War House

There was no other way to save the family, the hero said without any show of remorse. A few days later there arrived a truckful of gift packages, food and toys, and a big fat check for the repair of the house.

It all started with a rumor that circulated in the neighborhood. It was said that the man's villainy was insufferable. He drank, beat his wife and children, and walked out on them now and then. Some said that screams were heard; others said that they witnessed the violence through the window. But no one knew for sure.

No one knew how many children there were in the family and how old they were. Some said three, all infants; others thought there were four and much older. The wife rarely made her appearance outside the house; when she came outside she was well shrouded and no one really saw her face. She didn't shop in the neighborhood but drove, usually after dark, to some store far from the house. But the screams that the neighbors heard were said to be certainly hers.

The man went out every morning and came home after dark. No one in the neighborhood spoke with him; he looked threatening and everyone felt uneasy even to look at him. It was said that he went out to work everyday; others disagreed and insisted that he had no work. No one knew for sure.

Some believed that he dealt in drugs but no one had any evidence. Suspicion breeds more suspicion. Before long the neighbors rumored that he was most likely a terrorist. Before long they began to talk about his being a threat to the peaceful community. One neighbor swore that he saw the man threatening the family with a big knife. Someone else saw suspicious characters walk in and out of the house. The woman nextdoor said she saw racks of guns on the wall. One day the neighbors met together, and agreed that something should be done before a disaster befalls all. But no one knew what could be done and who will do what.

Weeks went by. Then, one day the neighbor who saw a knife in the man's hand brought a distant relative of his who might be able to help. He was a big man and ran a large supermarket somewhere far in a suburb. The big man, successful and wealthy, was willing to listen. He was generous with advice and eager to help. "Leave it to me," the man said with confidence, and the neighbors decided it best to leave the matter to this man.

In the following weeks, the big man came to the house a number of times; he knocked at the door, went to the backyard, peeped through the window, and banged on the door again. But the house was quiet as though no one was home. A few days later, he came back with two strong men. The neighbors wondered who they were -- bodyguards, thugs, or plainclothes policemen. No one could tell for sure.

One day, well past midnight, there was a commotion in the house of troubles. The big man with his sidekicks broke the door and entered the house. The neighbor across the street who watched the break-in through the window of his house described the event to the people of the community next morning. There followed more break-ins in the next few days. But it was rumored that the man of the house was nowhere to be found. He may have escaped; he may have found a hiding place in the house. The woman and the children were in terror; their screams reached the whole neighborhood. Eventually, the big man gave up and left. Furniture was upturned and broken; walls were charred by torches that were lit for some reason no one knew. The house was in shambles and the family was in disarray. Chaos reigned.

The wife and the children were seen picking up the pieces. One of the children was said to have been maimed, another deranged. But no one knew for sure. And where did the father go? Is he alive or is he dead? Or is he still somewhere in the house? The only thing everyone knew was that no one knew for sure.

A few days after this incident the hero came and stood at the doorstep of the house and announced proudly to the neighbors. The house is cleaned out and the villain is gone; there will be peace in the neighborhood. Yes, there were some damages inevitably but there was no other way to save the family. The neighbors were utterly confused. Is he our hero? Was he acting in good faith? Why all this destruction? Are we better off now than we were before? No one, but no one, knew for sure.


T. Kaori Kitao, 04.01.03


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