Story: How pretty it looked

By: Samantha Memi

indiavillage

The early morning light streamed through the hospital windows, capturing floating specks of dust, and glistening on the polished floor. The two sisters waited in the reception area, not noticing the sunlight outside. Having travelled through the night from their village, they were tired.

The elder sister knitted. The younger stared into emptiness, worried her world was falling part. How would she cope with mother ill and father away. At the moment she lived with her sister, but that was only temporary.

They didn’t speak. There was no need. Both were absorbed in their respective thoughts. Both wondered if they should have come into the city earlier to be by their mother’s side. A nurse passed but couldn’t give them any information about their mother. The visiting hour started at 8-15. Not much longer to wait.

The sunlight brightened her kitchen as she searched in cupboards for the bottle of shochu she had put aside specially for her husband’s return. She hadn’t seen him for over a year. She wondered what he would be like. What terrible sights had he seen. Will he be changed. Hardened. Angry.

It was in the bottom cupboard. She put it on the table with two glasses, and checked on the oden. She had only a few noodles, four soft carrots, an onion, some mushrooms, the remnants of a cabbage and some rice a neighbour had given her, especially for the occasion. She hoped this would please him. He will have been travelling all night, and will arrive tired, hungry and hopefully, longing to see her. She thought back to when they met. At Suki’s wedding. He offered her champagne. She had never tried it before but didn’t like to admit it.

Their first years of marriage were the happiest years of her life, and now this.

She looked out at the clear blue sky, the white bunny rabbit clouds. What had happened to the world?

Her daughter was still sleeping. Only three years old so it was better she slept. She had been so excited the past few days, knowing Daddy was coming home. The time was 8 o’clock. Her husband would soon be home.

He entered the modern concrete office building. His friend had brought him into town so he was a bit early. He knew this would be an important day in his life. Getting this job was the only thing that mattered to him at this moment. He looked at his watch. The interview was 8-15. Another 15 minutes.

He looked out at the beautiful day, sun shining, birds flying, bees buzzing. Puffs of soft white cloud littered the pale blue above the city.

He knew his age would work against him but hoped the scarcity of younger men would help. He read through his application form again. He was married. Good. Two children. He knew this company liked family men. He had experience. His limp kept him out of the army. So they would know he wasn’t a coward. He looked at the photograph of his youngest son. He needed this job.

She got up early, washed and brushed her hair. She wanted to look her very best. Yesterday she had met her ex-boyfriend. The only boy she had ever loved. When he said hello she blushed. She hadn’t seen him since he left school. Today he would be coming into the city again and she had agreed to meet him.

As she rushed out of the house she told her mother she had to be at school early.

She knew the danger, both her parents disliked him and had told her she shouldn’t see him anymore. Love didn’t come into it.

She was late, and she hurried through the streets. It was a beautiful day, blue sky, white clouds. Some children were looking up at the sky; she followed their gaze to see a silver plane very high in the sky. How pretty it looked.

The bomb was released at 8-15. It would take 43 seconds to fall.

The sisters bowed to their mother when they entered the ward.

The nurse said, —She is still very weak after the operation, please don’t tire her.

—No, we won’t, promised the sisters.

Their mother smiled when the younger sister put rice balls on the table beside the bed.

—For you, said the younger sister.

—How are you feeling? asked the elder.

—I feel much better, thank you. The nurses have been very kind. The doctor said I can leave hospital, maybe next week.

—My husband and I agree you will come and live with us.

—Thank you, said the mother, and there was a flash of light so bright her daughters’ bones became visible, as if in an x-ray. A ball of flame roared into the room and melted the flesh of the two girls as they stood there. She saw them burst into flames. Then her hair caught fire, her eyes popped out of their sockets, her boiling brains squirmed from her ears. Her face melted. Heat incinerated the nurses, doctors, patients, visitors, everyone, everything was cremated and vanished into dust. Not a scream, not a whisper.

The oden was ready. She looked out the window, what a glorious day this will be. She took the plates through to the dining room, and went to wake her daughter.

She heard him call her name. His unmistakable soft voice. He was in the open doorway, haloed in bright sunlight, and she ran down the hall into his arms, his strong arms, his warm embrace. Tears came to her eyes.

—You’re safe, she whispered to him, and when he kissed her, a flash of light, brighter than a thousand suns, set him on fire, and he fell, burning, from her embrace. She tried to hold him but she had no arms. Her arms around him had burnt to the bone.

Her daughter screamed. The house collapsed as if in slow motion, each beam like a flaming black tree.

The child was on fire, trapped under a beam. She had no hair, no eyes, no nose, no lips, just a hole in her face, and a deathly scream. Her mother had no arms, just bones. There was nothing she could do. She couldn’t reach her daughter. She tried. She burst into flames and fell burning, roasting like a piece of meat.

As he was shown to his seat he was impressed by the huge windows behind the interviewers.

—I am sorry to have kept you waiting, said an interviewer. —We have looked through your credentials and I can say you seem to be a most promising candidate. You have both the requisite qualifications and experience.

He smiled, and the windows crashed in with a million glass splinters slicing into anything soft and alive. The building leaned, and he sat, looking at the glass slicing into his body. The interviewers turned black and melted. He stood, and as he tried to walk to the door, he caught fire. On the floor the receptionist who had so politely shown him into the room, lay groaning in flames, her skin peeling like rags from her face. She pleaded, —Help me.

The building collapsed, concrete slabs crushing all within.

She saw him waiting outside a tea room. She wanted so much to hurry to him and she broke into a run. He smiled and she sank into his open embrace. She wrapped her arms around him and felt his warmth, his peppermint breath on her neck.

Then the sound of an express train, rushing, thundering. The café collapsed. Tea cups, tables, people flying through the air, falling, collapsing.

She was covered in dust, lying in the street. Yukio, where was Yukio. She tried to get up but she couldn’t move. She couldn’t feel her legs. She called, but no sound came. Her mouth was full of dust. Everywhere dust. It settled. She wiped it from her face. More fell, white, sticky, burning like acid. She spat it from her mouth. More dust fell, and more, and more.

In the streets, human torches, burning to end the war.

Above them, high in the sky, a silver plane glinted in the sunlight as it turned to head for the safety of home.

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