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"Grandpa! Your leg! What happened?"
4.Starting over as a Hibakusha
Living the life of a Hibakusha
Though I had always tried to hide the fact that I once was exposed to the atomic bomb's radiation, I resumed attending meetings of the Atomic Bomb Youth and Maidens Association, more often than before. I was learning, through discussions with other Hibakusha, that the scale of the damage was beyond my imagination. What we had experienced in common must have been hell itself. I was not the only one who had experienced that. The moment we were burned, and all our lives after that. I was surprised at the way Hibakusha talk about what they experienced. Some of them spoke endlessly in tears, about the things they might want to hide forever. I could not see why they spoke about such things in such a manner. I also spoke about myself to Mr. Hamatani and his students, partly because I wanted them to understand that I had had such hardship. I think I have some other unknown motives for speaking out about my past.
As I visited the Hibakusha organization frequently, I became tempted to write about myself. As I saw my colleagues pass away one after another; I thought I had to write an autobiography. I did not think that my children would understand if I talk about my life. And I might not be able to live for 30 more years. It must be important to write and describe how savage a nuclear attack can be. I did not know if I had enough time for that.
I collapsed in the summer of 1991. I had thought that I was remarkably healthy. I fell down when I was watching a baseball game early in the morning. An ambulance carried me to Saint Francisco Hospital. The doctor suspected that I had angina. I was shocked to learn that my heart was weakening. However, that was something I had anticipated. I had worked so hard for most of my life. And I thought the end was coming soon.
While staying in the hospital, I began to feel a kind of relief. I thought "Whatever will be . Things are going to be all right." I had very little money, and I began to think about how I should survive. I was released from the hospital after 4 days. Then I felt uneasy again. Was it because I thought about death? I had thought about it so long before, though. I was surprised to find myself thinking that I had to do something meaningful for the others. If my life span is quite limited, I have to start something
In 1992, I traveled to Okinawa to take part in a seminar held by the Kyushu branch of Hidankyo, the Japan Confederation of A-and H-bomb Sufferers' Organizations. I hesitated to take days off. However, I decided to go, because my heart problem had taught me that my time could be limited. It was my first excursion since my school trip in junior high school.
It was also my first flight. "Where is the toilet?" I asked another person in my group. After a while…"You came back so quickly." "I couldn't use it, because I didn't know how to open the door." Those who heard that laughed. I was so anxious during the flight. I wondered if the wheels are ready when the airplane was about to land. After it hit the ground, I worried what might happen if it failed to stop.
Okinawa in November was very beautiful, with blue mountains, the sea, bright colored flowers, and simple, unaffected people. It was so dreadful to think about how everything had been destroyed 47 years before. I saw a lot of ruins and scars left by the battle; bullet marks, dark bloodstains, charcoaled rocks and so on. I went back to Nagasaki with a lot of unforgettable memories.
On December 28, I had a phone call.
"Is this Mr. Komine?"
"Yes. Who's calling?"
"This is Matsunaga (fictitious name). I was your classmate in elementary school. I hope you are fine."
I could not identify the caller. Was it Miss Matsunaga who used to go to ABCC with me? The phone had been cut off. On December 31, she called me again.
"Are you the one who went to ABCC with me?"
"Yes, I am. Didn't you remember that when I called you the other day? I'd like to see you, though I'm going back to Tokyo tomorrow."
"Can you wait at about ten at a coffee shop called Hiiragi in Hamaguchi?"
I could not figure out why she insisted on seeing me.
At the coffee shop.
"Hi, this is Komine. Long time no see. How long ago did we last see each other?"
The lady had a quite elegant urban atmosphere. However, it was far from the little girl I remembered.
"Are you really Miss Matsunaga? I can't believe you are the one."
"I am. Mr. Komine, Your face reminds me of the one I saw. In the first year of school, in winter, I was watching you. I felt pity. I couldn't speak to you, but I was worried about you. I moved to Shizuoka because my father was transferred. I thought you had died. When I heard your voice a couple of days ago, I thought I must see you."
I talked about how I had lived. I was surprised at myself, talking about my life. It must have been the first time for me to do that. And the woman wept for me. That was something I had not experienced before.
"I'm married. I have two children. I'm visiting Nagasaki for my grandmother's funeral."
"You seem to be leading a happy life. Your husband knows that you are one of the atomic bomb survivors, doesn't he?"
After a little pause, she replied. "I haven't told him that. I can't. I just can't."
I did not know what to say. This lady also bears her cross. How sad! Did I ask her something I shouldn't have asked? The atomic bomb shuts the mouths of those who suffer from the wounds. Some people may say, "Komine! You could have lived a better life. If you were wiser, your wife and children might be leading a better life." I know that. How I regret that I cannot behave differently! I often tell myself to do something better. However, if it had not been for the atomic bomb, I could have lived quite differently. I was thinking about a lot of things in confusion when she said. "Thank you Komine for seeing me tonight. Here's my address in Tokyo."
I refused to receive her address by saying, "I don't think I would go to Tokyo. I don't need to know your family name. When you visit Nagasaki, I'll be happy to see you again."
I left the coffee shop. Probably, such a sentiment of Hibakusha is understood only by Hibakusha. I can never forget that meeting.
After that, I started to think about a lot of things and I got confused. The meeting was something emotional. After cooling down, I thought about the fact that atomic bomb survivors had been completely neglected by the government for 12 long years until the medical care system for Hibakusha was established in 1957. So many of us suffered from sickness and poverty. Without enough money to see a doctor, and being unable to work, many suffered and died. Some committed suicide. Left alone, after losing brothers sisters and parents, Hibakusha survived in misery and pain.
Ayako Okumura once said to me, "Komine-san, I know that you suffered like hell from the burns. But you had people to take care of you and think about you. You were given at least the same share of food as the people around you. My case is quite different. I was left alone when I was 8. I lost my memory and kept on crying at my relatives." She said she could not come to terms with her past even after 50 years.
Maybe, Hibakusha should talk about their lives and speak out for themselves.