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Manual labor suited Kiichi best. After the Great Kantō earthquake of 1923 killed his wife and young daughter, he ended up in Kobe and worked at the port as a stevedore, loading and unloading cargo vessels. He preferred to lose himself in his toil and keep negative thoughts out of his mind. The ruins of Tokyo, his old house that had burned to the ground, and even his three-year-old daughter Hisako’s smile haunted his memory. He could barely stand to relive his past. His daily routine now consisted of working, drinking, and going to bed. Five years had passed without incident. One day, his co-worker Yusaku pitched one of his get-rich-quick schemes to Kiichi.
“Yeah. You know about the National Emigration Camp, right? They’ve recently built their headquarters on the hill. The government will pay our passage. Let’s go to Brazil and make names for ourselves.”
“They say nothing but hardship awaits new arrivals.”
“Don’t be a wet blanket. For ordinary folks like us, it’s the only chance to strike it rich.”
Yusaku had made up his mind and expected Kiichi to follow suit. He practically dragged Kiichi to the Emigration Camp. Over five hundred prospective immigrants had gathered before the gate. Moving along with the flow of humans, Kiichi and Yusaku took turns going through physical exams and immunizations.
“Poor things,” Kiichi mumbled under his breath with a glance toward young mothers with babies in their arms. Unemployment skyrocketed. Hunger drove them out of the country.
“I’m tired of living in Japan,” a young man said. “This country is too small for me.” Despite his words, his eyes betrayed sorrow.
After the exams, Kiichi headed to the canteen. The meal included real beef for a change. He didn’t remember the last time he ate meat. As he mechanically shoveled food into his mouth, he felt someone’s gaze. When he looked up, he saw a young woman across the table. She sat by herself. Nobody wanted to sit by her. Her face and left arm were terribly scarred by burns. She showed no sign of eating her meal. She gazed at Kiichi. He wondered why she didn’t say anything.
A month passed after the ship left Kobe for Brazil. Kiichi stood on the deck, letting the sea breeze caress his face.
“Aren’t you Dr. Nakamura?” a female voice said, startling him. He’d never expected to be called by that name again when he left Tokyo. He turned and saw the burned woman.
“Thank you for taking care of me right after the quake in Tokyo.” She bowed deeply. “My name is Saya.”
Saya was once his patient. He’d met her in a hospital crowded with earthquake victims.
The ship sailed through the vast expanse of dark water under a full moon. The moonbeams danced on the waves and shone on Saya’s unmarred profile. Before her face was disfigured, she’d been a beauty.
He wished he could take her place. Kiichi wished for the impossible. He silently took her left hand and examined it. It was partially paralyzed.
“For what, Dr. Nakamura. You sound as if you were responsible for the earthquake.”
“No, that’s not what I mean—”
Saya covered his mouth with her right hand.
“I’m not here to reminisce about our past, doctor. My friend Ocho is in labor. Please follow me.”
Saya’s eyes told him she’d refuse to take no for an answer. But Kiichi didn’t nod. He wanted to get away from his past. He took a few steps back.
“Why don’t you ask the ship doctor?”
“Oh, that quack is useless.” She began to walk away.
“I can’t. Don’t make me,” he whined like a little boy.
Saya chuckled. “I know you, doctor. You can’t say no.”
Mixed with the scent of salt air, Saya’s gaudy perfume tickled Kiichi’s nose. It pained him to see how far the once innocent girl had fallen. Hard times forced many women to sell their bodies. He now knew why she’d been reluctant to approach him before.
Kiichi quickened his steps to catch up with Saya. The Big Dipper he was used to seeing in the night sky back home was nowhere in sight. Instead, the Southern Cross shone above his head, guiding him toward an unknown future.
Translated by TOSHIYA KAMEI
Yuki Fuwa is a Japanese writer from Osaka. In 2020, she was named a finalist for the first Reiwa Novel Prize. In the same year, her short story was a finalist in the first Kaguya SF Contest. Translated by Toshiya Kamei, Yuki’s short fiction has appeared in New World Writing.