Creative Non-fiction / October 2018 (Issue 41: Writing Singapore)


by Wesley Leon Aroozoo

 Soaking wet, I try to minimise the surface area I’m taking up on the seat in Mr. Takamatsu’s clean and neat minivan. Perfectly dry, Mr. Takamatsu drives us to our next destination, the Onagawa Public Hospital, that sits visibly high around the middle of Horikiri Mountain. As we alight, I turn back and double-check the seats to make sure we didn’t leave any dirty wet stains.

On the slow walk to the hospital’s main entrance, Mr. Takamatsu talks about how many residents evacuated to the hospital on the day of the disaster, since it was the most prominent and important tsunami evacuation site. Mr. Takamatsu stops and points to a pillar that stands about two metres tall at the entrance. Right at the top of the pillar is a line marking with a small icon of a wave next to it.

“The wave was so huge that it swept above to where we are and washed away many cars and victims who were standing around,” says Mr. Takamatsu as he reveals that the marking denotes how high the tsunami had rose. 

Our jaws all drop. We were already high up, roughly ten to fifteen metres above sea level. Now, we learn that the waves actually flowed up to even cover the first level of the hospital, moderately damaging it to some extent.

Following the direction of the wave, Mr. Takamatsu leads us to the back of the hospital where a panoramic view of the vast east side of Onagawa can be seen. For the first time, I am able to fully grasp the impact of the aftermath of the destruction. I identify the bay where the tsunami came from and the kilometre inland that it obliterated.

Gone were buildings, homes and the main town of Onagawa. All that was left was a barren landscape where heavy construction vehicles roamed over forsaken piles of sand.

“What was it like before the disaster?” I ask.

“There was a police station just right in front of us.” Mr. Takamatsu points to the front while I remember the temporary police station I saw the night before. 

He continues, “In front of the police station was the National Road, which was the main road. Over there is the new train station. It used to be much closer to the beach.”

I am vaguely able to see the new train station in the distance. It is white and shiny, looking very out of place amidst the mass of undeveloped land surrounding it.

“There used to be shops and residential houses gathered around there, and over there were parks and parking lots near to the sea.” I could see Mr. Takamasu conjuring the scenes up from a past not so long ago; his eyes saw beyond the vast flatlands to a time where it had been brimming with life every day.

“Could you share with us what you saw after the disaster?”

Mr. Takamatsu takes in the present and appears in thought. “Rather than a view, the whole area was covered with debris. Some buildings with steel enforced frames had survived. But most of the houses and shops were gone, with some of the few remaining ones left with just base parts.”

Mr. Takamatsu’s recollection matched exactly the aerial photograph of Onagawa that hung in Suzuya. Without my prompting, he adds, “I thought the whole town would be gone and we wouldn’t be able to recover from the damage. It was like going back to wartime and being bombed.”

Mr.Takamatsu's View of Onagawa Bay (Photo credit: Jon Chan)

Editors' note:
"Everyday" is included in Wesley Leon Aroozoo's I Want To Go Home (Math Paper Press).
Read a review of the book in Issue 39 (April 2018) of Cha.

ImageWesley Leon Aroozoo is a lecturer at LASALLE College of the Arts and a filmmaker with 13 Little Pictures. His feature film I Want To Go Home had its World Premiere and was In Competition at the Busan International Film Festival 2017. Its companion dual-language novel published by Math Paper Press is Aroozoo's second novel. His other films have screened in festivals such as The International Film Festival Rotterdam and the Sapporo International Short Film Festival. He is a graduate with a Master of Fine Arts from New York University Tisch Asia and a Bachelor of Fine Arts with Honours from Nanyang Technological University.
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