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A Shawl of Love

Poem by Akira Hosoya  ( Japan 1925 - 1999 )
English translation by Hideo Yokokawa

Reading by Hideo Yokokawa


There were so many changes in the route that the trains were always almost empty. Among the mountains, the steam locomotive aimed at the destination slowly as if crawling on the ground. The train creaked curiously when it moved and stopped. Each car had 2 potbelly stoves, and the passengers threw coals into the stoves to suit themselves and warmed their hands. From the windows, there could be seen many houses of coal miners aligned at the mountain foot. One evening, the scene sank deep into my mind with a kind of grief like alien scenery I used to see during my travels in a foreign land.
It was around 1951 that I had to visit the hospital of this coal mining village twice a month as a doctor from the university. One night when I was just going to bed, a nurse came and said to me. "We have a house call for a childbirth, Doctor. Can you go?"I asked her to get prepared quickly. And when we stepped into outside, the snow blew down and wetted my face as I looked up. It was about eleven o'clock at night when we reached the house of the patient after jogging on a horse sleigh

The house was at the end of the area of cramped street far apart from the other residences. When I opened the heavy sliding door, I found a number of people, children too, looking at me anxiously. Nobody tried to move at all in the narrow room. I barely managed to find a place for me to sit down. In the middle of the room, a large wood stove was burning noisily. "Doctor, her condition changed suddenly a while ago,"  said the attending midwife. 

Surprised by the patient's look, I held her wrist but couldn't feel her pulse. She was dead. When I said,
"She ascendedto heaven", "Ascended?, oh, no....... Can't do anything, then?" said the midwife. The room quieted for a moment. I put my hand on her abdomen, and I could easily make out a part of the limbs of an unborn child. I judged it was from her hysterorrhexis. To know the reason, washing my hands, I examined her gynecologically. The tip of my finger clearly touched the buttocks, which I thought were smaller than normal.

       "It' a breech. Twins, moreover. She couldn't give birth because they stick to one another. I will pull them out." I said in a low voice as if I was telling to myself. Nobody replied me. I heard sobbing from here and there in the room. Then, an old man sitting close to me said desperately. "Stop it please, doctor. There are eight children in this home. We are too poor even to eat. We can't tell what to do from now on. If the babies remain in their mother, one coffin is enough. If you pull them out, we need two or three coffins. We have neither money nor wood for coffins."

       Suddenly at the corner of the room, an infant let out a piercing cry, who must have been born in the previous year. When I looked back at the infant, the midwife who had been giving in to tears a little time before stood up. And she began to wrap the infant in her black shawl. She said "I will bring up this baby. " Nobody answered. Sobs filling the room became louder and louder.      Giving a bow, she opened the sliding door, holding the baby wrapped by the black shawl with care in her arms, and disappeared into the darkness of the heavily falling snow.

       I cannot forget about her appearance from the back at that time. The times have changed bewilderingly in awful speed. I cannot see the steam train equipped with the potbelly stoves and the black shawl which wrapped the baby, anymore. To my sorrow, I don't have any chance to meet anything like the appearance of the back of that midwife who had so beautiful thought.



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