The Occupation of Joe is an emotionally powerful, gripping post-war tragedy from Top Hat Books, publisher of quality historical fiction.
|Publisher:||Top Hat Books|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.40(d)|
About the Author
Mr. Baynes is a member of the Historical Novel Society and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and a board member of the California Writers Club, SF Peninsula branch, which recently honored him with its Jack London Award for distinguished service.
Read an Excerpt
The radio seemed so certain. The voices were so proud, so stirring. The sacred war was going well. It was nearly over. It made his chest swell.
Father would be home soon, Mama promised. He would take them to a bigger place, one with space for Hana-chan, who never stopped crying. Mama said the baby was hungry. Who wasn't?
Six months later and the radio is silent. No good news. No songs to glorify the Emperor. No electricity.
No Father, either. Mama doesn't talk about him anymore. Not since that day a few weeks ago when the young soldier knocked on the door and bowed, his boots caked with mud, and delivered that telegram. That awful telegram.
Now no food.
Mama hasn't eaten in days and she's gone dry. Nothing for Hana-chan. No milk and no money to buy any. He has to do something.
Huddled in the corner, his arms around his knees, he looks around the room, murky in the wan light from a single window. Not much remains of their meager belongings.
His stomach hurts.
He watches Mama giving his sister water. Hana-chan's cries don't seem as loud lately.
Maybe he's getting used to them.
Mama blows softly on the baby's face. She glances over at him and smiles gently.
"Come sit with us, little man. Warm yourself."
He pushes himself to his feet and shrugs his skinny shoulders. He feels a little shaky.
"I need to move around," he says in his high-pitched voice. "I'll be back in a couple hours."
Mama purses her lips and nods. "Be careful."
He clatters down the rickety stairs. He crosses the shabby lobby and pauses, watching the street through the warped glass in the ornamental door. It's empty. It's early, barely light.
He turns up the collar on his thin shirt and steps outside, his bare feet in sandals. The October wind is icy. Unusual. It's often warm this time of year. It still smells like smoke.
Better than baby shit.
He looks around carefully. No rats. No dogs.
Does he dare?
He has to. Mama, she has to take care of the baby. It's up to him to find some food. He has to go now.
He sets out across the ruins. It's the first time since that night six months ago when he and Mama dashed across the streets, dodging the burning buildings and the desperate neighbors. He's stayed close to home since then.
He used to roam as far as the docks, exploring and playing with the other children, but nothing looks familiar now. He keeps to the side of the dirt road, away from the holes and piles, trying not to draw notice. He trots past the temple his family used to attend. Two walls are standing, a smashed triangle of roof leaning against one of them.
That pile there, the one with the charred rickshaw, that was the Sasaki family. He remembers the mother trying to save the baby strapped to her back, the padding smoldering, then her trousers flaming, her husband's too. They fell where they stood.
He tries to concentrate on what he's doing, but he can't keep the images from flashing across his mind.
The bombing was bad enough. Hearing the sirens every night, the drone of the big planes. Never knowing the target. Waiting for the explosions.
Then the fire, the night it happened everywhere, the entire city filled with live sparks and bits of burning wood and paper. It felt like it was raining fire.
Bursts of light flashed high in the sky and fell to earth, whistling. A huge glow spread over the city, showing the big planes, flying low, their wings slicing through columns of smoke rising from the ground.
The voice blaring through the intercoms was calm as always. "Take shelter. Do not panic. Take shelter. More attacks coming."
People stood in their gardens and watched, spellbound by the spectacle. Red puffs of antiaircraft guns sent dotted red lines across the sky. Thousands of cylinders dropped with a rushing sound like a downpour and then exploded into flames. Frail wooden houses bloomed alight.
He realizes he's been running. He stops and leans over, hands on knees, breathing hard, fiery images flooding his memory.
He spots a group of bigger boys in the distance. He heard they ran in packs now. He hides behind a water barrel outside the husk of a house.
That night, the night of the fires, he remembers he jumped in a water barrel because of the intense heat. He splashed Mama and his sister until they were soaked.
Then they ran across the streets, where telegraph poles and overhead trolley wires fell in tangles, him pulling his mother by the arm, her other arm holding the infant.
Today the wind is stiff, but nothing like the night of the fires. He saw a burning plank sail through the air and hit a man, killing him instantly. Fanned by heavy gusts, the flames spread as fast as people could flee.
Coils of black, choking smoke surrounded them, but there were unexpected open spots, where he and Mama coughed and gulped the good air. They couldn't hear each other over the roar of the firestorm.
Now the breeze blows the cinders like dirty snow over the acres of crumbled structures and charred rubble. When the bigger boys pass out of sight, he hurries past a shuttered shopping district. He waves to Mrs. Kuraki, mother of his friend Kenji, who died of the burns he suffered that night.
Isamu steers clear of the homeless in their lean-tos built against standing walls or collapsed roofs. He stays away from the few remaining brick or block structures, fearing the desperate people who shelter in the hollowed-out interiors.
He cuts across another block of desolation, girders in gestures of supplication sticking out of the blackened ground. His feet are completely gray.
He catches sight of the Sumida and trots over the bridge spanning the river. When he looks down, he sees the thousands of bodies that clotted the water that night, living people splashing among the burned and drowned, a putrid stew of ash and flesh. The ghastly smell – will it ever leave? He retches and runs.
The next thing he knows he pulls up again, gasping. He's missed the last minute or two, caught up in what took place months ago.
After that night, he refused to leave the room for more than a few minutes. Stunned and numb, he spent those months staring at the walls and waiting for the terrible announcements to begin again.
Instead the soldier appeared in his dirty boots, bowing to Mama, leaving behind the yellow telegram and the awful emptiness.
"I'm sorry, Isamu. I know you miss your father."
Mama opened her right arm for him. She was holding Hana-chan with her left. He shook his head.
And then a day came, not long ago, when the air over Tokyo filled with airplanes, hundreds and hundreds of them, bombers and smaller fighters all flying over the city at the same time. He was convinced his life was over. He was almost glad.
But they didn't drop any death. Just leaflets. The Allies were celebrating the Emperor's surrender.
He reaches the port and the wind shifts, replacing the smoke with the smells of tar and rust, the metallic tang of water.
He spies a different gang of local boys, six or seven of them, dragging and shoving a heavy box, looking behind them for pursuers. He ducks behind a huge container until the sounds of their struggle fade away.
He peeks around the corner and studies the scene. The pier never seemed so large before. Each the size of a large truck, the containers are arranged in long rows. They stretch as far as he can see.
Large, pale men are working about fifty yards away, lifting and loading wooden crates. As he gets closer, he can hear them talking to each other in a language that sounds to him like spitting.
They must be Americans.
He feels a wave of revulsion. These are the men who destroyed his life. But waiting in line for the toilet yesterday, he heard two street vendors talking about the invaders.
"Joe has so much food he doesn't know what to do with it all," one said.
Isamu means to get some. If he can only figure out where they keep it.
He swallows his disgust and approaches the men, wending past piles of equipment and large carts. One yells at him and waves him away, but he smiles and keeps coming.
Suddenly, a bulging net slams onto the asphalt, barely missing him. He jumps to the side. Huge hairy arms grab him from behind and swing him to the side. A metal box slams the concrete where he was standing.
Isamu kicks as hard as he can and feels his feet hit a man's legs. His sandals fly off and he drops to the ground.
"Ow! Take it easy, kid."
Isamu looks at the box that just missed him. Is that where they store their food? How can he steal something that heavy by himself? He needs a new plan.
He picks up a sandal. The big man hands him the other one. He gestures for Isamu to move away. He points overhead at a large crane.
Isamu watches as the massive machine lifts another bulging net. The man gently shoves him away, points to the net and shoos him.
The boy backs farther down the pier, still entranced by the crane. He skirts two other work parties, the tall Americans shouting at one another as the full nets deposit gigantic crates, jeeps, and other goods on the crowded docks.
He continues to the end, where he wraps his arms around his chest against the chill and gazes out at Tokyo Bay. All the ships that arrived in the past few days, hundreds of them, fill the harbor. Isamu is amazed. Giant battleships, dozens of smaller ships, little boats zipping from one to another. So many Americans.
How can he get one to pay attention to him?CHAPTER 2
The young officers are in their private clubhouse, the photo lab of the U.S.S. Chourre, "the greyhound of the Pacific." They're enjoying another cup of mud, their third or fourth of the day. They're always wired on caffeine.
"Cold out there today," says Jeff Wade, the ship's photographer. "This'll keep ya warm."
He pours a jolt into each cup, squinting at the smoke from the cigarette in the corner of his mouth.
"Just what the doctor ordered," laughs Doc Stephens, the ship's medic. A good-natured man, he's a little older than the other two.
"I can't wait to get ashore," says Joe Bienkunski, the communications officer. "I'm ready for some solid ground under my feet."
They'd worked hard through the sweltering summer, repairing carriers in the waters off the Philippines. No shore leave for months.
They'd steamed into Tokyo Bay at midnight, maneuvering carefully, slowly through the crowded waters to their assigned anchorage. This morning they feel buoyed. They are the victors, the first wave of the Occupation. Today is the victory lap, their first foray into the enemy's capital city.
They're so full of themselves, these ninety-day wonders. College-educated, they heeded the call. They enlisted before they were drafted and completed the three-month training to earn their officer stripes. They think of each other as the "fellas."
They lean against the tub full of chemical baths, arms crossed, relaxed in their khakis.
"It's pretty bad out there," Doc says. "The firebombing pretty much fried most of the city. That's what the exec told me."
"They deserve what they got," Wade says.
"You tell 'em, New York." Joe laughs.
Wade's a Manhattanite with a snarky accent and a superior attitude, despite his short stature. He sneers at anyone who doesn't live in "the city." Joe is an upstater, a hick to Wade.
The men go on deck, avoiding bustling sailors, and survey the huge harbor full of Allied ships. They pull their heavy jackets shut against the bitter breeze.
"Quite a sight," Joe says. Tall and stocky, always carefully groomed, he's proud to be an American.
"A mighty navy," Doc agrees.
"Ya sound like that Popeye cartoon," Wade quips, putting on his sunglasses.
On the short launch ride to the dock, he points out the white sheets draped over the shore guns ringing the harbor.
"That's meant to shame the Japs," he says.
"Like their guns have been put to sleep," Joe says.
"Yeah," Wade grins. "Like ya'd put a dog to sleep."
At the pier they come upon cranes, forklifts and men moving materiel, a sizable military operation. They commandeer the jeep that Wade had ordered for the official purpose of a photo tour of the immediate area. He insists on driving.
"It's in my name," he says, patting the dashboard, putting a new cigarette in his mouth.
"Thought you were going to take some pictures," Joe says.
Wade pops the clutch and screams down the long, shaded row between the containers.
"Christ!" Doc shouts, grabbing his hat as he's pushed against the seat. It's unusual for him to curse. He usually carries himself with quiet dignity.
Wade laughs as a couple dockworkers scurry out of his way and salute him. He takes a hard right on two wheels.
"God, this is a kick!"
As he rounds another corner, he surprises a small Japanese boy, who stands transfixed in front of the onrushing vehicle.
"Get out of the way!" Doc stands up and waves his arms. "Jump!"
At the last moment, the child throws himself to the side and the jeep barely brushes him. Wade skids to a halt.
"Jesus," says Doc, sprinting to check on the child.
"What do I know about cars?" Wade mutters, taking deep breaths, trying to calm down. "Nobody drives in the city."
The boy is shivering uncontrollably. His lips are blue.
"He's all right, as far as I can tell," Doc says. "Frightened and freezing, but not hurt."
Joe kneels next to the boy, opens his jacket and pulls the boy next to his chest.
"Hi, Joe," the boy says, looking up at him.
Joe widens his eyes and points to himself.
"How'd you know my name?"
The boy turns to Doc.
"We all look alike to him," Doc smiles.
"You'd think it was the middle of summer, the way he's dressed," Joe says.
The boy is in mid-length trousers with thin, strap shoes exposing his toes. His shirtsleeves end just below his elbows.
"What'll we do with him?" Joe asks.
"Leave him," Wade says.
"We can't do that," Joe says. "We almost ran him over."
"For Christ's sake, he's a Jap," Wade says.
"How about we drop him home?" Doc ventures, trying to make peace.
"Let's do it on the way back," Joe says. "Let's look around first."
They pile back into the jeep. The boy rides with Joe in the back. He's stopped shivering, but he wants to stay under Joe's jacket.
Joe points to himself, then Doc, then Wade.
"Joe. Doc. Wade." He holds his hands up in question and points to the boy. "What's your name?"
"Isamu," the boy says at once.
"Just call him Sam," Wade says.
Joe gives the boy a stick of gum and puts another in his own mouth to show him what to do.
"Just chew. Don't swallow."
Joe swallows and shakes his finger no. He opens his mouth to reveal the gum is still there.
Doc takes the wheel. They drive alongside the water for a few hundred yards and cut inland on a major thoroughfare. Wade starts snapping photos.
They pass vistas of devastation. Chimneys, remains of concrete office buildings, twisted girders, burnt wood, all covered in gray, grainy dust.
"Everything's wiped out." Doc shakes his head.
People peer at them from culverts or flimsy sheds in the lee of burned-out walls. One family is camped in a large bomb crater. They're dressed in dusty kimonos, tattered Japanese army uniforms, or bundles of rags. They skitter across the broken landscape like flies on carrion. Women stand by a faucet, drawing water. An old man drops his pants and craps.
Horse-drawn carts, rickshaws, charcoal-burning cars, and old buses crowd the streets, competing with military trucks and jeeps. People walk on the shoulders, avoiding the broken sidewalks. Soldiers stand in sentry posts on the corners.
A woman on the roadway turns to the jeep and holds out her hands, asking for help. A little farther, a second woman offers her infant to the Navy men.
They pass a long wall, fallen and cracked, gaps big enough to walk through. Inside are several destroyed structures.
Joe is the only one who notices the boy's reactions. Sometimes Sam's eyes are wide and his mouth open. Other times he hides his face in the young officer's coat.
To Joe, Tokyo is like Mars. He's used to the sooty streets of downtown Schenectady. His world there was one square mile with the Polish ghetto at the center. No English was spoken at home. Gospels and sermons were delivered in Polish at the church on the corner. His people were poor, but proud and clean. Their lives were ordinary, but ordered.
In Tokyo, everyday existence is anything but ordered. It's shattered. The squalor is repulsive to him.
Joe draws the boy close, absently patting his back. He is so small, it's hard to guess how old he is.
They cross a double bridge and enter an area that is entirely undamaged. Carefully cultured evergreens and groves of bamboo are arranged artfully across the beautiful grounds.
"Will ya look at that," Wade quips, snapping some pictures, another cigarette dangling from his mouth.
"The Imperial Palace Grounds," Doc says.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Occupation of Jhoe"
Copyright © 2017 Bill Baynes.
Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Joe is a Navy soldier landing in Japan during the war. All around he sees destruction and starving people. While he is a soldier, his opinions differ from his mates. He sees these as people who need help, while the others see them as the enemy. On one of his departures on land a meeting with a special boy named Ishamu, changes him. This story told the ugly side of the war. The young women and children who get the bitter endings. Ishamu and his family pull at the heartstrings. The destruction they face, the hunger they suffer, both will break you. The small relationship between Joe and Aiko shows great love and respect. I enjoyed the short story. It is one that paints a sad story, but it is also a story of love and hope. A must read for any lover of history.