Antoine spoke a perfectly imperfect French-accented Japanese that would make Miki’s cheeks red every time he talked. He would talk in sentences that stumbled and wound about like footpaths in the forests of a youth he kept to himself. But in the middle of his sentences, he would often become quiet, as if to speak too much would unleash some terrible evil.
Sometimes when he was being completely honest he would tell her not to get too attached to him. Even though he had his papers in order, there was always a chance that the government would change its mind and deport him. Wasn’t that what the governor of Tokyo was threatening to do? Many hibakusha living in Tokyo were already starting to come to Hiroshima and some were going as far south as Nagasaki because they feared that governors and mayors like this new “Ken-chan” would enact restrictions to make things difficult for foreigners. New I.D. cards, new barriers to medical access, new barriers to jobs…
She didn’t know what to say.
“He’s right, you know. The one you call a rat. You can never trust us. Some of us have forged our certificates. You can do that, you know. Even when we can’t get the certificates to come here for treatment, we still want to leave. Nothing grows in France anymore. Nothing can be exported. We live in the radioactive air. Even neighboring countries don’t want us. We’re either not contaminated enough to come here or we’re too contaminated to go anywhere else. There is no future with me. You can never have children with me.”
She kissed him. Her first kiss.
She told Antoine about her sister, about her disease. Because of her disease, Miki had to get a test every year for symptoms. Her parents warned her that she might have some genetic defect, something that she could possibly pass on.
“It doesn’t matter. We’re all contaminated.”
Antoine smiled slightly. “My mom once told me this story about this island that turned stone hearts pure. She said, ‘Antoine, anytime your heart feels cold to the problems of the world, go there in your imagination. Find things that make you happy and generous.’”
“That’s so lovely.”
Then he went silent, perhaps in fear that he had said too much.