Testimonies

Helpless

Kimiko Tanaka

JULY AND AUGUST are hot. The midsummer sun beats down mercilessly on all living creatures. At such times, I find it difficult to get out of bed. My room is stifling. Perspiration drenches my underclothes, and I am reminded of the day the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. I was twenty-eight and was living at Shiroyama, about nine hundred meters from the hypocenter.

Everything around me was scorched, desolate. Blackened, grotesquely disfigured corpses lay strewn on the ground. They emitted a foul, low-hanging stench. Some people, not quite dead, twitched their arms and legs and cried for water. The river was thick with bloated bodies floating toward the sea. The wind carried ghastly odors. Still today, indelible recollections of these things send a shudder through my whole body.

On the morning of August 9, 1945, thinking that, since the air-raid alert was over, I would wash and prepare some noodles for breakfast, I went into the garden for water. As I dipped a ladle in a large earthenware jug, something blinding flashed overhead. The impact of the explosion hurled me into the water in the storage jug. I pulled myself out, to see a yellow haze and smoke billowing into the sky. Suddenly something struck a hammer blow to the back of my head. I was aware of losing consciousness and of a burning sensation, as if my body were being seared by a sheet of red-hot iron.

I do not know how many hours passed before I regained consciousness. But the first thing I did was to try to find my son Isao, who was only two and a half years old. He had been playing with my husband's mother a little while before I had been struck unconsious.

In the immediate neighborhood had lived many of our relatives. My son and I lived with my mother. Next door was the house of my younger brother and his wife; and my husband's mother and her married grandson lived not far away. The bomb had completely flattened the homes of these people and all the other buildings for as far as I could see in the swirling smoke.

The first person I found was my mother, roasted and completely bald, but still alive. Next I discovered my sister. Blood spurted from a cleft in her head that looked as if it might have been made with an ax. But she too was still alive.

Placing my hands on my own head, in an instant I found myself clutching all my hair, which had come off as if it had been a wig. Still, I was more fortunate than many. My younger brother, who had been working in front of a nearby cattle shed, was dead, armless and still standing. His wife lay sprawled on the earthen floor of a room in the wreckage of her house. Her body had been cut in two.

Nowhere could I find my son. I discovered my husband's mother. The blast had blown her a distance of ten meters. But still I could not locate Isao.

After five hours, during which my grievously injured mother and sister joined me in the search, we finally found my child under a pile of debris, lying with his head beside a stone mortar. He was alive; but his body was covered with burns and cuts, and the back of his head was virtually smashed in. Only two years old.

Lifting him gently, I started for the Urakami River, which flowed nearby. I wanted to wash him. On the way, I saw two little boys, brothers, who had lived near us. They had probably been playing on the bridge when the blast struck. They still stood there clinging to the rails. Their faces were burned beyond recognition. In agony they pleaded with me to help them. I wanted to give them assistance. But I was carrying Isao, for whom I had to find medical help. All I could say as I looked in their pleading eyes was, "Forgive me. There is nothing I can do."

When Isao regained consciousness the following day, he asked whether the air-raid alert had ended.

In the chaotic days following the bombing, medicine and doctors were unavailable. I tried to care for Isao myself; but in about two weeks the back of his head was a mass of rotting flesh, bone fragments, and pus. Frantic, I went to Oita Prefecture to ask for help from my relatives. They turned a deaf ear to my entreaties when they learned that I was short of money. Having accomplished nothing, I returned to Nagasaki.

While I was in Oita, my husband, an army surgeon, visited me. I was bald, and the burns I had suffered had made my mouth look like a pig snout. My appearance must have shocked him greatly. Though he promised to return for me soon, I never saw or heard from him again. Not only did the accursed bomb kill, it also severed bonds among the living.

My son's condition grew steadily worse. Pain forced him to call out to me for relief. I was helpless. I could not even provide good things for him to eat. Food was too scarce. Often I longed to take his sufferings upon myself. I contemplated holding him in my arms and jumping in front of an oncoming train. But always a little spark of hope for his recovery prevented my doing anything drastic. But my hope was to be betrayed. On February 14, 1946, as I begged him to forgive my inability to do anything for him, my son died.

That same year, my mother died. My sister lived on for another fifteen years.

My own existence became one of continual trial. My hair had all fallen out, my gums bled, and I lost so much weight that I looked like a living skeleton. Still, I survived. What made me cling to life? A sense of mission to inform all the peoples of the world of the horrors caused by the atomic bomb. This is the only way I can take revenge against both the war and the bomb for wrecking my life and for taking the lives of my son, my mother, my brother, and my sister.

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