Of Ashes And Emptiness
Of Ashes And Emptiness6 mins 367 6 mins 367
It was a cold winter afternoon in Osaka. Minamoto Sakura dropped down her school satchel on the futon. Her satchel contained more first aid kit supplies than textbooks. These days, propaganda and drill practices in preparation for the looming war were more in focus at school than Math and History and literature. Sakura felt rather excited about it. Though her 12-year-old self knew that war was synonymous with destruction, yet the elders always talked of victory that was anticipated in a sure shot way.
His Majesty, the Emperor Hisahito’s voice resounded out of the radio now announcing Japan to be at war with the Allies- an official announcement for the citizens to brace up. The Japanese Imperial Army had bombed the Pearl Harbour, a strategic naval base of the United States. Sakura beamed from ear to ear. This was going to be the first ever war that she would be a witness to- and a mighty big one at that. The mundane everyday life would now be interrupted by a gargantuan change, chuckled Sakura to herself.
The Japanese Army continued with one successful invasion after another. Thailand, Vietnam, Laos -all fell to the might of the great Imperial Army. The adults around Sakura talked animatedly of Japan’s victories, congratulating each other in case a male family member received a draft notice. Seasons came and went. Days changed into months. The war continued. Schools and universities began closing down for indefinite periods, as teachers and students left to serve the nation.
Sakura felt even more jubilant. Life had changed truly. Mother, who would always ask her to focus on her academics so that she could get into a good university, too had changed her stance looking at the prevailing circumstances. Sakura would often be sent out on errands for fetching groceries, which were gradually being supplied in a rationed way. She felt she had grown more mature in a span of a year and felt proud of it- the proud citizen of a nation that only trod the path of victory.
The winter of the next year, Sakura’s father and elder brother both received draft notices. Neighbours came forward to congratulate the family. It was indeed a great achievement to be able to send out half of one’s family for the cause of the nation. Mrs. Minamoto, a calm lady usually, expressed no change of emotions. Sakura, meanwhile, began facing a growing conflict within her.
Her patriotic self swelled out in pride at being in a position that allowed her to be family with two soldiers and yet she felt unsettled; unsettled because two lives precious to her were at stake because the strains of war were slowly creeping in upon the lives of Sakura and all around her. Trades were closing down. There was a scarcity of everything, from money to food to even drinking water. Doors and furniture for supplying wood to the military forces were often carried out of people’s homes. Sakura’s excitement began ebbing away bit by bit. Is this why Mother had grown even quieter, Sakura wondered.
The two Minamoto men continued writing to home for the next two years, no matter where they were stationed. However, the following year Japan began facing heavy setbacks in the war. The Allied forces had begun gaining in strength whilst Japan’s allies in the war were reeling under massive attacks. Families were asked to be on the constant lookout for enemy aircraft. One January afternoon, a telegram arrived at the Minamoto household announcing the return Mr.Minamoto, who had suffered an injury in a leg and was therefore advised to return. The two women were relieved. But what about her brother, Sakura reflected anxiously. Mother continued to bear her signature calm appearance, though she appeared to have aged faster than ever.
The Osaka winter in the year of 1945 was particularly bitter. Life was almost a struggle now. Were the ancestors angry with them?-Thought Sakura. Yet another telegram arrived the next month. The younger soldier from the family had been admitted to the Osaka hospital. He had been wounded critically. Sakura’s sense of patriotism was wavering dangerously. She could only see agony and pain all about her. Wasn’t Japan set on a sure- shot victory? She wondered whether the others too were suffering from self doubting.
Minamoto kun (a way of addressing young Japanese males) was pronounced to be recovering by the overworked nurses and doctors when Sakura and her family visited the hospital. Shrapnel from a bomb blast had flown right out to him, tearing off his left arm and a chunk of flesh from his left leg. Timely assistance and their nearness to the Japanese coast alone had been able to save his life. He spoke in a weak but clear voice, reassuring them that he would recover soon. He had been advised bed rest in the hospital for a while. Sakura felt more troubled inside.
The next week, as Sakura lay in her bed one night, pondering drowsily about how her brother was doing, the radio began blaring out aloud about an intelligence that had been received. Citizens in all the major cities of Japan were advised to not let their guards down. Though no intelligence of bombings had been received as of yet, the blows the Imperial Army was receiving offshore were themselves premonition of lurking danger. Sakura ran out of her room. Mother had begun packing few of the important household belongings already while father sat upright, one hand clutching the injured leg and listening raptly for any further information. Sakura got to assisting in the packing.
Next morning, the family was up early and set out towards the hospital at a slow and steady pace with the head of the family limping as fast as he could. Upon reaching, they found out that a lot of the inmates had been evacuated already, Minamoto Kun among them. But none of the officials there could inform them of his current whereabouts. Sakura and her parents began retracing their steps homewards. Though worried about her brother, Sakura hoped that they would meet somewhere.
That night, the sirens began blaring. All families began rushing towards the nearby bomb shelters and taking cover. Sakura could hear a number of aircrafts tearing across the skies. Blasts rocked everything as she cowered low and covered up her hears. Crying children were hushed out by their mothers. The next morning, a ghostly calm had dawned over the world. The landscape of Osaka as Sakura knew it had been altered. All buildings had been reduced to rubbles. A few military propaganda pamphlets that had survived the attack floated about aimlessly. Sakura began running towards where the city hospital stood. She ran and ran till her lungs were on the brink of blasting. All had been razed down to waste. Had the curing house become a death trap? What had become of the promised victory? Why did only ashes surround her? Sakura’s eyes filled up with tears of anger.