t was August 1, 1945, and I had returned from a reconnaissance flight near Matsue to learn that someone had paid me a visit. “Some woman was here to see you, Kuwahara,” the desk sergeant said.
My heart surged, beating rapidly. Toyoko?
“Your sister,” the clerk added. Well then, my sister. Wonderful! Surely I wanted to see her as well.
“Unfortunately, we couldn’t allow her to stay,” the desk sergeant continued, “As you know, we can’t have any civilians on the base now.” I barely nodded. “She left you these,” he said.
Thanking him, I hurried to my barracks, carrying the envelope and tiny parcel. Sitting on my cot, I opened the note and began reading: “Yasuo-chan, we received your message and were overjoyed to hear from you—the first word in many weeks. We did not know what had become of you. But now, to learn that you are near us once more—that
makes us feel so much better, even though we cannot see you.
“How proud we are, Yasuo! We know that you are bringing great honor to the Emperor, your country, and your family. I love you for this, my brother, for your courage, but always, even more for what you have been to me, what we have been to each other. I speak now, as well, for our entire family. Wherever you may go, whatever you may be doing, our love journeys with you.
“Each day I pray for you at our shrine and always in my heart. Your Sister, Tomika.”
Over and over, I read those words, consumed by emotion. An immense longing swept over me like a tide. If only I could have seen her—for a single, fleeting second! Just one more time! Then the tide ebbed. No, better not to have seen her at all, not to see any of them. Better that way. At last I opened the little parcel. For a long time I sat there bowed, staring at her gift, feeling its softness against my palm, gazing at its lustrous darkness. Tomika had left me a lock of her hair.
A torpid August first merged with August second. Over a month since my meeting with Captain Tsubaki. A month, and still waiting! Incredible! Why didn’t the word come? Why? What were they waiting for? And now the paradox loomed even more strangely. As each day brought me closer to death it might also draw me farther away. It was a race between the death of our nation and the death of Yasuo Kuwahara.
The night of August third, I tossed feverishly, beset by endless nightmares. Death was no longer my greatest fear. Waiting itself was worse. No hope now. Desperate though our country had become, I decided that its surrender might still take months. The waiting, waiting, the abominable waiting! The strangling noose of uncertainty, growing ever tighter!
Once I awakened, muttering incoherently, my entire body slick with sweat, my hair not only damp but even wet with it. If my orders didn’t come soon, I might take the easy way out after all. A sharp knife, a quick slice across the jugular vein. “There is nothing honorable in dying for a lost cause,” the words came. “There is nothing. . . .” I almost choked.
I was ensnared in the great net from which there was no escape. One way or another, I would die. But die the easy way to escape the hard way? After all the struggle, end my life through cowardice? Humiliation and dishonor? Yes, humiliation and dishonor, to myself and to my family, if not for our government for which I had now lost all respect. I shook my head, sighing, moaning. No, not the easy way—not the coward’s way.
Wait, Kuwahara. Wait, barely existing from one moment to the next. Grit your teeth. Clench your fists. Swear. . . Pray to God. Curse him if you have to, but wait. Do not bring dishonor. Keep me sane, keep me in the skies, striking at the enemy. . . until the word comes! Yes, fighting is the best solution now—my only salvation.
August fourth, I found myself praying many times that day, much of it virtually senseless, often utterly contradictory. I knew where a sharp knife was, waiting patiently without compromise. God send me an enemy plane. Don ‘t make me wait. Do not leave me here!
At four in the morning, August fifth, I sat bolt upright, tearing myself from the ragged fracture of another nightmare. My mattress was again saturated with sweat, and I arose shakily to begin pacing the floor. I was seeing it all from a different perspective again. What did it matter how I died, just so I got it over with? My family? I didn’t have a family. My entire past was a dream. Life itself the constant nightmare, inescapable, awake or asleep.
The wooden floor was hard and a bit slivery as I crossed it and exited through the back door. Cooler outside, the base silent and corpse like, slowly wreathing in darkness and the first bilious gleams of dawn. In a few minutes I would go get the knife, kneel there beside the barracks—dark and cool. Enter the waning darkness, the coolness, before they escaped, flee with them forever. No, no ridiculous. Not after so long a struggle. For a moment I cursed the entire world, but nothing would send me out a coward. I would have that one, cold triumph.
Now… go back in and lie down on your soggy mattress. Got to sleep before the feeling changes again. You’ll make it to the end, Yasbei… somehow. Think about anything else. . . about Toyoko. No, no, better not. Toyoko makes you remember that final night together. Then think of Tatsuno—Nakamura too. You were not a true friend, Kuwahara. Yes, guilt, a rancid taste on the tongue—that only one thing can dispel. Think of someone else. Tyyoko. No, not Toyoko, not.. . Think of your sister, your mother. Ah, ah yes.. . you can see their faces once more, hear their blessed voices.
An hour before reveille, I sank into a feverish sleep, a state of near coma.
And that day. . . I received my written orders. On August eighth, I would take off for the final time. At last, at last, I truly knew! A great and leaden door had swung open revealing my destiny. Okinawa. . . waiting there amid the endless waters and the swirling vapors of time. Three days. Somehow, some way, I would cling to the melting rim of existence three more days.
The following morning I would be granted a two-day pass. Such was the Japanese Military’s magnanimity to its fated sons. At first I had decided not to use that pass. I had reflected upon the matter lengthily, well beforehand, in fact, convinced that it would be better never to see my family or friends again, told myself that in effect I had died already. I had banished the idea from my mind.
Early that next morning, August sixth, I burst into the orderly room with a frantic change of heart. “My pass! Do you have a two-day pass for me?”
The desk sergeant was owlish, slightly grizzled, wearing thick-lensed reading glasses. For a moment he regarded me strangely. “You were supposed to have signed for it last night, Corporal.”
“I couldn’t last night,” I said struggling hard to contain myself, “Just give me the pass—I’ll sign for it now.”
“Well. . . all right,” he replied, still stupidly reluctant. “Ummm, let’s see. . . .” Fumbling his way through the file with infuriating clumsiness. “Ummmm. . . let’s see: Ito. . . Kimura. . . Hai, Kuwahara! Go ahead, but date it August fifth, or, it will be my ass! No, not there, damn it! Right here, under Kimura’s.”
For a moment I had scarcely known what I was doing. It was almost as if I had never learned to write. “Arigato, Sergeant—thank you.” With trembling hands I scrawled my signature, destination, time of departure, time of return, then fled.
Minutes later I had obtained a ride in the back of an army truck headed for Hiroshima. It would not take long to reach my home from there. Home, my place of origin, the people to whom I belonged. I should have known the pull would be too great, inexorable, like the gravitational force of the moon upon the tides. How foolish I had been.
The truck rumbled erratically forward, jolting and clattering over the pitted road, nearly jarring my teeth loose at times, but I didn’t mind. I was gazing at the darkening green of the rice fields, the narrow canals, the lush, green vegetation of the mountains, the interplay of sunlight and retreating shadow, and the burgeoning blue of the sky. Suddenly there was a remarkable enchantment about my entire surroundings—a beauty I had almost forgotten.
Nostalgia welled with the advancing light, and now I was remembering experiences from my boyhood: a family visit to the shrines of Kyoto, a secluded lake miraculously high in the mountains somewhere, taking turns with my brothers looking through a pay telescope at scenes far distant. . . two fishermen in a row boat a mile away, unaware of our gaze as they baited their hooks then commenced eating their lunch. A bright river of memory flowing through my mind with scenes of enchantment at every turn, but most of all home.
Unexpectedly I was strangely happy. Miraculously, it suddenly seemed that the next two days would somehow be exempt from the manacles of fate just ahead. A golden island that would glow throughout the expanses of eternity. The forty-eight hours would pass, but the island would remain, and death would merely be a transition, a process of purification wherein the good, the just, the truly happy would abide. Yes in the last analysis, death would indeed be lighter than a feather.
Perhaps God, or Buddah, or fate. . . someone or something. . . who or whatever placed us in this strange estate called mortality would accomplish it. “Make it acceptable to me,” I murmured, “please make it all right.” The words repeated themselves over and over, resonating throughout my being, and I leaned forward, elbows on my knees, hands clasping my head.
That way I could feel every rock and depression in the road, but it was working. Someone or something was listening. I continued to repeat the words but more calmly now, and my soul was relaxing as though a clean breeze were drifting through. I glanced up. Yes, a cleansing breeze, literally. The rice was billowing in soft green waves. And yes, the happiness had not deserted me. Two golden days, and that was everything.
I left the truck on the outskirts of Hiroshima at about 7:30 a. m., and a few minutes later boarded a streetcar. Impulsively, only moments earlier, I had decided to visit briefly with a friend there in the Second General Army Hospital before going on to Onomichi. Leaving the streetcar, I heard it move off along the tracks, emitting a lonely tootle in the distance. For an instant I gazed about, filled with a sudden need to consume, somehow digest and metabolize my entire surroundings.
The sky was still clear except for a muted overcast in the west as I walked along Shiratori Street toward the hospital. Already it was growing sultry, and even at that hour small bands of children were skittering about the streets, blessedly unaware that their world was falling apart. “Ohayo gozaimasu!” A man passed by, carrying a briefcase, and I returned his good morning. Grocers and magazine vendors had opened the shutters to their flimsy huts, but there was little within them of interest.
Once, on impulse, though, I stopped to purchase an orange. I could feel its roundness as I continued along the street, the gratifying texture of its skin, even the pores, in my hand. What a marvelous creation, how remarkably designed! By chance alone? If so, why the consistency in oranges everywhere, the order of their growth? The pliable, rubbery skin, so easily removable yet so remarkably protective? Why the delightful, incredibly sweet, easily separable sections, perfectly constituted to delight the palate and enhance one’s health? The skin glowed entrancingly, joyfully. My mouth watered, but I would wait, cherishing it until the proper time. A reward, a gift to myself. For what, I did not know. Perhaps for having simply survived so long, so miraculously.
Along my way, an old woman called to me. Her face was a mosaic of wrinkles and lines as though it had been frozen and shattered. Eyeing her curiously, I turned back, and she reached for me with a trembling hand. For a moment I gazed into her withered face, into eyes still bright and alert. “I want to know the truth, young man,” she rasped. “What has become of our aircraft? Why are they no longer up there?” She hunched before me, shriveled, blinking and stoic, probably anticipating the worst, even wanting it.
Gently I laid my hand upon her shoulder, and gazed at the pavement. I wished greatly that I could go somewhere with that ancient obasan. Conversation would be unnecessary, only her presence. That, perhaps, and a cup of tea. “Old mother,” I said, “there are few planes left. Before long it will all be over, and we won’t have to hide from the bombs any more.” Her claw closed upon my hand almost painfully, and I began to leave. Then I turned back for a moment. “Here, take this,” I said and handed her the orange.
Minutes later I heard air raid sirens—a small concern, since two American planes had already passed over while I was on the street car. The lone B-29 above did not seem threatening for some reason, merely patronizing. If I were up there now in my Hayabusa I would dive at it from the eye of the sun, all guns blazing, pumping them out from my cannons. But the old woman was right. No Japanese planes in sight. The sky was empty except for that single, stolid, lumbering monster, coursing the heavens with total impunity.
I continued to watch it occasionally, however, as I went along my way. There was something disconcerting in its very placidness, about the persistent smugness of its droning. So casual, so presumptuous. Soon a tiny white speck separated from its silver belly, and the plane moved off, picking up speed. No larger than a marble at first, the object increased to the size of a baseball, then seemed to change in form, becoming a large mushroom. A parachute, carrying a strange, dark object, tapered like a shark but blunt at one end as though the head had been chopped off. Yes. I heard the speculations of others watching with me.
“What are they up to now?”
“More of their stupid pamphlets?”
“Yes, more propaganda-more of the same old thing. Don’t pay it any—”
All other mutterings were obliterated, along with everything else. Suddenly a monstrous multi-colored flash bulb went off directly in my face. Something like concentrated heat lightning stifled me, transforming my lungs into vacuums. So fast, it might have been a mere figment of the imagination.
Yet simultaneously I threw up my hands, vainly striving to protect my face from the ferocious burning. A mighty blast furnace had just been opened upon the world.
Within the next moment there came a cataclysm which no one will ever describe adequately. It was neither a roar, a boom, nor a blast. Rather, it was a combination of all those qualities with something else added—the fantastic power of earthquakes, avalanches, and erupting volcanoes. For one fantastic, overwhelming moment nature had unleashed its wrath, and the world had ruptured in a mighty convulsion.
All this within only seconds, and I was slammed to the earth as though struck by a charging rhino. Sudden darkness, all light extinguished like the flicking of a switch. . . pressure, an agonized, choking gasp. . . my body seared with pain. Then relief, utter vacancy. I did not exist. Never had.
Minutes. . . hours. . . days? Impossible to tell, but somewhere within the depths of nothingness, there came a sound. A rumbling that somehow, in defiance of natural law, restored my spirit in the depths of the void. At the time, however, these things were only dim awareness—the awareness perhaps of a worm stirring in the winter soil or an insect within its cocoon.
Another rumbling. . . then another, and the sense of awareness expanded. Carts. . . the rumbling of carts! But why? What had happened? Where was I? Gradually my sense of personality acquired clearer dimension. I was Yasuo Kuwahara, Corporal. Kuwahara. . . on my way somewhere. On my way home?
Going home to say goodbye.
Yes, recollection returning. But what had happened? An earthquake? No, a strange and impossible explosion. A bomb perhaps, a bomb of colossal force utterly beyond the realm of experience. There within the darkness I saw again the white and welling mushroom—drifting on the retina of memory, steadily transforming now, becoming a gigantic jellyfish—something dark and sullen, inexpressibly grotesque, attached to its tendrils.
But I was Yasuo—Yasuo Kuwahara, still alive, though helpless, scarcely able to move. Buried alive! The realization riddled me with horror, greater fear than I had yet known, but eventually I worked one arm free from the rubble embracing it, feeling the skin of my hand rip on something jagged. My eyes, nose, ears, even my mouth, were clogged with dirt, and for several minutes I choked and spat, blinking frantically, then stopped suddenly from pain as the grit rasped my eyeballs.
For a long time I simply lay there, gasping and groaning. My eyes were watering copiously, but eventually they cleared enough that I could detect a tiny scratch of light overhead. It seemed now that I could hear more sounds above as well, people treading about—once another rumbling noise.
Again, it died, and I was filled with terror. Buried alive. I began to writhe, groping about with my free hand and encountering the jagged board that had ripped it earlier. “Help! Help me!” I forced out the words with all my strength, but they sounded like the croaks of a frog. Again and again I called out, gradually with greater volume, also growing pain in my throat and chest.
The pressure from my waist down was also increasing, becoming unbearable. The numbness was creeping upward, entering my torso. Hours seemed to elapse, and occasionally there were more noises overhead. At times I would call out, then go down in a swoon. It was that whirlpool again that I had discovered months before during my beatings from the Mantis.
Once I surfaced, and for the moment my thoughts were lucid. A huge and terrible bomb, yes. The Americans had dropped a new bomb unlike any the world had ever known. Yes, that had to be it.
During my flights to Okinawa some weeks earlier I had heard occasional radio messages from the enemy in Saipan, warning us to surrender or suffer catastrophic consequences. Was this the ultimate realization?
What an ironic situation in any event. A suicide pilot, a noble, glorious Kamikaze, dying inside the earth only a short distance from his home! For an instant I almost laughed. What an ignominious way to die! On the other hand. . . why did it matter? Perhaps all of Japan was gone. Had a B-29 circled over every major city, releasing a parachute with a bomb? What a thought. No more Japan! Everything gone, in ruins. No, no, impossible.
More noise above, giving me a start. Dust had sifted through the scratch of light overhead. For a moment it widened then shrank to a mere bird’s eye. More dust. The eye closed, and I yelled. Feeling as though my lungs might tear loose, I shouted again and again. No answer. Sobbing for air and groaning, I made a last feeble bid for help.
Seconds later the eye blinked once more and became a yawning mouth. “I hear you,” a voice came. “Be patient—we’re removing the rubble.” Wonderful words, yet there in my helplessness, I wondered again whether I was now a complete cripple. The numbness in my body was increasing. How long had I been there? Days? Would I be liberated only to die moments later? Or to be hopelessly paralyzed?
The sounds above increased. At length, unbelievably, the weight was lifting, darkness changed to a blinding light. “Are you all right?” a voice inquired. “Easy, easy—better not move. Better not. . . .” But I was moving, getting to my hands and knees. Moving! Struggling to rise. . . somehow regaining my feet! But dizzy, overwhelmingly dizzy.
The world teetered in a blur. What a weird, swirling vision! Voices, insistently, warning, comforting, making no sense, and I toppled backward, the blood draining from my head, much as though I were completing a power dive in my fighter plane. Legs collapsing. “Easy—easy!” Hands and arms, capturing me, breaking my fall. “We’ve got you. . . it’s all right. Just lie back for a minute.” I gazed up at them in vacuous wonderment. My benefactors were all clad in white!
“You’ll be all right,” a voice said. “Just stay right here until you regain your strength. We have to go now.”
The thought filled me with panic. “No, wait! Don’t go!”
“We must,” the voice drifted. “Hiroshima is in ruins—everyone dead or dying.” The figures were dissolving like ghosts.
“No, don’t leave me!” I pleaded and broke into a strange, dry crying, but the crying hurt so much I ceased, groping for rationality. Eventually I got to my hands and knees and struggled to my feet again, still so dizzy I wondered if my ear canals had ruptured.
Days later I learned that my benefactors, the figures in white, were patients from the army hospital who had dived beneath their beds when the explosion occurred, barely escaping destruction themselves. I also learned that I had been buried for approximately six hours.
Gradually, my vision cleared, revealing a spectacle exceeding my most horrifying nightmares—so hideous, my already queasy stomach erupted, and I fell to my knees, retching. Minutes later I was still on all fours, hoping that I had merely been the victim of some gargantuan hallucination. But no, it was all there, far more horrible, in fact, than I had initially realized.
Many have sought to describe Hiroshima following the nuclear holocaust on that fateful day, August 6, 1945, an immense wound in the heart of history that has never fully healed, merely become a throbbing mass of scar tissue. No one has ever succeeded nor will they, for what occurred there was beyond the realm of human experience.
Certain broad pictures remain, however, scorched forever within my memory. . . pictures of a great city reduced to a fiery rubble pit in which approximately 140,000 people had died with an equal number wounded. Some of the former had literally been vaporized or burned to a crisp, and all of it within a few ticks of a watch.
Again, I stood, still swaying, staring dementedly, and now I felt moisture. A black rain was settling from a black sky. Again, lapses of memory. Again, for a time, I could not recall when I had come to this place or why. All about me for miles, the landscape had been virtually leveled, yet it was steadily astir with life and death, like the amorphous agitations in a swamp, steadily becoming more appalling as my vision cleared.
Shiratori Street, I gradually realized, was buried under houses and buildings, folded and smashed like trampled boxes—much of it charred and blackened, portions aflame, periodically flaring up savagely. Bodies were scattered everywhere, some charred and inert, some barely mobile. In the distance, a few of the sturdiest buildings still stood, gray-black and skeletal, a number listing precariously, ready to collapse. Fire and smoke everywhere, rapidly expanding, and at times the smoke drifted my way, blindingly, chokingly.
Groggily I gazed skyward. The sun had been annihilated along with everything else. Despite the hour, night was closing in. I glanced down at the debris nearby and realized that fate had actually worked in my favor. The house under which I was buried had also partially shielded me from the blast. In addition, I had apparently fallen at the base of a large watering trough located against the back wall of the house. The trough, in turn, had helped protect me from the collapsing debris.
Sand, mortar, and litter had nearly filled the trough, forcing it to overflow, and apparently the remaining water had completely evaporated. The awful heat wave had turned nearby grass and other vegetation to ashes, actually melted much of it.
Examining myself more thoroughly now, I discovered a large bruise on the back of my head, lacerations across the side of my face and neck. Both eyes were badly swollen, flowing with tears, and still smarted. My clothing was torn and filthy, with a large rip over my knee. The knee throbbed, sticky with blood and dirt.
Eventually I hobbled away aimlessly, reeling at times like a drunk and within a short distance encountered a pile of bodies, possibly ten or twelve of them. Several were still alive, struggling feebly to extricate themselves. A blackened form rolled from the heap, and a head emerged. The face was singed beef, and its single bloodshot eye blinked at me. The nose was gone, the mouth a lopsided hole.
“Here, here—let me help you,” I said, and began dragging free some of the corpses. Tugging at a charred arm, I fell backward. The flesh from the elbow down had sloughed off in my hands like that of a roasted goose. Gorge rising, I continued my task, freeing a man already more dead than alive. One or two people assisted, but others merely stared as though stupefied.
The entire landscape seemed to wreathe with moans and wails, mounting at times to a kind of bedlam. I limped onward, still directionless, and within seconds I chanced upon a man pinned beneath a beam. Several people were grunting and prying with timbers, struggling to extricate him. Then, as they dragged him free, he emitted an agonized scream and died, blood gushing from his bowels. Hip to ankle, he had been mangled, but the beam’s pressure had prevented external bleeding.
Bewildered, I wandered on while all about me people were dying, moving aimlessly like half-frozen insects, some clasping their heads other parts of their bodies. Many were naked, and a few—mostly women – sought vainly to cover themselves. Others seemed totally oblivious to their personal nudity. My own clothes were, in fact, more tattered than I had originally realized. One sleeve was missing from my jacket, and one trouser leg, a mere scorched crust, virtually crumbled apart as I brushed against pile ofjagged boards.
I reeled onward, a wild, staring animal, bereft of my sanity. Oddly, however, a second part of me, a kind of alter ego, seemed to be monitoring my responses, somehow detached, from a different perspective. At times, it seemed, that I could actually stand back a bit to observe the strange, haggard creature that I had become, that others were observing. Observing, however, with utter indifference for the great majority were in far worse condition than I.
A short distance ahead someone called feebly, a woman sprawled upon the pavement as though hurled from the sky. Her body was roasted, blackened, and blistered beyond recognition. Her hair had been reduced to charcoal, and patches of her skin and flesh were peeling off.
One side of her throat was scathed and laid open, yet cauterized by the blast, and I could actually see the blood vessels, weakly pulsating with tortured life. Her lips writhed, struggling to form words, but her vocal cords were also dying. Kneeling beside her, I bent low, listening, heard only the dry, hissing buzz of her breath. Then I understood. “Kill me. Please kill me.”
Transfixed, I stared at her, my own mouth gaping. The light in those eyes was fading, and suddenly my entire body racked with an immense moan. Clasping my hands to my face, I arose and stumbled off. Innumerable forms lay all about me, some writhing and in their death throes, many afflicted with that same hideous skin condition. Like blackened lepers, they were falling apart. Others, simply wandered in collective confusion.
Slowly, feeble as an old man, I struggled on throughout the rubble pit that was once Hiroshima for an hour or more, trying at times to be of aid to the wounded and dying but usually with complete futility. Eventually I found myself before the remains of the Yamanaka Girls’ High School. Before classwork that morning approximately four hundred girls had assembled in rows on the outer grounds to receive their daily announcements. The blast had cut them down like an enormous scythe, stripping off everything but their belts. Watches, rings and buckles had been embedded in their blackened flesh by the fearsome heat. The school pendants worn about their necks were burned into the sternums between their breasts.
Parents and other family members were examining the bodies. Mothers and sisters were moaning and wailing unlike anything I have ever heard. Some had apparently identified their own, but the efforts in general were futile because most of the girls’ faces had been charred beyond recognition. Teeth projected in ghastly grins, and the odor of their bodies cloyed in my nostrils like the reek of manure and decaying fish. Again, I doubled over, holding my stomach and retching, but nothing emerged except for streamers of mucous and saliva flowing from my nostrils and lips, dripping from my chin.
As I turned to leave, a man and woman were huddled before a body, peering into the remains of its face with awful intensity. Many were clinging to each other and weeping as though nothing was left in the universe.
Eventually I spotted an army truck ahead winnowing its way through an expanse of smoldering rubble. “Wait!” I shouted, “wait!” but my voice was the cawing of a crow. The truck lumbered onward, two or three men in the back gaping at me stupidly. “Wait!” The cry tore at my lungs agonizingly, and I stumbled, falling. They could not distinguish me from a civilian, and for a moment I simply sprawled there, face down in the dirt and ashes.
Soon, another truck came grinding my way, and for a time I thought it might run over me. No matter—a blessing, in fact. Nevertheless, by mere instinct, I raised my hand feebly as it rumbled past. Then, a short distance beyond, it halted and began to back up. For the third time that day, I rose from the earth and, surprised at my own strength, began to run. My energy deserted me as I reached the tail gate, however, and I was dragged aboard like the survivor of a ship wreck.
Beyond all feeling now, I stared vacantly at the landscape as it fell behind. Fires still rampaged in many places, smoke stifling the entire area and menacing the sky. We crossed the Ota River upon a bridge miraculously still in tact though precariously near collapse. A human carpet thronged those shores in throbbing blotches. Thousands were sprawled and slowly convulsing along the banks like poisoned lemmings.
Countless numbers wallowed in the shallows, trying to cool themselves. Many had died that way, some from their wounds, others from drowning—bobbing corpses, dozens washing down stream on the current. Mothers, fathers, aged and infant. . . the bomb had not been guilty of discrimination.
Gradually the city fell behind in a ruddy, grit-filled haze, abrading the eyes and nostrils at times like tear gas. Eventually we were passing fields, still green, relatively unchanged, except that the shadows were now lengthening from the west instead of the east.