母の背中 / On Mother's Back

Japanese

まことに健市叔父は、戦争に捧げられるために生れてきたような若者だった。私の父より十数年おくれて生れた叔父の成長過程は、日本が戦争に突入して行った過程とかさなりあっていた。叔父の若い肉と傷つきやすい魂は、戦争という祭壇の燔祭に捧げられる犠牲だったのだ。

軍服を着ている健市叔父
『十二の遠景』より
高橋睦郎著

小学校時代は級長で通し、校長先生が祖父を呼んで、「中学に進ませてやってください」と頼むほどの成績だったが、祖父は首を横に振った。

日雇者(ひやくもん)の伜ァ、学校ばおりたげにや、じき働いて(じえん)ば取らにゃでけんですけん」

そのじつ、祖母たちには、叔父を町の中学に入れるほどの金がなかったわけではないのである。

叔父は、親たちに黙って従った。小学校高等科の二年から鉄道の試験に一番で受かり、半年ほど門司の鉄道教習所に送られて、直方機関区に配属された。母に連れられて町に行った帰りなど、機関区を通りかかると、連結した貨車から飛び降りた紺の作業服の叔父が、白い軍手を高く挙げて、合図をおくった。母は私を抱きあげて、手を振らせたものだ。

叔父は背が高くて、私の家系には珍しい一種の凛々しい美貌の持主だった。当時また十七、八だったはずだが、やがて戦争に送られて、死ななければならない運命は、叔父の顔にも、体にも大人の威厳を与えていた。逆に言えば、その威厳は、母親の背中から強制的に追われた少年が、仕方なく自分のものとした威厳と言えないこともなかった。

いずれにしても、私の目には叔父は、肉にも魂にも、或る暗鬱な威厳を備えた一人前の大人だった。

叔父の出征について、私は三つの記憶を持っている。

最初の記憶は出征か明日という日、母と叔父がつれ立って、町の写真館に記念撮影に行ったことである。出征準備のためにすでに鉄道を罷めていた叔父は、準備万端ととのえ、さて残っている珠のような一日のうち、数時間を、母と共同の思い出をつくることに費したかったのだろう。

思い出をつくるといっても、あの厳しかった時代の、しかも田舎の炭坑町に、大人か二人思い出をつくるにふさわしい場所かあるわけはなかった。叔父が思いついたのは、結局、写真館だった。記念撮影と聞けば、母とても断る理由はなかった。というより、断る理由のない記念撮影という口実を見つけてくれたことを、母は叔父にひそかに感謝したのではないだろうか。

他所行きの、折目のついたズボンにねずみいろのセーターを着て、叔父がまず戸外へ出、少し間を置いて、同じねずみいろのセーターにやや濃いめの灰いろのスカートの母があわただしく外へ出た。

「かあちゃん、どこに行くと?」

私は聞いたか、母は返事もせすに急いだ。母は、川原さんと金子さんの長屋を通りこして道を曲り、五軒社宅と橋本さんのあいだの往還のあたりで、叔父に追いついたのにちかいない。堤をぐるりと廻った道が、橋本さんの家の向うから見えはじめ、まもなく山ノ端にかくれる少しのあいだの往還に、母と叔父かまるで春先の蝶のように前後してもつれ急ぐさまを、私は見ていた。たぶん、そのとき私は泣かなかったろうと思う。

English

In every sense, Uncle Ken’ichi seemed to have been born in order to be sacrificed to the war effort. He was born more than a decade after my father, and so the entire process of his personal development coincided with the process of Japan’s descent into conflict. In the end, his young flesh and fragile soul were placed as burnt offerings upon the altar of war.

Ken’ichi in Uniform
FROM Twelve Views from the Distance
BY Mutsuo Takahashi

He finished the first several years of his grade school education as class president. His grades were good enough that the principal called Grandfather in and asked him to let Ken’ichi go on to middle school, but Grandfather simply shook his head. “As soon as a day laborer’s son graduates from school, he’s gotta start working to earn some cash.” The truth is that my grandparents were not lacking the money to send my uncle to the local middle school if they had just wanted to do so.

Uncle Ken’ichi just quietly obeyed his parents. When he was quite far along in his studies, he took the test to apply to the National Railways, and he got first place. He was sent to the railway training institute at Moji for half a year before being dispatched to the railway yard at Naokata. Whenever Mother and I would pass the railway yard on the way home from town or somewhere, my uncle, who was wearing his navy blue uniform, would jump down from the line of cargo cars and wave his white gloved hand in the air for us. Mother would pick me up in her arms and make me wave back.

Uncle Ken’ichi was tall and had a masculine, attractive face. Such looks were unusual in our family. He was still only seventeen or eighteen, but fate — the same fate that would eventually send him to war and make him breathe his last on the battlefield — gave my uncle’s face and body the dignity of an adult. To put it differently, he was forced from his mother’s back into the cruel world, and so he had no choice but to grasp dignity for himself. I cannot see Uncle Ken’ichi as anything other than a full-fledged adult, a man who possessed a certain gloomy dignity in both flesh and soul.

I have three memories of him being sent off to war.

The first memory dates from the day before his deployment. Mother and Uncle Ken’ichi went to the photography studio in town in order to have a commemorative picture taken together. By this point, he had quit his job at the railroad and completed his preparations. All he had left was a single day, which was as precious as a jewel to him. No doubt he wanted to spend several of those final hours with Mother; that way, he could have some pleasant memories to carry with him.

He was still only seventeen or eighteen, but fate… gave my uncle’s face and body the dignity of an adult. To put it differently, he was forced from his mother’s back into the cruel world, and so he had no choice but to grasp dignity for himself.

Doing something memorable, however, was not necessarily easy. Times were rough for everyone in those days; plus, there were few places two adults might go in a country coal-mining town to do something memorable. In the end, he came up with the idea of taking a photo together. When Mother heard his suggestion, she had no reason to refuse. If anything, she was probably secretly grateful that he had come up with an idea she would have no reason to rebuff.

Dressed in his finest clothes — a slate-colored sweater with neatly pressed trousers — Uncle Ken’ichi was the first to leave the house. A little later, Mother hurriedly rushed outside. She was also wearing a slate-colored sweater and a dark gray skirt.

“Mommy, where are you going?”

She did not answer me and walked quickly away. She walked by the rowhouse where the Kawaharas and the Kanekos lived, no doubt trying to catch up with my uncle somewhere between the company housing and the Hashimoto’s house. The path went around the pond and appeared again on the other side of the Hashimoto’s. For a while I watched her and Uncle Ken’ichi hurrying along like two spring butterflies moving back and forth and tangling in the air. I watched them for the few moments before they disappeared into the shadow cast by the bank of a hill. I doubt I cried that time as I watched them go.

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