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Ghosts of the Tsunami

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Shadowraith
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« on: October 20, 2014, 08:27:36 pm »

She was a calm, neat young woman with black glasses and a fringe, who worked in Sendai at a care home for the disabled. The fishing port of Kesennuma, where she grew up, was one of the towns worst hit by the tsunami. Ayane’s family home was beyond the reach of the wave, and her mother, sister and grandparents were untouched by it. But her father, a maritime engineer, worked in an office on the town’s harbour front, and that evening he didn’t come home.

‘I thought about him all the time,’ Ayane said. ‘It was obvious something had happened. But I said to myself that he might just be injured – he might be lying in hospital somewhere. I knew that I should prepare for the worst. But I wasn’t prepared at all.’ She passed painful days in Sendai, trying to clear up the mess caused in her flat by the earthquake, thinking always of her father. Two weeks after the disaster, his body was found.

She arrived back at her family home just before the coffin was carried in. Friends and extended family had gathered, most of them casually dressed: everything black, everything formal, had been washed away. ‘He hadn’t drowned, as most people did,’ Ayane said. ‘He died of a blow to the chest from some big piece of rubble. In the coffin you could only see his face through a glass window. It had been a fortnight, and I was afraid that his body might have decayed. I looked through the window. I could see that he had a few cuts, and he was pale. But it was still the face of my father.’ She wanted to touch his face for the last time, but the casket and its window had been sealed shut. On it lay a white flower, a single cut stem placed on the coffin’s wood by the undertaker. There was nothing unusual about it. But to Ayane it was extraordinary. Ten days earlier, at the height of her hope and despair, in an effort to escape her anxiety, Ayane had gone to a big public bathhouse to soak in the hot spring water. When she came out, she retrieved her boots from the locker and felt an obstruction in the toe as she pulled them on. ‘I could feel how cold it was,’ she remembered, ‘even through my socks. And it felt soft, fluffy.’ She reached in, and removed a white flower, as fresh and flawless as if had just been cut.

A minor mystery: how could such an object have found its way into a boot inside a locked container? It faded from her mind, until that moment in front of her father’s coffin, when the same flower presented itself again. ‘The first time, I had the feeling that this might be a premonition of bad news,’ Ayane said. ‘Dad might not be alive any more, and this might be a sign of his death. But then I thought about it later, about the coolness of the flower, and the whiteness of the flower, and that feeling of softness against my toe. And I thought of that as the touch of my father, which I couldn’t experience when he was in his coffin.’

Ayane knew that the flower was just a flower. She didn’t believe in ghosts, or that her dead father had sent it to her as a sign – if such communication was possible, why would a loving parent express it in such obscure terms? ‘I think it was a coincidence,’ she said, ‘and that I made something good of it. When people see ghosts, they are telling a story, a story which has been broken off. They dream of ghosts, because then the story carries on, or comes to a conclusion. And if that brings them comfort, that’s a good thing.’

Committed to print as a kaidan, published in Hijikata’s magazine, it took on greater significance. ‘There were thousands of deaths, each of them different,’ Ayane said. ‘Most of them have never been told. My father’s name was Tsutomu Suto. By writing about him, I share his death with others. Perhaps I save him in some way, and perhaps I save myself.’
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