Friday, 15 May 2015 00:01

Return to Hiroshima by Bob Van Laerhoven

Hiroshima - Mitsuko spends the night in Hotel Ikawa Ryokan - Dobashi-Cho - March 11th 1995

Night falls, but I don't go dancing in a disco. I walk into the nearest hotel and book a room. I can't sleep, but I'm not surprised. I toss and turn in the tiny bed. I miss the familiar curves of my belly and feel like a ghost lost in the wrong body. I wasn't raised with other people, I was raised with shadows, and dreams like a puff of breath in the neck when you're alone. A girl can create her own world in such circumstances, a world in which everything has meaning. On Hashima, books and rubble were the focal point around which my existence seemed to turn. Rubble was everywhere. The island was one massive industrial ruin.

My father took care of the books. They were delivered in bulk. When it came to books my father set no limits. As a girl, I liked to wander down to the shingle beach and read at the foot of the sea wall surrounding the island. If you looked up from the beach, the blackened buildings on the island seemed to be on the verge of falling over. People called the island Gunkan or 'the battleship', because of its shape. It was a place that left you short of breath because of the secrecy it exuded. The entire island was built over and there were few if any open spaces. My father only allowed me to go to the shore when the weather was good. Each time I was laden like a mule with books. I was crazy about them because they could make the world big or small at will, interfere in the fate of nations, but also seek out your hidden thoughts, illusive, intangible, like silver-coloured fishes at the bottom of a deep lake.

When the weather was bad I would sit in the old cinema. A good many of the wooden chairs were broken and the screen was torn. I sometimes pictured the characters in the book I was reading coming to life on the screen, making each other's lives a misery, fighting and then loving each other. Those were lonely moments, a little creepy too, as if my head was capable of containing much more than I wanted it to. Everything was covered in dust. From time to time the uncontainable wind would toss it into the air and it would form itself into a figure in my mind's eye. Then I would quickly look back at the page in front of me. Books protected me from reality. I remember them as a choir of pale shapes, sometimes hysterical, other times comforting, vividly prophetic, or disquieting, like a piano being played in the dark. I've always been convinced that stories influence the mind: they haunt regions of the brain where reason has lost its way. Stories made people see my father as Rokurobei, a demon of classic mythology. His background and the way he had been treated will also have had a role to play, but the main reason he acquired the status had its roots in the old stories and their superstitions. When I was a teenager, I was also convinced he wasn't completely human. My father was treated like a god by his followers and he considered it nothing out of the ordinary.

Memory is a monstrous thing: I can remember various moments in my youth when I witnessed his supernatural powers at work. It was only after I read the reports of his personal physician that I realised the truth, or should have realised the truth. I'm twenty-one, and even now I still catch myself doubting.

I spend the entire night struggling to settle scores with my past. The lonely existence I shared with my father seems to have more control over me now than ever before. I realise that this very characteristic, so difficult to put into words, is what makes my father so intangible: he's like a creature you encounter in a dream, yet at the same time he's pure reality.

I fret over what to do next. The old power networks my father exploits might only operate undercover, but they're still to be feared. Rokurobei will deploy every soldier in his shadowy army to find me. I talk to him in my imagination and beg him to leave me alone. He remains unmoved, like an old pagan temple. My thoughts return unwilled to the baby that had filled my belly. I'm no longer sure it was real.

But I still felt it.

I talked to it.

I shared my pain and my shame.

The creature was tiny and kind. It understood. It forgave.

It was a universe of comfort.

Dr Kanehari insisted that it had never existed. His glasses flickered an unambiguous message, but I was unable to decipher it.

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