I sat on a bench by the side of the river. It was a bright sunny day; the blossom was out; boys sitting by the riverbank; couples walking in the park behind me. Across the river was the shattered skeletal remains of the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, the most iconic surviving image from the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on 6 August 1945.
It seemed an incongruous landmark in a friendly, modern city; its inhabitants simply going about their everyday business of life. Or was it the people simply going about their everyday business of life, which seemed incongruous beside the stark reminder of such devastation?
Before I had time to decide upon an answer to my question, I was aware that someone had sat next to me on the bench. Glancing sideways, I was conscious of a large-set, middle-aged Japanese man, casually dressed in light shirt and trousers, sitting back, quietly contemplating the same view. Two strangers, we sat in companionable silence, while the boys continued to swing their legs over the concrete parapet at the side of the river, and while the couples continued to stroll in the park.
When he spoke, his voice was very quiet and, at first, I did not realise that he was talking to me. Too polite to address me directly, it was as though he had trusted his words to the random vagaries of the breeze in the hope that a few would scatter meaningfully in my direction. I had experienced the same thing talking to other people in Japan. It felt like a covert conversation between two secret agents, neither wanting to give the impression to any interested onlookers that they were in any way connected with one another. I had to ask him to repeat himself and, in so doing, answered his question.
“England. I have been to England. I saw Queen Elizabeth at Ascot.”
It was more than I had ever done.
“I travelled all around the world as a seaman. It was a good life.”
He asked me about my family, and I asked him about his.
“No wife. But I have six brothers. The oldest is 92. He remembers the war. I am 67.”
He looked a lot younger.
“I will live ten more years.”
I looked quizzical: “Not more like your brother?”
“Ten is enough. Then… It was a good life.”
There was a sense of quiet melancholy about the encounter, which seemed to fit the surroundings more appropriately than the boys sitting or the couples strolling. We continued to sit in silence for several more minutes, before the stranger got up and walked away.
© E. C. Glendenny
E. C. Glendenny has a quiet moment.