Full Read the Online Chapter 8 PDF of the Norwegian Wood Book by Haruki Murakami for free.
Halfway through that week, I managed to cut my palm open on a piece of broken glass. I hadn’t noticed that one of the glass partitions in a record shelf was cracked. I could hardly believe how much blood gushed out of me, turning the floor bright red at my feet. The shop manager found some towels and tied them tightly around the wound.
Then he made a phone call to the casualty. He was a pretty useless guy most of the time, but he acted with surprising efficiency. The hospital was nearby, fortunately, but by the time I got there the towels were soaked in red, and the blood they couldn’t soak up had been dripping on the tarmac. People scurried out of the way for me. They seemed to think I had been injured in a fight. I felt no pain to speak of, but the blood wouldn’t stop.
The doctor was cool as he removed the blood-soaked towels, stopped the bleeding with a tourniquet on my wrist, disinfected the wound, and sewed it up, telling me to come again the next day. Back at the record shop, the manager told me to go home: he would put me down as having worked my shift. I took a bus to the dorm and went straight to Nagasawa’s room. With my nerves on edge over the cut, I wanted to talk to somebody, and I hadn’t seen Nagasawa for a long time.
I found him in his room, drinking a can of beer and watching a Spanish lesson on TV. “What the hell happened to you?” he asked when he saw my bandage. I said I had cut myself but that it was nothing much. He offered me a beer and I said no thanks.
“Just wait. This’ll be over in a minute,” said Nagasawa, and he went on practicing his Spanish pronunciation. I boiled some water and made myself a cup of tea with a tea bag. A Spanish woman recited example sentences: “I have never seen such terrible rain!”, “Many bridges were washed away in Barcelona.” Nagasawa read the text aloud in Spanish. “What awful sentences!” he said. “This kind of shit is all they ever give you.”
When the program ended, he turned off the TV and took another beer from his small refrigerator.\
“Are you sure I’m not in the way?” I asked.
“No way. I was bored out of my mind. Sure you don’t want a beer?” “No, I really don’t,” I said.
“Oh, yeah, they posted the exam results the other day. I passed!”
“The Foreign Ministry exam?”
“That’s it. Officially, it’s called the “Foreign Affairs Public Service Personnel First Class Service Examination’. What a joke!”
“Congratulations!” I said and gave him my left hand to shake.
“Of course, I’m not surprised you passed.”
“No, neither am I,” laughed Nagasawa. “But it’s nice to have it official.”
“Think you’ll go abroad once you get in?”
“Nah, first they give you a year of training. Then they send you overseas for a while.”
I sipped my tea, and he drank his beer with obvious satisfaction.
“I’ll give you this fridge if you’d like it when I get out of here,” said Nagasawa. “You’d like to have it, wouldn’t you? It’s great for beer.”
“Yeah, I’d like to have it, but won’t you need it? You’ll be living in a flat or something.”
“Don’t be stupid! When I get out of this place, I’m buying myself a big fridge. I’m gonna live the high life! Four years in a shithole like this is long enough. I don’t want to have to look at anything I used in this place. You name it, I’ll give it to you – the TV, the thermos flask, the radio. ..”
“I’ll take anything you want to give me,” I said. I picked up the Spanish textbook on his desk and stared at it. “You’re starting Spanish?”
“Yeah. The more languages you know the better. And I’ve got a knack for them. I taught myself French and it’s practically perfect. Languages are like games. You learn the rules for one, and they all work the same way. Like women.”
“Ah, the reflective life!” I said with a sarcastic edge. “Anyway, let’s eat out soon.”
“You mean cruising for women?”
“No, a real dinner. You, me, and Hatsumi at a good restaurant. To celebrate my new job. My old man’s paying, so we’ll go somewhere really expensive.”
“Shouldn’t it just be you and Hatsumi?”
“No, it’d be better with you there. I’d be more comfortable, and so would Hatsumi.”
Oh no, it was Kizuki, Naoko, and me all over again.
“I’ll spend the night at Hatsumi’s afterward, so join us just for the meal.”
“OK, if you both really want me to,” I said. “But, anyway, what are you planning to do about Hatsumi? You’ll be assigned overseas when you finish your training, and you probably won’t come back for years. What’s going to happen to her?”
“That’s her problem.”
“I don’t get it,” I said.
Feet on his desk, Nagasawa took a swig of beer and yawned.
“Look, I’m not planning to get married. I’ve made that perfectly clear to Hatsumi. If she wants to marry someone, she should go ahead and do it. I won’t stop her. If she wants to wait for me, let her wait. That’s what I mean.”
“I have to hand it to you,” I said. “You think I’m a shit, don’t you?”
“Look, the world is an inherently unfair place. I didn’t write the rules. It’s always been that way. I have never once deceived Hatsumi. She knows I’m a shit and that she can leave me whenever she decides she can’t take it. I told her that straight from the start.”
Nagasawa finished his beer and lit a cigarette.
“Isn’t there anything about life that frightens you?” I asked.
“Hey, I’m not a total idiot,” said Nagasawa. “Of course, life frightens me sometimes. I don’t happen to take that as the premise for everything else, though. I’m going to give it 100 percent and go as far as I can. I’ll take what I want and leave what I don’t want. That’s how I intend to live my life, and if things go bad, I’ll stop and reconsider at that point. If you think about it, an unfair society is a society that makes it possible for you to exploit your abilities to the limit.”
“Sounds like a pretty self-centered way to live,” I said. “Perhaps, but I’m not just looking up at the sky and waiting for the fruit to drop. In my own way, I’m working hard. I’m working ten times harder than you are.”
“That’s probably true,” I said.
“I look around me sometimes and I get sick to my stomach. Why the hell don’t these bastards do something? I wonder. They don’t do a fucking thing, and then they moan about it.”
Amazed at the harshness of his tone, I looked at Nagasawa. “The way I see it, people are working hard. They’re working their fingers to the bone. Or am I looking at things wrong?”
“That’s not hard work. It’s just manual labor,” Nagasawa said with finality. “The “hard work’ I’m talking about is more self-directed and purposeful.”
“You mean, like studying Spanish while everyone else is taking it easy?”
“That’s it. I’m going to have Spanish mastered by next spring. I’ve got English German and French down pat, and I’m almost there with Italian. You think things like that happen without hard work?” Nagasawa puffed on his cigarette while I thought about Midori’s father. There was one man who had probably never even thought about starting Spanish lessons on TV He had probably never thought about the difference between hard work and manual labor, either. He was probably too busy to think about such things – busy with work, and busy bringing home a daughter who had run away to Fukushima. “So, about that dinner of ours,” said Nagasawa.
“Would this Saturday be OK for you?”
“Fine,” I said.
Nagasawa picked a fancy French restaurant in a quiet backstreet of Azabu. He gave his name at the door and the two of us were shown to a secluded private room. Some 15 prints hung on the walls of the small chamber. While we waited for Hatsumi to arrive, Nagasawa and I sipped a delicious wine and chatted about the novels of Joseph Conrad. He wore an expensive-looking grey suit. I had on an ordinary blue blazer.
Hatsumi arrived 15 minutes later. She was carefully made up and wore gold earrings, a beautiful deep blue dress, and tasteful red court shoes. When I complimented her on the color of her dress, she told me it was called midnight blue.
“What an elegant restaurant!” she said.
“My old man always eats here when he comes to Tokyo,” said Nagasawa. “I came here with him once. I’m not crazy about these snooty places.”
“It doesn’t hurt to eat in a place like this once in a while,” said Hatsumi. Turning to me, she asked, “Don’t you agree?”
“I guess so. As long as I’m not paying.”
“My old man usually brings his mistress here,” said Nagasawa.
“He’s got one in Tokyo, you know.”
“Really?” asked Hatsumi. I took a sip of wine as if I had heard nothing.
Eventually, a waiter came and took our orders. After choosing hors d’oeuvres and soup, Nagasawa ordered duck, and Hatsumi and I ordered sea bass. The food arrived at a leisurely pace, which allowed us to enjoy the wine and conversation. Nagasawa spoke first of the Foreign Ministry exam. Most of the examinees were scum who might just as well be thrown into a bottomless pit, he said, though he supposed there were a few decent ones in the bunch. I asked if he thought the ratio of good ones to scum was higher or lower than in society at large.
“It’s the same,” he said. “Of course.” It was the same everywhere, he added: an immutable law. Nagasawa ordered a second bottle of wine and a double Scotch for himself. Hatsumi then began talking about a girl she wanted to fix me up with. This was a perpetual topic between us. She was always telling me about some “cute girl in my club”, and I was always running away. “She’s really nice, though, and really cute. I’ll bring her along next time. You ought to talk to her. I’m sure you’ll like her.”
“It’s a waste of time, Hatsumi,” I said. “I’m too poor to go out with girls from your university. I can’t talk to them.”
“Don’t be silly,” she said. “This girl is simple and natural and unaffected.”
“Come on, Watanabe,” said Nagasawa. “Just meet her. You don’t have to screw her.”
“I should say not!” said Hatsumi. “She’s a virgin.”
“Like you used to be,” said Nagasawa.
“Exactly,” said Hatsumi with a bright smile. “Like I used to be. But really,” she said to me, “don’t give me that stuff about being “too poor’. It’s got nothing to do with it. Sure, there are a few super-stuck- girls every year, but the rest of us are just ordinary. We all eat lunch in the school cafeteria for? 250 – “
“Now wait just a minute, Hatsumi,” I said, interrupting her. “In my school, the cafeteria has three lunches: A, B, and C. The A Lunch is? 120, the B Lunch is? 100, and the C Lunch is? 80. Everybody gives me dirty looks when I eat the A Lunch, and anyone who can’t afford the C Lunch eats ramen noodles for? 60. That’s the kind of place I go to. You still think I can talk to girls from yours?”
Hatsumi could barely stop laughing. “That’s so cheap!” she said. “Maybe I should go there for lunch! But really, Toru, you’re such a nice guy, I’m sure you’d get along with this girl. She might even like the? 120 lunch.”
“No way,” I said with a laugh. “Nobody eats that stuff because they like it; they eat it because they can’t afford anything else.”
“Anyway, don’t judge a book by its cover. It’s true we go to this holy-toity establishment, but lots of us there are serious people who think serious thoughts about life. Not everybody is looking for a boyfriend with a sports car.”
“I know that much,” I said.
“Watanabe’s got a girl. He’s in love,” said Nagasawa. “But he won’t say a word about her. He’s as tight-lipped as they come. A riddle wrapped in an enigma.”
“Really?” Hatsumi asked me.
“Really,” I said. “But there’s no riddle involved here. It’s just that it’s complicated and hard to talk about.”
“An illicit love? Ooh! You can talk to me!” I took a sip of wine to avoid answering.
“See what I mean?” said Nagasawa, at work on his third whisky. “Tight-lipped. When this guy decides he’s not going to talk about something, nobody can drag it out of him.”
“What a shame,” said Hatsumi as she cut a small slice of terrine and brought it to her lips. “If you’d got on with her, we could have double-dated.”
“Yeah, we could’ve got drunk and done a little swapping,” said Nagasawa.
“Enough of that kind of talk,” said Hatsumi.
“What do you mean “that kind of talk’? Watanabe’s got his eye on you,” said Nagasawa.
“That has nothing to do with what I’m talking about,” Hatsumi murmured. “He’s not that kind of person. He’s sincere and caring. I can tell. That’s why I’ve been trying to fix him up.”
“Oh, sure, he’s sincere. Like the time we swapped women once, way back when. Remember, Watanabe?”
Nagasawa said this with a blasé look on his face, then slugged back the rest of his whisky and ordered another. Hatsumi set her knife and fork down and dabbed at her mouth with her napkin. Then, looking at me, she asked, “Toru, did you really do that?”
I didn’t know how to answer her, and so I said nothing.
“Tell her,” said Nagasawa. “What the hell.” The mood was turning sour. Nagasawa could get nasty when he was drunk, but tonight his nastiness was aimed at Hatsumi, not at me. Knowing that made it all the more difficult for me to go on sitting there.
“I’d like to hear about that,” said Hatsumi. “It sounds very interesting!” “We were drunk,” I said.
“That’s all right, Toru. I’m not blaming you. I just want you to tell me what happened.”
“The two of us were drinking in a bar in Shibuya, and we got friendly with this pair of girls. They went to some college, and they were pretty plastered, too. So, anyway, we, uh, went to a hotel and slept with them. Our rooms were right next door to each other. In the middle of the night, Nagasawa knocked on my door and said we should change girls, so I went to his room and he came to mine.”
“Didn’t the girls mind?”
“No, they were drunk too.”
“Anyway, I had a good reason for doing it,” said Nagasawa. “A good reason?”
“Well, the girls were too different. One was really good-looking, but the other one was a dog. It seemed unfair to me. I got the pretty girl, but Watanabe got stuck with the other one. That’s why we swapped. Right, Watanabe?”
“Yeah, I suppose so,” I said. But in fact, I had liked the not-pretty one. She was fun to talk to and a nice person. After we had sex, we were enjoying talking to each other in bed when Nagasawa showed up and suggested we change partners. I asked the girl if she minded, and she said it was OK with her if that’s what we wanted. She probably thought I wanted to do it with the pretty one.
“Was it fun?” Hatsumi asked me. “Swapping, you mean?”
“The whole thing.”
“Not especially. It’s just something you do. Sleeping with girls that way is not all that much fun.”
“So why do you do it?”
“Because of me,” said Nagasawa.
“I’m asking Toru,” Hatsumi shot back at Nagasawa. “Why do you do something like that?”
“Because sometimes I have this tremendous desire to sleep with a girl.”
“If you’re in love with someone, can’t you manage one way or another with her?” Hatsumi asked after a few moments’ thought.
“It’s complicated.” Hatsumi sighed.
At that point the door opened and the food was carried in. Nagasawa was presented with his roast duck, and Hatsumi and I received our sea bass. The waiters heaped freshcooked vegetables on our plates and dribbled sauce on them before withdrawing and leaving the three of us alone again. Nagasawa cut a slice of duck and ate it with gusto, followed by more whisky. I took a forkful of spinach. Hatsumi didn’t touch her food.
“You know, Toru,” she said, “I have no idea what makes your situation so “complicated’, but I do think that the kind of thing you just told me about is not right for you. You’re not that kind of person. What do you think?” She placed her hands on the table and looked me in the eye.
“Well,” I said, “I’ve felt that way myself sometimes.” “So why don’t you stop?”
“Because sometimes I have a need for human warmth,” I answered honestly. “Sometimes, if I can’t feel something like the warmth of a woman’s skin, I get so lonely I can’t stand it.”
“Here, let me summarize what I think it’s all about,” interjected Nagasawa. “Watanabe’s got this girl he likes, but for certain complicated reasons, they can’t do it. So he tells himself “Sex is just sex’, and he takes care of his needs with somebody else. What’s wrong with that? It makes perfect sense. He can’t just stay locked in his room tossing off all the time, can he?”
“But if you really love her, Toru, shouldn’t it be possible for you to control yourself?”
“Maybe so,” I said, bringing a piece of sea bass in cream sauce to my mouth.
“You just don’t understand a man’s sexual needs,” said Nagasawa to Hatsumi. “Look at me, for example. I’ve been with you for three years, and I’ve slept with plenty of women in that time. But I don’t remember a thing about them. I don’t know their names, I don’t remember their faces. I slept with each of them exactly once. Meet ’em, do it, so long. That’s it. What’s wrong with that?”
“What I can’t stand is that arrogance of yours,” said Hatsumi in a soft voice. “Whether you sleep with other women or not is beside the point. I’ve never really been angry with you for sleeping around, have I?”
“You can’t even call what I do sleeping around. It’s just a game. Nobody gets hurt,” said Nagasawa.
“I get hurt,” said Hatsumi. “Why am I not enough for you?”
Nagasawa kept silent for a moment and swirled the whisky in his glass. “It’s not that you’re not enough for me. That’s another phase, another question. It’s just a hunger I have inside me. If I’ve hurt you, I’m sorry. But it’s not a question of whether or not you’re enough for me. I can only live with that hunger. That’s the kind of man I am. That’s what makes me me. There’s nothing I can do about it, don’t you see?”
At last, Hatsumi picked up her silverware and started eating her fish. “At least you shouldn’t drag Toru into your “games’.”
“We’re a lot alike, though, Watanabe and me,” said Nagasawa. “Neither of us is interested, essentially, in anything but ourselves. OK, so I’m arrogant and he’s not, but neither of us is able to feel any interest in anything other than what we ourselves think or feel or do. That’s why we can think about things in a way that’s totally divorced from anybody else. That’s what I like about him. The only difference is that he hasn’t realized this about himself, and so he hesitates and feels hurt.”
“What human being doesn’t hesitate and feel hurt?” Hatsumi demanded. “Are you trying to say that you have never felt those things?”
“Of course I have, but I’ve disciplined myself to where I can minimize them. Even a rat will choose the least painful route if you shock him enough.”
“But rats don’t fall in love.”
“Rats don’t fall in love’.” Nagasawa looked at me. “That’s great. We should have background music for this – a full orchestra with two harps and – “
“Don’t make fun of me. I’m serious.”
-We’re eating,” said Nagasawa. “And Watanabe’s here. It might be more civil for us to confine ‘serious’ talk to another occasion.”
“I can leave,” I said.
“No,” said Hatsumi. “Please stay. It’s better with you here.” “At least have dessert,” said Nagasawa.
“I don’t mind, really.”
The three of us went on eating in silence for a time. I finished my fish. Hatsumi left half of hers. Nagasawa had polished off his duck long before and was now concentrating on his whisky.
“That was excellent sea bass,” I offered, but no one took me up on it. I might as well have thrown a rock down a deep well.
The waiters took away our plates and brought lemon sherbet and espresso. Nagasawa barely touched his dessert and coffee, moving directly to a cigarette. Hatsumi ignored her sherbet. “Oh boy,” I thought to myself as I finished my sherbet and coffee. Hatsumi stared at her hands on the table. Like everything she wore, her hands looked chic elegant and expensive. I thought about Naoko and Reiko. What would they be doing now? I wondered. Naoko could be lying on the sofa reading a book, and Reiko might be playing “Norwegian Wood” on her guitar. I felt an intense desire to go back to that little room of theirs. What the hell was I doing in this place?
“Where Watanabe and I are alike is, we don’t give a shit if nobody understands us,” Nagasawa said. “That’s what makes us different from everybody else. They’re all worried about whether the people around them understand them. But not me, and not Watanabe. We just don’t give a shit. Self and others are separate.”
“Is this true?” Hatsumi asked me.
“No,” I said. “I’m not that strong. I don’t feel it’s OK if nobody understands me. I’ve got people I want to understand and be understood by. But aside from those few, well, I feel it’s kind of hopeless. I don’t agree with Nagasawa. I do care if people understand me.”
“That’s practically the same thing as what I’m saying,” said Nagasawa, picking up his coffee spoon. “It is the same! It’s the difference between a late breakfast and an early lunch. Same time, same food, different name.”
Now Hatsumi spoke to Nagasawa. “Don’t you care whether I understand you or not?”
“You don’t get it, do you? Person A understands Person B because the time is right for that to happen, not because Person B wants to be understood by Person A.”
“So is it a mistake for me to feel that I want to be understood by someone – by you, for example?”
“No, it’s not a mistake,” answered Nagasawa. “Most people would call that love if you think you want to understand me. My system for living is way different from other people’s systems for living.”
“So what you’re saying is you’re not in love with me, is that it?” “Well, my system and your – “
“To hell with your fucking system!” Hatsumi shouted. That was the first and last time I ever heard her shout.
Nagasawa pushed the button by the table, and the waiter came in with the bill. Nagasawa handed him a credit card. “Sorry about this, Watanabe,” said Nagasawa. “I’m going to see Hatsumi home. You go back to the dorm alone, OK?” “You don’t have to apologize to me. Great meal,” I said, but no one said anything in response.
The waiter brought the card, and Nagasawa signed with a ballpoint pen after checking the amount. Then the three of us stood and went outside. Nagasawa started to step into the street to hail a taxi, but Hatsumi stopped him.
“Thanks, but I don’t want to spend any more time with you today. You don’t have to see me at home. Thank you for dinner.” Whatever,” said Nagasawa. “I want Toru to see me home.”
“Whatever,” said Nagasawa. “But Watanabe’s practically the same as me. He may be a nice guy, but deep down in his heart, he’s incapable of loving anybody. There’s always some part of him somewhere that’s wide awake and detached. He just has that hunger that won’t go away. Believe me, I know what I’m talking about.”
I flagged down a taxi and let Hatsumi in first. “Anyway,” I said to Nagasawa, “I’ll make sure she gets home.”
“Sorry to put you through this,” said Nagasawa, but I could see that he was already thinking about something else. Once inside the cab, I asked Hatsumi, “Where do you want to go? Back to Ebisu?” Her flat was in Ebisu. She shook her head.
“OK. How about a drink somewhere?”
“Yes,” she said with a nod.
“Shibuya,” I told the driver.
Folding her arms and closing her eyes, Hatsumi sank back into the corner of the seat. Her small gold earrings caught the light as the taxi swayed. Her midnight-blue dress seemed to have been made to match the darkness of the interior. Every now and then her lightly made-up, beautifully formed lips would quiver slightly as though she had caught herself on the verge of talking to herself. Watching her, I could see why Nagasawa had chosen her as his special companion.
There were any number of women more beautiful than Hatsumi, and Nagasawa could have made any of them his. But Hatsumi had some quality that could send a tremor through your heart. It was nothing forceful. The power she exerted was a subtle thing, but it called forth deep resonances. I watched her all the way to Shibuya, and wondered, without ever finding an answer, what this emotional reverberation could be that I was feeling.
It finally hit me some dozen or so years later. I had gone to Santa Fe to interview a painter and was sitting in a local pizza parlor, drinking beer and eating pizza, and watching a miraculously beautiful sunset. Everything was soaked in brilliant red – my hand, the plate, the table, the world – as if some special kind of fruit juice had splashed down on everything.
In the midst of this overwhelming sunset, the image of Hatsumi flashed into my mind, and in that moment I understood what that tremor of the heart had been. It was a kind of childhood longing that had always remained – and would forever remain – unfulfilled. I had forgotten the existence of such innocent, almost burnt-in longing: forgotten for years that such feelings had ever existed inside me. What Hatsumi had stirred in me was a part of my very self that had long lain dormant. And when the realization struck me, it aroused such sorrow I almost burst into tears. She had been an absolutely special woman. Someone should have done something – anything – to save her.
But neither Nagasawa nor I could have managed that. As so many of those I knew had done, Hatsumi reached a certain stage in life and decided – almost on the spur of the moment – to end it. Two years after Nagasawa left for Germany, she married, and two years after that she slashed her wrists with a razor blade.
It was Nagasawa, of course, who told me what had happened. His letter from Bonn said this: “Hatsumi’s death has extinguished something. This is unbearably sad and painful, even to me.” I ripped his letter to shreds and threw it away. I never wrote to him again.
Hatsumi and I went to a small bar and downed several drinks. Neither of us said much. Like a bored, old married couple, we sat opposite each other, drinking in silence and munching peanuts. When the place began to fill up, we went for a walk. Hatsumi said she would pay the bill, but I insisted on paying because the drinks had been my idea.
There was a deep chill in the night air. Hatsumi wrapped herself in her pale grey cardigan and walked by my side in silence. I had no destination in mind as we ambled through the nighttime streets, my hands shoved deep into my pockets. This was just like walking with Naoko, it occurred to me.
“Do you know somewhere we could play pool around here?” Hatsumi asked me without warning.
“Pool? You play?”
“Yeah, I’m pretty good. How about you?”
“I play a little. Not that I’m very good at it.”
“OK, then. Let’s go.”
We found a pool hall nearby and went in. It was a small place at the far end of an alley. The two of us – Hatsumi in her chic dress and I in my blue blazer and regimental tie – clashed with the scruffy pool hall, but this didn’t seem to concern Hatsumi at all as she chose and chalked her cue. She pulled a hairslide from her bag and clipped her hair aside at one temple to keep it from interfering with her game.
We played two games. Hatsumi was as good as she had claimed to be, while my own game was hampered by the thick bandage I still wore on my cut hand. She crushed me.
“You’re great,” I said in admiration.
“You mean appearances can be deceiving?” she asked as she sized up a shot, smiling.
“Where did you learn to play like that?”
“My grandfather – my father’s father – was an old playboy. He had a table in his house. I used to play pool with my brother just for fun, and when I got a little bigger my grandfather taught me the right moves. He was a wonderful guy – stylish, handsome. He’s dead now, though. He always used to boast how he once met Deanna Durbin in New York.”
She got three in a row, then missed on the fourth try. I managed to squeeze out a point, then missed an easy shot.
“It’s the bandage,” said Hatsumi to comfort me.
“No, it’s because I haven’t played for so long,” I said. “Two years and five months.”
“How can you be so sure of the time?”
“My friend died the night after our last game together,” I said. “So you stopped playing?”
“No, not really,” I said after giving it some thought. “I just never had the opportunity to play after that. That’s all.”
“How did your friend die?”
She made several more shots, aiming with deadly seriousness and adjusting the strength of each shot with precision. Watching her in action – her carefully set hair swept back out of her eyes, golden earrings sparkling, court shoes set firmly on the floor, lovely, slender fingers pressing the green baize as she took her shot – I felt as if her side of the scruffy pool hall had been transformed into part of some elegant social event. I had never spent time with her alone before, and this was a marvelous experience for me, as though I had been drawn up to a higher plane of life. At the end of the third game – in which, of course, she crushed me again -my cut began to throb, and so we stopped playing.
“I’m sorry,” she said with what seemed like genuine concern, “I should never have suggested this.”
“That’s OK,” I said.
“It’s not a bad cut, I enjoyed playing. Really.”
As we were leaving the pool hall, the skinny woman owner said to Hatsumi, “You have a good eye, sister.” Hatsumi gave her a sweet smile and thanked her as she paid the bill.
“Does it hurt?” she asked when we were outside. “Not much,” I said.
“Do you think it opened?” “No, it’s probably OK.”
“I know! You should come to my place. I’ll change your bandage for you. I’ve got disinfectant and everything. Come on, I’m right over there.”
I told her it wasn’t worth worrying about, and that I’d be OK, but she insisted we had to check to see if the cut had opened or not.
“Or is it that you don’t like being with me? You want to go back to your room as soon as possible, is that it?” she said with a playful smile.
“No way,” I said.
“All right, then. Don’t stand on ceremony. It’s a short walk.”
Hatsumi’s flat was a 15-minute walk from Shibuya towards Ebisu. By no means a glamorous building, it was more than decent, with a nice little lobby and a lift. Hatsumi sat me at the kitchen table and went to the bedroom to change. She came out wearing a Princeton hooded sweatshirt and cotton trousers – and no more gold earrings. Setting a first-aid box on the table, she undid my bandage, checked to see that the wound was still sealed, put a little disinfectant on the area, and tied a new bandage over the cut. She did all this like an expert. “How come you’re so good at so many things?” I asked.
“I used to do volunteer work at a hospital. Kind of like playing Nurse. That’s how I learned.”
When Hatsumi had finished with the bandage, she went and fetched two cans of beer from the fridge. She drank half of hers, and I drank mine plus the half she left. Then she showed me pictures of the other girls in her club. She was right: some of them were cute.
“Any time you decide you want a girlfriend, come to me,” she said. “I’ll fix you up straight away.”
‘All right, Toru, tell me the truth. You think I’m an old matchmaker, don’t you?”
“To some extent,” I said, telling her the truth, but with a smile. Hatsumi smiled, too. She looked good when she smiled.
“Tell me something else, Toru,” she said. “What do you think about Nagasawa and me?”
“What do you mean what do I think? About what?”
“About what I ought to do. From now on.”
“It doesn’t matter what I think,” I said, taking a slug of cold beer.
“That’s all right. Tell me exactly what you think.”
“Well, if I were you, I’d leave him. I’d find someone with a more normal way of looking at things and live happily ever after. There’s no way in hell you can be happy with him. The way he lives, it never crosses his mind to try to make himself happy or to make others happy. Staying with him will only wreck your nervous system. To me, it’s already a miracle that you’ve been with him for three years. Of course, I’m very fond of him in my own way. He’s fun, and he has lots of great qualities.
He has strengths and abilities that I could never hope to match. But in the end, his ideas about things and the way he lives his life are not normal. Sometimes, when I’m talking to him, I feel as if I’m going around and around in circles. The same process that takes him higher and higher leaves me going around in circles. It makes me feel so empty! Finally, our very systems are totally different. Do you see what I’m saying?”
“I do,” Hatsumi said as she brought me another beer from the fridge. “Plus, after he gets into the Foreign Ministry and does a year of training, he’ll be going abroad. What are you going to do all that time? Wait for him? He has no intention of marrying anyone.”
“I know that, too.”
“So I’ve got nothing else to say.”
“I see,” said Hatsumi.
I slowly filled my glass with beer.
“You know, when we were playing pool before, something popped into my mind,” I said. “I was an only child, but all the time I was growing up I never once felt deprived or wished I had brothers or sisters. I was happy being alone. But all of a sudden, playing pool with you, I had this feeling that I wished I had had an elder sister like you – really chic and a knockout in a midnight-blue dress and gold earrings and great with a pool cue.”
Hatsumi flashed me a happy smile. “That’s got to be the nicest thing anybody’s said to me in the past year,” she said. “Really.”
“All I want for you,” I said, blushing, “is for you to be happy. It’s crazy, though. You seem like someone who could be happy with just about anybody, so how did you end up with Nagasawa of all people?”
“Things like that just happen. There’s probably not much you can do about them. It’s certainly true in my case. Of course, Nagasawa would say it’s my responsibility, not his.’
“I’m sure he would.”
“But anyway, Toru, I’m not the smartest girl in the world. If anything, I’m sort of on the stupid side, and old-fashioned. I couldn’t care less about “systems’ and “responsibility’. All I want is to get married and have a man I love to hold me in his arms every night and make babies. That’s plenty for me. It’s all I want out of life.”
“And what Nagasawa wants out of life has nothing to do with that.” “People change, though, don’t you think?” Hatsumi asked. “You mean, like, they go out into society and get a kick up the arse and grow up?” “Yeah. And if he’s away from me for a long time, his feelings for me could change, don’t you think?”
“Maybe, if he were an ordinary guy,” I said. “But he’s different. He’s incredibly strong-willed – stronger than you or I can imagine. And he only makes himself stronger with every day that goes by. If something smashes into him, he just works to make himself stronger. He’d eat slugs before he’d back down to anyone. What do you expect to get from a man like that?”
“But there’s nothing I can do but wait for him,” said Hatsumi with her chin in her hand.
“You love him that much?”
“I do,” she answered without a moment’s hesitation.
“Oh boy,” I said with a sigh, drinking down the last of my beer. “It must be a wonderful thing to be so sure that you love somebody.”
“I’m a stupid, old-fashioned girl,” she said. “Have another beer?”
“No, thanks, I must get going. Thanks for the bandage and beer.”
As I was standing in the hallway putting on my shoes, the telephone rang. Hatsumi looked at me, looked at the phone, and looked at me again.
“Good night,” I said, stepping outside. As I shut the door, I caught a glimpse of Hatsumi picking up the receiver. It was the last time I ever saw her.
It was 11.30 by the time I got back to the dorm. I went straight to Nagasawa’s room and knocked on his door. After the tenth knock, it occurred to me that this was Saturday night. Nagasawa always got overnight permission on Saturday nights, supposedly to stay at his relatives’ house.
I went back to my room, took off my tie, put my jacket and trousers on a hanger, changed into my pajamas, and brushed my teeth. Oh no, I thought, tomorrow is Sunday again! Sundays seemed to be rolling around every four days. Another two Sundays and I would be 20 years old. I stretched out in bed and stared at my calendar as dark feelings washed over me.
I sat at my desk to write my Sunday morning letter to Naoko, drinking coffee from a big cup and listening to old Miles Davis albums. A fine rain was falling outside, while my room had the chill of an aquarium. The smell of mothballs lingered in the thick jumper I had just taken out of a storage box. High up on the window-pane clung a huge, fat fly, unmoving. With no wind to stir it, the Rising Sun standard hung limp against the flagpole like the toga of a Roman senator.
A skinny, timid-looking brown dog that had wandered into the quadrangle was sniffing every blossom in the flowerbed. I couldn’t begin to imagine why any dog would have to go around sniffing flowers on a rainy day. My letter was a long one, and whenever my cut right palm began to hurt from holding the pen, I would let my eyes wander out to the rainy quadrangle.
I began by telling Naoko how I had given my right hand a nasty cut while working in the record shop, then went on to say that Nagasawa, Hatsumi, and I had had a sort of celebration the night before for Nagasawa’s having passed his Foreign Ministry exam. I described the restaurant and the food. The meal was great, I said, but the atmosphere got uncomfortable halfway through.
I wondered if I should write about Kizuki in connection with having played pool with Hatsumi and decided to go ahead. I felt it was something I ought to write about.
And I still remember the last shot Kizuki took that day – the day he died. It was a difficult cushion shot that I never expected him to get. Luck seemed to be with him, though: the shot was absolutely perfect, and the white and red balls hardly made a sound as they brushed each other on the green baize for the last score of the game. It was such a beautiful shot, I still have a vivid image of it to this day. For nearly two-and-a-half years after that, I never touched a cue.
The night I played pool with Hatsumi, though, the thought of Kizuki never crossed my mind until the first game ended, and this came as a real shock to me. I had always assumed that I’d be reminded of Kizuki whenever I played pool. But not until the first game was over and I bought a Pepsi from a vending machine and started drinking it did I even think of him. It was the pool hall we used to play in, and we had often bet drinks on the outcome of our games.
I felt guilty that I hadn’t thought of Kizuki straight away, as if I had somehow abandoned him. Back in my room, though, I came to think of it like this: two-and-a-half years have gone by since it happened, and Kizuki is still 17 years old. Not that this means my memory of him has faded. The things that his death gave rise to are still there, bright and clear, inside me, some of them even clearer than when they were new.
What I want to say is this: I’m going to turn 20 soon. Part of what Kizuki and I shared when we were 16 and 17 has already vanished, and no amount of crying is going to bring that back. I can’t explain it any better than this, but I think that you can probably understand what I felt and what I am trying to say. In fact, you are probably the only one in the world who can understand.
I think of you now more than ever. It’s raining today. Rainy Sundays are hard for me. When it rains I can’t do laundry, which means I can’t do ironing. I can’t go walking, and I can’t lie on the roof. About all I can do is put the record player on auto-repeat and listen to Kind of Blue over and over while I watch the rain falling in the quadrangle. As I wrote to you earlier, I don’t wind my spring on Sundays. That’s why this letter is so damn long. I’m stopping now. I’m going to the dining hall for lunch. Goodbye.
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