The cry was like no other. Shrill, intense with pure terror, the shriek of an animal seized by a deadly predator.
William stopped short in the middle of the pathway, fear resonating in his heart. He knew that sound. He’d heard it many times in his line of work.
Where had it come from? Which direction? He raised a hand to his ear, listening, listening …
Nothing but the sighing of the wind and the rushing of the Fountain of Prayer down by the long, low length of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.
It was a young person’s scream, he was sure of it.
It was the scream of a girl.
No people about. Of course, he hadn’t expected to see many people in the Peace Park this early in the morning. He’d left his hotel in the small dark hour before sunrise precisely because he hungered to be alone. Mind you, he would have gladly chatted with another elderly person, perhaps an American tourist like himself, seeking to avoid the oppressive heat and humidity of August in Japan. But on this unusually cool morning with a stiff breeze rustling the leaves of the maple trees bordering the park, he could see no one at all.
Where was the girl? Where was she?
Lately sounds conspired against him. They lay in wait to startle him or worse, they eluded him altogether, proving to his daughter, Megan, once and for all that he’d grown insufferably deaf. Failing ears or a softening mind, he could no longer tell. He closed his eyes, straining to hear, the rising sun warm and red against his eyelids.
No echoing cry. Nothing.
“When you need help, ask a policeman”, his British mother used to tell him when he was little.
“OK, I’ll ask Dad. He’s a cop. Well, he is, isn’t he?” he’d reply. He only understood her eloquent silence after he, too, had joined The Circle.
But he’d retired from The Circle years ago, a benefit few of his colleagues had achieved. Surely now as an ordinary senior citizen, he could safely report a violent crime to the police. For that’s what he’d heard, he was sure of it.
He adjusted his glasses. Over there, what luck! There by the Peace Fountain stood a police officer wearing the ubiquitous navy uniform and white gloves of Japanese officialdom.
Leaning on his cane, he headed over. But as he drew closer, doubt besieged him. Would the police officer believe him?
That incident in the road outside the train station yesterday still rattled him. He tried to explain to Megan that he’d forgotten that people drove on the left side of the road in Japan, but she wouldn’t have it. A lingering fear warned him that she was right. How else could he have ended up in the middle of busy Ozu Dori Street, six inches away from the front bumper of a taxi? He remembered dragging his luggage off the Shinkansen train onto the platform. And the savoury aroma drifting from an okonomi lunch bar as he followed Megan into the station itself. But after that, a void.
Islands, his memory made islands. And between them lay a dark uncharted sea.
Megan had forced him to apologize to the agitated taxi driver. Dutifully, he’d mimed elderly incompetence. He and the driver had bowed back and forth to each other until Megan, as always, lost patience. Truthfully he’d enjoyed her annoyance: after all, age was still respected in Japan. Back home in America, he’d dwindled into an irritating inconvenience—or worse an intransigent obstacle.
But the cry, he had not imagined that. The memory echoed in his mind as sharp as a knife.
He must help the girl, save her.
He made his way over to the police officer who turned out to be a woman. Young, pretty.
How could he convince her? She watched him attentively as he groped for the right words.
“Ah, you must visit the Rest House,” she said finally in perfect English.
What? She was sending him to the washroom? Registering his confusion, she smiled and said: “The tourist information office is in the Rest House. It lies in that direction.”
She pointed with her white-gloved hand. In the far distance he recognized the skeletal outline of the A-Bomb Dome, the only building left standing at Ground Zero.