Hiroshima, 6th August 1945
I was sitting in class staring at Mr. Takashi writing algebra in big loopy lettering on the chalkboard when the bomb landed. He was wearing a short-sleeved white cotton shirt with black slacks that billowed around his skinny legs and a pair of black-rimmed glasses that perched on the bridge of his rubbery nose.
I’m not sure why I can remember him so vividly now. It was just an ordinary school day and me and my thirty or so classmates had no idea when we filed into trigonometry that morning that this day would change our lives.
But somehow every minute detail of that day is seared into my memory, like it’s a part of me and I’m a part of it. And so my life became divided in two—those childhood days that came before the bomb and the days that marched onwards defiantly after. The bomb itself is somehow outside of my life now, like a break in a paragraph, instead of a chapter in itself.
So I was sitting at my desk staring over the backs of five other boys’ heads at Mr. Takashi, who was trying to help us find x, while only giving us y and z as clues, when suddenly a searing, soaring heat swept across the room.
If you imagine a giant is standing high above you and your whole class, and in one furious motion he sweeps his giant hand over all of you, so hard that he knocks you all to the other side of the room, then I guess that’s what it felt like.
Except his hand was burning with the heat of the Sun. So I guess it was more like a dragon, who was blowing fire down out of his nostrils, scorching every part of us—our clothes, our skin, our hair, our faces—and tearing the earth asunder.
But dragons are meant to smell ghastly and yet there was no smell. Not at first anyway. There was just the heat and there was just the pain. So I guess it’s not like a giant or a dragon at all, it’s just like being hit by an atomic bomb, because the whole world’s never dreamt up anything else to compare it to.
I lay flat on the ground in between the arms and legs of my classmates, feeling dazed and sick. I noticed that some of my friends’ arms and legs were still attached to their bodies, and some were not, and I imagine this might sound odd, but at the time it didn’t seem strange to me. For a minute or so I adjusted to the idea that some of my classmates didn’t have arms and legs, and felt like this was perfectly normal.
You’re probably wondering what it sounded like with all those survivors screaming. It didn’t really sound of anything. I just remember hearing a faint dog whistle playing in my ear and even though I could see some of my classmates’ mouths moving furiously, I couldn’t hear what they were saying. It was peaceful in a way, like watching people through plated glass.
I couldn’t move my right arm but could just about move my left, which felt painful like someone had punched it repeatedly all over. I touched my left ear to try to unblock it and felt an immediate sting, like I was poking my finger into a wound. I put my hand in front of my face and noticed it was covered in blood. My blood. Somehow this didn’t concern me.
I tried to raise myself off the ground with my one good arm but could only manage about five inches. Even though turning my head to the side caused me great pain, I did so just long enough to glimpse Mr. Takashi, who was lying slumped over by the door, with his clothes ripped across his body and his smashed, black-rimmed glasses lying comically over his dead-eyed face.
My arm then gave way and I fell back into my place in the pile of arms and legs surrounding me.
There is a festival in my country called Tanabata, the Festival of the Stars, which takes place every year on the 7th of July. It celebrates an old folk legend. The story goes that the daughter of the Sky King met a handsome prince and fell in love, but because of her new marriage she stopped making beautiful clothes for her father and he grew angry. As a punishment, he sent the prince and princess to different ends of the universe and only allowed them to meet on one day a year in July.
Sometimes I think of Mr. Takashi now, with his clean white-cotton shirt and black-rimmed glasses, and feel like he was banished to the other side of the universe. To a place so cold that only the cockroaches could survive. And I wonder what it’s like out there for him, floating all alone in space, searching for x in the darkness where there is no y and there is no z. I hope that one day I see him again. I hope that one day we reach our 7th of July.
Published in Brilliant Flash Fiction Mag (Issue 20)