A single plane flies into the glare of the noonday sun at cruising speed, hardly noticeable at its great distance. On the ground, young men of the Guam Insular Guard practice combat drills. In times like this, local militias are necessary to protect one's homeland. At least that's the idea. As nineteen-year-old Juan "Kenzo" Nakamura stands in the middle of the Plaza de Espana, with an antique firearm in his hands, he cannot say how reliable he would be in that regard.
"How do they expect us to defend anything with these?" he asks pointing to the label adhered to his Springfield rifle. "Look: 'Do Not Shoot, For Training Only'."
"They helped us win the last war," his friend Antonio answers.
"The last war was almost thirty years ago. I'd probably kill myself if this thing was loaded."
"You're probably right," Antonio agrees. "But even David brought down Goliath with less than this."
Their burly comrade Pedro groans, "Ay adai, with your Sunday school lessons," he complains. "If we do have to take down Goliath, we are as good as finished. Not enough guns and not enough men."
Kenzo knows Pedro's assessment is correct. For the past few months, the number of American troops, their families, and other white workers on Guam has been dwindling. Fewer men, fewer ships, and fewer guns. Kenzo would be called a liar if he denied being at least a bit uneasy and the worry shows on his face.
"Don't worry, Ken," Antonio comforts him. "We won't let the Japs take you."
"He's better off than we are if they come," Pedro argues. "His face and his name are going to save his skin."
"Well, that's true, Nakamura."
They're right. If any name were to make Japanese aggressors trust its possessor, it would be his. His looks would guarantee it. Kenzo has taken much of his father's features: his nose, delicate for a young man his size in comparison to his companions, his lips are on the thinner side, and his eyes - the dead give away. There is no hiding their size or shape. They are nothing like the big, round, smiling eyes of his mother. The thought of her makes his heart ache. Though there had been jokes that his resemblance to his father could assure no one questioned his parentage, he wondered sometimes if it broke her heart to look at him and see so little of herself in the child she bore. "This is my home. Same as yours."
"We know it is," Pedro agrees. "But half of your blood is just like theirs and far too precious to be spilled, I'm sure."
"That's enough chit-chat for one afternoon, gentlemen," their commander, Chief Petty Officer Robert Lane shouts in his deep booming voice. "All of you would have been long dead if you were caught with your pants down like this."
Kenzo and his mates stop their clamoring.
"Now," Lane bellows, "Let's do this again. Mouths glued shut this time!"
The three young men put away their war toys; together with those other members of the Insular Guard, they total less than one hundred rifles, all of them antiquated. They start to shove each other out the door, intent on not wasting another moment of the sunshine remaining in the day. With little more than a heel left in the room, Kenzo hears Lane shout his name.
Backtracking a step, Kenzo turns to look at his superior. "Yes, sir?"
"I want to have a word with you."
Permitting himself a single second for a sigh and slumping shoulders, Kenzo reenters the armory and stands at attention before the solitary desk in the room.
"Nakamura," Lane begins, "you are among only a handful of young men in the militia of mixed race."
"That's true, sir."
"The only one mixed with Japanese."
Kenzo stiffens. What is with this subject today?
"Now, I'm not sure how you found your way in," Lane continues, "and I know you have the trust of your buddies." He pauses. "But I need to know: if it comes to war with Japan, where do you stand?"
Kenzo is more than slightly taken aback. He assumes his commander means no personal offense but still, he does not know quite how to process the inquiry as his identity and loyalties have never been in question in his own mind. "I'm not sure what you mean."
Lane leans back deeper into his chair. "I'm asking you if I should be afraid to put a gun in your hands and you among my ranks if the Rising Sun comes over the hill."
"No, sir," Kenzo answers instantaneously.
"Are you certain?" Lane persists. "When there's a rifle pointed at you, it might be easier for you to be Japanese than it would be for you to be Chamorro, let alone American." Lane examines Kenzo's face for any betrayal in his expression: a nervous tic of his eyelid, quivering lips, or a bead of sweat on his brow. "Do you understand where I'm coming from, son?"
Kenzo doesn't break eye contact with the cold blue eyes staring back at him, "I understand."
"Hard times may very well be ahead, Nakamura. Hard times and harder decisions with so few of us left. It's something I need you to consider."
Kenzo nods to his commander.
"You are dismissed."
Outside, as Kenzo makes his way down the concrete path, quickened footsteps impact the ground behind him.
"Ken! There you are!"
Kenzo turns to see his younger sister, Isabel, hurrying to catch up with him. The fifteen-year-old's long, dark hair flows wildly behind her. The flush on her high cheekbones glowing beautifully on her tan skin.
"Where have you been?" she asks.
"I was in the armory," she replies. "What are you doing here?"
"Dad says you have to come help at the store. He was going to come to get you himself but I volunteered. Anything to get out of there and into the sun."
"Mama's already scolded you for getting so dark," he reminds Isabel.
"I can get darker still! Watch!" she proclaims skipping merrily back into the sunlight, reveling in its golden rays.
"Come on, then. Dad will be upset if we don't hurry back."
"Maybe with you," Isabel teases. "He'll say you've wasted too much time 'playing soldier'."
Side by side, brother and sister trot down the white crushed coral road passing by the post office, restaurants, barbers, and the only theater in operation in the village - all busy with patrons, mostly natives of the island with some foreigners and a few Americans sprinkled among them. They stop when they come upon a small building with a sign reading "Nakamura Goods" hanging over the doorway.
The gentle chime of the bell attached to the inside door handle alerts Hiroshi Nakamura to the arrival of his children. He takes his leave of the shelf he is stocking and wastes no time before he starts chastising the pair of them.
"Has the road from the Plaza gotten longer since I woke this morning?" he barks in Japanese. Hiroshi always speaks to his children in Japanese when he's cross. He feels he can more accurately articulate his point in his native tongue as nothing can be lost in translation.
Neither of them answers their father.
"Has it?" he asks again.
"No," Kenzo replies in Japanese, looking down at his feet.
"Then what kept you?" he pushes with his mustache quivering above his thin lips as he purses them together. "Playing soldier is more important than your responsibilities here, is it?"
Isabel can't help the chuckle that escapes her before she can bite down on her cheeks to keep from laughing. She called it.
"No, Dad," Kenzo says.
The three of them stand in silence for a moment.
Catalina comes through the back door of the shop. Sweat upon her brow, she pushes her hair from her face with the back of one hand, clutching a full wooden box in the other by its cutout handle.
Peeking from under the weight of his embarrassment, Kenzo searches for his father's permission to be excused.
Hiroshi nods to his son and returns to his task.
Kenzo approaches his mother and takes the box from her hands, offering her a small peck on the cheek. "Hafa, Mama."
"Hafa, Juan," she says greeting him with his given first name. Of all the people to know that is his first name, of which there are many, she continues to be the only one to call him anything other than some form of "Kenzo". It was the name of her father and the name she bestowed upon her son the day he was born. "It's your true name," she told him once. "For God was gracious in giving you to me." Isabel had harped on her for being sentimental about such things but Kenzo didn't mind. He only has one mother, after all, and to have one that loves him so, he is glad.
Later in the evening, the family of four is seated to dinner. Traditional Chamorro food is laid out upon the table. The night's menu includes red rice, fish cooked by the acid of lemons and flavored with peppers and onions, pickled and fresh vegetables.
"I need you in the store tomorrow after mass, Kenzo," Hiroshi dictates. "You need to make up for the hours you wasted with your friends."
"He was training, Hiroshi," Catalina interjects, taking her husband's empty bowl from in front of him. She provides him with another serving of each dish she has prepared.
"Training for nothing. There is no point in preparing for a war that will not come."
"We don't know that," Isabel argues.
Hiroshi accepts his bowl back from Catalina without diverting his eyes from his daughter. "I do know that. The Emperor is not so dim-witted as to set his sights on American soil. The Navy knows this and that is why they called their people back; they know we are safe."
"I'm sure the people of Nanking thought the same."
His mouth full of rice, Hiroshi is so shocked by Isabel's comment, her nearly chokes on the starchy grains. Gasping for air and reaching for a glass of water, he continues to stare back at her. He takes a sip to clear his throat.
"We cannot know how much of those things can be true!" he insists. "War is a horrible thing. People turn on each other."
"What could be more terrible than to strike where people think they are safe?"
Hiroshi turns red as his strong-willed child continues to argue against him.
"I hope you're right, Dad," she confesses. "But what is the harm in him wanting to be ready?"
"We wouldn't be ready anyway," Kenzo admits.
"There, you see?" Hiroshi asks assuming victory over Isabel. "A waste of time.
"That's not what he meant!" Isabel rises with an accompanying wash of rouge on her cheeks. A little fireball, she is, while he cowers at their father's scolding even though it is not directly aimed at him.
"You will watch your tone, Isabel!" he admonishes in Japanese. His frustration with them is not because he doesn't love them or that he isn't a capable father, it is because even as a learned man, Hiroshi can be remarkably naive. Kenzo knows his father desires to live in a world where it is safe for him to raise his family and conduct his business so any notion that could contradict his goal is quickly dismissed. Even when it comes from Isabel. "War is not coming." He turns to his son. "But you are coming to the store every day including tomorrow!"
Kenzo's eyes dart in despair to his mother. She gently shakes her head, begging with her own brown eyes for him to drop the subject. He doesn't. "Dad. I'm supposed to go out with the nets tomorrow."
"And you will," Hiroshi tells him. "When I say you may."
The tension at the table echoes the tension of the world around them with Kenzo and Isabel caught in the in-between, by no fault of their own, culturally and geographically. A deep inhale from Hiroshi cuts through the silence.
"People are already wary about anyone Japanese," he explains. "We see it every day with fewer customers coming through the doors of the shop."
"There are fewer people on the island now, Hiroshi," Catalina points out. "Mrs. Sakagawa's store -"
Hiroshi places his hand over that of his wife's and shows the slightest hint of a smile. She gives him one in return. Catalina's comment, while well-intended, ignored the fact that Mrs. Sakagawa's shop has been long been established and she herself came from money in Japan whereas Hiroshi did not. At thirty, he used his life savings and a small loan to move to Guam and make a name for himself. His standing in the community as a reputable shop did not come without sacrifice but it did come without security.
"I have built a life here for over twenty years," he continues. "An honest life for myself and my family. Now names like 'Nakamura' make people nervous." He pauses. "I do not want that poison in this house." With that, Hiroshi resumes his meal.
The rest of the family takes their cue from him.