Murakami Haruki (1994)
Trans. Kieran Maynard (2010)
Murakami, Haruki. Nejimakidori kuronikuru (Dai 2 bu) Yogen suru tori hen ねじまき鳥クロニクル 〈第 2 部〉予言する鳥編 . Shinchōsha, 1994. Print.
Book 2, Chapter 18 Partial Translation
Tidings from Crete, the thing that fell off the edge of the world, good news is spoken by small voices
I thought hard about it until the last minute, but in the end, I didn't go to Crete. Exactly one week before her departure for Greece, the woman who was once Crete Kano came over to my house with paper a bag full of groceries and made dinner for me. We didn't really talk during dinner. After cleaning up, I told her I felt there was no way I could go to Crete with her. That didn't seem to surprise her much. In fact, she took it as if that were the only natural course.
While holding her shortened bangs between her fingers, she said, "While that Mr. Okada cannot accompany me to Crete is very unfortunate, that cannot be helped. I can go to Crete alone all right. Please do not worry about me."
"Have you made your travel preparations?"
"I believe the necessary things are all in order. My passport, airline reservation, travelers checks, and bag. But I don't pack much anyway."
"What did you sister say?"
"We are very close sisters, so it's very hard for us to be far apart. But Malta Kano is a strong and smart person. She knows well what is best for me." With a quiet smile on her face, she looked at me. "Has Mr. Okada decided that it is best to remain here alone?"
"Yeah," I said, then stood up and boiled some water in a pot to make coffee. "I have that feeling. Recently it came to me. I can go away from here, but I can't run away from here. The fact is, no matter how far I go, I can't escape. I think it's a good thing for you to go to Crete. Because for a lot of reasons you're going to clear the past and start a new life. But that's not me."
"Because of Ms. Kumiko?"
"Will Mr. Okada stay here and wait for Kumiko's return?" I leaned against the sink and waited for the water to boil, but it just wouldn't boil.
"What I should do, honestly, I don't know. I haven't got a clue. But, I've gradually figured out, I have to do something. Just sitting here waiting for Kumiko's return is no good. If I want here to come back, I have to clarify various things on my own."
"But what to do, you still don't know, do you?"
I nodded. "I can feel that something around me is taking shape little by little. Various things are still vague, but there should be some relation among them. But you can't just catch it or drag it out. I think I can only wait for things to become a little clearer."
Malta Kano's sister placed both hands on the table and thought for a moment about what I had said.
"But it won't be easy to wait."
"I guess so," I said. "It's probably far harder than I expect. Staying here alone, stuck half-finished with various problems, just waiting intently for things that may or may not ever come. To tell you how I feel honestly, if possible I want to throw out everything and go to Crete with you. Then, I want to forget everything and start a new life. That's why I bought a suitcase, and even took a passport photo. I packed my bags. I really intended to leave Japan. But, I just can't shake the feeling, or the sensation, that here something needs me. That's what I mean by 'I can't run away.'."
Malta Kano's sister nodded in silence.
"Superficially, this is a stupidly simple situation. My wife found a man somewhere and left home. She says she wants a divorce. Like Noboru Wataya says, this is something you often hear about in society. It might be good for me to quit overthinking this and that, go with you to Crete, forget everything and start a new life. But actually, the situation is not as simple as it seems. I understand that. You understand that, too. Right? Malta Kano understands that, too. Probably, Noboru Wataya understands that, too. Something I don't know is hidden there. Somehow, I want to drag that out into the open."
I gave up making coffee, turned off the stove, went over to the table and looked at Creta Kano's face.
[The following paragraph is saved on pp. 338 as end of Book 2 in Rubin.]
"And, if it's possible, I want to get Kumiko back. With my hands, I want to pull her back into this world. Otherwise, I will continue to lose who I am. I've gradually come to see that, though it's still pretty vague."
Malta Kano's sister stared at her own hands on the table, then looked up at me. Her unpainted lips were tightly drawn. Finally, she opened her mouth.
"For that very reason, I tried to take Mr. Okada to Crete."
"To keep me from going through that?"
She nodded slightly.
"Why didn't you want me to go through that?"
"Because it is dangerous," she said in a quiet voice. "Because that is a dangerous place. Now you can still come back. We should go to Crete together. There, we are safe."
While I stared at the face of the entirely new Creta Kano, sans eye shadow and fake eyelashes, for a second I lost hold of where I was. Something like a clump of deep fog without any warning enveloped my consciousness. I lost sight of myself. Myself lost sight of me. Where is this place? I thought. Just what am I doing here? Who is this woman? But soon reality returned. I was sitting at the table in my kitchen. I wiped my sweat with a kitchen towel. I felt a little dizzy.
"Are you all right, Mr. Okada?"
"I'm fine," I said.
"Mr. Okada, I do not know if you will ever be able to retrieve Kumiko.
Even supposing Mr. Okada manages to retrieve her, there is no guarantee Mr. Okada or his wife will be happy as before. Everything just as it was before—I do not think it will happen. Have you considered that?"
I laced my fingers in front of my face, and untangled them. There was not a sound to be heard. Once again, I accomodated myself into the existence called me.
"I thought about that, too. Things are already so damaged, no matter how I struggle, it may be impossible for me to return things to how they were before. The possibility or probability of that might be greater. But you know, some things don't move on possibility or probability alone."
Malta Kano's sister reached out and very lightly touched my hand on the table.
"Even knowing various things, should you desire to remain here, it may be right that you do. That, of course, is a thing Mr. Okada shall decide. While I am disappointed you cannot go to Crete, I truly understand how you feel. Now, I think many things will happen to Mr. Okada, but please do not forget me. All right? If anything happens, please think of me. Because I will think of you."
"I'll think of you, too," I said.
The woman formerly known as Creta Kano once again sealed her lips and for a long while searched for words in the air.
Then, she said to me in a very quiet voice, "Listen, Mr. Okada. As you know, this is a bloody and violent world. Those who don't become strong cannot go on living. But at the same time, it is also very important that you strain your ears so as not to miss even the smallest sound. Do you understand? Good news in most cases is spoken by small voices. Please remember that."
"I hope you find your springs, Mr. Wind-Up Bird," said the woman who was once Creta Kano. "Goodbye."
Near the end of August, I received a postcard from Crete. It had a Greek postal stamp and was stamped in Greek letters. The woman who was once Creta Kano must have sent it, because I couldn't think of a single other person who might send me a postcard from Crete. But the sender's name wasn't written. I figured she probably hadn't yet decided on a new name. A person without a name cannot write their name. However, there wasn't only no name, but not even a line of text. It was only my name and address written with a blue ballpoint pen and the stamp of Cretan post office. The backside was a color photograph of the seaside. There was a sparkling white narrow beach surrounded by rocky hills with a topless young woman sunbathing alone. The sea was deep and blue and in the sky floated fake-looking white clouds. The clouds looked solid enough to walk on.
It seemed the woman who was once Creta Kano had made her way to Crete without a hitch. I was happy for her. At last she could find a new name there. With a new name, perhaps a new self and a new lifestyle. But she had not forgotten me. The blank picture postcard from Crete told me that.
To kill time, I wrote her back. I didn't know her address, or even her name, so it was a letter I never intended to send. I just wanted to write a letter to somebody.
"I haven't heard from Malta Kano in a long time," I wrote. "It seems she too has vanished from my world. I feel that one after another, people quietly drop off the edge of the world I am in. Everyone walks on and on that way and suddenly disappears. Perhaps somewhere over there is the edge of the world. I continue passing unremarkable days. They are so unremarkable that I am gradually becoming unable to distinguish one day from another. I don't read the newspaper, I don't watch television, and I hardly go outside. Occasionally I go to swim in the pool. The unemployment insurance ran out long ago, so I am eating into my savings, but I don't require many living expenses (though compared to Crete the living expenses might be a bit higher), and due to the small inheritance left by my mother it seems for the time being I will be able to eke out a living. That mark on my face has not changed much. But truly, as days pass the mark bothers me less and less. If I must live the rest of my life with this mark, I will live with it. I think this may be something I must live with. I don't understand the reason myself, but somehow I have come to think that way. In either case, I am here quietly keeping my ears open."
[The following lines are my translation, but are also translated on pp. 343-344 (Book 3, Chapter 1) in Rubin.]
Sometimes I remembered the night I slept with Creta Kano. However, that memory was strangely obscure. That night we held one another and I had her many times. That was an unmistakable fact. But some weeks passed and the certainty dropped away. I couldn't visualize her body. Nor could I well remember in what ways I had her. Rather than my memory of the reality of that night, the memory of having her before in my consciousness—in unreality—was far more vivid. In that strange room in the hotel, the image of her riding astride my body wearing Kumiko's blue dress again and again arose clearly before my eyes.
[The following is not found in Rubin's translation.]
She wore two bracelets on her left arm that made a dry clatter. I could remember the feeling of my hardened penis. I had never before experienced it become so hard and so big. She took it in her hand, slipped it inside herself and rotated as if leisurely drawing a circle. I could still clearly recall the feeling of the hem of Kumiko's dress she wore brushing my skin. But finally, at some point Creta Kano was replaced with the unknown mystery woman. Wearing Kumiko's dress and straddling me was that mystery woman who called so many times. Those were no longer Creta Kano's genitalia, but that woman's. I recognized the change in temperature and atmosphere. Like I had entered a different room.
"Forget absolutely everything," she whispered to me. "Like sleeping, like dreaming, like rolling in warm mud." Then, I ejaculated.
That clearly meant something. Maybe because it meant something, that memory transcended reality and remained vividly inside me. But what that meant, I still couldn't understand. During that memory's unlimited replay I closed my eyes and sighed.
In early September a call came from the cleaners by the station. They said my laundry was ready, so I should come get it.
"Laundry?" I said. "But I don't think I left anything."
"Well, it's certainly here. Please come and get it. The fee has already been paid, so you only need to come get it. It's 'Okada' isn't it?"
I said yes. The phone number was definitely mine, too. Dubious, I went to the cleaners to check it out. As always, the owner of the shop was ironing shirts while easy listening played on a big boom box. In the tiny world of the cleaners by the station, there is never any change. There are no trends, and no transitions. No vanguard, and no rear guard. No advance, and no retreat. No praise, and no condemnation. Nothing comes in, and nothing goes out. Playing that day was Burt Bacharach's familiar oldie "Do You Know the Way to San Jose."
When I entered the shop, the proprietor, iron in hand, stared at my face for a minute, perplexed. I didn't get why he was staring so hard at my face. Finally I realized it was because of the mark. Well, that's all right. If marks suddenly appeared on a familiar face, that would surprise anybody.
"I had a little accident," I explained.
"I'm sorry to hear that," the proprietor said. It was a voice of heartfelt sympathy. He stared at the iron in his hand for a moment and gently set it upright on the ironing board. Like he was really afraid it was his iron's fault. "Will it heal?"
"I don't know," I said.
The proprietor then handed me Kumiko's blouse and skirt wrapped in plastic. Those were the clothes I gave Creta Kano.
"A short haired girl left these, right? Hair about this long," I said, and held my fingers about three centimeters apart.
"Not exactly. It was about this long," he said, and pointed to his shoulder. "And she was wearing a brown suit and a red plastic hat. She paid the fee and asked me to call your house when the clothes were ready." I thanked him, took the blouse and skirt and went home. I thought I had given those clothes to Creta Kano. They were the "payment" with which I bought her body, and even given back I didn't have a use for them. I couldn't well understand why Malta Kano would bother to take those clothes to the cleaners. Anyway, I folded them neatly in a drawer with the rest of Kumiko's clothes.
[Lt. Mamiya's letter (Book 2 Chapter 18 pp. 344-6) is translated in Rubin p. 345. I have omitted it here.]
May Kasahara hadn't shown up in a long time. She came to my house around the end of August. As usual she climbed over the wall and came into the back yard. Then she called my name. We sat together on the back porch and talked.
"Hey, Mr. Wind-Up Bird, do you know? Starting yesterday that empty house is getting torn down. The Miyawaki house."
"Does that mean somebody bought that place?"
"Hmm, I dunno."
May Kasahara and I went through the alley to the back of the empty house. Indeed the demolition work had already begun. Six helmeted workers were removing the storm shutters and windowpanes and carrying out the sink and electric appliances. For a while she and I watched them work. They seemed accustomed to that sort of work, and saying hardly anything they moved silently and systematically. High up in the sky, lines of white clouds trailed on, suggesting the arrival of fall. I wondered what the fall is like in Crete. Are the same kind of clouds are floating over there?
"Are those guys gonna tear up the well, too?" May Kasahara asked.
"Probably," I said. "There's no use leaving something like that there. First of all, it's dangerous."
"There might be people who go inside," she said with a rather earnest face. Looking at her sun-tanned face, I could vividly remember the feeling when she licked my mark in that scorching hot garden.
"Mr. Wind-Up Bird, in the end you didn't go to Crete."
"I decided to say here and wait it out."
"One time Kumiko said she wouldn't come back, didn't she?"
"That's a separate problem," I said.
May Kasahara narrowed her eyes a little and looked at my face. When she narrowed her eyes, the scar by her eye deepened.
"Mr. Wind-Up Bird, why did you sleep with Creta Kano?"
"Because it was necessary."
"That's a separate problem, too?"
"Goodbye, Mr. Wind-Up Bird. See you again some time."
"Goodbye," I said.
"Hey, Mr. Wind-Up Bird," she added after hesitating a little. "I've decided to go back to school."
[May Kasahara's talk on pp. 349-351 is translated in Rubin pp. 324-5 (Chapter 15, Book 2). This conversation from J349 is inserted into the conversation between Tōru and May on J303/E324, after May says 「クレタ島に行ったら手紙を書いてくれる？」, replacing a few cut lines. Minor changes are also made to that conversation to eliminate Tōru's hesitation over going to Crete.]
"Will you shake my hand?" said May Kasahara.
I held her small, sun-tanned hand, and was reminded just how small a hand it was. Just a child, I thought.
"Goodbye, Mr. Wind-Up Bird," said May Kasahara once again. "Why didn't you go to Crete? Why didn't you run away from here?
"Because I can't pick a side to bet on."
May Kasahara let go of my hand and stared at my face as if seeing some awfully rare thing.
"Goodbye, Mr. Wind-Up Bird. See you again sometime."
About ten days later, the empty house was completely demolished, leaving nothing but a leveled empty lot. The house was simply gone and the well was buried without a trace. The trees and flowering plants in the garden had been removed, and the statue of the bird taken away, and probably thrown away somewhere. Perhaps that was better for the bird. The simple hedge that separated the alley and the garden had been replaced by a sturdy wooden fence so tall no one could peer inside.
One afternoon in the middle of October, as I was swimming alone in the municipal pool, I had a kind of vision. Background music was always playing at that pool; that time it was Frank Sinatra—old songs like "Dream" and "Little Girl Blue." Half listening, I swam many leisurely laps around the 25-meter pool. And then I had a vision. Or, a kind of revelation.
Before I knew it, I was inside a huge well. I wasn't swimming in the local pool, but at the bottom of the well. The water surrounding my body was thickly heavy and warm. I was absolutely alone there, and the surrounding water had an odd and unusual echo. I quit swimming, floated quietly and gazed around, then lay on my back to look up above. Because of the buoyancy of the water, I could float there without any effort. My surroundings were shrouded deep in darkness; all I could see was a cleanly cut circle of sky right overhead. But strangely, I wasn't afraid. There is a well here, and now I am floating like this at the bottom—I found this very natural. Rather it was surprising that I had only now realized it. That was one among all the wells of the world, and I was one among all the "myselves" of the world.
In the cut-out circle of sky, as if the universe itself had burst into fine fragments, innumerable stars were shining brightly. In the ceiling layered in darkness, the silent stars plunged their gimlets of sharp light. I could hear the sound of wind blowing over the well. And in that wind, I could hear the voice of someone calling someone. I had heard that voice somewhere long ago. I wanted to respond to that voice, but my voice wouldn't come out. Probably, my voice couldn't vibrate the air of that world.
The well was frighteningly deep. When I stared up at the opening, the vertical positions would soon reverse in my head and I would feel just as if looking from the top of a smokestack straight down at the bottom. But it had been really a long time since I had had such a quiet and peaceful feeling. I slowly spread my arms and legs in the water and took several big breaths. My body warmed from the inside and lightened as if gently supported from below. I was surrounded, supported and protected.
I don't know how much time passed then, but finally dawn came without a sound. The line of faint purple light that appeared around the rim slowly expanded its domain while changing hues, and the stars gradually lost their brilliance. For a while, several bright stars remained in one spot, but finally they too faded and were erased. Floating on my back in heavy water, I stared at the figure of the sun. It wasn't glaring. Just as if I were wearing dark sunglasses, some power protected my eyes from the intense light of the sun.
A little later, as the sun came nearly directly over the well, a slight but evident change came over that gigantic sphere. Just before that came a strange moment, as if the axis of time had shuddered. I held my breath, focused my sight, and tried to ascertain what was in the making. Before long, a black stain just like a mark appeared at the right corner of the sun. In the same way that the new sun had eroded the dark of night, that little mark steadily whittled away the light of the sun. A solar eclipse, I thought. A solar eclipse was happening before my eyes.
But it wasn't exactly a solar eclipse. Because when the black mark
covered about half of the sun, it abruptly halted the erosion, and lacked the clearly defined outline seen during a normal solar eclipse. Though feigning the form of one, it was clearly not something that could actually be called an eclipse, but I had no idea what else I should call this phenomenon. Like taking a Rorschach test, I narrowed my eyes and tried to read some kind of meaning out of the shape of the mark. But it was a shape but not a shape shape, something but nothing. Gazing at that shape, I gradually lost confidence in my own existence. I took several deep breaths, settled the beating of my heart, and then moved my fingers slowly in the heavy water and once again verified myself in the darkness. All right, no problem. I am definitely here. This is at once the municipal pool, and the bottom of a well; I am witnessing an eclipse that is not an eclipse.
Eyes closed, far off I could hear a muffled noise. At first it was barely audible, like the unintelligible voices of people heard through a wall. But before long, just as when tuning a radio, little by little it took on a distinct outline. Good news is spoken by small voices, said the woman who was once Creta Kano. I focused my nerves, strained my ears, and tried to make out those words. However, that wasn't a human voice. It was the mingled cry of several horses. At some place in the darkness, as if excited by something, those horses neighed, snorted, and stamped the earth. It was as if, with various sounds and motions and a pressing urgency, they were sending me some message. But I didn't understand. Why would there be horses in a place like this? And what would they try to communicate to me?
I had no idea. Eyes closed, I tried to picture those horses. The horses I managed to picture were all inside a barn, lying sideways in the hay, foaming at the mouth and panting in anguish. Something was afflicting them terribly.
Suddenly, I remembered the story of horses dying in the eclipse. A solar eclipse kills horses. I read that story in the newspaper, and told it to Kumiko. It was the night she came home late and I threw out her dinner. Horses underneath the disappearing sun are confused and afraid. Probably, some of them actually die.
I opened my eyes, and the sun had disappeared. Nothing existed there. A neatly delimited circle of empty space was all that floated overhead. Now, silence covered the bottom of the well. That silence was deep and powerful enough to swallow anything around it. It became hard to breathe, and I sucked in a big breath. Inside it, I sensed some odor: the scent of flowers. It was the enticing scent released by a mass of flowers in the darkness. That scent was as fleeting as the remains of a torn dream. But in the next moment, inside my lungs, as if aided by a potent catalyst, the scent intensified and grew with furious vigor. The fine needles of pollen pierced my throat, nostrils and the inside of my body.
It's the same smell that was floating in Room 208, I thought. The large vase set on the table: the flowers inside it, faintly mixed with the smell of scotch poured in the glass. And that strange phone woman—"There's some fatal blind spot inside you." I reflexively surveyed my surroundings. I couldn't make out the shape of anything in the dark. But I could feel clearly the presence of one who had just been there, but was gone. For a brief time she shared the darkness with me, and as a sign of her existence left behind the scent of flowers and disappeared.
I held my breath and floated quietly in the water. The water kept supporting my weight, almost as if tacitly encouraging my existence. I silently laced the fingers of both hands on top of my chest. I closed my eyes once again and focused my consciousness. My raw heartbeat sounded in my ears. It sounded like the heartbeat of someone else. But that was my heart. It was only the sound of my heart heard coming from some other place. There's some fatal blind spot inside you, she said.
That's right; I have some fatal blind spot.
I am overlooking something.
She must be someone I know very well.
As if something suddenly flipped, I understood everything. In a flash, every single thing was exposed in broad daylight. Under that light, things were utterly distinct and concise. I took a short breath and exhaled slowly. My exhaled breath was as hot and hard as a burnt stone. Make no mistake. That woman was Kumiko. Why hadn't I realized it before? I shook my head furiously in the water. It should have been easy to figure out, right? Absolutely easy. From that strange room, Kumiko was , frantically sending me that single message: "Please find my name."
Kumiko was shut away in that dark room, seeking to be set free. And the person who could free her was none other than me. In this wide world, only I was qualified, because I loved Kumiko, and she loved me. If at that point I had only found her name, using some kind of method hidden there I probably would have been able to save Kumiko from that world of darkness. But I couldn't find it. On top of that, I even ignored her calls. Even though from here on that chance might not come a second time.
After a while, the trembling excitement quietly withdrew and in its place surged a soundless terror. The surrounding water rapidly lost its warmth, and a slimy, grotesque something like a swarm of jellyfish wrapped itself around me. My heart pounded in my ears. I could clearly recall what I'd seen in that room. The hard, dry noise of someone rapping on the door was still branded into my ear, and the moment's flash of a white knife under the light of the corridor even now made my flesh crawl. Perhaps those were scenes lurking somewhere within Kumiko. And perhaps, that pitch-black room was the domain of darkness Kumiko held herself. I swallowed my saliva, and heard a great hollow sound like someone had struck a void from the outside. I feared that void, and at the same time feared what was trying to fill it.
Eventually, the terror withdrew as rapidly as it had come. I slowly exhaled the frozen breath from my lungs and sucked in new air. The water around me little by little regained its warmth, and I felt a raw emotion resembling joy arise from the inmost depths of my body. I'll probably never see you again, Kumiko said to me. I don't know why, but Kumiko left me abruptly and decisively. But she certainly didn't discard me. On the contrary, she actually needed me urgently and sought me vehemently. Only for some reason she couldn't put that into words, so with various methods and different shapes, she desperately tried to communicate to me something like a big secret.
Thinking that, my chest grew hot. Inside me, I felt several things that until then had been frozen shatter and melt. All kinds of memories, thoughts, and feelings became one, surged up and swept away something like a clump of emotions.
What was melted and swept away mixed quietly into the water and gently wrapped my body with a thin film in the darkness. It's there, I thought. It's there, waiting for my hand to reach out. I don't know how much time it will take. I don't know how much effort will be required. But I have to stand firm. And I have to find some way to reach into that world. That is what I must do. "When you must wait, wait." That was what Mr. Honda said.
I could hear a dull sound of water. Someone came gliding through the water like a fish and wrapped my body in strong arms. It was the pool lifeguard. I had spoken to him a few times before.
"Are you all right?" he asked me.
"I'm all right," I replied.
It was no longer the bottom of that great well, but the usual 25-meter municipal pool. The smell of disinfectant and the sound of water reverberating off the ceiling returned to my consciousness in a flash. Several people were standing poolside and watching me, wondering what had happened. I explained to the lifeguard that I got a sudden cramp in my leg. That's why I was just floating in place there. The lifeguard lifted me out of the pool and told me I had better stay out of the water and rest for a while. "Thank you," I said to him.
I sat down against the wall by the pool and quietly closed my eyes. Inside me, the sensation of happiness brought by the vision remained like a spot of sunshine, and in that spot of sunshine, I thought: It is there. It is not that everything has spilled out of my hands. It is not that everything was driven away into the dark. There is still something—something warm, beautiful, and precious—left there. It is there. I know.
I may lose. I may be lost. I may not make it anywhere. No matter what desperate efforts I make, it may be that things are already irretrievably damaged. I may be only scooping in vain the ashes of ruins, and the only one unaware of it is me. There may be no one here who will bet on my side. "I don't mind," I say in a small, determined voice to someone there. "I can say this. At least there are things I must wait for, and things I must seek."
So I hold my breath, and strain my ears. I try to make out the small voice that should be there. Beyond the splashing water, the music, and the people's laughing voices, my ears hear that faint, soundless echo. Over there, someone is calling someone. Someone is seeking someone. In a voiceless voice. In wordless words.
[End Book 2]