- Riding a Bus in a Castle Town
As quickly as the figure appeared outside the window of the bus, it was gone, left far behind. At first I wondered if I had seen anyone at all. A momentary vision among the houses that lined the street: “Agarie?”
He was gone before I had time to say his name. But then I was certain that it had been him, wearing a shabby shirt, with an open collar and no tie, an old man’s alpine hat on his head. I recognized his face. He was waving, holding his right palm next to his ear.
The face was of Seishō Agarie: we used to call him by the nickname Small-Eyed Seishō because his eyes were so little and friendly. What I had glimpsed was the aged face of a second-year middle-school student I knew sixty-two years ago. It was bewildering for me to think that this had been the person waving at me.
Did he recognize me merely as Eisuke Kobashigawa, his classmate from the First Prefectural Middle School? It was forty years ago that I left Okinawa. It would have been next to impossible for him to recognize my face from where he stood as the bus passed him. I had recently sent him a letter asking for his help in recalling a sixty-two-year-old memory from the battlefield. No answer had arrived, so I decided to seek him out and meet face to face. When I called on the phone, his wife had picked up, responding to my request vaguely—neither encouraging me nor discouraging me. Even now, I’m not sure I should have come all this way. I think his wife must have already spoken to him about my call, but would he feel comfortable talking to me? Would he welcome me? Was it a good idea to come?
The Castle Town Bus Line was started three years ago, I’m told. It’s just six kilometers long, and the trip takes only twenty minutes. The outbound bus leaves Shuri-Ishimine Town, passes by the monorail’s Shuri Station, and circles about half of Shuri Castle. It then travels through Kinjō Town, in the southernmost corner of the old city of Shuri, runs along the ridge at Samukawa Town until it turns onto Prefectural Road 29, and arrives at Miyako Hotel & Resorts and Hotel Nikkō Naha Grand Castle, its final stop.
Having grown up in Okinawa before the war, I feel like calling these places by their old district names, Kanagushiku and Sungā, rather than by their modern names, Kinjō and Samukawa. One reason I feel this way is [End Page 151] that these areas have always seemed set apart from the heart of old Shuri Town. As soon as I arrived in Okinawa after my forty-year absence and heard about the Castle Town Line, I jumped on the bus—not just because it was convenient for getting to my destinations, but out of curiosity and nostalgia.
I quickly learned about the bus stop called Entrance to Stone Path. I had lived in Okinawa for twenty years after the war and knew about this stone path, where the old part of the town remained intact, even after the battle had destroyed nearly everything. The narrow stone pavement descends steeply for about three hundred meters toward the south, so as the bus neared the stop, I was prepared to look straight down the path and see the hillside town of Hantagawa as we passed. But it can’t be seen anymore, if only because the bus is rushing along as fast as a clicking camera. However, now that I caught a glimpse of the figure resembling Agarie, I’m convinced that his house is nearby and that the stone path is still there.
Halfway down the slope, as I recall, the path forks at a small spring shaded by a large banyan tree. People say that before the war, the residents of the area set up stands to sell their bean sprouts every morning. It was there, at a little open space facing the spring...