Kenji Everyone set pieces of paper aside for Sadako’s cranes. Chizuko brought him the paper the Bamboo Gang had offered; Mr. Sasaki retrieved all the paper he could in the hair salon. Even Mrs. Yasunaga offered her packs of medicines. As promised, Masahiro hung all the birds from the ceiling of the room. Sometimes there were several suspended from the same wire.
Over the next few months, Sadako felt a little better. However, Dr. Numata preferred her to remain in the hospital. The girl knew she had leukemia, but she also knew that some people were healing. I had hoped to become one of them. On good days, time passed quickly between school duties, visits, which she distracted with games, riddles and songs, and letters she wrote to friends and correspondents. Nights were devoted to paper cranes. Sadako was already over three hundred, impeccably folded. His fingers had become accustomed to the task: they worked fast and never made mistakes.
In the days that went wrong, I had pains. Little by little, the disease of the bomb had taken all her energy. When she wasn’t prostrate, with horrible migraines that prevented her from reading and writing, she had the feeling that her bones were burning. The increasingly frequent dizziness plunged her into immense numbness. She felt too weak to do anything. She would then sit by the window and look enviously at the courtyard maple. He spent hours watching him, the golden crane in his lap. She was particularly tired that day, but Mrs. Yasunaga insisted on taking her in her wheelchair to the sunny portico. Then Sadako first met Kenji. He was nine years old and small for his age. His face was thin and his black eyes sparkled.
– Hi! My name is Sadako.
Kenji greeted her sweetly, in a faded voice. Soon they were talking as if they had known each other forever. Kenji had been in the hospital for a long time, but had few visitors. She was an orphan and lived with one of her aunts in a nearby town.
“She’s so old, she only comes to see me once a week,” she confessed to Sadako. – I spend most of my time reading.
Sadako turned her head when she saw Kenji’s face darken.
“It’s not serious,” the boy sighed, “because I’m going to die soon.” I have bomb disease.
“But that is impossible,” replied Sadako. “You weren’t even born when the bomb fell.”
“The poison contaminated my mother’s body and she transmitted it to me.”
Sadako would like to comfort him, but didn’t even know what to say. Suddenly he remembered the legend of the cranes.
“You could make origami like me,” he suggested. – Some miracle can still happen!
“I already know the history of the cranes,” Kenji said quietly, “but it’s too late.” Not even the gods can help me…
The nurse joined them and asked the boy sternly:
– Kenji, how can you talk like that?
The boy gave her an intense look:
– I’m no idiot! Besides, I can read. The results of my analysis are getting worse and worse.
The nurse was disturbed.
– With this chatter you will tire yourself even more…
He took Kenji back inside the hospital.
When Sadako returned to the room, she was thoughtful. He tried to imagine himself ill and without family. I thought Kenji was a very brave boy. He made a crane in his prettiest role and threw it into the boy’s room, which was opposite his own. Would the bird give him luck? Sadako doubled some more origami for his collection.
Three hundred and ninety-eight…
Three hundred and ninety-nine…
The next day Kenji was not in the portico. Sadako had heard noise in the hallway late at night, the noise of a bed being moved. Mrs. Yasunaga came to announce the death of her friend. Sadako turned to the wall and let the tears flow. The nurse gently placed her hand on his shoulder gently.
“Come sit by the window and talk for a while,” he invited her.
Sadako stopped sobbing and stared at the moonlight.
“Do you think Kenji is up in the sea of stars?”
“Wherever you are, I am sure you are happy,” the nurse replied. “He has already freed himself from his tired and sick body. Your spirit is now free.
In silence, Sadako listened to the rustle of maple leaves.
“It’s me next, isn’t it?”
– Of course not! Replied the nurse, shaking her head vigorously. – I brought you a little piece of colored paper. You’ll make me a crane before you go to bed. When you have finished your thousand birds, you will be old.
Sadako very much wanted to believe what the nurse had told her and started making more birds.
Four hundred and sixty-three… I’ll be fine soon…
Four hundred and sixty-four… I’ll be fine soon…
Hundreds of wishes
The month of June came and with it the showers. Day after day, a rain as gray as the sky beat the windows. Water dripped along the leaves of the courtyard tree. The room began to smell musty. Even the sheets were damp.
Sadako was pale in the eye and had lost all strength. The only authorized visits were those of the parents and those of Masahiro, the older brother. The class offered her a Kokeshi doll to cheer her up. Sadako was very fond of the wooden doll’s melancholy smile as well as the red roses painted on the kimono. Put it on the bedside table next to the golden crane.
Mrs. Sasaki was restless because her daughter was not eating properly. One day I brought her a surprise, wrapped in a furoshiki. In the square of cloth came everything that Sadako liked best: imperial paté, chicken and rice, prunes in syrup and soy cakes.
Sadako leaned back on the pillows and tried to eat. But in vain: her inflamed gums hurt so badly she couldn’t chew. It eventually gave up. He pushed the food away with his hands. Her mother’s eyes sparkled as if she were going to cry. Sadako exclaimed:
– I’m slow as a turtle.
I didn’t want my mother to feel bad. He knew that his family could not afford to buy such expensive food. Tears stung her eyes, but she hastened to wipe them away.
“Don’t fret,” her mother reassured her, hugging her. – You’ll be better soon. At that time…
Mrs. Sasaki read poems, with her daughter nestled in her lap. When Masahiro arrived, his sister was more peaceful and happy. Masahiro told him the latest news from school and kicked off the surprise dinner. Before leaving, he said:
– I already forgot! Eiji sends you a gift.
He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a crumpled silver piece of paper.
– Say it’s to make a crane.
Sadako smelled the paper.
– Um … I smell of crystallized sugar. I hope the gods like it.
They all started to laugh. Sadako has not laughed for several days. It was a good sign. Had the magic of the golden crane begun to work? He smoothed the paper and made a bird. Five hundred and forty-two… But she was too tired to go on. He stretched out on the bed and closed his eyes. As she tiptoed out of the room, Mrs. Sasaki muttered a poem that recited Sadako as a baby:
Oh! Cloud of heavenly cranes Protect my son With your wings.
The last days
By the end of July, the sun was shining and hot. Sadako looked better.
“I have passed the five hundred cranes,” he said to Masahiro. I feel that something good will happen.
In fact, the appetite had returned and the pain was now less severe. Happy with Sadako’s progress, Dr. Numata announced that Sadako would be able to spend a few days at home. That night Sadako was so excited she couldn’t sleep. He continued to make cranes so that the magic would last.
Six hundred and twenty-one…
Six hundred and twenty-two…
How nice to be at home, with the family, spending the big vacation! The Ban was celebrated, the feast of the dead, who returned to earth to visit their loved ones. Mrs. Sasaki and Mitsue cleaned the house with care. There were flowers on the table. The golden crane and the doll were there too. It smelled of the delicious delicacies of the feast days. On the altar were soya cakes and rice balls arranged in little plates for the visiting spirits. As evening fell, Mrs. Sasaki hung a flashlight over the door so they wouldn’t get lost in the darkness. Sadako sighed with joy. Maybe I didn’t have to go back to the hospital.
For several days, friends and family visited her continuously. By the weekend, the girl was pale and tired again. She was content to sit without moving, looking at those around her.
“Sadako is now a very polite girl,” said her father. “Grandma must be happy to see her granddaughter behave so well.”
– How can you talk like that? Said his wife. “I gave everything to get our restless daughter back.”
She rushed into the kitchen as she wiped her tears.
They are all sad because of me, Sadako thought. She was so glad to be back with her before. Mom was so happy!
As if reading his daughter’s thoughts, Mr. Sasaki told her in a shaken tone:
– So, come on … Don’t worry. After a good night’s sleep, you’ll feel better.
The next day, Sadako had to return to the hospital. For the first time, he was happy to return to the tranquility of his room. Her parents stayed with her for a long time. From time to time, Sadako would fall into a strange sleepiness.
“When you die,” he said, “do you promise to put my favorite soy cakes on the altar to welcome my spirit?”
Too thrilled to speak, Mrs. Sasaki squeezed her daughter’s hand tightly.
“Chiu…” his father murmured in a strange voice. “There is still a long time before that happens.” Don’t give up, daughter. There are only a few hundred cranes left.
The nurse brought soothing. Before closing his eyes, Sadako lightly touched the golden crane.
“I’ll be fine soon,” she whispered to the doll, “and one day I’ll run as fast as the wind.”
Dr. Numata transfused him and gave him injections almost every day.
“I know you’re in pain, but we can’t lower our arms.”
The girl nodded. He never complained, despite the almost permanent pain. Even more horrible suffering overwhelmed her: the fear of death. Fortunately, the golden crane helped her resist, reminding her that hope had to be maintained.
Mrs. Sasaki spent more and more time in the hospital. Every afternoon Sadako listened to the familiar clatter of plastic shoes that hospital visitors had to wear. His mother’s made a particular noise. Sadako was aware of her mother’s deep uneasiness.
The maple leaves were lined with rust and gold when the Sasaki came to make one of their last visits to Sadako. Eiji handed her sister a gold wrapping paper tied with a red ribbon. Sadako opened it slowly and found a silk kimono printed with cherry blossoms. It’s the gift her mother wanted so much to offer her. The girl’s eyes filled with tears.
– I’ll never be able to use it and it’s so expensive!
“Sadako,” her father said softly, “your mother lay down too late yesterday to finish sewing.” How about if you try it out so she can see if it looks good?
Sadako had a hard time getting out of bed. Her mother helped her into her kimono and strapped the band. The girl was glad no one saw her swollen legs. He crossed the room at a hesitant step and went to sit on the couch by the window. Everyone was ecstatic at this beautiful princess.
Chizuko came in at that moment. Dr. Numata gave you permission for a short visit.
– It looks better than your school uniform! He exclaimed.
Everyone laughed, including Sadako.
“So when I’m better, I’ll take him to school every day,” he joked.
Mitsue and Eiji laughed at the idea. Everyone had the impression of reliving the good times spent with family. They entertained themselves with letter games and traced Sadako’s favorite songs. She was not even moving on the couch and was trying to hide her suffering from them.
Their presence was worth the sacrifice. When they left, their parents looked almost happy.
Before falling asleep, Sadako could only make a crane. Six hundred and forty-four… It would be the last.
Running as fast as the wind
As it faded, Sadako was thinking more and more of death. Would he live on a heavenly mountain? Did dying hurt? Did we just fall asleep?
“If only I could stop thinking about death,” Sadako told herself. But that would be like stopping the rain from falling. The girl couldn’t concentrate on anything for a long time: death constantly came to her mind.
In mid-October, Sadako began to lose track of time. When she woke up one morning, she saw her mother crying.
– Don’t cry, I ask you.
Sadako would like to comfort her, but she couldn’t move her mouth or tongue. A tear slid down her cheek. The family suffered so much because of you! Maybe just fold a few more cranes and wait for a miracle? He still took a square of paper, but his swollen fingers could do nothing. “I’m really a turtle. Not even a bird can do it.” Sadako tried to fold the paper before fainting.
A few minutes, which seemed like hours later, Dr. Numata came in and put his hand on her forehead. He took the paper from her hands carefully. Sadako has hardly heard him say:
– You have to rest. Tomorrow you continue.
The girl said yes with her head. Tomorrow… How tomorrow comes far…
When she woke up, the family was gathered around her. Sadako smiled at them. He felt that he was and would always be part of that circle full of love and affection, and that it would never change. Suddenly, he began to see lights dancing before his eyes. He held out a trembling hand toward the golden crane. The forces escaped him, but the paper bird gave him a great energy.
Sadako looked up at all the suspended cranes on the ceiling. Just then, a slight autumn breeze made them ripple. They looked alive, and one would say they wanted to go out the window. What a beauty! What a freedom! Sadako sighed and closed his eyes.
To no longer open them.
Sadako Sasaki died on October 25, 1955. Her classmates folded three hundred and fifty-six cranes so she could be buried with a thousand birds. His desire to live long has thus been somehow fulfilled, since he will live forever in everyone’s heart.
After the funeral, the Bamboo Gang published a book with Sadako’s letters, and they named him Kokeshi, in memory of the doll they had given him at the hospital. The book traveled all over Japan and celebrated the story of Sadako and the thousand paper birds. His friends dreamed of building a monument that would eternalize the memory of Sadako and all the children killed by the atomic bomb. Young people from all over the country joined forces and helped us raise funds for this project. In 1958, his dream came true: at Hiroshima Peace Park, a statue of Sadako was unveiled, which appears on top of a granite celestial mountain with a golden crane in his hands.
A club of origami cranes was founded in his honor, and every year on 6 August, its members deposit thousands of paper cranes at the statue. On that day, Peace Day, take the opportunity to formulate a wish. This wish is engraved at the base of the statue:
Here is our cry Here is our prayer To build peace in the world. Eleanor Coerr Les mille oiseaux de Sadako Toulouse, Éditions Milan, 2003 (Translation and adaptation)