by Lucas Rucchin
Memories were to be cherished close. Not all were grasped with admiration. Before the static was the silence; before the silence was the cataclysm. The boy didn’t need the broadcast to know something was wrong—a troubled silence always spoke louder than words. Perplexion was sheathed behind the reporter’s sharp, polished Japanese. His father made no effort to hide his surprise, seated carefully, watching the radio with visible intent. Surrounded by it, enveloped in it, there was no need to.
Lucky. The notion spread quickly: seated an ocean away, distress arose from fear and fear alone, the news scattering throughout the city like a flame, burning their surety rather than their skin. We’re safe, his mother repeated persistently, hugging him tight to the azure fabric of her favourite dress. We’re lucky to be safe. Yet her voice fluttered with ambiguity every time the words left her mouth, more so when the paper arrived at the doorstep every morning, more so as passersby refused to answer their waves and met their gazes with glares. Even though the storm didn’t hurt them then, it was a different story when the flood came rushing.
“The last best west,” was Canada’s headline, a country flaunting their rich acres and mountainous plateaus, singing about opportunities. The perfect canvas for lies. The white men had come knocking in March, sanctioned by the law and their own conceptions. Suddenly, they weren’t Canadians, but prisoners of a crime they hadn’t so much as touched, paying the price for the cowards who had no dignity but to growl the commands.
Pearls didn’t always mirror beauty.
Memories collapsed into something necessary. Reminiscing was no longer a recreation—it was a pastime that had degraded into something of a remedy. The only thing able to plaster a smile on their sullen faces, they gripped the past close, the only medicament for the present. Though it was senseless to hide from the truth, it helped them realize why the truth repelled them—why it struck and tormented their stream of certitude, a tranquil river purged into a roaring torrent. They knew nothing more than detainment, dispossession and dispersion. None of them believed in fate then. Now, it was the only thing that proved to be rational.
The memory was clouded, the wooden floor an umber, blurry pond; the walls flickered between shades; the image projected through the window remained a stagnant shade of blue. The boy was revisiting it for another time in a many: a dream just out of his grasp, a The longer you treat a pigeon, the longer it stays. His pigeon was edging on leaving him.
Canada had never treated the boy well—his narrow structure and slim gaze attracted many uneasy watches, and those less bold avoided him entirely. Speaking through a foreign accent, the boy’s sense of belonging was always far out of his reach beside those who talked in stressless, instinctive tones. The way they all laughed, moved, acted. . . They weren’t human to him, for his idea of mankind had been birthed a sea in the distance. The boy detested it, and they detested him.
He glided through the vague hallway, a ghost of what was. Objects wavered in the corner of his vision, shuddering in and out of existence, the memory deciding what would and wouldn’t be. Sounds of the household echoed unnaturally: cleaned silverware clinking within a metal basin reverberated in patternless waves. . . voices resounded at all angles. . . footsteps crackled unevenly through the wooden floorboards. The boy viewed it all through a muffled, foggy filter—the price one paid when recollections were treated like air. It was only later did he realize he was filing away memories like a shuffled deck of cards.
His father was in the living room, an alien place to the boy. He’d never been able to establish familiarity with the design of the new world around him: the blandness of sepia-coloured rugs, the strained hospitality of couches coated in a cynical shade of leathery-brown. The walls, too, with their emotionless tan, never managed to strike a sense of dwelling.
Seated impassively on the chair nearest to the window overlooking a tended-to lawn, his father’s expression was as monotonous as the jar of ashen-coloured paint propped up on his knees. The boy took to the seat beside him, and a lingering, consensual look was all he needed to understand his father’s mood, one willing to make. . . concise conversation. Slim frame shifting in the tight confines of the armchair, his father dedicated a bit of his attention towards him, most of it still focused on the figure in his hands.
“Papa. . .” The boy noticed his tone was noticeably more civil in comparison to the one used with his mother. He fidgeted slightly in the raspy fabric of the seat, assessing his thoughts before he translated them into words. “I. . . was thinking. About—about this place. It’s—”
“Look, Kaito.” His father evidently wasn’t paying attention to him. Either that, or because his voice had been dimmed to a whisper. “Clay is your infant. Your willing follower.” Carefully settling the sculpture on a nearby surface of newspapers, he met his son’s eyes, full of conviction. “Infants must be fostered. Disdainful, they turn, if you do not tend to them enough. . .”
The boy never understood his father’s speech. While his tone walked and his mother’s jogged, his father’s danced and paraded, full of indecipherable poetry. “What do you mean?”
“Take a look.” His father plucked the figure back up in his palms, cautious as to not to graze any wet paint. It seemed to be a pigeon; the boy’s eyes traced the black curves that were its wings, the bright pink sticks that were the bottoms of its feet, the segment where the clay arched and painted a solemn grey: its body. “Notice the precise angles, the vivid colours, the way the—”
“. . . how the sculpture embraces the complexity of nature—”
“. . . such is an example of a disciplined follower. No forgiveness is lent to the clay, rather it is treated with utmost authority—”
“Papa. I hate this place.”
Now the boy’s father turned to him, body tense, as if the words had impaled him. No longer was his gaze ample with fathering warmness, but replaced with apprehensive concern. “Kaito. Why would you ever say such a thing?”
“I want to go home.”
His father’s brow furrowed. “You realize what we had to sacrifice to move here? We had no future in Japan, boy. You may not see it, but this country will welcome you much more willingly.”
“None of them are. . . like me. None of them want to be my friend.”
“Would you rather friends or remain a helpless pawn?” Placid but on the edge of sliding into a rasp, his tone was a falcon: composed, talons barred if its situation bothered him further. “Running over rocks and nails is better than tripping.”
Frowning, the boy curled and unfurled his fingers, black eyes glowing turbulently under his midnight hair. Every conversation with his father was like a filtered skirmish, with the only thing keeping their discussions from leaping into discourtesy being the boundaries of family. “I want to go home.”
Something odd happened: his father smiled. “You are living a crucial age right now, Kaito.” Turning back to the sculpture, his father’s eyes went alight, torso relaxing. “Childhood is not a place for mindless squabbles and useless toying.”
“Establishment. Development. Building the right foundation.”
All he remembered was anger. The boy’s father had broken a fragile matter inside him, igniting his dusky eyes with something more than annoyance, something more than respectful displeasure. “There is no foundation for me here.”
The memory was dissolving around him. Fracturing and blurring, the living room fell into an empty void, leaving nothing but the boy, his father, and the armchairs beneath them. “I want to forget this place.” The boy’s voice echoed throughout the emptiness. The recollection heaved and sighed, nearing its end. “I want to forget all of it. . .”
All that was left was his father’s face, vibrant as a neon sign, clear as a summer sky. His tone became airy, his words swimming with wistfulness: “You may choose whatever memories you’d like to remember, Kaito.” Finally, the figure of his father vanished. Only his voice remained, echoing throughout an overlooked time. “But when your pigeons are fleeting, you’ll wish that you clutched them close.”
It was only when the white men came did he realize his pigeons were fleeting. The newfangled was a dangerous thing: once unappreciated, there was no other notion of what could be foul. When the foul surprised them that morning in March, Kaito had wished he’d clutched his pigeons close, uprooted from an experience he’d wished he could forget and thrown into an experience he’d only despised in nightmares.
They were treated no more than animals in the camps. Barbed wire fences caged them in like mice; an absence of electricity left them fluttering around like moths in the dark; no running water drained their tongues, camels wandering pointlessly in a lakeless wasteland. They were no longer in control of their assets, their future, seized by the same kind of men who had placed the blame on the Japanese. Internment had them all questioning the leaders who stood on the higher tower, a furtive excuse to finally physicalize what discrimination they so silently clenched.
It was only a matter of time before objection broke out.
“WE ARE NOT EVIL,” clamoured the crowd, voices growling with the undertones of righteousness, sharp with the bitterness of all the things stolen from them. They marched with purpose, their speed slow but resolute. Some brandished homemade signs, held within their burdened palms. Words were scrawled upon them with coal, harsh and jittery in their native language.
Kaito’s father was at the head of the cluster. His clothes were torn and his face ragged, but his spirit remained unyielding. He’d never seen his father with such determination—the internment had aroused a lost ambition within him, most clearly displayed on his expression, broad and lively. The boy’s mother remained by his side, fearful yet optimistic: her face was timid—she held worry for her husband—but her thin legs momentarily jumped and twinged with hope.
“WE ARE NOT EVIL.” His father’s voice was the most prominent out of all of them, ringing and echoing off the lifeless shacks that were supposed to be their new homes. In the near distance, the crowd noticed figures bounding towards them, wickedness wielded within their palms. Kaito’s mother seized her son’s hand tighter.
A while passed; soon they were glaring at each other, protesters and preventers, equally as confident in their own cause. There was peace for a moment and not a second longer, where the groups eyed each other expectantly, two battalions facing each other down on an even playing field. The preventers possessed firepower—the protesters possessed resolve.
“The end of the line. . .” With power came assurance. The preventers were no exception, blinded by prejudice. Speaking in harsh English, Kaito understood the man articulately, but the same couldn’t be said for the others. “The end of the line, criminals. You should feel lucky. My brother pinches a few dollars and faces iron. . . you tear apart a few thousand lives and receive spring vacation.”
Eyes dangerous storms, his father’s tone had reduced to one of friendly diplomacy, as if cycling through dispositions in hopes of pleasing the right crowd. “We are not evil.”
With a breath: “Let us free. We are facing punishment for a crime we did not commit.” The sentences were stagnant, uncertain. Kaito’s father had never managed to latch on to the new world’s strange tongue.
A wily grin came across the preventer’s face, illuminating his icy eyes. “I have bullets. You all have a few paper signs. How did you expect this to carry out?”
“We seek no fight.”
“Then prance on back to your homes.”
Now the entire crowd of protesters adopted his father’s restrained vehemence. Restless and uncoiled, their expressions burned with creased brows and unwelcoming, fearless gazes. Even Kaito’s mother, usually prone to spray water on a fire rather than feed it, matched their hatred. If the preventers had lacked weaponry, the boy knew their confrontation would be a broadly different story. Tension swaddled the air, a thick mist.
“We are not evil,” his father repeated rigidly.
“I don’t care what you are. Call this chicanery off.”
Kaito’s father angled his head to one side, staring his opposition dead in the eyes, a battle of wit and brawn. Though he lacked any tangible stature, Kaito’s father held his ground, a delicate place when the enemy didn’t hesitate to cross lines. “The only chicanery here is what you think is just.”
The preventer gritted his teeth, sliding his hands eagerly over the lustrous frame of the device within his arms. “Stop this, or you’ll all return home with fewer numbers—”
“This is not our home.”
They all shifted. The boy stood, firm on his scrawny legs, heart racing yet refusing to tear away his glower, breathing heavily with every wave of indignation. Suddenly, Kaito didn’t fear the man, elevated to a viewpoint where he could see all of the new world’s fictions. “Let us free.” He mirrored his father’s tone.
We are not evil.
The white man’s features veered instantly. Perhaps it was the aspect being talked to so crudely by a child; perhaps he’d finally crossed the threshold between playful disrespect and unchained inequality. He bolted forward, towering over the boy, peering down at him with grave eyes, unlatching the strap that held the firearm in place. “This is exactly where you belong—”
It all happened so quickly. Kaito watched as his father charged at the preventer, watched as he shoved the man to the ground, watched as the other men raced forward to wrench him back, watched as they tore a relentless fist over his father’s face.
We are not evil.
Kaito did nothing as his mother rushed forward and yelled her husband’s name, watched as she, too, was heaved to the ground, watched as the light crackled over their bodies, watched as the crowd—confident just minutes ago—scattered like mice when a hawk appeared in the sky.
We are not evil.
He did nothing but close his eyes shut, did nothing but manifest their faces in his mind, did nothing but reimagine every experience, every word, every emotion with them, no matter how far away the pigeon had strewn. He did nothing but let the tears flow.
We are not evil.
In the grass and bathed in afternoon light were a collection of birds, grey wings damp from the shower hours before, curious eyes unafraid. Despite the thunder, despite the furious words shouted by the enemy, they stayed, enduring, watching with the curious gaze of infants.
You’ll wish that you clutched them close.
He watched as his parent’s lifeless bodies were hoisted away, carried like assets rather than people, like monsters rather than humans, as fragile as any memory.
*振り返って translates to "looking back" in Japanese