Glass Reminders

Masako Okawa

As if from far away, the faint voice of my mother called, "Masako! Masako! Where are you?"

Where was I? What had happened to me? My head throbbed heavily. Pain first stabbed then suddenly stopped, leaving me as light as a feather. My head did not seem to be my own. I was crammed into a tiny black space, all alone. Something dripped from my head.

Once again, I heard my mother's weak voice. This time, I answered, "Mother, I'm here. Where are you?"

"Thank heaven, you're alive. Are you hurt?"

"It's so dark here, and I can't move."

After a while, I raised my hand to my head. Then a ray of light filtered in from somewhere. Frantically I pushed aside dirt, boards, roofing tiles, and other debris, finally extricating myself. Sudden bright sunlight after the darkness of my prison shocked my eyes.

Still more shocking was what I beheld. Our house had collapsed. As far as I could see, only the ferroconcrete Nagasaki Medical College was still standing; and flames were pouring from its windows.

I was a child of eight on August 9, 1945, when the atom bomb was dropped on Nagasaki.

Mother and my two younger sisters were still buried under the wreckage that had been our house. "I'm out!" I shouted. My mother heard me and asked how I was. For the first time since breaking free, I examined myself. The raw flesh of my arms was exposed. Something hung over one of my ears. I tried to push it away. It was a piece of my scalp. A big gash ran from above my left eye to the top of my head, and the substance that had been dripping over me was my own blood. My face, abdomen, and legs were covered with cuts. I found movement difficult. The only thing I could do was whimper to my mother for help.

Finally she and my sisters were pulled from the heap of debris. As we hurried to the open space of a cemetery for foreigners, we heard piteous pleas for help from the burning wreckage around us. But everyone who could was fleeing and paid no heed.

Heaps of dead and injured filled the cemetery. People who remained alive cried out in anguish for water. At stagnant, blood-covered pools, human beings swarmed like ants around sugar. No matter how foul, the water was welcome to victims of the atom bomb.

My grandmother used to frighten me with stories of the flames and tormenting needles that I would suffer in hell if I were not good. But I had tried to be good, and yet I was being forced to endure the pain of hell while still alive. What had the good woman next door done to deserve being trapped in the flaming wreck of her house? What had any of us done?

After our night of trying to sleep on the bare ground, someone from my mother's home village of Miemura found us and led us back with him. Everyone who saw me said I would be lucky to live another day. I was the only one of the four of us to survive.

Though she suffered only an injury in the leg, a month later, my mother died, mad. One after another, my two small sisters, apparently uninjured, followed her.

Though I grew stronger, I was disfigured. All the hair had fallen from my head, and children embarrassed me horribly with taunting cries of "Baldy! Baldy!"

In March of the following year, my soldier father, repatriated from Taiwan, returned to Nagasaki and remarried. But my hopes for a new, peaceful existence were to be frustrated by the battle for life ordained for all victims of the atomic diseases, which killed thousands and doomed thousands more to limitless days in sickbeds and hopelessness. At first, I seemed completely healthy, but I could never be sure I was safe.

The shame of my disfigurement tormented me constantly. Scores of tiny fragments of glass picked from my face had left visible scars. These and other scars turned blue-black, like tattoos. The gash extending from above my left eye to the top of my head healed by forming a grotesque lump of flesh. My classmates jeered and called me "a mess" and "a monster." Some people laughed when they passed me on the streets. Others were kinder and asked me why I did not wash the ink off my face. I repeatedly put to myself the question, "What have I done to warrant this punishment?" Like other women, I wanted to be pretty and admired. The sight that greeted me in the mirror offered no consolation in my misery.

After graduating from junior high school, I began to notice the appearance of symptoms of the dread atomic disease: periodic nausea, low blood pressure, hypersensitivity to cold, internal hemorrhage, and purple spots on my arms and legs. Though the spots disappeared, they usually returned in a few days to inspire me with horror of the day when my entire body would be covered with them and I would die.

Ostensibly dedicated to the welfare of humanity, but perverted by wicked leaders, science and technology created the atomic bomb. Today, in spite of their sophistication, science and technology continue to fail to evolve a cure for the diseases caused by atom-bomb radiation. The splinters of glass still embedded in the flesh of my arms are tiny witnesses to the tragedy resulting from the perversion of human knowledge.

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