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Thrower Lord Louis Mountbatten, the last British viceroy and governor general of India, was assassinated by Irish nationalists (my former countrymen), who blew up his private boat in August, 1979. Before his death, he carefully stipulated that no representative of Japan be allowed to attend his funeral services because of the atrocities committed by Japanese troops during World War II. What amazed me about this was that Mountbatten never seemed to comprehend that the Japanese paid for their war crimes when America dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He might have felt more personal gratification had Great Britain delivered the bombs, but I imagine it was easier to hate them until he died than accept the truth. I know that the Japanese answered for their sins on another August day, thirty-four years before Mountbatten's death. I know it to be true because I was there. I am there still. A searing flash of white light tore across my mind and awakened me from that most dreamless sleep. In the total darkness of the cave I'd sought shelter in, I sensed that the world outside had suddenly filled with the incomprehensible white image in my head. Next came the explosion, a blast so tremendous it overwhelmed all of my senses. Many people within the city heard the roar of it as they were engulfed. If I'd been an ordinary person, it would have ruptured my ear drums; I may have been deaf from that moment on. Then the pressure wave burst into the mountain and erupted against my body. I was thrown deeper in the cave, tumbling and flying, and there was nothing I could do to help myself. The cave shook violently, heaving and rumbling as if from a massive earthquake. Loosened earth and stones rained on me. The soil and rocks were unnaturally hot as they pummeled, covered, and completely buried me. I clawed my way toward what I believed was the mouth of the cave, uncertain as to my immediate future. In the land of the rising sun, the sun had literally risen; and She was my truest enemy. I finally broke one arm free to feel warm, rippling air against my skin, poked my head up and out, then dragged my torso and legs from the heavy rubble. I stood shaking at the cave's entrance, something I couldn't have done a few minutes ago, but the day had now inexplicably darkened. In that respect, I was fortunate. The cave was in the mountains above Gion, a northern suburb. Normally, I would have had an excellent view of the seven rivers of Hiroshima, with its principle commercial and residential districts at the center, with more suburbs and factories on the outskirts in a fan-like shape, but there was a strange miasma over the delta below. I could not see the docks nor the islanddotted Inland Sea to the east. There were some columns of black smoke and the flickers of a few fires through the intense gloom. I happened to glance upward and saw it: an enormous, turbulent tower of heated dust racing up from the city, already several miles high. Huge drops of water suddenly showered down, plopping as thick as mud, composed of condensed moisture from the tower itself that was whirling with fission fragments from the bomb. There was an ionized stench in the air, an odor I've smelled every waking moment since, not in my memory, but the actual essence of it. Physically, it was my only injury. The bomb
imprinted itself inside me, the same as it flashed people's shadows against concrete steps or granite walls, incinerating their bodies leaving what the sun had created to remember them by. The tower frightened me badly. I knew without doubt it was the sign of a widespread catastrophe, a technological wizardry I wasn't familiar with, but technology surely only the Americans could have. Airborne almost certainly, perhaps delivered by an American B-29. Yes, B-san had visited Hiroshima this morning, Mr. B, what the Japanese called the American bombers, and brought the wrath of the universe with it. Unexpected rage swept through me, because I had grown accustomed to what I had become. I no longer thought about my life as a man, but this disruptive nightmare was forcing me to reconsider a past I'd set aside as having no relevance. Ireland was officially neutral during World War II, but many Irishmen fought in the war. I was not one of them. I profited from it. In increasingly xenophobic Japan, I was a Westerner who was welcome -- far more welcome than the scattering of Catholic German or Italian priests who resided here. I was O-san to them, for O'Roarke, but the few Japanese who'd seen me recently never had time to learn that before I killed them. My name had been Daniel O'Roarke when I was human, and O-san had worked well for me with their women. One form of the prefix means big or great, as in my large white, rangy body. Japanese women were so much more compliant and accommodating than the women back home. They were curious about my blue eyes and the foreign blonde hair on my arms and chest. I loved to fuck Japanese women; I wallowed in them and they in me. It was a woman who changed me into the creature I became. I'd been whoring on the estate of General Hataya. He was a drunken, fat pig of a human being -- there was nokinder way to put it -and my main business contact with the Japanese Army outside of Tokyo. Hiroshima was second only to Tokyo in its industrial strength and natural resources, and the military government would have transferred here if and when Tokyo became untenable during an Allied invasion. Well, trust Hataya-sama to have a bitch like that in his house. Although we were alike, I planned to kill her if I ever met her again, after she explained why she changed me, rather than murdering me. For a long time, I wished she had killed me. For a long time, I thought I was being punished for my sins -- but I no longer felt any grief for my old life on August 6, 1945. After that evening at the General's mansion, I deliberately disappeared. Very little concerned me; not even my wealth mattered. The only thing I liked about people was their blood. I did not move in human society, I merely passed through it undetected by all but my victims, and only at night. My visits with humans were brief, but powerfully satisfying. I did not care about anything; I had no specific problems or worries or burdens. I could do as I pleased and not be held accountable for my actions. I suspect I always had a bit of sadism within me, and the creature I was explored that tendency with a hedonistic pleasure I never could have experienced as a man. As I stood on the mountain gazing down at Hiroshima -- a city I had once had affection for, with its lush green groves of bamboo,
pine and phoenix trees, its gardens of bluet, Spanish bayonets, morning glories and day lilies, its exquisite moon bridges and lovely green and beige street cars, now transformed into a shattered, smoking gray landscape of unbelievable destruction -I didn't give a damn that 100,000 people had just died, that 100,000 more were injured, or staggering down the Koi Highway vomiting, or suffering from alarming, bloody burns the handful of surviving doctors had never seen before. I didn't care that tens of thousands more would die that night, and in the next days and weeks and months and years from radiation poisoning. It was when I ventured out of the foothills that I discovered I did have the capacity to care about them. And no one was more surprised than I. Hot, fierce winds blew for the rest of the day, winds that were odd and frightening in how they suddenly switched directions, as if they weren't natural but the breaths of demons. In spite of the overhanging pall and clouds, I decided to stay in the cave until sunset, where I watched large sections of Hiroshima roasting in flames. Most of the fires resulted from debris falling on exposed wires, not from the device itself. It was ironic that the final day I saw was one as hideous as this. I hadn't expected to experience day-time again; this should have been joyful, but for obvious reasons it was not. When night arrived, I left the cave and made my way downslope. I had been prowling for farmers� blood, annoyed to have been caught up in the hills at sunrise, which had driven me into the cave in the first place. I had several safe, if somewhat primitive refuges around the city where I usually spent my days, never sleeping in the same one twice in a row. My favorite was an abandoned subterranean grotto near the Gokoku Shrine. But if I had made it to the grotto, I would have been vaporized. Gokoku Shrine was only 385 yards from what we later learned was ground zero, what the Japanese refer to as "the hypocenter." The grotto was not deep enough to have protected me. My skin was as combustible as any man's, more so in the proper conditions. Sometimes I wonder if it might have taken a few seconds longer for me than it did for the humans who vanished between one breath and the next. They had no time to realize something was wrong -no doubt a merciful thing. I believe I would have known I was dying, if only for a few moments; after all, evil recognizes evil. Evils may be linked by their natures, and I am undeniably evil, a monster striding through their company, yet a monster who was pathetically grateful he didn't share the same fate.
As I entered the city, there was little activity. Thousands of wounded had streamed out of Hiroshima during the day, and multitudes had died on the roadways. After dark, the rare persons who had not been injured dropped in their tracks from physical and emotional exhaustion, side by side in pitiful intimacy with the dead. I could move without being seen, but the more I saw in the firelit night, the slower my pace became, until I walked among them as a regular person, forgetting to hide myself even when hundreds of them begged me for water, crying, "Mizu, mizu!" I did not get water for anyone. The things I saw during my endless tour are chiseled in my mind forever: seemingly unmarked people lying dead; naked people scorched bright red from head to toe lying dead; people whose skin sloughed off at the slightest touch; people whose eyes had melted; people too feeble to escape the tidal rivers, their corpses bobbing by me; men, women, and children, and their eerily silent, mass suffering. Half of the city had burned to the river banks, but at first there was a more "normal" type of destruction: homes and businesses that had not burned were crumpled and splintered, collapsed as if slapped by a giant hand, crushing their occupants under tiles and timbers. I sensed that there were many dead in the ruins. Many others were trapped, growing weaker, calling politely, "Tasukete kure! Help, if you please." When I reached the roughly four square mile city center, I knew that something extraordinary had occurred here. The alien landscape was reddish-brown and hardly anything was left standing, including stripped trees and charred telephone poles. It was a man-made desert of flattened city blocks, one after another after another. At some point I realized I was in shock. Me, in shock from the indescribable suffering and from the lunatic vision of destruction I was witnessing. I, who fancied himself the DeathBringer, had never seen so much death, could never cause so much death no matter how long I lived. Strange how I was affected, how I couldn't handle it, but I confess I could not. I was no different from any of the survivors then, who found themselves shutting down emotionally, or running away in wild panic after stopping for short, feverish periods to aid victims. I walked on asphalt that was soft and hot, past thousands of humans. On the surface, it must have seemed as if I was ignoring them as I stalked by with my grim Irish face. Some of them must have despised me for my apparent indifference. I did not recover until the moment I realized that dawn was once again near. Trying to get my bearings before the sun rose, I saw that I had traveled around the entire city and was below the foothills where I began my journey. The main blast had gone to the northeast, east and southeast. Along the road here, the northern woods were somewhat intact, which is probably why I did not see or hear the young boy who suddenly appeared. He was the last person who ever approached me unnoticed.
He was perhaps six years old. His chin was bloody, but otherwise he seemed fine. He said, "My friends are hurt." I stared down at him. He was wearing one of those ridiculous bokuzuki, a cotton-padded air raid helmet. Under it, he trembled. I asked, "What friends are those?" "Come with me, please," he said. I followed him through the drooping woods. I don't know why. He led me to a series of low stone buildings a quarter mile from the road. They were ancient buildings, likely to be damp and dank in ordinary circumstances. Now they were dry and tilted. When the winds generated by the explosion reached the mountains surrounding Hiroshima, the mountains acted as a conduit, sending them hurtling back into the city a second time. These isolated buildings had not escaped damage, but had fared better than most I'd seen. The boy was bowing to me. "My name is Kazuo." I returned his bow. "My name is O-san." "Domo arigato, O-san. Thank you for helping my friends." He slipped through a doorway that had no door. There were a half dozen other children on the floor. The stub of a white candle was the sole source of light. I heard the boy whispering to them that I was shiranai hito, a stranger. As young as he was, Kazuo had done the best he could. He had salvaged a couple of dirty blankets and bandaged the children's worst wounds with pillowcases. He offered me water in a china vase that was miraculously intact. The vase was a delicate powder-blue that reminded me of the skies I could no longer enjoy. There was something wrong with the water. I could smell it, like a metallic poison. "Where did you get this?" I asked. From the pond in our rock garden, O-san." Such a Japanese thing, their rock gardens. Precisely arranged, each stone, decoration and plant obsessively, even superstitiously important. They cared too much about objects and material things. "The water's bad. Don't drink it, Kazuo." "But -- pardon me; they are so thirsty, O-san." "Giving them this water is unwise. You must trust me." I knelt to check the children. They were all girls. A young one about 4 years old said, "Itai, it hurts. I'm cold, I'm cold." She already had one of the blankets, but was shivering uncontrollably. Her bald head was smeared with yellowish pus oozing from her burns. As I placed my cool hand on her chest, she died. It was that quick. I put my ear over her heart, but there was nothing to hear. I looked at Kazuo and said stupidly, "I didn't kill her." Tear tracks on his filthy cheeks, he said, "I know you didn't, Osan." I asked, "What is this place?" "Shishido Orphanage, O-san." "Where are your teachers?" "Dead, or they ran away to find their families. We were hiking when the lightning came," he said quietly. "One of our instructors brought us home and told us to wait here, but we have waited all day and all night. They are very sick and hurt."
"Yes, they are." I examined the girls. They ranged from ages two to ten, and each of them was terribly wounded: those inexplicable bloody burns, flaps of loose flesh, twisted limbs, head traumas. And there was something else wrong with them that I could also smell. It disturbed me, although at the time I didn't understand what it was. Radiation covered them like invisible sheets. The ionized stench had sunk into their bones. They would all die; I was certain of it. "Please, O-san," Kazuo said tearfully. I hugged him and smelled the odor in him as well. I held him for several minutes, pretending to be a good man with strong arms. "You have been brave today, Kazuo," I said. "I have great admiration for you; do you know what that means?" "Hai, O-san. I am hungry. Are you? I think there are some pumpkins cooked in the ground outside." I held him out in front of me by his thin shoulders. "Excellent idea, but we won't need pumpkins, Kazuo." He was cruelly disappointed, so I changed the subject. "Does the orphanage have a cellar?" He nodded. "Show me where the cellar is, and wait for me there. I will bring your friends, and then I will stay and care for them -- and for you."
I did as I promised the boy, carrying the featherlight, agonized bodies of the girls to a particular type of safety only I sought. In the dim, candle-lit cellar, where I was safe from the sun, I saved them in the only way I could. It has been over fifty years since the atomic bomb exploded over Hiroshima. Shortly thereafter, I realized that I had an urgent need for the money I'd made during the war. I made arrangements to claim it, which wasn't difficult. Within a week after the day of what the Japanese call genshi bakudan, or the "original child bomb," a major bank had re-opened in its former ruins by setting up a table and a few chairs. Hiroshima has thrived in the half-century since the attack. It sprawls everywhere, with an immense, progressive population. American naval vessels anchor in the harbor, a reminder that the Japanese were once a conquered people. Most of these modern citizens do not know nor have ever met a survivor of the atomic blast. Once a year, I pay my respects to the victims and to the event by visiting the Peace Park and Museum. Located where the Shima Hospital and the Honkawa Elementary School were at the hypocenter, the skeletal Bomb Dome of what had been the Hiroshima Prefectural Building for the Promotion of Industry has been "preserved" at the park. It serves as a symbol of peace, but I don't like its starkly brutal silhouette. I don't tour the exhibits of pictures, but I do wander the paths to the seventy shrines that have been erected in the intervening years for victims, the Monument to the Victims of the Hiroshima Post Office, or the Memorial Monument of the Hiroshima Municipal and Commercial Shipping Industry. These are simpler, plaques in tiny gardens or dignified statues, and are more to my taste. I especially find some measure of contentment at the Peace Pond, the rectangular, shallow reflecting pool, where I sit with my back to the Bomb Dome and the terrible memories that exist there, memories that alternately shriek or whisper to me. Sometimes I wonder if I would hear them in daylight, or if the Bomb Dome would seem better or worse washed by the sun, but these are things I am not meant to know. I never take blood from people who survived the bombing. They carry the smell of the radiation within them still. Their odor brings a taste of lead to my mouth, the same as the American pilots who dropped the bomb had in their mouths while they flew away. I can always identify survivors in the crowds around me. Sadly, they have grown less in number now, but they are only human beings. And then while night lasts, I return by street car and boat to our island sanctuary. I return to my own children, who are cheerful, playful monsters, which isn't their fault, but mine. Kazuo watches me now with the wise eyes of an adult from his eternally child-like body. These six children had drained me to the brink of my own death in the orphanage cellar, greedy for the strange blood that dripped from my wrists and neck. Perhaps Kazuo became an adult because he was not only my own original child, but because of how he struggled to understand what I was, to believe it was true that I could sense the new, black death in their bodies. He had agreed that the girls would surely perish if I did not change them. If
he regrets his decision, he has never said so. Yes, we commit our sins, but they don't compare to the sin that inadvertently formed these small monsters by my blood in the aftermath of August 6, 1945. The girls remain children in every way. I love them dearly. They are my responsibility forever, since they are too immature to protect themselves. After my yearly pilgrimage, I am always eager to see my family again, my family who loves me in return, my family who never ages.
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