Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

  He did feel confused, that much was true. A door that had been shut for so long had swung open, and a reality he had turned his eyes away from until now—a reality he never could have anticipated—had come rushing back inside. And these facts were still jumbled in his mind, unable to settle.

  “There’s still something stuck inside you,” Sara said. “Something you can’t accept. And the natural flow of emotions you should have is obstructed. I just get that feeling about you.”

  Tsukuru thought about what she had said. “Not all the questions I had were cleared up by this trip to Nagoya. Is that what you mean?”

  “Yes. It seems like it. I’m just saying,” Sara said. Her expression turned serious, and then she added, “Now that certain things have become clear to you, it may have had the opposite effect—making the missing pieces even more significant.”

  Tsukuru sighed. “I wonder if I’ve pried opened a lid that I never should have touched.”

  “Temporarily you might have,” she said. “There may be some pushback for a while. But at least you’ve moved closer to solving it. That’s what’s important. Keep going a little further, and I’m sure you’ll discover the right pieces that fill in the gaps.”

  “But it might take a long time.”

  Sara held on tightly to his hand, her grip surprisingly strong.

  “There’s no need to hurry. Just take your time. What I want to know most of all is whether or not you’re hoping for a long-term relationship with me.”

  “Of course I am. I want to be with you for a long time.”


  “It’s true,” Tsukuru said firmly.

  “Then I have no problem. We still have time, and I’ll wait. In the meantime, there are a couple of things I need to take care of.”

  “Take care of?”

  Sara didn’t respond, instead flashing him a cryptic smile.

  “As soon as you can, I want you to go to Finland to see Kuro,” she said. “And tell her exactly what’s in your heart. I’m sure she’ll tell you something important. Something very important. I have a hunch.”

  As he walked back alone from the station to his apartment, Tsukuru was seized by random thoughts. He had a strange sensation, as if time had, at a certain point, forked off into two branches. He thought of Shiro, of Haida, and of Sara. The past and present, memory and emotions, ran together as equals, side by side.

  Maybe there really is something about me as a person, something deep down, he thought, that is crooked and warped. Maybe Shiro was right, that I have something unhinged and detached inside of me. Like the far side of the moon, forever cloaked in darkness. Maybe without realizing it, in a different place and different temporality, he really had raped Shiro and ripped her heart to shreds. Crudely, brutally. And maybe that dark, hidden side will one day outstrip the outer side and completely consume it. Tsukuru nearly crossed the street against the light and a taxi slammed on his brakes, the driver yelling an obscenity.

  Back in his apartment he changed into pajamas and got into bed just before midnight. And right then, as if finally remembering to do so, he had an erection. A heroic, perfect, rock-hard erection. So massively hard he could barely believe it. He sighed deeply in the darkness at the irony of it. He got out of bed, switched on the light, took a bottle of Cutty Sark down from the shelf, and poured some into a small glass. He opened a book. After 1 a.m. it suddenly began to rain and gusts of wind began to blow. It was almost a storm, with plump raindrops pelting sideways against the window.

  Supposedly I raped Shiro in this very bed, Tsukuru suddenly thought. Drugged her, numbed her, ripped off her clothes, and forced myself on her. She was a virgin. She felt terrible pain, and she bled. And with that, everything changed. Sixteen years ago.

  As he listened to the rain drum against the window, with these thoughts swirling around in his head, his room began to feel like an alien space. As if the room itself had developed its own will. Just being in there steadily drained away any ability to distinguish the real from the unreal. On one plane of reality, he’d never even touched Shiro’s hand. Yet on another, he’d brutally raped her. Which reality had he stepped into now? The more he thought about it, the less certain he became.

  It was two thirty when he finally got to sleep.

  On weekends Tsukuru went to the pool at the gym, a ten-minute bike ride from his apartment. He always swam the crawl at a set pace, completing 1,500 meters in thirty-two or thirty-three minutes. He let faster swimmers pass him. Trying to compete against other people wasn’t in his nature. As always, on this day he found another swimmer whose speed was close to his, and joined him in the same lane. The other man was young and lanky and wore a black competitive swimsuit, a black cap, and goggles.

  Swimming eased Tsukuru’s accumulated exhaustion, and relaxed his tense muscles. Being in the water calmed him more than any other place. Swimming a half hour twice a week allowed him to maintain a calm balance between mind and body. He also found the water a great place to think. A kind of Zen meditation, he discovered. Once he got into the rhythm of the swimming, thoughts came to him, unhampered, like a dog let loose in a field.

  “Swimming feels wonderful—almost as good as flying through the air,” Tsukuru explained to Sara one time.

  “Have you ever flown through the air?” she asked.

  “Not yet,” Tsukuru said.

  This morning, as he swam, thoughts of Sara came to him. He pictured her face, her body, and how he’d failed in bed. And he remembered several things she’d said. Something is stuck inside you, she’d told him, and the natural flow of emotions you should have is obstructed.

  She might be right, Tsukuru thought.

  At least from the outside, Tsukuru Tazaki’s life was going well, with no particular problems to speak of. He’d graduated from a well-known engineering school, found a job in a railway company, working as a white-collar professional. His reputation in the company was sound, and his boss trusted him. Financially he had no worries. When his father died, Tsukuru had inherited a substantial sum of money and the one-bedroom condo in a convenient location near the center of Tokyo. He had no loans. He hardly drank and didn’t smoke, and had no expensive hobbies. He spent very little money. It wasn’t that he was especially trying to economize or live an austere life, but he just couldn’t think of ways to spend money. He had no need for a car, and got by with a limited wardrobe. He bought books and CDs occasionally, but that didn’t amount to much. He preferred cooking his own meals to eating out, and even washed his own sheets and ironed them.

  He was generally a quiet person, not good at socializing. Not that he lived a solitary life. He got along with others pretty well. He didn’t go out looking for women on his own, but hadn’t lacked for girlfriends. He was single, not bad-looking, reserved, well groomed, and women tended to approach him. Or else, acquaintances introduced him to women (which is how he had gotten to know Sara).

  To all appearances, at thirty-six he was enjoying a comfortable bachelor life. He was healthy, kept the pounds off, and had never been sick. Most people would see his life as going smoothly, with no major setbacks. His mother and older sisters certainly saw it that way. “You enjoy being single too much, that’s why you don’t feel like getting married,” they told Tsukuru. And they finally gave up on trying to set him up with potential marriage partners. His coworkers seemed to come to the same conclusion.

  Tsukuru had never lacked for anything in his life, or wanted something and suffered because he had been unable to obtain it. Because of this, he’d never experienced the joy of really wanting something and struggling to get it. His four high school friends had probably been the most valuable thing he’d ever had in his life. This relationship wasn’t something he’d chosen himself, but more like something that had come to him naturally, like the grace of God. And long ago, again not through any choice of his own, he’d lost all of it. Or rather, had it stripped away.

  Sara was now one of the very few things he desired. He wasn??
?t 100 percent certain of this, but he was powerfully drawn to her. And each time he saw her, this desire only grew. He was ready to sacrifice in order to have her. It was unusual for him to feel such a strong, raw emotion. Even so—he didn’t know why—when he had tried to make love to her, he hadn’t been able to perform. Something had impeded his desire. Take your time. I can wait, Sara had said. But things weren’t that simple. People are in constant motion, never stationary. No one knows what will happen next.

  These were the thoughts that ran through his head as he swam the twenty-five-meter pool. Keeping a steady pace so as not to get out of breath, he’d turn his head slightly to one side and take a short breath, then slowly exhale under water. The longer he swam, the more automatic this cycle became. The number of strokes he needed for each lap was the same each time. He gave himself up to the rhythm, counting only the number of turns.

  He suddenly noticed that he recognized the soles of the swimmer sharing the same lane. They were exactly the same as Haida’s. He gulped, his rhythm thrown off, and inhaled water through his nose. His heart was pounding in his rib cage, and it took a while for his breathing to settle down.

  These have to be Haida’s soles, Tsukuru thought. The size and shape are exactly the same. That simple, confident kick was identical—even the bubbles the swimmer kicked up underwater, small, gentle, and as relaxed as his kick, were the same. Back when he and Haida had swum together in the college pool, he’d always kept his eyes riveted on Haida’s soles, like a person driving at night never takes his eyes off the taillights of the car ahead. Those feet were etched in his memory.

  Tsukuru stopped swimming, climbed out of the pool, and sat on the starting platform, waiting for the swimmer to turn and come back.

  But it wasn’t Haida. The cap and goggles hid his facial features, but now he realized this man was too tall, his shoulders too muscular. His neck was totally different, too. And he was too young, possibly still a college student. By now Haida would be in his mid-thirties.

  Even though he knew it was someone else, Tsukuru’s heart wouldn’t settle down. He sat on a plastic chair by the side of the pool and watched the man continue to swim. His overall form, too, resembled Haida’s, almost exactly the same. No splash, no unnecessary sound. His elbows rose beautifully and smoothly in the air, his arms quietly entering the water again, thumb first. Smooth, nothing forced. Maintaining an introspective quiet seemed to be the main theme of his swimming style. Still, no matter how much his swimming style resembled Haida’s, this was not Haida. The man finally stopped, got out of the pool, tugged off his black goggles and cap, and, rubbing his short hair vigorously with a towel, walked away. His face was angular, not anything like Haida’s at all.

  Tsukuru decided to call it a day, went to the locker room, and showered. He biked back to his apartment, and ate a simple breakfast. As he ate, a sudden thought struck him. Haida is also one of the things that’s blocking me inside.

  He was able to get the time off that he needed to travel to Finland without any trouble. His unused vacation time had piled up, like frozen snow underneath eaves. All his boss had said was “Finland?” and shot him a dubious look. Tsukuru explained how a high school friend was living there, and he wanted to go visit. He figured he wouldn’t have many chances to go to Finland in the future.

  “What’s there in Finland?” his boss asked.

  “Sibelius, Aki Kaurismäki films, Marimekko, Nokia, Moomin.” Tsukuru listed all the names of famous Finnish things that he could think of.

  His boss shook his head, obviously indifferent to all of them.

  Tsukuru phoned Sara and decided on the departure date, setting the itinerary so he could take the nonstop Narita–Helsinki flight both ways. He’d leave Tokyo in two weeks, stay in Helsinki four nights, and then return to Tokyo.

  “Are you going to get in touch with Kuro before you go?” Sara asked.

  “No, I’ll do what I did when I went to Nagoya, and not let her know I’m coming.”

  “Finland’s a lot further away than Nagoya. The round trip takes a long time. Maybe you’ll get there and find out she left three days before for a summer holiday in Majorca.”

  “If that’s how it turns out, I can live with it. I’ll just do some sightseeing in Finland and come home.”

  “If that’s what you want, fine,” Sara said, “but since you’re traveling all that way, how about seeing some other places while you’re there? Tallinn and Saint Petersburg are just around the corner.”

  “Finland’s enough,” Tsukuru said. “I’ll fly from Tokyo to Helsinki, spend four nights there, and then come back.”

  “I assume you have a passport?”

  “When I joined the company, they told us to keep it renewed so we could go on an overseas business trip if one came up. But I’ve never had an opportunity to use it.”

  “In Helsinki you can get around well using English, but if you travel to the countryside, I’m not so sure. Our company has a small office in Helsinki. Kind of a sub-branch. I’ll contact them and let them know you’re coming, so if you have any problems, you should stop by. A Finnish girl named Olga works there and I’m sure she can help you.”

  “I appreciate it.”

  “The day after tomorrow, I have to go to London on business. Once I make the airline and hotel reservations, I’ll email you the particulars. Our Helsinki office address and phone number, too.”

  “Sounds good.”

  “Are you really going to go all the way to Helsinki to see her without getting in touch first? All the way across the Arctic Circle?”

  “Is that too weird?”

  She laughed. “ ‘Bold’ is the word I’d use for it.”

  “I feel like things will work out better that way. Just intuition, of course.”

  “Then I wish you good luck,” Sara said. “Could I see you once before you go? I’ll be back from London at the beginning of next week.”

  “Of course I’d like to see you,” Tsukuru said, “but I get the feeling it would be better if I go to Finland first.”

  “Did something like intuition tell you that too?”

  “I think so. Something like intuition.”

  “Do you rely on intuition a lot?”

  “Not really. I’ve hardly ever done anything based on it, up until now. Just like you don’t build a railway station on a hunch. I mean, I don’t even know if ‘intuition’ is the right word. It’s just something I felt, all of a sudden.”

  “Anyway, you feel that’s the best way to go this time, right? Whether that’s intuition or not.”

  “While I was swimming in the pool the other day, I was thinking about all kinds of things. About you, about Helsinki. I’m not sure how to put it, maybe like swimming upstream, back to my gut feelings.”

  “While you were swimming?”

  “I can think well when I’m swimming.”

  Sara paused for a time, as if impressed. “Like a salmon.”

  “I don’t know much about salmon.”

  “Salmon travel a long way. Driven by something,” Sara said. “Did you ever see Star Wars?”

  “When I was a kid.”

  “May the force be with you,” she said. “So you don’t lose out to the salmon.”

  “Thanks. I’ll get in touch when I’m back from Helsinki.”

  “I’ll be waiting.”

  She hung up.

  But it turned out that, a few days before he was due to board the flight for Helsinki, Tsukuru did see Sara again, by chance. Sara, though, had no idea.

  That evening he went out to Aoyama to buy some presents for Kuro—some small accessories for her, and some Japanese picture books for her children. There was a good shop for these kinds of presents in a backstreet behind Aoyama Boulevard. After an hour or so of shopping, he felt like taking a break and went inside a café. He took a seat next to the large plate glass window, which faced Omotesando, ordered coffee and a tuna-salad sandwich, and sat back to watch the scene outside on the twilight-bathed street.
Most of the people passing by were couples. They looked extremely happy, as if they were on their way to someplace special, where something delightful awaited them. As he watched, Tsukuru’s mind grew still and tranquil. A quiet feeling, like a frozen tree on a windless winter night. But there was little pain mixed in. Over the years Tsukuru had grown used to this mental image, so much so that it no longer brought him any particular pain.

  Still, he couldn’t help thinking how nice it would be if Sara were with him. There was nothing he could do about that, though, as he was the one who’d turned her down. That was what he had wanted. He had frozen his own bare branches, on this invigorating summer evening.

  Was that the right thing to have done?

  Tsukuru wasn’t at all sure. Could he really trust his intuition? Maybe this wasn’t intuition, or anything like it, but just a baseless passing thought? May the force be with you, Sara had said.

  For a while Tsukuru thought about salmon and their long journey through dark seas, following instinct or intuition.

  Just then, Sara passed by, in front of him. She was wearing the same mint-green short-sleeved dress she’d had on the other day, and the light brown pumps, and was walking down the gentle slope from Aoyama Boulevard toward Jingumae. Tsukuru caught his breath, and grimaced in spite of himself. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing was real. For a few seconds it felt as if she were an elaborate illusion generated by his solitary mind. But there was no doubt about it, this was the real, live Sara. Reflexively, he rose to his feet and nearly knocked over the table. Coffee spilled into the saucer. He soon sat back down.

  Beside Sara stood a middle-aged man, a powerfully built man of medium height, wearing a dark jacket, a blue shirt, and a navy-blue tie with small dots. Neatly groomed hair, with a touch of gray. He looked to be in his early fifties. Nice features, despite the somewhat severe chin. His expression showed the sort of quiet, unassuming confidence that a certain kind of man that age exhibited. He and Sara were walking happily down the street, hand in hand. Tsukuru, openmouthed, like someone who’d lost the words he was just forming, watched them through the large window. They slowly passed in front of him, but Sara didn’t glance in his direction. She was completely absorbed in talking with the man, and paid no attention to her surroundings. The man said something, and she opened her mouth and laughed. Her white teeth showed clearly.

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