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From BAMBOO RIDGE Issue Number 6, March - May 1980, First Quarter

Saturday, April 30, 2011 1:35 AM




Communion
           By Patsy S. Saiki

      It was quiet, deathly quiet, and that was strange, for Morio Tamura's life had always been full of sounds. There had been the crickets and cicadas on the Tamura farm in Japan, and the rustle of canefields and harsh commands of foremen on the sugar plantation on Hawaii. Here, in Honolulu, the sheathed thunder of cars, buses and trucks from below his locked and heavily draped bedroom window merged with his everyday life. Sound and noises were taken for granted, like the air around him, yet now there was this depthless, monotonous silence.
      Was it time to get up? He had to be at the delicatessen by four if he wanted the coffee and doughnuts to be ready by five. A few faithful customers always came early for breakfast. What time was it anyway? He tried to open his eyes but couldn't. He then tried to reach for the clock by his pillow and again he couldn't. He didn't even hear the tick-tock tick-tock that put him to sleep every night. Am I dreaming, he wondered. Then he fell into motionless sleep once again.
      The next time he awoke, he noticed not only the silence but the chill in the air. It was . . . it was . . . was there such a thing as antiseptic chilly? As if one were being preserved in a tub full of alcohol?
      The tub reminded him of his iron vat with bubbling oil in which he made his doughnuts. How many more cases of oil did he have in his storeroom? And flour . . . should he order another forty bags? The newspapers talked about a shipping strike in a few Weeks. But if the strike wasn't called, then he would be stuck with the flour and somehow the mice always got to the flour sacks. The health inspectors didn't like that.
      Time . . . time to get up . . . what time was it? Surely it must be almost four. Why was it so quiet and cold? Where was Mama? Where was the alarm clock? I must be really exhausted, he thought, and fell asleep once more.
      Two nurses entered the room in the morning, one with some towels and the other with a tray of thermometers. The first one said, "Mr. Tamura . . . Mr. Tamura . . . I'm going to wash your face, okay?" The second slipped a thermometer under Morio's tongue.
      The first nurse asked, "How many days is it since he's been in a coma? Forty? Fifty?"
      "More like ninety," the second nurse said, examining the chart at the foot of the bed. "Ninety seven today, to be exact."
      "You think he'll ever come out of it?"
      "Hard to tell. He's a tiny man . . . only five feet tall and weighed 110 pounds when he was brought in. He's 76 pounds now. But he looks like a scrapper, a fighter. The other day I was giving him an alcohol rub and it seemed like he tensed his right arm. First time I felt that. So he could be coming out of it."
      "Sad . . . being pistol-whipped for a few dollars. Honolulu was never like this. I can remember when we used to leave our windows and doors unlocked all the time . . . even at night."
      "I know. Now I don't feel safe even in my own garage. And I lock myself in the car when I drive."
      "Kind of a shame, isn't it, someone in a coma lying in this private air-conditioned room. He can't even appreciate it, yet he has to pay for it."
      "I think the police wanted him here. Anyone coming here has to pass through two stations."
      "Must cost the family a fortune. I heard a rumor Admissions suggested the family take him to another hospital, when they found out he didn't have any health insurance."
      "You can't blame the hospital. But we took him, didn't we?" She picked up her tray. "Hey there, Mr. Tamura, brave man, you in your secret world, have a nice day, huh!" She left, followed by the other nurse.
      Morio Tamura, in his secret world, faintly heard Mama calling him. Or was it his mother in Japan? No, it was Mama. "The paper cranes," he thought. "The paper cranes Mama's making for my 61st birthday party. What fool originally thought of making 1000 paper cranes for a 61st birthday party, and what fools made this into a tradition? Fools with time, that's for sure."
I wish we had a daughter, he mused. A daughter-in-law is okay, but a daughter is different. Now I understand why Mama used to say that if we're going to have only one child, she would have preferred a girl to a boy.
      He thought of Tom, his son, and Evelyn, his daughter-in-law. They were good kids, kind and considerate, but somehow not as close to them as a daughter would have been. His friend Shoda had a married daughter and always on Sunday afternoons this daughter brought some food over for her parents. . . "so you don't have to cook tonight". . . she said. Then she cleaned the kitchen and bathroom and sometimes the inside of the refrigerator while her husband talked to her father. How lucky the Shodas were!
      It must be time to get up and go to the shop. Must be close to four. What would the workmen say if the shop wasn't open by five? They depended on him for coffee, doughnuts and biscuits. Where would these truck drivers and construction workers have their large but cheap breakfasts? I must get up. But I can't open my eyes. Am I drugged? How could I be? Am I dreaming? Wake up, Morio Tamura. You don't have time to be sleeping. But he fell into another deep, unconscious sleep.
      A few days later, Mrs. Tamura sat folding her paper cranes in the hospital room, as usual. "Oto-san," she whispered. "Oto-san, papa, can you hear me? Wake up! Try! You've got to come out of this coma. You can't die without saying goodbye to us. At least to me. Wake up! Look, I already have 800 cranes. Only 200 more to go, and remember your birthday is only a few months away. You've got to be well by then. I sewed your red kimono for the party, and we have the guest list. So wake up, Oto-san, for how can we have your party without you?"
      Mrs. Tamura sighed. After three months she was exhausted with anger and worry. What would happen to them now? Should she sell the shop? Maybe the new owner would hire her. After all she was still strong at 57, and she knew all the customers. Would she have to depend on charity in her old age when she had worked steadily for 3 5 years, minus 6 months before and 6 months after Tom was born? Thirty four years of hard work in America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, Tom used to sing. The land of justice, of plenty, of love. And a land where someone wanted to kill her husband for a few dollars!
      "What kind of country did you bring me to," she asked. "I gave up a country where I had relatives and I could understand the language. In that country I don't think anyone ever pistol-whipped another person from the back, even in the feudal days of long ago. The Japanese fought man-to-man, from the front, with warning. Why did we come here. What happiness have we had, working from four in the morning to nine at night, every day of the week?"
      She pounded her husband's body in anger, heedless of different tubes attached to his body. "They say this country has justice, but there's no justice. The police didn't even bother looking for the boy. They said they had no clues. They just wrote something down on a piece of paper, that's all. They just accepted it. . . it wasn't anything unusual to them to have someone almost killed by another. When I try to talk to them they just move away. Oto-san, how can you die now? You didn't have your party. You didn't see the 1000 crane tree. What about that trip to Japan? You said we would go back on your 65th birthday . . . when you retire. Lies . . . all lies! You aren't even trying to come out of your coma. It's easier lying in this air-conditioned room than working in a hot delicatessen and standing on your feet all day. You don't care about us . . . you're taking the easy way out."
      "What? What?" her husband mumbled. Four already? time to get up, Mama?"
      Mama . . . Mrs. Tamura . . . was so shocked she forgot to ring the bell to call the nurse. Instead she ran to the door and yelled, "Nurse! Nurse! Come quickly. My husband just talked to me!"
      Two nurses came running. "Mr. Tamura, Mr. Tamura, do you hear us? Can you understand? You're in a hospital and we are taking good care of you. You have nothing to worry about. Your wife is sitting right here. Mr. Tamura. . . Mr. Tamura?" But Morio Tamura was back in his deep, deep sleep.
      "Are you sure he spoke?" a nurse asked. "It wasn't a moan? Or a gurgle?"
      "No," she answered. "He asked if it was 4 o'clock already."
      "Four o'clock ? Why four o'clock?"
      "That's when he used to get up to go to work every morning."
      "You're sure it wasn't wishful thinking? You didn't imagine it?"
      "I'm sure. He spoke clearly." The nurses waited. But they had many other chores, Mrs. Tamura knew. So she said. "Thank you. Maybe I did dream it, after all." She picked up her bag from the floor, extracted some paper, and began folding a crane.
      After the nurses left she leaned over Morio and whispered, "So! You make me look like a fool! Why did you stop talking? Listen, Papa, I know you can hear me. By the time I have my 1000 cranes, I expect you to be out of your coma. You understand?" She scolded gently.
      When, several days later Morio next awoke, he felt his mother pushing him. "Morio-chan, Morio-chan, wake up. Wake up and work in the fields for a few hours. Remember your brother is sending you to high school. You must work hard before and after school since he's making this sacrifice. Be grateful to him."
      Be grateful to his older brother? But Morio knew why his brother was sending him to high school. Ever since Morio had contracted diphtheria when he was 12 he had stopped growing. Now he was 15 and still so small he was of little use on the farm where strong labor was needed. His brother was hoping that with more education Morio would go to some city and not be dependent on his older brother.
      "I would be grateful if I hadn't heard my brother discussing this with my sister-in-law late one night," Morio thought. "They were talking of ways to get me off the farm for good. They made me feel so unwanted. I wish I had never heard them talking about me.
      So he continued sleeping although he could feel his mother pushing and pulling him . . . maybe even washing his face? Now why would his mother wash a 15-year-old's face? He wanted to protest, but instead he fell into his deep sleep again.
      Five days later Mama said, "Well, that's the 1000th crane. Now I'll have to tie them to the tree branch Papa got from a friend. We have the invitations ready. . ."
      "Mama, did you get white print on red paper or red print on white paper?" Morio asked, as if he had been in conversation with Mama all along.
      Mrs. Tamura trembled and dropped the crane she had been holding. It took her a few moments to say quietly, "White print on red paper."
      "Good. It'll be easy to read. Remember we had an invitation once with red print on black paper and we had to hold it a certain way to read the invitation? Poor Mama, 1000 cranes! But now you can relax a little."
      "I enjoyed making them," Mama said, hoping one of the nurses would walk in on the conversation. "Somebody come . . . somebody come . . ." she prayed.
      "Come to bed, Mama. We have to get up early tomorrow morning, as usual. I had a long day, standing on my feet, and they feel like lead bars attached to my body. I can't even move them. You sleep early, okay?
      "Sure. . .sure. . . as soon as I put my things away."
      She pressed the bell. When two nurses came in she said, "My husband spoke again. Right now. He asked about the color of print on the invitations we made for his 6lst birthday."
      The nurses looked at each other. "That's wonderful, Mrs. Tamura. That's a good sign he might come out of his coma. Now listen, there's nothing more you can do for your husband now so why don't you go home and rest? We'll take good care of him."
      So they still didn't believe her. But it didn't matter. It was a matter of days or weeks before he'd come out of his coma completely. Papa was getting better and look what a clear mind he had. "Yes I think I'll go home and rest," she reassured the nurses.
      It was a week before Morio spoke again. "Where am I? I dreamed I was in Japan with my mother."
      "You're in a hospital, Papa," she told him. "Remember someone hit you on the head with a pistol?"
      A muscle twitched in his face. "Oh, I remember. A boy . . . a man . . . came in and bought doughnuts. One-half dozen. He paid me and as I was going back into the kitchen I felt something hit me. That's all I can remember. How much money did he take?"
      "All that I left in the cash register before I left. About six dollars in bills, nickels and dimes."
      "Strange . . . he looked like such a nice boy. He talked so softly. I gave him two extra doughnuts because there were two left. He told me he wanted only six and I said the extra two were free. He said 'Thank you.' By the way, when can I leave here? I have to order some flour, in case we have a shipping strike later in the month."
      "We already had a shipping strike, Papa, and it's been settled so don't worry about the strike."
      "We had a strike? But it was supposed to begin June 15!"
      "It's September 9 today." "September! How can that be? It was June 2 yesterday."
      "You were in a long coma, unconscious, Papa. But thank heavens you're okay now. Listen, I'm going to call one of the nurses. They didn't believe me when I said you talked the last time. Talk to them . . . the nurses . . . so they'll know you can really talk."
      When Mrs. Tamura returned with one of the nurses, Morio was again in his deep motionless sleep. The nurse sighed in exasperation, but with sympathy. "Hang in there, Mrs. Tamura," she comforted her.
      For another long ten days Morio Tamura slept, like an empty sack with tubes going into and out of him. Mama talked to him, pushed and pulled him, whispered, shouted, scolded, whimpered. Had he really talked to her? Even Tom wouldn't believe her, so she herself began having doubts.
      "You know, Mama, when we wish and dream for some¬ thing, it seems true," Tom told her. "You wanted Dad to come out of his coma and you wanted him to talk to you, so you heard him. It had to be in your mind, because how come he doesn't talk when anyone else is around?"
      But the very next day he opened his eyes for the first time, although he couldn't move his head or hands. "Mama, forgive me," he said. "I lied to you. Well, I didn't exactly lie, but I didn't tell you how short I am, when I asked my brother to find me a wife in Japan."
      Mrs. Tamura was surprised. He was now talking about what took place 40 years ago. How his being short must have bothered him!
      "I didn't want to tell you how short I am because I was afraid you wouldn't come to marry me. The white people on the plantation used to call me "shrimp" and the plantation boss told me to work in the kitchen because I was so small . . . like a girl, he said."
      "So what?" Mama answered. "I lied to you too. I told the go-betweens not to tell you I'm 5'3" tall. At all my miai in Japan the mothers turned me down because they said I looked big and clumsy. They wanted a dainty daughter-in-law."
      "Mama, remember when we were first married? When we took snapshots I always took them on steps. I would stand one step behind you so I would look taller. How it bothered me, being shorter, yet I was happy because I had a tall wife and I wanted tall sons."
      Mama waited for his next words but he closed his eyes, sighed, and went back to sleep. The doctor and nurse came in, just a little too late to hear Papa talk. By now Mama refrained from telling the nurse about Papa holding a conversation with her.
      "How's my husband?" she asked the doctor.
      "As well as can be expected," the doctor answered.
      "When will he be completely out of his coma?"
      "What do you mean. . .'completely out of his coma'?"
      "Well, sometimes when he talks to me he's clear about things, but then other times he thinks I'm his mother, I think. When will he not go back to sleep again for days at a time?"
      The doctor and nurse looked at each other. "We've had cases where patients have been in coma almost ten years," the doctor said. "Then we've had patients who came out of a coma perfectly normal and patients who couldn't remember anything or recognize anyone. We don't know about Mr. Tamura."
      "Papa's mind is clear, and of course he recognizes my voice."
      "Remember, when your husband does regain consciousness, if he ever does, he may not remember much because of the brain damage and massive hemorrhage," the doctor warned.
      "But he does remember," Mrs. Tamura insisted. "He even asked about the color of print I used on his 61st birthday invitations."
      The doctor looked at his watch. "Fine . . . fine . . . let's keep working and waiting and hoping and praying. Miracles can happen. Now would you mind waiting outside for a few minutes?"
      "What about this case, Doctor," the nurse whispered after Mrs. Tamura left. "Damage was extensive to the brain area . . . plus the hemorrhage . . ."
      "It's a wonder he's still alive, isn't it?"
      "He got hit two or three times in the back of his head, at the nerve center. I think the paralysis is permanent."
      "Poor man. Better if he had died right away. Now maybe he'll be a burden on his wife for years and years, and they don't even have health insurance. Personally I'd rather die than be a vegetable fed by tubes."
      "Sometimes you don't have a choice. Sometimes the next of kin don't have a choice too. Unless laws are changed." They left, and Mrs. Tamura entered to find her husband sleeping peacefully.
      Seven days later Morio opened his eyes and said, as if he had not been unconscious for more than a week. Listen Mama, will you promise me one thing? Listen carefully, now. In case I turn out to be a bed-ridden invalid, if I'm completely paralyzed, promise me you'll help me to die." J "No, how can I do such a thing . . ." "Mama, please. Won't you help me?"
      "Even if I wanted to help you, what could I do?"
      "I don't know. A healthy man can die in a car accident or drown in the ocean or fall from some tall building. But if one is bedridden and especially if he's like a vegetable, how can he die when he wants to? I don't know, Mama. That's where I have to depend on you."
      "What are you talking like this for, just when you're getting well. Every day you're getting better, you know. I don't want to hear anymore. Besides, visiting hours are over."
      "Please, Mama?"
      "No." "It's my only request. From my only life partner. For the sake of my life partner."
      "I don't know what you're talking about." But she reached out to him. His thinness pained her. How could a man's arm really feel like a stick?
      "Mama, is it daytime or nighttime?"
      "Nighttime."
      "Could you open the window and please turn my head so that I can see out?"
      "There's nothing to see out . . . only a few stars."
      "Stars? Oh, I want to see the stars . . . I never had time to see the stars while I was working. Remember when Tom was in kindergarten and he had to sing 'Twinkle twinkle little star' all by himself for a Christmas play and we practiced and practiced together with him?"
      "And the teacher scolded him because he sang 'Twinkoru twinkoru litoru star . . . raiki a diamondo in za skai.' "
      Did he chuckle? Mama thought so, and she too smiled. But then he seemed to have fallen asleep again so she left.
      Morio opened his eyes and saw the stars. As he gazed at their shiny brilliance they seemed to break into little pieces and slide earthward, together with his tears that slid down his cheek to the pillow.
      The next morning the nurses called cheerfully, "Good morning, Mr. Tamura. And how are we today?" But instead of wiping his face, the nurse called the doctor right away.
      "Too bad Mr. Tamura passed away without regaining consciousness. 136 days in a coma so he's really skin and bones," the nurse said.
      "It's a wonder he lasted this long," the house doctor agreed.
      "Kind of sad," the nurse said. "You know, there was such love between them, Mrs. Tamura is sure Mr. Tamura spoke to her several times. But that's physically impossible, isn't it? His throat muscles were paralyzed as much as the rest of his body, so he couldn't have talked, could he?"
      "Most likely not," the doctor agreed. "But then there's a great deal we still don't know. . . "
      The nurse pulled the pillow case from the pillow. Strange. . . it was wet, as if with tears.


* * * * *

Bio: In a note to Darrell and Eric, Patsy S. Saiki said, "I dug in my files and found numerous stories that never got beyond Dr. Day and Dr. Fujimura (before your time). 'Communion' is a revision of a story from those days." The subject of this story was described back then to be "the wondrous medicine of a wife's devotion to her comatose husband."

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