This day had come at last. The day when all was destroyed. The burning ball of light and flame, the moment when everything was lost. What does it feel like to lose your only home, your only family? I can’t say that you would understand, or at least feel the same way that I do. But Hiroshima? What did we every do to you?
It was a pleasant day for us. Well, at least it started off pleasant. Kiko and I were playing in the backyard with our parents looking on.
“Kiko,” I complained, “why are you so good? That’s the fifth time you have found me in under a minute.”
“Just pure skill, I guess!” she replied. It was my birthday and I had just got the most divine silk kimono as a gift and was wearing it proudly. But then everything went wrong. A deafening siren sounded, which I recognised as the air raid alert.
“Kiko! Cho! Get in here right now!”
My mother’s shriek echoed through the deserted lane. Kiko and I instantly obliged and sprinted to her.
“Mother,” I panted, “where’s Dad?”
“He’s probably already inside. Hurry up and get in yourself!”
As we clambered into the bomb shelter, a horrible sense of dread washed over me.
“Mother? Father’s not in here. . .”
After waiting ten minutes for the bullets to pepper the roof like rain, I decided that it was a drill. A drill. Definitely. And Father was waiting for us just outside the shelter. Just metres away, ready to swing me into his arms and throw me like I was as light as a feather. Should we go out and check?
“Kiko,” I began, “do you think this is a drill?”
“Oh yes. Most definitely. Why else would there have been a ten-minute wait? They have just forgotten to sound the all-clear bell.”
And, with that, she promptly stepped out of the shelter door.
“Kiko, you get back here right now!” screeched Mother. “Don’t make me come and get you.”
She turned to me.
“Sorry, dear, I’ll be back.”
Then she too walked out of the shelter, leaving me isolated in my own thoughts. Was it really a drill? Would their presence outside alert the enemy to some kind of life? Would the enemy open fire, killing them instantly? Were the soldiers marching over the roof now?
Had our city of Hiroshima already been taken hostage? No. If any of that had happened, there would have been some kind of noise. And had there been? No.
“See?” I told myself. “Entirely justified. No reason to be worried.”
But where were they, Kiko, Mother, Father?
After five more minutes of agonising waiting, I heard some screaming. Really loud. Clearly some other people thought it was a drill too, and had gone out of their shelters, to see. Then I realised: what were they screaming about? There had to be some kind of threat. Another plane, perhaps?
I was wrong. Very wrong. It turned out that the “threat” was the infamous atom bomb “Little Boy”. A mushroom cloud of destruction that killed everything in its path. What had Hiroshima done to deserve this?
I was in shock. What had I done, asking Kiko something that gave her the confidence to walk out the door, in turn prompting my mother to walk out the door too?
I did not emerge from the shelter until five days later, because I was in fear of an enemy flying by and seeing me. When I did emerge, it was the shock of seeing my family dead that made me cry. Lying on the ground, motionless, not breathing, dead. There was no doubt about it. I draped myself over their petrified forms as the river flowed from my eyes.
“No, it can’t be real.” I told myself. Any moment now I would wake up, run into my parents’ room and be comforted. But this was reality.
That was 42 years ago. I still regret everything. Now that I am away from the place where my life fell apart, I feel as though I can tell the story without being haunted by memories. We were always so careful. But obviously not careful enough.
R.I.P. Kiko Zahn 1935–1945
By Sylvia Daniels