Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

  What is Haida doing here? Why is he standing here, staring so intently at me?

  This isn’t a dream, Tsukuru decided. Everything is too distinct to be a dream. But he couldn’t say if the person standing there was the real Haida. The real Haida, his actual flesh and blood, was sound asleep on the sofa in the next room. The Haida standing here must be a kind of projection that had slipped free of the real Haida. That’s the way it felt.

  Tsukuru didn’t feel that this presence was threatening, or evil. Haida would never hurt him—of this, Tsukuru felt certain. He’d known this, instinctively, from the moment they first met.

  His high school friend Aka was very bright too, with a practical, even utilitarian intelligence. Compared to Aka’s, Haida’s intelligence was more pure iteration, more theoretical, even self-contained. When they were together Tsukuru often couldn’t grasp what Haida might be thinking. Something in Haida’s brain surged forward, outpacing Tsukuru, but what sort of thing that something was, he couldn’t say. When that happened he felt confused and left behind, alone. But he never felt anxiety or irritation toward his younger friend. Haida’s mind was just too quick, his sphere of mental activity too broad, on a different level entirely. With this knowledge, Tsukuru ceased trying to keep up with Haida.

  In Haida’s brain there must have been a kind of high-speed circuit built to match the pace of his thoughts, requiring him to occasionally engage his gears, to let his mind race for fixed periods of time. If he didn’t—if he kept on running in low gear to keep pace with Tsukuru’s reduced speed—Haida’s mental infrastructure would overheat and start to malfunction. Or at least, Tsukuru got that impression. After a while Haida would debark from this circuit and, as if nothing had happened, smile calmly and return to the place where Tsukuru lay waiting. He’d slow down, and keep pace with Tsukuru’s mind.

  How long did Haida’s intense gaze continue? Tsukuru could no longer judge the length of time. Haida stood there, unmoving, in the middle of the night, staring wordlessly at him. Haida seemed to have something he wanted to say, a message he needed to convey, but for some reason he couldn’t translate that message into words. And this made Tsukuru’s younger, intelligent friend unusually irritated.

  As he lay in bed, Tsukuru recalled Haida’s story about Midorikawa. Before Midorikawa had played the piano in the junior-high music room, he’d laid a small bag on top of the piano. He’d been on the verge of death—or so he’d said. What was in the bag? Haida’s story had ended before he revealed the contents. Tsukuru was intensely curious about what had been inside, and wanted someone to tell him its significance. Why did Midorikawa so carefully place that bag on top of the piano? This had to be the missing key to the story.

  But he wasn’t given the answer. After a long silence Haida—or Haida’s alter ego—quietly left. At the very end of his visit, Tsukuru felt like he caught the sound of Haida’s light breathing, but he couldn’t be sure. Like incense smoke swallowed up in the air, Haida’s presence faded and vanished, and before Tsukuru knew it, he was alone again in the dark room. He still couldn’t move his body. The cable between his will and his muscles remained disconnected, the bolt that linked them together having fallen off.

  How much of this is real? he wondered. This wasn’t a dream, or an illusion. It had to be real. But it lacked the weight you’d expect from reality.

  Mister Gray.

  Tsukuru must have fallen asleep again, but he woke up once more in a dream. Strictly speaking, it might not be a dream. It was reality, but a reality imbued with all the qualities of a dream. A different sphere of reality, where—at a special time and place—imagination had been set free.

  The girls were in bed, as naked as the day they were born, snuggled up close on either side of him. Shiro and Kuro. They were sixteen or seventeen, invariably that age. Their breasts and thighs were pressed against him, their bodies smooth and warm, and Tsukuru could feel all this, clearly. Silently, greedily, they groped his body with their fingers and tongues. He was naked too.

  This was not something Tsukuru was hoping for, not a scenario he wanted to imagine. It wasn’t something that should be happening. But that image, against his will, grew more vivid, the feelings more graphic, more real.

  The girls’ fingers were gentle, slender, and delicate. Four hands, twenty fingers. Like some smooth, sightless creatures born in the darkness, they wandered over every inch of Tsukuru’s body, arousing him completely. He felt his heart stir, intensely, in a way he’d never before experienced, as if he’d been living for a long time in a house only to discover a secret room he’d never known about. Like a kettledrum, his heart trembled, pounding out an audible beat. His arms and legs were still numb, and he couldn’t lift a finger.

  The girls entwined themselves lithely around Tsukuru. Kuro’s breasts were full and soft. Shiro’s were small, but her nipples were as hard as tiny round pebbles. Their pubic hair was as wet as a rain forest. Their breath mingled with his, becoming one, like currents from far away, secretly overlapping at the dark bottom of the sea.

  These insistent caresses continued until Tsukuru was inside the vagina of one of the girls. It was Shiro. She straddled him, took hold of his rigid, erect penis, and deftly guided it inside her. His penis found its way with no resistance, as if swallowed up into an airless vacuum. She took a moment, gathering her breath, then began slowly rotating her torso, as if she were drawing a complex diagram in the air, all the while twisting her hips. Her long, straight black hair swung above him, sharply, like a whip. The movements were bold, so out of character with the everyday Shiro.

  The entire time, both Shiro and Kuro treated it as a completely natural turn of events, nothing they had to think over. They never hesitated. The two of them caressed him together, but Shiro was the one he penetrated. Why Shiro? Tsukuru wondered in the midst of his deep confusion. Why does it have to be Shiro? They are supposed to be completely equal. They’re supposed to be one being.

  Beyond that, he couldn’t think. Shiro’s movements grew faster, more pronounced. And before he knew it, he was coming inside her. The time elapsed between penetration and orgasm was short. Too short, Tsukuru thought, way too short. But maybe he’d lost any sense of time. At any rate, the urge was unstoppable, and, like a huge wave crashing over him, this urge engulfed him without warning.

  Now, though, he wasn’t coming inside Shiro, but in Haida. The girls had suddenly disappeared, and Haida had taken their place. Just as Tsukuru came, Haida had quickly bent over, taken Tsukuru’s penis in his mouth, and—careful not to get the sheets dirty—taken all the gushing semen inside his mouth. Tsukuru came violently, the semen copious. Haida patiently accepted all of it, and when Tsukuru had finished, Haida licked his penis clean with his tongue. He seemed used to it. At least it felt that way. Haida quietly rose from the bed and went to the bathroom. Tsukuru heard water running from the faucet. Haida was probably rinsing his mouth.

  Even after he came, Tsukuru’s penis remained erect. He could feel the warmth and softness of Shiro’s vagina, as if it were the afterglow of actual sex. And he still couldn’t grasp the boundary between dream and imagination, between what was imaginary and what was real.

  In the darkness, Tsukuru searched for words. Not words directed at any particular person. He just felt he had to say something, had to find even one word to fill that mute, anonymous gap, before Haida came back from the bathroom. But he couldn’t find anything. The whole time, a simple melody swirled around in his head. It was only later that he realized this was the theme of Liszt’s “Le mal du pays.” Years of Pilgrimage, “First Year: Switzerland.” A groundless sadness called forth in a person’s heart by a pastoral landscape.

  And then a deep sleep violently took hold of him.

  It was just before 8 a.m. when he woke up.

  He immediately checked his underwear for signs of semen. Whenever he had sexual dreams like this one, there was always evidence. But this time, nothing. Tsukuru was baffled. In his dream—or at least in a place that w
asn’t reality—he’d most definitely ejaculated. Intensely. The afterglow was still with him. A copious amount of real semen should have gushed out. But there was no trace of it.

  And then he remembered how Haida had taken it all in his mouth.

  He shut his eyes and grimaced. Did that really happen? No, that’s impossible. It had all taken place in the dark interior of my mind. No matter how you look at it. So where did all that semen gush out to? Did it all vanish, too, in the inner recesses of my mind?

  Confused, Tsukuru got out of bed and, still clad in pajamas, padded out to the kitchen. Haida was already dressed and sitting on the sofa, reading. He was lost in his thick book, off in another world, but as soon as Tsukuru appeared, he shut the book, smiled brightly, and went to the kitchen to make coffee, omelets, and toast. The fresh smell of coffee soon wafted through the apartment, the smell that separates night from day. They sat across the table from each other and ate breakfast while listening to music, set low. As usual, Haida had dark toast with a thin spread of honey.

  Haida explained, excitedly, about the new coffee beans he’d discovered, and the quality of the roast, but after that, he was silently thoughtful. Probably contemplating the book he’d been reading. His eyes were fixed on an imaginary point. Clear, limpid eyes, and Tsukuru couldn’t read anything behind them. The sort of gaze Haida had when he was mulling over some abstract proposition, eyes that always reminded Tsukuru of a mountain spring, glimpsed through a gap in the trees.

  Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. It was a typical Sunday morning. A thin layer of clouds covered the sky, the sunlight soft. When they talked, Haida looked him right in the eye, and Tsukuru could read nothing in his look. Probably nothing had happened, in reality. It had to have been an illusion drawn by his unconscious, Tsukuru concluded. The thought embarrassed and confused him. He’d had any number of sexual dreams involving Shiro and Kuro together. This was nothing new. The dreams came fairly regularly, always involuntarily, and always made him orgasm. Yet this was the first time a sexual dream had been, from beginning to end, so startlingly vivid and real. But what really baffled him was Haida’s presence.

  Tsukuru decided not to pursue it further. He could think about it all he wanted and never find an answer. He placed this doubt inside a drawer in his mind labeled “Pending” and postponed any further consideration. He had many such drawers inside him, with numerous doubts and questions tucked away.

  After breakfast they went to the college swimming pool and swam together for a half hour. It was Sunday morning and they nearly had the pool to themselves, and could enjoy going at their own pace. Tsukuru concentrated on moving the required muscles in a precise, controlled fashion—back muscles, hip muscles, abs. Breathing and kicking were already second nature. Once he got into a rhythm, the rest happened on its own. As always Haida swam ahead and Tsukuru followed. Tsukuru watched as he swam, mesmerized by the subtle white foam rhythmically generated by Haida’s gentle kicks. The scene always left him slightly hypnotized.

  By the time they had showered and changed in the locker room, Haida’s eyes no longer had that clear and penetrating light, but had regained their usual gentle look. Exercise had dulled Tsukuru’s earlier confusion. The two of them left the gym and walked to the library. They hardly spoke, but that wasn’t unusual. “I have something I need to look up at the library,” Haida said. And this wasn’t unusual either. Haida liked looking things up at the library. Generally this meant I want to be alone for a while. “I’ll go back and do some laundry,” Tsukuru said.

  They came to the library entrance, gave a quick wave to each other, and went their separate ways.

  He didn’t hear from Haida for quite a while. Haida was absent from the pool and class. Tsukuru returned to a solitary life, eating alone, swimming alone, taking notes in class, memorizing foreign vocabulary and sentences. Time passed indifferently, barely leaving a trace. Occasionally he would put the record of “Le mal du pays” on the turntable and listen to it.

  After the first week with no word from Haida, the thought struck Tsukuru that his friend may have decided not to see him anymore. Without a word, giving no reason, he may have just gone away somewhere. Like his four friends had done back in his hometown.

  Tsukuru began to think that his younger friend had left him because of the graphic sexual dream he’d experienced. Maybe something had made it possible for Haida to observe all that had taken place in Tsukuru’s consciousness, and it had disgusted him. Or maybe it angered him.

  No, that wasn’t possible—the experience couldn’t have slipped outside his consciousness. There’s no way Haida could have known about it. Still, Tsukuru couldn’t shake the feeling that Haida’s clear eyes had honed in on the twisted aspects that lay buried in Tsukuru’s mind, and the thought left him feeling ashamed.

  Either way, after his friend disappeared, he realized anew how important Haida was to him, how Haida had transformed his daily life into something much richer and more colorful. He missed their conversations, and Haida’s light, distinctive laugh. The music he liked, the books he sometimes read aloud from, his take on current events, his unique sense of humor, his spot-on quotations, the food he prepared, the coffee he brewed. Haida’s absence left behind blank spaces throughout his life.

  Haida had brought so much to Tsukuru’s life, but, he wondered, what had he given to Haida? What memories had Tsukuru left him?

  Maybe I am fated to always be alone, Tsukuru found himself thinking. People came to him, but in the end they always left. They came, seeking something, but either they couldn’t find it, or were unhappy with what they found (or else they were disappointed or angry), and then they left. One day, without warning, they vanished, with no explanation, no word of farewell. Like a silent hatchet had sliced the ties between them, ties through which warm blood still flowed, along with a quiet pulse.

  There must be something in him, something fundamental, that disenchanted people. “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki,” he said aloud. I basically have nothing to offer to others. If you think about it, I don’t even have anything to offer myself.

  On the morning ten days after they said goodbye in front of the library, Haida showed up at the college swimming pool. As Tsukuru was about to make another flip turn, someone tapped the back of his right hand as it touched the pool wall. He looked up and Haida was squatting there in his swim trunks, black goggles pushed up on his forehead, his usual pleasant smile gracing his face. Though they hadn’t seen each other in a while, they didn’t say anything, merely nodded and, as usual, started swimming in the same lane. The only communication between them in the water was the pliant movement of muscles and their gentle, rhythmic kicks. There was no need for words.

  “I went back to Akita for a while,” Haida explained later. They’d finished swimming, had showered, and he was toweling off his hair. “Some family matter suddenly came up.”

  Tsukuru nodded and gave a noncommittal reply. It wasn’t like Haida to take off ten days in the middle of a semester. Like Tsukuru, he tried never to skip class unless it was absolutely necessary. So it must have been something very important. But Haida said nothing more about his reason for having gone back home, and Tsukuru didn’t push him on it. Yet his young friend’s casual return made Tsukuru feel as if he were somehow able to spit out a hard lump of air that had been stuck in his chest. As if the pressure weighing on his chest were relieved. He hadn’t been abandoned after all.

  Haida continued to act the same as always toward Tsukuru. They talked and ate together. They’d sit on the sofa, listening to the classical CDs Haida borrowed from the library, discussing music, and books they’d read. Or else they’d simply be together, sharing an amiable silence. On the weekends Haida came to his apartment, they’d talk until late, and Haida would stay over on the sofa. Never again did Haida (or his alter ego) visit Tsukuru’s bedroom and gaze at him in the dark—assuming, of course, that this had actually happened the first time. Tsukuru had many more sexual dreams involving Shiro and Kuro, but
Haida never appeared.

  Still, Tsukuru felt that Haida’s clear eyes had seen right through him that night, to what lay in his unconscious. Traces of Haida’s gaze still stung, like a mild burn. Haida had, at that time, observed Tsukuru’s secret fantasies and desires, examining and dissecting them one by one, and yet he remained friends with Tsukuru. He had just needed some time apart from Tsukuru in order to accept what he’d seen, to get his feelings in order and compose himself. Which explained why he’d deliberately avoided Tsukuru for those ten days.

  This was mere conjecture, of course. Baseless, unreasonable speculation. Delusion, you might even call it. But Tsukuru couldn’t shake that thought, and it made him anxious. The idea that every fold in the depths of his mind had been laid bare left him feeling reduced to being a pathetic worm under a damp rock.

  And yet Tsukuru Tazaki still needed this younger friend. More than anything.

  Haida left Tsukuru for good at the end of the following February, eight months after they’d first met. This time he never came back.

  The end-of-year exams were over, the grades posted, when Haida went home to Akita. “I should come back soon,” he told Tsukuru. “Winters in Akita are freezing cold, and two weeks home is about as much as I can stand,” he said. “Much easier to be in Tokyo. But I need to help get the snow off the roof, so I have to go there for a while.” But two weeks passed, then three, and Haida didn’t return to Tokyo. He never once got in touch.

  Tsukuru didn’t worry too much in the beginning. He figured Haida was having a better time at home than he’d thought he might. Or maybe they’d had more snow than usual. Tsukuru himself went to Nagoya for three days in the middle of March. He didn’t want to visit, but he couldn’t stay away forever. No snow needed to be shoveled off the family roof in Nagoya, of course, but his mother had called him incessantly, wondering why, if school was out, he didn’t want to come home. “I have an important project I need to finish during the break,” Tsukuru lied. “But you should still be able to come home for a couple of days at least,” his mother insisted. One of his older sisters called too, underscoring how much his mother missed him. “You really should come home,” she said, “even for a little while.” “Okay, I get it,” he said. “I will.”

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