Rachel giggled. Henry ran up and Dorothy gave him a reproachful look: "Good-for-nothing rascal, where you been the last eight months?" And she kissed him with a ferocity that quite belied her words.
"Papa!" Rachel was jumping up and down, and now Henry scooped her up in his big arms. " 'Ey, there she is. There's my baby!" He kissed her on the cheek and Rachel wrapped her arms around his thick neck. "I missed you, little girl," he said in a tone so gentle it made Dorothy want to cry. Then he looked at his wife and added, with exaggerated afterthought, "Oh. You, too."
"Yeah, yeah, same to you, no-good." But she didn't object when Henry kissed her again, still holding Rachel in one arm, the five-year-old making an Eee-uu face. Dorothy lifted her husband's duffel bag with one hand, slipped the other around his waist, and the three of them started through the crowd, a winch's chain chattering above them as it yanked an enormous crate into the air.
"You sell the other keiki?" Henry asked, noting the absence of his older children.
"In school. Rachel oughtta be, but"
"Where'd you go this time, Papa?"
"Oh, all over. One ship went to Japan and China, this one stopped in Australia, New Zealand, Samoa . . ."
"We got your letter from Samoa!"
On short notice Dorothy organized a feast to celebrate Henry's return. Dorothy's brother Will brought twenty pounds of fresh skipjack tuna he'd caught in his nets that morning; Henry's sister Florence made her best haupia pudding, rich with coconut cream; and Rachel helped her mother and Aunt Flo wrap ti leaves around the fresh beef and pork Papa bought at Tinker's Market, the first meat they had seen in weeks.
Friends and family crowded into the Kalama home that night, laughing and eating, singing and talking story. Rachel sat, as she often did at such gatherings, on the lap of her tall, rangy Uncle PonoPapa's older brother, Kapono Kalama, a plantation worker in Waimanalo. " 'Ey, there's my favorite niece!" he would say, hoisting her into his arms. "You married yet?" Rachel soberly shook her head. "Why not?" Pono shot back. "Good-looking girl like you? You gonna be an old maid, you wait much longer!" When Rachel did her best not to laugh at his teasing, Pono resorted to ticklingand as she curled up like a snail in his lap, giggling uncontrollably, he'd say, "See, pretty funny after all, eh?"
Later, Henry's brood gathered round as he handed out the presents he never neglected to bring home from faraway ports. They were modest gifts, befitting a seaman's wages, but Papa had uncommonly good taste and always chose something to charm and delight them. Dorothy was presented with a pretty string necklace beaded with dozens of small, imperfectly shaped pearls, each plucked from the ocean floor by native divers in Rarotonga. Sarah was thrilled to receive a pair of silver earrings from New Zealand, though the silver in them probably wouldn't have filled a tooth. Kimo got a box of Chinese puzzles; Ben, a picture book from Tokyo, and another from Hong Kong.
Rachel knew what Papa had brought her, of course. What he always brought her: a doll from one of the countries he'd visited. Already she had a sakura-ningy, a "cherry doll" from Japan; a pair of Mission Dolls from China; and a rag baby from America, purchased on Papa's last trip to San Francisco. What would it be this time? Rachel could hardly contain herself as Papa pulled the last gift box from his suitcase.
"And this one's for Rachel," he said, "from Japan."
Rachel was crestfallen. She already had a Japanese doll! Had Papa forgotten? Trying not to betray her disappointment, she tore the lid off the box, stripping away the tissue paper enfolding the doll. . . .
That is, assuming it was a doll. Rachel stared in confusion at the contents of the box, which appeared to be . . . an egg. A large wooden egg, no neck, a fat body, a bundled scarf and winter clothes painted onHumpty Dumpty, but with a woman's face. Hilda Dumpty?
This excerpt ends on page 17 of the hardcover edition, at the end of chapter 1. Copyright © 2003 by Alan Brennert.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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