Americans like fat books and thin women.

Russell Baker

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Tác giả: Haruki Murakami
Thể loại: Tiểu Thuyết
Biên tập: Truong Ngoc Tuan
Upload bìa: Minh Khoa
Language: English
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Chapter 21: One In Five Thousand
eturning to my apartment from the hotel bar, I found three pieces of mail together with the evening paper in my mailbox. A balance statement from my bank, an invitation to what promised to be a dud of a party, and a direct-mail flyer from a used-car dealership. The copy read: “BRIGHTEN UP YOUR LIFE—MOVE UP TO A CLASSY CAR.” Thanks, but no thanks. I put all three envelopes together and tore them in half.
I took some juice out of the refrigerator and sat down at the kitchen table with it. On the table was a note from my girlfriend: “Gone out to eat. Back by 9:30.” The digital clock on the table read 9:30. I watched it flip over to 9:31, then to 9:32.
When I got bored with watching the clock, I got out of my clothes, took a shower, and washed my hair. There were four types of shampoo and three types of hair rinse in the bathroom. Every time she went to the supermarket, she stocked up on something. Step into the bathroom and there was bound to be a new item. I counted four kinds of shaving cream and five tubes of toothpaste. Quite an inventory. Out of the shower, I changed into jogging shorts and a T-shirt. Gone was the grime of one bizarre day. At last I felt refreshed.
At 10:20 she returned with a shopping bag from the supermarket. In the bag were three scrub brushes, one box of paperclips, and a well-chilled six-pack of canned beer. So I had another beer.
“It was about sheep,” I said.
“Didn’t I tell you?” she said.
I took some sausages out of the refrigerator, browned them in a frying pan, and served them up for us to eat. I ate three and she ate two. A cool breeze blew in through the kitchen window.
I told her about what happened at the office, told her about the limo ride, the estate, the steely-eyed secretary, the blood cyst, and the heavyset sheep with the star on its back. I was talking forever. By the time I’d finished talking, it was eleven o’clock.
All that said and done, she didn’t seem taken aback in the least. She’d cleaned her ears the whole time she listened, yawning occasionally.
“So when do you leave?”
“Leave?”
“You have to find the sheep, don’t you?”
I looked up at her, the pull-ring of my second beer still on my finger. “I’m not going anywhere,” I said.
“But you’ll be in a lot of trouble if you don’t.”
“No special trouble. I was planning on quitting the company anyway. I’ll always be able to find enough work to get by, no matter who interferes. They’re not about to kill me. Really!”
She pulled a new cotton swab out of the box and fingered it awhile. “But it’s actually quite simple. All you have to do is find one sheep, right? It’ll be fun.”
“Nobody’s going to find anything. Hokkaido’s a whole lot bigger than you think. And sheep—there’ve got to be hundreds of thousands of them. How are you going to search out one single sheep? It’s impossible. Even if the sheep’s got a star marked on its back.”
“Make that five thousand sheep.”
“Five thousand?”
“The number of sheep in Hokkaido. In 1947, there were two hundred seventy thousand sheep in Hokkaido, but now there are only five thousand.”
“How is it you know something like that?”
“After you left, I went to the library and checked it out.”
I heaved a sigh. “You know everything, don’t you?”
“Not really. There’s lot more that I don’t know.”
I snorted, then opened the second beer and split it between us.
“In any case, there are only five thousand sheep in Hokkaido. According to government surveys. How about it? Aren’t you even a little relieved?”
“It’s all the same,” I said. “Five thousand sheep, two hundred seventy thousand sheep, it’s not going to make much difference. The problem is still finding one lone sheep in that vast landscape. On top of which, we haven’t a lead to go on.”
“It’s not true we don’t have a lead. First, there’s the photograph, then there’s your friend up there, right? You’re bound to find out something one way or another.”
“Both are awfully vague as leads go. The landscape in the photograph is absolutely too ordinary, and you can’t even read the postmark on the Rat’s letter!”
She drank her beer. I drank my beer.
“Don’t you like sheep?” she asked.
“I like sheep well enough.”
I was starting to get confused again.
“Besides,” I went on, “I’ve already made up my mind. Not to go, I mean.” I meant to convince myself, but the words didn’t come out right.
“How about some coffee?”
“Good idea,” I said.
She cleared away the beer cans and glasses and put the kettle on. Then while waiting for the water to boil, she listened to a cassette in the other room. Johnny Rivers singing “Midnight Special” followed by “Roll Over Beethoven.” Then “Secret Agent Man.” When the kettle whistled, she made the coffee, singing along with “Johnny B. Goode.” The whole while I read the evening paper. A charming domestic scene. If not for the matter of the sheep, I might have been very happy.
As the tape wound on, we drank our coffee and nibbled on a few crackers in silence. I went back to the evening paper. When I finished it, I began reading it again. Here a coup d’état, there a film actor dying, elsewhere a cat who does tricks—nothing much that related to me. It didn’t matter to Johnny Rivers, who kept right on singing. When the tape ended, I folded up the paper and looked over at her.
“I can’t figure it out. You’re probably right that it’s better to do something than nothing. Even if it’s futile in the end, at least we looked for the sheep. On the other hand, I don’t like being ordered and threatened and pushed around.”
“To a greater or lesser extent, everybody’s always being ordered and threatened and pushed around. There may not be anything better we could hope for.”
“Maybe not,” I said, after a moment’s pause.
She said nothing and started to clean her ears again. From time to time, her fleshy earlobes showed through the long strands of hair.
“It’s beautiful right now in Hokkaido. Not many tourists, nice weather. What’s more, the sheep’ll all be out and about. The ideal season.”
“I guess.”
“If,” she began, crunching on the last cracker, “if you wanted to take me along, I’d surely be a help.”
“Why are you so stuck on this sheep hunt?”
“Because I’d like to see that sheep myself.”
“But why should I go breaking my back over this one lousy sheep? And then drag you into this mess on top of it?”
“I don’t mind. Your mess is my mess,” she said, with a cute little smile. “I’ve got this thing about you.”
“Thanks.”
“That’s all you can say?”
I pushed the newspaper over to a corner of the table. The slight breeze coming in through the window wafted my cigarette smoke off somewhere.
“To be honest, there’s something about this whole business that doesn’t sit right with me. There’s a hook somewhere.”
“Like what?”
“Like everything but everything,” I said. “The whole thing’s so damn stupid, yet everything has a painful clarity to it, and the picture all fits together perfectly. Not a good feeling at all.”
She paused a second, picked up a rubber band from the table, and started playing with it.
“But isn’t that friend of yours already up to his neck in trouble? If not, why would he have gone out of his way to send you that photo?”
She had me there. I’d laid all my cards out on the table, and they’d all been trumped. She’d seen straight through me.
“I really think it has to be done. We’ll find that sheep, you’ll see,” she said, grinning.
She finished her ear-cleaning ritual and wrapped up the cotton swabs in a tissue to throw away. Then she picked up a rubber band and tied her hair back behind her ears.
“Let’s go to bed,” she said.
A Wild Sheep Chase: A Novel A Wild Sheep Chase: A Novel - Haruki Murakami A Wild Sheep Chase: A Novel