America. Land of expatriates. Land of immigrants. A refuge to the freedomless. A sojourn to the victims of human oppression.
The thought flashed in Nicholas' mind as he sat in the lunchroom with Haj Fujiwara during the Monday noon break. But after listening to what Haj had just said to him, he had additional thoughts about America.
America is also a place to learn personally about other people from all parts of the world. And it is also a place where one may come not only to share in its freedom and opportunity but to find one's self, to know one's self.
"I am going back to Japan," Haj had stated factually, causing Nicholas to practically stare at him while searching for any sign to doubt it. Nicholas found none.
"When did you come to this decision? Not that I take you seriously, yet."
"Two nights ago. I had a talk with my parents."
"What did they say?"
"My mother is very happy about it. She was born and raised there. In the city of Kobe, near Osaka where my paternal grandfather still lives. She believes this is the right thing to do with my life - to live the rest of it in the homeland. She said she would like to be able to do the same thing but that her place in life is with my father, wherever that might be."
They sat quietly for a few moments not even looking at each other. Just weighing the magnitude of Haj's decision as if it were some form of a buoyant object floating and turning slowly between them, there for their careful scrutiny.
Haj broke silence first. "I talked to my parents separately," he said, only glancing at Nicholas quickly and gazing at the invisible floating object. "I never saw her face light up with such life when I told her. Yet, at the same time, it made me feel sad."
"Why? I don't understand -"
"One thing led to another very quickly. And I started thinking about our entire lives here in America and imagining that part of hers she lived in Japan before my father went there and brought her here when she was seventeen. Her feeling happy to know of my desire to go back to Osaka betrayed her own and even stronger desire to go back. But more than that, it dawned on me how unhappy she might have been with life here in the United States all these years even with my father's devotion to her."
"You don't know that for certain."
"No, I didn't. In fact, I refused to even think that for the past thirty or thirty-five of her forty-four years here in America, she had been unhappy. She never talked about how she feels about life here until I saw that happy look on her face two nights ago and she started telling me a few things I never expected to hear from her."
"America is a good land," Haj's mother had told her son in her fluid Japanese accent, "especially for one who has not known any other, who has not belonged to any other."
"And for you, mother?" her son, her only child had asked then. "Has America been a good place for you too? Have you been happy being here?"
Haj's heart sank when he looked in his mother's eyes which did not conceal a shade of sadness that went deeper than she would admit even to herself. And his eyes nearly watered when she raised her hands to hold his face in them gently, as gently as she used to when he was little and she would smile fondly at him and say in a sing-song: "Pretty, pretty little Japanese boy. Pretty, pretty little American boy." She spoke to him in Japanese then as she still spoke more Japanese than English even when she'd been in America for fifteen years.
"I am happy being with you and your father," she said with just a trace of that old kind smile that could not prevail upon the shadow in her eyes. "I am fine, my son. What is more important is your happiness. You are young and must live a full life. You must marry soon and give us pretty, pretty -" this time, the same old smile of fondness came fully, "- little Japanese-American baby grandchildren. But first and more important is your happiness," she said again and the shadows returned to her eyes. "So I ask you, more than you should ask me, my son Hajime, have you been happy being in America?"
He took her hands in his and looked down at them - the same hands that brought him into the world, cared for him and raised him in America - as if to meditate and draw the answer from them.
"Yes, mother," he said, looking up shortly at her and then down again. "I have been happy."
"Speak to me the truth, Hajime. The truth, my son."
"I have been as happy as anyone born in America to a good family can be. You have given me a good life, and so has father, in this good land as you said. I might say there are other things one discovers and learns about in life which may only be found in other places, and perhaps not in America." His mother's face lit up at this instance. "Those things I found in Japan, our land of origin, your homeland, mother, during the years we lived in Osaka. True, I am an American, by birth. But I am also Japanese. Pureblood Japanese. I am part of you, and even that part of you which I know longs for Japan, for home, is in me too."
It made her happy, gave her a great sense of reassurance, he knew, to hear him say that. But that was only part of the truth she asked him to speak to her. Much as he ached to share with her many of his personal experiences in life in America as early as his pre-teens back in Kansas and on up, especially those that now brought him to the decision to move to Japan, he simply couldn't.
Through the years, he had spoken to his father, on occasions, of some of his difficulties at school and in their home neighborhood. But talking about them, he knew even then, would not alleviate anything and on the contrary only add a burden to his father's own difficulties in life, in his bigger job of trying to survive to keep his family together. Likewise, he did not see the point in his mother feeling the hurt he felt by telling her of his hardships then, for instance the catcalls directed at him at school and most everywhere else - Jap, gook, yellowbelly.
He did not see the point of it then and he did not see the point of telling her now, that he had been a very lonely man in America, that the values he learned at home all his life, the very same ones he saw in Japan, he could not fully reconcile with mainstream America, with those he saw at work in people's work habits and attitudes, at institutions of learning in people's efforts to learn and develop themselves intellectually, and at people's homes and other places where personal human relationships are involved, in the way people treat one another. He simply could not tell her now that he had no idea that he was never at peace with himself until he experienced the peace of mind, the sense of belongingness, the feeling of being truly at home he found living in Japan with their own kind.
He hoped that the day his father himself decided to bring back his bride to her native land to live with her there would not be far away from the day their son returned.
"And what did your father say when you talked to him?" Nicholas asked, clearing up his litter on the lunch table.
"He said that I won't fit in that society even though I'm a hundred percent Japanese by blood and speak the language fluently. I would be considered an American, at best. An outsider, in any case."
"He's probably right. And I might add that you wouldn't last more than a couple of years this time, before you're back in the States."
Haj smiled confidently. "This decision has been cooking a long time. And I don't mean weeks or months. I mean years, like ten, fifteen."
Nicholas realized now that he must take Haj seriously. At the same time, he became acutely aware of the implications of the man's decision upon himself and his own life in America.
Here was a fellow American, natural-born and therefore more of an American than he - an immigrant, a transplant - could ever be, and he's leaving America for his ancestral land. Whatever reason brought him to this decision could only be as strong as his convictions in life and the principles he adhered to without question. Nicholas flinched at the thought of this. What reason could he himself possibly have to decide to go back and live in the old country? What principles? What convictions?
A sudden urge to learn what was realistically at the core of Haj's decision nagged at him.
"What finally made up your mind after all these years?" he asked solemnly. He had no idea how Haj needed him to ask that question exactly the way he did.
At last, Haj had the opportunity to voice out some of those things which for better than half of his life in America up to now he did not see fit to trouble his parents with. And now, he did not care if he appeared to lay bare in what may seem an unusual way to Nicholas, his deep feelings as he spoke.
"I finally convinced myself," he said reverently, "that I am not accepted in the American society as it is now. That I don't fit in it and therefore don't belong in it. I must therefore go to where I belong."
Nicholas looked shocked. He was shocked.
"You don't know what you're saying, Haj!" he burst out but in a controlled voice. "And I always thought you're of a higher intellectual level than that."
"Watch it there a little," warned Haj with a feigned threat in his tone of voice.
"Damn it Haj, you realize what you just said? If you don't belong here, then I don't belong here either, and so with my family, and your family, and ninety-nine point nine percent of the whole fucking American population."
When it became apparent that Haj did not intend to say another word until Nicholas had calmed himself down, Nicholas got a hold of himself and asked softly: "Would you mind telling me why you feel the way you do, enough to say what you just said to me?"
It was clear who had more self-control and was better disciplined with himself when Haj spoke again.
"Not at all," he uttered gently. "I have two words, each with a very important meaning, to respond to your question: the first is value, and the second is peace. I'll be brief about this. I have not been at peace with myself ever since freshman college, I would say, two years after I came back from Osaka. Things have never been the same since. And I know why: because I can't connect to the value system everywhere - scholastically, socially, with the one I grew up with which I won't give up. Or can't. Don't get me wrong, though. This is not a matter of a failure in the process of assimilation."
"I understand, I understand," said Nicholas, waving Haj down. "And I agree, you should not have to give up the value system you grew up with especially if it is better and more beneficial than the one you see around you. But you got to hold your ground. Don't run away. Stand up for it."
"What do you think I've been doing all my life? But I don't see living another thirty-four years of my life here the same way I have: no friends, true friends, no meaningful relationship, no roots. To tell you frankly, I never felt at home anywhere we've lived. Kansas, California, here. It's been a very lonely life." Haj whispered the last sentence and Nicholas would have choked if he had tried to talk after hearing it and seeing the empty look on Haj's face.
"Listen, Haj," he managed to say after waiting a few seconds, "America is a big country. The genes of just about every nationality on earth has found their way into this country and the question of how good or bad a nation grew out of it is open to anybody's interpretation, depending on who one is: what racial background, what culture, economic class, so on and so forth. But I'll tell you something: I don't care how big it is, how good or how bad it is. You shouldn't let that matter to you personally unless you're running for public office. And even then, you only appear that way in your speeches, when you're platforming, like any politician. What should concern you more is how much control you have over your own life here in America. Do you control it? Or are you allowing somebody else, something else, to control it?"
"I know I have control over my own life. Not total control, though, but some. Enough that I could live with. If I knew I didn't have enough, then I'd have to work on getting more: make more money, get a more powerful job, have more control or influence over other people's lives, make changes so I could be more in control of my own life. There is a big difference between having control, having power over other people, and being accepted by them. Fear is not respect."
"You're too civilized, Haj. You talk of respect. Acceptance. You know how somebody gains respect and acceptance? Nine out of ten times it's not out of sheer reverence, love and fondness or any form of personal admiration. People respect the law, when they choose to, that is, not because they want to - there are certain laws some people openly resent - but because they're afraid they'd be punished if they didn't.
"It's the same thing with human beings. People respect somebody not because they like the guy but because they're afraid of him. Because he has control and power over them. Power to make their lives miserable enough to make them quit their jobs, change their ways, make them move out of the neighborhood, or move out of the country."
"I'm not a politician," Haj muttered. "I'm not a bureaucrat. I don't want power over other people. I'm an engineer. I want to use my knowledge and skill the best way I could. I'm also a human being who needs acceptance and respect, not for the pain and hardship I could inflict on people but for what I am and who I am. A Japanese-American. A person of this complexion and appearance and who ordinarily eats rice seven days a week."
"You're not only too civilized," Nicholas observed coolly. "You're also too idealistic. I won't try to make you change 'cause then you wouldn't be you. But I wish you would recognize how important it is in this country to get what you want by being in control. Especially if you want respect, even if you have to gain it through fear. I understand what you mean when you said it's been a very lonely life. I've felt the same way, many many times, throughout my life here in America. And it's because it's not easy to hold on to our values, our ideals, without being gradually dragged down to the level of mediocrity we see all around us."
Hearing somebody talk like that, Haj thought, was like finally having thorns pulled out of his chest. Little spikes that had been driven into his body and soul long ago, being withdrawn. Not all of them, though. Only some. But, still, it was a relief.
He did not question the relevance of Nicholas' feelings to his own. He did not doubt Nicholas' own experience of that lonely life in America, especially considering his foreign origin. But his decision to leave America for Japan was settled. He had talked to both his mother and father. It was final.
Nothing could change it now, even as Nicholas continued to speak to him, in an attempt perhaps to make him give a second thought, or justify his own - Nicholas' own existence and life situation in America.
"You want to know how I feel right now, Haj? I feel like trash. And you know what I see when I look at them?" Nicholas indicated their co-workers - fellow engineers, accountants, management experts and other professionals - on one whole side of the lunchroom by pointing with his chin. "I see a bigger pile of trash."
"What the... don't be ridiculous, Nicholas."
"You see, what you're saying is you're good, and no one here, including me, and in the whole of America is good enough so you're leaving the country."
"C'mon, Nicholas -"
"You know that's true," Nicholas continued. "Everybody knows that's true. You're good, professionally and in a lot of other ways. And that's the more reason why you shouldn't run away. I know you're not happy with the people you work with." Nicholas lowered his voice halfway through that sentence. "I don't blame you. Most of them are credentialed half-literates. But that's the way it is nowadays no matter where you go in America. You're lucky you don't work in the government, like my father does. I hear things from him about work. Something's got to be done about this. Somebody's got to do something. And you know who the people are who can do something about this decline in American competence, literacy, productivity, character? It's people like you, Haj. It's you and your kind.
"Unfortunately, though, you are so vastly outnumbered. And your count is even continuing to decline. I doubt if there's ten percent of the entire population you could consider the prime-mover of the country now. It's probably more like five percent, meaning that pretty soon the condition of life in this country, the determination of the quality and way of life in America will be in the hands of a few, a very few, if this hasn't already been happening."
Nicholas' assertiveness suddenly stalled as the memory of a day in his life in the old country came to mind. This was the day he sat in his grandfather's lap, when he was seven which somehow seemed to have found a permanent niche in his memory.
Shortly before the 1920 Revolution, grandfather, then a young teen-ager had been employed in the residence of a Japanese General for a variety of duties - gardening, driving, courier errands, among others. He also lived a dangerous life for he spied for the revolutionaries. In this position, he learned many things that in many ways helped liberate his country from all the colonizers. He also learned some of the ways the Japanese think. Grandfather was having a conversation with his son, Nicholas' father, that day while he rocked the grandson in his lap. He recounted one of the many occasions the General spoke to him ardently about some serious matters, during which the General said to him:
"Your country is a very important country, if not the most important, in Asia. We, the Japanese, the pre-destined leader of all East Asia, must lead you out of bondage, cleanse you and your land of the Western decadence just as we must do with the rest: China, the Philippines, Malaya, Indonesia, and others."
Of America, grandfather recounted to his son, unaware that his grandson was absorbing what he was saying and would recall them years later when he would be living in America, the Japanese General said:
"It is big, and it is rich. Very rich. What a tragedy it has been for its original nation. Its native peoples. If only we, the Japanese, had been the one who had occupied that land instead of those European mongrels, with their African slaves, who now spend and waste its resources the way they do with their inefficient, wasteful, ignorant and often destructive ways. Ah, I couldn't begin to imagine what a better world this could have been for everyone."
When Nicholas re-focused on the man sitting across the table from him, he felt for a moment that Haj was a different person. Haj was first an Asian, then a Japanese. The thought that he was American didn't enter Nicholas' mind at all. He then recoiled at the magnitude of the impact upon him, and the whole American nation, of Haj's decision to abandon his land of birth.
What possible anguish and pain could life in America truly have inflicted upon him to come to this? What loneliness? Social isolation? Cultural inhibition? Racial discrimination and prejudice? Is it a question of what America, the true face of America is, or is it a question of what a man is?
The complexity of such questions was so engulfing that Nicholas succumbed to gazing languidly at the invisible floating object between them. While in this state of arrest, he heard Haj's voice.
"Tell me, Nicholas," Haj said in a gentle and inquiring tone of voice, "honestly, how do you truly feel about yourself being here, in America? Do you really consider yourself an American?"
There was a long pause between them, its silence isolating them from the rest of the people in the lunchroom, from the rest of the world. Nicholas felt a kind of loneliness in this silence, one that prevented him from responding to the question.
"Do you feel like an American?" Haj added.
Nicholas, earlier, had thought of asking Haj this very same question but thought better for you did not ask one born and raised in America if he is an American, hyphenated or not. Faced with the question himself, he had to take a few moments to consider his answer.
"I swore allegiance to this sovereign state, and to what it stands for," he said as if to weigh every word of it. "I am a citizen of the United States of America." Their eyes locked and drilled deep into their consciousness, exchanging thoughts that neither one would dare put into words. "I am an American, as you are."
They both knew in those thoughts they communicated to each other that that was not an answer to the question. But with it, they were both willing to pass it up for one and to skip the question.
Haj drew away from the table, indicating that he was bringing his lunch break to an end shortly. But part of that motion was out of a realization that he was not right about being able to satisfactorily discuss with Nicholas either what he, throughout his life in America, could not with his parents, especially his mother.
It just wouldn't be right to tell Nicholas his long-held belief that the mixing of all the human races in a country to form a nation is not good and would never work to the benefit of the most, let alone the whole; that it's not right to force people in the creation of a mongrelized society which would inevitably result in endless racial and cultural conflicts. These he simply could not tell Nicholas no matter how much they might explain to him the loneliness he felt, they both felt, in their lives in America, for Nicholas' country of origin itself, its multi-racial polyglot nation was founded through that process. In fact, Nicholas himself represented the result of this.
But he will go and live in Japan, the origin of his blood, and where he will be home. There, he will find many among his kind, beginning with his grandfather in Osaka, to whom he could voice his beliefs.
There, he will speak of his lifetime experiences in America where he lived among the rich and the poor in a mix of dominant cultures and others less assertive. He will speak of the personal knowledge of the world and its peoples one learns only by living in such a large country of mixed nationalities; and by this knowledge he will let everyone know that the entire world to this day since the birth of human civilization actually remains to be a battlefield of contention in every way between the Asians and the Europeans. The entire western hemisphere, Africa and everything else besides are just battlegrounds for each side to probe one's strengths and weaknesses. The superpowers are going to continue to escalate their rivalry for supremacy in arms and ideology, but this will last only for a few decades, if they last that long, before the rot and decadence in their society and governments ate them up from the inside out. By that time, the whole of Europe and the whole of Asia would have polarized completely and they would have become the two major and final world powers. An Armageddon, when they finally come to that, will then determine the fate of the human species.
Around one-thirty, just before it happened, the office just getting settled back to work from lunch, Nicholas sat at his desk in the office he shared with Lester Jenkins, alone. Most of the things he just learned from Haj Fujiwara during their noon break, particularly those that hit home, still fresh in his ears. He wanted to talk to somebody else about them, and did so by writing a letter to Emil, in his head.
I was totally surprised when he said it and that he
would say it. I was stunned at how directly he said
it as if it had been in him for years. 'I am not accepted
in the American society as it is now,' he said. His
exact words. 'I don't fit in it, don't belong in it. I must
therefore go to where I belong.'
I have a feeling he's holding off on some things.
I have an idea of what they might be and I can even
guess why he doesn't want to - or couldn't tell them
I believe him when he told me it's not a question
of assimilation. He's a native-born American. He's
more American than I am, in spite of the fact that he's
pureblood Asian and I'm only half, and half Caucasian.
But there are other sides to the question of assimilation,
not just the matter of being born and raised here or
not, picking English as a primary language and adapting
to the lifestyle.
There's also the matter of how strong one's cultural
background plays in his personal life, at home and
beyond. How long or how short a leash it has him on.
And then of course there's the matter of race.
I can see how America can become one big lonely
place for someone born and raised in it to discover later
certain limitations he has to face because of his race.
It's not the same for Haj as it is for the blacks. The blacks
grow up recognizing fully those limitations since the
first day they begin to shed their innocence. With Haj,
as it is with me in some ways I have felt in the past,
this recognition comes rather late into adulthood and
it comes rather abruptly. It's somewhat similar to
cultural shock. Racial shock.
Now, this I don't see Haj talking to me about openly.
I don't see him getting into any specific personal
experience of racial prejudice which I'm sure he's
encountered many times and probably accounts for
most of what he said to me today.
I agree, racism is still very much a part of the
problems America faces today. There was this Filipino
I used to work with on a project not long ago.
Not a bad-looking guy. Very intelligent, highly
educated as most of them are as we both know
(there was a time when nearly a third of the faculty
of all the colleges and universities in the capital were
Filipinos). Once in a while, he lapsed into a morbid
mood, really felt depressed and his language would
deteriorate. I guess this helped him let out some of
the untidy things in his life he had bottled up
One of those occasions, he was telling me how
torn up he felt, intellectually, emotionally, socially -
inside out, he said, between two cultures; like
being caught in between two big rocks closing
in on him. He even tried to be funny about it: like
Samson, he said, with no hair. Totally bald.
And his language then went down the gutter
'I'm so fuckin' lonely in this damn country of over
two hundred million people sometimes I can't think
straight,' he mumbled to me in anguish. 'I feel so
damn useless, living my life for nothing. Wasting it
away. I now believe cultural assimilation is wrong.
People should stick to their own. Stay where they
Nicholas remembered the fellow well. One of the few professional people he had known and worked with in America who'd be hard to forget. The Filipino man held a master's degree in Architecture and in Civil Engineering, from Harvard. He was all at once bright and naive, serious and jocular, harsh and soft. And he was the first person to ever cause Nicholas to seriously look back to where he came from, to view the old country and see how it looked from America, on that one occasion the man was in a depressed mood. He also looked deeply into himself, and his life in America.
Now, it was Haj.
He continued with the imaginary letter to Emil, feeling glad that Lester was not in the office and no one else had come in to distract him from this.
I tried to disagree with both of them. When I
look back, I see our island country almost as I see
America. People from every nation on earth could
come together and live as one people, form their
own sovereign state and government, their own
country which they'd be willing to defend and die for.
America is fifty times bigger. That is the only
difference I see, which makes racial and cultural
assimilation a slower process. Our native country
had to go through the same difficult process
throughout its entire history.
It was difficult alright. Agonizing, brutal and
painful, lonely and a lot of other ways we can never
imagine exactly for everyone who was ever born
to live and die there during the process. But the
country has survived. It became united. It grew
strong, drove out its foreign rulers and achieved
freedom and independence.
I wish there was a way I could share this view
with Haj, with every immigrant, and with every
immigrant's son and daughter who ever set foot in
America and felt the way Haj does now. The thing
in question here is not really what America is or
what a person is as I asked myself during lunch
with him. Rather, it is the existence of America
itself, the concept it is founded upon. A concept
based on the preservation of human dignity through
freedom and justice for all.
Does America exist? That America? Is such
a country possible? My answer is, yes. It exists.
It may not yet be such a country for all its people
and those who yet seek to be a part of it. But it
exists and continues its struggle to achieve the
basis of its conception for all its inhabitants.
It will take some more time than it already has.
That process. And there will be many more Haj's.
Many more hurts, loneliness, brutalities to the mind
and heart, racial hatred, disillusionment, broken
dreams. But America will persist. It will survive.
Human dignity will, for all.
He stopped his mental letter-writing to stretch his neck, which made him turn to look out the window on 18th Street seven stories below. Tiny snowflakes were floating down from the sky. It was a very thin snowfall but still mid-December usually was early for the area even for such a light one. It was pretty, though, and evoked a sense of tranquility. Nicholas thought of Emil and his longtime dream to come to America.
He wondered how Emil would see America. How he would fit in. What life awaited him. Would it be a dream come true, or a dream turned into disillusionment? It would depend, he surmised, upon how much a part of that process he becomes when and if he eventually set foot in America, and the kind of person it makes out of him.
He was about to turn to the work that awaited him on his desk - a set of blueprints and construction specs for one of the projects he was working on, when the whole thing began to happen.
First, he saw Norman Tilley appear in the drafting pool area through the glass partition that separated him from there. Norman turned to look past him, at Lester's desk and seeing that Lester wasn't there began to move on apparently to look for him. He only made two steps then stopped, raised an index finger in a hook, palm up, and with it beckoned at somebody at the other end of the area. Nicholas couldn't see who it was. He thought it looked like Norman was trying to call the attention of a little kid or a stray puppy dog.
Then Lester came to view, moving in measured steps toward Norman.
"Can you move it there a little faster, Lester?" Norman said in a loud voice. Nicholas tensed when he saw the look in the black engineer's face as he moved closer to Norman. He knew something was about to happen, and for certain when Norman added: "I want some answers from you about this job," holding up some small sheets of drawing in one hand. "And I want them quick, boy!"
The next thing everybody saw, Nicholas from his office and all the workers in the drafting pool area from their drafting boards, was pandemonium. Lester snatched the papers from Norman's hand, tore them up and threw them in Norman's face.
"Why, you fucking black sonofabitch!" Norman snarled. "You savage bastard -"
That he didn't finish as Lester swiftly connected some right-hand knuckles to his mouth. It was a straight blow, so powerful that it immediately split his upper lip and splattered blood throughout the lower half of his face. It also sent him crashing backward on a young drafter who didn't have enough time or room to avoid him. The two of them fell on the drafting board and demolished it.
Lester's rage didn't let up. He was tossing swivel chairs and drawing racks and book shelves out of his way to get to Norman again. He was going to kill him. Tear him up and get the most satisfaction out of it. This was the only way, the sweetest way to let go of one's racial hatred that's been tearing him up inside: let it tear up on whoever, whatever's causing it; let it break down his human dignity too, and spill his blood and destroy him physically. Kill the goddamn white sonofabitch!
Everything flushed out of his mind except for one thing left in it: a signal, a switch that triggered a primeval instinct. The instinct to prevail, to subdue. To kill. God, above all, didn't exist. And neither did ethics, morality, law and justice, compassion and understanding. There's only one thing he knew and felt: hatred, deep gnawing hatred that he had lost control of.
He was going to finally get himself his first white man who would, by the time the whole bloody scene was over, probably be his last. The cops would come and then... no. Maybe he'd get a couple other white sons of bitches in the office too.
He lunged at Norman with the fierceness of a long-starving predator, but Norman was quicker this time. Norman leaped out of the young drafter's ruined pile of furniture, grabbed hold of a loose four-foot long steel drafting straight-edge and started swinging with it in blind rage as if it were a medieval chopping sword.
The entire work force of the office within sight of the area had gathered around at a safe distance. Several male workers ventured to move in to break up the fight but hesitated. Someone called the police instead. Another called the security guard downstairs.
With reflexes enhanced by sheer animal instinct to kill, Lester moved much faster than Norman could swing at him with the wobbly straight-edge which thus became more of a burden than a weapon. Norman let go of it to run away behind another drafting board from the on-rushing Lester, looking frantically for another weapon, a knife, a pair of scissors, anything to defend himself with against the fury of the black man.
Some of the spectators moved along with them in a circle, maintaining the same safe distance. Nicholas was one of them. Everything was happening so quickly that he couldn't resolve clearly any thought of intervening. Though Lester was bigger than him by a couple of inches in height and some thirty pounds in weight, he knew he could safely place himself between the black man and the white man and level the black man's attacks with some routine technique. But he wasn't sure if Lester, in raging fury, would recognize him at all and even if the black man did, if he would stop or continue attacking. At this moment, Nicholas wondered, feeling rather odd about it, whether Lester, in all their working days together, saw him as a white man or not. While he was going through these, the fight went on.
The black man swept the drafting board and everything else on it and under it out of his way, went for the white man's throat with one hand in a lightning charge and delivered a succession of heavy blows with the other hand on the white man's face, head, kidneys and anywhere he could hit him.
The white man got away, screaming for help. The black man caught up with him, spun him around and broke his jaw and some more teeth with a hurtling steel fist. The white man crumbled to the floor half-dead but the black man had no sane thought of stopping as long as he suspected there was one breath left in the white man. At this point, just as the black man was about to deliver what might be a coup de grace, somebody - a white man, stepped out of the circle of onlookers to intervene. Behind him stood another white man, Harold Forker, the division boss who looked totally petrified but still had the presence of mind to urge, literally push the man in front of him. The man was as big as Lester, looked a little heavier and moved more like a wrestler than a boxer: slow and threatening.
When Lester turned around and saw him, the man held out a hand in a gesture for calm, but Lester instead decided that he was going to clobber and mutilate his second white man all in one day, maybe even a third, and then they could all get him and lynch him. Hang him, shoot him, do whatever they want to do with him.
Nicholas remained nearby. He was almost there, any moment now, into stepping in and knocking some sense into Lester with a lock-joint hold perhaps and a quick chop over the carotid. At this instance, he looked past the combatants to the faces across the ruins of the office area and caught a glimpse of Haj Fujiwara.
The Japanese-American simply stood there without registering shock or any kind of reaction to what was taking place. He just looked with a passive expression on his face as the black man rushed the second white man who hardly managed to counter with a slow punch that went past the side of Lester's head. He was just there as if seeing something normal, expected, all a part of daily life in America.
Lester proceeded to demolish the second white man mercilessly with all the power of racial hatred that burned inside him, behind a series of kicks and punches to the face, the rib cage, the liver, after he floored him with one vicious punch to the mouth.
Nicholas finally decided to move in.
America will persist, he thought as he leaped in the air to everyone's amazement and landed in front of Lester in time to thwart another blow the black man was packing for the blood-drained face of the half-conscious white man. Nicholas caught the murderous fist, swung it over his head quickly and locked it in a reverse-joint hold, at the same time pinning the elbow down low with his other hand so that Lester's shoulder and face, side down, pressed hard against the floor, his entire body paralyzed by the pain being inflicted on his twisted wrist.
America will survive. Human dignity will... for all.
"Kill me! Kill me now... " Lester squeezed the words out of his throat while his Adam's apple scraped on the floor. His eyes were shut tight as he endured the pain which Nicholas meant to calm down his anger. He struggled some against Nicholas' expert grip on him but the additional controlled dose of pain Nicholas responded with quickly discouraged him from trying any further. "Kill me, white man, or I'll kill you if you don't!"
"Lester, it's me," Nicholas said softly, bending closer on one knee to Lester's ear. "It's me. I'm going to let go slowly, okay? Okay? Now, open your eyes. It's me - Nicholas."
Lester opened his eyes while keeping the contorted expression on his face. Seeing Nicholas restored some of his sanity and returned him from the wild animal loose on a killing rampage a moment ago. "Everybody please back off and clear out, right now!" Nicholas called out to the people around them. "Somebody get an ambulance." He saw how badly hurt the two white men were as they now lay unconscious and bleeding. There were wide patches of blood through the path of battle, on the floor, the walls and the furniture. He worried about Norman. He hoped Lester didn't kill him. But from the deathlike appearance of his mangled face, it didn't look like there was any life left in him.
Everybody did as Nicholas said, stepping back slowly, scuffling, still in shock.
"Everything's going to be alright, Lester," Nicholas whispered to Lester's ear. "I saw and heard everything that happened. It wasn't your fault. You were provoked. I'll testify for you. I'll be your witness. Now, let's just ease on out to our office. Just don't do anything more. They all got the message. You can bet on that."
The two security guards showed up first just as Nicholas was leading Lester into their office. They stayed close outside after they heard what happened. Then the police finally came only slightly ahead of the paramedics who worked right away on the injured, checked their vitals and carried them out on stretchers.
Norman was alive. But from the report the office received later in the afternoon, it was said that he would most likely spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair either as a quadriplegic or - with God's mercy - a paraplegic. His central nervous system was irreversibly damaged.
There will be many more hurts, brutalities, hatreds. It will take some more time. That process. But America will persist. America will survive.
Human dignity will, through freedom and justice...for all.