Momma Dead

Mayumi Yoshida (27)

I have written this for the sake of my older sister, Yuriko, who has suffered a fate more cruel than death. I have written in the hope that no other children like Yuriko, who is incapable of speaking in a human voice for herself, are born into this world.

Yuriko is one of twenty-two cases of severe microcephaly caused in fetuses whose mothers were exposed at close range to radiation from the atomic bomb. She limps because both pelvic joints are dislocated. She has a speech disorder. Her body is the size of a middle-school pupil, though she is thirty-six. Her mental abilities are arrested at the level of a two-year-old. She is a baby when it comes to taking care of herself. She is incapable of taking a bath, going to the toilet, or doing anything else unassisted. For more than thirty years, while raising three other children, my mother never missed a day caring for Yuriko, which was especially trying during Yuriko's menstruation period.

Yuriko has emotions. She smiles when she is happy and pouts when she is displeased. When she is out of sorts, she can be made to smile again by telling her the story of a television movie.

Television movies are her greatest joy, and she is never without motion-picture photographs from the newspaper or some magazine. Of course, she cannot read, but she finds pleasure in looking at the pictures, and takes the magazines or papers with her into the bath and to bed at night. I suppose she thinks of nothing else from the time she wakes till she falls asleep. After watching her glued to the television and poring over movie magazines for more than twenty years, I have grown accustomed to her. Still, lately, I am sometimes overwhelmed with grief and pity for her and feel a sudden impulse to hold her in my arms.

Why has she been condemned to such a condition? Life is given equally to all. Who was it that twisted and deformed my sister's life this way?

On the day of the bombing, Mother was happily anticipating Yuriko's birth. But, then, in a flash of fiendish light, the bomb invaded even the sanctity of the womb and led a mother, an unborn daughter, a whole family down a long path of suffering.

Some houses were being dismantled at Nishi Daiku-machi, 730 meters from the hypocenter, on the morning of August 6, 1945. Mother, who was taking part in the work, had her baby boy, Masaaki, strapped to her back. Since she had a child to look after, she was given the light job of preparing lunches for the others. Just after she stepped under the eaves of the hut where the lunches were to be prepared, she was temporarily blinded by a sudden flash of light. When she had recovered the use of her eyes, she was amazed to find that both the buildings and the fifty workers who had been there just seconds earlier had vanished. Mother had been saved because she had stepped under the eaves of the hut.

As she looked about, Mother saw an immense fire heading in her direction. Forgetting about home and how things were there, she joined a frantic group of people fleeing toward the mountains. Before long a drizzle of black rain began falling. Mother dashed for cover in a tool shed that had survived in the middle of a field. But the shed was filled with other bomb victims, and Mother was forced to find what shelter she could in the doorway. From time to time, she was startled by the roar of explosions, some nearby, some further away.

Thinking that this would be a good time to nurse Masaaki, Mother took him down from her back, only to find that countless slivers of glass were buried in his bloody head. She could barely keep from crying as she thought of the poor child huddled against her back, too frightened even to cry. Gingerly she picked out as many pieces of glass as she could, but some were too small.

After the rain stopped, Mother put Masaaki on her back again and started for home. The only things left standing were three metal barber chairs (Father was a barber) and the bathtub, all burned red from exposure to the heat. Her mother-in-law and her oldest daughter, Yaeko, had been at home when the bomb fell. Praying for their safety, Mother set out in the direction of Enami Primary School to look for them.

As it happened, she met them on the way. Grandmother's lip was swollen and bleeding from a cut she received when the house collapsed. But she was not burned. After the blast, Grandmother had found Yaeko crying under the entranceway floorboards, and had pulled her out. Miraculously, Yaeko had not suffered so much as a scratch.

After two days of living in an air-raid shelter, Mother decided to take the two children and return to her family home in Otake. Grandmother went back to her family in Mihara.

Though apparently uninjured, Mother fell ill a week later. Bloody pus oozed from her gums and her teeth came loose. She was nauseous and suffered from diarrhea and bloody fluxes. When her mother tried combing her hair, it came out in handfuls. Masaaki had diarrhea and was placed in bed beside Mother.

No one knew of atomic-radiation sickness at the time, and the local doctor treated Mother and Masaaki for stomach trouble. On August 29, Masaaki died, but his name is not listed among the atomic-bomb victims since the cause of death was reported as gastric obstruction.

For a while the doctor thought Mother would also die. But a neighbor said that she should drink an antidote to the poison she had taken in during the atomic bombing. From that day on, Mother drank a beverage made of boiled persimmon leaves. She did this every day until there were finally no more leaves on the persimmon tree. Whatever the reason, Mother gradually got better. In spite of her weakened condition, she had escaped miscarriage, and the child growing in her womb was some consolation for Masaaki's death.

I think it was five or six years before her death that Mother began complaining of pains in her back and increased the number of shiatsu massages she was receiving. This was the beginning of her struggle with the monster known as atomic-radiation sickness.

Putting up with her own pain, she never slackened in her attention to Yuriko. She said that she was the only person who understood Yuriko's needs. Certainly, after thirty years of life together, Mother could instinctively tell whether Yuriko wanted a new movie magazine or needed to go to the toilet.

The gravity of Mother's sickness came as a shock to all of us. In June of the year that she died, she went to a hospital for the first time and had X-rays taken. We were told that the lower part of her spine had been seriously damaged by a condition known as lumbar spinal deformation. A little later she complained of pains in her chest and side. Injections and plasters were tried, but her condition only worsened. Then X-rays showed that two of her ribs were broken.

In July the director of the hospital recommended that Mother have a thorough physical examination at a national hospital. But Mother decided against it, probably because she was worried about what would happen to Yuriko without her.

Walking became increasingly difficult. In October more X-rays showed that cancer had attacked her thigh bones, ankles, and scull. The doctor again suggested to Father that Mother be examined at a national hospital.

When Father told me that Mother had cancer, I felt as if someone had hit me on the head with a hammer. It was as if something had come crashing down inside me. Of course, we did not let Mother know.

The doctor cautioned us that Mother's bones were gradually dissolving and becoming so fragile that, ultimately, they would break from the exertion of walking. We were told to keep her in bed as much as possible, and the idea of a physical examination at a national hospital was abandoned. Mother was too weak for surgery, and there was no need to submit her to undue suffering and mental distress.

It was at this time that Mother entered the hospital for the last time. Her legs were very weak, but for a while she was able to go to the toilet adjacent to her room if she were helped. But before long even this became impossible, and the nurses put a bedpan at the head of her bed.

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