Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

  “I understand Lexus is an outstanding type of car, very reliable.”

  “If he’s that great a salesman, he might convince me to buy a Lexus too, as soon as I meet with him.”

  Sara laughed. “Could be.”

  Tsukuru remembered his father, and how he never rode in anything but a full-size Mercedes-Benz. Every three years, like clockwork, he would exchange it for a newer Mercedes of the same class. Or rather, without him doing anything, the dealer would show up every three years to replace his car with a brand-new, fully loaded model. His cars were always polished and shiny, without a single scratch or blemish. His father never drove the cars himself, but always had a driver. The windows were tinted dark gray, so the interior wasn’t visible. The wheel covers were as shiny as newly minted silver coins, the doors made a solid, bank-vault-like clunk as they closed, and the interior was like a locked room. Sinking into the backseat, you felt far away from the noise and confusion of the outside world. Tsukuru had never liked riding in his father’s car. It was just too quiet. He much preferred a crowded station and trains, teeming with passengers.

  “Ao has worked for Toyota dealers ever since he graduated from college, and because of his outstanding sales record in 2005, when the company moved to launch Lexus dealerships in Japan he was handpicked to move over to that division. Farewell Corolla, hello Lexus.” Sara again checked out the manicure on her left hand. “So it won’t be very hard for you to see Ao again. Just visit the Lexus showroom and he’ll be there.”

  “I see,” Tsukuru said.

  Sara turned to the next page.

  “Compared to Ao, Aka—Kei Akamatsu—has had a pretty stormy life. He graduated at the top of his class in economics from Nagoya University and worked for a major bank. One of the so-called megabanks. But for some reason, he quit after three years and went to work at a fairly well-known finance company, a firm financed out of Nagoya. One of those consumer-finance companies with a bit of an unsavory reputation. A pretty unexpected change in direction for him, but he didn’t stay there long, either—it was only two and a half years before he quit. This time he got funding from somewhere and started his own company, one that provides a combination of personal development seminars and a company training center. He calls it a ‘creative business seminar.’ The business has been amazingly successful—so much so that now he has a large staff, and an office in a high-rise in downtown Nagoya. If you want to learn more about it, it’s easy to find online. The company’s name is BEYOND. Sounds a little New Agey, don’t you think?”

  “ ‘Creative business seminar.’ ”

  “The name’s new, but it’s really not much different from a personal development seminar,” Sara said. “Basically a quick, impromptu brainwashing course to educate your typical corporate warriors. They use a training manual instead of sacred scriptures, with promotion and a high salary as their equivalent of enlightenment and paradise. A new religion for a pragmatic age. No transcendent elements like in a religion, though, and everything is theorized and digitalized. Very transparent and easy to grasp. And quite a few people get positive encouragement from this. But the fact remains that it’s nothing more than an infusion of the hypnotic into a system of thought that suits their goal, a conglomeration of only those theories and statistics that line up with their ultimate objectives. The company has an excellent reputation, though, and quite a lot of local businesses have contracts with them. Their website shows that they run a variety of new programs guaranteed to get people’s attention, from boot-camp-like group training for new employees and a reeducation summer session for mid-level employees that’s held at an upscale resort hotel, to high-class power lunches for top-level executives. The way these seminars are packaged, at least, makes them look really attractive. They focus on teaching business etiquette and correct communication skills for young employees. Personally it’s the last thing I’d like to do, but I can understand how companies would find it appealing. Does this give you a general idea now of what sort of business we’re talking about?”

  “I think so,” Tsukuru said. “But to launch a business like that you need a fair amount of capital. Where could Aka have possibly gotten it? His father’s a university professor and kind of a straight arrow. As far as I know he isn’t that well off, and I can’t imagine he’d be willing to invest in something that risky.”

  “I don’t know. It’s a mystery,” Sara said. “That being said, when you knew him in high school, was this Akamatsu the sort of person you could imagine becoming a kind of guru?”

  Tsukuru shook his head. “No, he was more the calm, objective, academic type. He was quick, superintelligent, and had a way with words. Most of the time, though, he tried to not show any of that. Maybe I shouldn’t say this, but he was more comfortable in the background, scheming on his own. I can’t picture him standing up in front of people and trying to inspire and encourage them.”

  “People change,” Sara said.

  “True enough,” Tsukuru said. “People do change.

  And no matter how close we once were, and how much we opened up to each other, maybe neither of us knew anything substantial about the other.”

  Sara gazed at Tsukuru for a time before she spoke. “Anyway, both of them are working in Nagoya City. They’ve basically never taken a step outside the city since the day they were born. Their schools were in Nagoya, their jobs are in Nagoya. Reminds me of Conan Doyle’s The Lost World. Is Nagoya really that nice a place?”

  Tsukuru couldn’t answer, but he had a strange feeling. If circumstances had been different he might have spent his life entirely within the confines of Nagoya too, and never questioned it.

  Sara was silent. She folded up the printouts, put them back in the envelope, placed it on the end of the table, and took a drink of water. When she spoke again, her tone was more formal.

  “Now, about the last person, Shiro—Yuzuki Shirane—unfortunately, she does not have a present address.”

  “Does not have a present address,” Tsukuru murmured.

  That’s an odd way of putting it, Tsukuru thought. If she’d said she didn’t know her present address, that he could fathom. But saying she doesn’t have a present address sounded strange. He considered the implications. Had Shiro gone missing? She wasn’t homeless, was she?

  “Sadly, she’s no longer in this world,” Sara said.

  “No longer in this world?”

  For some reason an image flashed before his eyes of Shiro in a space shuttle, wandering in outer space.

  “She passed away six years ago,” Sara said. “That’s why she has no present address. She does have a gravestone, in a suburb of Nagoya. It’s very difficult for me to have to tell you this.”

  Tsukuru didn’t know what to say. The strength drained out of him, like water leaking from a small hole in a bag. The hum around him faded, Sara’s voice the only thing that—barely—reached him. It was a far-off, meaningless echo, as if he were hearing it from the bottom of a pool. He roused himself, sat up straight, and raised his head above the water. He was finally able to hear again, and the words started to regain meaning. Sara was speaking to him.

  “… I didn’t write down the details of how she passed away. I think it’s better if you find that out on your own. Even if it takes time.”

  Tsukuru nodded automatically.

  Six years ago? Six years ago she was thirty. Still only thirty. Tsukuru tried to picture her at that age, but couldn’t. What he imagined was Shiro at sixteen or seventeen. A terrible sadness washed over him. What the hell was this? He couldn’t even grow old with her?

  Sara leaned across the table and gently laid her hand, small and warm, on his. Tsukuru was happy at this intimate touch, and grateful, yet it felt like something happening simultaneously, far away, to someone else.

  “I’m very sorry it turned out this way,” Sara said. “But you had to hear this someday.”

  “I know,” Tsukuru said. Of course he knew this. But it would take a while for his mind to catch up to
reality. It was nobody’s fault.

  “I have to get going,” Sara said, glancing at her watch. She handed him the envelope. “I printed out all the information about your four friends. Only the bare minimum is written down here. It’s more important that you meet them in person. You’ll learn more that way.”

  “I really appreciate it,” Tsukuru said. It took a while for him to locate the appropriate words, and to voice them. “I should be able to let you know pretty soon how things turn out.”

  “I’ll wait to hear from you. In the meanwhile, if there’s anything I can do, be sure to let me know.”

  Tsukuru thanked her again.

  They left the café and said goodbye. Tsukuru stood on the street, watching as Sara, in her milky coffee-brown summer suit, waved and disappeared into the crowd. He wished he could be with her longer, spend more time with her, have a good, leisurely talk. But she had her own life, most of which occurred offstage, in a place he didn’t yet know about, doing things that had nothing to do with him.

  Sara’s envelope was tucked in the inside pocket of his suit jacket. It contained a neatly folded document that listed a concise summary of his four friends’ lives. One of them no longer existed here. She was no more than a handful of white ash. Her thoughts, her opinions, her feelings, her hopes and dreams—all of them had vanished without a trace. All that remained were memories of her. Her long, straight black hair, her shapely fingers on the keyboard, her smooth, white, graceful (yet strangely eloquent) calves, her playing of Franz Liszt’s “Le mal du pays.” Her wet pubic hair, her hard nipples. No—that wasn’t even a memory. That was a—Tsukuru decided not to go there.

  Where to now? Tsukuru wondered as he leaned back against a streetlight. His watch showed it was just before seven. Some light remained in the sky, but the shop windows along the street were sparkling more by the minute, enticing those who wandered by. It was still early, and he had nothing in particular he needed to do. He didn’t want to go home just yet. He didn’t want to be alone in a quiet place. Tsukuru could go anywhere he liked. Almost anywhere. But he couldn’t think of any place to go.

  At a time like this it would be nice if I could drink more, he thought. At this point most men would find a bar and get drunk. But his body couldn’t handle more than a fixed amount of alcohol. Liquor didn’t give him deadened senses, or a pleasant forgetfulness, just a splitting headache the next morning.

  So, where should I go?

  There really was only one choice.

  He walked along the main street to Tokyo Station, passed through the Yaesu entrance, and sat down on a bench on the Yamanote line platform. He spent over an hour watching as, almost every minute, another line of green train cars pulled up to the platform, disembarking hordes of people and hurriedly swallowing up countless more. His mind was a blank as he watched, absorbed in the scene. The view didn’t soothe the pain in his heart, but the endless repetition enthralled him as always and, at the very least, numbed his sense of time.

  Unceasing crowds of people arrived out of nowhere, automatically formed lines, boarded the trains in order, and were carried off somewhere. Tsukuru was moved by how many people actually existed in the world. And he was likewise moved by the sheer number of green train cars. It was surely a miracle, he thought—how so many people, in so many railroad cars, are systematically transported, as if it were nothing. How all those people have places to go, places to return to.

  As the rush-hour surge finally receded, Tsukuru Tazaki slowly got to his feet, boarded one of the cars, and went home. The pain was still there, but now he knew there was something he had to do.

  At the end of May Tsukuru took a long weekend and returned to his home in Nagoya for three days. His family was holding a Buddhist memorial service for his father, so it was a particularly good time for him to go back.

  Since his father’s death, his oldest sister and her husband had been living with Tsukuru’s mother in her spacious house, but Tsukuru’s old room was as vacant as he had left it, so he stayed there. His bed, desk, and bookshelf were unchanged from his high school days, the bookshelf lined with old books, the drawers full of pens and notebooks he’d used as a boy.

  The memorial service took place on his first day back. It was held at a temple and followed by a meal with relatives, which gave him sufficient time to catch up with his family. The next day he was totally free. Tsukuru decided to go see Ao first. It was a Sunday, when most businesses were usually closed, but not a new-car dealership. Tsukuru had decided that—no matter which of his friends he saw—he would casually show up without an appointment. He wanted to get an honest response when they saw him again, without giving them a chance to mentally prepare themselves for his visit. If he wasn’t able to meet with them when he showed up, or if they refused to see him, he’d just have to live with it. If it came to that, he’d figure out another approach.

  The Lexus showroom was in a quiet area near Nagoya Castle. Lexuses in a variety of colors were grandly lined up behind the wide glass show windows, every kind of car from sports cars to SUVs. Once inside the showroom, the distinctive new-car smell wafted toward him, a blend of new tires, plastic, and leather.

  Tsukuru walked over to speak with a young woman seated behind the reception desk. She wore her hair up in a neat bun, revealing a slim white neck. A vase of large pink and white dahlias graced her desk.

  “I’d like to see Mr. Oumi, please,” he told her.

  She flashed him a calm, self-possessed smile that perfectly matched the bright, immaculate showroom. Her lipstick was a natural shade, her teeth beautifully even. “Mr. Oumi? Of course, sir. And you would be—?”

  “Tazaki,” he said.

  “Mr. Tasaki. And would you have an appointment for today?”

  He didn’t correct her mispronunciation of his name, a common mistake. That would actually help.

  “I’m afraid I don’t.”

  “I see. If you would pardon me for a moment.” The woman pushed an extension button on her phone and waited for about five seconds, then spoke. “Mr. Oumi? A client named Mr. Tasaki is here to see you. Yes, that’s correct. Mr. Tasaki.”

  He couldn’t hear what the other party was saying, just her short, clipped replies. Finally she said, “Yes, sir, I will let him know.”

  She hung up the phone and looked at Tsukuru. “Mr. Tasaki, I’m afraid Mr. Oumi is busy at the moment and cannot get away. I’m very sorry, but could I ask you to wait? He said it shouldn’t take ten minutes.”

  Her way of speaking was smooth and well trained, her use of Japanese honorifics flawless. She sounded truly apologetic at having to make him wait. Obviously she had been very well educated. Or maybe she was just naturally this kind of person?

  “That’s fine. I’m in no hurry,” Tsukuru said.

  She led him to a plush black leather sofa. Next to it was a huge decorative potted plant, and in the background an Antônio Carlos Jobim tune played. Glossy Lexus catalogs lay on top of the narrow glass coffee table.

  “Would you care for coffee or tea? Or perhaps green tea?”

  “A coffee would be nice,” Tsukuru said.

  As he leafed through the catalog for the latest Lexus sedans, she brought over the coffee in a cream-colored cup imprinted with the Lexus logo. He thanked her. The coffee was delicious. It had a fresh aroma, and was the perfect temperature.

  Tsukuru was glad he had decided to wear a suit and nice leather shoes. He had no idea what people coming to buy a Lexus normally wore, but they might not have taken him seriously if he’d been decked out in a polo shirt, jeans, and sneakers. Just before he left the house, he had suddenly changed his mind and put on a suit and tie.

  He was kept waiting for fifteen minutes, during which time he learned the entire lineup of Lexus models. He discovered that Lexus didn’t give their different models names, like Corolla or Crown, but instead used numbers to distinguish models. Just like Mercedes-Benz and BMW. And Brahms symphonies.

  A tall man finally appeared. He crossed the
showroom in Tsukuru’s direction. He was broad-shouldered, and carried himself in a decisive manner, letting those around him know he was not about to waste any time getting from point A to point B. It was definitely Ao. Even seen from a distance, he looked nearly the same as he had in high school. He’d grown a little bigger, that was all, like a house with an addition when the family grows. Tsukuru placed the catalogs back on the tabletop and rose from the sofa.

  “I’m sorry to have kept you waiting. My name’s Oumi.”

  Ao stood in front of Tsukuru, giving a slight bow. The suit that encased his large frame was perfectly pressed, without a single wrinkle. A refined suit, a mix of blue and gray in a light fabric. Considering his size, it must have been made to order. A light gray shirt and dark gray necktie completed the outfit. Tsukuru recalled how Ao had looked in high school and found it surprising to now see him so impeccably dressed. Ao’s hair, though, was unchanged, a rugby player’s buzz cut. And he was, as before, quite tan.

  Ao’s expression changed slightly when he looked at Tsukuru. A slight doubt glinted in his eyes, as if he’d seen something in Tsukuru’s face he remembered, but couldn’t quite recall what it was. He smiled, swallowing back what he was about to say, waiting for Tsukuru to speak.

  “It’s been a while,” Tsukuru said.

  As he heard Tsukuru’s voice, the layer of doubt that had veiled Ao’s face suddenly lifted. Tsukuru’s voice hadn’t changed at all.

  “Tsukuru?” he said, narrowing his eyes.

  Tsukuru nodded. “I’m sorry to barge in on you at work like this, but I figured that was the best way.”

  Ao took a deep breath, his shoulders lifting, and then slowly breathed out. He looked at Tsukuru’s whole body, as if inspecting him, his gaze running from top to bottom, then back to the top again.

  “I can’t believe how much you’ve changed,” Ao said, sounding impressed. “If I’d passed you on the street I wouldn’t have recognized you.”

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