A Parting Letter
Kawata Kozue, 22, Nurse, Kobe-shi, Chuo-ku
The catastrophe was totally unforeseen. On January 16th, I took time off from my work as I was down with the flu and a high fever of 40 degrees. On January 17th, the alarm clock rang as usual at 5.30 am. I was going to start the day like any other days, or so I thought. I was in a daze, probably due to the fever. When I tried to get some warm water to make tea for myself, I felt the ground shaking. I began to wonder if my fever so bad that I felt lightheaded even while sitting down?
One moment, I remained calm and told myself that it was an earthquake. Another moment, I was not sure if it were a dream. After the first round of shaking, the power went off. In the quiet darkness, only the eerie sounds of falling objects were heard.
Violent shaking continued. I could not recall how long it had lasted. It probably went on for several tens of seconds, but it felt incredibly longer then, so long that I could not stand it anymore.
On the first floor, about 40 occupants were sitting along the corridor of the nurses’ dormitory near the new Kobe Station. They were chatting away casually about things that had happened in the hospital. I was sure the late-night shift nurses and the patients were trembling in fear.
Frankly, I considered myself lucky that I was not on the late-night shift.
A newbie like me would only get in the way of the rescue effort. But I had to
go to the hospital. I had completely forgotten that I was running a fever.
It was dim outside when I returned to my room. The clock indicated that it was 6.30, but the alarm clock stopped at 5.46.
I rang my parents from the public phone booth in front of the dormitory.
“Terrible earthquake struck this morning and fires broke out too, but I’m all right. I’m going to work. You watch the TV for updates.” I kept the call short but Mom was glad because it was important that she knew I was safe. After the call, the phone service was down for several hours.
I boarded a taxi with four seniors in front of our dormitory. We were driven
along our usual route to work but the sights that met our eyes were completely
different from those of yesterday. I grew up not knowing what war was like but
what I saw sure looked like a battled site.
All the traffic lights were out of order, and the cars were running wild on the road. From the radio in the taxi came the cracked voice of the broadcaster who sounded extremely excited. The buildings had collapsed like toy houses. The huge pillars that supported the expressways linking the Kobe Bridge were bent. Luckily, the bridge had not collapsed. We were trying to cross the bridge and enter the port island, but the whole place was like a lake and inaccessible by car. The cars were joining the queue one after another. I even spotted ambulances amongst them.
A middle-aged woman was running along and crying, “Help! Please let us go through. My daughter...my daughter...” We wanted to walk the rest of the journey but the cars were so close to one another that we could not even open the door.
“You guys are nurses, the fighting force of the hospital, huh? Let me try my best to get you there. Anyway, this taxi is about to be scrapped soon,” the cabby said and started to weave in and out of traffic. Looking at the island, I though it might just sink to the bottom. Surprisingly, not even a car was behind our taxi. I was told later that no vehicles were allowed on the bridge! What was the cabby trying to get us into?
Somehow, we reached the hospital, which appeared pitch-dark although it had
its own generator. We got to the medical wards guided by the handrails alone. The
nurses on the late-night shift and those who rushed over from the nearby
dormitories were already bustling about.
The beds had been shifted by the quake despite the stoppers. Things had
fallen and broken. The patients gathered around at a corner trembling. Fortunately,
none of them was injured or experiencing sudden change in their conditions.
Although I was scared of the aftershocks, I felt a sense of mission as a nurse. As the water and electricity supplies were cut off, I became very worried for the hospital. It was not until noon that the electricity supply came back on. We still had to use bottled distilled water though. Before noon, we had half our staff back, and I felt slightly more at ease.
We were not sure how to survive the next few days. Anyway, we worked as if
there were no tomorrow. The hospital went without heating and water for a
However, with every one here showing a great sense of responsibility, and with the help of the heart-warming volunteers, we managed to survive the ordeal. If it had not been for my job as a nurse, I would probably have fled Kobe instantly following the quake. None of my family members had ever asked me to leave the place or return home.
A month and a half after the earthquake, I received a letter from my boyfriend. It was to be a parting letter.
For the one month following the earthquake, I had put my heart and soul in
my work at the hospital.
His family lives in Akashi, but was not affected by the disaster. We met only once after the
earthquake. I was trying as hard as I could to get on with my life, yet he did
not see eye to eye with me because he was leading a normal life.
I lost him at a time when I needed him most. Volunteers came from all parts of Japan, and relief materials from many countries. Although I was supported by the warmth of humanity at work, I passed every single day missing him in tears.
The letter came as unexpected as the earthquake, and as shocking. I could
shed no more tears. I have lost many things to the earthquake, including the love
of my darling.
The city is gradually returning to its previous state, but he has no intention of returning to me. Now, I am trying to do the best I can as a Kobe kid, driven by work, inspired by the phrase ‘Never give up!’ outside Hotel Okura, and supported by the encouragement of many people.