Sec­ond place Yes.No.It’salit­tled­if­fi­cult

Timeless Travels Magazine - - BRADT TRAVEL WRITING COMPETITION - by Chris Walsh

An ex­am­ple:

At the start, when I first went there, I might have said, with­out think­ing much about it, “the colour you are look­ing for is ‘red’”.

Now? I'd sug­gest dif­fer­ently. Crim­son. Rose. Car­di­nal. Salmon. Fire truck. Scar­let. The colour of old blood. Fresh blood. Your blood.

Shades and hues. Nu­ance and sub­tlety. It's a dif­fi­cult thing. No, it's not. It's...the only thing.

I liked Yoshie from the scorch­ing July we first bowed to and at each other. She would sit and an­gle her slight and ag­ing frame to be sure to catch my move­ment, gauge my dis­po­si­tion, and try to please the con­fi­dent ed­u­ca­tor that I was then mas­querad­ing as.

Though Junko, Toshiko, Chie, and the few other stu­dents whose names elude me now, also com­ported them­selves in some re­sponse to my quirky lan­guage prac­tices and wishes, they al­ways held Yoshie, their group's nat­u­ral leader, in their pe­riph­eral view. For if she twitched for bet­ter or worse then the whole group spasmed and shifted mood to­gether and I had not much sig­nif­i­cance in that process.

I had swung into Ja­pan, ear­lier in the year, had been in­ter­viewed by the man­age­ment of a lan­guage school of du­bi­ous his­tory and un­cer­tain des­tiny, and of­fered a shaky role han­dling an ar­ray of erst­while schol­ars who were fol­low­ing the trend of try­ing to pick up some­one else's na­tive tongue and cul­ture by in­ter­act­ing with vis­it­ing for­eign­ers.

In­cluded in my dis­parate mélange of Wed­nes­day stu­dents were Yoshie and the rest of the 'Golden Agers'. An an­cient crew - more mot­ley than mas­terly - of learn­ers, they had my at­ten­tion and awe from the start. They were 'hi­bakusha' - sur­vivors of the atomic bomb. Help­ing them felt like solemn priv­i­lege rather than duty.

Hav­ing come through the in­fa­mous dev­as­ta­tion of their city and decades of post-war stress th­ese women were never ever go­ing to be trou­bled or shaken by any class­room duress that I could sub­ject them to, I thought. Surely.

Some­how, when we are younger, we get th­ese things wrong. Our tim­ing is awry. An older me wants to now, oc­ca­sion­ally, chide a youth­ful me.

A 'sen­sei' - teacher - in Ja­pan is ac­corded a clear def­er­ence or obe­di­ence, and all kinds of lee­way that ed­u­ca­tors in other ped­a­gogic worlds may never know. So a sen­sei asks and a sen­sei gets be­cause they, their age not­with­stand­ing, are 'the ones who have gone be­fore' and are ex­pected to know all sorts of things about mea­sur­ing twice and cut­ting once.

In early Au­gust, in the days fol­low­ing the A-bomb Me­mo­rial Cer­e­mony near the de­vice’s Ground Zero point, I asked for, firmly though not un­kindly, my Golden Agers' first-hand nar­ra­tives of what hap­pened on and about the 6th of Au­gust, 1945. Ever so slightly they piv­oted to­wards Yoshie. It was her say-so. Her lead.

She low­ered her voice, tilted her head to one side. She paused and breathed this:”Sen­sei. Chotto muzukashii desu.” Teacher, it's a lit­tle dif­fi­cult.

In the years that fol­lowed, I was to learn ex­actly what this meant. It was a clear but po­lite 'no', in Ja­pan. But I was not quite ready or able to hear that yet. Af­ter all, 'dif­fi­cult' was not 'im­pos­si­ble', it seemed.

“If you tell me your sto­ries I will feel your ex­pe­ri­ence bet­ter.”

“If you share your nar­ra­tive I will faith­fully pass it on to the gen­er­a­tions I will meet in my fu­ture teach­ing life.”

“If you help me un­der­stand what it was like I may know more about the fu­til­ity of war. Can teach the fu­til­ity of war.” “If you do this thing.” If YOU do this thing. And we be­gan. In the fol­low­ing hours I learned of may­hem, noise, fire, pain, stench, hor­ror, shock, dread. Of loss, un­cer­tainty, pathos, lethargy, fu­til­ity, grace, fa­tigue, des­per­a­tion, luck, gen­eros­ity. Of the busi­ness of be­ing ap­palled. Of grief, of grief, of grief. When the time was up, when tears were wiped and the tis­sues dis­carded, they left to­gether. Smiles back in place. Lace para­sols and pa­per fans set to han­dle the fierce things that the Hiroshima sum­mer can sur­prise the un­wary with if they're not set­ting sen­tries for them.

Two weeks later Toshiko suc­cumbed to the ra­di­a­tion-in­duced leukaemia she'd done bat­tle with all the time I knew her, and many years be­fore that. No­body in the class said a word about it. They merely tilted her chair against the ta­ble edge and we went qui­etly through our af­ter­noon's prac­tise and never men­tioned atomic bombs again.

Just so. It had been a lit­tle dif­fi­cult.

Some­how, when we are younger, we get th­ese things wrong. Our tim­ing is awry. An older me wants to now, oc­ca­sion­ally, chide a youth­ful me

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