There she was, Keiko, walking towards us as we came out of the grocery store just off the food court at the Nagasaki train station. “Oh you, I wondered if you would come after you asked when we were leaving.” “I had to say a proper good bye.”
Charlie and I searched the tables at the back of the cathedral for something written in English so we could follow the Mass. Not that we didn’t know what was happening. Catholic means universal, so the Mass is basically the same wherever you attend. The readings and some prayers change throughout the seasons of the year.
We came across a box of headphones, and after just being at the Parkinsons congress where people were listening to simultaneous interpretation, and thought they would be helpful. As we discussed not seeing translation services in a church before, a woman approached and pointing to her ear said: “for hearing”. Oh, we should have known that. Charlie asked her about making a donation and as they talked I found a seat near the front of the long narrow church…
I already wrote about Michelle, the woman who translated the Bishop’s homily. We visited with her a few minutes, used the restroom and started to leave the church grounds when we saw Keiko, the woman by the headsets running towards us shouting “Charlie, Carol, I find you!” I got that she remembered our names but why she was running to find us was a mystery. As she caught her breath from her uphill run, she explained how as she waited for her bus she looked at the card Charlie handed her and saw we were from Oregon. Keiko had lived a year in Eugene, attending the University of Oregon in the second language learner program. She so wanted to talk with us that she asked to accompany us around Nagasaki. Who would think of turning down a free local guide. After lunch in an Italian restaurant, we walked to ground zero… where the bomb exploded. There is a statue there of a woman holding a burned child. Keiko and I stood side by side weeping at this sadness.”I am so sorry Keiko”. “War kills innocent people Carol.” She told me she often comes to this place. She feels the breeze that comes through the tunnel of Japanese maple leaves covering the path. As an American, I did not know what to say to my Japanese friend. We shared the space in quiet reflection of the horror. “My mother was coming back to Nagasaki to go to work. She arrived after the bomb. She did not suffer from the direct blast, but from radiation after.
Keiko told me about her nursing career. She was a nurse for an agency that recorded the effects of the bomb on those who lived through it. Every two years these research subjects came to the clinic to be examined and to undergo various imaging procedures. Keiko had grown close to some of these people. There were getting to be less of them alive as the years went by.
I came around a corner in the museum to see Keiko looking at a picture of a person who had been burned by radiation. It was an ugly sight. Tears were rolling down Keiko’s cheeks. I invited her to join me in the cafe for a cold drink. As she regained her composure I asked how many times she had been to this museum. “I don’t know. I come here often, spending times in different places”. My heart hurt. “It’s good that you come. They need to be remembered. We can never forget this horrific event ”
I looked out the window of the train to see Keiko standing there, her appearance more of a 19-year-old girl than a 61-year-old woman. When the train pulled out she ran alongside waving, like in the old movies.
We are now friends, this Japanese woman and this American from Oregon.