32. No God, No Buddha

  I shouted at the top of my voice. “Harunobu-chan. Kenji-chan.” People looked back at my mad-looking face. But no one paid attention to me, nor spoke to me. The road was difficult to walk on because it was piled with rooftiles, but I walked with my bloody feet, wiping off my heavy sweat.

  I tried to hurry, but my feet wouldn't obey my mind. All the people around looked grotesque as if they were walking wearing draped soft seaweed. My own clothes were burnt hanging in shreds. Only white cotton shirt and underpants remained as they had been, but my working pants (monpe) were torn to rugs. This was the picture Hiroshima saw on the 6th of August in 1945, one scorching hot day in midsummer.

  Other people also looked alike. Their faces were covered with black ashes, which reminded me of potatoes in Hokkaido. Their faces looked like dolls with vacant expressions. Did they forget how to speak? They just kept silent even to their acquaintances. They couldn't find any word to say. Not knowing where to go, they were moving around in confusion. Some were walking around naked. Part of their skin was peeling and hanging. No one, however, could understand what happened and they walked away in silence like ghosts. Even now I can't forget the expressions of the people in Hiroshima on that day, when the A-bomb destroyed everything. In the direction of the hypo-center, I saw black and white smoke soaring into the sky mixed together.

  That day I was a service worker on demolishing buildings in place of my neighbor. The war between America and Japan was coming to the climax. The American forces were making heavier air raids before landing on the mainland. We were exhausted from the long battle and the serious food shortage, but we still didn't know that we were going to be defeated. On the contrary, we firmly believed in our victory without doubt, and endured hardships. Even people like us who have small children were mobilized for building demolition work or a labor service.

  On that day I left my children behind, worked to carry away roof tiles from demolished buildings, and was exposed to the fateful A-bomb. That morning we were to meet at 7:00, so I left home at 6:30. I asked my neighbor, Mrs. Tanigawa , to take care of my sons, who were seven years old and four years old. She was not in good health, but she willingly accepted my request.

   “Bye. Take good care of Ken-chan.” I said to Harunobu, my elder son. The seven-year-old son answered, “Certainly. I will.” Hearing his confident, energetic voice, I hurried to our meeting place in front of the armory.

  We were going to work near Tsurumibashi Bridge. After the roll call, we walked towards the Tsurumibashi Bridge in rows holding flags. At 7:50, I think, we got to the end of the bridge on the Hijiyama side. There were about two hundred people. The person in charge said, “Until we decide assignments, take a rest here.” and went away.

  We were chatting in a shade. That moment I felt as if I was covered with boiling water, and saw a flash which was hundreds of times brighter than a magnesium flare. Just after the flash disappeared, it got dark like evening. I was tossed more than one meter high by the blast and thrown into a stranger's house breaking through the windows, and fell along with the breaking ceiling into the room. People there were very surprised to see me.

  They were packing up for evacuation because the war situation became serious. Having ropes in their hands, the elderly couple looked dumb-founded at the tremendous explosion. They had a puzzled look when they saw me fly through the windows. “What happened to you?” The elder woman asked me.

   “What was that sound?” The kindly old man asked. “Aren't you hurt?” They looked at my pale face worriedly. I was looking around in silence, not knowing what to say. They were kind enough to bring a broken chair to me. The room was badly damaged and there was no space to move around. I was surprised to see myself. When I touched my monpe, it crumbled away easily like paper.

  I had plunged into the unfamiliar house, through the windows far high above me. I didn't know what had happened, so just answered in an absent way “Something seems to have been dropped.” The old couple was kind enough to advise me to go out of the back door and climb Hijimaya Hill.

  The old man said,”You should take a rest in an air-raid shelter on the hill.” And he took me there. I thanked him a lot and hurried into the shelter. Other people from my labor group who were there already looked stunned and frightened and were crouching down there. Everyone was strangely quiet and quaking. I could see five women in the humid darkness. A young woman at the back of the shelter was sobbing with her baby in her arms. A naked boy was lying there without moving, unknown if dead or alive.

   “Mom, help me. Mom, come and help me,” a girl with braids repeated helplessly. She had come for the labor service in place of her mother. A woman around 40, who was sitting next to me, was dazed and quivering. It was dark outside, and we heard continual sirens. Everyone kept silent. We didn't know what to say. Such experiences were more than we could bear and we may have been unable to feel anything. For hours, or maybe minutes, I didn't move. Although I was hurt, I didn't feel any pains or itching.

  While I was going to pieces, I began to worry about my children whom I left behind at home. I cried out my sons' names, Harunobu and Kenji, and walked unsteadily out of the shelter like a mad person. Then I found my right leg below the knee was cut to the bone with blood dripping into my shoes. I walked toward home dragging my right leg. When I went down the hill, I saw all the houses with their walls fallen down, their roofs blown away, and only their pillars standing.

  I was at a loss when I saw my house was in the same condition. Harunobu and Kenji were not at home. I asked my neighbors the reason. They had been on the way to their grandmother's, 100 meters away from my house. Because of the A-bomb explosion, they were buried under the debris. But some neighbors helped them and took them on their backs to the emergency relief station. “How serious are their wound?” Suddenly I felt drained and overwhelmed by sadness. “I'm not sure. Many roof tiles fell down on them,” the man next door explained sympathetically.

  I had walked all the way to my house worrying about my children but now I became helpless like a deflated balloon. I knew that they were alive, which both relieved and exhausted me at the same time.

  Two air-raid hoods and first aid bags of my sons' were side by side on the front stoop. They must have been in the air-raid shelter during an air-raid warning and after it was lifted they must have decided to go to their grandmother's house. My heart was broken to think how lonely the two small children were. And I got angry with myself because I had left my children behind even for the nation' sake.

  The rooms were too messy to move around. The chest of drawers was blown across the room into the living room. I washed my bloody legs at the water pump. I gently patted my right leg with bicarbonate, where the flesh the size of my palm was torn away, and wound it tightly with a bandage made of yukata. I don't know why I applied bicarbonate on. I took off my burnt monpe and put on another.

  Someone told me that the elementary school was the emergency relief station, so I left home and went there. On the way I found no less than three people dead on the roadside. I was such a coward that I couldn't come close to the dead people. They seemed to be sleeping. I feared that my two sons might be dead. “If so, I'll die.” I prepared for the worst. I seemed like the school, which I had often visited, was more distant than usual.

  My leg hurt and blood began to drip. I managed to get to the school, just to find only the dead people were placed there. A young policeman was writing something, as he was looking at the dead bodies. I asked him, “Where are the wounded being taken care of?” He stopped writing and politely answered. “They are at the armory.” I almost collapsed into a faint because of bleeding and frustration that I couldn't find my children.

  The back gate of the armory was about 500 meters away from the elementary school. The way to the armory was through the lotus root fields. Along the narrow pathway I walked swaying. Strange to say, I could not see anyone on the way. It was silent and I felt lonely as if I was left alone in the world. When I got to the armory I was very amazed to see the people there. “Are these really human?” Hundreds of, or thousands of, mobilized middle school students were lying on the grass. Groans and cries were flooding from behind the warehouse. Fear and pity gave me goose bumps. “Can they really be human?” The faces of some boys were swollen- no eyes, and no nose. All the boys seemed to be first or second year students. Poor boys, who had no one to look after them!

  It was soldiers who were taking good care of them. They were all so bloody that I couldn't tell the difference between them. I cried my sons'names as I thought my sons might be among them. The boys around my feet asked, “Give me water. Please give me water.” Here and there, eyes in burnt faces stared vacantly and everybody asked for water.

  My right arm from shoulder to wrist was blistered and hurt badly. “Wait a minute. I'll get water.” When I was about to start, I saw a soldier coming in a hurry carrying a can. I thought it must be water and asked, “Please give water to these children.” Then the soldier looked at me and said, “This is not water, but oil. I can't apply oil one by one, so I'll drop oil little by little with this ladle on their burns.”
“Oh!” I was surprised. “I'm sorry. I took this for water.” Even though I was mistaken, he smiled at me, showing his white teeth.

  I had no time to lose caring for other children. I felt guilty because I couldn't do anything for these boys. But I needed to search for my children. I let my tears fall, thinking that some of these people might be dead and that, indeed, this was hell. The pain in my leg climbed up to my waist. I walked in tears, thinking what I should do if my sons were in the same condition.

  Why on earth did I go for labor service that day? I went there in the place of my neighbor. If I hadn't gone, I might have protected my children to keep them safe. I felt bitter regret. I wasn't able to find my children and as I went back home I saw red pillars of flames increasing in the western sky in the dusk. Danbara area, where I lived , was lucky enough to escape fire because of Hijiyama Hill.

  To my joy, my husband was safe at the company in Ujina. Both of my children were also alive. I embraced them and cried for joy, “I'm so glad!” My elder son, Harunobu, said. “I'm afraid to stay here. Let's go somewhere else, to the mountains.” He was trembling, and with his cute eyes filled with tears he said. “I'm sorry. I got Kenji hurt.” I didn't know at that time these were his last words. The next day Kenji got critically ill. He was delirious and writhing with pain. Kenji, delicate by nature, died in my husband's arms like smoke fading away. His pain was mine.

   “Your mom and dad also will soon follow you. Go ahead and wait for us.” Even thought he was a man my husband cried, stroking Kenji's limbs which were getting cold. My parents also sobbed, saying that they wanted to die instead of Kenji. Following Harunobu and Kenji, my father also passed away on the sixth day after Harunobu died, though he wasn't hurt at all and came home. He was exposed inside the company building near the hypo-center.

  Beginning from that night I got a fever of 40 degrees, my burnt skin was ripped, and my whole body hurt and smarted. The only freedom left for me was weeping. Harunobu begged me for water. But I heard the rumor that if the exposed people drank water, they would die, so I didn't give him water just because I wanted to save him. Talking in delirium and suffering from high fever, Harunobu also passed away. I regret I could not take care of him. I was semi- conscious. Harunobu and Kenji seemed to appear and disappear. How could I keep them from dying? I could not believe in the gods or Buddha.

  My children and we didn't commit any crimes, so why should we suffer such cruel torture? What sin did we commit? I thought and thought about it, but I had no idea. The only relief was, if any, that both Harunobu and Kenji died embraced in my husband's arms.

  How tragic wars are! Even now many people are suffering from the aftereffects of the A-bomb. When I think about the A-bomb I trembled with fear. That person dying today could be me tomorrow. Even if I shout or scream now, my two young children won't come to life. They always got along with each other while they were still alive, so even now, I believe, they are comforting each other. I often think with sorrow how old they would be, if they were alive.

  Please visit me even in any dream. I can't meet them anywhere except in my dreams. Now I just pray that the brothers, whose memory will fade, may have peaceful sleep.

  A letter to Niichan in heaven

  The day has come again when I sadly light a floating lantern made of red paper and put my palms together watching the red flame float on the river. Each year I think how old you would be if you were alive.

  At that time you were a second grader at the National Elementary School. You were a good big brother of Ken-chan. Neither of you quarreled and you always granted his unreasonable request. So he was always following you, saying, ”Niichan. Niichan.”

  On the night before that day, there were enormous air raids in Kure area. It was to the south east from my house. All night we saw pillars of fire, which looked like fireworks. Your father didn't come back from work. Ken-chan went to bed early, but you and I were awake trembling in the dark ready to run out of the house anytime.

  When I left home for a labor service of building demolition on August 6, Ken-chan was still sleeping, but you came out to the front door and waved your hand when I looked back.

  I never thought, only an hour or so after that, you and Ken-chan would be fatally wounded that you would die later. I also was severely burned. Neither the gods nor Buddha was with us.

  Only a few people control us and make us fight in a war whether or not we want to. And after a war there are only suffering and emptiness left. Under such miserable conditions it is weak women, children and old people who suffer the most. Because of the war many lost their fathers who were the most important for the family. How miserable mothers and children who lost their husbands and fathers were! Why do we have to start wars?

  During the war, we had little food to eat. You ate soybean residue, we now use for fertilizer, or bitter grass cakes reluctantly. My poor boy, I remember you were weeping and swallowed them little by little. If we had evacuated to the country, we would not have met such a disaster. I'm so sorry that we didn't have any relatives in the country. This is our fate but it is too sad to accept.

  I'm sure you felt helpless to take care of Ken-chan by yourself while I was out for labor service. Thinking about this, my heart bleeds. Before dying, you said, “Mom. I don't want to stay in such a horrible place. Let's go somewhere else to the mountains.” I can't forget these words. If I had known what would happen, I would have gone to the mountains or even underground. If there were hell in this world, what happened in Hiroshima would be hell. What crime did we commit to get a punishment that we had to be burnt by fire of hell? After you went to Heaven, a week hadn't passed before Grandpa followed you, who had said tearfully “I want to die in place of my grandsons.” Even now people are dying because of the effect of the A-bomb.

  Someday I'll join you in Heaven. Then let's have a talk to our heart's content. When Harunobu-chan passed away, I was also dying, so I'm sorry I was not able to say “Good-bye.” to you.

  I'm writing this letter with my eyes full of tears. Twenty-six years have passed since that time, but even now I can only remember the cute faces of young Harunobu-chan and Kenji-chan. The older I grow, the more often I remember you. Niichan, please keep an eye on us so that peace without war can continue.

Written by Sumako Matsuyanagi (Danbaranaka-machi,Hiroshima)

Death in the Atomic boming :
Harunobu Matsuyanagi (a second grader at Hijiyama National Elementary School)