Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Our Courage, Chapter One (part b)

On the road along the beach, the two were pedaling intently.
“He was a good friend of yours? That person.”
Once he knew Yamato was going to Makuhara, the boy became overly familiar.
“Don’t say ‘was’.”
But Yamato refused to change his brusque tone.
“Right, I’m sorry.”
“I lent him a CD.”
“You’re going just to get your CD back?”
“As if I would do that.”
“Sorry... but I'm sure he’s still alive.”
“Of course. That guy won’t die, not like this.”
“...Right, right. Oh, I’m Takeru. You?”
At long last exchanging names. Without looking back, Yamato muttered, “...Yamato.”
The sky was an infinite blue, the sea also a calm blue. It was an incredibly peaceful sky and sea. Yamato felt like praying that this peaceful scenery could continue all the way to Makuhara.
Yamato and Takeru had stopped. Yamato’s bike had finally got a punctured tire. Takeru had an exasperated expression.
“Even I forgot to bring a tire repair kit.”
“Go ahead of me.”
“But we’re going to the same place.”
“I’m not a volunteer, so it doesn’t matter.”
At that moment, Takeru’s eye fell on a truck that had pulled over in front of them.
“Hey, isn’t that a Self-Defense Forces truck? They’re definitely going to Chiba.”
Certainly the green-painted truck was an emergency vehicle, but the driver had closed his eyes and seemed to be napping.
Takeru’s eyes had an alert sparkle, and he winked mischievously. Yamato rolled his eyes up to the sky, and let out a big sigh.
The truck ran down the highway. The driver hadn’t noticed the two in the back of the truck at all.
“How old are you?” Takeru asked.
“What about you?”
“I’m a third-year student.”
Yamato shrugged his shoulders as though fed-up.
“I’m the same.”
Hearing that, Takeru snorted.
“Wha-at? I thought you were older than me, so I’ve been using polite language all this time. Say something sooner, seriously.”
“Well, I don’t mind that, but can you not say all these really annoying things?”
Takeru didn’t even bother to respond to that.
“I wonder if this is relief aid?” He carelessly began to open one of the stacked metal barrels. “Huh?”
“Nothing’s in it.”
Yamato also peered into it. It was indeed empty. The two exchanged a look.
“What the heck?”
One week had passed since he left Nagoya.
“Wake up.”
Yamato kicked a sleeping Takeru.
“We’ve arrived, it’s Chiba.”
Opening the canvas slightly they peeked outside. Illuminated by the bright sunlight, a group of skyscrapers glittered.
But the two soon noticed something strange. As far as they could see, it didn’t look like a city struck by an earthquake at all. And then there was the eerie silence. Why was it so quiet?
But that didn’t matter. Somewhere in this city had to be Kiichi. I’m going to find him, and get him out, like I came here to do. Whether there was an earthquake or not, whether it’s too quiet, it doesn’t matter right now.
After a moment the truck came to a sudden stop. It seemed to be a checkpoint.
In an instant tension appeared on both faces. They timidly rolled up the canvas, and peered through the opening. In front of a Road Closed sign, a guard saluted.
It seemed like the truck would be able to pass the checkpoint without incident. They both breathed a sigh of relief.
They finally entered Makuhara. But that feeling of unnatural quiet continued. It was like entering into a black hole. In this world of spreading soundlessness, even swallowing sounded like a gulp.
“It’s kind of ridiculously quiet, isn’t it.” Yamato opened his mouth as though he could no longer bear it.
“Now that you mention it.” Takeru shuddered.
For a second time, the truck stopped in front of a gate. The guards were stricter this time. In front of a door made of iron, every guard wore a gas mask and held a shiny black gun.
Huh? Gas masks? Guns? Why?
The guards stopped the truck and opened the canvas at the back. The boys immediately hid behind the containers.
At that moment, the truck suddenly took off at a terrific speed. Hitting the gate, the runaway truck scattered guards. It broke straight through the iron gate. Yamato and Takeru were flung about along with the luggage.
There was the sound of bullets relentlessly hitting the nose of the truck.
“Stop! Stop!” The guards’ voices joined the guns, but the truck just went faster. Numbly, Yamato and Takeru lay in the wildly shaking truck-bed.
“They’re shooting at us!”
“What’s with this truck?”
Suddenly, the gunfire ceased. It seemed even the guards wouldn’t enter Makuhara. They breathed a sigh of relief.
The truck came to a stop. The two cautiously stuck their faces out the back.
The buildings they had seen in distance before now towered over them, almost close enough to touch. This was unmistakably the heart of Makuhara. But nothing was damaged, no destruction anywhere.
Although it was not the ordinary town you’d expect. Here and there were cars that had come to a standstill, and many had run into guardrails and been left there. The windows of a nearby convenience store had been broken, and it looked like a storm of glass had passed through.
Most uncanny was the feeling that there was no human presence at all. Not only no people walking, but no one in the buildings. Makuhara was, at the moment, dominated by an immeasurable silence.
It was no ordinary silence. Yamato’s whole body was so tense it seemed to sting. The kind of silence that set you on edge - how to describe it... as though somewhere in this city’s silence something insane was hiding.
Without thinking he began to shiver. This was... a ghost-town.
As the driver seemed to be getting out, Yamato and Takeru also climbed out the back of the truck. He was surprised to see the two of them suddenly appear. He wore a Self-Defence Forces uniform, and his face appeared somehow deeply haggard.
Takeru smiled nervously as he spoke. “Umm, good morning. Excuse us. We caught a ride with you.”
“What the hell? You idiots...”
“No, it’s just... Are you a member of the Self-Defence Forces?”
“No! I’m not one of those cold-hearted men who would abandon a child.”
“What are you talking about?”
“There’s no time to give you the details. It’d be best if you left this place without a moment’s delay.”
“What about the earthquake? Wasn’t there an earthquake here?” Yamato pressed him, but the driver only shook his head violently.
“Can’t you tell just by looking? It wasn’t that.”
“It wasn’t?” Yamato was speechless, and Takeru spoke.
“Well, then are the people here all right?”
As Takeru asked this hopefully, a dog barked nearby. Their eyes shot to where a young boy stood with a dog. He wore filthy white overalls. Yamato had never before seen a sorrow as deep as filled the eyes watching them.
The driver ran up to the boy, and showed him a photograph of a small kid.
“This child! Do you know him? He’s called Takeshi... Have you seen him?”
The boy didn’t answer and his eyes remained blank, but he pointed a finger.
“That way? He’s over there?”
The boy nodded. Without thinking the driver embraced him tightly. For an instant tears came to his eyes.
“I see... Thank God. Takeshi, my son - he’s still alive....”
A white mist surrounded the area. There was the piercing cry of a child who sounded like she was being torn apart. Garbage was scattered all over the ground. A fire burned in an oil drum. In a corner surrounded by containers, shadowy figures had gathered.
There were at least three thousand people there. Somehow, it was only children. There wasn’t a single adult.
Their faces and clothes were filthy, but most striking was their expressions. They were the same as the boy from before, the eyes carrying a profound despair.
“...What on earth happened here?” Takeru murmured. Yamato couldn’t understand either. It was an unimaginable scene. It looked as though the world had ended.
The boy kept walking, and the three of them gingerly followed.
Boys ate instant ramen out of aluminum pot as though they were starving. High-school girls still wearing their uniforms listlessly wandered around.
The man suddenly began to run. It looked like he had found the boy he’d been seeking.
The man hugged his child with all his strength. Tears ran down his cheeks.
“Why’d you come?” The child looked up at his father as though confused.
“I made up my mind to come and see you, why else?”
“But if papa came here...”
“What are you saying? Papa’s not going to die. I came to see you. I won’t die like this.”
Father and son embraced tightly. Yamato and Takeru watched this scene from a distance.
“What are they talking about, ‘dying’?” Takeru muttered.
“Who knows.” Yamato tilted his head.
“...What should we do?” Takeru asked him.
“To start with, I’m going to go check.”
“Your friend’s house?”
“Yeah. You? What will you do?”
“I wonder...”
“Wouldn’t it be best if you went home? For a volunteer, this is too much.”
Yamato waved his hand and walked away. Takeru watched him go. Then Yamato remembered something and turned back.
“Ah, money for the udon!”
“My treat.”
With a weak smile, Yamato left. Takeru approached the boy with the dog. He held out a stick of gum.
“Where’s your dad?”
The boy shook his head slightly.
“OK, your mom?”
“They’re both dead.”
“How'd they die?”
Suddenly, there was the sound of a helicopter from above. The boys around them all began to run at once.
“Hey, what’s that?”
Saying that the boy also left, running over to a wide clear area. Takeru also followed, and saw that a large, military helicopter had already landed. Guards in camouflage and gas-masks with guns on their shoulders jumped down and started unloading aluminum barrels of food.
Some boys leaped to tear the lid off one and started to devour its contents.  
“Don’t touch me!” A scared-looking guard turned his gun on the gathering boys.
A barrel got knocked over, and small children swarmed over the soup that spilled out. A chill running down his spine, Takeru turned away from the scene. He spoke to a guard as brightly as he could.
“Umm, excuse me. Hello. I came from the Kansai area, and I was wondering if you could tell me, what’s with the GI Joe mask? Wasn’t there an earthquake? What happened here?”
But the guard kept his mouth shut and boarded the helicopter without answering.
In an instant it had flown away. Resigned, Takeru turned away to find an incredible scene unfolding before his eyes.
The children had started fighting for the food like hungry ghosts. Bigger boys shoved away small children who resisted desperately, biting and scratching. They were no longer acting like humans. No, they had changed into starving hyenas, no different from a pack of beasts.

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