Love in Crisis Ern Carne

 

Kim slithered into the back seat of the dark blue Commodore, slamming the

door beside her. She felt around for the seat belts, clicked them together,

then looked up and found her father's eyes filling the rearview mirror. She

had never seen them so angry and accusing. They didn't flinch as she held

them in her own gaze. She shrunk into her seat, protecting herself, while

preparing for an unholy row.

"You didn't tell me he was Japanese," he said under his breath.

'He's American-Japanese Dad. His parents were Japanese but he was born in

the US. Your parents were English, weren't they, but you were born in

Australia. It's the same thing.'

Kim saw his mouth tighten and guessed he didn't want that pointed out to

him. 'He hasn't even been to Japan,' she snapped. 'You're one up on him

there. Isn't that ironic!'

Her father glared, fingers rapping on the steering wheel as he drove on to

the highway. When he spoke up again his voice still had an edge to it. 'Kim,

you don't understand what those bastards did to my mates and me. They

bashed, kicked and fed us cold, grey uneatable pig slops for five years. No

medicine or medical treatment. I'll never forget. I've got a permanent

limp to remind me how gangrene almost took my left leg.' His rage and

anguish were very real. Kim felt relief that Taka had decided to fly out to

Armidale.

'Dad, please listen. I know what you and the other prisoners suffered, but

for God's sake, don't blame Taka. He wasn't even born then.' Kim averted her

eyes from the mirror and bit her lip. She balled her fists and thumped the

seat. It annoyed her she had to defend Taka against her own father. She had

known it would be like this but convincing Taka he would face this

prejudice was more difficult.

Kim's turmoil began when the big 747 Qantas jet 'City of Townsville"

screamed along the tarmac at Sydney Airport. Her stomach began to churn. The

early morning sun flickered through the cabin windows and highlighted the

dark streaks in her blonde hair and the patches bleached white on her jeans.

She reached out and took Taka's hand. His easy-going approach to the problem

they faced with her Dad worried Kim and she tried again to get him to

understand.

'When Dad sees you're Japanese he will become upset and feisty. It's

thirty years since he was taken prisoner in Singapore but to him your mob is

still muck!'

'Kim darling, my parents are Japanese, I'm an American citizen, remember?'

'Darling, it's not as simple as that. That argument won't fly with Dad.

Remember I told you how he refused to accept a Toyota car he won in a

raffle, just because it was made in Japan. He demanded money instead and

took a thousand dollars less than the car's value.

You were born in Iowa so I've always referred to you in my letters home as

"my American friend."

'Look honey, your Dad operates the biggest Hydroponic farm in Australia,

maybe even in the world. I bet he thinks Internationally. He sent you to the

US to study, didn't he? He wants to keep the farm on top of the opposition.

When he hears my research can save him 20% of his water costs, things will

be different, you'll see. Stop worrying, honey, it's not going to happen.

This is 1970 for crying out loud! Nobody would carry a loathing like that

for 25 years'.

'Don't you believe it.'

Taka stuffed the magazine he had been reading back in the seat pocket. He

appreciated the way Kim was striving to prepare him for his first meeting

with her Dad but really thought it all unnecessary.

It was not so easy to convince Kim her father would be placid when she

introduced Taka. She expected fireworks. As the aircraft taxied towards the

terminal she slipped her arm around Taka's waist and slipped her feet back

into her sandals. Kim rarely sat anywhere, even in a restaurant, for more

than a few minutes before she kicked off her shoes.

She looked again at Taka. Dressed in stylish denim jeans, a light denim

jacket over a T-shirt with an Iowa University logo he looked good. The

jacket stretched across his broad shoulders. This was the same gear he wore

the night he crooned "My Way" at the University Follies.

'All I'm saying Taka darling, is please be prepared for an aggressive

attitude, or worse, he might just ignore you. Maybe he'll go off into one of

his tantrums, and then he won't speak to anyone for days. Don't jump on the

next plane out, will you?' Taka leaned over and kissed her on the cheek.

'Not unless you're with me honey.' Kim squeezed her lover's hand and

smiled, 'I think you've led a sheltered life in that University, darl. In

the real world people have prejudices'

'We'll soon know who's right. We're on the ground now and it's only 6a.m. Do

you think your parents will have travelled 400 miles to meet us?' Kim rested

her cheek on Taka's shoulder and admired again how good he looked, even in

denim. Regular exercises and jogging kept his body trim.

'Wild horses couldn't keep them away. They'll be bursting to see "my

American friend."

Kim's parents made the long drive through the night from New England and

arrived at the airport at 4am. They headed straight for the coffee lounge.

Her father, known to everyone as "Digger," led his wife towards the large

windows at the side of the lounge. 'Let's sit here where we can see them

land,' he said, pulling out a chair for his wife. Digger was nervous about

meeting his daughter's partner and felt uncertain about Kim having a

relationship with someone he didn't know. For the next two hours he drank

cup after cup of black coffee and chewed over things Kim had said in her

letters and phone calls.

Mum concentrated on her knitting, a sleeveless jumper for Digger in the

dark brown colour he always wore. She knew her husband was getting nervous

when he pushed the morning paper aside without opening it. At home nothing

happened until he had read it from cover to cover.

'I've really missed her for the past two years but I'm glad we found the

money for her to go. She'll know more about hydroponics now than I do. She

said her lecturer has a world wide reputation. Pretty good going for a man

only 27, I reckon. What did she say his name was again?'

'Taka.' I think it's short for 'Takahashi.' Mum kept to herself her

suspicions it was also a popular Japanese name.

'Sounds like a funny name for an American, Mum. On the Burma Railway we had

a Jap. guard named Taka. He was a real bastard. Just glance at him sideways

and you got the butt of his rifle across your neck. He killed my mate Joe

Burrows that way.

Mum noticed the nerve in the corner of Dad's right eye begin to twitch and

tried to cool the situation.'The US is a very multi-cultural country,

Digger, like Australia. Many names sound strange to us.' Mum didn't want

Digger to know what her intuitions were telling her. She poured herself

another cup of coffee from the large pot Digger had just refilled.

'Anyway, Kim says he is one of the few experts in the world on saving water

from evaporation. She said he won some sort of medal.' Digger nodded

agreement. He had been impressed when Kim wrote about her teacher's award.

'His Ph.D thesis won the Truman Award for Environmental Science,' he

reminded Mum. 'He claims his development can make water savings up to 23%.

That would be great for our business if it's all fair dinkum.'

'I reckon we can believe he knows his subject. He's been accepted for

appointment by the National University'. The coffee shop was now beginning

to fill with early travellers. Mum gathered up her knitting bag, 'That

flickering board says the flight has landed. Let's go to the lounge where

they come out.'

With nothing to declare, Kim and Taka whizzed through Customs and headed for

the exit to the lounges. Clutching her small carry bag and holding Taka's

hand she scanned the waiting crowd for her parents. She spiedhem before they

saw her. Dad was wearing his wide-brimmed hat and Mum looked good in the

floral dress Kim had sent for her birthday. She nudged Taka. 'There they

are. The man in the yellow open-necked shirt and the big hat is my Dad.'

'He doesn't look vicious,' Taka said with a smile.

'Don't count your chickens,' Kim responded with a nervous chuckle.

Mum saw them before Dad. Her wave seemed to stop in mid-motion and she

touched Dad's shoulder and pointed. Digger peered in the wrong direction at

first but Mum put her hand on his chin and pointed it in the right

direction.

'Who's that with her. I thought she said her American Lecturer was coming

with her.' Digger's voice was cold and suspicious.

Kim hurried forward and hugged her mother then turned to Digger and with

both arms around his neck gave him a warm kiss. Her father's response was

less than enthusiastic.

'Who's your friend? Japanese isn't he.?'

'This is Taka, Dad. He was born in the US and is an American. His parents

were Japanese.' Kim could see her father was irritated. She flashed her

brightest smile, the smile which had weakened his stand on anything since

she was seven years old. Digger turned away, putting his hand up to cover

his twitching eye.

Taka had stood back a pace while Kim embraced her parents. Now he stepped

forward and extended his hand.

'Hi Mr. Elliott. I'm Taka Kaneko. Kim has told me all about your hydroponic

farm. I understand Dailyfresh is the largest of its kind in Australia. Well

done!'

Mr Elliott ignored the extended hand. 'Call me Digger. Everybody does. It'

ll remind you you're talking to an Australian soldier.'

Taka was a bit taken aback, but he didn't let it show. 'Sure, Digger, I'll be

proud to call you the same as your friends.'

With a dismissive shrug, Dad turned his back on the three bemused people

and limped towards the stairs that led to the luggage carousels. Taka caught

Kim by the arm and held her back for a moment from following her mother.

'Darling, there's a poster there advertising a domestic flight to Armidale.

I'll fly out. Right now, Digger wouldn't want to be cooped up in a car with

me for hours. Let's give him some space. I'll book into a motel and you call

me after you arrive.'

Kim open her mouth to protest but Taka put his finger on her lips. 'This is

best, darl. He's had a shock. Let's not crowd him. Give him time to think

for a while.' Taka leaned over and kissed Kim. She returned his kiss, the

warmth of his lips strengthened her.

'I'll try to get him to feel different by the time we get home. Or, at

least make an exception in your case, darl.'

Kim hurried along the blue carpeted walkway to catch up with her mother.

'Taka's going to fly out to Armidale. He said he thought Dad should have

time to get over his surprise.'

'That was thoughtful of him,' Mrs Elliott said. 'He's very sensitive to

the feelings of others.'

Kim slipped arm through her mother's. 'I wouldn't have anything to do with

him if he wasn't, would I Mum, but we have to convince Dad about that.'

'He'll come round.' Mum tried to sound calm and not show she was really

expecting an ugly show down in her family.

'He hasn't for the last 25 years, Mum.'

'It's easier to keep a prejudice when you don't have to face it, dear. I

know your father. When he sees how his attitude towards Taka is

unreasonable, he'll admit it. It might take some time though.'

Driving through Sydney's heavy morning traffic Dad sat tight-lipped. Cars

behind twice had to blast their horn to make him move after the lights

changed to green.

The city boundaries were well behind them before Dad spoke again. Directing

his question to no one in particular he mumbled, 'Why didn't he come with

us?'

'He thought you would appreciate sometime without his presence,' Mum said.

'I think it was very thoughtful of him.' Dad just grunted and blasted the

car horn to frighten off a number of crows in the middle of the road

banqueting on the carcass of a kangaroo joey.

Kim sat in the back seat staring out at the dry paddocks. Her mind was

seething at her father's obstinacy. She had always known about her father's

monomania but before it didn't concern her. It made no difference to her

daily life. It was something that had happened to her Dad before she was

born. Now it had roared into her life. Her father's attitude clouded her

future. She kicked off her sandals and struggled to speak to her father in a

quiet voice.

'Dad, I wish you could look on Taka as an individual and forget about his

parents' country. He's no different to your mate Johanna Reckham and you

reckon he's a good bloke. Germany was in the war too, remember?'

Johanna was interned in Australia during the war because he was German.'

'Taka's parents were interned in the US for the duration of the war. They

had no part in what some of their countrymen did to you and your mates.'

'They scarred me for life, Kim. It isn't easy to forget. Gangrene and beri

beri leave their marks.'

'Dad be sensible for a moment. I'm not asking you to forget what happened.

Hate those who did this to you as much as you want but don't blame Taka for

it; he wasn't even born.'

'You've got to give me time, Kim.' She could see her Dad's face in the

rear-view mirror change into a deep frown. His skin became crimson and the

red veins in his nose became more prominent.

'Of course I will and Taka will too. That's why he's not here now. Dad, I

didn't come home to argue with you about who I'll marry. I dearly want your

blessing but I'm an adult now Dad; I can make my own choice and I love Taka.

'Don't talk like that,Kim' Mrs Elliott interjected. 'Your father is not

forcing you to make a choice.'

To get out of the taut atmosphere for a few moments Dad swung the

Commodore into a service station for a refill. 'Want anything to eat,' he

growled.

Mum spoke up. 'I'll get some sandwiches. What do you like Kim? Still fresh

salad?'

'I want a pie,' Dad said as he placed the hose into the tank, 'with plenty

of sauce.'

Back on the highway Kim just nibbled at her tomato and lettuce sandwich. It

had too much salt. She didn't feel hungry. She willed her mind to stop

churning but she wanted her father to accept Taka as an individual. The

journey was made in tense silence for many miles. The car radio filled in

the long gaps in conversation with chatter from some country station trying

to sell farmers a new sheep dip. Kim looked out at the dry paddocks with a

wave of confusion and mixed emotions. Her father's resentment of Taka

spoiled the joy of being home again.

Dad remained silent for a long time while Mum tried her best to make Kim

think of something other than the problem she'd brought with her. 'Did you

go to much live theatre, dear' she asked. 'Did you see any football matches?

It's a funny game they play, isn't it?'

Diggers own thoughts and memories whirled around his brain.. He ignored the

conversation and stared straight ahead. Out of the past, screams from hell

exploded in his head. The stench of jungle mixed with the sweating smelly

bodies of his mates. The memory of holding half a scarce cigarette to the

lips of Joe Burrows as he died.

Normally on this drive Digger would give a running commentary on the crops

they passed. 'Without more rain he'll lose that lot. Who told him you could

grow chip-peas in this district? He's too close to the fence there.' Today

was different.

Kim got an idea of what he was thinking when he spoke. His voice sounded as

though he was just talking aloud to himself. 'Roly Chambers was in that Jap.

camp with me. They beat holy hell out of him one day. You know what he's

doing now? Running that tourism joint in Sydney where most of his customers

are Nips!'

Kim interrupted his soliloquy. 'Yes. He knows who's paying his wages. He's

accepted Dad that these are not the same people who beat him up.'

Digger glanced at his daughter in the rear-view mirror and she gave him a

wan smile. The hurt on her face grabbed at Digger's heart. 'Kim,' he said,

'no matter what happens there will be no making choices. You're our daughter

and we're very proud of our Dr Kim Elliott.'

'Dad...' Kim began.

'Kim just keep quiet for a few more miles and you might hear your father say

something you never expected.'

'I was just going to say...'

'Well keep it for a while. While trying to get me to love your boyfriend you

've overlooked one argument...'

'You don't have to love him Dad. Just don't hate him, that's all I ask.

Anyway I was keeping that argument for my last big shot. I know what you're

having trouble with, don't I? You've told me so often that you accept no

guilt for what earlier generations of Australians did to Aboriginals. "If

they raped and murdered and poisoned their water holes, I can't be held

responsible. That's what you told me. I wasn't even born then,'; you

said. That's it, isn't it? Kim was struggling to keep the tone of her voice

even.

Digger rubbed the back of a liver-spotted hand across his face and went

silent. His eyes narrowed and his mouth tightened. In spite of herself, Kim

felt a tinge of sorrow for her Dad. Mum's concern for her husband spurred

her again to try and put the conversation on a different tack. 'You'll be

surprised at what we've done since you've been away, love. Two new sheds,

just for lettuce.'

Kim fidgeted with her hair, pushing some feral strands back behind her ear.

She was not listening to her mother. Her mind was on Taka and whether he had

got himself booked into the Blue Diamond Motel.

Her father's voice snapped her back to the presence. 'When we get home ring

Taka and tell him to come and see me.'

Kim felt her pulse start to race. Dad had used her pet name for her lover.

For a moment, she found it difficult to take in. She leaned forward and

kissed her Dad on the back of his head.Then she said, 'Thanks Dad. Taka will

love talking to you.'

Taka found the short flight to Armidale a good time to ponder the dilemma

his presence caused Kim's father. He welcomed me as much as a wart on his

nose, thought Taka. His bias against me is unreasonable, but it would only

inflame the situation to tell him so. His memories are too painful. I can

agree and sympathise with him, but I must point out to him it's not a 'fair

go' to hold it against me. I'm not like those people. I'm from a different

culture. Kim has told me many times that Aussies regard a 'fair go' to

everyone as a tenet of their very existence. I hope she's right!

After landing Taka took a taxi to the motel that Kim had recommended. As

the yellow cab cruised into town he looked out at the dry paddocks,

thirsting for rain. I hope these farmers will let me help them, he mused.

Mostly I want Digger Elliott to let me use my expertise to double

production at Dailyfresh with just a trifle increase in water usage.

In his motel room the manager had left the local paper on the small dining

table. The front page story was about the previous night's B&S ball. That

didn't make any sense to Taka and he turned the page. A heading on a story

on page three caught his eye, 'University Appoints Water Conservation

Expert.' He got quite a kick when he read what the University had put out in

a press release.

An American scientist will help the district with the excessive water

evaporation problems that occur each year at this time.

In times of drought and worry throughout the area the University was glad

to show it was working on the problem.

Taka took a shower and rested for a short time before he wandered down town

and bought a hot dog and roll for lunch. He strolled down the main street

as far as the war memorial beneath a cluster of white gums. From high in the

trees the buzzing of insects was the only sound to disturb the peace. With a

glint of curiosity in his hazel eyes Taka stood in front of the monument and

read the long list of names on the bronze plates. It shocked him to learn

how many men, all of them younger than himself, who had not returned from

the Pacific war. His education had not prepared him for this. 'No wonder her

father hates war, and especially me. I must remind him of everything grisly

he experienced,' he murmured.

Taka jogged back towards the motel. After two flights his legs cried out

for some exercise. Back in the motel room he wondered how Kim was handling

her father's rancour. He was longing to see her pretty smile again and the

spray of freckles across her nose. The jangling of the telephone bounced his

mind back to the present.

'Taka darling it's me. We're home and guess what? Dad wants you to come

over to Dailyfresh and have a talk. Honey, I feel he's coming around to our

point of view. Get a taxi outside the motel.'

'Sure, I'll come, darl. I've seen the monument here in your main street. It

's no wonder Digger is on a slow burn.'

'He'll be pleased to hear you understand. See you soon, darling. Mum wants

you to stay for dinner. You will get a genuine Aussie meal; lamb chops,

green peas and baked potatoes.'

'Sounds terrific!'

Taka paid off the taxi and spoke to Spud, the border collie sheepdog that

pranced around his legs. 'Down fella,' he tried but it didn't slow down

Spud. 'He doesn't understand good ole US dog-talk,' Taka said with a grin

as Kim hurried out to meet him. 'Sit' commanded Kim in a stern voice. Spud

ran to the side of the path and sat on his haunches, his tail still sweeping

the ground.

'This looks like a great set-up here.' Taka waved an outstretched hand.

'We're all proud of it, darling. It impressed Dad that the local paper

already considers you an expert. I think what most helped to get him onside

was another article farther inside the paper. A local member of parliament

who was also a prisoner with Dad has said,' It's time to put the past behind

us. Not forget it, but realise we are now dealing with a different

generation. This generation comes from a democracy not an expansionist

military government.'

Taka and Kim entered the cool kitchen and Mrs Elliott hurried over and gave

Taka a hug. 'Welcome to Dailyfresh, Taka' she said, her voice a little

hesitant.

'Thanks, Mrs Elliott. Boy! that dinner smells great.'

'Dad, Taka is here,' Kim called.

'Bring him into the lounge.' Taka noticed Digger's voice did not have the

same frostiness that greeted him at the airport.

Kim led Taka up the hall and into the front room with its heavy leather

lounge suite. Two pictures in dark frames of a wedding group hung on the

walls. Now that Digger was without his hat Taka noticed the thinning hair

and the purple birthmark high on his forehead. Digger stood up as they

entered and then turned to Kim.

'I'm sure your mother will want you to help in the kitchen. You know how

she worries when we have a visitor for dinner.' Kim got the message, smiled

at Taka and gave an almost imperceptible wink. With the door closed, Digger

offered his hand to Taka. 'I want to apologize right off for my rudeness at

the airport. Four years in a P-O-W camp can warp a man's mind for life. Kim

has made me see some things I have just never wanted to know.'

Taka took the outstretched hand in a firm grip. 'I'm happy to start again,

Digger. I like a person who can say he's sorry. Kim has told me you have

built up Dailyfresh to a large exporting company. I hope I can show you

how to double your present output.'

Digger's face broke into a smile.'We're already sending four ton of

lettuces daily to Singapore.'

'I'm sure they could use more. Then, Digger we can go after Taiwan, Manilla

and Tokyo.'

'You're optimistic I'll say that for you.' Digger's face now had a ragged

smile. A knock on the door allowed Kim to enter carrying a tray with two

cold stubbies of Victorian Bitter beer and two glasses. Both men glanced

towards her. For a moment she was hesitant, uncertain, then her father

smiled and said, 'Come in and sit down, Kim. We've been having a good talk.

This young man knows where he's going. He'll make sure hydroponics

continues to grow.'

Kim looked from her father to Takahashi, not daring to believe she'd heard

correctly.

'I don't know how he's changed you Dad, but I'm glad he has'. She turned

and looked at her smiling boyfriend. Taka asked,'Will we tell him our other

news now?'

'Wait for Mum. Come into the lounge, Mum,' Kim called. 'Taka and I have

some news for you. Mrs Elliott, who had been baking scones for the shed

workers, came into the room wiping her hands on her apron embroidered with

a yellow-crested cockatoo. 'What is it Kim,' Mum was apprehensive.

'You and Dad are going to be grandparents to another little Aussie!'

 

 

 

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