Precious Apple This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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   It was October, 1945, when a large freighter entered Port Sasebo in Kyushu, Japan. The freighter, which would normally carry foreign goods, carried instead thousands of Japanese being repatriated from China. Among these people was my Aunt Mitsuko with her two small children. The first thing she saw as she came off the boat was the clear blue sky which she can recall clearly even today. At last, she was standing on the soil of her homeland.

When Japan occupied major cities in China during World War II, millions of Japanese began to move to their country's new territories, settling in Peking, Shanghai, Nankin, and Manchuria. My aunt left with her husband, a doctor, and their little son. The younger child was born there and both children were raised in a typically Japanese tradition within the Japanese community.

Two years later, the defeat of Japan in the war was reported throughout China, and once again they had to leave their new home, this time to go back to their original country. In early 1945, my aunt left her husband behind (he was still needed in China), promising to meet him back home in Japan. With her two little children and a heavy backpack full of their belongings, she arrived at a port near Peking. There she waited patiently along with millions of other repatriated like herself, hoping to board the next ship leaving for Japan.

When her turn finally came to go on board, she was told that people with small children were unacceptable for the journey: parents either had to leave them behind (by giving them up for adoption to Chinese families)or wait until all the adults had boarded. Nobody could predict how many ships would fill before children would be allowed to board. Many of her friends did leave their babies behind, promising to themselves that some day they would return for them.

My aunt could never have done that. . . she would have rather died together with her children than leave them behind.

She spent weeks walking along the coast of the Yellow Sea looking for ships and freighters departing for Japan. She walked with her children as far as her legs could carry her each day, and sleeping on the dirt at night, getting down on her hands and knees and covering her children's little bodies. There was nothing that could be called "food," they ate whatever they could find, from weeds to leaves. When those were not available, she fed them her saliva. One day, as they walked, literally dragging their feet searching for a port, an old Chinese woman came up to them. Without a word, she handed my aunt a half-rotten apple. It was the most precious thing anyone could have given to her at that time. As she fed her children every bit of the apple, she saw their faces brighten as she had not seen for a long time.

A few days later she heard that a freighter was leaving from a nearby port. Her mind was made up: she would bet on that boat no matter what.

On the day of departure, the port was filled with thousands of repatriates waiting to board. She held her younger daughter in one arm, covering her with a piece of clothing, and holding her son's hand tightly, sneaked onto the boat along with the flow of people. Everyone on the boat looked alike,worn out. Yet they were still eager to see their homeland.

My aunt does not remember how many days or weeks passed before they arrived in Sasebo Port, nor does she remember exactly which train or boat she took to get home. All she remembers was the face of her mother, who had been anxiously waiting for her daughter's and grandchildren's return since the war had ended. Aunt Mitsuko's husband returned home safely as well ten months later.

Even today, when she sees an apple, she is reminded of that Chinese woman who gave her that precious gift. In spite of all the painful memories of the war, my aunt had a memorable experience which she will never forget. n


This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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