Nothing. No one was around. No one was walking by the road. No traffic coming or going. No signs of life. Nothing green. Only greys and browns. Pipes, gas tanks and metal jetting out of a building as big as a Tokyo city block. A grounded oil rig? A factory. But all the walls on the ground floor had been ripped off. All that were left were its steel legs. Stripped to the bone. Standing in swampland.
Another factory, but no walls. An iron and steel skeleton. A fork lift motionless in the middle of the car park. Everything left as it would have been when the tsunami had hit. Frozen. Where is the forklift driver? Twisted metal by the road side. No place for a missing girl.
I was not in Ishinomaki in 2011. I was in Hiroshima in 1945. Debris and the road grid. This is what was left. A sign for Japan Paper. A massive factory floor, gutted. Giant rolls of newsprint stacked three high. Toilet paper for the gods. The metal factory walls had been yanked off and thrown, who knows where? Abandoned. Twisted metal. An aircraft hangar? The bare bones of a concentration camp victim. What was inside was outside. What was out was in.
Where were the people? If they were still alive, they must be in hiding. How will they eat? How could anyone think of eating here? It would be like eating in the same room as a corpse.
Here lies my Mama. She has breathed her last. Anyone care for a sandwich? Smoked ham? Perhaps a rice ball with salmon roe? Pickled radish? Natto? Every building a skeleton. The cancer was malignant. It had eaten all the flesh before the patient could be saved. All is now devastated, like a strong, proud woman living between doses of poison. It’s for the best. The doctors said so. Only the chemo tube had to stay attached. The doctors said it would keep her alive. The experts said so. They knew. Half alive, half true. If she knew the whole truth, she never let on. Papa knew it though. It would have been kinder to end her suffering.
A super-centre car park. Only every car was twisted metal. Debris from the war. Flat. Grey. Pipes. Trees with no greenery. No food, but piles of rubbish. I couldn’t tell what it was. Twisted wood and metal two floors high. Like the mass graves of Leningrad in the history books. A starved city, a million bodies buried without a single name. But I couldn’t see any bodies here. Then I could see two wheels in the debris.
They were cars. And more cars, pushed to the side of the road by an angry god. Fields of lifeless metal. A bent tree leaning away from the line of attack. Away from the sea, falling over itself to get further inland. A single seagull tried to keep up with our car, perhaps happy for the company.
There was nothing else living as far as I could see.
The road was rising. We were climbing high above the ground.
Then we were crossing water, the estuary. Nothing but grey water. Neither angry nor black.
We drove on. Now we were descending, then touching down on the other side. Solid ground? Everywhere was mud and water.
We slowed to a crawl, unsure how deep the puddles were. In front of us a giant rusted water tower lay on its side. I put my cheek on my knee to read the message painted in 10-meter-long characters passing our window:
Now we were slowing. Pools of black water. Rubbish and cars strewn around. No order. No reason. Some cars of this world, others twisted metal zombies. Mud. I couldn’t tell what I was looking at any more. Houses on their sides, children’s toys in the streets, mud and still more mud. But no people. It was not Japan. It was the end of the road.
And the stench.
The stink of the sea. Rotten fish. Mud. Dirty water. Everything mixed up, nothing pure. And something else. Something I was smelling for the first time.
The smell of death.
Start the novel from Chapter 1 here or use the next/previous arrow keys to flip through the book.
That was a chapter of Half Life: A Hana Walker Mystery. I’m publishing a chapter a day in sequence on this blog to promote the book. You can buy HALF LIFE as a paperback from Create Space here or as a Kindle download from any Amazon site including links to the book here at Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.co.jp.
The sequel, Prime Life, is coming out in the New Year.