You practice mindfulness, on the one hand, to be calm and peaceful. On the other hand, as you practice mindfulness and live a life of peace, you inspire hope for a future of peace.

Thích Nhất Hạnh

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Tác giả: Haruki Murakami
Thể loại: Tiểu Thuyết
Biên tập: Truong Ngoc Tuan
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Language: English
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Chapter 26: Enter The Sheep Professor
e woke the next morning at eight, donned our clothes, headed down in the elevator, and out to a nearby coffee shop for breakfast. No, the Dolphin Hotel had no coffee shop.
“Like I said yesterday, we’ll split up,” I said, passing her a copy of the sheep photo. “I’ll use the mountains in the background as a handle toward searching out the place. You’ll research places where they raise sheep. You know what to do. Any clue, anything, it doesn’t matter how small, is fine. Anything is an improvement over scouring the entire island of Hokkaido totally blind.”
“I’m fine. Leave it up to me.”
“Okay, let’s meet back at the hotel in the evening.”
“Don’t worry so much,” she said, putting on sunglasses. “Finding it’s going to be a piece of cake.”
Of course, it was no piece of cake. Things never happen that way. I went to the Territorial Tourist Agency, did the rounds of various tourist information centers and travel agents, inquired at the Mountaineering Association. In general, I checked all the places that had anything to do with tourism and mountains. Nobody could recall ever having seen the mountains in the photograph.
“They’re such ordinary-looking mountains too,” they all said. “Besides, the photo shows only a small part of them.”
One whole day on the pavement and that was about as close to progress as I got. That is, the realization that it’d be difficult to identify mountains with nothing to distinguish them and with only a partial view of them.
I stopped into a bookstore and bought The Mountains of Hokkaido and a Hokkaido atlas, then went into a café, had two ginger ales, and skimmed through my purchases. As far as mountains were concerned, there was an unbelievable number in Hokkaido, all of them about the same in color and in shape. I tried comparing the mountains in the Rat’s photograph with every mountain in the book; after ten minutes, I was dizzy. It was no comfort to learn that the number of mountains in the book represented but a tiny fraction of all the mountains in Hokkaido. Complicated by the fact that a mountain viewed from one angle gave a wholly different impression than from another angle.
“Mountains are living things,” wrote the author in his preface to the book. “Mountains, according to the angle of view, the season, the time of day, the beholder’s frame of mind, or any one thing, can effectively change their appearance. Thus, it is essential to recognize that we can never know more than one side, one small aspect of a mountain.”
“Just great,” I said out loud. An impossible task. At the five o’clock bell, I went out to sit on a park bench and eat corn with the pigeons.
Her efforts at information gathering fared better than mine, but ultimately they were futile too. We compared notes of the day’s trials and tribulations over a modest dinner at a restaurant behind the Dolphin Hotel.
“The Livestock Section of the Territorial Government knew next to nothing,” she said. “They’ve stopped keeping track of sheep. It doesn’t pay to raise sheep. At least not by large-scale ranching or free-range grazing.”
“In a way that makes the search easier.”
“Not really. Ranchers still raise sheep quite actively and even have their own union, which the authorities keep tabs on. With middle-and small-scale sheep raising, however, it’s difficult to keep any accurate count going. Everyone keeps a few sheep pretty much like they do cats and dogs. For what it’s worth, I took down the addresses of the thirty sheep raisers they had listings for, but the papers were four years old and people move around a lot in four years. Japan’s agricultural policies change every three years just like that, you know.”
“Just great,” I sighed into my beer. “Seems like we’ve come to a dead end. There must be more than a hundred similar mountains in Hokkaido, and the state of sheep raising is a total blank.”
“This is the first day. We’ve only just begun.”
“Haven’t those ears of yours gotten the message yet?”
“No message for the time being,” she said, eating her simmered fish and miso soup. “That much I know. I only get despairing messages when I’m confused or feeling some mental pinch. But that’s not the case now.”
“The lifeline only comes when you’re on the verge of drowning?”
“Right. For the moment, I’m satisfied to be going through all this with you, and as long as I’m satisfied, I get no such message. So it’s up to us to find that sheep on our own.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “In a sense, if we don’t find that sheep we’ll be up to our necks in it. In what, I can’t say, but if those guys say they’re going to get us, they’re going to get us. They’re pros. No matter if the Boss dies, the organization will remain and their network extends everywhere in Japan, like the sewers. They’ll have our necks. Dumb as it sounds, that’s the way it is.”
“Sounds like The Invaders.”
“Ridiculous, I know. But the fact is we’ve gotten ourselves smack in the middle of it, and by ‘ourselves’ I mean you and me. At the start it was only me, but by now you’re in the picture too. Still feel like you’re not on the verge of drowning?”
“Hey, this is just the sort of thing I love. Let me tell you, it’s more fun than sleeping with strangers or flashing my ears or proofreading biographical dictionaries. This is living.”
“Which is to say,” I interjected, “we’re not drowning so we have no rope.”
“Right. It’s up to us to find that sheep. Neither you nor I have left so much behind, really.”
Maybe not.
We returned to the hotel and had intercourse. I like that word intercourse. It poses only a limited range of possibilities.
Our third and fourth days in Sapporo came and went for naught. We’d get up at eight, have breakfast, split up for the day, and when evening came we’d exchange information over supper, return to the hotel, have intercourse, and sleep.
I threw away my old tennis shoes, bought new sneakers, and went around showing the photograph to hundreds of people. She made up a long list of sheep raisers based on sources from the government offices and the library, and started phoning every one of them. The results were nil. Nobody could place the mountain, and no sheep raiser had any recollection of a sheep with a star on its back. One old man said he remembered seeing that mountain in southern Sakhalin before the war. I wasn’t about to believe that the Rat had gone to Sakhalin. No way can you send a letter special delivery from Sakhalin to Tokyo.
Gradually, I was getting worn down. My sense of direction had evaporated by our fourth day. When south became opposite east, I bought a compass, but going around with a compass only made the city seem less and less real. The buildings began to look like backdrops in a photography studio, the people walking the streets like cardboard cutouts. The sun rose from one side of a featureless land, shot up in a cannonball arc across the sky, then set on the other side.
The fifth, then the sixth day passed. October lay heavy on the town. The sun was warm enough but the wind grew brisk, and by late in the day I’d have to put on a thin cotton windbreaker. The streets of Sapporo were wide and depressingly straight. Up until then, I’d had no idea how much walking around in a city of nothing but straight lines can tire you out.
I drank seven cups of coffee a day, took a leak every hour. And slowly lost my appetite.
“Why don’t you put an ad in the papers?” she proposed. “You know, ‘Friends want to get in touch with you’ or something.”
“Not a bad idea,” I said. It didn’t matter if we came up empty-handed; it had to beat doing nothing.
So I placed a three-line notice in the morning editions of four newspapers for the following day.
Attention: Rat
Get in touch. Urgent!
Dolphin Hotel, Room 406
For the next two days, I waited by the phone. The day of the ad there were three calls. One was a call from a local citizen.
“What’s this ‘Rat’?”
“The nickname of a friend,” I answered.
He hung up, satisfied.
Another was a prank call.
“Squeak, squeak,” came a voice from the other end of the line. “Squeak, squeak.”
I hung up. Cities are damn strange places.
The third was from a woman with a reedy voice.
“Everybody always calls me Rat,” she said. A voice in which you could almost hear the telephone lines swaying in the distant breeze.
“Thank you for taking the trouble to call. However, the Rat I’m looking for is a man,” I explained.
“I kind of thought so,” she said. “But in any case, since I’m a Rat too, I thought I might as well give you a call.”
“Really, thank you very much.”
“Not at all. Have you found your friend?”
“Not yet,” I said, “unfortunately.”
“If only it’d been me you were looking for … but no, it wasn’t me.
“That’s the way it goes. Sorry.”
She fell silent. Meanwhile, I scratched my nose with my little finger.
“Really, I just wanted to talk to you,” she came back.
“With me?”
“I don’t quite know how to put it, but I fought the urge ever since I came across your ad in the morning paper. I didn’t mean to bother you …”
“So all that about your being called Rat was a made-up story.”
“That’s right,” she said. “Nobody ever calls me Rat. I don’t even have any friends. That’s why I wanted to call you so badly.”
I heaved a sigh. “Well, uh, thanks anyway.”
“Forgive me. Are you from Hokkaido?”
“I’m from Tokyo,” I said.
“You came all the way from Tokyo to look for your friend?”
“That’s correct.”
“How old is this friend?”
“Just turned thirty.”
“And you?”
“I’ll be thirty in two months.”
“Single?”
“Yes.”
“I’m twenty-two. I suppose things get better as time goes on.”
“Well,” I said, “who knows? Some things get better, some don’t.”
“It’d be nice if we could get together and discuss things over dinner.”
“You’ll have to excuse me, but I’ve got to stay here and wait for a call.”
“Oh, yes,” she said. “Sorry about everything.”
“Anyway, thanks for calling.”
I hung up.
Clever, very clever. A call girl, maybe, looking for some business. True, she might really have been just a lonely girl. Either way it was the same. I still had zero leads.
The following day there was only one call, from a mentally disturbed man. “A rat you say? Leave it to me.” He talked for fifteen minutes about fending off rats in a Siberian camp. An interesting tale, but no lead.
While waiting for the telephone to ring, I sat in the half-sprung chair by the window and spent the day watching the work conditions on the third floor office across the street. Stare as I might all day long, I couldn’t figure out what the company did. The company had ten employees, and people were constantly running in and out like in a basketball game. Someone would hand someone papers, someone would stamp these, then another someone would stuff them into an envelope and rush out the door. During the lunch break, a big-breasted secretary poured tea for everyone. In the afternoon, several people had coffee delivered. Which made me want to drink some too, so I asked the desk clerk to take messages while I went out to a coffee shop. I bought two bottles of beer on the way back. When I resumed my seat at the window, there were only four people left in the office. The big-breasted secretary was joking with a junior employee. I drank a beer and watched the office activities, but mainly her.
The more I looked at her breasts, the more unusually large they seemed. She must have been strapped into a brassiere with cables from the Golden Gate Bridge. Several of the junior staff seemed to have designs on her. Their sex drive came across two panes of glass and the street in between. It’s a funny thing sensing someone else’s sex drive. After a while, you get to mistaking it for your own.
At five o’clock, she changed into a red dress and went home. I closed the curtain and watched a Bugs Bunny rerun on television. So went the eighth day at the Dolphin Hotel.
“Just great,” said I. This “just great” business was becoming a habit. “One-third of the month gone and we still haven’t gotten anywhere.”
“So it would seem,” said she. “I wonder how Kipper’s getting on?”
After supper, we rested on the vile orange sofa in the Dolphin Hotel lobby. No one else around except our three-fingered clerk. He was keeping busy, up on a ladder changing a light bulb, cleaning the windows, folding newspapers. There may have been other guests in the place; perhaps they were all in their rooms like mummies kept out of the light of day.
“How’s business?” the desk clerk asked timidly as he watered the potted plants.
“Nothing much to speak of,” I said.
“Seems you placed an ad in the papers.”
“That I did,” I said. “I’m trying to track down this one person on some land inheritance.”
“Inheritance?”
“Yes. Trouble is the inheritor’s disappeared, whereabouts unknown.”
“Do tell. Sounds like interesting work.”
“Not really.”
“I don’t know, there’s something of Moby Dick about it.”
“Moby Dick?”
“Sure. The thrill of hunting something down.”
“A mammoth, for example?” said my girlfriend.
“Sure. It’s all related,” said the clerk. “Actually, I named this place the Dolphin Hotel because of a scene with dolphins in Moby Dick.”
“Oh-ho,” said I. “But if that’s the case, wouldn’t it have been better to name it the Whale Hotel?”
“Whales don’t have quite the image,” he admitted with some regret.
“The Dolphin Hotel’s a lovely name,” said my girlfriend.
“Thank you very much,” smiled the clerk. “Incidentally, having you here for this extended stay strikes me as most auspicious, and I’d like to offer you some wine as a token of my thanks.”
“Delighted,” she said.
“Much obliged,” I said.
He went into a back room and emerged after a moment with a chilled bottle of white wine and three glasses.
“A toast. I’m still on the job, so just a sip for me.”
We drank our wine. Not a particularly fine wine, but a light, dry, pleasant sort of wine. Even the glasses were swell.
“You a Moby Dick fan?” I thought to ask.
“You could say that. I always wanted to go to sea ever since I was a child.”
“And that’s why you’re in the hotel business today?” she asked.
“That’s why I’m missing fingers,” he said. “Actually, they got mangled in a winch unloading cargo from a freighter.”
“How horrible!” she exclaimed.
“Everything went black at the time. But life’s a fickle thing. Somehow or other, I ended up owning this hotel here. Not much of a hotel, but I’ve done all right by it. Ten years I’ve had it.”
Which would mean he wasn’t the desk clerk, but the owner.
“I couldn’t imagine a finer hotel,” she encouraged.
“Thank you very much,” said the owner, refilling our wineglasses.
“For only ten years, the building has taken on quite a lot of, well, character,” I ventured forth unabashedly.
“Yes, it was built right after the war. I count myself most fortunate that I could buy it so cheaply.”
“What was it used for before it was a hotel?”
“It went by the name of the Hokkaido Ovine Hall. Housed all sorts of papers and resources concerning …”
“Ovine?” I said.
“Sheep,” he said.
“The building was the property of the Hokkaido Ovine Association, that is, up until ten years ago. What with the decline in sheep raising in the territory, the Hall was closed,” he said, sipping his wine. “Actually, the acting director at the time was my own father. He couldn’t abide the thought of his beloved Ovine Hall shutting down, and so on the pretext of preserving the sheep resources he talked the Association into selling him the land and the building at a good price. Hence, to this day the whole second floor of the building is a sheep reference room. Of course, being resource materials, most of the stuff is old and useless. The dotings of an old man. The rest of the place is mine for the hotel business.”
“Some coincidence,” I said.
“Coincidence?”
“If the truth be known, the person we’re looking for has something to do with sheep. And the only lead we’ve got is this one photograph of sheep that he sent.”
“You don’t say,” he said. “I’d like to have a look at it if I might.”
I pulled out the sheep photo that I’d sandwiched between the pages of my notebook and handed it to him. He picked up his glasses from the counter and studied the photo.
“I do seem to have some recollection of this,” he said.
“A recollection?”
“For certain.” So saying, he took the ladder from where he’d left it under the light and leaned it up against the opposite wall. He brought down a framed picture. Then he wiped off the dust and handed the picture to us.
“Is this not the same scenery?”
The frame itself was plenty old, but the photo in it was even older, discolored too. And yes, there were sheep in it. Altogether maybe sixty head. Fence, birch grove, mountains. The birch grove was different in shape from the one in the Rat’s photograph, but the mountains in the background were the same mountains. Even the composition of the photograph was the same.
“Just great,” I said to her. “All this time we’ve been passing right under this photograph.”
“That’s why I told you it had to be the Dolphin Hotel,” she blurted out.
“Well then,” I asked the man, “exactly where is this place?”
“Don’t rightly know,” he said. “The photograph’s been hanging in that spot since Ovine Hall days.”
“Hmph,” I grunted.
“But there’s a way to find out.”
“Like what?”
“Ask my father. He’s got a room upstairs where he spends his days. He hardly ever comes out, he’s so wrapped up in his sheep materials. I haven’t set eyes on him for half a month now. I just leave his meals in front of his door, and the tray’s empty thirty minutes later, so I know he’s alive.”
“Would your father be able to tell us where the place in the photograph is?”
“Probably. As I said before, he was the former director of Ovine Hall, and anyway he knows all there is to know about sheep. Everyone calls him the Sheep Professor.”
“The Sheep Professor,” I said.
A Wild Sheep Chase: A Novel A Wild Sheep Chase: A Novel - Haruki Murakami A Wild Sheep Chase: A Novel