If you have love in your life it can make up for a great many things you lack. If you don’t have it, no matter what else there is, it’s not enough.

Ann Landers

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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 22: Sunday Afternoon Picnic
woke up at nine in an empty bed. No note. Only her handkerchief and underwear drying by the washbasin. Probably gone out to eat, I guessed, then to her place.
I got orange juice out of the refrigerator and popped three-day-old bread into the toaster. It tasted like wall plaster.
Through the kitchen window I could see the neighbor’s oleander. Far off, someone was practicing piano. It sounded like tripping down an up escalator. On a telephone pole, three plump pigeons burbled mindlessly away. Something had to be on their mind to be going on like that, maybe the pain from corns on their feet, who knows? From the pigeons’ point of view, probably it was I who looked mindless.
As I stuffed the second piece of toast down my gullet, the pigeons disappeared, leaving only the telephone pole and the oleander.
It was Sunday morning. The newspaper’s weekend section included a color photo of a horse jumping a hedge. Astride the horse, an ill-complexioned rider in a black cap casting a baleful glare at the next page, which featured a lengthy description of what to do and what not to do in orchid cultivation. There were hundreds of varieties of orchids, each with a history of its own. Royalty had been known to die for the sake of orchids. Orchids had an ineffable aura of fatalism. And on the article went. To all things, philosophy and fate.
Now that I’d made up my mind to go off in search of the sheep, I was charged up and raring to go. It was the first time I’d felt like this since I’d crossed the great divide of my twentieth year. I piled the dishes into the sink, gave the cat his breakfast, then dialed the number of the man in the black suit. After six rings he answered.
“I hope I didn’t wake you,” I said.
“Hardly the question. I rise quite early,” he said. “What is it?”
“Which newspaper do you read?”
“Eight papers, national and local. The locals do not arrive until evening, though.”
“And you read them all?”
“It is part of my work,” said the man patiently. “What of it?”
“Do you read the Sunday pages?”
“Of necessity, yes,” he said.
“Did you see the photo of the horse in the weekend section?”
“Yes, I saw the horse photo,” said the man.
“Don’t the horse and rider seem to be thinking of two totally different things?”
Through the receiver, a silence stole into the room. There wasn’t a breath to be heard. It was a silence strong enough to make your ears hurt.
“This is what you called me about?” asked the man.
“No, just small talk. Nothing wrong with a little topic of conversation, is there?”
“We have other topics of conversation. For instance, sheep.” He cleared his throat. “You will have to excuse me, but I am not as free with my time as you. Might you simply get on with your concern as quickly as possible?”
“That’s the problem,” I said. “Simply put, from tomorrow I’m thinking of going off in search of that sheep. I thought it over a lot, but in the end that’s what I decided. Still, I can only see myself doing it at my own pace. When I talk, I will talk as I like. I mean I have the right to make small talk if I want. I don’t like having my every move watched and I don’t like being pushed around by nameless people. There, I’ve said my piece.”
“You obviously do not know where you stand.”
“Nor do you know where you stand. Now listen, I thought it over last night. And it struck me. What have I got to feel threatened about? Next to nothing. I broke up with my wife, I plan to quit my job today, my apartment is rented, and I have no furnishings worth worrying about. By way of holdings, I’ve got maybe two million yen in savings, a used car, and a cat who’s getting on in years. My clothes are all out of fashion, and my records are ancient. I’ve made no name for myself, have no social credibility, no sex appeal, no talent. I’m not so young anymore, and I’m always saying dumb things that I later regret. In a word, to borrow your turn of phrase, I am an utterly mediocre person. What have I got to lose? If you can think of anything, clue me in, why don’t you?”
A brief silence ensued. In that interval, I picked the lint from a shirt button and with a ballpoint pen drew thirteen stars on a memo pad.
“Everybody has some one thing they do not want to lose,” began the man. “You included. And we are professionals at finding out that very thing. Humans by necessity must have a midway point between their desires and their pride. Just as all objects must have a center of gravity. This is something we can pinpoint. Only when it is gone do people realize it even existed.” Pause. “But I am getting ahead of myself. All this comes later. For the present, let me say that I do not turn an uncomprehending ear toward your speech. I shall take your demands into account. You can do as you like. For one month, is that clear?”
“Clear enough,” I said.
“Well then, cheers,” said the man.
At that, the phone clicked off. It left a bad aftertaste, the click of the receiver. In order to kill that aftertaste, I did thirty push-ups and twenty sit-ups, washed the dishes, then did three days’ worth of laundry. It almost had me feeling good again. A pleasant September Sunday after all. Summer had faded to a distant memory almost beyond recall.
I put on a clean shirt, a pair of Levi’s without a ketchup stain, and a matching pair of socks. I brushed my hair. Even so, I couldn’t bring back the Sunday-morning feeling I used to get when I was seventeen. So what else was new? Guess I’ve put on my share of years.
Next, I took my near-scrap Volkswagen out of the apartment-house parking lot, headed to the supermarket, and bought a dozen cans of cat food, a bag of kitty litter, a travel razor set, and underwear. At the doughnut shop, I sat at the counter and washed down a cinnamon doughnut with some tasteless coffee. The wall directly in front of the counter was mirrored, giving me an unobstructed view of myself. I sat there looking at my face, half-eaten doughnut still in hand. It made me wonder how other people saw me. Not that I had any way of knowing, of course. I finished off the doughnut and left.
There was a travel agency near the train station, where I booked two seats on a flight to Sapporo the following day. Then into the station arcade for a canvas shoulder bag and a rain hat. Each time I peeled another ten-thousand-yen note from the wad of bills in my pocket. The wad showed no sign of going down no matter how many bills I used. Only I showed signs of wear. There’s that kind of money in the world. It aggravates you to have it, makes you miserable to spend it, and you hate yourself when it’s gone. And when you hate yourself, you feel like spending money. Except there’s no money left. And no hope.
I sat down on a bench in front of the station and smoked two cigarettes, deciding not to think about the money. The station plaza was filled with families and young couples out for a Sunday morning. Casually taking it all in, I thought of my ex-wife’s parting remark that maybe we ought to have had children. To be sure, at my age it wouldn’t have been unreasonable to have kids, but me a father? Good grief. What kid would want to have anyone like me for a father?
I smoked another cigarette before pushing through the crowd, each arm around a shopping bag, to the supermarket parking lot. While having the car serviced, I popped into a bookstore to buy three paperbacks. There went another two ten-thousand-yen notes. My pockets were stuffed with loose change.
When I got back to the apartment, I dumped all the change into a glass bowl and splashed cold water on my face. It had been forever since I’d gotten up, but when I looked at the clock, it was still before noon.
At three in the afternoon, my girlfriend returned. She was wearing a checkered shirt with mustard-colored slacks and intensely dark sunglasses. She had a large canvas bag like mine slung over her shoulder.
“I came packed and ready to go,” she said, patting the bulging bag. “Will it be a long trip?”
“I wouldn’t be surprised.”
She stretched out on the sofa by the window, stared off at the ceiling with her sunglasses still on, and smoked a clove cigarette. I fetched an ashtray and went over to sit beside her. I stroked her hair. The cat appeared and jumped up on the sofa, putting his chin and forepaws over her ankles. When she’d had enough of her smoke, she transplanted what remained of the cigarette to my lips.
“Happy to be going on a trip?” I asked.
“Uh-huh, very happy. Especially because I’m going with you.”
“You know, if we don’t find that sheep, we won’t have any place to come back to. We might end up traveling the rest of our lives.”
“Like your friend?”
“I guess. In a way, we’re all in the same boat. The only difference is that he’s escaping out of his own choice and I’m being ricocheted about.”
I ground out the cigarette in the ashtray. The cat raised his head and yawned, then resumed his position.
“Finished with your packing?” she asked.
“No, haven’t begun. But I don’t have too much to pack. A couple changes of clothes, soap, towel. You really don’t need that whole bag yourself. If you need anything, you can buy it there. We’ve got more than enough money.”
“I like it this way,” she said, again with that cute little smile of hers. “I don’t feel like I’m traveling unless I’m lugging a huge bag.”
“You’ve got to be kidding….”
A piercing bird call shot in through the open window, a call I’d never heard before. A new season’s new bird.
A beam of afternoon sun landed on her cheek. I lazily watched a white cloud move from one edge of the window to the other. We stayed like that for the longest time.
“Is anything wrong?” she asked.
“I don’t know how to put it, but I just can’t get it through my head that here and now is really here and now. Or that I am really me. It doesn’t quite hit home. It’s always this way. Only much later on does it ever come together. For the last ten years, it’s been like this.”
“Ten years?”
“There’s been no end to it. That’s all.”
She laughed as she picked up the cat and let it down onto the floor. “Shall we?”
We made love on the sofa. A period piece of a sofa I’d bought at a junk store. Put your face up against it and you get the scent of history. Her supple body blended in with that scent. Gentle and warm like a vague recollection. I brushed her hair aside with my fingers and kissed her ear. The earth trembled. From that point on, time began to flow like a tranquil breeze.
I undid all the buttons of her shirt and cupped her breasts while I appreciated her body.
“Feeling really alive now,” she said.
“Mmm, my body, my whole self.”
“I’m right with you,” I said. “Truly alive.”
How amazingly quiet, I thought. Not a sound anywhere around. Everybody but the two of us probably gone off somewhere to celebrate the first Sunday of autumn.
“You know, I really love this,” she whispered.
“It seems like we’re having a picnic, it’s so lovely.”
“A picnic?”
I wrapped both hands around her back and held her tight. Then I nuzzled my way through her bangs to kiss her ear again.
“It’s been a long ten years for you?” she asked, down low by my ear.
“Long enough,” I said. “A long, long time. Practically endless, not that I’ve managed to get anything over and done with.”
She raised her head a tiny bit from the sofa armrest and smiled. A smile I’d seen somewhere before, but for the life of me I couldn’t place where or on whom. Women with their clothes off have a frightening similarity. Always throws me for a loop.
“Let’s go look for the sheep,” she said, eyes closed. “Once we get to looking for that sheep, things’ll fall into place.”
I looked into her face a while, then I gazed at both her ears. A soft afternoon glow enveloped her body as in an old still life.
A Wild Sheep Chase: A Novel A Wild Sheep Chase: A Novel - Haruki Murakami A Wild Sheep Chase: A Novel