Excerpt of Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie
(Page 4 of 5)
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Weeks later, he accused her, laughingly, of driving up her price by
playing on his guilt. Well, of course, she said, with characteristic
frankness; scruples and starvation dont go well together. Then she
spread her arms wide and scrunched her eyes shut as though concentrating
hard on conjuring up another world: When the wars over,
Ill be kind. Opening her eyes, she added quietly, Like my mother.
He couldnt help thinking her mother would never have approved of
starting up a romance with a German, or even walking alone with him
through the hills of Nagasaki. It discomforted him to know his happiness
was linked to the death of her mother, but then she took his
hand and he doubted that anyone, even a revered mother, could have
told Hiroko Tanaka what to do. Why should rules of conduct be the
only things untouched by war, she once asked him? Everything from
the past is passed.
Kicking the air- raid hood on the ground before him he enters the
capacious shelter built into the slope of Azalea Manors garden. The
air musty and tinged with bitterness. Here, the deck of cards with
which he and Yoshi Watanabe and Keiko Kagawa kept each other distracted,
particularly useful during the early days of the air-raid sirens
when there was more terror than boredom associated with the warnings;
here, the oak chair from which Kagawa- san surveyed the behaviour
of his neighbours and family and staff during those rare occasions
when the air- raid sirens found him still at home; here, the hopscotch
squares which Konrad had drawn in the dust for the younger Kagawa
children; here, the hidden bottle of sake which the cook thought no
one else knew about; here, the other hidden bottle of sake which the
teenage Kagawas came in search of late at night when the shelter was
empty. They knew Konrad could see them from his caretakers
house, but while their parents might still be uneasy after seven years
about quite how to negotiate their relationship with the landlord who
folded his lanky frame into the tiny house at the bottom of the garden
the younger Kagawas knew him as an ally and would have happily welcomed
him into their drinking parties if he had shown any inclination
to join them.
Now all the Kagawas cross over to the other side of the road if they
see him walking towards them. One round of questioning by the military
police about the suspect loyalties of their landlord was all it had
taken to move them out of Azalea Manor.
Konrad sits on Kagawa-sans oak chair, bouncing his air-raid hood
on his knee. He is so immersed in what was that it takes him a moment
to realise that the figure which appears in the entrance to the
shelter, hood in hand, exists in present tense. It is Yoshi Watanabe.
As if asking for permission to enter a private party, Yoshi says, in
English, May I come in? Ill understand if you say no.
Konrad doesnt respond, but as Yoshi mutters a word of apology
and starts to walk away, Konrad calls out, Dont be an idiot, Joshua.
Howd you think Id feel if a bomb landed on you?
Yoshi steps inside, looping his spectacles over his ears and blinking
Im not sure.
Picking up the deck of cards, he kneels on the ground, shuffling
the cards and then dealing ten each to himself and the empty space
across from him.
Yoshi Watanabe is the Jap whose telegrams James Burton had referred
to when packing Konrad off to Nagasaki. His grandfather,
Peter Fuller of Shropshire, had been George Burtons closest friend
and neighbour. When Konrad arrived in Nagasaki it was Yoshi who
was waiting at the harbour to welcome him, Yoshi who showed him
around Azalea Manor, Yoshi who found him a Japanese tutor, Yoshi
who produced the Kagawas as though they were a bouquet of flowers
hiding within his sleeve within hours of hearing Konrad say hed
be far more comfortable living in the cosiness of the caretakers
house, Yoshi who regaled him with stories of Nagasakis turn-of-the-century
cosmopolitan world, unique in Japan - its English - language
newspapers, its International Club, its liaisons and intermarriages
between European men and Japanese women. And when Konrad
said he needed someone to translate Japanese letters for the book he
was planning to write about the cosmopolitan world, it was Yoshi
who had introduced him to his nephews German teacher, Hiroko
Excerpted from Burnt Shadows
by Kamila Shamsie. Copyright © 2009 by Kamila Shamsie. Excerpted by
permission of Picador, a division of Macmillan. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.