#AtoZChallenge: X is for “Xs and Os”

Day 24 of the A to Z Challenge is the letter “X”:

X is for “Xs and Os” — oh, and x-rays, too!


My mom and uncle, shortly after leaving the internment camp.

Well, I succeeded at posting daily on the A to Z Challenge right up to Day 24, but missed posting last night because I had to take my mom to the emergency room after she began choking and couldn’t breathe while eating dinner. All is well now. After four hours in the ER, the chest x-rays that were taken during Hour #2 were clear, and the doctor said she must have dislodged whatever she was choking on. He “ordered” a few cups of water to make sure she could swallow and would hold it down, and thankfully, she did.

However, after four hours on the road, a successful book signing, a birthday dinner for my mom and sister and four hours in the emergency room, I arrived back home around 11:45 p.m., and though technically, I did have another fifteen minutes to post the blog, I couldn’t bring myself to sit in front of the computer.

So, I lost the challenge, but with only two days to go, I shall forge on! (That is, if I can think of something for “Z.”)

The original post I’d planned for “X” is based on a short story I took from The Red Kimono a few years ago, called “Xs and Os.” It’s one of my favorites and was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. This is a story about the beginning of the friendship between Sachi and Jubie, a young black girl who lives in the town outside of Rohwer Relocation Camp.

I hesitate to call Jubie a secondary character, and only do so because she is not one of the three point-of-view characters in The Red Kimono. However, her importance to the story, and my affection for her, takes her far beyond being secondary.

As a writing exercise to better get into the feelings of the two girls, I wrote the scene in Jubie’s point of view. It helped me to get to know both Jubie and Sachi better, and eventually, I refined it, expanded it and “Xs and Os” was born.

In the following excerpt, after a brief greeting in the mess hall, Jubie and Sachi have agreed to meet after lunch. Jubie is waiting for Sachi in the place they’d agreed to meet, and she’s afraid Sachi may decide not to come.


Jubie had been waiting for almost an hour. Maybe Sachi wasn’t coming. She kicked the ground, stirring up a tiny dust cloud around her feet. But, why wouldn’t she show up? Maybe she found herself another friend. She picked up a stick and drew four crossed lines in the dirt. Tic-tac-toe. Xs and Os. Not much fun, playing the silly game alone.

Where was Sachi?

The answer Jubie feared—the one she’d tried to keep locked away—busted through and tickled her stomach like that time she got sick with what Auntie Bess called the gut bug. Maybe Sachi didn’t come cause her mama said she couldn’t play with no colored girl. She drew a line across the row of Xs. Xs win. She scratched the game away.

Why’d she have to go and get her hopes up anyway? Shoulda known the Japanese would think the same way as white folk. But why did Sachi smile at her? And why did she go and say she’d meet her after lunch?

“You coming, Jubie Lee?” Auntie Bess called from outside the gate.

“You go on. I’ll come along a little later.” From behind the bob-wire fence, Jubie watched her aunt stroll down the road toward town. She rubbed her finger over one of the prickly wire knots that lined the fence, and watched the guard in the tower watch her aunt walk away. The helpers were allowed to leave after serving lunch, just walk on through that gate. But what about them Japanese prisoners? What was it like to have to stay behind the bob-wire?

“There you are.”

Jubie turned to find the voice. “Oh. Sachi.”

The Japanese girl had changed into overalls.

Sachi pointed to the shade behind the guard shack. “I was waiting for you over there. When you didn’t come, I thought you’d changed your mind. Then I heard you talking and found you standing over here.”

Jubie giggled. “I didn’t see you. Didn’t think you was coming neither.”

“I thought I’d be cooler in the shade. It sure is hot here.”

“Sun don’t bother me none.” Jubie stared at Sachi’s patent leather shoes. They sure was pretty, even though they was all dusty. She tried to pull her pinky toe back into her torn slipper. “Where you come from, anyways?”

“California. Berkeley, California. How long have you lived here?”

“All my life. Never been nowhere else. Did go to Little Rock once with my daddy, though.”

Sachi shuffled her black leather shoes back and forth in the dust.

Why didn’t Sachi say nothing back? Jubie didn’t like the sudden quiet and tried to think of something to say. “Guess that was your mama in line with you? Where’s your daddy?”

Sachi pointed to the stick Jubie still held. “What’s that for?”

“Ah, nothing. I was just playing tic-tac-toe in the dirt.” She tossed the stick aside. “So, your daddy ain’t here?”

Sachi brushed her hair out of her face and took a deep breath. “Not here. Not anywhere.”

At last, Jubie understood. Her eyes began to burn with tears. “Oh. I get it, now. Sorry. My daddy’s gone, too.” She whispered so Sachi wouldn’t hear her voice shake and wiped her eyes with her shirt sleeve. “Been nine months now. Happened just after Thanksgiving.”

Sachi whispered. “My daddy–Papa–died the day after Christmas. . . a few days after some boys beat him up. They said it was because he was Japanese.” She picked at splinters on the fence post.

Now the sun scorched. Beads of sweat trickled down the sides of Jubie’s face, and something swept her up in a dizzy swirl until she sank to the dirt. An image, the one she fought to keep pushed way back in dark corners of her mind, flashed up. Slapped her hard.

This entry was posted in Excerpt, Family History, Hate, History, Prejudice and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to #AtoZChallenge: X is for “Xs and Os”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Obsession and compulsion is NOT good? Beautiful post, Jan. It’s not just in writing that the world becomes a richer place when we can step into the heart of another.

  2. Staci Troilo says:

    Hard to call yourself a loser when your mom is safe and well. I’d call that a success. And Xs and Os all around.

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