I woke up earlier than usual, which was strange as I had no work today. The sun was just beginning to rise, the predawn gloom softening from dark to soft pink and light blue hues. The air was cool and calm and the trees rustled peacefully in the slight breeze. Life seemed to have awarded me with an early start today so I rose, stretched my aging muscles and bones and put on some green tea. My house was, as always, immaculate, but I still found things to fuss over. I carefully, minutely shifted the cherry blossom tapestry on my wall and stepped back to observe it. The beautiful woven tapestry had been my wife’s favourite gift. Whenever I looked at it, it reminded me of her and made me smile.
Once my tea was done, I sat on my small patio and sipped it gratefully, reading from a small book of haiku I had procured at a market many moons ago, its spine well creased.
Sufficiently revived from slumber, though still needing food, I decided to visit my daughter and my grandson. Although the hour was early, their family were early risers, for my son-in-law was a businessman, and young children always have a habit of rising early. I brought with me the little paper bird I’d been making for my grandson, Akira. He had a fascination with them at the moment, so I decided to give him a gift.
I put on my robe and my sandals and departed.
The tram lines were busy at the early hour, full of commuters travelling to work in the city centre. I was glad today to not be one of them. The brightly coloured people talked the loudest, while the ones in their dour suits sat and stared at the window as though marching towards their doom.
I was glad that my retirement was near. I had had enough of working for a lifetime. It was near the time now where my family looked after me as I had them, and I try to share my wisdom with them before I am gone.
I hopped off the tram at the stop just before my daughter’s district. There was a teahouse here that sold delicious miso and tofu soup, just what an old man’s chilled bones needed.
I grinned as I entered the teahouse.
The familiar sight of grey-green uniforms greeted me and I bowed my head to each of them as I passed. I had served myself many years ago in the first World War and I would know some of these young men’s grandfathers who served with me.
The thin, older lady at the counter greeted me with warmth and a warm smile as she served me my usual. Word was that she fancied me, but I could not imagine being with anyone else other than Mikeru. She had been the one.
I sat at a table by myself and quietly slurped my soup, listening to the officers discuss the War.
“The Americans are planning an invasion, a large one, to try to stop our support of the Germans,” said a young man with a moustache.
An older gentleman, perhaps a veteran of the last war if his hard face was anything to gauge by, spoke.
“The Americans will launch an attack but our troops are superior and our sea borders are well guarded. They would pay for it dearly in blood if they tried to storm our shores,” he said calmly.
We’d fought with the Americans before and admired their weaponry, but they lacked the honour and rigid structure of our culture. There was a sturdiness in honor and order.
“Apparently they are aiming for here and Osaka,” said another, slurping his soup loudly.
“Hiroshima doesn’t have that many military targets here currently. Most of them are out fighting,” said the fourth.
“We are in charge of the defence of the south. If the 2nd Army falls, the south will be open to an invasion. American troops can take control of the rivers and gain entry inland. We are a primary target military wise,” corrected the veteran.
“But there are too many civilians living here to warrant a full attack.”
“They will bomb us, no doubt, but the damage will not be so severe as to completely destroy the city,” said the veteran.
“They’re Americans though. Do you really think they wouldn’t kill civilians if it meant they would win the war?”
“They are men, just like us. Any good general knows that innocent blood mustn’t be spilt if other alternatives are available. An attack will come, mark my words, but we will recover. Still, I will get a radio broadcast put out warning people of potential bombing threats. We are all well-versed in what to do now,” the veteran said, heaving himself up. The others stood, thanked the lady behind the till and trooped out.
I finished my soup and sat there, pondering a while.
This time, I was grateful, the war had not touched my family. There was no grief-striken mother to console as only one of her sons came home, no father to watch as he became a little more hollow, a little more shrivelled.
Akira was too young to be conscripted and he would grow up outside of the shadow of this war. My son-in-law had a slight limp, a remnant of a childhood injury so he had not been conscripted, much to his dismay. My daughter was secretly delighted. He instead worked in the communications office which dealt with much of the war effort so he was content.
They were all spared my nightmares.
I thanked the lady who smiled coyly at me again and began the short walk to my daughter’s house.
I mulled over what the officers had said and wondered if I should move my daughter and her family away from Hiroshima for a while, at least until the Americans had turned their eyes from us. There were still small towns a short distance that would welcome anyone paying. Then there were some of the larger estates, like those owned by the Baron, who might consent to housing a family for a small price. My daughter would agree, my son-in-law would not. He was too proud, too patriotic and had an open disdain for the Americans.
But I would try to convince them. I wanted them as untouched by the war as I could keep them.
I knocked on the sturdy wooden door of my daughter’s house and waited. The sun had pulled itself higher and I could see the faint glint of the Ota River and smell its slightly salty, and unpleasant, smell.
The door opened and my daughter emerged, looking wide and awake and already flustered.
“Father!” she said, and managed a weary but warm smile.
She leaned in to give me a hug and I breathed in her warm scent. She reminded me so much of my wife, the warmth of the earth evident in her.
“Come in. We are just all about to eat and then Ozuru has to rush to work,” she said, stepping aside and letting me into her small but homely house.
Akira was already bouncing of the walls and he squealed in joy as he pumped his little five year old feet to race towards me.
“Grandpa!” he shouted.
I laughed and picked him up, whirling him around, although I’ll admit he was getting a little harder to pick up now.
“My how you’ve grown! You’re becoming a big boy now!” I exclaimed and ruffled his jet-black hair.
He beamed and grinned, showing a missing tooth.
“Go and eat your breakfast and then I have a present for you,” I said to him.
He rushed off to the table and sat there.
“Good morning, Hikaru,” said Ozuru as he emerged from the bedroom. Tall and rather solidly built, he had fairer features than my family and I as befit someone of the water. They were a good match - water and earth.
“Good morning,” I said politely.
I sat myself down in the chair and watched the little family. Akira was impatiently waiting for his food while Ozuru gently kissed his wife on the cheek then turned on the radio.
“…to stay inside and be aware for the sirens. The Americans have issued a statement with their intent to attack Hiroshima…”
“Bah! We’ve weathered worse than them,” Ozuru said dismissively.
“Don’t underestimate them. I fought with them, and what they may lack in honour and order, they do not lack in intelligence. They love their weapons,” I cautioned.
Ozuru looked at me sideways and I could sense his slight distaste for the fact I had served with those how were now our enemy. But I had not chosen our allies.
“Either way, any bombs they drop will be mainly aimed at the garrison. Anyone living near there would be wise to relocate for a while until we win this war,” he said.
“Would you think of relocating Sunari and Akira until we are sure it is safe in Hiroshima?” I asked him cautiously.
He looked at me and scoffed.
“I will not leave. My country needs me and we are safe here. Our house is part brick, not wood, so it will withstand any blasts alright. And like I said, we are too far from the garrison for us to really be in any trouble,” he said.
“You don’t know where they are going to bomb. They are getting desperate to win this war. It has already dragged out for too long,” I argued.
“We know roughly where they are going to bomb, if indeed they do. I don’t think that we are in any danger,” he said, making his cup of coffee while Sunari remained silent.
“Food! Food!” shouted Akira.
Sunari smiled and set the table with three plates, knowing my penchant for the teahouse, and served the food. Ozuru downed his coffee, shovelled a few spoonfuls into his mouth and then checked his watch.
“I have to get going. I’ll be home on time today, I promise,” he said, giving each of them a kiss.
He looked at me and sighed.
“I understand your concern, Hikaru, I do. But Japan is strong. Let them throw whatever they want at us. We will survive and come out stronger. We always do.”
“Even iron breaks if it is bent hard enough,” I replied.
He left and Sunari looked at me.
“Are you really worried?” she asked me.
“I am. I think you and Akira should leave the city and go somewhere into the country. There will be no attack there as there are no advantages to be gained. You would be safe,” I said.
“Safe where exactly? Where would we go? What would we need to take? How would we get there as we own no means of transportation outside the city?” she asked.
“I don’t know. There are towns, there are the Baron’s estates. You would have to decide that, once you got your husband to agree,” I said.
“I doubt that will happen,” she said tiredly. “He does not believe the danger.”
“It is war. There is always danger.”
They ate in silence, while I sat there watching, wondering what to do.
My bones were aching and I felt as though I had spent my whole life at war, although it was really only a handful of years. Still, war leaves scars. Always.
Sunari cleared away the plates and sent Akira off to wash up. I sat and looked around and smiled when I saw the photo of my wife and I hanging on her wall. Sunari and her mother had not always gotten along, but in the end they had reconciled and I was glad.
They returned a little while after, Akira in his school uniform.
“My, my, don’t you look handsome,” I said, and heaved him up to sit on my lap.
I pulled the carefully folded bird out of my pocket and held it out to him.
“Oooh birdy!” he exclaimed and reached out to grab it.
“Now, be careful with it as it’s very delicate. But this is Kurēn, the Crane. So long as you carry him, you will have good luck!” I said.
He touched it reverently then threw his arms around my neck.
“Thank you, grandpa!” he said.
I laughed and gave him a kiss.
We all began walking towards the door to leave when a sudden, blaring noise pierced the morning. Sunari and I exchanged horrified looks.
“What is that sound, mummy?” Akira asked.
Sunari paled like snow on the ground.
“Planes,” she whispered.
I grabbed her and Akira and pushed them to hide under the table, pushing it up against the fridge. If the fridge moved it wouldn’t crush the table and would perhaps add an extra layer of metal protection. I closed the curtains to prevent some glass raining through if the windows shattered then dragged the chairs to cover the front of the table to stop as much rubble flying through as I could.
“Mummy, what is happening?” Akira said, terror beginning to seep into the child.
“Just hold onto me, Akira. Everything will be okay,” she said.
Her brown eyes stared up at me from the shadows and I saw she didn’t know whether to believe those words or not.
“Ozuru,” she whispered.
I grimaced as I realized that Ozuru was heading towards the communications office, one of the areas he had said would be hit.
“I’m sure he’ll be fine,” I said, trying to make it sound convincing.
The tears welling up in her eyes told me I’d failed.
I peeked out the window to see if there were any signs of planes. Within a few moments, I heard the telltale drone high above and I waited to see if I could see what direction they were going.
I hoped they didn’t decide to drop it right on our heads.
Another minute passed and I finally saw the tiny dots above in the clear sky that were the American planes. They had passed over us and were heading towards the other side of the river where many bridges spanned the banks. I breathed a sigh of relief. Perhaps we would escape the biggest effects of the blast. I still felt a pang of worry for Ozuru. We may not particularly get along, but he was a good father and Sunari loved him.
I waited to see where they dropped the bomb, but even my undimmed sight couldn’t spot something so small.
Then it happened.
A blaze of light appeared midair above one of the stone, domed structures. At first, I thought it was a spot in my vision but it grew larger and brighter and my whole world became white with intensity of it. Even with my eyelids jammed shut, it was like I was staring into the sun.
I could hear Akira and Sunari screaming my name but I was blind. I think I screamed too.
Then I was hit with a blast so strong it felt as though my flesh was being seared from my bones, that the world was crumbling around me, sweeping me off my feet and hurling me upon wings of fire.
Then there was nothing.
I crawled to my feet, blind with the white light. I sensed my body was damaged beyond repair but I could feel nothing, see nothing, hear nothing.
After an eternity, the white light faded somewhat and I managed to open my eyes. Or were they open? I remembered standing in Sunari’s house, with Akira. Where were they? I turned, or tried to, but my body had other ideas. I collapsed on the ground again. My eyes managed to make out a tall shape of bricks. A wall. Where was the roof? On the ground? There it was. Was that the charred remains of a table...I looked for a sign of the sun in the sky, as surely it was still only early morning, not almost night. I could not find it. Perhaps it had fallen out of the sky in that blinding flash of light.
I lay there, grey settling over everything. There was silence. I don’t know why. Hiroshima is always a loud, busy city.
Ash. Everything was ash. Ash from fire. Fire in the sky, blinding light, sound, plane, sirens…
In a final moment of clarity, I realised.
The horror registered somewhere deep inside and I realised why I couldn’t find the sun.
The blackness began coming back against the brightness still seared to my eyelids.
“The sun has set in the East, casting this grey night. Now it rises over the West, for they held the Sun in their hands and ended us.”