The tram takes The Excellent Husband and I out from the centre of Kyoto, where we are staying, through towns lined with fashionable stores. The sky is pearlescent. It is morning in autumn. The leaves on trees are just starting to turn, but recent strong winds have shorn some of the trees early. Green leaves lie in gutters, as yet unswept.
The tram glides smoothly. As we move further from the centre of the city, more people depart, leaving it half empty.
We come to our stop and disembark. From inside the tram, I can see the famed dome and I feel sick. It is a sudden shock to see its bones rising up beyond the trees lining the street. I pretend I haven’t seen it. I don’t want this swift glance to be my first sighting. I need to see it full on, no glass between us, no gazing over the tops of heads or through trees. I need to be confronted, see this honestly.
We get off the tram. I delay a few seconds, fiddling with my backpack. I am reluctant to move. I am tired after days of travel, but quickly, this moves into utter exhaustion as I set my feet on the ground. It’s not a cold day, but certainly not warm yet, but I can feel heat throbbing up from below. I tell myself I am imagining it.
“Does the ground feel hot to you?” I ask TEH.
He shakes his head. He is an engineer, a scientist. He sees what is real. I am the flaky one, the psychic, the tarot reader, the mystic. I feel what is unreal.
We walk left, around a fence, and there it is. The Genbaku Dome, the surviving remnant of the Hiroshima atomic bomb explosion, ground zero. The understructure of the dome is preserved, somehow, and some of the crumbling walls of the building that surrounded it. It is fenced off, and a hedge grows solid around it. The leaves are green, shiny. It looks healthy, as do the trees nearby, the people walking around, the air(such as it is in Japan).
Way north, a few months earlier, Fukushima was destroyed and its molten, eating heart drove into the earth and the sea.
The dome is alongside a pleasant river that flows slowly and in picturesque fashion.
I fall to my knees. The image of the dome strikes me in the heart and guts. I am ashamed to be human. I cannot get up for this is too much, too much. TEH stands silently by my side. He has seen this before. He keeps his sadness to himself. He is a scientist. Hiroshima is safe now, a city has risen up around it. There is growth.
Under my feet, deep below, I feel heat, burning. For me, there is no breeze, no movement. Deep underground, there is still something wrong. Humankind trespassed here into The Badlands. This should not have been done. I feel the wrongness, that something broke here that cannot be mended.
No matter how many times I, and others, ring the Peace Bell, what happened here will not be healed.
It takes me a good while to get to my feet, and even then, I am shaky, and remain so for the rest of the day.
School children run about, tackling tourists for a survey they are taking about our impressions of the Hiroshima Peace Park. They struggle with English, often pointing to their printed assignments. We water down our words to the simplest, so that they might understand us.
“Bad. Very bad. Never happen again,” I say to four earnest girls.
I want this to be a command to the world.
There are glass chambers in the Peace Park full of origami cranes in rainbow colours. There are plaques, the Peace Bell, and the Hiroshima Museum, which is more awful than the fresh gore of a surgery.
I do the tourist thing. I take photos to say I have been here.
I leave the Park for Kyoto when I cannot take any more.
Three years later, and it takes only a moment a summon that burning in my feet, as deeply embedded as radiation. I sit on my couch and write these words, and am as uneasy as ever.
Never again should we trespass. Never again the bombs. Never again the burning.
Photo: Atomic Bones - Hiroshima, Japan _ Helen Patrice