I was leaving Japan soon. Something in my bones was telling me it was time. The meals had started to taste sour. The sunrises felt shorter and fainter. My feet longed for familiarity and rest. I had become too acquainted with Tokyo’s intricate streets. Each neighborhood so different from the other that my initial surprise and discovery had now made me overwhelmed with choice. I decided to go south before leaving. My mind was made. I would visit Hiroshima.
The air feels different here, heavier, thicker. The people are different too. The tourists quieter, the locals louder. The city wants you to come. It wants you to see. What remains is proof of its indestructibility. Its eternalness.
I leave my room so early that I feel nauseous like I have been ripped out of my slumberous bliss and my blood is still pouring on the floor. My steps are heavy, and my thoughts discombobulate. The same words keep resonating over and over in my head, a relentless chorus that will not let go of me. Whispers of nature, of rejection and cities. It’s something someone told me, but I can’t see where or when. I just know that these words bear the distinct scent of the mixture between cigarettes and mints, and that they say:
“Of course, Nature rejected you. The essence of nature is to reject men. That is why men create cities to hide in. We are all hiding from our initial rejection.”
Monday the 6th of August 1945. Early morning. After sunrise. The freshness of the morning dew still lingers. The Little Boy bomb is dropped on Hiroshima. It falls for 44.4 seconds before exploding.
I remember learning the dates, the number of victims, the following bombing in class. So many killed, so many destroyed. I remember my B-. The comment above my grade read “Good but incomplete.” Incomplete? Incomplete. I didn’t really understand, did I? I still don’t. Even now, as I am looking at it.
I hate history classes. I fear violence. Everything here reminds me of both. But now I am here. I walk around the city. I see the temples, the red arch, the gardens. I have a map. I have a plan. I feel a strange vibration when I’m pacing down the street.
The city is alive.
And it leads me to you.
Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, a tall, respected beacon of architecture.
Now you’re one of the many victims and survivors of Little Boy. Half-torn up, still standing. Protected by your stone and your steel. When I think of survivors, I don’t picture you. I imagine old wrinkly hands, eyes that have seen too much, quivering lips. Not you.
I don’t understand, but I want to know. I look around me for those pamphlets or signs with more dates, more words, more languages. There is none. No explanation or details of what happened. You know we know. And for the few who don’t, you just stare at them, the same way you are staring at me now, in your profound silence. There is no need for an explanation.
Behind me, there are people who have walked past this building every day for the past years and who don’t even notice you anymore. They walk with purpose, without paying attention to you or to the group of tourists that wraps around you. An elderly couple is sitting on a bench with their backs turned. They are looking at the river. I copy them and watch the water glisten under a ray of sunlight. The stream gently dances for the Sun, overjoyed to be basked in its warmth. The elderly couple is holding hands, his thumb softly caressing her fingers. This sight makes me want to rip out my eyes and offer them to you, so you may see what all of us see beyond the reach of your roots. How peaceful a Monday morning can be.
I look at you again. You’re taller, much taller than me. Older as well. You’ve been standing for decades, if not centuries. I burned my finger on a cigarette years ago. I still have the scar. Sometimes, I look at it and can almost feel the pain again. I can almost smell the burning flesh. But not you. When the fire came, you let it devour your entrails, but the beast couldn’t destroy your bones. Your exposed steel frame and glassless windows are both your body and your wounds.
I’m so sorry.
I walk across the other side; I want to study you from every angle. I tiptoe around to see what is left inside. Everything, gone. Empty, of course, but I still need to check. I am looking for something. At home, the buildings bombed during the war have been overtaken by nature now. Overflowed with weeds, bushes, and peace. Cobblestone under the moss. Inexorability overpowered by freedom. I want to see that here. But when I look for a daisy or some grass, all I can see is the grey concrete that was once the underlayer of your foundation.
No daisy, no grass. Maybe one day, when I’m gone.
Genbaku? Will you stay when I finally leave? When we all do? Will you stand the way I couldn’t and hold the memories in your walls? The memories of death and the memories of peace? The memories of loss, the memories of grief? Will you stay for us, or will you collapse under the weight that we put on your shoulders?
If men create cities to hide, why do they destroy them? To reveal what’s beneath the surface? To revoke the privilege of protection? To face our true nature?
I do not know. But Genbaku does.