May 21, 2019
It’s been seventy-three years of wandering. My wandering started nearly three-quarters of a century ago in a life- in a city- that within the snap of fingers changed from everyday and normal to a disastrous legacy. I remember that day like a liquified, thickened dream: the early morning yawns that were sliced to ribbons from shattered glass, running with one of my high heels in the doorway behind me and one halfway on, tripping me up. Those shoes had seemed so flirtatious and exciting before, but in that moment I couldn’t understand their existence, for in their purpose of safely getting me where I needed to go they had failed. I lost the other shoe before I even made it down the hall. The floor was wood in my office building, and I left slippery red footprints behind me as I went, the windows’ shards driving themselves into the soft pads of my feet. I had a white blouse on, my mother’s, and it was damp around the armpits and back, because of course the regulated indoor temperatures mean nothing when a bomb detonates. I was hot, and wanted water so badly. That heat just sucked everything out of me in seconds. There were other office girls clogging the hallway, all pushing and shoving to reach the stairs, even though running wasn’t going to save us entirely. We didn’t know it at the time, but a bomb had been dropped, it’d exploded and that was that. We could run from the fires, and run from the radiation that we had no idea was engulfing our bodies, (though I guess that had already nestled itself inside us by then), but Hiroshima was already fiery and destroyed. By the time I reached the stairs they were so slick with sweat and blood that I fell twice going down, but I was lucky. Some of the girls fell down hard enough to hurt themselves, and while they cried and yelled for help we stampeded over them. All of us needed help, and hardly anybody could give it. I didn’t even realize that I was stepping over people until after the fact. It’s terribly selfish, that instinct to fight our way out of problems, just so we live. Dashing from a building wasn’t going to decide my fate; there were plenty of girls I knew that got outside first, and died in their fifties from how the bomb affected them, and here I am at ninety-two with only old age to weaken my bones. Yes, I was lucky. But, I’ve lost the meaning of “luck”. I was “lucky” to have been far enough away not to be incinerated instantly, and I was “lucky” in that cancer or some other illness never developed within me. However, were any of us “lucky” to have been in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945? Were we “lucky” to be Japanese citizens, and be the pawns in a plot to convince our leaders to lay down their weapons and will to fight? Were we “lucky” to have our innocent families and friends killed in the ten-thousands? Were we “lucky” to watch babies burn alive and people walk around missing a limb or more? I only mean that “lucky” is subjective, and that it’s easy to say I was “lucky” because I wasn’t getting cut up in Germany, and I wasn’t being mowed down in Eastern Europe, and I wasn’t shot through the chest on a battlefield. I lost everything, but I was “lucky”. It’s pathetic to use such a word in such a situation. None of us were lucky. Ah, it’s nothing now. Look at me, an old lady, getting worked up about something so far in the past. How silly. Getting back to my story, I made my way down the stairs and out of the building, then I remember just hobbling down the street, looking around in shock. Doors were bent out of place, and almost every window was devoid of glass. People were sobbing while picking themselves up (some never got up), and the few brave souls ran towards the fires and screams, trying to save whoever they could. The rest of us took the cowardly route, and went the other way. I’m not sure if I lived because of my decision to run, but I’m also not sure I could have done anything in my bloodied feet and grimy shirt, face etched with tears and lines that hadn’t been there before. I was so useless in the time of disaster. My feet were so pained I couldn’t even think of aiding anyone. The shards from before were still in my feet, but I couldn’t pick them out when I tried, and it hurt too much to try for very long. I think I eventually used a sink faucet to get them out, but that wasn’t for another hour or so. I made my way out of the city during that hour, limping and sniffling the whole time. It wasn’t dignified, but my devastation was justified. My family lived within range of the bomb’s worst effects, and I knew they’d all been at home that Saturday. I had the images of flaming children in my head, of ashes made of human skin, and of shadows where those vaporized once stood. I was eighteen and alone. Once I’d washed my feet out in an intact public bathroom, I curled up on the smelly floor and cried. The only thing left of my family that I had was the blouse I was wearing, but that too was ruined. My parents and little brother had scorched to nothingness, my home had been demolished, and I certainly couldn’t live in Hiroshima anymore. It was too expensive on my own anyway, and who knew how much was now on fire. My feet were still bleeding, and the shock and adrenaline had worn off enough that I could feel it, and let me tell you, that was some of the worst pain in my life, but it was nothing compared to losing my family. Once I’d tired myself out and had cried all I wanted, I kept walking. I made it out of Hiroshima late that afternoon, and spent the night on the side of the road. I walked like that for days, sleeping outside and walking barefoot. My numbness kept hunger and pain from stopping me. I arrived in Okayama on the 10th. My feet looked infected and swollen, so I asked other women my age in town for a place to stay. A girl named Yui was kind enough to offer, and I rested in her home, refreshing myself while she updated me on what was going on. I learned Nagasaki had also been bombed on the 9th. I hadn’t had access to any news while traveling from Hiroshima, and it saddened me to hear that more innocents were going through what I’d had to. I thanked Yui, and left on the 14th with a pack of food and money in cash, and bought a bus ticket to Matsue. From there, I found a boat willing to take me to Korea. It took years, and stops in many countries to work for a few weeks before continuing on, but I eventually made it to Europe, and then England. I learned their language, found work, had many adventures, never married or had children, grew old. I missed Hiroshima, and certainly my culture and ways of life that I abandoned by going to the Western side of the world. I knew staying in Asia, and certainly Japan, would have been too hard for me. I love my birth country, and I love the countries I visited on my way to England. I met kind friends in all of them, and I met cruel, and hateful people in all of them. We’re all human, and none of us deserve to suffer like we did in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Atomic bombs are too easy, and obliterate too much. We should grow together, help each other, love our differences. We make up our world.
“One of the lucky ones”,
Ichika Sato, 佐藤 いちか
Author Notes: Just a note- I did quite a bit of research to try tried to make this as authentic of a historical fiction piece as I could. Please let me know if any of the names or anything like that are somehow offensive/really inaccurate! And as always, any other general feedback is greatly appreciated :) Thank you!