3rd Issue of 2008 No,148

Essay - Don't Kill Yourself!

Kimiko Okayama
(Literacy Division Prize winner in the 2007
Buraku Liberation Literature Award)

"Ma'am, this teruteru-bozu (a prayer doll for a fine weather) is no good!" I said. It has been raining for two days. My father was a construction laborer so rain was an enemy to our family. Without exception, when jobs were not available my father would drink. Perhaps I should say sake drunk him. He drowned his disgust in drink. On clear days he went to work with a towel wrapped around his head and a big lunchbox in his hand. He was the first to leave in the morning saying, "See you later," and when he got home he always said, "I'm awfully hungry." This was my dad, and I loved him.

My mother would also go to work very early leaving my four-year-old younger brother, five-year-old younger sister and myself, aged seven, at home by ourselves. She came home each day with her daily wage and some cocked food for supper.

She did piecework at home until late at night, sowing straps for Japanese wooden shoes called geta. We never saw her rest.

It was not only my father and mother who worked, but also my elder sister and brother, who made straps for geta in our village. Against their wishes they did not attend school. "You need skills rather than knowledge to survive," my mother always said.

House chores were my work. I went to the hill near our village to collect firewood, drew water, cooked rice and did other tasks while babysitting my younger brother and sister. After supper, I assisted in my mother's work by threading her needle.One night my mother was very quiet and seemed different. She stood up with a sigh, and said in a weak voice, "I am going to a nice place now, do you want to come with me?" "Yes," I replied, "But we need umbrellas…" "We don't need umbrellas," she answered. I was years old. Carrying my four-year-old brother on my back and leading my five-year-old sister by the hand, I followed my mother, gripping the hem of her apron with my free hand. The rain hid the moon.

All we could see were spots of light from houses in the dark. Eventually I saw the signal lights of the rail crossing. When we reached the middle of the crossing my mother stopped. "Mom, what's the matter?" I asked. She gripped my hand tighter. We heard a train whistle. "Mom, a train is coming!" I shouted. My sister, brother and I all clung to her, crying and screaming very loudly. I slapped her back and, with all my strength, pulled at the strings of her apron, her pocket and whatever else I could pull and tear. Then, my mother came to herself and pushed us all off the tracks.

After the train passed, my mother collapsed on the ground in the rain, her hair disheveled and her clothing torn, and started to cry. "I can't kill myself with you, nor I can I kill myself and leave you behind," she groaned. "Why Mom? Why do we have to die? Because we are poor? If we all died, what would happen to our Dad and sisters? Mom, tell me. Mom!" She did not speak a word.

At that precise moment, there was a sound like a landslide coming from the hill. It was the rolling sound of thunder. Lightning flashed and thunder followed with a huge crash. "Oh God, I'm so scared," we all clung to our mother.

Finally, my mother stood up. We were all soaked. We returned home, but looked back many times. Seeing the back of my desolate mother with my own eyes, I felt determined and swore to myself, "I will work hard, and eventually earn a lot of money to please my mother."

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