Shades of the Deep Blue Sea: Saya

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Shades of the Deep Blue Sea: Saya

As their ship crosses the Pacific, destined for the war in the Philippines, the bumbling Olafson looks for ways to kill Bart who looks for ways to stay alive, while the crew of the Renegade begins to believe that Bart might already have become a shade.

Shades of the Deep Blue Sea is more than a historically-precise novel of World War II in the Pacific. It also is a page-turning foray into dodging torpedoes, machine guns, and Japanese patrols that makes one wonder whether Bart could actually foresee what would happen beforehand and whether Olafson would himself survive in a jungle world of cannibals, poisonous birds, and a woman bent on revenge. A shade, after all, is more than just a change of color….

Saya had not decided whether to let Olafson see Ambon. She left him tied up in a water-filled pit that was lined with bamboo spears, not so much as a test but merely to keep him occupied for a few hours. He stared at her, wild-eyed with fear, and she disappeared into the rainforest.

She had not visited the spice plantation for more than two weeks, not since the day she had taken possession of Olafson. The home where she had grown up, what was left of it, was much higher upland than the cannibal hamlets and the hidden kamp where Saya now slept. She made her way between the trees, through the brush, past her clearing, and skirted around the Sawi village and the four sacred cannibal grounds, then came out onto the remnants of the road. From there she turned west and followed the old trade route as it wound across the island.

Saya returned to her family plantation now and then, just to smell the spices, to remember helping her mother catch songbirds and tend the pigs. Her family had farmed near the center of the island for as many generations as her parents and grandparents and their grandparents could recount. They were smallholders, growing nutmeg and cloves. Her grandfather had attempted to grow coffee but the plantation was too low on the island for the soil to support java.

The road had been adequate to get their wagons back and forth to Bintuni Village and, twice each year, all the way to Port Haru. Just before the war, Ford trucks appeared on the road. The first trucks came to the plantations to collect the clove and nutmeg harvests and to leave off bags of meal and boxes of chicks and canned coffee and tobacco. Saya’s first ride in a motor was in the back of a Ford truck loaded with all the cloves that the farm had harvested. When they delivered the cloves to Port Haru that time, Saya was told that she looked more like her grandfather and her own father than like her grandmother and her mother and her brothers.

“Ho, Piet,” the men at the docks had called out to her grandfather. “Did you come in that truck from Batavia?” Batavia was across the ocean. None of them had ever been to Batavia. “You’ve got a hitchhiker.” They laughed and smiled and told her grandfather that Saya was whiter than a vaderlander girl, which had made her grandfather proud. It had not occurred to Saya before then that it might matter that her skin was more white, like a vaderlander, than dark, like an islander.

Her grandfather taught her how to catch fish and to set snares for birds, which snakes to avoid and which plants to eat and not eat. Her father taught her how to build with bamboo and which Sawis might eat her. It was not until she was on her own that Saya had learned how to become invisible.

While she walked she listened for snapped branches, for a flight of birds, anything that would tell her that someone was watching her, or following her. She moved deeper into the trees, away from the overgrown road. The road led past several abandoned plantations, small holdings of her former neighbors, and she avoided walking across them.

Unfortunately, the road that had been adequate for the trucks to take their clove and nutmeg to Port Haru also had been adequate for the Japanese to bring soldiers from Port Haru. Their farm, the market village, the neighboring farms, all fell in one day. When the soldiers marched onto their plantation, her father hid Saya and her mother. The soldiers lined him, her two brothers and the Malays who helped with the harvest, up in front of the house.

“I am Tanaka Rikugun-Chui!” the officer had announced. A half-dozen soldiers pointed rifles at her family. “This is no longer your plantation. You are now prisoners of the Empire.” A Malay from Port Haru translated. “For as long as you are good subjects of the Emperor, he grants you the privilege to remain on this farm. You may sleep in that house,” pointing to what had been their house, “and care for the Emperor’s crops and livestock. You may harvest his nutmeg and cloves and raise the Emperor’s chickens and pigs and grow his yams and peppers. You may eat what the Emperor does not need. Be grateful. Be good subjects of the Emperor. Wakuru? Ha!” Then the Japanese wrote their names on a form, counted the clove and nutmeg trees, the garden plants, the chickens and pigs, and their pens and coops. They filled her family’s wagons with her family’s tools and furniture and took away everything the Emperor wanted.

The next time that Saya saw Bantuni Village the school was closed, the post office was closed, the clinic was closed, the telegraph was operated by two Japanese and one Malay, and the church doors and windows were nailed shut and covered over with wood. She also learned that the Hemaha plantation, west of her family’s, and the Boer plantation, to the east, had a permanent Japanese soldier quartered on them. They were drunks who took potshots at their pigs and chickens and beat their children. A week later the Japanese soldiers returned.

“I am Tanaka Rikugun-Chui!” the same lieutenant had announced. “Where are the two women?” Her father had answered that he did not know that the emperor concerned himself with women. Tanaka nodded to a soldier, who hit her father over the head with his rifle. “Where are the two women?”

Saya and her mother walked out of the house and helped their father to his feet.

“The chojin in Bantuni Village tells me that you have not declared your two women,” Tanaka barked at them. “The Emperor is not pleased. Do not hide things from the Emperor! Wakuru? Ha!” Tanaka had waited to make sure that they were suitably afraid, then continued. “There are certain evil men who are trying to kill the Emperor! They are on this island! Spies!”

By fits and starts Tanaka announced that he had reports of Dutch criminals who had fled Malokawi and made it to the island. This was not news to Saya or her family since by now every Eurasian small holder on the island sheltered the Dutch resistance soldiers from time to time, gave them dried pork and salted yams and told them where Tanaka and his men were. Tanaka continued.

“Because you hide prisoners from the Emperor, I assign to you a chojin. You are to obey the chojin in all things. Your first order is this: if the cowardly Dutch escaped prisoners who are hiding on this island come to this farm, you will turn them over to the chojin. If you hear from your fellow prisoners on any other farm or in the village that…” For the next hour they had stood in the sun while Tanaka told them their duties: they were to turn over the Dutch fighters; they were to double production of the farm; they were prohibited from communicating with anyone in the village, or on the next farm, or anyone who came to the farm, except through the chojin. Tanaka had then hit her father and her brothers in the stomach with his rifle butt. “And you are to submit to the chojin! Wakuru? Ha!”

Saya’s mother explained to her what that meant. Saya understood.

Their chojin, named Moto, had been a grizzled soldier, fat, slow, and much given to sake. They called him Mr. Moto. Every two or three days Mr. Moto would try to slip into Saya’s room at night and fumble around on her while she slept. Every time he did, Saya would grab his hands by the wrists, bind them with liana vines, and give him more sake until he passed out. Her brother had offered to kill him but she knew, and her father confirmed, that if anything happened to the chojin, Lieutenant Tanaka would burn their farm and kill them.

Saya stepped out of the rainforest into a glade, her plantation. The aroma of spices, nutmeg and cloves, came to her on the breeze. She inhaled it, inhaled the smell of home, and then glided quietly into what was left of it.

One evening, in that season two years before, soon after the nutmeg was shelled but long before the cloves had sprouted, they heard the shock of anti-aircraft fire. Far to the south, over Ambon Island, the night sky had filled with artillery bursts and tracer shells. Smoke had blotted out the moon and the constellations. Her father told them all to go into the house and do absolutely nothing. Their chojin hopped and sputtered and pointed his rifle at them but no one, not her father or mother or brothers or any of the Malays, did anything that he could interpret as a threat. The next day, Tanaka returned.

“I am Tanaka Rikugun-Chui!” his interpreter announced. “The harvest is ended. The Emperor has sent me to tell you that your services on his farm are no longer needed.” He nodded at two burly soldiers. They lined up behind Saya and her family and pointed their rifles at their backs. “You are to go to your new home. Wakuru? Ha!

The soldiers prodded them with bayonets in their backs and marched them out to the road and toward the village. The rest of the district’s small holders, people Saya had known since she was born, also were on the road and being herded to the village.

At Bintuni Village the Japanese separated the men and boys from the women and girls. She last saw her father and brother, and the Boers and Hemahas and the other young men with whom she had gone to school and trapped dingoes and raced on foot, all of them, when the Japanese led them away. She and her mother and her schoolteacher and the Dutch nuns and Mevrouw de Okerse the shopkeeper and her daughters and all the other girls and women were put in the back of a Japanese truck and driven to Port Haru. At Port Haru the women were herded into one of the dock sheds and held in darkness for three days.

The plantation was overgrown now. Vines snaked throughout the nutmeg trees and into the branches, brush choked out the cloves. The chemodak fruit and banana trees that had been Saya’s responsibility were infested and rotted. She looked at the twisted wire and bamboo shoots that had been the cages where her grandmother had kept her songbirds and the pens where the chickens strutted before the Japanese set fire to them. There was no trace of the goat pen or the shed were they kept their tools; the only evidence of pigs was the dead soil where they had rooted and slept. The house, of course, had been burned to the ground. In only two years the island had almost completely reclaimed what her family had spent hundreds of years building and what the Japanese had destroyed in one day.

In Port Haru, a Malay opened the door to the shed and led the women and girls outside. “You, girl, this way. You, there, that way.” He ordered the most indigenous looking of them to form a line on the dock, where Japanese soldiers marched them into a boat that in happier days had transported their spices off the island. Now flying a rising sun from the mast, it sputtered away from the dock and motored toward Ambon, visible across the bay.

“And you,” he continued, pointing to the Dutch and Eurasian women who remained, “you—go there!” These girls and women, mostly girls, were marched to a house about fifty yards away from the docks, a nice-looking house with a porch and a veranda, a house that before the war had belonged to the Dutch port master’s family. They were led up the white steps and onto the wide porch and stood in a group outside a screened door. After a few minutes a Malay woman, very pleasant, her sarong nicely wrapped, came outside and greeted them.

“Welcome,” she called out, lifting her arms and wrapping them around the shoulders of the girls. “Welcome. You will like your new home. The Emperor welcomes you,” she smiled, and led them inside. They were all light-skinned girls, their hair matted from the march and the three days of confinement in the hut. “Come in. We have some clothes for you. Welcome.” A smiling officer, the chojin of the prisoner assembly area, urged the women inside and the door closed on them.

Saya and her mother now stood alone in front of the shed.

“You,” the Malay said to them. “You go back to shed.” A soldier led them back inside and the door closed again.

After the sun had gone down, Saya heard the lock to the shed rattle and another man, a grizzled soldier, fat, slow, their old chojin, opened the door. This time Mr. Moto wasn’t drunk. He smiled at Saya, bowed very low, then slapped her across the face as hard as he could. Saya’s mother screamed and tried to jump on him to wrestle him away, and he slapped her as well. There was no sake to anesthetize him, no liana vines to tie his hands. He beat them both until they could not stand up, and then raped them.

The next morning, Saya’s mother was led away. The Malay who had ordered the women to the dock master’s house came into the shed and told Saya to wrap her torn clothes around her.

“You embarrass the chojin,” he told her. “The lieutenant asks the chojin why this girl isn’t mengandung and the chojin loses face. ‘You with this girl a year and she looks at you with spit,’ the lieutenant says. You stupid. Very stupid. Now you go to the comfort house. The chojin tells me ‘Now she lose face.’”

“Where is my mother going?” Saya had asked the Malay as he led her to the dock master’s house. “And my father and brother?”

“The Emperor has many airplanes,” the Malay told her. “He must have a new runway for his airplanes.” He pointed across the bay to Ambon. War boats, gray boats flying the rising sun, patrolled the small harbor between Port Haru and Ambon. There were warehouses and cranes on the Ambon docks and, behind a stone wall and arched gateway, army barracks. Behind the Ambon docks the island rose almost straight up to a series of jagged cliffs. It would be impossible to build a flat runway there. “The prisoners build his runway. Not you. You, you go to the comfort house.”

He led Saya to the steps of the nice house, then up the veranda. She waited on the porch until the Malay woman came out for her. Once inside she saw the Japanese soldiers who were visiting the comfort house, sitting on rattan chairs, smiling at Saya’s friends and at girls she hardly knew, putting their hands on the girls’ knees and saying clever things to them in Japanese.

They can kill me, she thought. But they will never kill my spirit.

The woman led her to a back hallway and shoved her into a bathroom.

“Clean yourself. No blood on your lip. No black eyes. You must be clean for your work,” she said. She gave Saya a towel and a sarong, then closed the door and locked it. “Hurry. The men are waiting.”

Saya ran the bathwater, sponging off her legs and her neck with the towel while the running bath water covered the noise she made. She stepped onto the edge of the tub, marveling at the luxury that the Dutch port master’s family had enjoyed before the war, and looked out the small bath window. She took her sarong and the towel and her own ragged clothes and pushed the window open, then climbed out and disappeared into the rainforest beyond Port Haru.

After she escaped from the comfort house, the Japanese burned and ransacked her family’s plantation. The Dutch resistance fighters gave her news now and then of the prisoners on Ambon. Many of them died building the airstrip. Some lived, some were sent to other prison camps on other islands in the Banda Sea.

Saya had not decided whether to kill Lieutenant Tanaka or Mr. Moto, the chojin who had raped her. To let them live or not live was a decision she would make when the time came. It was enough that now she had the means to capture them. Olafson would be her bait.

There was still much to do to prepare Olafson for his role, to crush his desire to escape, to eat, to stare at her. She had much more training to give him about how to be tied to trees, to not scream when the snakes slithered over him or when, like the day before, she had to machete the head off a dingo that had clamped down on his arm. He had to learn to give up food. She decided that it would be better if Olafson did not see Ambon before she took him to be spotted by the Japanese.

It was time to go; it was dangerous to go home too often or to stay too long; if the Japanese could entice the Malay to become their dog boys they might also have gotten the Sawis to spy for them as well. She disappeared behind the orchards at the back of the farm, glided back into the forest, and became invisible.

She skirted around Bintuni Village, crossed the trade path several miles east of the last spice plantation, and made her way back down through the rainforest. She silently watched the hiding place where the Dutch left things: knives, binoculars, some bandages, that she had borrowed now and then. The Dutch often lost things. No one had been there for many days. She quietly picked her way around the Sawi village and the four sacred cannibal grounds, then detoured to her own hidden clearing to collect some coconut and dried fish to feed Olafson. Soon she was back at the bamboo staked water pit where she had left him.

Avondmaal,” she called out. “Eten.” She threw the rope onto the water. Olafson didn’t take the rope. “Komen,” she called out, a bit louder. He didn’t answer.

Then, she realized, there was a difficulty in her plan: Olafson had disappeared.

About the Author

Jack Woodville London

Jack Woodville London is a writer, historian, teacher, and retired lawyer and is the Director of Writing Education of the Military Writers Society of America. His writing career began with his appointment as managing editor during law school of the University of Texas International Law Journal. He studied the craft of fiction at the Academy of Fiction, St. Céré, France and at Oxford University. He is the author of three novels, a non-fiction book on the craft of writing, and more than thirty articles on history, literature, travel, law and art. His 2018 novel, French Letters: Children of a Good War, won the Gold Medal for Book of the Year in war and military fiction. His fourth novel, Shades of the Deep Blue Sea, is scheduled for publication in September 2020. He also is co-author of the essential work for Texas jury trials, The Pattern Jury Charges. He is the author of more than thirty articles on literature and history as well as a number of technical articles on court procedure and evidence. His article “Into the Hornets” Nest in Military Magazine was cited as the best World War I article of 2015. He regularly conducts writing programs for veterans and his teaching travels have included presenting talks and courses in Phoenix, Albuquerque, Austin, Waco, Pittsburgh, Dayton, and San Diego. He was invited to be on summer faculty at Herriott-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland and at the University of Padua in Padua, Italy. He was the first author invited by the United States Navy to present a book tour to the US navy bases in Europe and to the DOD schools at those bases. He was honored to represent the Military Writers Society of America as an invited speaker on the one hundredth anniversary of the armistice of World War I at the largest military cemetery in Europe, the Meuse-Argonne cemetery in France. He also reviews the books we all read, from best sellers to under-the-radar releases and the classics, in his series On the Nightstand. He rates them based on how well they keep him awake — a 100-watt book is a real page-turner and a 20-watt book helps Jack sleep by conking him out pretty quickly. Jack lives in Austin, Texas with his wife, Alice.

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