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。

叔父の出征当日で憶えているのは、直方駅の一番ホームか、群集の匂いでいやにむんむんしていたことだけである。まっ赤な日の丸のまわりの白い空間に墨で寄せ書きされた日章旗が振られ、兵隊服を着た叔父は職場の同僚たちに止めどもなく胴上げされていた。

祖母や祖父と並んで、矢絣の着物を着た母の手につかまりながら、私はそれをぼんやりと見ていた。ホームを通る人が驚いたように立ち止るときだけ、その選ばれた人が自分につながっている誇らしさを示すために、宙に上げられた叔父を見、立ち止った通行人を見た。

日本の軍服を着ている健市叔父(中)と戦友
『十二の遠景』より
高橋睦郎著

最も鮮烈に憶えているのは、叔父か門司から、戦地に飛び立つ飛行場のある新潟へ出発するのを見送りに行った折のことである。筑豊線の直方から、折尾を経由して鹿児島本線の出発点である門司までは二時間半かかり、午前九時に発つ人を門司で見送るには、五時すぎには直方を出なければならなかった。

私は生れてはじめて、暗いうちに起こされた。たぶん駅までは母や祖母たちになだめすかされて行ったのだろう。直方駅のホームで、寝ぼけまなこをこすりこすり見た、ホームの向うの御館山の真上の空の夜明けのさまを、私はくっきりと思い出すことかできる。

夜のまっ暗い空はぴくりと痙攣し、急に薄皮を()いたょうにぜんたいか明るくなっている。再び痙攣する。さらに明るくなる。三たび痙攣する。いっそう明るくなる。こうして、空はいつかしらじらと明けてくる。私か生れてはじめて見た夜明けの詳細は、こんなふうだった。

門司で汽車を降りて、私たち一行、祖母と祖父、母と私、それに一時叔父の花嫁に擬せられていた親戚のフキエさんという若い女性は、町の人に道を聞き聞き、黄金町という住宅街の、叔父の泊っている民家を捜し当てた。しばらくして、兵隊服を着、背嚢を背負い、水筒を斜めに掛け、銃剣を持った叔父か、同僚だちといっしょに出て来た。

叔父は、私たちを見つけると、右手を戦闘帽の(ひさし)近くまで上げて、挙手の礼をした。叔父はおそらく母に対して、敬礼したのだと思う。そこから、軍用列車か止っている駅の前の集合場所まで、私たち一行は叔父を囲んで話しながら歩いて行った。だか、何か話すことかあっただろうか。あると言えば、ありすぎるほどあった。それで結局のところ、ほとんど話もせず、「よう眠れたと?」「気をつけんしゃいよ」などと、他愛もないことを言いあっただけだったと思う。道道、右左の路地から、次つぎに出てくる兵士の数に、私は驚いた。そのうち、兵士と、それを囲んで歩く家族たちは、駅に対う道に充ちあふれた。

駅前は、夥しい人の群れだった。人の群れは無秩序なようでいて、次第に一つの秩序をめざしていた。いつか群れは軍隊と家族の二つの集団に截然と分れ、軍隊は小隊ごとにかたまろうとしていた。

叔父は両親に「げんきで」と言い、フキエさんには目礼しただけだった。次に屈んで、私の手を握り、「かあちゃんの言うことば聞かにゃぞ」と言った。私は片手は叔父の両手に挾まれ、片手は母に引かれていた。叔父の大きな手の、男らしい体温は、私の小さな躰を通って、母にも伝わっただろうか。

最後に、叔父は母の目に見入って、「嫂さんも達者で」と言った。母は何度も、何度もうなずいていた。

叔父は改めて挙手の礼をし、白い歯を見せると、身を翻して兵士の群れの中に入った。叔父は蜿蜿とつづく兵士の長蛇の列の中に埋没し、兵士たちは駅の中に呑まれて行った。次の日から、叔父は蓋つき椀の内側の水滴に変身した。祖母か叔父の安否を気づかって陰膳(かげぜん)を据え、食事のあとで蓋をとり、蓋の裏の水滴のあるなしで、叔父の運命を占ったからである。

叔父かビルマに発ったという報らせが届いたころから、祖母はボタン占いをはじめた。ボタンに糸を通して、叔父の写真の上に吊るさげ、その揺れかたで安否を占うのである。祖母は営繕所のだれかに、このインチキくさい占いを教わったのだった。

一年後の或る夜、母は叔父の夢を見た。夢の中で叔父は、出発のときのように戦闘帽を被って、挙手の礼をしていた。叔父は何か言いたげだったが、手術後のあのときのように目だけで笑っていた。声をかけようかと思うところで、母は目が覚めた。

次の日、町に買物に行きかけた母は、金子さんの角を曲るとすぐ、血相を変えて戻ってきた。「祖母ちゃん、健ちゃんの死んだ!」

どういうわけか、祖母はその日、家にいた。日頃、仲がよかったとは言えない嫁と姑も、この時ばかりは手をとり合って、悲しみ合った。死者か宥和させた母と祖母との関係は、その後しばらくつづいた。

そのうち、遺骨箱が届いた。遺骨箱と言っても、白木の箱に晒木綿を巻いただけの、まるで空気のように軽い、たよりないものだった。母と祖母がいっしょになって開くと、戦病死というのに、中には頭髪か二筋三筋入っているきりだった。

ただひとり残った跡取り息子をどうしてもあきらめきれず、そのゆえにその死を信じたくなかった祖母は、或る日私をつれて、町に叔父のかつての同僚で、隣の小隊にいた「兵隊さん」の生家を訪ねた。

その家は町の繁華な通りをはずれた路地裏にあり、格子戸を開けて入ると暗い三和土(たたき)で、両側に座敷があった。その三和土はそのまま中庭につづき、中庭を突切るともう一つ格子戸かあり、戸を開けると、障子明かりの中で六十ばかりの老女か、琺瑯引きの洗面器に浸したガーゼを割箸で目に運んでいた。目なうらの赤くただれた肉と、そこに運ぱれるなまあたたかい顧酸水の感触か想像され、身うちがぞくりとしたのを、私は覚えている。

その老女のところには息子から手紙か来ているかも知れず、その息子か叔父のかつての同僚で隣の小隊の戦友であってみれば、叔父の消息について、その手紙の中にふれている箇所があるかも知れないと、祖母は思ったのだろう。しかし、老女は叔父のことはおろか、自分の息子のことさえ知らなかった。この老いた母親のところにも、やがて息子の死が伝えられたのを、のちに私は祖母に聞いた。

母と祖母のかりそめの宥和は長くつづかなかった。つづくはすはない、二人は叔父についてまったくべつの考えかたをしていたから、その死についてもかかわりかたかちがっていた。

或るのどかな午後、私は日当りのよい縁側で絵本を見ていた。その絵本は「兵隊さん」を主題にした本で、そのおしまいの頁には、瀕死の兵隊さんが「天皇陛下ばんざい」と叫んでいた。私は、そばでつくろいものをしている母に尋ねた。

「兵隊さんな、死ぬとき、本当(ふんと)に『天皇陛下ばんざい』ち言うと?」

「本当は『おかあさん』ち言うげなよ。ばって……」

と、母は縫う手を止めて、針を頭髪に通した。私は、言い淀んだ母を見つめた。

「ばって、健ちゃんな『おかあさん』ちゃ言わんやったろうばい」

母は、叔父か「嫂さん」と言って死んだと思いたかったのだろうか。その後、母は叔父のことをほとんど語らなかった。語らないことは、母の叔父の死に対する心づくしでもあったのだろう。叔父にとって、母は処女であり、聖母的な存在にとどまった。母にとって、叔父は聖なる童貞であることを全うし、或いはそれに終った。

そして、母が叔父のことを語らないことで、私の中で、叔父は一つの抽象化された定理となり、男性の理想像となった。いつか不用意にも母が洩らした「健ちゃんな祖父(じい)ちゃんの子や無い」という言葉は、それを助けた。私にとって、健市叔父は「彼方から」来て、「彼方へ」帰った男性の美徳の神格となったのである。

『十二の遠景』より(1970)

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.

All I remember about the day Uncle Ken’ichi left was how sultry it was there on the platform of Naokata Station. With the scent of the crowds gathered there, it was stuffy and unpleasant. Someone had hung up a flag with the Rising Sun. People had written their best wishes for him in black ink on the white part of the flag around the red orb in the center. He was dressed in the uniform of a military recruit, and his work colleagues were also there throwing him into the air over and over again.

I stood by my grandparents while holding Mother’s hand. She was dressed in a kimono covered with a pattern of arrow feathers. I watched him and the others absentmindedly. Only when someone walking along the platform stopped as if in surprise did I indicate my pride in being connected to the specially chosen guest of honor. I did so first by looking at Uncle Ken’ichi, who was being tossed into the air, then looking back at the passersby.

My Uncle Ken’ichi (middle) with his comrades-in-arms
wearing the uniforms of the Japanese imperial army.
FROM Twelve Views from the Distance
BY Mutsuo Takahashi

The time I remember best of all was when we sent off Uncle Ken’ichi from Moji. He was departing for Niigata, where he would get on the airplane that would carry him to the battlefield. We took the Chikuhō line from Naokata, transferred at Orio, and took the Kagoshima main line to Moji, the station where the line originated. All in all, it took two and half hours to get there, so in order to see him off at nine-thirty in the morning, we had to leave Naokata at a little after five o’clock.

That was the first time in my life anyone woke me up while it was still dark. I suspect Mother and Grandmother were trying to soothe and humor me the whole way to the station. I still remember with crystal clarity rubbing my sleepy eyes and looking across the platform to see the sun rise in the sky over Mount Mitachi. The black, nighttime sky gave a strong convulsion, then the expanse of the darkness quickly became lighter as if a membrane had been peeled from its surface. There was a second convulsion. The sky grew lighter still. Once again, a third convulsion and more light. In this way, the dawn slowly broke across the sky. That was how my first dawn looked to me.

We got off of the steam-driven locomotive at Moji. There were five of us trailing along: my grandparents, Mother and I, and a young relative named Fukie who people had briefly discussed as a possible marriage prospect for Uncle Ken’ichi. As we walked, we kept asking the locals how to get to the private house where he was staying. The house was in a residential area named Kogane-machi. After a while, he came out with some of his colleagues. He was wearing a military uniform and rucksack, and at his side were his bayonet and canteen, which hung at a diagonal from his waist.

When Uncle Ken’ichi saw us, he raised his right hand to his military cap and saluted. I suspect this salute was directed more at Mother than anyone else. From there, we walked with him to the gathering place in front of the station where the military vehicles were waiting. We talked the whole way, but what was there really to talk about? I suppose that in a way, there was too much to talk about, but we did not brooch the important subjects. Instead, I believe we just stuck to unimportant exchanges, such as “Did you sleep alright?” and “Now, be careful.” I was shocked by the number of soldiers that appeared one after another from both sides of the road. The soldiers and their families filled the road to the station almost to the point of overflowing.

There was a big crowd in front of the station. They did not appear to be organized at first, but gradually they sorted themselves out. The crowd divided into two distinct groups — the military men and their families — then the military men started to congregate by platoon.

Uncle Ken’ichi said to his parents, “Stay well.” To Fukie, he just nodded. Next, he bent down and took my hand between his. “Listen to what your mommy tells you,” he said. As he held my hand between his, Mother pulled at my other hand. I wonder if the masculine warmth of Uncle Ken’ichi’s large hand didn’t travel through my small body to reach her as well… Last of all, he turned to Mother and said, “Nee-san,[1] you take care of yourself too.” Mother nodded over and over again as if she did not know what to say. He saluted us again, and grinning so that we could see his big white teeth, he turned around and joined the soldiers. He buried himself in the long line, which meandered along like a great serpent. Slowly the line disappeared into the station.

The next day, Uncle Ken’ichi was transformed into the drops of moisture on the inside of a lidded bowl. Each day, Grandmother would set an extra meal at the table for him as a way of hoping for his safe return. She would place a lid over his food, and by the end of the meal, she would look to see whether or not moisture had condensed inside. She believed this method of fortune-telling would help her know his fate.

After we received word he had left for Burma, she started using a button to tell his fortune. She would pass a string through a button and dangle it over his picture. From the swaying of the string, she could tell whether he was safe or not. Apparently, someone in the building and repairs facility taught her this far-fetched method of divination.

One night about a year later, Mother saw Uncle Ken’ichi in a dream. In it, he was wearing his army cap and saluting like on the day of his send-off. He looked like he wanted to say something, but just like after his surgery, he was only able to smile with his eyes. Right as Mother was starting to call out to him, she woke up.

The next day, Mother set out to buy some things in town. She had gone no farther than the corner of the Kanekos’ house when she came back, her face completely changed. She cried out to Grandmother, “Ken-chan is dead!” For some reason, Grandmother happened to be in the house that day. Although my mother and her mother-in-law were not always on the very best of terms, that day, they clasped one another’s hands and wept. The reconciliation brought about by the death of their shared loved one continued for some time.

Eventually the box containing Uncle Ken’ichi’s ashes arrived. The box was made of unfinished wood wrapped in bleached cotton cloth, and although his remains were supposed to be in it, the box was as light as air. Not believing it to be genuine, Mother and Grandmother opened it together. The army told us he had died of sickness on the battlefield, but inside there was nothing but two or three strands of hair.

The box was made of unfinished wood wrapped in bleached cotton cloth, and although his remains were supposed to be in it, the box was as light as air.

Grandmother simply could not bring herself to give up on her only remaining son. One day, she took me to town to visit the home of one of his former colleagues who also happened to have been assigned to a neighboring platoon. The house was behind an alley off of one of the more bustling streets. We opened the latticed door and went inside. There, we found a dark concrete floor flanked on two sides by sitting rooms. The concrete floor lead into a courtyard and on the other side of that was another door. When we opened that door, we saw a sixty-year old woman using the light from the shōji to pick up some gauze bandages spread in an enamel sink. She was using a pair of disposable, wooden chopsticks to lift them to her eyes. I remember the swollen red flesh of her eyes and the thought of the disagreeably warm touch of the gauze soaked in boric acid was enough to send shivers up my spine.

Grandmother was probably thinking the old lady had received some letters from her son, and since he and Uncle Ken’ichi were once colleagues and were now in neighboring platoons, perhaps one of those letters might have mentioned him. The old lady, however, did not have any news about her own son, much less my Uncle Ken’ichi. I later heard from Grandmother that the old lady had also received word her son had also died.

The temporary reconciliation between Mother and Grandmother did not last very long. That is only natural. Both of them had completely different feelings for him, so those came to bear on the way that they thought about his death.

One quiet afternoon, I was seated on the veranda in the sun looking at a picture book. The book was about soldiers, and on the last page, one of the soldiers who was on the verge of death shouted, “His Majesty, Banzai!”[2] I asked Mother who was doing some mending nearby, “When soldiers die, do they really shout that?”

“No, what they really shout is, ‘Mother…’ But…” Mother stopped her mending and stuck the needle in her hair. I watched as she hesitated. “But I doubt Ken-chan said ‘Mother’ at the end.”

What did she mean by that? Could Mother have hoped that instead, he called out “Nee-san” as he was dying?

After that, she hardly spoke about my Uncle Ken’ichi. Her silence was probably partly out of consideration for him — a man who had passed away. In his eyes, my mother had been a virginal maiden; she had been like the sacred mother to him. In her eyes, Uncle Ken’ichi had been holy — a chaste innocent — and that was how his life ended.

Because Mother did not talk about him, his memory became an increasingly abstract principle; he became the ideal embodiment of manhood. It only helped that sometimes in an unguarded moment, Mother would slip and say, “You aren’t Uncle Ken-chan’s little boy…” No, I was not like him. In my eyes, Uncle Ken’ichi was a divine incarnation of masculine virtue who had come from the Great Beyond and returned there far too swiftly.

EXCERPT FROM THE MEMOIR Twelve Views from the Distance (1970)

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TRANSLATOR'S NOTE

  1. Nee-san: This word means “older sister” but is sometimes used in a fashion like the word “missus” toward older women, often ones for whom one has a degree of affection but not necessarily an extremely close relationship.
  1. Banzai: Literally “ten thousand years.” During World War II, soldiers were educated to shout, “His Majesty, Banzai!” while charging into battle.

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