Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

  “You came all the way to Finland to see me? Just to see me?”

  “That’s the size of it.”

  “After sixteen years, without a word?” she asked, seemingly astonished.

  “Actually it was my girlfriend who told me to come. She said it’s about time I saw you again.”

  The familiar curve came to Kuro’s lips. She sounded half joking now. “I see. Your girlfriend told you it was about time you came to see me. So you jumped on a plane in Narita and flew all the way to Finland. Without contacting me, and with no guarantee that I’d actually be here.”

  Tsukuru was silent. The boat went on slapping against the dock, though there wasn’t much wind, and just a scattering of waves on the lake.

  “I thought if I got in touch before I came, you might not see me.”

  “How could you say that?” Kuro said in surprise. “Come on, we’re friends.”

  “We used to be. But I don’t know anymore.”

  She gazed through the trees at the lake and let out a soundless sigh. “It’ll be two hours before they come back from town. Let’s use the time to talk.”

  They went inside and sat down across from each other at the table. She removed the barrette and her hair spilled onto her forehead. Now she looked more like the Kuro he remembered.

  “There’s one thing I’d like you to do,” Kuro said. “Don’t call me Kuro anymore. I’d prefer you call me Eri. And don’t refer to Yuzuki as Shiro. If possible, I don’t want you to call us by those names anymore.”

  “Those names are finished?”

  She nodded.

  “But you don’t mind still calling me Tsukuru?”

  “You’re always Tsukuru,” Eri said, and laughed quietly. “So I don’t mind. The Tsukuru who makes things. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki.”

  “In May I went to Nagoya and saw Ao and Aka, one right after the other,” Tsukuru said. “Is it okay if I keep on using those names?”

  “That’s fine. But I just want you to use Yuzu’s and my real names.”

  “I saw them separately, and we talked. Not for very long, though.”

  “Are they both okay?”

  “It seemed like it,” Tsukuru said. “And their work seems to be going well, too.”

  “So in good old Nagoya, Ao’s busy selling Lexuses, one after another, while Aka’s training corporate warriors.”

  “That about sums it up.”

  “And what about you? You’ve managed to get by?”

  “Yes, I’ve managed,” Tsukuru said. “I work for a railroad company in Tokyo and build stations.”

  “You know, I happened to hear about that not so long ago. That Tsukuru Tazaki was busy building stations in Tokyo,” Eri said. “And that he had a very clever girlfriend.”

  “For the time being.”

  “So you’re still single?”

  “I am.”

  “You always did things at your own pace.”

  Tsukuru was silent.

  “What did you talk about when you met the two of them in Nagoya?” Eri asked.

  “We talked about what happened between us,” Tsukuru said. “About what happened sixteen years ago, and what’s happened in the sixteen years since.”

  “Was meeting them also, maybe—something your girlfriend told you to do?”

  Tsukuru nodded. “She said there are some things I have to resolve. I have to revisit the past. Otherwise … I’ll never be free from it.”

  “She thinks you have some issues you need to deal with.”

  “She does.”

  “And she thinks these issues are damaging your relationship.”

  “Most likely,” Tsukuru said.

  Eri held the mug in both hands, testing how hot it was, and then took another sip of coffee.

  “How old is she?”

  “She’s two years older than me.”

  Eri nodded. “I can see you getting along well with an older woman.”

  “Maybe so,” Tsukuru said.

  They were quiet for a while.

  “There are all kinds of things we have to deal with in life,” Eri finally said. “And one thing always seems to connect with another. You try to solve one problem, only to find that another one you hadn’t anticipated arises instead. It’s not that easy to get free of them. That’s true for you—and for me, too.”

  “You’re right, it’s not easy to get free of them. But that doesn’t mean we should leave them hanging, unresolved,” Tsukuru said. “You can put a lid on memory, but you can’t hide history. That’s what my girlfriend said.”

  Eri stood up, went over to the window, opened it, then returned to the table. The breeze fluttered the curtain, and the boat slapped sporadically against the dock. She brushed her hair back with her fingers, rested both hands on the tabletop, and looked at Tsukuru, then spoke. “There could be lids that have gotten so tight you can’t pry them off anymore.”

  “I’m not trying to force anything. That’s not what I’m trying to do. But at least I’d like to see, with my own eyes, what kind of lid it is.”

  Eri gazed at her hands on the table. They were larger, and more fleshy, than Tsukuru remembered. Her fingers were long, her nails short. He pictured those hands spinning a potter’s wheel.

  “You said I look very different,” Tsukuru said. “I think I’ve changed, too. Sixteen years ago, after you banished me from the group, all I could think about for five months was dying. Death and nothing else. Not to exaggerate or anything, but I was really teetering on the brink. Standing on the edge, staring down at the abyss, unable to look away. Somehow, I was able to make my way back to the world I came from. But it wouldn’t have been surprising if I had actually died then. Something was wrong with me—mentally, I mean. I don’t know what would be the correct diagnosis—anxiety, depression. Something like that. But something was definitely abnormal. It wasn’t like I was confused, though. My mind was perfectly clear. Utterly still, with no static at all. A very strange condition, now that I think back on it.”

  Tsukuru stared at Eri’s silent hands and went on.

  “After those five months were over, my face was totally transformed. And my body, too. None of my old clothes fit anymore. When I looked in the mirror, it felt like I’d been put inside a container that wasn’t me. I don’t know, maybe my life just happened to reach that stage—a stage where I had to kind of lose my mind for a while, where my looks and my body had to undergo a metamorphosis. But the trigger for this change was the fact that I had been cut off from our group. That incident changed me forever.”

  Eri listened without a word.

  Tsukuru went on. “How should I put it? It felt like I was on the deck of a ship at night and was suddenly hurled into the ocean, all alone.”

  After he said this, he suddenly recalled this was the same description that Aka had used. He paused and continued.

  “I don’t know if someone pushed me off, or whether I fell overboard on my own. Either way, the ship sails on and I’m in the dark, freezing water, watching the lights on deck fade into the distance. None of the passengers or crew know I’ve fallen overboard. There’s nothing to cling to. I still have that fear, even now—that suddenly my very existence will be denied and, through no fault of my own, I’ll be hurled into the night sea once more. Maybe that’s why I haven’t been able to form deep relationships with people. I always keep a distance between me and others.”

  He spread his hands apart on the table, indicating a space of about twelve inches.

  “Maybe it’s part of my personality, something I was born with. Maybe I’ve always had an instinctive tendency to leave a buffer zone between me and others. But one thing I do know is that I never thought this when I was with all of you in high school. At least that’s how I remember it. Though it seems so long ago.”

  Eri put her palms to her cheeks and slowly rubbed them, as if washing herself. “You want to know what happened sixteen years ago. The whole truth.”

  “I do,” Tsukuru said. “But there’s one
thing I want to make clear. I never, ever did anything to harm Shiro. Yuzu, I mean.”

  “I know that,” she said. She stopped rubbing her face. “You couldn’t have raped Yuzu. That’s obvious.”

  “But you believed her, right from the beginning. Like Ao and Aka did.”

  Eri shook her head. “No, I didn’t believe her from the beginning. I don’t know what Ao and Aka thought, but I didn’t believe it. How could I? There’s no way you’d ever do something like that.”

  “Then why did you …?”

  “Why did I take Yuzu at her word and kick you out of the group? Why didn’t I stand up and defend you? Is that what you’re asking?”

  Tsukuru nodded.

  “Because I had to protect her,” Eri said. “And in order to do that, I had to cut you off. It was impossible to protect you and protect her at the same time. I had to accept one of you completely, and reject the other entirely.”

  “Her psychological problems were that severe. Is that what you mean?”

  “Yes, they were indeed. Truthfully, she was backed into a corner. Someone had to protect her, and the only person who could possibly do that was me.”

  “You could have explained that to me.”

  She slowly shook her head a few times. “There was no room to explain things then. What should I have said? Tsukuru, would you mind if for a while we say you raped Yuzu? We have to do that now. Something’s wrong with her, and we have to take care of the situation. Just be patient, things will settle down later. I don’t know, maybe in two years? I couldn’t say something like that. I knew it was wrong, but I had to let you handle it on your own. Things were that tense. You should know, though, that Yuzu actually had been raped.”

  Startled, Tsukuru looked at her. “By who?”

  Eri shook her head again. “I don’t know. But someone had forced her to have sex against her will. She was pregnant, after all. And she insisted that it was you who had raped her. She made it very clear that Tsukuru Tazaki was the one who did it. She described it all in depressingly realistic detail. So the rest of us had to accept what she said. Even though we knew in our hearts that you couldn’t have done it.”

  “She was pregnant?”

  “Mmm. There was no doubt about it. I went to the gynecologist’s with her. We went to someone far away. Not to her father’s clinic, of course.”

  Tsukuru sighed. “And then?”

  “All sorts of things happened, and then at the end of the summer, she miscarried. And that was it. It wasn’t a phantom pregnancy. She really was pregnant, and really did have a miscarriage. I guarantee it.”

  “Since she miscarried, you mean.…”

  “Yes, she planned to have the baby and raise it herself. She never considered having an abortion. She could never kill a living thing, no matter what the situation. You remember how she was, don’t you? She always hated it that her father performed abortions. We often argued about it.”

  “Did anyone else know she was pregnant and that she had a miscarriage?”

  “I knew. And so did Yuzu’s older sister. She was the type who could keep a secret. She got some money together for Yuzu. But that was it—there was nobody else. Her parents didn’t know, and neither did Aka or Ao. This was our secret, just the three of us. But I think it’s okay, now, to reveal it. Especially to you.”

  “And Yuzu kept insisting I was the one who’d gotten her pregnant?”

  “She was very insistent about that, yes.”

  Tsukuru narrowed his eyes and stared at the coffee cup Eri was holding. “But why? Why did she say I did it? I can’t think of a single reason.”

  “I really don’t know,” Eri said. “I can imagine a number of possibilities, none of which are very convincing. I just can’t explain it. The only plausible reason I can think of is because I liked you. That might have triggered it.”

  Tsukuru looked at her in surprise. “You liked me?”

  “You didn’t know that?”

  “Of course not. I had no idea.”

  Eri gave a wry smile. “I guess it’s okay to tell you now, but I always liked you. I was really attracted to you. Actually, I was in love with you. I always kept it secret, and never told anyone. I don’t think Ao or Aka were aware of it. Yuzu knew, of course. Girls can never hide anything from each other.”

  “I never knew,” Tsukuru said.

  “That’s because you were a moron,” Eri said, pressing an index finger to her temple. “We were together that long, and I tried sending out signals. If you’d had even half a brain, you would have picked up on them.” Tsukuru pondered these signals, but couldn’t come up with a thing.

  “You remember how you used to tutor me in math after school?” Eri said. “It made me so happy.”

  “You never could grasp the principles of calculus,” Tsukuru said. He suddenly recalled how Eri’s cheeks would blush sometimes. “You’re absolutely right. I’m a little slow on the uptake.”

  Eri gave a tiny smile. “About things like that you are. And besides, you were attracted to Yuzu.”

  Tsukuru was about to say something, but Eri cut him off. “No need to explain. You weren’t the only one. Everybody was attracted to her. How could they not be? She was so fresh, so beautiful. Like Disney’s Snow White. But not me. As long as I was with her, I was always a bit player, like the Seven Dwarfs. But that was unavoidable. Yuzu and I had been best friends since junior high. I just had to adapt to that role.”

  “Are you saying that Yuzu was jealous? Because you liked me?”

  Eri shook her head. “All I’m saying is that maybe that was one latent reason. I’m no psychoanalyst. At any rate, Yuzu insisted to the bitter end that you stole her virginity at your place in Tokyo. For her, this was the definitive version of the truth, and she never wavered. Even now I don’t understand where that delusion came from, and why she clung to that distorted version of reality. I don’t think anybody can ever explain it. But I do think that sometimes a certain kind of dream can be even stronger than reality. That’s the dream she had. Maybe that’s what it was. Please understand, I did feel awful for you.”

  “Was Yuzu ever attracted to me?”

  “No, she wasn’t,” Eri said tersely. “Yuzu was never interested in anyone of the opposite sex.”

  Tsukuru frowned. “She was a lesbian?”

  Eri shook her head again. “No, that’s not it. She didn’t have those tendencies at all. I’m positive. It’s just that Yuzu always had a strong aversion to anything sexual. A fear of sex, you might say. I don’t know where those feelings came from. The two of us were very open with each other about almost everything, but we hardly ever talked about sex. I was up-front about sexual things myself, but whenever sex came up, Yuzu quickly changed the subject.”

  “What happened to her after the miscarriage?” Tsukuru asked.

  “She took a leave of absence from college. In her condition, there was no way she could be around other people. She told them she had health issues, and stayed holed up at home and never went out. Before long, she developed a severe eating disorder. She vomited up almost everything she ate, and gave herself enemas to get rid of the rest. If she’d gone on that way, I don’t think she would have survived. I made her see a counselor, and somehow she was able to get over the eating disorder. It took about a half a year. At one point it was so awful that she was down to under ninety pounds, and she looked like a ghost. But she pulled out of it and reached the point, barely, where she could cling to life. I went to see her almost every day, talking with her, encouraging her, doing whatever I could to keep her going. After a year away from college, she managed to return to school.”

  “Why do you think she developed an eating disorder?”

  “It’s quite simple. She wanted to stop having periods,” Eri said. “Extreme weight loss stops you from having periods. That’s what she was hoping for. She didn’t want to ever get pregnant again, and probably didn’t want to be a woman anymore. She wanted, if possible, to have her womb removed.”

/>   “Sounds pretty serious,” Tsukuru said.

  “It was, very serious. That’s why the only thing I could do was cut you off. I felt really bad for you, and believe me, I knew how cruelly I was treating you. For me it was especially hard not to be able to see you again. It’s true. I felt like I was being ripped apart. Like I said before, I really liked you.”

  Eri paused, gazing at her hands on the table as if gathering her feelings, and then she went on.

  “But I had to help Yuzu recover. That had to be my highest priority. She had life-threatening issues she was dealing with, and she needed my help. So the only thing I could do was make you swim alone through the cold night sea. I knew you could do it. You were strong enough to make it.”

  The two of them were silent for a time. The leaves on the trees outside rippled in the wind.

  Tsukuru broke the silence. “So Yuzu recovered and graduated from college. What happened after that?”

  “She was still seeing a counselor once a week but was able to pretty much lead a normal life. At least she didn’t look like a ghost anymore. But by then she was no longer the Yuzu we used to know.”

  Eri took a breath, choosing her words.

  “She had changed,” Eri finally said. “It’s like everything had drained out of her heart, like any interest in the outside world had disappeared. She no longer cared much about music. It was painful to see. She still enjoyed teaching music to children, though—that passion never left her. Even when her condition was at its worst, when she was so weak she could barely stand up, she managed to drag herself once a week to the church school where she taught piano to kids. She kept on doing that volunteer work alone. I think the desire to continue that project was what helped her recover. If she hadn’t had that work, she might never have made it.”

  Eri turned around and gazed out the window at the sky above the trees. She faced forward again and looked directly at Tsukuru. The sky was still covered with a thin layer of clouds.

  “By this time, though, Yuzu didn’t have that sense of unconditional friendship toward me that she’d had when we were younger. She said she was grateful to me, for everything I’d done for her. And I think she really was. But at the same time, she’d lost any interest in me. Like I said, Yuzu had lost interest in almost everything. And I was part of this almost everything. It was painful to admit. We’d been best friends for so long, and I really cared about her. But that’s the way it was. By then I wasn’t indispensable to her anymore.”

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