Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

  “How did you find that out without mentioning my name?”

  Olga smiled impishly. “I told a tiny lie. I pretended to be a FedEx delivery person. I said I had a package addressed to Eri from Nagoya, Japan, and asked him where I should forward it. Her husband answered the phone and didn’t hesitate to give me the forwarding address. Here it is.”

  She passed him a sheet from her memo pad. She stood up, went over to the concierge desk, and got a simple map of southern Finland. She spread the map open and marked the location of Hämeenlinna.

  “Here’s where Hämeenlinna is. I’ll look up the address of their summer cottage on Google. The office is closed now, so I’ll print it out tomorrow and give it to you then.”

  “How long would it take to get there?”

  “Well, it’s about 100 kilometers, so from here by car you should allow about an hour and a half. The highway runs straight there. There are trains, too, but then you’d still need a car to get to their house.”

  “I’ll rent a car.”

  “In Hämeenlinna there’s a lovely castle by the lakeside, and the house where Sibelius was born. But I imagine you have more important matters. Tomorrow why don’t you come by the office whenever’s convenient for you? We open at nine. There’s a car rental place nearby, and I’ll take care of renting a car for you.”

  “You’ve been a big help,” Tsukuru said, thanking her.

  “A good friend of Sara’s is a friend of mine,” Olga said, and winked. “I hope you can meet Eri. And that she’ll be surprised.”

  “I hope so. That’s really why I came here.”

  Olga hesitated for a moment, then said, “I know this is none of my business, but is there something very important that made you come all the way here to see her?”

  “Important to me, perhaps. But maybe not to her. I came here to find that out.”

  “It sounds kind of complicated.”

  “Maybe too complicated for me to explain in English.”

  Olga laughed. “Some things in life are too complicated to explain in any language.”

  Tsukuru nodded. Coming up with witty sayings about life seemed, after all, to be a trait shared by all Finns. The long winters might have something to do with it. But she was right. This was a problem that had nothing to do with language. Most likely.

  She stood up from the sofa, and Tsukuru stood up too and shook her hand.

  “Until tomorrow morning, then,” she said. “I imagine you’re jet-lagged, and with the sun staying out so late at night, people who aren’t used to it sometimes have trouble sleeping. It’d be a good idea to ask for a wake-up call.”

  “I’ll do that,” Tsukuru said. Olga slung her bag over her shoulder and strode off through the lobby and out the entrance. She didn’t look back.

  Tsukuru folded the paper she’d given him, put it in his wallet, and stuffed the map in his pocket. He left the hotel and wandered around the city.

  At least now he knew Eri’s address. She was there, along with her husband and two small children. All that remained was whether she would see him. He might have flown halfway around the world to see her, but she might well refuse to meet him. It was entirely possible. According to Ao, it was Kuro who had first taken Shiro’s side regarding the rape, the one who’d pushed them to cut off Tsukuru. He couldn’t imagine what sort of feelings she had for him after Shiro’s murder and the breakup of the group. She might feel totally indifferent toward him. All he could do was go see her and find out.

  It was after 8 p.m., but as Olga had said, the sun showed no signs of setting. Many stores were still open, and the streets, still as bright as day, were crowded with pedestrians. People filled the cafés, drinking beer and wine, and chatting. As he walked down the old streets lined with round paving stones, Tsukuru caught a whiff of fish being grilled. It reminded him of grilled mackerel in Japanese diners. Hungry, he followed the smell into a side street but couldn’t locate the source. As he searched the streets, the smell grew fainter, and then vanished.

  It was too much trouble to search for somewhere to eat, so he went into a nearby pizzeria, sat down at an outdoor table, and ordered iced tea and a margherita pizza. He could hear Sara laughing at him. You flew all the way to Finland, and you ate a margherita pizza? She would definitely be amused by this. But the pizza turned out to be delicious, much better than he’d expected. They’d baked it in a real coal oven, and it was thin and crispy, with fragrant charcoal marks on the crust.

  This casual pizzeria was nearly full of families and young couples. There was a group of students, too. Everyone was drinking either beer or wine, and many were puffing away on cigarettes. The only one Tsukuru could see sitting alone, drinking iced tea while he ate his pizza, was himself. Everyone else was talking loudly, boisterously, and the words he overheard were all (he imagined) Finnish. The restaurant seemed to cater to locals, not tourists. It finally struck him: he was far from Japan, in another country. No matter where he was, he almost always ate alone, so that didn’t particularly bother him. But here he wasn’t simply alone. He was alone in two senses of the word. He was also a foreigner, the people around him speaking a language he couldn’t understand.

  It was a different sense of isolation from what he normally felt in Japan. And not such a bad feeling, he decided. Being alone in two senses of the word was maybe like a double negation of isolation. In other words, it made perfect sense for him, a foreigner, to feel isolated here. There was nothing odd about it at all. The thought calmed him. He was in exactly the right place. His raised his hand to summon the waiter and ordered a glass of red wine.

  A short time after the wine came, an old accordion player strolled by. He had on a worn-out vest and a Panama hat, and was accompanied by a pointy-eared dog. With practiced hands, like tying a horse to a hitching post, he tied the dog’s leash to a streetlight and stood there, leaned back against it, and began playing northern European folk melodies. The man was clearly a veteran street musician, his performance practiced and effortless. Some of the customers sang along with the melodies, too, and he took requests, including a Finnish version of Elvis Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel.” His thin black dog sat there, not watching anything around it, its eyes fixed on a spot in the air, as if reminiscing. Its ears didn’t twitch or move at all.

  Some things in life are too complicated to explain in any language.

  Olga was absolutely right, Tsukuru thought as he sipped his wine. Not just to explain to others, but to explain to yourself. Force yourself to try to explain it, and you create lies. At any rate, he knew he should be able to understand things more clearly tomorrow. He just had to wait. And if he didn’t find out anything, well, that was okay too. There was nothing he could do about it. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki would just go on living his colorless life. Not bothering anybody else.

  He thought about Sara, her mint-green dress, her cheerful laugh, and the middle-aged man she was walking with, hand in hand. But these thoughts didn’t lead him anywhere. The human heart is like a night bird. Silently waiting for something, and when the time comes, it flies straight toward it.

  He shut his eyes and gave himself over to the tones of the accordion. The monotonous melody wended its way through the noisy voices and reached him, like a foghorn, nearly drowned out by the crashing of the waves.

  He drank only half the wine, left some bills and coins on the table, and got up. He dropped a euro coin in the hat in front of the accordion player and, following what others had done, patted the head of his dog. As if it were pretending to be a figurine, the dog didn’t react. Tsukuru took his time walking back to the hotel. He stopped by a kiosk on the way, and bought mineral water and a more detailed map of southern Finland.

  In a park in the middle of the main boulevard, people had brought chess sets and were playing the game on raised, built-in stone chessboards. They were all men, most of them elderly. Unlike the people back in the pizzeria, they were totally quiet. The people watching them were taciturn as well. Deep thought required s
ilence. Most of the people passing by on the street had dogs with them. The dogs, too, were taciturn. As he walked down the street, he caught the occasional whiff of grilled fish and kebabs. It was nearly 9 p.m., yet a flower shop was still open, with row upon row of colorful summer flowers. As if night had been forgotten.

  At the front desk he asked for a 7 a.m. wake-up call. Then a sudden thought struck him. “Is there a swimming pool nearby?” he asked.

  The desk clerk frowned slightly and thought it over. She then politely shook her head, as if apologizing for some shortcoming in her nation’s history. “I’m very sorry, but I’m afraid there is no swimming pool nearby.”

  He went back to his room, drew the heavy drapes to block out the light, undressed, and lay down in bed. Yet still the light, like an old memory that can’t easily be erased, snuck into the room. As he stared at the dim ceiling he thought how strange it was for him to be here in Helsinki, not Nagoya, going to see Kuro. The uniquely bright night of northern Europe made his heart tremble in an odd way. His body needed sleep, but his mind, at least for a while, sought wakefulness.

  And he thought of Shiro. He hadn’t dreamed of her in a long time. He thought of those erotic dreams, where he came violently inside her. When he woke up afterward and rinsed out his semen-stained underwear in the sink, a complex mix of emotions always struck him. A strange mix of guilt and longing. Special emotions that arise only in a dark corner unknown to other people, where the real and the unreal secretly mingle. Curiously enough, he missed these feelings. He didn’t care what kind of dream it was, or how it made him feel. He wanted only to see Shiro once more in his dreams.

  Sleep finally took hold of him, but no dreams came.

  The wake-up call came at seven, rousing him from sleep. He’d slept long and deeply, and his whole body felt pleasantly numb. He showered, shaved, and brushed his teeth, the numbness still with him. The sky was overcast, with a thin layer of clouds, but rain seemed unlikely. Tsukuru dressed, went down to the hotel restaurant, and had a simple buffet breakfast.

  He arrived at Olga’s office after nine. It was a cozy little office, halfway up a slope, with only one other person working there, a tall man with bulging, fishlike eyes. The man was on the phone, explaining something. The wall was covered with colorful posters of scenic spots in Finland. Olga had printed out several maps for Tsukuru. The Haatainens’ cottage was in a small town a short way down the lake from Hämeenlinna, the location of which she’d marked with an X. Like some long canal, the narrow, meandering lake, gouged out by glaciers tens of thousands of years ago, seemed to go on forever.

  “The road should be easy to follow,” Olga said. “Finland’s not like Tokyo or New York. The roads aren’t crowded, and as long as you follow the signs and don’t hit an elk, you should be able to get there.”

  Tsukuru thanked her.

  “I reserved a car for you,” she went on. “A Volkswagen Golf with only two thousand kilometers on it. I was able to get a bit of a discount.”

  “Thank you. That’s great.”

  “I pray everything goes well. You’ve come all this way, after all.” Olga smiled sweetly. “If you run into any problems, don’t hesitate to call me.”

  “I won’t,” Tsukuru said.

  “Remember to watch out for elk. They’re pretty dumb beasts. Be sure not to drive too fast.”

  They shook hands again and said goodbye.

  At the car rental agency he picked up the new, navy-blue Golf, and the woman there explained how to get from central Helsinki to the highway. It wasn’t especially complicated, but you did have to pay attention. Once you got on the highway, it was easy.

  Tsukuru listened to music on an FM station as he drove down the highway at about one hundred kilometers an hour, heading west. Most of the other cars passed him, but he didn’t mind. He hadn’t driven a car for a while, and here the steering wheel was on the left, the opposite of Japan. He was hoping, if possible, to arrive at the Haatainens’ house after they’d finished lunch. He still had plenty of time, and there was no need to hurry. The classical music station was playing a gorgeous, lilting trumpet concerto.

  There were forests on both sides of the highway. He got the impression that the whole country was covered, from one end to the other, by a rich green. Most of the trees were white birch, with occasional pines, spruce, and maples. The pines were red pines with tall, straight trunks, while the branches of the white birch trees drooped way down. Neither was a variety found in Japan. In between was a sprinkling of broadleaf trees. Huge-winged birds slowly circled on the wind, searching for prey. The occasional farmhouse roof popped into view. Each farm was vast, with cattle grazing behind fences ringing gentle slopes. The grass had been cut and rolled into large round bundles by a machine.

  It was just before noon when he arrived in Hämeenlinna. Tsukuru parked his car in a parking lot and strolled for fifteen minutes around the town, then went into a café facing the main square and had coffee and a croissant. The croissant was overly sweet, but the coffee was strong and delicious. The sky in Hämeenlinna was the same as in Helsinki, veiled behind a thin layer of clouds, the sun a blurred orange silhouette halfway up the sky. The wind blowing through the town square was a bit chilly, and he tugged on a thin sweater over his polo shirt.

  There were hardly any tourists in Hämeenlinna, just people in ordinary clothes, carrying shopping bags, walking down the road. Even on the main street most of the stores carried food and sundries, the kind of stores that catered to locals or people who lived in summer cottages. On the other side of the square was a large church, a squat structure with a round, green roof. Like waves on the shore, a flock of black birds busily fluttered to and from the church roof. White seagulls, their eyes not missing a thing, strolled along the cobblestones of the square.

  Near the square was a line of carts selling vegetables and fruit, and Tsukuru bought a bag of cherries and sat on a bench and ate them. As he was eating, two young girls, around ten or eleven, came by and stared at him from a distance. There probably weren’t many Asians who visited this town. One of the girls was tall and lanky, with pale white skin, the other tanned and freckled. Both wore their hair in braids. Tsukuru smiled at them.

  Like the cautious seagulls, the girls warily edged closer.

  “Are you Chinese?” the tall girl asked in English.

  “I’m Japanese,” Tsukuru replied. “It’s nearby, but different.”

  The girls didn’t look like they understood.

  “Are you two Russians?” Tsukuru asked.

  They shook their heads emphatically.

  “We’re Finnish,” the freckled girl said with a serious expression.

  “It’s the same thing,” Tsukuru said. “It’s nearby, but different.”

  The two girls nodded.

  “What are you doing here?” the freckled one asked, sounding like she was trying out the English sentence structure. She was probably studying English in school and wanted to try it out on a foreigner.

  “I came to see a friend,” Tsukuru said.

  “How many hours does it take to get here from Japan?” the tall girl asked.

  “By plane, about eleven hours,” Tsukuru said. “During that time I ate two meals and watched one movie.”

  “What movie?”

  “Die Hard 12.”

  This seemed to satisfy them. Hand in hand, they skipped off down the square, skirts fluttering, like little tumbleweeds blown by the wind, leaving no reflections or witticisms about life behind. Tsukuru, relieved, went back to eating his cherries.

  It was one thirty when he arrived at the Haatainens’ summer cottage. Finding it wasn’t as simple as Olga had predicted. The path leading to the cottage could barely be called a road. If a kind old man hadn’t passed by, Tsukuru might have wandered forever.

  He had stopped his car by the side of the road and, Google map in hand, was unsure how to proceed, when a tiny old man on a bicycle stopped to help. The old man wore a well-worn cloth cap and tall rubber
boots. White hair sprouted from his ears, and his eyes were bloodshot. He looked as if he were enraged about something. Tsukuru showed him the map and said he was looking for the Haatainens’ cottage.

  “It’s close by. I’ll show you.” The old man spoke first in German, then switched to English. He leaned his heavy-looking bicycle against a nearby tree and, without waiting for a reply, planted himself in the passenger seat of the Golf. With his horny fingers, like old tree stumps, he pointed out the path that Tsukuru had to take. Alongside the lake ran an unpaved road that cut through the forest. It was less a road than a trail carved out by wheel tracks. Green grass grew plentifully between the two ruts. After a while this path came to a fork, and at the intersection there were painted nameplates nailed to a tree. One on the right said Haatainen.

  They drove down the right-hand path and eventually came to an open space. The lake was visible through the trunks of white birches. There was a small pier and a mustard-colored boat tied up to it, a simple fishing boat. Next to it was a cozy wooden cabin surrounded by a stand of trees, with a square brick chimney jutting out of the cabin roof. A white Renault van was parked next to the cabin.

  “That’s the Haatainens’ cottage,” the old man intoned solemnly. Like a person about to step out into a snowstorm he made sure his cap was on tight, then spit a gob of phlegm onto the ground. Hard-looking phlegm, like a rock.

  Tsukuru thanked him. “Let me drive you back to where you left your bicycle. I know how to get here now.”

  “No, no need. I’ll walk back,” the old man said, sounding angry. At least that’s what Tsukuru imagined he said. He couldn’t understand the words. From the sound of it, though, it didn’t seem like Finnish. Before Tsukuru could even shake his hand, the man had gotten out of the car and strode away. Like the Grim Reaper having shown a dead person the road to Hades, he never looked back.

  Tsukuru sat in the Golf, parked in the grass next to the path, and watched the old man walk away. He then got out of the car and took a deep breath. The air felt purer here than in Helsinki, like it was freshly made. A gentle breeze rustled the leaves of the white birches, and the boat made an occasional clatter as it slapped against the pier. Birds cried out somewhere, with clear, concise calls.

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