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"Grandpa! Your leg! What happened?"


Going to elementary school


I survived and I was 6 years old. I was able to walk, though my right ankle did not bend. If I tried to move it, the keloid scar would often tear and bleed. I always had to be careful not to move my right ankle. Therefore, I walked leftward only, by pulling my right foot toward my left foot.

I entered Nishi-Urakami Elementary School in 1947 at the age of six. The school building was partially charred and destroyed. Window glass was not yet put in. Some wood panels were brought in to block the wind, but breezes kept blowing into classrooms. I was so delighted, full of hope, to go to school. On the first morning, hand in hand with my father, I walked under cherry blossoms, through the school gate, into school. Instantly, my hope was smashed.

I had to walk sideways as my ankle remained stiff. Mother made a big bag of about 1.3 meters for me to put on my shoulder, to carry all the necessary materials. Who could help laughing at such a boy, with a big bag, a walking stick and closely cropped hair? Some children even pointed at me and laughed aloud.

The school was about a kilometer away. It took about half an hour for a child to walk. It was quite hard for me to walk sideways through the stony path with many slopes to school; it took me about an hour. I also had to acknowledge how bizarre I looked when I walked.

One day, only once, I returned home after getting halfway to school.

"Why did you come home? What happened?" my mother questioned me.

"Mom, please understand. Everyone laughs at me. I hate to go to school." I replied.

"What are you talking about? My son, Hide, has never been that timid. Such a spineless boy is not my son!"

I clearly saw that her eyes were filled with tears. I was old enough to understand how she felt. Therefore, I kept attending school, despite all the difficulties, so as not to worry my mother again. Rainy days were particularly difficult. Mud splashed up to my head when I walked with my straw sandals.

Winter was unbearable. Nagasaki is in a relatively warm area, but we used to have 20 to 30 centimeters of snow a couple of times a year. Icy cold snow almost directly touching my foot was dreadful. With my straw sandals, I occasionally slipped, lost my balance and fell. Sure enough, my keloid scar started bleeding, leaving red spots along my footsteps on the snow. The red spots would increase and I would be drawing a red line by the time I got to school. I used to weep. The only reason why I went to school was not to see my mother sad. The only goal of the day was when I said "I'm home!" to see my mother smile at me and hear her say "I'm proud of you, Hide. It must have been hard to walk in so much snow."

On snowy days, what I had to do first in the classroom was take off my jacket to wrap my feet, which were numb with cold, until they were warm. On the third or fourth snowy morning of the year, my homeroom teacher Ms. Okubo found out what I was doing. She was a gentle person. Teardrops were falling from her eyes when she said, "You should have told me much sooner about such a serious problem.

She almost held me up and took me to the night-duty staff room, which was heated with Kotatsu, a low table covered with a quilt, with a little charcoal stove under it.

"I'm not going to put my feet under Kotatsu, because they are bleeding, Ms. Okubo." I said.

"You should have told me about this. It's quite serious." she replied.

She cleaned my bleeding feet with her own handkerchief, and persuaded me to put my legs under the Kotatsu table. Though the bleeding foot hurt more because of the heat, I couldn't refuse her kind suggestion. How happy I was to know that she was doing what she could to help me!

"Come to my house." Ms. Okubo invited me. On a Sunday, I visited her. I was surprised to find a 170-centimeter-tall man with a stern look. I couldn't believe that such a solemn man was her father. "Are you surprised? Scared? My father is a master of Kendo (Japanese swordsmanship)," she laughed and said. Her father gently said, "Come in. Come in!" Happily, I found some Botan-mochi, soft rice cake, on the table. On a desk was a small altar with a mortuary tablet and a woman's portrait photograph. "Was her mother killed by the Atomic bomb?" I wondered. Before I could ask that question, she urged me and said "Come and have some!" For the first time in my life, I tasted Botan-mochi. How nice! It was so nice, that Botan-mochi still reminds me of Ms. Okubo, each time I eat one. Her father was a Kendo instructor who taught Kendo at police stations and fire stations. I visited her quite often. Later, she was transferred to a different school, and then I heard that she got married. I learned about humanity and gentleness from Ms. Okubo and her father.

On cold nights, I was so scared. I was afraid of snowfall. I used to look out the window at night, and felt sad to find snow falling. My foot was already hurting terribly with cold. Waking up late at night, I used to find my parents still busily working by the hearth under the dim light of a humble bulb.

"It looks like snow, Mom. I don't have to go to school tomorrow morning, do I?" I repeated until she replied. However, her answer was always stern. "You must go to school."

"Please don't be so cruel. My foot aches too much." I cried, nudging my mother's shoulder. I tried to persuade her because I never wanted to go to school on snowy mornings.

Observing all that, my father would say, "Come on, crybaby. Come!" pick me up and put me on the hay in the cow shed. I spent several cold nights in the hay, crying with pain in my foot. I felt so sad and thought my parents were really cruel.

The first winter of going to school was a long, hard and painful one. One of the few happy events was that a lovely sister was born; she was named Tamae. My younger brother grew very strong. I had to be careful not to be pushed down by my 3-year-old brother.