“A woman should be neat” thought Yuko. “If the men want to spill their smelly guts and roll their heads for strangers to see, they may. But it isn't modest.”
Yuko was twenty, a daughter of an Army officer killed in Manchuria in the twelfth year of Showa. After his death, the widow moved in with her parents on Minamidaitou, some four hundred kilometers East of Okinawa.
The girl looked to the sky. Past the sparse, high clouds, she could see shiny crawling dots of American aircraft. Yesterday they came over her island. She was in a tide pool on the West side, the planes were empty by then. They came in low and turned Yuko's mother, her grandparents and most of the sugar cane crop into cinders. The ashes still fluttered about.
Americans would come soon. They wouldn't bother with the neighboring Kitadaito, for it had no fresh water. Her island was another matter. It had water and it had a garrison, though she has only seen six men with one machine gun so far. She didn't know if they survived the bombing, but thought they did. The deep, cool caves would have kept out the fires.
Yuko had not eaten since the day before. She had water, though even the stream from which she drank now tasted of smoke. Yesterday was her holiday from the field work. The woman still wore the nicest of the poor kimonos she owned. It felt oddly congruent to the devastation around her, for death was to be a formal event if circumstances allowed.
On the horizon, she could see faint shapes of the invasion ships. Further down the beach, she could see three of the soldiers. They had survived the bombing and were walking towards a cliff with several civilians in front of them. The bright sunlight and Yuko's sharp eyes showed her every detail of wind-pulled clothes and flailing limbs as the people jumped onto the rocks below. She could see the awkward shapes briefly color the rocks crimson, then slowly flow out to sea where the crabs would feast.
One of the men hesitated at the drop-off. He turned just as the solder's bayonet helped him fall down to the breakwater. “No dignity in that” Yuko thought “They looked like Chinese, all in a heap and broken grotesquely.” Her father had once sent such a post card.
She had expected the men to return to the caves. They looked out to sea instead. Only two of the many shapes bound for Okinawa turned to her island. Yet the men who defended it must have thought their stand hopeless. She saw the two soldiers shed their tunics, then unsheathe their long bayonets and hold them reversed. The sad parody of the act disgusted her. They stabbed once and had their heads off before they could even begin to cut.
The officer, a handsome man whom she had seen before, was the very picture of correctness. Though soot-streaked and tired, he stood erect and proud in the face of the approaching ships. She saw the man take his sword, still in the scabbard, and place it on the rock several steps from the two soldier corpses. He unbuckled his holster also, placing it by the sword. Fascinated, Yuko watched him kneel and hold his hands together as if in prayer.
The ships were approaching. She could see the details now, two smokestacks each, guns large and small crammed all over the hull and superstructure. On the shore, the officer rocked forward and back, bowing lower with every motion. As his hands touched the ground, she saw a flash and his head and torso whipped back. She heard the explosion a second hence.
She stared without comprehension. Americans had not fired. Then it struck her – a grenade! He hit the fuse on the rock face. She felt cheated. Not even a witness to honor, she was now alone for the invaders to use as they pleased and to butcher just as her father had butchered those he had used.
Yuko stood up abruptly. She still had time to do right!
She walked briskly to the edge of the cane field nearest to the shore. Separated from the rest by a gully, this patch escaped the general conflagration. Bamboo planted as wind break stood green and yellow around the lower cane. A machete abandoned in the flight from yesterday's bombing lay on the ground, it's blade carefully lifted off the soil by a rag. She took the large knife in hand, hefting it for a swing.
Her ears could now hear the landing craft engines over the surf noise. The soldiers coming would find no opposition, no loot, nothing worth occupying – except for her. She couldn't stand to be a consolation prize to some barbarian. Something hand to be done, and soon!
The young woman stood as a baseball pitcher would. She whirled with her slight body weight behind rigidly held machete and chopped one of the thickest bamboo stems at a sharp angle. The blade passed just below the second node, creating a hollow tube with a needle-like tip. She swung the machete twice more, making spearhead notches just below the cut.
The depression in which it stood was well shaded, invisible from the sea-side but obvious to anyone on the beach itself. The narrow break in the vertical rocks made the part of the shoreline the most logical landing spot.
“This will be neat” thought Yuko. “Tidy” corrected her mind. The slanted tip would punch rather than tear and the hollow stem would take up any blood. If she kept her posture proper and upright, the bamboo would hit no smelly intestines. She wasn't a man to wallow in her own droppings! To the Americans, she would appear sitting serenely, legs crossed, long hair covering the downcast face. It would be a fine jest when they discover that they can't use her.
She stood just forward of the cut stem. It was within the kimono hem, invisible but pointedly present. Her ankles crossed and hands holding firmly onto the tall stems on each side, Yuko started to lower herself into a sitting position. She could feel the slanted cut touch her skin and adjusted herself to center on the bamboo. “It should have been the handsome officer” she thought sadly “But at least it won't be some barbarian.” She heard the landing craft ramp fall and released her hand hold.