75 years ago on August 9th, 1945 at 11:02 am Japanese time a bomb containing 5 kilograms of plutonium exploded 10 metres above a tennis court in Nagasaki.
The Stone Jizō by Andi Brooks
Shigeko placed a cup of sake at the feet of the weathered stone Jizō standing in the shade of a Chinese tallow tree. It was said that the women of her family had cared for the Jizō since the day it was erected on the spot over three hundred years before. She had inherited the daily ritual from her late mother, but she had neither a daughter nor a daughter-in-law to follow in her footsteps. With a frown, she brushed a fallen leaf from the statue’s shoulder.
“Who will care for you when I’m gone?” She sighed and shook her head sadly.
The distant sound of droning engines broke into her thoughts. She looked up to the cloud-filled sky.
“They are coming again!”
The stone face stared back at her unperturbed. Shigeko straightened the homemade bousai zukin that she had placed upon the statue’s head when the air raids had first begun.
“You’ll be fine for as long as I’m alive,” she told the Jizō. “Don’t worry.”
She looked apprehensively up at the sky again. The sun glinted off the silver fuselage of the approaching aircraft as the clouds momentarily parted.
Turning back to the Jizō, she exclaimed, “Silly me! There hasn’t been an air raid warning. It must be one of ours.”
Shigeko joined her hands and bowed her head in prayer before the statue for a few moments before shuffling indoors. The interior of her modest house offered little respite from the oppressive August heat. Adjusting the electric fan, she knelt before the black-framed photographs of her husband and son. The war had taken both of them. Her husband had been killed in an air raid on his way home from the public bath. Their son had fallen in battle in a remote corner of the Empire. She glanced out of the open window. The Jizō stared back at her reassuringly. Shigeko always felt safe knowing it was watching over her.
A blinding flash of light filled the room. Before Shigeko could raise her hands to shield her eyes, a blast of scorching heat enveloped the wooden structure. In an instant, her skin was seared from her frame. Her exposed body fat bubbled and evaporated. Her bones crumbled to dust and scattered on the infernal wind. The whole time, the benevolent gaze of the Jizō was upon her.
Plunged into a world of claustrophobic darkness, Shigeko felt herself plummeting downwards at a terrifying rate. Flailing wildly in a vain attempt to check her dizzying descent, she fell ever deeper into the fathomless void. Stripped of her physical form, her being shriveled and shrank. She emitted a silent scream of terror. As if in answer, her fall was abruptly checked, leaving her suspended in the pitch black limbo. How long she hung there, helpless and blind, before she sensed a presence descending from above was impossible for Shigeko to judge. Time had ceased to exist. Radiating warmth and comfort, the presence swaddled her, cradling her like an infant in the arms of its mother. The fear and despair of the fall were washed away.
Imperceptibly at first, Shigeko began to be drawn upwards. The pace rapidly increased, filling her with euphoria. Faster and faster she rose until she giddily burst out of the darkness. Bathed in golden light, the Jizō stood over her.
“Your labors are at an end, Grandmother.”
Its mouth did not move, but Shigeko knew that the words were the Jizō’s. It turned and began to walk across a verdant lawn stretching as far as she could see. When she did not follow, the Jizō paused and looked back at her.
“Come, Grandmother, walk with me awhile.”
Shigeko hesitated. “But I have no body.”
The Jizō returned to her side and held out its hand. Shigeko instinctively reached out to take it, but, with an intake of breath, stopped short to look at herself in wonder. She had form again. The Jizō gently helped her to her feet and led her across the lawn. They had only walked a short distance when it stopped and pointed with its staff to a small hill in the distance.
“Look, Grandmother, they are waiting for you.”
Two familiar figures stood waving upon the crest of the hill. The elder one was resting one hand upon the shoulder of the younger one. Shigeko took two hesitant steps forward her heart racing.
“Okaerinasai!” her husband and son called in unison.
Shigeko began to run. Waving ecstatically, she called out, “Tadaima!”
The Jizō watched the three hug each other for a moment before retracing its steps back across the lawn.
The area of Nagasaki where Shigeko’s house had once stood resembled an alien landscape. Nothing was left standing in the blasted, lifeless landscape. Nothing that is, except for an ancient moss-covered stone Jizō with a cup of sake at its feet.
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