Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

  “That’s a weird story,” Tsukuru said. “Why would he keep those sixth fingers until he became an adult and then suddenly decide to amputate them?”

  “It’s a mystery. It got me interested in the phenomenon, though, and I started looking into it. The technical term is hyperdactyly, and there have been lots of famous people who’ve had it. It’s unclear whether it’s true or not, but there was some evidence that Hideyoshi Toyotomi, the famous leader of the Sengoku period, had two thumbs. There are plenty of other examples. There was a famous pianist who had the condition, a novelist, an artist, a baseball player. In fiction, Hannibal Lecter of The Silence of the Lambs had six fingers. It’s not all that unusual, and genetically it’s a dominant trait. There are variations among different races, but in general, one out of every five hundred people is born with six fingers. As I said, though, the vast majority of their parents have the extra fingers amputated before their children’s first birthdays, when kids begin to develop fine-motor skills. So we hardly ever run across someone with the condition. It was the same for me. Until that jar was found in the station, I’d never even heard of such a thing.”

  “It is strange, though,” Tsukuru said. “If having six fingers is a dominant trait, then why don’t we see more people with them?”

  The stationmaster inclined his head. “Don’t know. That kind of complicated stuff is beyond me.”

  Sakamoto, who’d eaten lunch with them, opened his mouth for the first time. Hesitantly, as if rolling away a massive stone that blocked the mouth of a cave. “I wonder if you wouldn’t mind if I venture an opinion?”

  “Of course,” Tsukuru said, taken by surprise. Sakamoto was not the type of young man who voiced his own opinion in front of others. “Go right ahead.”

  “People tend to misunderstand the meaning of the word ‘dominant,’ ” Sakamoto said. “Even if a certain tendency is dominant, that doesn’t mean it becomes widespread throughout the population. There are quite a few rare disorders where genetically there is a dominant gene, but these conditions don’t, as a result, become common. Thankfully, in most cases these are checked at a fixed number, and remain rare disorders. Dominant genes are nothing more than one among many elements in tendency distribution. Other elements would include the survival of the fittest, natural selection, and so on. This is personal conjecture, but I think six fingers are too many for human beings. For what the hand has to do, five fingers are all that are necessary, and the most efficient number. So even if having six fingers is a dominant gene, in the real world it only manifests in a tiny minority. In other words, the law of selection trumps the dominant gene.”

  After holding forth at such length, Sakamoto stepped back into silence.

  “That makes sense,” Tsukuru said. “I get the feeling it’s connected with the process of how the world’s counting systems have mainly standardized, moving from the duodecimal system to the decimal system.”

  “Yes, that might have been a response to six and five fingers, digits, now that you mention it,” Sakamoto said.

  “So how come you know so much about this?” Tsukuru asked Sakamoto.

  “I took a class on genetics in college. I sort of had a personal interest in it.” Sakamoto’s cheeks reddened as he said this.

  The stationmaster gave a merry laugh. “So your genetics class came in handy, even after you started work at a railway company. I guess getting an education isn’t something to be sneezed at, is it.”

  Tsukuru turned to the stationmaster. “Seems like for a pianist, though, having six fingers could come in pretty handy.”

  “Apparently it doesn’t,” the stationmaster replied. “One pianist who has six fingers said the extra ones get in the way. Like Mr. Sakamoto said just now, moving six fingers equally and freely might be a little too much for human beings. Maybe five is just the right number.”

  “Is there some advantage to having six fingers?” Tsukuru asked.

  “From what I learned,” the stationmaster replied, “during the Middle Ages in Europe, they thought people born with six fingers were magicians or witches, and they were burned at the stake. And in one country during the era of the Crusaders, anybody who had six fingers was killed. Whether these stories are true or not, I don’t know. In Borneo children born with six fingers are automatically treated as shamans. Maybe that isn’t an advantage, however.”

  “Shamans?” Tsukuru asked.

  “Just in Borneo.”

  Lunchtime was over, and so was their conversation. Tsukuru thanked the stationmaster for the lunch, and he and Sakamoto returned to their office.

  As Tsukuru was writing some notes on the blueprints, he suddenly recalled the story Haida had told him, years ago, about his father. How the jazz pianist who was staying at the inn deep in the mountains of Oita had, just before he started playing, put a cloth bag on top of the piano. Could there have been, inside the bag, a sixth right and left finger, preserved in formaldehyde inside a jar? For some reason maybe he’d waited until he was an adult to get them amputated, and always carried the jar around with him. And just before he performed he’d put them on top of the piano. Like a talisman.

  Of course, this was sheer conjecture. There was no basis for it. And that incident had taken place—if indeed it had actually occurred—over forty years ago. Still, the more Tsukuru thought about it, the more it seemed like this piece of the puzzle fit the lacuna in Haida’s story. Tsukuru sat at his drafting table until evening, pencil in hand, mulling over the idea.

  The following day Tsukuru met Sara in Hiroo. They went into a small bistro in a secluded part of the neighborhood—Sara was an expert on secluded, small bars and restaurants all over Tokyo—and before they ate, Tsukuru told her how he had seen his two former friends in Nagoya, and what they had talked about. It wasn’t easy for him to summarize, so it took a while for him to tell her the whole story. Sara listened closely, occasionally stopping him to ask a question.

  “So Shiro told the others that when she stayed at your apartment in Tokyo, you drugged her and raped her?”

  “That’s what she said.”

  “She described it in great detail, very realistically, even though she was so introverted and always tried to avoid talking about sex.”

  “That’s what Ao said.”

  “And she said you had two faces?” Sara asked.

  “She said I had another dark, hidden side, something unhinged and detached from the side of me that everyone knew.”

  Sara frowned and thought this over for a while.

  “Doesn’t this remind you of something? Didn’t you ever have some special, intimate moment that passed between you and Shiro?”

  Tsukuru shook his head. “Never. Not once. I was always conscious of not letting something like that happen.”

  “Always conscious?”

  “I tried not to view her as someone of the opposite sex. And I avoided being alone with her as much as I could.”

  Sara narrowed her eyes and inclined her head for a moment. “Do you think the others in the group were just as careful? In other words, the boys not viewing the girls as members of the opposite sex, and vice versa?”

  “I don’t know what the others were thinking, deep down inside. But like I said, it was a kind of unspoken agreement between us that we wouldn’t let male-female relationships be a part of the group. We were pretty insistent about that.”

  “But isn’t that unnatural? If boys and girls that age get close to each other, and are together all the time, it’s only natural that they start to get interested in each other sexually.”

  “I wanted to have a girlfriend and to go out on dates, just the two of us. And of course I was interested in sex. Just like anybody else. And no one was stopping me from having a girlfriend outside the group. But back then, that group was the most important part of my life. The thought hardly ever occurred to me to go out and be with anyone else.”

  “Because you found a wonderful harmony there?”

  Tsukuru nodded. “When I was w
ith them, I felt like an indispensable part of the whole. It was a special feeling that I could never get anywhere else.”

  “Which is why all of you had to look past any sexual interest,” Sara said. “In order to preserve the harmony the five of you had together. So as not to destroy the perfect circle.”

  “Looking back on it now, I can see there was something unnatural about it. But at the time, nothing seemed more natural. We were still in our teens, experiencing everything for the first time. There was no way we could be that objective about our situation.”

  “In other words, you were locked up inside the perfection of that circle. Can you see it that way?”

  Tsukuru thought about this. “Maybe that’s true, but we were happy to be locked up inside it. And I don’t regret it, even now.”

  “Intriguing,” Sara said.

  Sara was also quite interested to hear about Aka’s visit with Shiro in Hamamatsu six months before she was murdered.

  “It’s a different situation, of course,” Sara said, “but it reminds me of a classmate of mine from high school. She was beautiful, with a nice figure, from an affluent family, raised partly abroad and fluent in English and French, always at the top of her class. People noticed her, no matter what she did. She was revered by everybody, the heartthrob of all the younger students. We went to a private all-girls high school, so that sort of admiration by underclassmen could be pretty intense.”

  Tsukuru nodded.

  “She went on to Seishin University, the famous women’s private college, and studied abroad in France for two years. A couple of years after she got back I had a chance to see her, and when I did, I was floored. I’m not sure how to put it, but she seemed faded. Like something that’s been exposed to strong sunlight for a long time and the color fades. She looked much the same as before. Still beautiful, still with a nice figure … but she seemed paler, fainter than before. It made me feel like I should grab the TV remote to ramp up the color intensity. It was a weird experience. It was hard to imagine that someone could, in the space of just a few years, visibly diminish like that.”

  Sara had finished her meal and was waiting for the dessert menu.

  “She and I weren’t all that close, but we had a few friends in common, so I’d run into her every now and again. And each time I saw her, she’d faded a little more. From a certain point on, it was clear to everyone that she wasn’t pretty anymore, that she was no longer attractive. It was like she’d gotten less intelligent, too. The topics she talked about were boring, her opinions stale and trite. She married at twenty-seven, and her husband was some elite government official, an obviously shallow, boring man. But the woman couldn’t seem to grasp the fact that she was no longer beautiful, no longer attractive, no longer the sort of person people notice. She still acted like she was the queen. It was pretty pathetic to watch.”

  The dessert menu arrived, and Sara inspected it closely. Once she’d made up her mind, she closed the menu and laid it on the table.

  “Her friends gradually stopped seeing her. It was just too painful to witness. Maybe it wasn’t exactly pain they felt when they saw her, but more a kind of fear, the kind of fear most women have. The fear that your peak attractiveness as a woman is behind you, and you either don’t realize it or refuse to accept it, and go on acting the way you always have, and then people snub you and laugh at you behind your back. For her, that peak came earlier than for others. That’s all it was. In her teens, all her natural gifts burst into bloom, like a garden in spring, and once those years had passed, they quickly withered.”

  The white-haired waiter came over, and Sara ordered the lemon soufflé. Tsukuru was always impressed at how she never skipped dessert yet managed to keep her trim figure.

  “I imagine Kuro could tell you more details about Shiro,” Sara said. “Even if your group of five was a harmonious, perfect community, there are always things that only girls can discuss between themselves. Like Ao told you. And what they talk about doesn’t go outside the world of girls. Sometimes it’s just chatter, but there are certain secrets we tightly protect, especially so boys don’t get wind of them.”

  She gazed at the waiter, who was standing far off, almost as if she regretted ordering the lemon soufflé.

  But then she seemed to reconsider and turned her gaze back to Tsukuru.

  “Did the three of you boys have confidential talks like that?” she asked.

  “Not that I recall,” Tsukuru said.

  “Then what did you talk about?” Sara asked.

  What did we talk about back then? Tsukuru thought about it, but couldn’t remember. He was sure they’d talked a lot, enthusiastically, really opening up to each other, yet for the life of him, he couldn’t recall a thing.

  “You know, I can’t remember,” Tsukuru said.

  “That’s weird,” Sara said. And she smiled.

  “Next month I should be able to take a break from work,” Tsukuru said. “Once I get to that point, I’m thinking of going to Finland. I’ve cleared it with my boss, and there’s no problem with me taking time off.”

  “When you’ve set the dates, I can arrange the travel schedule for you. Plane tickets, hotel reservations, and the like.”

  “I appreciate it,” Tsukuru said.

  She lifted her glass and took a sip of water. She traced the lip of the glass with her finger.

  “What was your time in high school like?” Tsukuru asked.

  “I didn’t stand out very much. I was on the handball team. I wasn’t pretty, and my grades were just so-so.”

  “You’re sure you’re not being modest?”

  She laughed and shook her head. “Modesty is a wonderful virtue, but it doesn’t suit me. It’s true, I didn’t stand out at all. I don’t think I meshed well with the whole education system. I never was a teacher’s pet, or had any underclassmen who thought I was cool. There was no sign of any boyfriends, and I had a bad case of acne. I owned every Wham! CD imaginable, and always wore the boring white underwear my mother bought for me. But I did have a few good friends. Two of them. We were never as close a group as you five, but we were good friends and could tell each other anything. They helped me get through those dull teenage years.”

  “Do you still see them?”

  She nodded. “Yes, we’re still good friends. They’re both married, with children, so we can’t meet that often, but we do get together for dinner every once in a while, and talk nonstop for three hours. We tell each other everything.”

  The waiter brought over the lemon soufflé and espresso. Sara dug right in. Lemon soufflé seemed to have been the right choice after all. Tsukuru looked back and forth between Sara, as she ate, and the steam that rose from her espresso.

  “Do you have any friends now?” Sara asked.

  “No, nobody I would call a friend.”

  Only the four people back in his Nagoya days were what he could have called friends. After that, although for just a short time, Haida was something close to it. But there was nobody else.

  “Aren’t you lonely without friends?”

  “I don’t know,” Tsukuru said. “Even if I had some, I don’t think I’d be able to open up and share secrets.”

  Sara laughed. “Women find that necessary. Though sharing secrets is only one function of a friend.”

  “Of course.”

  “Would you like a bite of this soufflé? It’s delicious.”

  “No, you go ahead and finish it.”

  Sara carefully ate the last bite of the soufflé, then put her fork down, dabbed at her mouth with her napkin, and seemed lost in thought. Finally she raised her head and looked across the table, straight at Tsukuru.

  “After this, can we go to your place?”

  “Of course,” Tsukuru said. He motioned to the waiter to bring the check.

  “The handball team?” Tsukuru asked.

  “Don’t ask,” Sara said.

  • • •

  Back at his apartment, they held each other. Tsukuru was over
joyed to make love to her again, that she’d given him the chance to do so. On the sofa they caressed each other, then got into bed. Under her mint-green dress she had on tiny black lace underwear.

  “Did your mom buy these for you too?” Tsukuru asked.

  “You dummy,” Sara laughed. “I bought them myself. Like you need to ask.”

  “I don’t see any more acne, either.”

  “What did you expect?”

  She reached out and gently took his hard penis in her hand.

  But a little later, as he was entering her, his penis went limp. It was the first time in his life that this had happened to him, and it left him baffled and mystified. Everything around him became strangely quiet. Total silence in his ears, only the sound of his heart beating.

  “Don’t let it bother you,” Sara said, stroking his back. “Just keep holding me. That’s enough. Don’t worry about anything.”

  “I don’t get it,” Tsukuru said. “All I’ve been thinking about these days is making love to you.”

  “Maybe you were looking forward to it too much. Though I am happy you were thinking about me like that.”

  They lay in bed, naked, leisurely stroking each other, but Tsukuru still wasn’t able to get a decent erection. Finally, it was time for her to go home. They silently dressed, and Tsukuru walked her to the station. As they went, he apologized that things hadn’t worked out.

  “It doesn’t matter at all, really. So there’s nothing to worry about,” Sara told him, tenderly. And she took hold of his hand. Her hand was small, and warm.

  Tsukuru felt he should say something, but nothing came out. He just continued to feel her hand in his.

  “I think there’s something still bothering you,” Sara said. “Going back to Nagoya and seeing your old friends for the first time in years, talking with them, learning all kinds of things at once—it must have shaken you up. More than you realize.”

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