I spent my childhood in Nagasaki. It is a small town or was when I was growing up – it was not yet developed, and nature was abundant. In summer, we ran around all day catching bugs and watched fireflies twinkle at night.
In the midst of summer break, on August 9th, we gathered in the school gym and joined the rest of the town for a minute of silence at 11:02. That was the time when the atomic bomb was dropped in 1945. We then read stories that were written by the survivors in the classroom. A story about a child missing her parents soon advanced to more gruesome and horrific stories as we got older, and those stories always left me with something that I could not digest.
My grandmother, who was not my biological grandmother, was a young nurse in Nagasaki when the bomb exploded above her head. She happened to be in the basement of the hospital and survived. She never talked about it, but so I was told. She never had her own child and met my grandfather much later.
She attended the memorial ceremony every year until her health declined and could not travel anymore.
Once, I saw her watching the service on TV. She was alone in the room. From behind, I saw her shoulders shook violently and heard her sobbing. She was a tough lady, very strict with us, children, and I was surprised to see her vulnerable like that. I didn’t know what to say or what to do and left her be. I was later told that she had lost many of her friends that day and days after.
When August creeps and I see oleander in bloom, I think of my childhood in Nagasaki – fireworks and Bon dances, and the terrifying scenes under the glistening sun seventy years ago.