Two in the morning and the heat and humidity were still irrepressible, she thought as she rolled the legs of her pants up. Martha could make out the outline of a building ahead and cautiously made her way towards it. It awed her that she was so close to a large city and yet there was no sign of civilization anywhere near her. The thick foliage covered her from prying eyes above completely. It also alerted her to any preying Toclafane that may be whirring through the trees. The building she was edging her way towards should have been a power station. At least according to her information. She smirked to herself in the dark. Who knew an obsession with Japan as a child would come in handy now?
The local dialects still stumped her but she knew enough proper Japanese to get by on this leg of her trip. A voice in the darkness froze her. She went over what she’d heard the voice say then breathed a sigh of relief. The password she’d been informed of. She called back with the second half of it and was surprised to be answered in English.
“This way, come.” Martha finally spotted the owner of the voice and marvelled at the young girl waving her hand to get her attention. She couldn’t have been more then fifteen. “My English not good. I is…am Hiroko.” She introduced herself.
“Watashi Martha.” Hiroko’s face lit up into a huge grin in the moonlight and Martha couldn’t help herself. She reached out and hugged her.
“Your accent is good.” Hiroko praised Martha’s pronunciation.
“Otaku no Nippon-gin.” Martha confessed and Hiroko giggled.
“You want to rest?” Hiroko asked. “I show you to where we meet later?”
Martha shook her head. “I slept most of the day yesterday. I’m good thanks.” Hiroko replied with a curt nod of her head and began leading Martha towards her destination.
“We follow the Ota River to Hiroshima limits.” Hiroko explained as they came upon the river running leisurely through the woods.
After a while they heard something flying around in the foliage above. Martha clamped a hand over Hiroko’s mouth and held her close. Telling her to remain absolutely still. Hiroko nodded her head to say that she got the message and waited as a pair of Toclofane floated past. Fifteen agonizing minutes passed before they flew off deeper into the woods.
Martha counted out another two minutes before she moved. Hiroko stared at her in awe. She’d heard stories about how the Toclofane couldn’t seem to see the mysterious Martha Jones. Now she believed them for all they were worth. Martha reached into her shirt and pulled up a simple key hanging from some twine. “It hides me.” She said. Hiroko just nodded before turning to lead Martha on.
The horizon was beginning to get light with the pre dawn when they came upon the outer limits of Hiroshima. In the distance along one of the canals Martha could make out the skeletal remains of Genbaku Dome. The A-Bomb dome as it was also known, and the centrepiece of a place Martha had always wanted to see for herself. Peace Memorial Park. Ground Zero for the atomic bomb that had devastated the city sixty-two years before.
Hiroko led her down a deserted street to an alley. The third house down the alley was one of the old traditional wood frame homes with a heavy tile roof. Inside Hiroko led Martha to a room where a few people had gathered. Martha was about to break into her story when an ancient old woman held her hand up for silence. Martha watched as the woman began the traditional tea ceremony and couldn’t help but smile. Offered a cup, Martha nodded her thanks and took a sip. The tea was tangy and earthy in flavour and Martha fought the urge to gulp it all down in one go.
After the ceremony Martha was urged to tell her tale. Hiroko supplied the translations for her in the local dialect. Everyone in the room sat and listened with rapt attention. When Martha was finished, she fielded questions from the small group and answered them as best she could. Before long, everyone’s curiosity was satisfied and Martha was allowed some time to herself. Hiroko helped her set up the tatami mats for sleeping and told her that a much bigger gathering was assembling that night. Hiroko laid out tatami mats for herself and was asleep in seconds. Martha found that she herself was nodding off and settled down for a rest. Despite the summer humidity and heat, she slept soundly for most of the day. The only sounds filtering in were those of insects.
Watashi Martha = My name is Martha.
Otaku no Nippon-gin = I am a geek obsessed with all things Japanese.
She’d dreamt of him again. Coaxing her along her path around the world to do the impossible task he’d asked of her. Martha realised that someone was gently shaking her to wake her up. She blinked in the candlelight and rubbed at her eyes. Hiroko was telling her that it was almost midnight and that they had to get going soon to the main meeting Martha had in Hiroshima.
Martha woke up fully after a few minutes and sat up. Hiroko produced a plate of rice and yakatori, which Martha practically inhaled. Something about grilled meat on skewers the way the Japanese did them was addicting. Hiroko giggled as she produced a second plate with grilled and tempura vegetables beside a small bowl of miso soup. Martha quickly downed those as well.
Her meal done, Hiroko led her to a small shed off the main house and let Martha bathe in peace. She was quick and efficient as she cleaned up. She had an appointment to keep and she had no intention of being late. It was half past midnight when the two left the house and headed deeper into the city. Martha realised before long where they were heading and slowed down a little.
The archway leading into the park had seen better days but from the moonlight she could see that the park was relatively intact. She’d always wanted to see this place for herself for as long as she could remember. Now she was being led into its depths to give her message of hope to people who desperately needed it.
Hiroko led Martha right up to the Genbaku Dome and Martha had to pause again. A wave of melancholy washed over her and she felt tears pricking at her eyes. Hiroko watched in silence as Martha held her hands together and bowed before the Dome. Martha didn’t pray. She couldn’t think of anything to pray for. Instead she wished for her mission to be a success.
Sniffling, she wiped the tears away and continued inside where a large group of people were waiting and watching. Looking up at the roof, Martha stared at the moon through the latticework of beams. She felt another wave of melancholy threaten but squashed it down. She had a mission and the people watching her with keen interest needed to be filled in on how they could help.
Again like at the house, Hiroko provided the translations for Martha's story. An elderly man who had once been a local representative stepped forward when she was done. Introducing himself as Yoshiro Takamata, he thanked Martha on behalf of his city. Martha took his proffered hand into her own and thanked him for getting so many together in one place for her.
The group inside the dome had dispersed and Martha rose to follow them. Outside she asked Hiroko if it would be alright to look around the park. Hiroko gladly offered to be her guide. The moon was full enough to see by and Martha felt an odd sense of peace walking along the paths to the various monuments and statues that had been erected in the name of peace and memory.
Ahead, glowing an eerie blue-white in the night was a statue of a paper crane. Martha knew the story behind it as she and Hiroko came to stand before it. Martha looked up at the statue as Hiroko bowed her head in prayer before it. A child suffering the effects of radiation sickness had begun folding paper cranes. She had believed that if she folded a thousand of them her chances of surviving would improve. She never made it to the thousand mark and died. The statue before her was erected to honour the children who had died as a result of the bombing.
Martha hugged Hiroko to her as they contemplated the statue. The sound of menacing death flittered around the unmoving pair as Toclofane scanned the area for anyone who wasn’t supposed to be there. Unlike the night before, Martha noticed that Hiroko was completely calm and still in her embrace. Safe in this sacred place with the woman who walked the world to end the tyranny of a monster from far away in the stars.
“How far you go?” Hiroko asked Martha as she packed her bag and got ready to leave.
“I’m heading up towards Sapporo and then from there, who knows.” She laughed.
At Hiroko's grandmother’s insistence, Martha had rested the previous day and night. Martha wasn’t about to argue with the old woman and accepted the offered hospitality. It was early morning and Martha was more rested then she had been for almost a month now. Hiroko was going to lead her back to the power station where they’d met and hand her over to the care of a new guide.
Lugging her bag onto her shoulder, Martha and Hiroko headed for the kitchen to wait out the day. They’d leave at sunset, travel being a lot safer at night. Hiroko’s grandmother had spent a good portion of the day talking with Martha as Hiroko either read or took small naps. Martha had taken to calling the elderly woman Mama-san, which brought a bright smile to the ancient withered face.
During the afternoon Martha took a long nap to rest up for her journey that night. She awoke to the smell of yakatori and grinned. Mama-san was packing a large bento for her to take along. Martha stared at the lovely lacquered box that Mama-san was packing with food. “I can’t take that.” She’d said. “It’s too nice.” Mama-san cocked an eyebrow at her before slapping her arm.
“You work hard to save us. You deserve something nice.” Mama-san scolded and that was that. End of argument. Martha knew better then to mess with the frail old woman shaking her head and muttering under her breath. Instead she turned on the easier target in the room and stuck her tongue out. Hiroko went from quiet giggles to full blown laughter. Mama-san's mutterings got more colourful as the two started back and forth at each other.
Evening fell and Martha bent down to hug Mama-san and thank her for her generous hospitality. Mama-san patted her hand and wished her good luck and a safe journey. Hiroko and Martha began making their way back to the power station along the Ota River. It was near midnight when they arrived and found another young girl waiting for them.
Martha turned to Hiroko and hugged her, thanking her for all her help. Hiroko sniffled and held out a paper crane she’d folded for Martha. Martha took the gift and tucked it safely away before grabbing Hiroko for another hug. Kissing her brow, she finally let go and wished Hiroko luck as she turned to go home. Martha watched until she couldn’t see or hear Hiroko anymore before turning to her new guide.
“Watashi Martha Jones.” Martha smiled as she introduced herself.
“Watashi Harada Kumiko!” The girl grinned as she reached out for Martha's hand to lead her on to her next destination.
Martha chuckled as she took the proffered hand. “Nice to meet you Kumiko.” Martha listened as Kumiko chattered on and thought to herself that it was a small miracle that this girl had remained so bright and cheery. She hoped that nothing would ever dampen her spirits.