The sky was a mottled grey as my train slid elegantly into the station. It was early morning and the air still held a cold crispness to it, the kind you feel really penetrate your lungs. The sun, determined as it were, struggled to break through the low, slow-moving clouds, and the birds, seemingly ignorant of the chill, were coming to the end of their dawn chorus. 'This is...Hiroshima', the automated voice announced over the carriage tannoy, 'Thank you for riding the Shinkansen'. I hoisted my bag atop my shoulder and shimmied my way down the aisle toward the exit.
The antiquated tram trundled along its tracks purposefully and with a swagger that made it seem as though it were bored of the many similar trips it'd done in all its years of service. Approaching a crossroad, a brand new tram passed us and suddenly, as though a sense of jealousy had surged through it, ours jerked slightly, before the driver coaxed it over and around the bend ahead. Now late morning, the sun had apparently given up its quest to burn through the clouds above, leaving the skies overcast and the temperature cool. Outside people were going about their business like usual, and as the tram approached the stop I wanted I saw a young girl run up to her mother with a flower and proudly hold it up to her for praise. I had arrived at the Peace Memorial Park.
Dodging the numerous school trips gathered around the famous museum, I ventured past and into the main park. Passing the Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound and the Hiroshima Peace Bell, I made a bee-line for the sight I'd really come to see: The Genbaku (A-Bomb) Dome. Staring solemnly at the remains of what was once, a long, long time ago a prestigious theatre, the air became palpable and the goosebumps on my arms ever more apparent. When my thoughts finally drifted back to the present, I decided to photograph the place.
Fishing my camera out, I circled around to the opposite shore searching for a good place to snap it from. Spotting some stairs leading down to the river below, I climbed over a small rise and began my descent. I was vaguely aware of a group of Japanese locals turning their attention to me - one even shouting something loudly - but my mind was elsewhere, preoccupied with getting the best angle.
The first step was fine. The second, third and fourth easy. But the fifth... Feeling my feet slide out from under me I fell with a thud and began to bump-slide my way down to the water. Scrambling at the steps but unable to grasp anything I slid into the freezing water and cursed my stupidity as my feet, then my legs disappeared into the murky depths. Thank God for low tide.
Standing there in waist-high water, unsure of what to do next, I heard a voice on the stairs above me. It was the guy I'd heard shout earlier, an obvious warning I'd been oblivious to. His hand outstretched, beckoning me in broken English to 'Grab, grab...' he flexed his fingers like a gymnast.
With the lower part of my body beginning to go numb, I reached out and grasped his hand with my free one. He was surprisingly strong. Tugging me up, I was dragged at an achingly slow pace back up the stairs.
Reaching the top, I was a mess. Water dripped down my legs in great torrents, and when I opened my bag there was a veritable swimming pool inside. I'd thanked the man who'd saved me a thousand times and, looking up, he already sat chuckling with his friends, likely regaling them with tales of his heroism or – more probable – my stupidity.
I turned my attention to the camera still in my hand. Somehow my grip had never faltered, despite the circumstances. I took a deep breath and pressed the 'on' button. What seemed like forever passed, and then, with a click and a whirl, it spluttered to life. Still holding that same breath, my finger crept over to the 'playback' button. The moment of truth. I closed my eyes and pressed it. I heard the 'ting' sound as it switched from camera to album, and I ever-so-slowly eased my eyes open. There, on the screen before me, was a 'slightly askew' picture of the Genbaku Dome.
Soaking wet and chilled to the bone, I smiled.