Friday, May 4, 2012

The Girl with the Cigarette

Inside the internment camp it was possible to buy cigarettes, but they were rationed.  One only had so many smokes a week and had to apply for a special card that allowed the purchase those few tobacco products.

Isamu smoked, bought cigarettes at the camp store, but also had friends outside the camp willing to send him little gifts, such as cartons of Camels. Anna observed him at the post office, with a long rectangular package.  She overheard him ask the clerk about the best time to go to the recreation hall in their block.

Anna convinced Margaret that spending the evening with others in the recreation center would be more fun, or at least not so boring, as sitting around with the family.

Isamu's may have sensed, while observing Margaret and her older sister Anna, as they shared a cigarette between them, that these two were unlike other women in the camp.  Not only did he find them appealing in appearance, he tuned his ear toward them, even as he was in conversation in another group, and caught enough bits and pieces. They seemed educated and intelligent. Initially, Anna imagined she was the object of the artist's gaze. But realizing he kept turning to glimpse Margaret, she whispered into her ear, "He's watching you. Look in his direction and smile".

He was more than curious. He was infatuated.

He had already caught her attention.  When he gestured to Margaret, offering a friendly gift of a cigarette, the ice was silently broken. His cigarette caused her to linger, or rather for her to pretend she was just there for the smokes.  After all, it was a completely plausible excuse.

Mister Noguchi, as she called him, seemed to be the only person at Poston willing to share his tobacco, other than her own sister.  It made him a further exception. Margaret happily accepted the nicotine fix from him. He let her select from the pack, then cupped one hand while starting the flame with his Zippo lighter.   It made an awkward self-introduction unnecessary.  She already was intrigued.  The smell of the lighter fluid, the heat of the small flame, the ignition of the tobacco, and scent of his cupped hand close to her face, mixed as the first of many memories to come.

Anna accepted her role as  fly-on-the-wall, knowing her sister would confide in her. Yet, she had to wrestle with her own confusing feelings about seeing him first.

Years before Isamu met Margaret, the photographer Edward Weston made a portrait of Noguchi.    Isamu gave one copy of this photo to Frida Kahlo.  Margaret probably hid her copy from her parents, in a secret place she would keep the letters and other mementos, yet to come.

Link to the complete story