Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

  Eri bit her lip and considered this. “Will you tell me one thing?” she said after a while.

  “Name it.”

  “If I had come right out then and told you I loved you, would you have gone out with me?”

  “Even if you’d said that right to my face, I probably wouldn’t have believed it,” Tsukuru said.

  “Why not?”

  “I couldn’t imagine anyone saying they loved me, or wanting to be my girlfriend.”

  “But you were kind, cool, and calm, and you’d already figured out your path in life. Plus you were good-looking.”

  Tsukuru shook his head. “I have a really boring face. I’ve never liked my looks.”

  Eri smiled. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe you really do have a very boring face and something was wrong with me. But at least for a silly sixteen-year-old girl, you were handsome enough. I dreamed about how wonderful it would be to have a boyfriend like you.”

  “Can’t claim to have much of a personality either.”

  “Everyone alive has a personality. It’s just more obvious with some people than with others.” Eri’s eyes narrowed and she looked straight at him. “So, tell me—how would you have replied? Would you have let me be your girlfriend?”

  “Of course I would have,” Tsukuru said. “I really liked you. I was really attracted to you, in a different way from how I was attracted to Yuzu. If you had told me then how you felt, of course I would have loved for you to be my girlfriend. And I think we would have been happy together.”

  The two of them would have likely been a close couple, with a fulfilling love life, Tsukuru decided. There would have been so much they could have shared. On the surface, their personalities seemed so different—Tsukuru introverted and reticent, Eri sociable and talkative—yet they both shared a desire to create and build things with their own hands, things that were meaningful. Tsukuru had the feeling, though, that this closeness would have been short-lived. An unavoidable fissure would have grown between what he and Eri wanted from their lives. They were still in their teens then, still discovering their own paths, and eventually they would have reached a fork and gone off in separate directions. Without fighting, without hurting each other, naturally, calmly. And it did turn out that way, didn’t it, Tsukuru thought, with him going to Tokyo and building stations, and Eri marrying Edvard and moving to Finland.

  It wouldn’t have been strange if things had worked out that way. It was entirely possible. And the experience would never have been a negative one for either of them. Even if they were no longer lovers, they would have remained good friends. In reality, though, none of this ever happened. In reality something very different happened. And that fact was more significant now than anything else.

  “Even if you’re not telling the truth, I’m happy you would say that,” Eri said.

  “I am too telling the truth,” Tsukuru said. “I wouldn’t joke about something like that. I think we would have had a wonderful time together. And I’m sorry it never happened. I really am.”

  Eri smiled, with no trace of sarcasm.

  Tsukuru remembered the erotic dream he often had of the two girls. How they were always together, but how it was always Yuzu whose body he came inside. Not once did he ejaculate inside Eri. He wasn’t sure of the significance, but he did know he couldn’t tell Eri about it. No matter how honestly you open up to someone, there are still things you cannot reveal.

  When he thought about those dreams, and Yuzu’s insistence that he had raped her (and her insistence that she was carrying his baby), he found he couldn’t totally dismiss it out of hand as some made-up story, or say that he had no idea what she was talking about. It might have all been a dream, but he still couldn’t escape the feeling that, in some indefinable way, he was responsible. And not just for the rape, but for her murder. On that rainy May night something inside of him, unknown to him, may have slipped away to Hamamatsu and strangled that thin, lovely, fragile neck.

  He could see himself knocking on the door of her apartment. “Can you let me in?” he says, in this vision. “I have something I need to say.” He’s wearing a wet black raincoat, the smell of heavy night rain hovering about him.

  “Tsukuru?” Yuzu asks.

  “There’s something I need to talk with you about,” he says. “It’s very important. That’s why I came to Hamamatsu. It won’t take long. Please open the door.” He keeps on addressing the closed door. “I’m sorry about showing up like this, without calling. But if I had contacted you beforehand, you probably wouldn’t have seen me.”

  Yuzu hesitates, then quietly slips the chain off the lock. His right hand tightly grips the belt inside his pocket.

  Tsukuru grimaced. Why did he have to imagine this horrid scene? And why did he have to be the one who strangled her?

  There were no reasons at all why he would have done that, of course. Tsukuru had never wanted to kill anyone, ever. But maybe he had tried to kill Yuzu, in a purely symbolic way. Tsukuru himself had no idea what deep darkness lay hidden in his heart. What he did know was that inside Yuzu, too, lay a deep, inner darkness, and that somewhere, on some subterranean level, her darkness and his may have connected. And being strangled was, perhaps, exactly what Yuzu had wanted. In the mingled darkness between them, perhaps he had sensed that desire.

  “You’re thinking about Yuzu?” Eri asked.

  “I’ve always thought of myself as a victim,” Tsukuru said. “Forced, for no reason, to suffer cruelly. Deeply wounded emotionally, my life thrown off course. Truthfully, sometimes I hated the four of you, wondering why I was the only one who had to go through that awful experience. But maybe that wasn’t the case. Maybe I wasn’t simply a victim, but had hurt those around me, too, without realizing it. And wounded myself again in the counterattack.”

  Eri gazed at him without a word.

  “And maybe I murdered Yuzu,” Tsukuru said honestly. “Maybe the one who knocked on her door that night was me.”

  “In a certain sense,” Eri said.

  Tsukuru nodded.

  “I murdered Yuzu too,” Eri said. “In a sense.” She looked off to one side. “Maybe I was the one who knocked on her door that night.”

  Tsukuru looked at her nicely tanned profile. He’d always liked her slightly upturned nose.

  “Each of us has to live with that burden,” Eri said.

  The wind had died down for the moment and now the white curtain at the window hung still. The boat had stopped rattling against the pier. The only thing he could hear was the calls of birds, singing a melody he’d never heard before.

  Eri listened to the birds for a while, picked up the barrette, pinned her hair back again, and gently pressed her fingertips against her forehead. “What do you think about the work Aka is doing?” she asked. Like a weight had been removed, the flow of time grew a fraction lighter.

  “I don’t know,” Tsukuru said. “The world he lives in is so far removed from mine, it’s hard for me to say whether it’s good or bad.”

  “I certainly don’t like what he’s doing. But that doesn’t mean I can cut him off. He used to be one of my very best friends, and even now I still consider him a good friend. Though I haven’t seen him in seven or eight years.”

  She put her hand to her hair again. “Every year Aka donates a large sum of money to that Catholic facility that supported the school where we volunteered. The people there are really grateful for what he does. The school’s barely managing financially. But nobody knows he’s donating. He insists on remaining anonymous. I’m probably the only person besides the people who run the school who knows he’s donating so much. I found out about it just by chance. You know, Tsukuru, he’s not a bad person. I want you to understand that. He just pretends to be bad, that’s all. I don’t know why. He probably has to.”

  Tsukuru nodded.

  “And the same holds true for Ao,” Eri said. “He still has a very pure heart. It’s just that it’s hard to survive in the real world. They’ve both been more successful th
an most, in their different fields. They put in a lot of honest, hard work. What I’m trying to say is, it wasn’t a waste for us to have been us—the way we were together, as a group. I really believe that. Even if it was only for a few short years.”

  Eri held her face in her hands again. She was silent for a time, then looked up and continued.

  “We survived. You and I. And those who survive have a duty. Our duty is to do our best to keep on living. Even if our lives are not perfect.”

  “The most I can do is keep building railroad stations.”

  “That’s fine. That’s what you should keep doing. I’m sure you build very wonderful, safe stations that people enjoy using.”

  “I hope so,” Tsukuru said. “We’re not supposed to do this, but when I’m overseeing construction for one section of a station, I always put my name on it. I write it in the wet concrete with a nail. Tsukuru Tazaki. Where you can’t see it from the outside.”

  Eri laughed. “So even after you’re gone, your wonderful stations remain. Just like me putting my initials on the back of my plates.”

  Tsukuru raised his head and looked at Eri. “Is it okay if I talk about my girlfriend?”

  “Of course,” Eri said. A charming smile rose to her lips. “I’d love to hear all about this wise, older girlfriend of yours.”

  Tsukuru told her about Sara. How he had found her strangely attractive from the first time he saw her, and how they made love on their third date. How she had wanted to know everything about the group of friends he’d had in Nagoya. How when he saw her the last time, he’d been impotent. Tsukuru told Eri about it all, hiding nothing. About how Sara had pushed him to visit his former friends in Nagoya and to travel to Finland. She’d told him that unless he did so, he’d never overcome the emotional baggage he still carried. Tsukuru felt he loved Sara. And he thought he would like to marry her. This was probably the first time he’d ever felt such strong emotions about someone. But she seemed to have an older boyfriend. When he saw her walking with him on the street she had looked so happy, so content, and he wasn’t sure he could ever make her that happy.

  Eri listened intently, and didn’t interrupt. Finally, she spoke.

  “You know, Tsukuru, you need to hang on to her. No matter what. I really believe that. If you let her go now, you might not ever have anyone else in your life.”

  “But I don’t have any confidence.”

  “Why not?”

  “Because I have no sense of self. I have no personality, no brilliant color. I have nothing to offer. That’s always been my problem. I feel like an empty vessel. I have a shape, I guess, as a container, but there’s nothing inside. I just can’t see myself as the right person for her. I think that the more time passes, and the more she knows about me, the more disappointed Sara will be, and the more she’ll choose to distance herself from me.”

  “You need to have courage, and be confident in yourself. I mean—I used to love you, right? At one time I would have given myself to you. I would have done whatever you wanted me to do. An actual, hot-blooded woman felt that strongly about you once. That’s how valuable you are. You’re not empty—not at all.”

  “I appreciate you saying that,” Tsukuru said. “I really do. But that was then. What about now? I’m thirty-six, but when I think about who I am, I’m as confused—or maybe more confused—than I’ve ever been. I can’t figure out what I should do. I’ve never felt this strongly about anybody before.”

  “Let’s say you are an empty vessel. So what? What’s wrong with that?” Eri said. “You’re still a wonderful, attractive vessel. And really, does anybody know who they are? So why not be a completely beautiful vessel? The kind people feel good about, the kind people want to entrust with precious belongings.”

  Tsukuru understood what she was getting at. But whether or not this applied to him was another question.

  “When you get back to Tokyo,” Eri said, “tell her everything. Being open and honest is always the best way to go. But don’t tell her you saw her with that other man. Keep that to yourself. There are some things women don’t want other people to see. Besides that, tell her everything you’re feeling.”

  “I’m scared, Eri. If I do something wrong, or say something wrong, I’m scared it will wreck everything and our relationship will vanish forever.”

  Eri slowly shook her head. “It’s no different from building stations. If something is important enough, a little mistake isn’t going to ruin it all, or make it vanish. It might not be perfect, but the first step is actually building the station. Right? Otherwise trains won’t stop there. And you can’t meet the person who means so much to you. If you find some defect, you can adjust it later, as needed. First things first. Build the station. A special station just for her. The kind of station where trains want to stop, even if they have no reason to do so. Imagine that kind of station, and give it actual color and shape. Write your name on the foundation with a nail, and breathe life into it. I know you have the power to do that. Don’t forget—you’re the one who swam across the freezing sea at night.”

  Eri asked him to stay for dinner.

  “They catch big, fresh trout around here. We just fry them up with herbs in a frying pan, but they taste wonderful. We’d love to have you stay and eat with us.”

  “Thank you, but I’d better be getting back. I want to get to Helsinki while it’s still light out.”

  Eri laughed. “Still light out? This is summer in Finland. It’s light out almost the whole night.”

  “I know, but still,” Tsukuru averred.

  Eri understood how he felt.

  “Thank you for coming all this way to see me,” she said. “I can’t tell you how happy I am that we could talk like this. I really feel like a great burden has been lifted, something that’s been weighing me down forever. I’m not saying this solves everything, but it’s been a huge relief.”

  “I feel the same way,” Tsukuru said. “Talking with you has helped a lot. And I’m happy I could meet your husband and daughters, and see what sort of life you’re living here. That alone made the trip worthwhile.”

  They left the cabin and walked over to where his Volkswagen Golf was parked. Slowly, deliberately, as if weighing the significance of each step. They hugged each other once more, and this time, she didn’t cry. He felt her gentle smile on his neck, her full breasts pressed against him, filled with the vitality to keep on living. Her fingers against his back were strong and real.

  Tsukuru suddenly remembered the presents he’d brought from Japan for her and the children. He took them out from his shoulder bag in the car and handed them to her, a boxwood barrette for Eri and Japanese picture books for the children.

  “Thank you, Tsukuru,” Eri said. “You haven’t changed at all. You were always so kind.”

  “It’s nothing,” Tsukuru said. And he remembered the evening when he bought the presents, seeing Sara walking down Omotesando with that other man. If he hadn’t thought to buy the presents, he wouldn’t have witnessed that scene. It was a strange thing.

  “Farewell, Tsukuru Tazaki. Have a safe trip home,” Eri said as they said goodbye. “Don’t let the bad elves get you.”

  “Bad elves?”

  Eri’s eyes narrowed, her lips curling mischievously like in the old days. “It’s a saying we use a lot here. ‘Don’t let the bad elves get you.’ So many creatures have lived in these forests since olden times.”

  “Understood,” Tsukuru laughed. “I’ll keep an eye out for them.”

  “If you get a chance,” Eri said, “let Ao and Aka know that I’m doing well here.”

  “I will.”

  “I think you should go see them sometimes. Or get together, all three of you. For your sake. And for theirs.”

  “I agree. That might be a good idea,” Tsukuru said. “It’d be good for me, too,” Eri said. “Even though I can’t be with you.”

  Tsukuru nodded. “Once things settle down, I’ll make sure to do that. For your sake, too.”

  “But it’s strange, isn’t it?” Eri said.

  “What is?”

  “That amazing time in our lives is gone, and will never return. All the beautiful possibilities we had then have been swallowed up in the flow of time.”

  Tsukuru nodded silently. He thought he should say something, but no words came.

  “Winter here is really long,” Eri said, gazing out at the lake, sounding as if she were addressing herself far away. “The nights are so long and it seems never-ending. Everything freezes solid, like spring will never come. All sorts of dark thoughts come to me. No matter how much I try to avoid them.”

  Still no words came to him. Tsukuru silently followed her gaze to the surface of the lake. It was only later, after he boarded the direct flight back to Narita and had buckled his seat belt, that the words came, the words he should have said. The right words always seemed to come too late.

  He turned the key and started the engine. The four-cylinder Golf engine awoke from its short sleep and slowly found its rhythm.

  “Goodbye,” Eri said. “Be well. And make sure you hold on to Sara. You really need her.”

  “I’ll try.”

  “Tsukuru, there’s one thing I want you to remember. You aren’t colorless. Those were just names. I know we often teased you about it, but it was just a stupid joke. Tsukuru Tazaki is a wonderful, colorful person. A person who builds fantastic stations. A healthy thirty-six-year-old citizen, a voter, a taxpayer—someone who could fly all the way to Finland just to see me. You don’t lack anything. Be confident and be bold. That’s all you need. Never let fear and stupid pride make you lose someone who’s precious to you.”

  He put the car into drive and stepped on the gas. He stuck a hand out the open window and waved. Eri waved back. She kept on waving, her hand held high.

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