The bohemian, the barfly, and myself go wandering through the streets of Hiroshima.  No particular destination in mind, forgetting the sights and talking about nothing. We pass through a covered market street and end up in a cheap bar.

Before I know it, we’re all throwing back a few and talking about nothing while drunk.  Numbing our senses to what occurred earlier in the day.  I recall me and the bohemian sharing a few words about the horrors—she’s perceptive with those big bright eyes of hers.  My guess is she’s locked it away for detached thought later.  The barfly is on familiar ground—ride the experience on other peoples’ brain points until he achieves some manner of liftoff himself.  Addiction to alcohol has its advantages I suppose.

Having lost our way, we grab a taxi to take us back to our hostel—it’s time to return in time for the visit of the survivor.  This is where my two acquaintances do better than me, having logged more hours in the consume alcohol skill than me.  Up until my visit to Japan, where drinking is a pervasive part of the culture (particularly for males), I’d never actually had a drink.  I’ve only been doing this for maybe two months.  I overshoot my limits, and am clearly wasted while we sit in a room and are introduced to the survivor.

She’s dressed in a nice business-casual outfit, with kind features.  There doesn’t seem to be anything physically wrong with her.  When she speaks, her voice is calm and gentle.  Our interpreter doesn’t miss a beat, so I almost feel like I am hearing the survivor’s own voice, through a screen perhaps.  But, bless the social safety valves of Japanese culture, even though I am an embarrassment they make allowances.  I sit quietly and resolve to be as unobtrusive as my state allows.

I miss a lot of the groundwork of her story, her family and what she was doing on that day.  But gradually as I sober up by degrees her story becomes clearer to me.  The woman explains how she was turning a corner around a building when the bomb went off, burning half her body.  Then every detail starts to imprint itself on my brain and I begin to remember why I got drunk in the first place.  I’m trying to escape, I must escape this horror or I will break down in uncontrollable weeping.

She is rescued and taken to a care-taking station.  Really just a place to gather casualties, the first steps at response.  Her eye has been destroyed and is rotting in her skull.  Her caretakers have to remove the eye but they have no instruments.  A piece of shattered glass without anesthesia is all they have to offer, and her eye is removed.

I didn’t know the survivor had a glass eye.  Her skin on the burned side doesn’t look at all like the horrible mess she described.  You would never know by looking at her that she has been through hell on earth.  The Japanese are very good at maintaining appearances, and I wonder what deep emotions she might be restraining so that we get the point.

Even though it’s unbelievably disrespectful, I stand up and walk out of the room, out of the building, back into the street. I can’t take it anymore.  This is a nightmare from which there is no waking.  It really did happen with real people, and the desecration, the inhuman monstrosity of it is forever.  Ghosts, everywhere around me crying out for my attention.

I find an alleyway next to a drink machine and buy myself an orange juice.  Then I sit on the cold asphalt of the alleyway and zone out.  Then I start to talk to the ghosts, try and understand them.  But untangling the mass grave is impossible.  This dark shadow of what we have done to ourselves is too big, too immense for one person to find an answer to.

The bohemian and the barfly find me after about an hour—how far could I stagger?  The bohemian says everyone was worried about me, and I say I’m okay.  You know, just needed a breath of air and a little sobering up, which is I suppose a rational response.  Our go-between/chaperones are upset with me, which I try to dodge by acting sheepish.  How do I apologize for my own weakness?  How do I explain to them how shocked I am?  I am guilty, and I am also having exactly the kind of experience this visit to Hiroshima was made for.

Barfly looks strangely subdued, which I’m surprised at.  For once, he’s not the center of a drunken drama and I’m the one making the group look bad.  We’re all sent to bed early, with me not in good graces.

Lights off, buckwheat mattresses and pillows out.  If only I could sleep.