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July 2nd, 1945
Hisao Aomori struggled with his worn handmade fishing net. The sky was dark and menacing, and thunderclouds clashed overhead. Zigzag explosions of lightning sliced through the pouring rains and illuminated the skies for just a second before pitching the world back to its shadowy state.
Hisao had to get these fish reeled in. His wife and two daughters were waiting for him, and they were all starving. Even his brother Kumo was traveling up to Hiroshima for a job. He couldn’t let everyone down. These fish were his family’s lifeblood…
A flash of lightning just inches from him. His net split and all of his catch floundered to escape. They were gone in mere moments. His boat tipped and tossed through the ruthless gales. His heart sank like rock thrown to the bottom of a tempest.
And then a colossal surge loomed over him.
August 8th, 1945
Eri poured me some of his rice. I let him without a word. It had long learned that it was futile to argue.
I couldn’t bear what Eri was doing for my family. It consisted of my mother, me, and my baby sister, and that was a lot more than Eri’s. Even if he had started out with more. Yet Eri insisted on coming over to share his rations and keep us company.
I scooped up a little bit of the rice and chewed slowly. The kernels were sandy colored and old. It didn’t taste very good, but what else did we have? Not fish anymore.
Around the table, my mother ate her own small lump and made efforts to feed the listless baby.
“I wish Emperor Hirohito would give us bigger rations,” I whispered, keeping my eyes on the rickety table and not daring to raise them. I didn’t say it loudly, for fear the neighbors would hear and have me reported, but I wanted to let the words out and meet at least one person’s ears.
Eri nudged me and a “shhh Asuka” slipped out between his teeth as he absentmindedly gnawed his spoon. His plate was empty.
A few moments passed. I heard the whistle of a green pheasant cut into the air and hover for just a instant before being carried away again to wherever else the echoes could travel to in the world. So soft and like the whistle of the trains in Urakami Station. Trains. The ones the rich people boarded and got carried off far away down the rattling tracks. Past the mountains surrounding Nagasaki. The mountains were like walls that trapped my people in our region. They repressed us from seeing the world.
I wished I could see the world. Just one day break free of those mountains. Ascend all of them and see a proper sunset with all the flame-colored vibrant hues without the obstruction of the mountains. Follow all the paths of the world like the lines of this table.
Suddenly, a hoarse cry sliced through the air. Eri abruptly stood up and knocked his chair backward. He stood frozen for a moment, listening for another sign.
“No…” He whispered. His eyes turned cloudy as he gazed outside.
The pain of his family whirled in a deep, murky vortex inside his darkened brown eyes. He flew outside in a sudden moment. “I must go to my… Father...” His voice floated back inside the hut but his last word was barely above a whisper to my family. He was gone in a sweep of his limp shirt.
Eri didn’t return for a while, and the sun soon reached its zenith above the dry, burned earth. Fear began building up in the room. It had so much to feed on that soon it grew too big and began clogging. The bugs seemed to be moving so slow and trying to struggle against the evil air with each step. My mother shuffled around and murmured incoherently. I took baby Hisaka in my arms and tried to soothe myself by rocking her. We all knew what might’ve happened, and we desperately hoped it wasn’t true. Eri couldn’t have lost his father. He couldn’t have. That would make number six for him.
Finally, I couldn’t bear it. I stood up and silently handed the baby to my mother. I took her and watched me with worried eyes.
“I’m only going to Eri’s.” I said in an attempt at a reassured voice. Eri’s name seemed to fade off my words and cling to the bad air. I turned around and stepped out the door. I ignored my eyes trying to adjust to the sudden brightness and ran in the direction I knew Eri’s hut was.
I stopped in my tracks and gazed at the small home. I didn’t even have to come inside to know something was wrong. The first was the air. The evil air clung here too. But that wasn’t the biggest sign, since a lot of homes had been infected with the air. It was the door swinging open and abandoned. The tracks in the dirt leading into the woods. It couldn’t be more obvious.
I took off again following the tracks. Not long in, I broke through the last ferns and I found Eri. He was leaning against a tree, eyes closed, face immobile. The ground protruded with overturned dirt piled up next to him. Eri slowly opened his eyes and his eyes met mine. They showed infinite sadness and hopelessness welling up.
“Eri…” I approached him but Eri quickly scrambled up. His eyes transformed from the placid, desperate light brown into an angry dark color. I stopped. The air tightened between us and the whistle of a pheasant pierced the air, draping a coat of ice on the fence that had suddenly shot up between us. I felt confused. Why did Eri seem so mad at me? “I’m so sorry about your father.” I commiserated, trying to warm the ice and coax it into melting.
“No you’re not.” Eri shook his head, his angry eyes stiffening the wall even more. “You wouldn’t understand.” He turned around and vanished behind the trees. A flash of his limp shirt on his starved frame.
“I’m sorry. I know I’ll never understand. But I’m sorry.” I whispered. But it met no ears. Because the wall was still there. The wall of confusion. The wall of pain. The wall of anger and death. The wall between the everyday humans, and the humans that have lost everything.
August 9th, 1945
“Hiroshima?” I repeated in shock.
“Yes.” My mother sighed, rocking Hisaka. Tears slowly leaked out of the corners of her eyes. I looked down at my ration of bread and felt the pain spread through me and squeeze my heart with pincers. My throat tightened and I tensed to fight off a sob. I wouldn’t cry anymore. Not after father.
The news had spread of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Uncle Kumo wasn’t with us anymore. He wouldn’t ever come back to us; I would never see my only uncle’s face ever again. My father’s line was gone other than my sister and I. And my mother’s line was the same story.
Eri, now I’ve lost two. Will you allow me to see you again? I thought, turning around to gaze out the window. Uncle. Father. Oh, uncle, why did you go to Hiroshima to search for a job? Father, why did you go fishing on that stormy night?
I finally stood up.
“I’m going to see Eri.” I said and started to the door.
“Asuka, the Hiroshima air might have spread…”
“It’s too far away. Uncle was out of his mind to go all the way over there.” And now the anger was infecting me as well. The touch of irritation that swelled up into anger. Frustration that I couldn’t seem to be able to put a label on whose fault it was that Uncle Kumo was gone, Father was gone, Eri was so angry with me… But that wasn’t going to stop me from going to Eri’s and see if he was willing to accept me again. So I stepped determinately outside.
As before, I fought the sunlight and started toward Eri’s. I fixed my eyes on the ground and watched my bare and dirty feet take one step after another down the worn soil to where I knew Eri’s house was. The sand danced around gracefully, perfectly in sync with- with the rumbling in the air? What? Rumbling? I looked up and around myself. Worn down houses. Doors stuck and unable to move from the open position of uninhabited and bare homes. But now they were trembling slightly. Dust was flying into the hot air even higher and now fluttering around as if agitated. As if they were trying to escape from some menacing hunter. But what?
The rumblings intensified. I craned my head up and blinked in the sunlight. My first thought was that the thunder clouds were drifting across the skies and over the mountains at a remarkably swift pace. But then I realized. They were planes, with black letters boldly outlined on the sides. They seemed to proudly boast of their power to defy the sunlight. B-29.
Once, my father had taught me how to read letters and numbers. But that was so long ago, and I wasn’t sure that B-29 was what the planes read. Didn’t letters usually spell out words?
Suddenly, the noises seemed to get louder. Startled, I glanced back down to the mostly empty homes. I’d been so concentrated on my thought that I hadn’t noticed the planes coming closer and the ground shaking a little. Now I saw some other haggard faces of my neighbors peering out cracked windows. The dust was blowing higher and jerking around as if controlled by puppet strings. Like the puppets Eri and I used to make with our fathers when we were little…
“Asuka!” Someone called out to me. A baby’s high-pitched, panicked cry punctured the air. I shaded my eyes and turned around, searching for the source of the noises. My mother was energetically motioning for me to get in the house with an arm. In the other, Hisaka was crying and squirming against my mother’s grip.
“What about Eri-” I never finished my sentence. A light brighter than the sunlight would ever be burned through Nagasaki. Everything seemed to be glowing with a piercing, impossibly clean color of white. So bright. The light that burned its way through the most obscure corners. I couldn’t help think that what I was experiencing was unmistakably inconceivable. It couldn’t be happening. This had to be some sort of specter of the people lost in my life-
Fire seemed to suddenly light on my clothes. It burned me and I screamed. The ground was shaking and homes were suddenly ablaze in red, orange, gray, black. I couldn’t see mother or Hisaka. In less than a second, the crystal clear white world was turned black. The fire gnawed at me, burned me, bit me, and seared into me. I might have fallen on the grimy soil on the sand roads, but I wasn’t so sure. Everything was red, but maybe that was just my eyes from being clouded in pain, because I felt like I was incinerating in our fireplace. The ball of Fire, like the sunrise I so wanted to see…
And then I remembered the light. I realized that now was the time I could embark on a voyage, with the specters of my lost loved ones. With father, with uncle, with Eri’s father, his lost brothers and sisters…
The last cry of a pheasant pierced the air like the whistle of a magical everlasting relief of the pain, the whistle that could meld itself to permeate every space in the world. And I knew that here it was, the whistle that would finally let my soul board on so we could all finally travel together.