People call me ‘tight lipped’ Ibuka, although quite literal in meaning, nothing else could be farther from the truth. I enjoy talking and sharing my experiences. Not having lived much of a life I am rather amused at the attention that is given to the tale I have to tell.
Even before the incident I remember making up fantastic stories to entertain passerby and was even quick enough to come up with anecdotes for the busy customers.
For as long as I can remember I have been working at the newspaper stand, since the time I was diagnosed with a rare condition of cataract that did not allow me to see very well, even as a teenager. I was just glad that someone would consider me for a job and let me keep it. As gratitude I went out of the way to generate sales and kept the store spick and span and the owner kept me in charge.
I remember people enjoying and laughing at the stories I had to tell, but no audience can match the one that gathered today. Many had a similar story to tell, but my eye condition and ‘tight lip’ reputation even brought me some TV coverage- and so I talk.
It was a year of much confusion and distraught, the war was on and the nation was confident with its young army. I had been working at the newspaper stall for years and the sudden military activity brought a scary yet exciting change to the now almost mechanical job. I felt it was a time for opportunity, although many restrictions were placed on civilians, the whole city seemed to always buzz with energy, activity and anticipation.
Youngsters from around become civilian helpers to the army. Engineering students in their second year were recruited for purposes of developing technology that would beat the worlds best. Everyone rode the wave; other news stand owners took off for additional job after the early morning sale. The neighbourhood kids were always busy collecting rubble and parts from broken down machinery or shot down B- 29 bombers.
The only real change of all this activity in my life was that I no longer had any toilet paper to sell, and was sitting on a steadily growing pile of paper. You see every weekend a paper dealer with a loud speaker on his cart would come collecting old newspapers and magazines and replace it with fresh packs of toilet paper, so I always had old paper disposed off and made additional money by selling the toilet paper.
With the increased surveillance of the police and the military, and many other higher paying jobs the paper dealer’s visits slowly dwindled down. The other newspaper sellers would dispose the waste paper as scrap, but I decided to collect the same and pay a monthly visit to the paper dealer for exchange.
My shop was no bigger than a roadside kiosk and I could not afford to waste it for holding a growing pile of old paper, and so I lugged a huge barrel slightly filled with sooty oil from the neighbourhood garage, cleaned it thoroughly and placed it next to my stall.
Every morning I would put the previous day’s newspapers inside the barrel, and forget about it for the rest of the day.
I first noticed that the barrel was almost full in the early hours of August 6th , it was now holding 3 months worth of news – unlike the American newspaper (The New York times) which I came to see months later – the newspapers in our country would be of one sheet- for lack of newsprint.
The paper dealers had shut shop just weeks after I had starting collecting the papers. For lack of any profitable means of disposing the papers I kept the collection going.
I now looked at a barrel full of waste and thought “Best, that I burn it”. The sky had just begun to fill up with the growing sunlight; it would be another hour before the stores open. It gave me time to sell to the morning rush of customers before I could buy the matches.
At around 8 am I walked across the street and bought some kerosene and a pack of matches. It was an unusually hot and humid summer day, burning the barrel full of paper would have attracted crowd on a winter’s day but today it would go unnoticed.
Like a ritual I poured kerosene over paper, fuel was scarce and the oil that came of the can was nothing blue and pretty, it was brownish and thick. I lit my match and dropped it into the barrel. What followed was a huge blast and massive heat wave, instinctively I moved away from the barrel. But my skin started burning, peeling away as I saw it, fragments of my shirt stuck to my exposed tissue.
There were many others around, surprised more than shocked and cringing with pain. I looked up and saw a huge cloud of smoke welling up at a distance – a bright flash.
The last thing I remember seeing is a barrel of burning paper with a backdrop of a spectacular cloud and a uncanny flash that didn’t cease to shine.
It was the next day that the nurse brought in newspapers carrying news of the bombing at Hiroshima. Since then I have a distinguishing tight lip, skin joined unnaturally, fused by massive heat.