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"Grandpa! Your leg! What happened?"
Happiness for me... like everybody else...
One of those nights, I went to a snack bar with my colleagues. I was not accustomed to drink, and I finished a few highballs, which were very well mixed and easy to drink. Sure enough, I had to go out to throw up. By that time, I was really drunk.
"Are you all right?" A girl came out from the bar and gently rubbed my back.
"I am. Will you tell the others to go on... I'm going home."
I stood up, but could not walk without holding on to something. The girl went back to the shop, saying, "Wait a moment." She came back in her red coat, and said "I'll take you home."
"No, no, you don't have to. And you are still working."
"I'm just a part-timer. I'm off now. Let's go home."
We started walking. She was kind enough to put her arm on my back and let me put my left arm on her shoulder.
"I can tell what you do as your day job. You are a hairdresser, aren't you?" I said to her.
"How did you know that? I'm still a trainee, though. My sister runs a beauty parlor where I work. She doesn't pay me enough, and I work at that shop at night. And I can tell that you are a barber."
"How did you know that?"
"I recognized your friends. They are Tokyo-do staff. So, I guessed you are their colleague. You know, there is a coffee shop on the 2nd floor, so you can come when you want to."
I waited for her to come around. Waiting sometimes causes you pain. I even dared to go to the snack bar to see her, but it was too late. She had quit. So, I began to try to give up. Who would come to see me?
A little before the New Year is the busiest season for barbers. That helped me forget about her. I was able to have a rest during the New Year holidays. My second eldest sister Toyomi was engaged. That meant she was leaving the "family umbrella."
One day in February, snow was falling restlessly from the morning. It might cover the ground by the evening. I hate snow.
I received a phone call from the coffee shop, saying "Komine-san, a lady is here to see you." I thought it might have been that girl. I went up to the second floor coffee shop and found the red coat I had seen.
I looked at her. I thought she was either 17 or 18 years old. A little bit chubby, fair-skinned, with big eyes. I recognized her. She said that her sister had gotten angry to learn about her part-time evening job, and she had not been able to go out freely, among some other things. We talked for about one hour. And she went home.
We saw each other a couple of times, and I was quite scared to notice that I was beginning to be attracted and lured. I was particularly concerned that somebody might tell her that I was a Hibakusha. It might be better if I disclose the fact by myself. I thought it was early enough for me to be dumped after the disclosure. I would endure. However, if it became too late, I thought I would be destroyed.
I was looking for the right occasion to say "I'm a Hibakusha. Does that bother you?" So many times, I lost my voice when I tried. It took more than one month before I was able to say it.
One night in March, I said, "Let me take you home."
She replied, "Yes, thank you." She agreed on my accompanying her. In early spring, it was still cold outside. If we had taken a taxi, it would have taken only 10 minutes.
"Shall we walk?" "Yeah."
I wanted to be with her for as long as possible. She looked cold while walking, so I tried to cover her shoulder with my jacket. I hoped we could walk hand in hand. I tried to touch her hand gently. Then it turned out that walking hand in hand was quite natural. However, I was feeling uneasy about my hand holding hers. She seemed all right.
So, I thought about the important thing to tell her. I was wondering when to start. She said, "We're getting close enough to the beauty parlor. I can get home alone."
"OK." I said, "By the way, this is not easy to say, but, you know, I'm Hibakusha. Does that bother you?" I needed a lot of courage for that confession.
"Not at all. It doesn't matter to me." She said. It was the first time for me to hear such a positive reply. I was completely attracted. How I wanted to hold her tightly in my arms!
The best I could do was to say, "I'll be waiting for your next phone call." I had to run away. I was 24. The girl, Noriko, was 19. It was spring 1964.
Since my meeting Noriko, something had been happening in my mind. Something frozen that I had kept was melting like snow melting into a clear stream. Then it was getting warmer and warmer. I had never felt that way. I had just imagined what gentleness, compassion and love might mean. I was just beginning to learn how wonderful it can be to love, to be loved, and to live. I always looked forward to Monday, the day off for us barbers and hairdressers. We went to the movies, to dances, and mountain walking. I realized the importance of this encounter. I was hoping that I would lead a happy life like everyone else.