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25 The Tama Miracle

The jeep carrying Eiji neared the high-fence perimeter that caged his captive fellow soldiers. The vehicle was run off its course by unexpected gunfire and a grenade explosion meters before it.

Tyne held Tama's struggling body tight as the jeep swerved into a high mound of ash-soil. He kept his hold on her with all his might, struggling to shake off the fierce ringing in his ear and ignore the scratches she gave his arm.

"Takaki-san! Private Smith, Abbots!" He called out a roll call through the thick clouds of black soot that concealed the jeep and everyone's location.

"Here!" An American voice answered his call.

"Hai!" Eiji reluctantly answered.

One voice didn't respond. Eiji said a quick prayer for his soldier escort who had died next to him from a bullet to his head. He sighed realising the man was a few years younger.

"Moushiwake gozaimasen," he reverently said to the man, whilst gently pulling his unresponsive eyelids closed.

"Sir, the camp is ahead, but we're swerved near a minefield." The young American's voice betrayed a quiver.

Tyne's earache eased; he was able to peer through the settled clouds of soot to see the square one mile section of fenced off space with no fighting occurring on it. The area's section far-right had a lot of disturbed terrain, vehicle parts and mangled artillery evident of mine explosions. He cast his eyes across the rest of the landscape and realised they had hit one of the main paths back to Mount Suribachi.

"Probably buried with Hako-Baku-Rai," Eiji said soberly.

"Then stepping on one has a three second delay," Tyne answered.

"Good news. At least we won't be fired on at close range anytime soon." Eiji wryly commented. He looked to his soldier escort. "Do I need to call you something?"

The American soldier frowned, confused.

"Private Smith," Tyne answered for the young soldier.

"Lead the way Private Smith," Eiji said to the soldier in perfectly elocuted English.

He smirked at the soldier's deep-set frown.

Private Smith spent a few seconds saying a reverent farewell to his comrade and pocketing the deceased man's stripes, dog-tags and letter hidden in his breast pocket. He rechecked and secured his weapons.

Eiji remained a prisoner of war, but with his hands untied on a threat that they'll let him wander out into the middle of the minefield and leave him there. He didn't see the need to die by explosion, so agreed to their terms. Besides, he wasn't in the mood to fight enemies anymore with his honour already blown to smithereens.

They took to the uneven terrain on foot and managed to make it to the prison camp thanks to Tama's cries of warning whenever they were close to a live mine. It seemed she was able to sense the devices. Tyne took her cries seriously, especially when she only cried and tried to scramble free from his hold at certain points then relaxing as soon as their direction changed.

"This cat is sent from God!" Private Smith concluded with grateful thanks and pats to Tama when they entered the US base camp securing the POW site.

Eiji glanced around the familiar terrain that he had setup as both a firing and resource point before he went to the beaches. Now it was used as a US reinforcement base and enclosure for prisoners like himself.

"Take Tama. Keep her safe." Tyne handed the kitten over to Eiji.

"Why?" Eiji didn't understand.

"Because this enclosure is the last place either forces will think on destroying," Tyne soberly answered and secretly shoved a small tin of rations into his pocket. "For Tama. No matter what Takaki-san, she _must_ live. I promised you, now you promise me."

"For once, I openly acknowledge our common ground," Eiji said.

Private Smith locked him into the despondent high-fenced area where there was no shelter from the weather or any signs of natural vegetation. It was a section of dirt occupied by men. Eiji stowed Tama under his shirt and was relieved that she fell asleep.

He gingerly weaved his way through his fellow captives, noting their crestfallen expressions and heads hanging low. The only noises heard or voices expressed was from the Americans stationed outside and explosions and gunfire occurring beyond the escape-proof fence. The Japanese POW held their silence since it was the only thing they could do now.

"Do my eyes deceive me? Takaki-kun?" An educated voice gingerly called out to Eiji.

Tears spilled out of Eiji's eyes when he recognised his old middle school teacher in a blood stained and dirtied uniform showing the insignia of a senior private.

The teacher of his middle school days was an impressionable new adult fresh out of college, who had loved to quote Haiku poems. He had also been the adviser for his school's karuta club. Eiji fondly remembered the man being a pristine, wise and soothing presence. It made no sense to see him fighting a crude and bloodthirsty war.

"Ohno-sensei? Is that really you?" Eiji's voice trembled, as his mind struggled to hold back thoughts of home. He politely bowed before his old teacher.

"Takaki-kun. Here I hoped I'd never run into any of my students in this place." Ohno-sensei's voice was quiet with a mixture of relief and sadness.

"Yeah." Eiji sighed.

"Are you still friends with Chikafuji-kun?" Ohno-sensei politely asked, hoping it would lighten the mood.

"Yeah." Eiji sighed again.

"That's good. He was a good boy."


Silent resumed. Eiji's senses were heightened to the smell of cigarettes being dumped near the fences, used gunpowder and excreted waste mixed with the island's unmistakable sulphur.
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After a while, Tama stirred awake with a weak mew that caught Ohno-sensei's attention.

"Neko? Impossible!" Ohno-sensei whispered with disbelief.

Eiji hushed the creature, hoping to avoid more attention. It was difficult when Tama was wanting to stretch her legs.

What happened next was something Eiji termed a Tama Miracle.

The black kitten escaped his shirt to land on the area near his legs; as she sniffed the ground around him, she drew in curious onlookers. Eiji panicked, fearing the worst for the cat and the rations he held for her.

"Neko?" said the bandaged old soldier near him. The man flashed Tama a weak smile.

Eiji gasped and scrambled for Tama when she sniffed around the old soldier's bandaged leg.

"Very sorry," Eiji apologised with a bow as he scooped Tama up in his arms.

Tama wiggled free and returned to the bandaged old soldier to give his damaged leg a healing lick.

The old soldier's smile widen as he gently patted her head, tears glisten in his eyes.

"Aah, you are just like that little Kuro-chan my daughter brought home many years now." His voice trembled with tears as his mind lapsed into nostalgia.

Soon other fellow prisoners found their way to Tama to give her some friendly pats. They shared their stories of home, focusing on funny times about their cats, kids and other pets.

The dreaded silence that Eiji had walked into was replaced with calm nostalgia with Tama drawing out more feel-good stories from all the POW who found their way to give her appreciative pats.

The final days of Iwo Jima was like this for the POW, with Tama doing her healing rounds and returning to Eiji to eat and sleep. Everyone called her the Maneki Neko, seeing her as Okamisama's blessings for their way into the afterlife. The prisoners never said it, but they all knew that protecting Tama and keeping her well was their upmost priority. Any food or water a POW had was secretly offered to the kitten with round the clock protection to ensure none of the American's were aware of her presence.

"She is truly a messenger from God. To show up on this island where even the birds have left it, bring us hope. Thank you little one." Ohno-sensei had thanked Tama with a pat.

Tyne returned to the camp on the 26th of March with a proposition for Eiji and Tama.

"Takaki-san. I wasn't lying when I said you'd be my interpreter. I have business in Hiroshima that I need your assistance." Tyne carefully laid out for Eiji.

"I'm not going to betray my country." Eiji firmly stated.

"Who said about betraying country?" Tyne stated.

He took some time to gather his thoughts. When he was sure no other ears were listening, he provided a straightforward explanation.

"I need your help in finding my wife there," Tyne said levelly and added with a careful bow. "Please."

Eiji frowned, confused and shocked. Did the man just say he wanted him to help him find is wife? What was an American civilian doing in Hiroshima?

"Um, excuse me? Did you say wife?" Eiji rephrased.

Tyne nodded. "I have some official orders that takes me to the mainland. I can take a POW asset as a guide."

"Am I clear this ask is off the record?" Eiji whispered, still dumbfounded.

"Yes, but your cover as a POW guide won't be. Takaki-san, surely you realise as a POW you are forfeit from your country. I can gain you entry back inside the mainland under official orders as a US POW asset granted treatment under international conventions."

Eiji sighed, realising Tyne was right and cursed when he saw it was his only way back to Hinata. Otherwise, who knows where he would be shipped off to. If he ended up in a country like Russia he was doomed.

"Okay. I accept. Tell me more when we reach the mainland."

A few hours later Eiji said his farewells to his old teacher, promising to take his letter and well wishes to his wife and child. All the other prisoners wished Eiji continued good fortune and thanked him for bringing Tama.

"Ohno-sensei, the last of rations. Sorry." Eiji bowed as he handed his old teacher his ration tin.

"Take care Takaki-kun." Ohno-sensei calmly accepted the parting gift.

Eiji and Tama were taken into an aircraft carrier as Tyne's prisoners. They landed on a US escort carrier approaching Okinawa as the cherry blossoms were starting to bloom on the mainland.