The Illness That Followed

Mitsuko Hatano

ONE OF MY elder brothers was killed in action during World War II. Shortly after his death, my father fell ill; and I left Hiroshima, where I had been working with an elder sister, and returned home to care for him. At first, I worked at the Yokogawa Station of the Sanyo Main Line of the National Railways; but later I transferred to the Ibaraichi Station on the Geibi Line, which was closer to our home.

On August 6, 1945, I reported to work at the customary time. As one of the other station workers and I sat talking, we suddenly heard an eerie, infernal roaring sound. The stationmaster and some of the others began shouting.

"Incendiary bombs on Kabe!"

"Look at that cloud."

Rushing to the window, I saw a gigantic cloud mushrooming upward into the sky. One of the workers who had been cleaning the station yard called, "I saw a flash of light just before the explosion.'

"But it's not Kabe. It must have been Yokogawa Station."

"No. Much closer. Maybe it was Yaga."

The freight train from Hiroshima, due at our station at nine in the morning, pulled in several hours late. The engineer, grotesquely burned and bleeding, gasped, "Hiroshima! Wiped out completely!"

He was the first victim we saw, but the passenger train that arrived next brought more. Most of them were people I should have recognized. They were daily commuters between our station and Hiroshima. But they were so burned, so disfigured, and in such anguish that they scarcely seemed human. Their charred and blackened faces were all anonymous. Peeled skin hung in strips from their bodies. Many of them were unable to walk to the ticket gate. While a relative was saying, "You're at home at last; you're back now," one gravely injured man nodded and died. Much has been written about Hiroshima, but no words can describe the horrors and suffering we witnessed on that day and on succeeding days.

My elder sister had remained working in Hiroshima when I returned to live in our family home. My mother and father and I were frantic with worry about her. But all lines of communication were severed. We could do nothing but wait. Still, days passed without word. Finally, I decided to go to Hiroshima to look for her. My bedridden father could not go with me, but a neighbor, who was searching for someone herself, offered to accompany me.

Both of us were familiar with Hiroshima as it had been, but we were unprepared for the total desolation we encountered. None of the familiar landmarks were standing. The only identifiable feature was the Inland Sea in the distance. We wandered aimlessly, unable to know where we were or where we ought to go, until hunger and the blazing summer sun overcame us.

Over thirty years have passed; but I am still haunted by the city of debris, mounds of corpses, and skeletal remains of buildings. Near a place called Tsurumi, I saw a half-naked, mangled mother drinking water from a broken pipe. Her face was nearly destroyed, but her infant suckled her breast, from which the skin hung in tatters.

I searched everywhere for my sister. I went to the place where her apartment had stood and to the location where her office had once been. It was in the neighborhood of what is today called the Atomic-bomb Dome, that is, at the hypocenter of the explosion. A layer of white ash covered the ruins that were all that remained. Soldiers were attempting to haul away the corpses buried in heaps of broken tiles, shattered glass, and charred wood. But the dead were too numerous for the living to attend to.

Days of searching produced no signs of my sister. Since it seemed improbable that she could have survived, I collected a few still-warm bones from the ground, wrapped them in cloth, and took them home to my waiting parents. For days, I had walked over ground where it was said grass would not grow for seventy years.

For a long time, I suffered no ill effects. In 1948, I married. I gave birth to three children and remained in apparently good health. Then, after the birth of my fourth child, I began to suffer from a strange, inexplicable illness. I became weak and debilitated and grew steadily thinner until I weighed only half my normal weight. I consulted a doctor, who told me that he would not answer for my life unless I was hospitalized at once. I did as he suggested and got better. But ever since then, the symptoms of this illness that followed Hiroshima have periodically recurred.

I have recounted my experiences here and I often discuss the matter with my children in the hope that knowledge of our sufferings can inspire the younger generations with a determination to abolish nuclear weapons and warfare.

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