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A Time For Love 1 of 3 (1 Viewer)

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An Immortal can't seem to win his gal.

Nerves on edge, face pressed to an oval porthole, I watch from a window seat of a Douglas DC-3 as the aircraft circles a small island in the Marianas. It's February in the year 1953, less than ten years after the war. Another war is raging in Korea but I've managed to avoid that particular altercation. Wealthy this time around, I did as many others and bought a politician to avoid the military draft. This cycle, I'm an 18 year old civilian.

The aircraft lands at the only airport on the island, a military one that shares space with civilian flights. There'll soon be another field but the other -- formerly Japanese -- is still damaged from WWII. Being a charter flight and no other aircraft arriving for awhile, I easily pass around a lone open gate labeled "Customs". A uniformed guard, bare feet on the desk and reading a Japanese porno magazine, casually waves me past his post to another official.

"You got any dirty pictures, explosives or large amounts of American money?" the bored American Lieutenant asks by rote while glancing over my passport. The island is under American Military Law as part of the reparations agreement with Japan.

Although relatively small, with a population of 100,000 -- half American military -- the island is becoming crowded. There are two army bases, along with a small Air Force contingent at the airport. The first two times around -- in another life? -- I'd been an army sergeant stationed at one of the bases. It hadn't been bad duty, but I'm tired of the military bull-crap.

Considerably smarter by my third life cycle, I'd made a point of memorizing certain facts, such as winning sports teams and lottery numbers, as well as stock market fluctuations. This time, my fourth life, I'm well set up, a millionaire at eighteen. Money is the least of my problems. All I care about is finding Amiko. All I've EVER cared about is Amiko.

Amiko. The very name gives me chills, brings back tender memories and stretches raw nerves. Maybe this time? I can only pray. I take out a faded photo showing me with an arm around her in 1969, a long time ago. No, not a mistake, 1969. Married to her then, it's the closest I've gotten to the girl in the last 180-plus years.

At eighteen-years-old, this is the earliest I've been here. I kind of wish I had a way to see the base, how it looks before I've been stationed here. Maybe later, I think.

After leaving through the front door of the administration building, I stand at the edge of a two-lane main drag into the largest town. One lone taxi sits near the building. A native driver, clad in green shorts, no shirt, sits with legs up on the dashboard -- apparently dozing in the tropical heat. The taxi is a beat-up Jeep painted bright orange. After WWII the military sold a lot of these vehicles, mostly worn-out or shot-up, to natives. It was cheaper than hauling them all the way back to the United States.

Gratefully absorbing that same heat -- after the cold of Chicago -- I stand a moment in luxuriation. Not so savory is the smell of raw sewage intermixed with odors of oriental cooking coming from a town called Tinogawa off to the side of a tall chain-link fence. There are no guards at the gate.

I'm anxious to complete my mission, hoping this time for success. Please, God, I pray, let me win her love. Fighting back both tears and anxiety, I pick up my bags and go over to wake the taxi driver.

"Take me to Shansabaru," I order him in Japanese as I throw both bags onto a sun-baked back seat.

"You don't want go there. Nothing to do in Shansabaru, sir. I take you to Blue Moon bar, maybe? Many girls?" he answers in English.

"No. Shansabaru," I state emphatically. Obviously he thinks I'm in the military. Young men my age are never civilian visitors -- unless with their parents. Shrugging at losing a commission from the bar, he starts his Jeep and we leave for the village.

I look around, trying to keep my mind off Amiko. In my mind, I imagine I can sense the girl's presence.

Shansabaru is a small village halfway up a volcanic mountain that dominates the island. Leaving the airport and its cool ocean breeze we pull onto the paved road, the start of a long uphill journey. At one point, I see road workers making repairs. They consist of not only men, but also women -- some with small children strapped to their backs as they labor. As the female workers swing picks and dig with shovels, the children sleep peacefully, tied behind them with tiny legs hanging loose.

After a half mile, we turn onto a one-lane road, also paved. From there, we enter a dirt lane. Only four more miles, I think, as the tired-sounding Jeep struggles uphill over a winding path, forcing me to crouch down, at least partially avoiding branches brushing around the windscreen.

Even the smells of the jungle remind me of Amiko; everything reminds me of my lost love. Nearing the village on this all-too-familiar road, we pass a grass hut that serves as a one-room schoolhouse.

I lean forward, almost touching the startled driver as I peer between his hands and head. Maybe I can see her, I hope, as we pass the building -- but all the children are inside. A few minutes later, worn springs protesting loudly, we jerk to a stop in the center of the village. The path splits at that point, going off on two tangents, neither wide enough for the vehicle.

"You owe me sixty-cent, American." The driver reaches out a hand and turns off the ignition switch. With a village that small, he doesn't bother to ask my final destination. After I pay him, he starts up again and backs until he finds a place between two bamboo-and-plank huts to turn around.

I watch the Jeep disappear, melding into the jungle. Looking around, I check the place out. It's both familiar and strange. A hut with a tumble-down shed sits where Mr. Mori's house will later stand. Some of the homes look the same, except for being newer than I'm used to.

Seeing Grandma Yoshi's store, the only one in the village, I pick up my bags and walk toward it. There's a woman, looking to be in her early thirties, behind the counter, shapely posterior raised as she bends to search under a shelf. It takes me a few seconds to recognize her as Grandma Yoshi, herself.

"Ello' GI.... Wa' ya' want?"

I almost laugh at her struggling with English. Later, I would know her as a busybody and gossip who would never shut up, in Japanese or English.

"Do you know where I can find Matsu?" I ask in Japanese, eliciting a smile of relief.

"You know Matsu?" She gives me a cute nose-crunching frown, eyes fixated on my face as though something about me puzzles her.

"Well, in a way. We have met. Do you know where I can find him?"

"I think Matsu in his field ... Joh--. You go the left for--"

"I know the field. Thank you, Miss...." I have to leave it at that. I never have known her surname.

I leave my bags in the dusty street alongside the store and turn left. There's no crime in Shansabaru.

It's a hundred yards up a winding narrow path to Matsu's cane field and vegetable garden. As I walk closer, I can smell composted piles of human shit. Fermented with native leaves and garbage, it will be used as fertilizer.

Kenji Matsu is kneeling in the stagnant water of his taro patch, pulling weeds, when I approach. Since he's an old friend, the two of us often getting drunk together on local sake, I have to remind myself we are again strangers.

"Mr. Matsu? Could I talk to you a minute?"

He glances at me, straightens up, and stretches. He's wearing only a wet orange loincloth.

"Yes. I am Kenji Matsu."

"I would like to know if you have any houses to rent?"

Kenji owns half the village and rents many of the homes. I also remember him telling me of hard times right during and after the war. During the Japanese occupation, most of the natives left. It was either that or risk conscription into their army or forced labor. For years, the remaining islanders had plenty of land but few to farm it.

Kenji had run a sake business before the war, fermenting the strong wine-like beverage out of sugarcane he grew himself. That business saved him from forced labor building their airfield. It had been a hard life since the Japanese paid little for the product but wouldn't let him quit making it. "Hey, it built up my muscles," he would brag, flexing them.

"I have houses, several, GI. But no inside water, no electric. Maybe not for you?"

Damn, I think. I haven't considered that point. The village hasn't gotten electricity yet. Well, I have money. Maybe I can get power up here, expedite it? Anything to make Amiko comfortable.

"No matter, Mr. Matsu. I can get by without them. I'm a determined man."

"You speak good Japanese for such a young American."

"I studied the language for a long time. Don't worry. I won't cause any trouble."

I've known him long enough to almost read his mind. He will have visions of me making noise, having parties with other GIs and making an ass out of myself. "I'm a civilian, here to study your customs," I lie.

End of Section One of Three. The next will be posted in a couple of days. Will Johnny ever acquire Amiko's complete love, or is he doomed to try forever and a day?
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