a consciousness of near death. The soldiers bent over and patted them down. They found no weapons. "Stay here. Others will come to you". The soldiers then ran to the doors at the other end of the ward and joined their comrades coming from other wards. As quickly as they had come they were gone, and the sounds of battle returned to the ward.
"This has been one hell of an Awakening Day" said Peter Sabu
Peeling an egg
"This is the seven a.m. news bulletin.
Mrs Welsh's hands began to tremble. She felt once again the sense of humiliation that she had felt yesterday. Her day. Ruined. 'Show them no mercy', she thought to herself as she scooped her boiled egg out of the saucepan and put it into a white china egg cup. She looked at the pattern of geisha girls dancing around the cup rim. Beautiful, alluring. She felt the burning in her ears begin to cool, and carried the egg in its cup with some toast soldiers to the table and sat down. As she sliced the top off the egg she began to hear the mynor birds chattering noisily again, jumping from branch to branch, not chasing any of their number away this morning, but restless. Mrs Welsh delicately ate her breakfast.
Della returns to the plantation
Mrs Welsh greets the New Order
From slits in her shuttered windows Mrs Welsh had seen the soldiers falling back, forlorn, bedraggled as they struggled across the bridge, abandoning the North Shore. The harbour was criss-crossed by boats of all sizes and shapes, dodging exploding shells and strafing from planes as people sought what they imagined was the refuge of the south side. The Botanic Gardens were ablaze, as though a bush fire had started in the city centre. The tram sheds on the point were a gaunt ruin, and the naval base on Garden Island was lost in a smokey blanket.
In the last half hour, however, an erie quietness had fallen across the harbour. The bridge was empty, no columns of retreating soldiers, no flurries of boats on the water, no planes swooping down from above. It was like a break in a storm, calm but full of menace. Mrs Welsh looked through the shutter slits of her side windows. She could see part of the street below. Nothing seemed to be moving or making a sound. Then she noticed a white sheet hanging from a window in the flats across the street. As she looked, a window on the second floor of the same building opened slightly and another sheet unfurled and settled against the wall.
'At last' she sighed. Her hands began to tremble. The leaflets that the area had been bombed with several times in the last few days had told residents: don't panic, liberation is at hand, when Imperial soldiers appear in your street stay inside, away from windows and doors, reassure the soldiers by hanging a white sheet or clothing from a window ...
Mrs Welsh had her white cloth ready and waiting. A large damask tablecloth that she had starched and ironed lay precisely folded in the centre of the dining table. She had painted the cloth in her best caligraphy with the four Japanese kana meaning Welcome.
She lifted the window sash and pushed the shutters slightly apart. Then she picked up the cloth and partly unfolded it on the window sill, attaching one end by eye holes she had already put in the cloth to two little hooks on the inner edge of the sill. She had unscrewed the cuphooks from the kitchen dresser the day after the first pamphlet drop. Her days trapped in the flat during the bombardement had been put to good use. She carefully pushed the rest of the cloth through the shutters. She could hear it tumble down, slapping against the facade, and saw the inside edge snap taught. Then she pulled the shutters closed again, and began to peer through the slits.
Almost immediately she saw a Japanese soldier come running along the footpath, dashing from cover to cover. Then she saw another on the opposite footpath. And then two more. One of them stopped and looked up at the apartment blocks partly clothed in white sails. Mrs Welsh's cloth glimmered in the pale grey light. "Banzai" he yelled, pointing at her cloth, "Banzai". The other soldiers stopped and looked up. One smiled, then they all crouched again, and resumed their scouting up the street, disappearing from her view.
Mrs Welsh slumped in her chair. Her heart was racing. She felt light headed. 'They saw it', she thought, 'they actually saw it. Oh dear, I need a cup of tea'. But she stayed in the chair, thinking. 'Probably best to just wait. They will come to me.' Then she heard the cloth flapping outside. 'Breeze must be coming in, perhaps it will blow some of the smoke away'. She got up and looked through the front balcony shutters, across to the rooftops on the south side supine beneath the ashen sky. "Don't worry Tom" she said to the view, "it won't be long now".
The Prince makes a decision
"I have spoken with His Imperial Majesty's closest aides. I have spoken with his prime minister. I have spoken with other ministers in the capital." He paused
"And I have spoken with the Kempetai Commander in Chief." He paused again, practising his wait while he let this news sink in.
"I have made a decision Thomas San, a decision. I have my own line to consider. I will not be undermined by a rabble. A lesson has to be taught." He turned back to the mirror. "A lesson" he repeated as he stabbed at his reflection with his white gloved finger. As Thomas began tidying up the dressing room he could hear the lesson and its teaching being outlined to the mirrored audience.
As he gazed down at the cabinet roof and watched the silent drama unfolding Thomas saw the shadows of the Prince's pigeon flock returning. He had released the flock from their roof-top coop after he finished attending to the Governor, as he did every morning for their regular exercise. He had watched the flock swooping and swirling over the cityscape, moving westwards towards the mountains before he had turned to watch the cabinet scene below.
As the returning pigeons settled into their cage he counted them: one, two, three, four, five, six - yes, six, that was all. Seven had gone out. The missing pigeon would be noticed eventually when the crisis had passed. Still, everyone knew that the local hawks had a taste for pigeon on the wing. Others had been lost before. He put some seed into their feeder and closed the door before turning back to watch the cabinet scene. He had not spoken with Peter Sabu since leaving his apartment, but now could see him sitting at the official's bench in the cabinet room recording the meeting details. Perhaps he might take him up on the offer to compare notes after all.
Home for breakfast
"Quiet everyone, calm down. We have much to do and talk about, but first, the custom."
5523 words at 17 January 2005