Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

  Eri stared for a while at an imaginary spot above the table, and then spoke.

  “Yuzu wasn’t Snow White anymore. Or maybe she was too worn out to be Snow White. And I was a bit tired myself of being the Seven Dwarfs.”

  Eri half unconsciously picked up her coffee cup, then returned it to the table.

  “At any rate, by then our wonderful group—the group of four, minus you—couldn’t function the way it had in the past. Everyone had graduated from school and was busy with their own lives. It’s an obvious thing to say, but we weren’t high school kids anymore. And needless to say, cutting you off left behind emotional scars in all of us. Scars that weren’t superficial.”

  Tsukuru was silent, listening intently to her words.

  “You were gone, but you were always there,” Eri said.

  Once more, a short silence.

  “Eri, I want to know more about you,” Tsukuru said. “What brought you to where you are now—that’s what I’d first like to know.”

  Eri narrowed her eyes and tilted her head slightly. “From my late teens until my early twenties, Yuzu had me totally under her sway. One day I looked around me and realized I was fading. I’d been hoping to get work as a writer. I always enjoyed writing. I wanted to write novels, poems, things of that nature. You knew about that, right?”

  Tsukuru nodded. Eri had carried around a thick notebook, always jotting down ideas when the urge came over her.

  “But in college I couldn’t manage that. Taking care of Yuzu constantly, it was all I could do to keep up with my schoolwork. I had two boyfriends in college but not much came of it—I was too busy spending time with Yuzu to go on dates very often. Nothing worked out for me. One day I just stopped and asked myself: What in the world are you doing with your life? I had no goals anymore and I was just spinning my wheels, watching my self-confidence disappear. I know things were hard for Yuzu, but you have to understand that they were hard for me, too.”

  Eri’s eyes narrowed again, as if she were gazing at some distant scene.

  “A friend from college asked me to go to a pottery class and I went along, kind of as a lark. And that’s where I discovered what I’d been searching for, after so long. Spinning the potter’s wheel, I felt like I could be totally honest with myself. Focusing on creating something helped me to forget everything else. From that day on, I’ve been totally absorbed in pottery. In college it was still just a hobby, but after that, I wanted to become a full-fledged potter. I graduated from college, worked part-time jobs for a year while I studied, then reentered school, this time in the industrial arts department. Goodbye novels, hello pottery. While I was working on my pottery, I met Edvard, who was in Japan as an exchange student. Eventually we got married and moved here. Life is a total surprise sometimes. If my friend hadn’t invited me to the pottery class, I’d be living a completely different life now.”

  “You really seem to have a talent for it,” Tsukuru said, pointing to the pottery on the shelves. “I don’t know much about pottery, but I get a wonderful feeling when I look at your pieces, and hold them.”

  Eri smiled. “I don’t know about talent. But my work sells pretty well here. It doesn’t bring in much money, but I’m really happy that other people need what I create.”

  “I know what you mean,” Tsukuru said, “since I make things myself. Very different things from yours, though.”

  “As different as stations and plates.”

  “We need both in our lives.”

  “Of course,” Eri said. She thought about something. The smile gradually faded from her lips. “I like it here. I imagine I’ll stay here for the rest of my life.”

  “You won’t go back to Japan?”

  “I’ve taken Finnish citizenship now, and have gotten a lot better at speaking the language. The winters are hard to get through, I’ll admit that, but then it gives me more time to read. Maybe I’ll find I want to write again. The children are used to Finland now and have friends here. And Edvard is a good man. His family’s good to us, too, and my work is going well.”

  “And you’re needed here.”

  Eri raised her head and looked fixedly at Tsukuru.

  “It was when I heard that Yuzu had been murdered by somebody that I decided I could stay here the rest of my life. Ao called and told me. I was pregnant with my older girl then and couldn’t attend the funeral. It was a terrible thing for me. I felt like my chest was about to be ripped apart. Knowing that Yuzu had been killed like that, in some unknown place, and that she’d been cremated and was nothing more than ash. Knowing that I’d never see her again. I made up my mind then and there that if I had a girl, I’d name her Yuzu. And that I’d never go back to Japan.”

  “So your daughter’s name is Yuzu?”

  “Yuzu Kurono Haatainen,” she said. “A part of Yuzu lives on, in that name, at least.”

  “But why did Yuzu go off by herself to Hamamatsu?”

  “She went there soon after I moved to Finland. I don’t know why. We wrote letters to each other regularly, but she didn’t tell me anything about the reasons behind her move. She simply said it was because of work. But there were any number of jobs she could have had in Nagoya, and for her to move to some place she’d never been before, and live all alone, was the same as committing suicide.”

  Yuzu was found inside her apartment in Hamamatsu, strangled to death with a cloth belt. Tsukuru had read the details in old newspapers and magazines. He’d searched online, too, to find out more about the case.

  Robbery wasn’t involved. Her purse, with cash still in it, was found nearby. And there were no signs she’d been assaulted. Nothing was disturbed in her apartment, and there were no signs of a struggle. Residents on the same floor had heard no suspicious sounds. There were a couple of menthol cigarette butts in an ashtray, but these turned out to be Yuzu’s. (Tsukuru had frowned at this. Yuzu smoked?) The estimated time of death was between 10 p.m. and midnight, a night when it rained till dawn, a cold rain for a May night. Her body was discovered in the evening, three days later. She’d lain there for three days, on the faux tile flooring of her kitchen.

  They never discovered the motive for the murder. Someone had come late at night, strangled her without making a sound, not stolen or disturbed anything else, and then left. The door locked automatically. It was unclear whether she had opened it from the inside or if the murderer had a duplicate key. She lived alone in the apartment. Coworkers and neighbors said she didn’t seem to have any close friends. Except for her older sister and mother, who occasionally visited from Nagoya, she was always alone. She wore simple clothes and struck everyone who knew her as rather meek and quiet. She was enthusiastic about her job, and was well liked by her students, but outside of work, she seemed to have no friends.

  No one had any idea what had led to her death, why she had ended up strangled. The police investigation petered out without any suspects coming to light. Articles about the case grew steadily shorter, and finally vanished altogether. It was a sad, painful case. Like cold rain falling steadily until dawn.

  “An evil spirit possessed her,” Eri said softly, as if revealing a secret. “It clung to her, breathing coldly on her neck, slowly driving her in a corner. That’s the only thing that can explain all that happened to her. What happened with you, her eating disorder, what happened in Hamamatsu. I never actually wanted to put it into words. It’s like, if I did, it would really exist. So I kept it to myself all this time. I decided to never talk about it, until the day I died. But I don’t mind telling you this now, since we’ll probably never see each other again. And you need to know this. It was an evil spirit—or something close to it. In the end, Yuzu couldn’t escape.”

  Eri sighed deeply and stared at her hands on the table. Her hands were visibly shaking, rather severely. Tsukuru turned his gaze away and looked out the window, past the fluttering curtain. The silence that settled on the room was oppressive, full of a deep sadness. Unspoken feelings were as heavy and lonely as the ancient gl
acier that had carved out the deep lake.

  “Do you remember Liszt’s Years of Pilgrimage? Yuzu used to play one of the pieces a lot,” Tsukuru said after a time to break the silence.

  “ ‘Le mal du pays.’ I remember it well,” Eri said. “I listen to it sometimes. Would you like to hear it?”

  Tsukuru nodded.

  Eri stood up, went over to the small stereo set in the cabinet, selected a CD from the pile of discs, and inserted it into the player. “Le mal du pays” filtered out from the speakers, the simple opening melody, softly played with one hand. Eri sat back down across from him, and the two of them silently listened to the music.

  Listening to the music here, next to a lake in Finland, it had a different sort of charm from when he heard it back in his apartment in Tokyo. But no matter where he listened to it, regardless of whether he heard it on a CD or an old LP, the music remained the same, utterly engaging and beautiful. Tsukuru pictured Yuzu at the piano in her parlor, playing the piece, leaning over the keyboard, eyes closed, lips slightly open, searching for words that don’t make a sound. She was apart from herself then, in some other place.

  The piece ended, there was a pause, then the next piece began. “The Bells of Geneva.” Eri touched the remote control and lowered the volume.

  “It strikes me as different from the performance I always listen to at home,” Tsukuru said.

  “Which pianist do you listen to?”

  “Lazar Berman.”

  Eri shook her head. “I’ve never heard his version.”

  “It’s a little more elegant than this one. I like this performance, it’s wonderful, but the style of this version makes it sound more like a Beethoven sonata than Liszt.”

  Eri smiled. “That would be because it’s Alfred Brendel. Maybe it’s not so elegant, but I like it all the same. I guess I’m used to this version, since it’s the one I always listen to.”

  “Yuzu played this piece so beautifully. She put so much feeling into it.”

  “She really did. She was very good at pieces this length. In longer pieces she sort of ran out of energy halfway through. But everyone has their own special qualities. I always feel like a part of Yuzu lives on in this music. It’s so vibrant, so luminous.”

  When Yuzu was teaching the children at the school, Tsukuru and Ao usually played soccer with the boys in the small playground outside. They divided into two teams and tried to shoot the ball into the opposite goal (which was usually constructed from a couple of cardboard boxes). As he passed the ball, Tsukuru would half listen to the sound of children playing scales that filtered out the window.

  The past became a long, razor-sharp skewer that stabbed right through his heart. Silent silver pain shot through him, transforming his spine to a pillar of ice. The pain remained, unabated. He held his breath, shut his eyes tight, enduring the agony. Alfred Brendel’s graceful playing continued. The CD shifted to the second suite, “Second Year: Italy.”

  And in that moment, he was finally able to accept it all. In the deepest recesses of his soul, Tsukuru Tazaki understood. One heart is not connected to another through harmony alone. They are, instead, linked deeply through their wounds. Pain linked to pain, fragility to fragility. There is no silence without a cry of grief, no forgiveness without bloodshed, no acceptance without a passage through acute loss. That is what lies at the root of true harmony.

  “Tsukuru, it’s true. She lives on in so many ways.” Eri’s voice, from the other side of the table, was husky, as if forced from her. “I can feel it. In all the echoes that surround us, in the light, in shapes, in every single …”

  Eri covered her face with her hands. No other words came. Tsukuru wasn’t sure if she was crying or not. If she was, she did so silently.

  While Ao and Tsukuru played soccer, Eri and Aka did their best to keep the other children from interrupting Yuzu’s piano lessons. They did whatever they could to occupy the kids—they read books, played games, went outside, and sang songs. Most of the time, though, these attempts failed. The children never tired of trying to disrupt the piano lessons. They found this much more interesting than anything else. Eri and Aka’s fruitless struggle to divert them was fun to watch.

  Almost without thinking, Tsukuru stood up and went around to the opposite side of the table. Without a word he laid his hand on Eri’s shoulder. She still had her face in her hands. As he touched her, he felt her trembling, a trembling the eye couldn’t detect.

  “Tsukuru?” Eri’s voice leaked out from between her fingers. “Could you do something for me?”

  “Of course,” Tsukuru said.

  “Could you hold me?”

  Tsukuru asked her to stand up, then drew her to him. Her full breasts lay tightly against his chest, as if testimony to something. Her hands were warm where she held his back, her cheek soft and wet as it pressed against his neck.

  “I don’t think I’ll ever go back to Japan again,” Eri murmured. Her warm, damp breath brushed his ear. “Everything I see would remind me of Yuzu. And of our—”

  Tsukuru said nothing, only continued to hold her tightly against him.

  Their embrace would be visible through the open window. Someone might pass by and see them. Edvard and his children might be back at any moment. But that didn’t matter. They didn’t care what others thought. He and Eri had to hold each other now, as much as they wanted. They had to let their skin touch, and drive away the long shadow cast by evil spirits. This was, no doubt, why he’d come here in the first place.

  They held each other for a long time—how long he couldn’t say. The white curtain at the window went on flapping in the breeze that came from across the lake. Eri’s cheeks stayed wet, and Alfred Brendel went on playing the “Second Year: Italy” suite. “Petrarch’s Sonnet 47,” then “Petrarch’s Sonnet 104.” Tsukuru knew every note. He could have hummed it all if he’d wanted to. For the first time he understood how deeply he’d listened to this music, and how much it meant to him.

  They didn’t speak. Words were powerless now. Like a pair of dancers who had stopped mid-step, they simply held each other quietly, giving themselves up to the flow of time. Time that encompassed both past and present, and even a portion of the future. Nothing came between their two bodies, as her warm breath brushed his neck. Tsukuru shut his eyes, letting the music wash over him as he listened to Eri’s heartbeat. The beating of her heart kept time with the slap of the little boat against the pier.

  They sat back down again, across from each other at the table, and took turns opening up about what was in their hearts. Things they had not put into words for ages, things they’d been holding back deep in their souls. Removing the lids on their hearts, pulling open the doors of memory, revealing honest feelings, as the other, all the while, listened quietly.

  Eri spoke first.

  “In the end I abandoned Yuzu. I had to get away from her. I wanted to get as far away as I could from whatever it was that possessed her. That’s why I got into pottery, married Edvard, and moved to Finland. I didn’t plan it, of course, it just turned out that way. I did sort of have the feeling that doing so meant I’d never have to take care of Yuzu again. I loved her more than I loved anyone—she was like another self—so I wanted to help her as much as I could. But I was exhausted. Taking care of her for so long had completely worn me out. And no matter how much I tried to help her, I couldn’t stop her retreat from reality. It was awful for me. If I’d stayed in Nagoya, I think my mind would have started to go, too. I don’t know, maybe I’m just making excuses?”

  “You’re just saying how you felt. That’s different from making excuses.”

  Eri bit her lip. “But the fact remains that I abandoned her. And Yuzu went by herself to Hamamatsu and was murdered. She had the most slender, lovely neck, do you remember? Like a pretty bird, the kind of neck that could snap so easily. If I’d been in Japan that probably would never have happened to her. I would never have let her go off to some town she didn’t know, all by herself.”

p; “Perhaps. But even if it hadn’t been then, the same thing might have happened later, in some other place. You weren’t Yuzu’s guardian. You couldn’t keep watch over her every second of every day. You had your own life. There’s only so much you could have done.”

  Eri shook her head. “I told myself that, I don’t know how many times. But it didn’t help. A part of me wanted to get far away from her, to protect myself. I can’t deny that. Apart from the question of her being saved or not, I had to deal with my own conflict. And in the process, I lost you, too. In giving priority to the problems Yuzu had, I had to abandon Tsukuru Tazaki, who had done nothing wrong. I wounded you deeply, all because it suited the situation as I saw it. Even though I loved you so much …”

  Tsukuru didn’t say a word.

  “But that’s not the whole story,” Eri said.


  “Truthfully, I didn’t abandon you just because of Yuzu. That’s a superficial justification. I did it because I’m a coward. I didn’t have any confidence in myself as a woman. I was sure that no matter how much I loved you, you would never reciprocate. I was sure you were in love with Yuzu. That’s why I was able to cut you off so cruelly. I did it to sever my feelings for you. If I had only had a little more confidence and courage, and no stupid pride, I never would have abandoned you like that, no matter what the circumstances. But something was wrong with me back then. I know I did something terrible. And I am truly sorry for it.”

  Silence descended on them.

  “I should have apologized to you a long time ago,” Eri finally said. “I know that very well. But I just couldn’t. I was too ashamed of myself.”

  “You don’t need to worry about me anymore,” Tsukuru said. “I survived the crisis. Swam through the night sea on my own. Each of us did what we had to do, in order to survive. I get the feeling that, even if we had made different decisions then, even if we had chosen to do things differently, we might have still ended up pretty much where we are now.”

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