Hibakusha excerpt

Our home was about two kilometers away from the explosion. Mother busied herself in the house, cleaning.  Father and I stood in the henhouse delousing the chickens. Kosuke, my younger brother, collected the eggs.

I remember the sounds of the day: the chickens, my brother’s shoes crunching through the gravel and dirt, the buzz of insects, my heavy breathing as I struggled with a hen. Then a blue flash of light pierced through the slats and open door of the henhouse.

Then the silence.

I felt weightless and air was sucked from my lungs. Moments later, the earth shook in a great wave and it knocked me to the ground.  I was suddenly hot.

From far away I heard Mother scream. Father and I scrambled to our feet and ran out of the henhouse. He continued to run toward Mother’s scream, but I stopped in my tracks, looking up, staring. A mushroom-shaped cloud filled the sky. I choked on a foul odor in the air—acrid electricity.

Just when Father ran through the door of our teetering house, the frame holding up our roof crumbled, crashing down on him. Kosuke called out him, but Father’s head had been crushed under the fallen structure. Horrified, lips trembling, I watched Father’s shoulders, arms and legs jerk.

Dirt and debris from our home swirled in the air while the chickens squawked and screamed. “I’m burning!” Kosuke screamed, and he dropped to his knees outside the chicken coop. “Make it stop!  It hurts!” Kosuke flapped his arms like the chickens flapped their wings. His reddened skin was slick with sweat and his black hair had turned gray—the color of ash.

The heat caused random hotspots where fires burst out of thin air on the ground. Several of our chickens spontaneously combusted, exploding like firecrackers. The flaming chickens continued to run and one of them darted into the henhouse, setting it ablaze.

Kosuke burst into flame.

I passed out.

When I awoke, my head hurt, and I thought maybe something had hit me on the head. I looked over at the charred body of Kosuke. Smoke wisped from his form as I stared at him. I cried, but the heat dried my tears before they ran down my cheeks.

I stood, slowly, and walked toward Kosuke. His ashen statue was still kneeling, arms caught in mid-flap. I looked toward Father, under our home. Mother was certainly dead. What do I do? Where do I go? As a twelve year old boy, I had no idea what had just happened. For all I knew, it could have been the gods’ revenge against the Divine Emperor.

It was 1945; the Empire was at war with America and aerial bombings were frequent. I started to suspect this might have been an attack. How am I still alive?

Dazed, the only thing I knew to do was to start walking; in school and at home we had been told where the Red Cross aid stations were and how to get there. Along the way, I passed many burning houses, the dead and the dying. The grilled squid we loved to eat so much, that’s what the burnt people smelled like. Their dusty-white skin reminded me of ghosts. Clothing and flesh dangled from them like rags.

I came upon a river filled with bodies. They must have either been blown into the water by the blast, or jumped in to escape the heat.

I didn’t care if the river was tainted—I was hot. I waded into its murkiness, but it was not the relief I had hoped for. “Help,” I heard. The plea sounded soft, defeated, and nearby. A woman floated by on her back, her face above water, mouth open. Long black hair swam out behind her. On second glance, it was not her hair. Her burnt skin had swelled and burst in the water, then peeled off her body, gliding behind her in a dark wave. “Help,” she said again. Her eyes were swollen shut.  With pity and relief that she could not see me and accuse me in the afterlife, I waded away from her.