23. Oh, Missing Etsuko !

  Ah, that moment of flash! The mere thought of it makes me shiver. August 6 is the day of deep sorrow that I will never forget. It will never leave my heart. It was clear that morning and the morning sun seemed to be piercing and burning out the area. My child, who cheerfully had left home for school, was forever gone.

  I had two daughters, Etsuko and Kazuko. Etsuko was in the fifth grade and Kazuko, in the first grade at Hirose National Elementary School. On the morning of 6th Etsuko said, “I want to stay home today”. I scolded her saying, “No, you can't. You should go to school today”, because she had been absent from school three days before due to a stomachache. Even the younger one cried, “I'd like to stay home, too, if my big sister does.” I impatiently scolded and made them go to school. The clock at home was 15 minutes fast, so I made them hurry so as not to be late. She might have had a hunch or something; Etsuko insisted that she wear her best outfit that morning and took it out of the chest drawer. She went to school in her Sunday best. So did Kazuko, crying.

  In those days Hirose National Elementary School was divided into two places; the branch was in Nakahiro-cho where only first graders were studying. Since most of the students were evacuated to the countryside, there were not many left at the school. I told Etsuko more than once to be evacuated, but she didn't want to do that. My husband had passed away due to an illness in March, so she wouldn't listen to me saying, “I'll remain here. Otherwise Mom would be lonely.” I said, “Well then, we'll die together when we die”. I was laughing at that time, never dreaming that Etsuko would die alone leaving us behind.

  About the time I figured they reached the school, there came a gigantic sound and I was thrown about even inside the house. Thinking that only my house was hit, I went outside and found that damage was everywhere; fire was also bursting out from electric poles. I was worried about my children and began hurrying towards the school to rescue them. Then I was told that the school was a sea of fire and impossible to get near, and that the soldiers at Hirose National Elementary School were all killed. Leaving my heart with my children, I ran from Hirose-cho towards the mountainside. With wondrous gods' work, I ran into my younger daughter, Kazuko, who was among those fleeing for safety. She was burned and couldn't see. Her torn clothes were drooping and ragged. Then, black rain began falling. The burns all over her body smarted with the rain, which made her cry hard. She said, “Mom, I cannot see”. I immediately carried her on my back. I thought it must be Etsuko's soul that made this encounter happen, leading Kazuko to me. Even with a one-minute difference, I would have missed her. Besides that, it was in the countryside. What else could have caused this wonder but Etsuko's soul that cared for her younger sister? I can't help but believe this.

  In contrast, I could find nothing of Etsuko, not even a fragment of her bones. Even now I feel tormented with the thought that I scolded and made her go to school on the morning of 6th. Despite that, she was fine when she left home that morning saying, “Bye, Mom” with sobs. Who could predict that it was the last moment for this mother and daughter? I can see her image in my mind. I was busy tending my burned Kazuko and could not go to search for Etsuko's ashes. About a month later I stood at the grounds of Hirose Elementary School wondering just where my daughter had died. She must have called for me; I was in deep thought for a while. I picked up two pieces of unknown bone from the ruins and took them home. I press my hands together for her soul every year during Obon.

  Kazuko, whose burns festered, spent about one year with relatives in the country. She returned to school after one year's absence. Now she is working but easily tires, probably because she was exposed to the A-bombing. Besides that, keloids on her body remain.

  Each year when August 6 comes around, I am reminded of my daughter and my heart aches. So do many others', I suppose. I only wish that my child were alive somewhere and would come back to me calling, “Mom!” It's a mother's dream of no avail. How could anybody in that school building have possibly survived? I couldn't give my children what they wanted to eat and my innocent child was killed. I detest war and A-bombing. Etsuko may be watching us somewhere in the sky wishing for peace on earth. She may be crying for peace never to be disturbed again.

  I spent three days and three nights in the mountain, during which time I saw six, seven or more little children who died one after another in their mothers' arms, crying for water or milk. My heart was filled with sorrow. Holes to bury the bodies were then dug one after another, which was a painful sight. The city was a burnt out ruin and corpses were floating in the river. Soldiers piled up the bodies, even those still breathing, poured oil over the heap, and burned them. It was impossible to see this with open eyes. Those who were exposed to the A-bombing should know all this. Only the people who experienced this can know how horrifyingly atrocious the scene was.

  Everybody, let's keep peace together, hand in hand. Before concluding, let me pray for the repose of your little ones' souls as well as my daughter's. The more I write, the more tears flow. I should stop here.

Written by Sumie Kuramoto (Ohno-cho, Fukae, Saeki-gun)

Death in the Atomic boming : Etsuko Fujikawa (a fifth grader at Hirose National Elementary School)