Tomorrow is the anniversary of the nuclear bomb falling on Hiroshima. It’s often the story of the individual which hits home when contemplating the horrors of war and the associated loss of life. In Reiko Watanabe’s case, it’s her lack of a story, the hole left, the emptiness of a future taken from her, the life she could have led, which really hit home for me. She was only 15 when the bomb dropped, helping with fire prevention work with her fellow students. She might be alive today, a grandmother, or great grandmother. We can only imagine the dreams and ambitions she concocted in her youth. The war raged around her, but she had a future.
Her body was never found, she was working by a mud wall, and later, her lunch box was discovered, melted, but still distinguishable and full of the rice and peas her mother had prepared for her that morning. It was all carbonised of course, but it was a tiny glimpse to show she was loved. And missed.
The photo below is by Hiromi Tsuchida, it is Reiko’s lunchbox. I first saw this photo in an exhibition at the Tate Modern, Conflict, Time, Photography and I was both chilled to the core at the power of the weapons we’ve made to destroy each other and moved by the humanity of the portrait of this last memento of a young girl’s life.
I wrote these words for her.
By the low wall, Reiko diligently performed the fire drill
she briefly saw the white light, In an eerie silence,
Before it blinded her,
moments later the force, hit her,
Vapourised her, leaving the girl,
In the the spring of her youth,
Just a memory to those who loved her,
Her future dreams, caught in the shock wave,
scattered, as single words,
Sewn seeds, in the poisoned fields,
The wall she worked by, it fell,
so that even her shadow,
But her lunch box,
Buckled by the heat, survived,
A memento, a tribute to the love,
of her proud mother, who sent her out,
with precious rice and peas,
Poem © Mel Melis (photograph by Hiromi Tsuchida)