Okamoto Hiroko, 59, housewife, Kobe-shi Higashinada-ku
‘Yu! Aya!’ Tonight, I am calling their names again. The major fireworks display on the Muko River has ended. The wind outside the window has turned extremely chilly, and the lights of the houses on the opposite side of the river have dimmed.
It has been more than eight months since the quake. 250 days to be exact. However hard I concentrate on my prayer, my two precious grandchildren will never come to life again. I was a victim at Higashinada-ku Moriminami-cho, and am now staying in a condominium near the Takarazura Minamiguchi Station of Hankyu.
On that day, I heard rasping sound in my dream followed by a loud bang, and everything was destroyed in an instant. I was sleeping in the second floor, and could see the garden from the tilted window. Suddenly, I heard my son-in-law shouted, ‘Are you all right? Yu and Aya are already dead.’ I heard him clearly.
I crawled my way out and was stunned at what I saw. The wooden house had crumbled, covering my daughter and two grandchildren under the rubble. Our neighbors immediately came to our aid, using a chunk of wood and stones as levers to help her out. When pulled out, my two grandchildren still had body warmth. Yu had a lump on his head. Aya’s face was as beautiful as before but some odd sounds could be heard coming from her chest.
‘Quick! To the hospital!’ I said, but my son shook his head. He said all hospitals had been hit and nobody could help. We wrapped their bodies with mud-stained towels and laid them down on the garden rocks. My daughter, standing there in shock, sobbed as she said, ‘You don’t have to go to kindergarten or tuition school anymore.’
It had been such a pleasure to see them grow, yet we did not make any attempt to save them – we did not even try to give them the drip. Tears of regret kept filing my eyes and I thought if only I could die on their behalf...
As an eight-member four-generation family, we were leading a happy life until the fateful day. We moved the bodies and placed them under the incomplete rooftop that remained standing. My son helped to pull out my mother-in-law, who had suffered a bone fracture. Then, we checked out our neighbors, and went around informing our relatives because we could not wait for the telephone service to come back.
My husband clung on to two bodies, which was becoming stiff gradually, and cried, ‘How can you go before grandpa?’ I can still recall vividly the day before the quake when the two grandchildren came to see me on the second floor of the main house, opened the window and exclaimed, ‘Grandma, this is as cool as a hotel room! Flowers are blooming in the garden too!’ They talked as if they were already adults.
The young couple bought food, water and bedding furiously, as if they had forgotten all about their lost children. My friends, who were shocked at the news, came and gave us rice balls and biscuits, which helped cool me down slightly.
We sat up all night, wary of more aftershocks. Next day, we left the bodies at a relative’s house, and evacuated to my younger sister’s house for a month.
Five days later, we saw the last of my grandchildren, four and eight years old, who looked gorgeous in makeup and cute hand-made flowers.
During the days when the house was out of electricity, water and gas, my son’s friends had come and stayed with us to provide the much needed help. Despite of the known danger, they retrieved our clothes and bedding from the second storey. They tried to cheer us up, although we were still trembling with fear. Without them, we would not be able to survive the ordeal.
On the 11th day, the power supply finally resumed. My son had to visit the ward office many times, as he wanted to demolish the house early for fear of the continued aftershocks. We had not enough time to pray the bone.
Amidst the dry and white dust, the eight-month old new house was readily crushed. We had built it for the sake of our grandchildren, and yet...
The assemblies to discuss land rearrangement got underway while we had to carry water under a tent that dripped in rain, buy portable stoves in bulk and try our best to go on despite our failing physical conditions. I could not believe it when I heard the news. I wanted to tell them that staying alive was our biggest concern now.
The condition of the mother of my son-in-law turned for the worst in the hospital, and she passed away on May 10th. I heard myself saying to her subconsciously, ‘Please take care of my grandchildren up there.’
I took the crippled transport from the Takarazura Minamiguchi Station to where our house had been. The sun beat down on the land, which had been cleared for construction, and it looked kind of white to me. When it rained, it would turn into a pond as there were no outlets.
Neither the sakura season nor the young leaves created any emotional stir in me. After a good five months, Hankyu lines came to life again on June 13th. On a train from the Nishinomiya Kitaguchi Station to the Okamoto Station, I could not keep my tears from falling. Along the line, I saw rooftops lining up beautifully against the backdrop of green mountains, as if there had not been a major quake. ‘Why did we....oh why did the two young lives...’
On the first Festival of the Dead for the three victims in our family, repair work was being done on the rooftop of part of the main house that remained standing. If only they had lived on, everything would be back to normal. I could not help but shed tears of sorrow. The prefabricated storeroom-cum-living-space was plagued by prolonged heat wave and bugs.
In the summer school break, Yu’s friend, who had not visited us for sometime, came to pay us a visit. I was taken aback at how fast a kid can grow in eight months’ time. My two grandchildren were born on January 30th and February 7th, respectively. My daughter and her husband had gotten ready their presents and were looking forward to their birthday celebration. It really pains me to imaging the extent of their sadness. But they have to overcome this tragedy and look at life in a positive way again. When they are able to do this, they will have given the best present to the two kids.
With the strong sunlight at these days of the year, the idle land looks more colorful. Our winter clothes and heating equipment have been kept in the carton boxes piled up one on top of another. It is time we took them out.
A series of earthquakes has struck Izu. If only there were some kind of warning against the Great Hanshin Earthquake, we could have at least slept away from the chests. We were partly to blame for not being cautious.
The city is recovering gradually. My two grandchildren loved triangular rooftops and houses with western-style round windows. The roads have been repaired and cyclists have begun cycling on them. Kids have also begun to the park and play a game or two of soccer.
‘Are there any fun activities up there? Have fun with your company, OK? Your stay here was short but thanks anyway for the fond memories,’ I gazed at the sky and murmured.