there was nothing festive about the Fair At The PNE in 1942

march 24, 1942
hastings park, arrival

it’s so cold here. drafty. even with the blanket pulled tight.

how can this straw mattress be lumpier than the porridge at breakfast? felt hopeless to wash up tonight. dust and stench still cling to every surface of my skin, bit of clothing, strand of hair. constant smell of animal feces and cut hay. so foul.

a far off cry pierced the air last night. baby woke up, wailing into darkness. hurry! oka-san cued me, rattling the steel bed frame. down the bunk bed. under the bedsheet curtain. took a deep breath. counted to five. walking, walking, running. heart and feet beat in sync.

turned corner–bright light–frozen in place. moonlight cut through the barn window to bare concrete.

illuminating nothing, everything.

july 9, 1942
hastings park

summer here is dull and hot. embarrassingly clammy. sweat glands triggered by blistering heat and adolescent hormones, or so i am told. apparently i need to be aware of that sort of thing now.

they have set up a “school” for us in the arena. fifty of us teenagers thinking the exact same thing: back home we wouldn’t be sitting in class in this heat, let alone jammed into rafters pretending this was an education or anything else normal.

what’s the point? what else is there to do? the future drips with unanswered questions.

no more peeing in a trough anymore. at least. baby cries less at night. so does oka-san. accustomed to hunger, cold porridge, oto-san’s absence. less fear lies in darkness when it’s the only thing constant.

september 6, 1942
departure, eastbound

packed. we sit shoulder to shoulder. knees and elbows squished tight against body. suitcases bounce with every bump in the road.

fidgeting young ones. mama, where are we going this time?

veils of mist shroud grey skies and forested valleys. speeding along winding mountain roads. bypassing a whole other world. what is home, anymore?

a sixteen-by-twenty-four-foot shack for eight of us. just imagine! unfamiliar voices dream out loud.

maybe I will cook again for us, your oto-san, oka-san whispers, wistfully. she clutches baby sister tight. the bus slows, signaling our arrival.

here we are folks, just past Hope.

Written by Erica Hiroko Isomura
“Tashme,” multimedia art by Erica Hiroko & Kayla Isomura

Originally published in emerge 18 (SFU Publications, 2018)

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