Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami
“Examples?” Midorikawa said. He took a drink of sake and frowned. “But sometimes when an actual example appears, it all comes down to a question of whether or not you accept it, or if you believe it. There’s no middle ground. You have to make a mental leap. Logic can’t really help you out.”
“Maybe it can’t. Logic isn’t some convenient manual you just consult. Later on, though, you should be able to apply logic to any given situation.”
“But by then it might be too late.”
“But that has nothing to do with logic.”
Midorikawa smiled. “You’re right, of course. Even if you find out, down the road, that it is too late, that’s different from the logic of it. That’s a sound argument. No room for debate.”
“Have you ever had that kind of experience, Mr. Midorikawa? Accepting something, believing it, taking a leap beyond logic?”
“No,” Midorikawa said. “I don’t believe in anything. Not in logic, or illogic. Not in God, or the devil. No extension of a hypothesis, nothing like a leap. I just silently accept everything as it is. That’s my basic problem, really. I can’t erect a decent barrier between subject and object.”
“But you’re so gifted, musically.”
“You think so?”
“Your music can move people. I don’t know much about jazz, but that much I can tell.”
Midorikawa grudgingly shook his head. “Talent can be a nice thing to have sometimes. You look good, attract attention, and if you’re lucky, you make some money. Women flock to you. In that sense, having talent’s preferable to having none. But talent only functions when it’s supported by a tough, unyielding physical and mental focus. All it takes is one screw in your brain to come loose and fall off, or some connection in your body to break down, and your concentration vanishes, like the dew at dawn. A simple toothache, or stiff shoulders, and you can’t play the piano well. It’s true. I’ve actually experienced it. A single cavity, one aching shoulder, and the beautiful vision and sound I hoped to convey goes out the window. The human body’s that fragile. It’s a complex system that can be damaged by something very trivial, and in most cases once it’s damaged, it can’t easily be restored. A cavity or stiff shoulder you can get over, but there are a lot of things you can’t get past. If talent’s the foundation you rely on, and yet it’s so unreliable that you have no idea what’s going to happen to it the next minute, what meaning does it have?”
“Talent might be ephemeral,” Haida replied, “and there aren’t many people who can sustain it their whole lives. But talent makes a huge spiritual leap possible. It’s an almost universal, independent phenomenon that transcends the individual.”
Midorikawa pondered that for a while before replying. “Mozart and Schubert died young, but their music lives on forever. Is that what you mean?”
“That would be one example.”
“That kind of talent is always the exception. Most people like that have to pay a price for their genius—through accepting foreshortened lives and untimely deaths. They strike a bargain, putting their lives on the line. Whether that bargain’s with God or the devil, I wouldn’t know.” Midorikawa sighed and was silent for a while. “Changing the subject a little,” he went on, “but actually—I’m dying. I have only a month left.”
It was Haida’s turn now to be silent. No words came to him.
“I’m not battling a disease or anything,” Midorikawa said. “I’m in good health. And I’m not contemplating suicide. If that’s what you were thinking, you can rest easy.”
“Then how do you know you only have a month left?”
“Someone told me that. You have only two months left to live, he said. That was a month ago.”
“Who would ever say something like that?”
“It wasn’t a doctor, or a fortune-teller. Just an ordinary person. Though at that point he was dying, too.” Young Haida turned this over in his mind, but a logical foothold eluded him. “Then did you … come here looking for a place to die?”
“You could say that.”
“I can’t totally follow you, but isn’t there some way you can avoid death?”
“There is one way,” Midorikawa said. “You take that capacity—a death token, if you will—and transfer it to somebody else. What I mean is, you find somebody else to die in your place. You pass them the baton, tell them, ‘Okay, your turn,’ and then leave. Do that, and you’ll avoid death, for the time being. But I don’t plan to. I’ve been thinking for a long time that I’d like to die as soon as possible. Maybe this is just what I need.”
“So you think it’s okay to die, as you are now?”
“Life has gotten to be too much. I have no problem with dying as I am. I don’t have the energy to go out and find a method to help me take my life. But quietly accepting death, that I can handle.”
“But how, exactly, do you hand over this death token to somebody else?”
Midorikawa shrugged, as if he didn’t really care. “It’s easy. The other person just has to understand what I’m saying, accept it, give their complete consent, and agree to take on the token. Then the transfer is complete. It can be a verbal agreement. A handshake is fine. No need for a signed, sealed document or contract or anything. It isn’t some kind of bureaucratic thing.”
Haida inclined his head. “But it can’t be easy to find somebody willing to take it over from you, if taking over means they’re going to die soon.”
“That’s a reasonable point,” Midorikawa said. “You can’t bring up this idea with just anybody. Can’t just sidle up to somebody and whisper, Excuse me, but would you die in my place? You have to be very careful who you pick. Here’s where things get a little tricky.”
Midorikawa slowly gazed around the room, and cleared his throat.
“Every person has their own color. Did you know that?” he said.
“No, I didn’t.”
“Each individual has their own unique color, which shines faintly around the contours of their body. Like a halo. Or a backlight. I’m able to see those colors clearly.”
Midorikawa poured himself another cup of sake and sipped it, leisurely savoring the taste.
“Is this ability to detect colors something you were born with?” Haida asked, dubiously.
Midorikawa shook his head. “No, it’s not innate; it’s a temporary ability. You get it in exchange for accepting imminent death. And it’s passed along from one person to the next. Right now, I’m the one who’s been entrusted with it.”
Young Haida was silent for a while. No words came to him.
“There are colors I really like in the world,” Midorikawa said, “and ones I hate. Pleasant colors, sad colors. Some people have a very deep color, while for others it’s fainter. It can get really tiring, because you see all these colors even if you don’t want to. I don’t like to be in crowds much because of that. It’s why I wound up in this remote place.”
Haida could barely follow along. “So you’re telling me you can see what color I’m giving off?”
“Yes, of course. Though I’m not about to tell you what color it is,” Midorikawa said. “What I need to do is find people who have a certain type of color, with a certain glow. Those are the only ones I can transfer the death token to. I can’t hand it over to just anybody.”
“Are there many people in the world with that color and glow?”
“Not so many. My guess would be one in a thousand, or maybe two thousand. They’re not so easy to find, but not impossible, either. What’s harder is finding the opportunity to sit down with them and discuss it seriously. As you can imagine, that’s not easy.”
“But what sort of people would they be? People who would be willing to die in place of somebody they don’t even know?”
Midorikawa smiled. “What kind of people? I really can’t say. All I know is, they have a certain color, a certain depth of glow outlining their bodies. Those are only external qualities. If I were to venture a guess—and this is just my personal opinion, mind yo
“Okay, granted they’re unafraid of taking a leap, but why are they leaping?” Midorikawa didn’t say anything for a while. In the silence, the flow of the mountain stream sounded more intense. Finally, he grinned.
“Now comes my sales pitch.”
“This I’d like to hear,” Haida said.
“At the point when you agree to take on death, you gain an extraordinary capacity. A special power, you could call it. Perceiving the colors that people emit is merely one function of that power, but at the root of it all is an ability to expand your consciousness. You’re able to push open what Aldous Huxley calls ‘the doors of perception.’ Your perception becomes pure and unadulterated. Everything around you becomes clear, like the fog lifting. You have an omniscient view of the world and see things you’ve never seen before.”
“Is your performance the other day a result of that ability?”
Midorikawa gave a short shake of his head. “No, that was just what I’ve always been capable of. I’ve played like that for years. Perception is complete in and of itself; it doesn’t reveal itself in an outward, concrete manifestation. There are no tangible benefits to it, either. It’s not easy to explain in words. You have to experience it to understand. One thing I can say, though, is that once you see that true sight with your own eyes, the world you’ve lived in up till now will look flat and insipid. There’s no logic or illogic in that scene. No good or evil. Everything is merged into one. And you are one part of that merging. You leave the boundary of your physical body behind to become a metaphysical being. You become intuition. It’s at once a wonderful sensation and a hopeless one, because, almost at the last minute, you realize how shallow and superficial your life has been. And you shudder at the fact that up to that point you’ve been able to stand such a life.”
“And you think it’s worth experiencing this sensation, even if it means taking on death? And you only have it for a little while?”
Midorikawa nodded. “Absolutely. It’s that valuable.
I guarantee it.”
Haida was quiet for a while.
“So what do you think?” Midorikawa said and smiled. “Are you starting to get interested in accepting that token?”
“Could I ask a question?”
“Go right ahead.”
“Are you—possibly telling me that I’m one of those few people with that certain color and certain glow? One in a thousand, or two thousand?”
“You are. I knew it the minute I saw you.”
“So I’m one of those people who would want to take a leap?”
“That’s hard to say. I don’t really know. That’s something you need to ask yourself, don’t you think?”
“But you said you don’t want to pass that token on to anyone else.”
“Sorry about that,” the pianist said. “I plan on dying, and I don’t feel like handing over that right. I’m like a salesman who doesn’t want to sell anything.”
“If you die, though, what happens to the token?”
“You got me. Good question. Maybe it’ll simply vanish along with me. Or maybe it’ll remain, in some form, and be passed along again from one person to the next. Like Wagner’s ring. I have no idea, and frankly, I don’t care. I mean, I’m not responsible for what happens after I’m gone.”
Haida tried creating some sort of order in his mind for all these ideas, but they wouldn’t line up neatly.
“So, what I told you isn’t one bit logical, is it?” Midorikawa said.
“It’s a fascinating story, but hard to believe,” Haida admitted.
“Because there’s no logical explanation?”
“No way to prove it.”
“The only way you know if it’s real or not, the only way to prove it, is by actually making the deal. Isn’t that how it works?”
Midorikawa nodded. “Exactly. Unless you take the leap, you can’t prove it. And once you actually make the leap, there’s no need to prove it anymore. There’s no middle ground. You either take the leap, or you don’t. One or the other.”
“Aren’t you afraid of dying?”
“Not really. I’ve watched lots of good-for-nothing, worthless people die, and if people like that can do it, then I should be able to handle it.”
“Do you ever think about what comes after death?”
“The afterworld, and the afterlife? Those kinds of things?”
“I made up my mind not to think about them,” Midorikawa said as he rubbed his beard. “It’s a waste of time to think about things you can’t know, and things you can’t confirm even if you know them. In the final analysis, that’s no different from the slippery slope of hypotheses you were talking about.”
Haida drew a deep breath. “Why did you tell me all this?”
“I’ve never told anybody until now, and never planned to,” Midorikawa said, and took a drink. “I was just going to quietly vanish by myself. But when I saw you, I thought, Now here’s a man worth telling.”
“And you don’t care whether or not I believe you?”
Midorikawa, his eyes looking sleepy, gave a slight yawn.
“I don’t care if you believe it. Because sooner or later you will. Someday you will die. And when you’re dying—I have no idea when or how that will happen, of course—you will definitely remember what I told you. And you will totally accept what I said, and understand every detail of the logic behind it. The real logic. All I did was sow the seeds.”
It had started raining again, a soft, quiet rain. The rushing stream drowned out the sound of the rain. Haida could tell it was raining only by the slight variation in the air against his skin.
Sitting in that small room across from Midorikawa suddenly felt strange to him, as if they were in the midst of something impossible, something at odds with the principles of nature. Haida grew dizzy. In the still air he’d caught a faint whiff of death, the smell of slowly rotting flesh. But it had to be an illusion. Nobody there was dead yet.
“You’ll be going back to college in Tokyo before much longer,” Midorikawa quietly stated. “And you’ll return to real life. You need to live it to the fullest. No matter how shallow and dull things might get, this life is worth living. I guarantee it. And I’m not being either ironic or paradoxical. It’s just that, for me, what’s worthwhile in life has become a burden, something I can’t shoulder anymore. Maybe I’m just not cut out for it. So, like a dying cat, I’ve crawled into a quiet, dark place, silently waiting for my time to come. It’s not so bad. But you’re different. You should be able to handle what life sends your way. You need to use the thread of logic, as best you can, to skillfully sew onto yourself everything that’s worth living for.”
“That’s the end of the story,” Haida, the son, said. “In the morning, two days after that conversation, while my father was out taking care of some business, Midorikawa left the inn. Just like when he arrived, with one bag slung over his shoulder, hiking the three kilometers down the mountain to the bus stop. My father never found out where he went. Midorikawa paid his bill for the previous day and took off without a word, or any message for my father. All he left behind was a stack of mystery novels. Not long after this, my father returned to Tokyo. He reentered college and concentrated on his studies. I don’t know if meeting Midorikawa was the catalyst that ended his long journey, but hearing my father tell the story, I get the sense that it played a big part.”
Haida sat up on the sofa, reached out with his long fingers, and massaged his ankles.
“After my father got back to Tokyo, he checked to see if there were jazz pianists named Midorikawa, but he couldn’t find anyone by that name. Maybe he’d used an alias. So he never found out, to this day, if the man really did die a month later.”
“But your father’s alive and well, right?” Tsukuru asked.
Haida nodded. “He still
“Did your father believe that weird story Midorikawa told him? Didn’t he think it was just a clever story designed to pull his leg?”
“You know, it’s hard to say. I think for my father, at the time, it wasn’t an issue of whether or not he believed it. I think he totally accepted it as the weird tale it was. Like the way a snake will swallow its prey and not chew it, but instead let it slowly digest.”
Haida stopped at this point and took a deep breath.
“I guess I am pretty sleepy now. How about we go to bed?”
It was nearly 1 a.m. Tsukuru went to his bedroom, and Haida got the sofa ready and turned off the light. As Tsukuru lay in bed in his pajamas, he heard water rushing by in a mountain stream. But that was impossible, of course. They were in the middle of Tokyo.
He soon fell into a deep sleep.
That night, several strange things happened.
Five days after they’d talked in the bar in Ebisu, Tsukuru emailed Sara from his computer, inviting her to dinner. Her reply came from Singapore. “I’ll be back in Japan in two days,” she wrote, “and I’m free Saturday evening, the day after I get back. I’m glad you got in touch. There’s something I want to talk with you about.”
Something to talk about? Tsukuru had no idea what that might be. But the thought of seeing her again cheered him up, and made him realize once more how much he wanted her. When he didn’t see her for a while it was as if something vital were missing from his life, and a dull ache settled in his chest. He hadn’t felt this way in a long time.
The three days after this exchange, though, were hectic for Tsukuru, as a sudden, unexpected assignment came up. A plan for the joint use of a subway line ran into a snag when it was discovered that a difference in the shape of the train cars created a safety issue (why couldn’t they have told us about such a critical issue beforehand? Tsukuru asked himself), and necessitated emergency repairs of platforms at several stations. Tsukuru’s job was to create the repair schedule. He worked nearly around the clock, but still managed to free up his calendar so he could take off from Saturday evening to Sunday morning. On Saturday he set out from his office, still in his suit, to the place he and Sara were to meet in Aoyama. On the subway he fell sound asleep, nearly missing his transfer at Akasaka-Mitsuke.
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