33. Black Sun Flowers

  Flash! Some kind of eerie flash... in a split second it became dark with atomic dust, so I was unable to tell if it was day or night. I felt as if I was in a different world. Oh, the sunflowers are black! Am I having an illusion or a daydream? No, no, they certainly look black. That was the moment, it seems to me, when my terrible life began.

  The Monument of the A-bombed Elementary School Teachers and Pupils was erected. Taking this opportunity, I wanted to pay respect to those innocently victimized, young A-bombed children. For the sake of my child, I began writing, wearing my reading glasses.

  When I run into acquaintances from before the war, they mostly ask about my daughter, “Your daughter, that lovely girl..?” I had so many, tens or hundreds of the parents of her classmates or my acquaintances, who talked about their stories and asked about my daughter that I felt nearly tired of it. Most of those, indeed, had lost either their children or other family members.

  “That child died in the A-bombing. She'd be __ years old now”. I tell them her would-be age, the age if she were alive. I am one of the fond parents who count a dead child's age. I know there is no way to bring her back, but she'll be 33 this year according to Japan's traditional way of counting ages, a turning point for women, I suppose. As a mother, I would buy her an obi sash or something (so that she could keep any mishaps from happening throughout her pivotal year). She would be a modest housewife, and perhaps a mother of two or three children. She might have become an “education-crazy” mother... It's not useful, but my imagination expands limitlessly. By now my daughter would have passed my age at the time when I lost her in the A-bombing.

  I myself was exposed to the A-bombing and its effects are lingering. My poor health tends to trouble me physically and mentally, but I, somehow, managed to live till today, vicariously living my daughter's life as well.

  At the time of the bombing my daughter was a few meters away from me, at the chicken house in the front yard. She was feeding chickens with her back to me. She was a sweet, kind-hearted girl and especially loved animals. The moment of the eerie flash, she already had burns on her neck. She received a direct flash. Immediately, I held her in my arms, thinking, “Oh, thank god, just this much burn. Your life was spared.” Actually, however, it wasn't just burns that she had. I had heaved a sigh of relief, not knowing that the innocent, young child was to be afflicted with the detested radioactivity.

  My daughter, a first grader at Seibi School, clung to me the moment she saw the flash, and uttered, “Daddy!” My husband was a professional military man, moving always from one war zone to another. Therefore, he had little chance to be with his daughter. I didn't hear from him as he was far south, in Rabaul. Very young as she was, my daughter understood and never expected to see her father again. She, once in a while, spread a world map. Pointing to the center of the map where Rabaul was, she would say to me, “Here, isn't it?” The wife and children of a military man were never supposed to act cowardly, and so we didn't complain about anything, especially as the war was intensifying. A mother and a child, we were living a hard life. Raising my child was what I lived for, and my belief in victory helped me endure the difficult times.

  My daughter went on from kindergarten to grade school at Seibi School. She was going to school with full of hope, in cute baggy pants and Seibi School uniform with red lines, which had been altered from my old girls' school uniform. The reason I chose this school for my daughter was that Seibi was basically for the offspring of military families, and I could expect my daughter to learn the severity of military family life there.

  Given the fact that it was a difficult wartime, teaching in class was how to cope with the shortage of everything. First, the strongest emphasis was on saving rice. On returning from school, she would tell me exactly what she was told at school.

  “You cannot have no more than two bowls of rice”, “Your box lunch should be soybeans mixed with rice and potatoes.”

  I would fix her box lunch with soybeans mixed with rice and potatoes with every variety of cooking I could think of. Wishing that my daughter would grow to be a thoughtful, kind-hearted girl, even in such a shortage of everything, I, together with her, prayed to the moon and to the stars for my husband's safe return from the war. We would look up in the sky and talk about that slim, but wishful chance.

  She was the girl my husband and I cared for so much, but ties between the father and child were severed. Blood ties are something mysterious. Since the A-bombing, she, a little girl must have had presentiment that she wouldn't survive it. The first thing she uttered was, “I want to see Daddy”, who was far, far away, in Rabaul. I never pitied her more.

  I was entirely ignorant about that abominable atomic bomb and about the terrible, terrible diseases caused by radioactivity.

  I simply thought that my daughter had some burns, but her life was spared. So, I had her help me with attendance on my relatives nearby, and also, I made her walk a long way in the scorching heat to escape from the continuous enemy planes.

  Applying some rationed Mercurochrome was the only treatment I could do for her burns. I encouraged her saying, “You'll soon be all right”, and tried to convince myself that it'd cure her wounds. On 17th of August, however, she, all of a sudden, passed a large amount of bloody stool, which was repeated to fill a basin. First time, second time, while she was struggling in agony, the seal of death appeared on her face rapidly.

  What a cruel fact! I was desperate, nearly going insane. I thought that she should recover if her heart was strong enough. It was in the middle of the night, 2 or 3 o'clock, but I didn't care. I ran, back and forth, to Koi National Elementary School and pumped water at its outdoor place for washing feet. I wrung a towel in the cold water and put it on her heaving chest. It might have been a layman's treatment, but it was the best a desperate mother could do to save her child.

  Around the water pump at the school, there were people who had come for water, but died eventually. Among those was a baby who sought for the already dead mother's milk and then died as well. When I saw it, I felt as if I met the Goddess of Mercy. While pumping water, I chanted a prayer to Buddha for the repose of those who innocently died. Here and there at the school, lots of people were attending the injured in the moonlight. Those injured were asking for water, or crying from the unbearable, overall pain. The grieving, sorrowful voices of the relatives who had to part with their loved ones, one after another, never ceased. I felt them piercing into my heart.

  Oh, this was a living hell on earth. I felt rage rather than sadness, wondering why we deserved this. If this had happened only to me, I would have gone insane a long time before. When I was little, my grandmother took me to visit the family grave. I saw, then, pictures of hell and heaven painted the temple's square wooden tiles on the ceiling. I felt the real agony was deeper and more serious than in those pictures.

  However, I couldn't afford to allow myself to be scared or overwhelmed. In the middle of the night, depending on a single, little candle light, I had to elbow my way through the arms and legs of the dead bodies to pass through the hallway. I tried as hard as I could to attend my daughter. I didn't want to let her die, I didn't want...,I prayed to god and to Buddha for help. But, the little child's life, like the little candlelight, was flickering toward death. I never thought of “death” to the last moment. Believing that once the bloody stool stops, she'll get well, and that once her high fever goes down, she'll recover, I tried every possible thing I could think of, racking my brains. I gave her an antipyretic or a binding medicine, taking out the scarce medicine from the bottom of my rucksack. Despite all my effort, she succumbed to radioactivity, the abominable cause of disease, and died. She died at last.

  August 6th was a day for the first graders at Seibi School to meet at school (they were supposed to meet at school a few times during the summer vacation), but I had said to her that she could stay home. Because, she was much too young, just a first grader, and the school was too far. Thanks to that, I was able to attend the last moment of her life, which was a comfort for me. Also, although her body had to be, pitifully, wrapped with a straw mat to be cremated at the Mountain in Koi, it was another comfort that I could pick up her little bones with a mother's hands, which gave me peace of mind.

  I heard later that the Seibi School first graders in the lovely school uniform with red lines had ended their short lives soon after 8:15, on top of each other at the school gate.

  Let me go back to the time when my daughter was in a really critical condition. I made her soft, little hands like maple leaves put together, and wear a red juzu, or a rosary. I chanted a prayer to Buddha, “Namuamidabutu, namuamidabutsu” and gave my last words to her in tears. She was such a young girl, she'd hardly be spiritually awakened. She kept calling for me, “Mommy, mommy..” I heard her voice, faint from high fever and pain, say that she hated to part from me. She was at the border between life and death. Being delirious in fever, she uttered clearly her classmates' names (she had many good friends in her class) or mumbled her teacher's name. She might have been dreaming and seeing pretty flowers while playing house. Surely, the flowers wouldn't have been black sunflowers, but the ones that had fascinating yellow petals in peacetime.

  Every time I heard her desperate wish to live, my heart was about to break. Beside me to attend my daughter was my youngest brother. He had already lost his parents and other sisters, and he himself was a survivor, too. Therefore, he regarded me, the only family member left to him, as a mother. He, in the first year at the Second Middle School, was in such a grief at my daughter's death that he burst into tears saying, “Little Kasumi, you, too!” Later, he spoke about me at that time, “I was afraid you'd go insane, Sister”.

  It's been 26 years since then. Not a single day has passed without remembering the sad, miserable and most difficult memory.

  Mother's grief, all spoken to a lantern May it reach to my daughter in the other world (at the lantern floating on August 6th)

  Why, why is it that I had to let this little, innocent child, like an angel, go to the other world like this? Rather than the Peace Memorial Day or attending its Memorial Service, I prefer praying alone quietly, pressing my hands together, which comforts me more. I have been indulged in my personal comfort, chanting a prayer to Buddha that eases me. However, this time, the monument to the A-bombed elementary school teachers and pupils was erected, and my daughter is supposedly among them. I am so happy about it, I'll go there to pray this year. I am ashamed now about my narrow-mindedness before, and I've made a fresh vow to continue to hold a service for the departed souls all my life.

  In retrospect, my eventful life filled with hardships began the moment I saw the black sunflowers. It's regrettable that I have spent such a long time, 26 years, in lethargy. I have to make up for it by living the rest of my life with a strong will and purpose. For the sake of those innocents who were deprived of their precious lives, I need to make efforts to tell that nothing is more valuable than peace, however little my power may be. We are responsible for educating the younger generation.

  As a matter of fact, my husband was repatriated safely later, and Kasumi's younger sister and brother were born. They have grown up, and people's way of thinking changes as time goes by. My children, who don't know about the war and A-bombing, seem to be occupied with only what's happening around them now. But, I tell them to keep some room in their heart for their sister, and to go pray at the monument from now on. My son, who is studying at the YMCA to prepare for the entrance exams, is a youth whose interests are having fun at the sea or mountains. However, when I say, “The YMCA is at the site where your big sister's school used to stand”, he responds, “Is that right?” and sinks into thought. He is now willing to hear my story. This way I take every chance to tell them that we should never allow any more sadness caused by fighting on earth. We need to tell them repeatedly. No matter what the reason may be, fighting is ugly.

  This is the anniversary; August 6th of 1971. Pure-white rice balls, boiled eggs and milk and sugar-rich sweets will be the offerings I'm taking with me, instead of soybean-mixed rice and potatoes.

Written by Kiyoko Okahara (Honkawa-cho, Hiroshima-shi)

Death in the Atomic boming :
Kasumi Okahara (a first grader at Saibi School)