Section B

Forty-Three Seconds over Hiroshima

On a brilliant summer's morning in 1945, Kaz Tanaka looked up into the sky over Hiroshima and saw the beginning of the end of her world. She was eighteen.

A white dot appeared in the sky, as small and innocent-looking as a slip of paper. It was falling away from the plane, drifting down toward them. The journey took a mere 43 seconds.

The air exploded in blinding lightning and colour, the rays shooting outward as in a child's drawing of the sun, and Kaz was flung to the ground so violently that her two front teeth broke off; she had sunk into unconsciousness. Kaz's father had been out back weeding the vegetables in his underclothes. When he came staggering out of the garden, blood was running from his nose and mouth. By the next day the exposed parts of his body had turned a chocolate brown. What had been a luxury home in that sector of the city came thundering down.

That life had been a comfortable one, wanting in nothing — at least, not until the war. Kaz's father had been born to a family of some wealth and social position in Hiroshima, and had emigrated to America in the early 1920s in the spirit of adventure, not of need or flight; he never intended to stay. He moved back to Hiroshima at 40; it was expected of him as the sole male heir to their name. But he brought his American baby girl with him, and a life-style flavoured with American ways.

The house he built was a roomy one. There was a courtyard in front of the place and two gardens in back, one to provide vegetables, one to delight the eye in the formal Japanese layout. One of the two living rooms was American, with easy chairs instead of mats or tatami, and so were the kitchen and bathroom. Dinner was Japanese, with the family sitting on the floor in the traditional way. Breakfast was American, pancakes or bacon or ham and eggs, taken at the kitchen table.

What remained of the life he had made was blown to bits though his home was more than a mile from ground zero. He was working on the side facing zero, and had the front of his body and limbs burnt. His flesh, when Kaz touched him, had the soft feel of a boiled tomato.

Kaz was anxiously waiting for the return of another member of her family when a tall chap appeared where the gate had been. "He's back!" she shouted; her brother, at six feet tall, towered over most Japanese men, and she knew at a glimpse that it was him. But when she drew closer, she could barely recognize him through his wounds. His school had fallen down around him. He had struggled to a medical station. They had splashed some medicine on the wounds, tied them with a bandage and sent him on his way. For a moment, he stood swaying at the ruins of the gate. Kaz stared at him.

Later, when night fell, Kaz and her brother made for the mountains; a friend from Kaz's factory lived in a village on the slope of a hill behind the city and had offered to take them in. It was midnight by the time they found her place. Kaz looked back. The city was on fire. She felt uneasy, seized with fear, not for herself but for her parents. She left her brother behind, and dashed down the slope of the hill toward the flames. The streets were filled with the dead and barely living. She kept on running, knowing only that she had to be home.

Kaz's family had been luckier than most. Her father with his burns had to lie outdoors on a tatami, but her brother's wounds refused to heal. As the others were recovering, Kaz fell ill with all the symptoms of radiation sickness. The disease was a frightening result of the atomic bomb. Scientists in Los Alamos were surprised by its extent; they thought the blast would do most of the killing. Kaz felt as if she were dying. She ran a fever. She felt sick and dizzy, almost drunk. Her gums and her bowels were bleeding. She looked like a ghost. "I'm next," she thought realistically; she was an eighteen-year-old girl waiting her turn to die. No medicine worked, since the only known treatment for radiation sickness was rest. As winter gave way to spring and spring to summer, Kaz began to heal.

The illness had not really left her; it had gone into hiding, instead, and the physical and mental after-effects of that historical August 6,1945, would trouble Kaz all the rest of her life.