Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami
Back in Nagoya, except for walking the dog in the park in the evening, he never went out. He was afraid of running into one of his four former friends, especially after he’d been having erotic dreams about Shiro and Kuro, essentially raping them in his imagination. He wasn’t brave enough to meet them in the flesh, even if those dreams were beyond his control and there was no way they could possibly know what he’d been dreaming. Still, he was afraid they’d take one look at his face and know exactly what went on in his dreams, and then denounce him for his filthy, selfish illusions.
He refrained from masturbating as much as he could. Not because he felt guilty about the act itself, but because, as he touched himself, he couldn’t help but picture Shiro and Kuro. He’d try to think of something else, but the two of them always stole inside his imagination. The problem was, the more he refrained from masturbating, the more frequent his erotic dreams became, almost always featuring the two girls. So the result was the same. But at least these weren’t images he’d intentionally conjured. He knew he was just making excuses, but for him this explanation, basically just a rephrasing of events, held no small importance.
The contents of the dreams were nearly always the same. The setting and some of the details might change, but always the two girls were nude, entwined around him, caressing his whole body with their fingers and lips, stroking his penis, and then having sex with him. And in the end the one he always ejaculated in was Shiro. He might be having steamy sex with Kuro, but in the final moments, he’d suddenly realize he’d changed partners, and he’d come inside Shiro’s body. He’d started having these dreams in the summer of his sophomore year, after he’d been expelled from the group and lost any chance to see the two women again, after he’d made up his mind to never think of his four friends again. He had no memory, before then, of ever having a dream like this. Why he started having these dreams was a mystery, another unanswered question to stuff deep inside the “Pending” drawer in his unconscious.
Filled with desultory feelings of frustration, Tsukuru returned to Tokyo. There was still no word from Haida. He didn’t show up at either the pool or the library. Tsukuru called Haida’s dorm, and was told each time that Haida wasn’t there. He realized he didn’t know the address or phone number of Haida’s home in Akita. While all this went on, the spring holidays ended and a new school year began. Tsukuru was now a senior. On the trees, cherry blossoms bloomed, then scattered, but still no word came from his younger friend.
He visited the dormitory where Haida had lived. The dorm manager told him that, at the end of the previous school year, Haida had submitted a form requesting to move out, and had taken away all his belongings. When Tsukuru heard this, he was speechless. The dorm manager knew nothing about why Haida had left the dorm or where he might have gone. Or perhaps he knew, but was merely claiming he didn’t.
Tsukuru went to the college registrar’s office and learned that Haida had been granted a leave of absence. The reason why he’d applied to do so was confidential, and they wouldn’t tell him anything more. All he knew was that, right after final exams, Haida had stamped his seal on the leave of absence form and the form to vacate his dorm. At that point, he was still seeing Tsukuru often. They were swimming together at the pool, and on weekends Haida was visiting Tsukuru’s apartment, where they’d talk until late and Haida would stay over. And yet he had kept his plan to leave school a total secret. “I’m just going back to Akita for a couple of weeks,” he’d informed Tsukuru, as if it were nothing important. And then he had vanished from sight.
I may never see him again, Tsukuru thought. For some reason Haida was determined to leave without a word of explanation. This didn’t just happen by chance. There had to be a clear reason why he chose to act that way. No matter what the reason was, though, Tsukuru felt that Haida would never come back. And his hunch turned out to be right. At least while Tsukuru was in college, Haida never re-enrolled in school. And he never got in touch.
It’s strange, Tsukuru thought at the time. Haida is repeating his father’s fate. He leaves college when he’s around twenty, and disappears, as if retracing his father’s footsteps. Or was that whole story about his father a fabrication? Had he been trying to relate something about himself, making it sound as if it had happened to his father?
Somehow Haida’s disappearance this time didn’t confuse Tsukuru as deeply as he’d been confused before. He didn’t feel bitter about Haida abandoning him. Rather, after losing his friend, he felt a strangely neutral quiet descending over his life. At times the odd thought struck him that Haida had partially absorbed Tsukuru’s sin, his impurity, and as a result he had had to go far away.
Of course, Tsukuru felt lonely without his friend. He regretted that things had worked out this way. Haida was a good friend, one of the few he’d ever had. But maybe it was unavoidable. All he’d left behind were his little coffee mill, a half-filled bag of coffee beans, the three-LP set of Lazar Berman playing Liszt’s “Le mal du pays,” and the memory of his unusually limpid eyes, and that gaze.
That May, a month after Tsukuru learned that Haida had left campus, he had his first real sexual relationship with a woman. He was twenty-one then, twenty-one and six months. Since the beginning of the school year he’d begun an internship doing drafting at an architectural firm, and the person he slept with was an unmarried woman, four years older than he, whom he met at the office. She did clerical work there. She was on the small side, with long hair, large ears, gorgeous legs, and a taut body. More cute than beautiful. When she joked around, her smile revealed beautiful white teeth. She was kind to him from the first day he started work, and he could sense she liked him. Raised with two older sisters, Tsukuru always felt comfortable around older women. The woman was the same age as his second sister.
Tsukuru found a chance to invite her to dinner, then back to his apartment, and there he took the plunge and lured her into bed. She accepted his overtures with barely a moment’s hesitation. Though it was Tsukuru’s first time with a woman, things went smoothly—no confusion, no nervousness—from start to finish. Because of this, the woman seemed convinced that he was more sexually experienced than most young men his age, even though the only sex he’d had with women had been confined to dreams.
Tsukuru really liked her. She was bright and attractive, and while she didn’t provide intellectual stimulation like Haida, she had a cheerful, open personality, plenty of curiosity, and was an enjoyable conversationalist. She enjoyed making love, too, and being with her taught him much about women’s bodies.
She wasn’t good at cooking, but enjoyed cleaning, and before long she had his apartment sparkling clean. She replaced his curtains, sheets, pillowcases, towels, and bath mats with brand-new ones. She brought color and vitality into Tsukuru’s post-Haida life. But he didn’t choose to sleep with her out of passion, or because he was fond of her, or even to lessen his loneliness. Though he probably would never have admitted it, he was hoping to prove to himself that he wasn’t gay, that he was capable of having sex with a real woman, not just in his dreams. This was his main objective.
And he achieved his goal.
She stayed overnight at his place on weekends, just as Haida had done not so long before. They would make love leisurely, sometimes having sex almost until dawn. As he made love to her, he tried hard to think of nothing beyond her and her body. He focused, switched off his imagination, and chased away everything that wasn’t there—Shiro and Kuro’s naked bodies, and Haida’s lips—as best he could. She was on the pill, so he could come freely inside her. She enjoyed sex with him and seemed to be satisfied. When she orgasmed she always cried out in a strange voice. It’s okay, Tsukuru told himself. I’m normal, after all. Thanks to this relationship, his erotic dreams disappeared.
They saw each other for eight months, then mutually agreed to break up, just before he graduated from college. A railroad company had offered him a job, and his part-time work at the architectural firm was over. While she was seeing Tsukuru
“He’s a very good person,” she said, resting her hand on Tsukuru’s. “We’re well suited to each other.”
“I hate the thought of not seeing you again,” Tsukuru said, “but I suppose I should congratulate you.”
“Thank you,” she said. Then, as if writing a tiny footnote at the corner of a page, she added, “I might have a chance to see you again, someday.”
“That would be great,” Tsukuru said, though he found it hard to decipher that footnote. When she’s with her fiancé, he suddenly wondered, does she cry out in the same way? The two of them made love again.
And he really did feel bad about not being able to see her once a week. He knew that if he wanted to avoid having graphic erotic dreams, and live more in the present, he needed a regular sexual partner. But still, her marriage was, if anything, a good development for him, as he’d never felt anything for her beyond a calm fondness and a healthy physical desire. And at that point Tsukuru was about to embark on a new stage in his life.
When the call came in on his cell phone from Sara Kimoto, Tsukuru was killing time, sorting the documents that had piled up on his desk, discarding the ones he didn’t need, reorganizing the clutter that had accumulated in his desk drawer. It was a Thursday, five days since he’d last seen her.
“Can you talk?”
“Sure,” Tsukuru said. “I’m just taking it easy today for a change.”
“Good,” she said. “Are you free later? Even for a little while? I have a dinner at seven, but I can see you before then. If you could come to Ginza, I’d really appreciate it.”
Tsukuru glanced at his watch. “I can be there by five thirty. Just tell me where to meet you.”
She told him the name of a coffee shop near the Ginza-Yonchome intersection. Tsukuru knew the place.
He wrapped up work before five, left the office, and rode the Marunouchi line from Shinjuku to Ginza. Luckily he happened to be wearing the tie Sara had given him last time.
Sara was in the coffee shop when he arrived. She had already ordered coffee and was waiting for him. She beamed when she saw the tie. When she smiled, two charming little lines formed beside her lips. The waitress came over, and Tsukuru ordered coffee. The shop was crowded with people meeting up after work.
“Sorry to drag you out all this way,” Sara said.
“No, it’s good for me to get to Ginza every once in a while,” Tsukuru said. “I only wish we could go somewhere and have dinner together.”
Sara pursed her lips and sighed. “I wish we could, but I have to attend a business dinner tonight. There’s this VIP from France who’s here and I have to take him to an expensive kaiseki restaurant. I hate these kinds of dinners. I get all tense and can’t even taste what I’m eating.” She’d taken even more care with her appearance than usual, Tsukuru noticed. She wore a nicely tailored coffee-brown suit and a brooch on her collar with a tiny diamond sparkling in the center. Her skirt was short, and below this were stockings with a detailed pattern the same color as her suit.
Sara snapped open the maroon enamel handbag on her lap and extracted a large white envelope. Inside were several printouts, folded. She snapped her handbag smartly shut. A pleasant sound, the kind you might expect would turn the heads of the people around her.
“I looked into your four friends, where they are, and what they’re doing now. Like I promised.”
Tsukuru was taken aback. “But that was less than a week ago.”
“I’m very quick when it comes to work. As long as I know the gist of something, I don’t take long to get it done.”
“There’s no way I could have done that.”
“Everyone has their specialty. I could never build a railroad station.”
“Or do drafting, either.”
She smiled. “Not if I lived for two hundred years.”
“So, you know where the four of them are now?” Tsukuru asked.
“In a sense,” she said.
“In a sense,” Tsukuru repeated. The phrase had a strange ring to it. “What do you mean?”
She took a sip of coffee and returned the cup to the saucer. She paused, and checked her enameled nails. They looked beautiful, painted in the same maroon color as her handbag (perhaps a little lighter). He was willing to bet a month’s salary this wasn’t a coincidence.
“Let me tell things in order,” Sara said. “Otherwise it won’t come out right.”
Tsukuru nodded. “Of course. Whatever way works best for you.”
Sara quickly explained how she’d carried out the investigation. She started with various online search methods and social networks, including Facebook, Google, and Twitter, and had tracked down information about the four people’s lives. Gathering information about Ao and Aka hadn’t been difficult. Actually, they openly shared information about themselves online—most of it related to their businesses.
“It’s sort of weird if you think about it,” Sara said. “We live in a pretty apathetic age, yet we’re surrounded by an enormous amount of information about other people. If you feel like it, you can easily gather that information about them. Having said that, we still hardly know anything about people.”
“Philosophical observations really suit the way you’re dressed today,” Tsukuru said.
“Thank you,” Sara said, and smiled.
When it came to Kuro, the investigation hadn’t been as easy. She had no business reasons for disclosing personal information to the world. Still, searching the website for the industrial arts department of the Aichi Prefectural Arts College, Sara had finally been able to trace her whereabouts.
The Aichi Prefectural Arts College? But Kuro was supposed to go into the English literature department of a private women’s college in Nagoya. Tsukuru didn’t mention this, though. He kept the question to himself.
“I couldn’t find out much about her,” Sara said, “so I called her parents’ home. I made up a story about being a former high school classmate. I said I was editing an alumni newsletter and needed her present address. Her mother was very nice and told me all kinds of things.”
“I’m sure you were very good at drawing her out,” Tsukuru said.
“Maybe so,” Sara said modestly.
The waitress came over and was about to top off her coffee, but Sara held up a hand to refuse. After the waitress left, she spoke again.
“Gathering information about Shiro was both difficult and easy. I couldn’t find any personal information about her at all, but a newspaper article told me all I needed to know.”
“A newspaper article?” Tsukuru asked.
Sara bit her lip. “This is a very delicate area. So, like I said before, let me tell it in the right order.”
“Sorry,” Tsukuru said.
“The first thing I’d like to know is this: If you know where these four friends are now, do you want to see them again? Even if you find out that some of what I’m going to tell you is unpleasant? Facts you might wish you hadn’t found out about?”
Tsukuru nodded. “I can’t guess what those might be, but I do plan to see the four of them. I’ve made up my mind.”
Sara gazed at his face for some time before speaking. “Kuro—Eri Kurono—is living in Finland now. She rarely returns to Japan.”
“She lives in Helsinki with her Finnish husband and two little daughters. So if you want to see her, you’ll have to travel there.”
Tsukuru pictured a rough map of Europe in his mind. “I’ve never really traveled before, and I have some vacation time saved up. And it might be nice to check out the railroads in northern Europe.”
“Thank you. Her address and phone number are more than enough.”
“If you feel like traveling to Finland, I can help with the arrangements.”
“Because you’re a pro.”
“Not to mention capable and skilled.”
Sara unfolded the next printout. “Ao—Yoshio Oumi—is a salesman at a Lexus dealership in Nagoya City. He’s done very well, apparently, and has won their last few top sales awards. He’s still young, but he’s already head of their sales department.”
“Lexus,” Tsukuru said, murmuring the name to himself.
Tsukuru tried to imagine Ao in a business suit in a brightly lit showroom, explaining to a customer the feel of the leather and the quality of the surface coating of a high-end sedan. But he just couldn’t picture it. What he saw instead was Ao in a rugby jersey, sweaty, gulping cold barley tea directly from a teapot, scarfing down enough food for two people.
“Are you surprised?”
“It just feels a little strange,” Tsukuru said. “But now that I think about it, Ao might be a really good salesman. He’s a stand-up guy, and though he isn’t the most eloquent person, people trust him. He isn’t the type to resort to cheap tricks, and if he worked at it for a while, I can imagine him doing very well.”
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