Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami
“You look exhausted,” Sara said when she saw him.
Tsukuru explained—as concisely and simply as he could—the reason he had been so busy the last few days.
“I was planning to go home, shower, and change into something more comfortable, but I had to come straight from work,” he said.
Sara took a beautifully wrapped box, long, flat, and narrow, from her shopping bag and handed it to him. “A present, from me to you.”
Tsukuru unwrapped the box and found a necktie inside, an elegant blue tie made of plain silk. Yves Saint Laurent.
“I saw it in the duty-free shop in Singapore and thought you’d look good in it.”
“Thank you. It’s beautiful.”
“Some men don’t like to get ties as gifts.”
“Not me,” Tsukuru said. “I never get the urge to go out to buy a tie. And you have such good taste.”
“I’m glad,” Sara said.
Tsukuru removed the tie he’d been wearing, one with narrow stripes, and put on the one Sara had given him. He was wearing a dark blue summer suit and a plain white shirt, and the blue necktie went well with it. Sara reached over the table and, with a practiced hand, adjusted the knot. Tsukuru caught a pleasant hint of perfume.
“It looks very nice on you,” she said with a smile.
The old tie lying on the table looked more worn out than he’d thought, like some unseemly habit he wasn’t aware he had. The thought struck him that he should start paying more attention to his appearance. At the railroad company office there wasn’t much call to worry about clothes. The workplace was almost entirely male, and as soon as he got to work he’d take off his tie and roll up his sleeves. Much of the time he was out at work sites, where what kind of suit or necktie he wore was irrelevant. And this was the first time in quite a while he’d had a regular girlfriend.
Sara had never given him a present before, and it made him happy. I need to find out when her birthday is, he thought. I should give her something. He thanked her again, then folded the old tie and stuffed it in his jacket pocket.
They were in a French restaurant in the basement level of a building in Aoyama, a restaurant that Sara had been to before. It was an unpretentious place, with reasonably priced wine and food. It was closer to a casual bistro, but the seating was generously spaced to allow for relaxed conversation. The service was friendly, too. They ordered a carafe of red wine and studied the menu.
Sara was wearing a dress with a delicate floral pattern and a thin white cardigan. Both looked like designer items. Tsukuru had no idea how much Sara earned, but she seemed used to spending a fair amount on her wardrobe.
As they ate she told him about her work in Singapore—negotiating hotel prices, selecting restaurants, securing ground transportation, setting up day trips, confirming the availability of medical facilities.… There was a whole array of tasks to take care of in setting up a new tour. Preparing a long checklist, traveling to the destination, and checking each item off one by one. Going to each venue to make sure firsthand that each item was handled properly. The process sounded a lot like the one his company followed when they constructed a new station. As he listened to her, it became clear what a meticulous, competent specialist she was.
“I think I’ll have to go there again sometime soon,” Sara said. “Have you ever been to Singapore?”
“No, I haven’t. Actually I’ve never been out of Japan.
I haven’t had any chance to go on an overseas business trip, and traveling abroad by myself always seemed like too much trouble.”
“Singapore’s fascinating. The food is amazing, and there’s a beautiful resort nearby. It’d be nice if I could show you around.”
He imagined how wonderful it would be to travel abroad with her, just the two of them.
Tsukuru had one glass of wine, as usual, while Sara finished the rest of the carafe. Alcohol didn’t seem to affect her, and no matter how much she drank her face was never flushed. He had beef bourguignon, while she ordered roast duck. After she finished her entrée, she agonized over whether or not to order dessert, and finally decided she’d do so. Tsukuru had a coffee.
“After I saw you last time I’ve really been thinking about things,” Sara said, sipping the tea that rounded out her meal. “About your four friends in high school. About that beautiful community, and your affection for each other.”
Tsukuru gave a small nod, and waited for her to go on.
“I find the story of your group really intriguing. I guess because I’ve never experienced anything like that myself.”
“Maybe it would have been for the best if I never had, either,” Tsukuru said.
“Because you ended up getting hurt?”
“I understand how you feel,” Sara said, with her eyes narrowed. “But even if it ended badly, and you were hurt, I think it was a good thing for you to have met them. It’s not very often that people become that close. And when you think of five people having that sort of connection, well, it’s nothing short of miraculous.”
“I agree. It was kind of a miracle. And I do think it was a good thing for me that it happened,” Tsukuru said. “But that made the shock all the worse when the connection was gone—or snatched from me, I should say. The feeling of loss, the isolation.… Those words don’t come even close to expressing how awful it felt.”
“But more than sixteen years have passed. You’re an adult now, in your late thirties. The pain might have been terrible back then, but isn’t it time to finally get over it?”
“Get over it,” Tsukuru repeated. “What exactly do you mean?”
Sara rested her hands on the table, spreading her ten fingers apart slightly. She wore a ring on the little finger of her left hand, with a small, almond-shaped jewel. She gazed at the ring for a while, then looked up.
“I get the feeling that the time has come for you to find out why you were cut off, or had to be cut off, so abruptly, by those friends of yours.”
Tsukuru was about to drink the rest of his coffee, but he noticed his cup was empty and laid it back down on the saucer. The cup struck the saucer with an unexpectedly loud clatter. The waiter, in response to the noise, hurried over and refilled their glasses with ice water.
Tsukuru waited until the waiter left before he spoke.
“Like I told you, I want to put it all out of my mind. I’ve managed to slowly close up the wound and, somehow, conquer the pain. It took a long time. Now that the wound is closed, why gouge it open again?”
“I understand, but maybe it only appears, from the outside, that the wound is closed.” Sara gazed into his eyes and spoke quietly. “Maybe inside the wound, under the scab, the blood is still silently flowing. Haven’t you ever thought that?”
Tsukuru pondered this, but he had no good reply.
“Can you tell me the full names of those four people? And the name of your high school, the year you graduated, the colleges they attended, and their addresses the last time you were in touch?”
“What are you planning to do with that information?”
“I want to find out as much as I can about where they are now, what they’re doing.”
Tsukuru’s breathing suddenly grew shallow. He picked up his glass and gulped down some water. “What for?”
“So you can meet them, talk with them. So they can explain to you why they abandoned you.”
“But what if I say I don’t want to?”
She turned her hands over on the table, palms up.
She continued to look at Tsukuru directly. Her eyes never broke their gaze.
“Can I be totally candid?” Sara asked.
“It’s not easy to say this.”
“I want to know what you’re thinking, so please, say what’s on your mind.”
“The last time we met, I told you I didn’t want to go back to your place. You remember that? Do you know why I said it?”
Tsukuru shook his head.
Tsukuru looked at her silently.
“This part is a little hard to talk about. It’s hard to express, is what I mean. If I put it into words, it sounds oversimplified. I can’t explain it reasonably, or logically. It’s more of an intuitive thing.”
“I trust your intuition,” Tsukuru said.
Sara bit her lip lightly and looked off, as if measuring a distance, and then spoke. “When we made love, it felt like you were somewhere else. Somewhere apart from the two of us in bed. You were very gentle, and it was wonderful, but still.…”
Tsukuru lifted the empty coffee cup again, wrapping it in both hands. He replaced it on the saucer, this time without making a sound.
“I don’t understand,” he said. “The whole time I was only thinking of you. I don’t remember being elsewhere. Truthfully, I don’t think there was any way I could have thought of anything but you.”
“Maybe. Maybe you were just thinking about me. If you say so, I believe you. But there was something else on your mind. At least I sensed a sort of distance between us. Maybe it’s something only a woman can pick up on. Anyway, what I want you to know is that I can’t continue a relationship like that for very long, even if I’m very fond of you. I’m more possessive, more straightforward than I might seem. If we’re going to have a serious relationship, I don’t want whatever it is to come between us. This unidentifiable something. Do you know what I’m saying?”
“That you don’t want to see me anymore?”
“No, that’s not it,” she said. “I’m fine seeing you and talking like this. I enjoy it a lot. But I don’t want to go back to your place.”
“You mean you can’t make love with me?”
“I can’t,” Sara said bluntly.
“Because I have some—emotional issues?”
“That’s right. You have some problems you’re carrying around, some things that might go much deeper than you realize. But I think they’re the kind of problems you can overcome, if you really make up your mind to do so. Just like you’d set about repairing a defect in a station. To do that, though, you need to collect the necessary data, draw up an accurate blueprint, create a detailed work schedule. Above all, you need to identify your priorities.”
“And to do that, I need to see those four people again and talk with them. Is that what you’re saying?”
She nodded. “You need to come face-to-face with the past, not as some naive, easily wounded boy, but as a grown-up, independent professional. Not to see what you want to see, but what you must see. Otherwise you’ll carry around that baggage for the rest of your life. That’s why I want you to tell me the names of your four friends. I’ll start by finding out where they are now.”
“How will you do that?”
Sara shook her head in amazement. “You graduated from engineering school, but you don’t use the Internet? Haven’t you ever heard of Google or Facebook?”
“I use the Internet at work, sure. And I’m familiar with Google and Facebook. But I hardly ever use them. I’m just not interested.”
“Then leave it to me. That’s what I’m good at,” Sara said.
After dinner they walked to Shibuya. It was a pleasant evening, near the end of spring, and the large, yellow moon was covered in mist. There was a hint of moisture in the air. The hem of Sara’s dress fluttered prettily next to him in the breeze. As he walked, Tsukuru pictured the body underneath those clothes. He thought about making love to her again, and as he pictured this, he felt his penis start to stiffen. He had no problem with feeling those desires—they were, after all, the natural urges and cravings of a healthy adult male. But maybe at the core, at the very root—as Sara had suggested—lay something illogical, something twisted. He couldn’t really say. The more he thought about the boundary between the conscious and the unconscious, the less certain he became of his own identity.
Tsukuru hesitated but then spoke. “There’s something I need to correct about what I told you the other day.”
As she walked along Sara shot him a look, her curiosity piqued. “What’s that?”
“I’ve had relationships with several women, but nothing ever really came of any of them, for various reasons. I told you it wasn’t all my fault.”
“During the last ten years, I’ve gone out with three or four women. All of them were fairly long-term, serious relationships. I wasn’t just playing around. And the reason none of them worked out was because of me. Not because there was any problem with any of the women.”
“And what was the problem?”
“It was a little different depending on the person,” Tsukuru said. “But one common factor was that I wasn’t seriously attracted to any of them. I mean, I liked them, and enjoyed our time together. I have a lot of good memories. But I never felt—swept away, overpowered by desire for any of them.”
Sara was silent for a while. “So for ten years,” she finally said, “you had fairly long-term, serious relationships with women you weren’t all that attracted to.”
“That’s about right.”
“That doesn’t strike me as very rational.”
“I’d have to agree.”
“Maybe you didn’t want to get married, or get tied down?”
Tsukuru shook his head. “No, I don’t think that was it. I’m the sort of person who craves stability.”
“But still there was something holding you back psychologically?”
“You could only have a relationship with women you didn’t have to totally open up to.”
“I might have been afraid that if I really loved someone and needed her, one day she might suddenly disappear without a word, and I’d be left all alone.”
“So consciously or unconsciously you always kept a distance between yourself and the women you dated. Or else you chose women you could keep that distance from. So you wouldn’t get hurt. Does that sound about right?”
Tsukuru didn’t reply, his silence an affirmation. At the same time, though, he knew that wasn’t what was at the heart of the problem.
“And the same thing might happen with you and me,” Sara said.
“No, I don’t think so. It’s different with you. I really mean that. I want to open up my heart to you. I truly feel that way. That’s why I’m telling you all this.”
“You want to see more of me?” Sara asked.
“Of course I do.”
“I’d like to see more of you, too, if I can,” Sara said. “You’re a good person, honest and sincere.”
“Thank you,” Tsukuru said.
“So tell me those four names. After that, you decide. Once I find out more about them, if you feel you don’t want to see them, then you don’t have to go ahead with it. That’s entirely up to you. But apart from all that, personally, I’m curious about them. I want to find out more about these people who are still weighing you down.”
When he got back to his apartment Tsukuru took an old pocket notebook out of his desk drawer, opened it to the list of addresses, and typed the four names, addresses, and phone numbers from when he’d last seen his four friends into his laptop.
As he gazed at the four names on the screen, and considered the memories those names brought back, he felt the past silently mingling with the present, as a time that should have been long gone hovered in the air around him. Like odorless, colorless smoke leaking into the room through a small crack in the door. Finally, at a certain point, he snapped back to the present, clicked the key on his laptop, and sent the email to Sara’s address. He checked that it had been sent and switched off the computer. And waited for time to become real again.
Personally, I’m curious about them. I want to find
Sara is right, he thought as he lay down on his bed. Those four people are still stuck to me. Probably more tightly than Sara can ever imagine.
The night that Haida told him the story from his father’s youth, about meeting a jazz pianist named Midorikawa at a hot springs deep in the mountains of Kyushu, several strange things happened.
Tsukuru bolted awake in the darkness. A tapping sound had woken him, like the sound of a pebble striking a window. Maybe he’d only imagined it, but he wasn’t sure. He wanted to check the alarm clock on his nightstand, but he couldn’t turn his neck. His entire body was immobile. He wasn’t numb, it was just that when he tried to make his body move, he couldn’t. The connection between mind and muscles had been severed.
The room was swathed in darkness. Tsukuru had trouble sleeping when there was any light in the room, and always closed the curtains tightly when he went to bed, so there was no light filtering in from outside. Still, he felt the presence in the room of someone else, concealed in the darkness, watching him. Like a camouflaged animal, whoever it was held his breath, hid his scent, changed his color, and receded into the shadows. Still, for some reason Tsukuru knew who it was. Haida.
Gray is a mixture of white and black. Change its shade, and it can easily melt into various gradations of darkness.
Haida was standing in a corner of the dark room, staring down at Tsukuru, who lay faceup on the bed. As if he were a mime pretending to be a statue, Haida didn’t move a muscle for a long time. The only thing that moved, possibly, were his long eyelashes. Therein lay a strange contrast: Haida chose to be completely still, while Tsukuru chose to move, but couldn’t. I have to say something, Tsukuru thought, I need to speak and break down this illusory balance. But his voice wouldn’t come. His lips wouldn’t move, his tongue was frozen. The only thing slipping from his throat was dry, soundless breathing.
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