The walls of books around him, dense with the past, formed a kind of insulation against the present world and its disasters.

Ross MacDonald

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Tác giả: Haruki Murakami
Thể loại: Tiểu Thuyết
Biên tập: Truong Ngoc Tuan
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Chapter 27: The Sheep Professor Eats All, Tells All
ccording to his Dolphin Hotel–owner son, the Sheep Professor had by no means had a happy life.
“Father was born in Sendai in 1905, the eldest son of a land-holding family,” the son explained. “I’ll go by the Western calendar, if that’s all right with you.”
“As you please.”
“They weren’t independently wealthy, but they lived on their own land. An old family previously vested with a fief from the local castle lord. Even yielded a respected agriculturist toward the end of the Edo period.
“The Sheep Professor excelled in scholastics from early on, a child wonder known to everyone in Sendai. And not just schooling. He surpassed everyone at the violin and in middle school even performed a Beethoven sonata for the royal family when they came to the area, for which he was given a gold watch.
“The family tried to push him in the direction of law, but, the Sheep Professor flatly refused. ‘I have no interest in law,’ said the young Sheep Professor.
“‘Then go ahead with your music,’ said his father. ‘There ought to be at least one musician in the family.’
“‘I have no interest in music either,’ replied the Sheep Professor.
“There was a brief pause.
“‘Well then,’ his father spoke up, ‘what path is it you want to take?’
“‘I am interested in agriculture. I want to learn agricultural administration.’
“‘Very well,’ said his father a second later. What else could he say? The Sheep Professor was considerate and earnest, the sort of youth who once he said something would stick by his word. His own father couldn’t get a word in edgewise.
“The following year, as per his wishes, the Sheep Professor matriculated at the Agriculture Faculty of Tokyo Imperial University. His child-wonder love of studies showed no sign of abating even there. Everyone, including his professors, was watching him. Scholastically he excelled as always, and he enjoyed tremendous popularity. He was, in a nutshell, one of your chosen few. Untainted by dissipation, reading every spare moment. If he tired of reading, he’d play his violin in the university courtyard, his gold watch ever in the pocket of his school uniform.
“He graduated at the top of his class and entered the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry as one of the elite. His senior thesis was, simply stated, a unified scheme of large-scale agriculturalization for Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, which some decried as slightly too idealistic. It was, nonetheless, the talk of the time.
“After two years in the Ministry, the Sheep Professor went to the Korean peninsula to conduct research in rice cultivation. His report, published as A Study on Rice Cropping on the Korean Peninsula, was adopted by the government.
“In 1934, the Sheep Professor was called back to Tokyo and was introduced to a young army officer. For the big, imminent North China campaign, the Sheep Professor was asked to establish a self-sufficiency program based on sheep. This was to be the Sheep Professor’s first encounter with sheep. The Sheep Professor concentrated on developing a general framework for ovine productivity in Japan, Manchuria, and Mongolia. The following spring, he embarked on a site-observation tour.
“The spring of 1935 passed uneventfully. The events happened in July. Setting out on horseback, unaccompanied, on his observation tour, the Sheep Professor disappeared. Whereabouts unknown.
“Three days, four days passed. Still no Professor. The army search team combed the terrain desperately, but he was nowhere to be found. Perhaps he had been attacked by wolves or abducted by tribesmen. Then at dusk a week later, just as everyone had given up hope, one utterly disheveled Sheep Professor wandered back into camp. His face was haggard, with cuts in several places, but his eyes retained their gleam. His horse was gone, his watch was gone. His explanation, which everyone seemed willing to accept, was that he’d lost his way and his horse fell injured.
“Not one month later, a bizarre rumor began to spread through the government offices. Word had gotten out that he enjoyed a ‘special relationship’ with sheep. What this ‘special relationship’ meant, no one knew. Whereupon his superior summoned him to his office and conducted an interrogation to set the record straight. Rumors are not to be tolerated in colonial societies.
“‘Did you in truth experience a special relationship with sheep?’ queried his superior.
“‘I did,’ answered the Sheep Professor.
“The interrogation went something like this:
Q: By this special relationship, do you mean you engaged in sexual relations with sheep?
A: No, that is not the case.
Q: Please explain.
A: It was a mental relationship.
Q: That is not an explanation.
A: It is difficult to find the right words, sir, but perhaps spiritual communion comes close.
Q: You would tell me you had spiritual communion with sheep?
A: That is correct.
Q: Are you telling me that during the week of your disappearance you had spiritual communion with sheep?
A: That is correct.
Q: Do you not think that is sufficient reason for dismissal from your offices?
A: It is my office to study sheep, sir.
Q: Spiritual communion is not a recognized course of study. Henceforth, I would ask that you amend your ways. Consider your graduation with honors from the Agriculture Faculty of Tokyo Imperial University, your brilliant work record upon entering the Ministry. There are great expectations of you as the standard-bearer of agricultural administration for tomorrow’s East Asia.
A: I understand.
Q: Then forget about this spiritual communion nonsense. Sheep are livestock. Simply livestock.
A: It is impossible for me to forget.
Q: You will have to explain the circumstances.
A: The reason, sir, is that there is a sheep inside me.
Q: That is not an explanation.
A: Further explanation is impossible.
“February 1936. The Sheep Professor is ordered home to Japan. After undergoing numerous similar interrogations, he is transferred in the spring to the Ministry Reference Collection. There he catalogues reference materials and organizes bookshelves. In other words, he has been purged from the core elite of the East Asian agricultural administration.
“‘The sheep has now gone from inside me,’ the Sheep Professor told a close friend at the time. ‘But it used to be there inside.’
“1937. Sheep Professor retires from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and, availing himself of a Ministry loan under the Japan-Manchuria Sheep Scheme, which used to be in his charge, moves to Hokkaido and becomes a shepherd. 56 head of sheep.
“1939. Sheep Professor marries. 128 head of sheep.
“1942. Eldest son born (present owner-operator of the Dolphin Hotel). 181 head of sheep.
“1946. American Occupation Forces appropriate Sheep Professor’s sheep ranch as a training camp. 62 head of sheep.
“1947. Sheep Professor enters employ of Hokkaido Ovine Association.
“1949. Wife dies of bronchitis.
“1950. Sheep Professor assumes directorship of Hokkaido Ovine Association.
“1960. Eldest son loses fingers at Port of Otaru.
“1967. Hokkaido Ovine Hall closes.
“1968. Dolphin Hotel opens.
“1978. Young real estate agent inquires about sheep photograph.”
Me, in other words.
“Just great,” I said.
“By all means, I would like to meet your father,” I said.
“I have no objection to your meeting him, but since my father dislikes me, you’ll have to excuse me if I ask you to go alone,” said the son of the Sheep Professor.
“Dislikes you?”
“Because I lost two fingers and am balding.”
“I see,” I said. “An eccentric man, your father.”
“As his son, it’s not for me to say, but yes, an eccentric man indeed. A completely changed man since he encountered sheep. Extremely difficult, sometimes even cruel. Deep down in his heart he’s kind. If you heard him play his violin, you’d know that. Sheep hurt my father, and through my father, sheep have also hurt me.”
“You love your father, don’t you?” said my girlfriend.
“Yes, that I do. I love him very much,” said the Dolphin Hotel owner, “but he dislikes me. He never once held me since the day I was born. Never once had a kind word for me. And since I lost my fingers and started going bald, he’s done nothing but ridicule me.”
“I’m sure he doesn’t mean to ridicule you,” she said.
“I can’t believe that he would either,” I said.
“You’re too kind,” said the hotel man.
“Shall we go and try to see him directly, then?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” said the hotel man. “Though I’m sure he’ll see you if you’re careful about two things. One is to state clearly that you wish to inquire about sheep.”
“And the other?”
“Don’t say that I told you about him.”
“Fair enough,” I said.
We thanked the Sheep Professor’s son and headed up the stairs. The air at the top of the stairs was chilly and damp. The lights were dim, scarcely revealing the dust drifts in the corners of the hallway. The whole place smelled indistinctly of old papers and old body odors. We walked down the long hallway, as per the son’s instructions, and knocked on the ancient door at the end. An old plastic plaque affixed to the door read DIRECTOR’S OFFICE. No answer. I knocked again. Again, no answer. At the third knock, there was a groan, and then the response—“Don’t bother me. Go away.”
“We’ve come to ask a few things about sheep, if we might.”
“Eat shit!” yelled the Sheep Professor from inside. A mighty healthy voice for seventy-three.
“We really have to talk with you,” I shouted through the door.
“Don’t give me this you-want-to-talk-about-sheep crap,” said the Sheep Professor.
“But it’s something that probably ought to be discussed,” I coaxed. “It’s about a sheep that disappeared in 1936.”
There was a brief silence, then the door flew open. Before us stood the Sheep Professor.
The Sheep Professor had long hair, white as snow. His eyebrows were also white, hanging down over his eyes like icicles. He stood five foot ten. A self-possessed figure. Sturdy-boned. His nose thrust out from his face at a challenging angle, like a ski jump.
His body odor permeated the entire room. No, I would hesitate to call it body odor. Beyond a certain point, it ceased to be body odor and blended into time, merged with the light. What had probably once been a large space was so packed with old books and papers you could hardly see the floor. Almost all the publications were scholarly tomes written in foreign languages. Without exception, all were covered with stains. On the right, against the wall, was a filthy bed, and before the window a huge mahogany desk and revolving chair. The desktop was in relative order, papers neatly stacked and surmounted by a paperweight in the shape of a sheep. The room was dark, the only illumination coming from a dust-covered lamp’s sixty-watt bulb.
The Sheep Professor was wearing a gray shirt, black cardigan, and herringbone trousers that had all but lost their shape. In the light of the room, his gray shirt and black cardigan could have passed for a white shirt and gray cardigan. Maybe those had been the original colors, hard to say.
The Sheep Professor sat behind his desk, motioning with his finger for us to sit down on the bed. We made our way over, straddling books as if crossing a minefield, and sat down. The bed was so palpably grimy I was afraid my Levi’s would stick to the sheets. The Sheep Professor folded his fingers on top of his desk and stared at us intently. His fingers were thick with black hair right up to his knuckles. The blackness in stark contrast to the brilliant white of his head.
Suddenly, the Sheep Professor picked up the telephone and shouted into the receiver: “Bring me my supper, quick!”
“Well now,” said the Professor. “You say you have come to discuss a sheep that disappeared in 1936?”
“That’s right,” I said.
“Hmm,” he said. Then abruptly, with great volume, he blew his nose into a wad of paper. “Is there something you wish to tell? Or something you wish to ask?”
“First, let me hear what you have to tell.”
“We know what became of the sheep that escaped you in the spring of 1936.”
The Sheep Professor snorted. “Are you telling me that you know I threw away everything I had for a sheep I have been trying to track down for forty-two years?”
“We are aware of that,” I said.
“You could be making this up.”
I pulled out the silver lighter from my pocket and placed it on his desk together with the Rat’s sheep photograph. He reached out a hairy hand, picked up the lighter and photograph, and examined them at length under the lamp. Particles of silence floated about the room for the longest time. The solid double-hung window shut out the city noise; only the sputter of the old lamp punctuated the silence.
The old man, having finished his examination of the lighter and photograph, turned off the lamp with a click and rubbed his eyes with stubby fingers. As if he were trying to press his eyeballs into his skull. When he removed his fingers, his eyes were murky red, like a rabbit’s.
“Forgive me,” said the Sheep Professor. “I’ve been surrounded by idiots for so long, I’ve grown distrustful of people.”
“That’s okay,” I said.
My girlfriend smiled politely.
“Can you imagine what it’s like to be left with a solitary thought when its embodiment has been pulled out from underneath you, roots and all?” asked the Professor.
“No, I can’t.”
“It’s hell. A maze of a subterranean hell. Unmitigated by even one shaft of light or a single draft of water. That’s been my life for forty-two years.”
“Because of this sheep?”
“Yes, yes, yes. All because of that sheep. That sheep left me stranded in the thick of everything. In the spring of 1936.”
“And it was to search for this sheep that you left the Ministry of Agriculture, am I correct?”
“Those paper pushers were all morons. They hadn’t the slightest idea of the true value of things. Probably’ll never catch on to the monumental significance of that sheep.”
There came a knock on the door, followed by a woman’s voice. “I’ve brought you your meal.”
“Leave it,” said the Sheep Professor.
The sound of the tray being set on the floor was followed by the echo of receding footsteps.
My girlfriend opened the door and brought the meal tray over to the Sheep Professor’s desk. On the tray were soup, salad, a roll, and meatballs for the Professor, plus two coffees for us.
“You’ve eaten already?” asked the Sheep Professor.
“Yes, thank you,” I said.
“What did you have?”
“Veal in wine sauce,” I said.
“Shrimp, grilled,” she said.
The Sheep Professor grunted. Then he ate his soup and crunched the croutons. “Excuse me if I eat while you talk. I’m hungry.”
“By all means,” we said.
The Sheep Professor ate his soup and we sipped our coffee. As he ate, the Professor stared headlong into his bowl.
“Would you know where the place in this photograph is?” I asked.
“I would indeed. I know it very well.”
“Would you tell us?”
“Just hold on,” said the Sheep Professor, setting aside his now-empty bowl. “One thing at a time. Let’s start with the events of 1936. First I’ll talk, then you talk.”
I nodded.
The Sheep Professor began. “It was the summer of 1935 when the sheep entered me. I had lost my way during a survey of open-pasture grazing near the Manchuria-Mongolia border, when I happened across a cave. I decided to spend the night there. That night I dreamed about a sheep that asked, could it go inside me? Why not? I said. At the time, I didn’t think much of it. It was a dream, after all.” The old man chortled as he moved on to his salad.
“It was a breed of sheep I’d never set eyes on before. Because of my work I was acquainted with every breed of sheep in the world, but this one was unique. The horns were bent at a strange angle, the legs squat and stocky, eyes clear as spring water. The fleece was pure white, except for a brownish star on its back. There is no such sheep anywhere in the world. That’s why I told the sheep it was all right to enter my body. As a sheep specialist, I was not about to let go of such a find.”
“And what did it feel like to have this sheep inside your body?”
“Nothing special, really. It just felt like there was this sheep inside me. I felt it in the morning. I woke up and there was this sheep inside. A perfectly natural feeling.”
“Do you experience headaches?”
“Never once since the day I was born.”
The Sheep Professor went at his meatballs, glazing them in sauce before shoveling them into his mouth with gusto. “In parts of Northern China and Mongol territory, it’s not uncommon to hear of sheep entering people’s bodies. Among the locals, it’s believed that a sheep entering the body is a blessing from the gods. For instance, in one book published in the Yuan dynasty it’s written that a ‘star-bearing white sheep’ entered the body of Genghis Khan. Interesting, don’t you think?”
“The sheep that enters a body is thought to be immortal. And so too the person who hosts the sheep is thought to become immortal. However, should the sheep escape, the immortality goes. It’s all up to the sheep. If the sheep likes its host, it’ll stay for decades. If not—zip!—it’s gone. People abandoned by sheep are called the ‘sheepless.’ In other words, people like me.”
Chomp, chomp.
“Ever since that sheep entered my body, I began reading on ethnological studies and folklore related to sheep. I went around interviewing locals and checking old writings. Pretty soon talk went around that I’d been entered by a sheep, and word got back to my commanding officer. My commanding officer didn’t take kindly to it. I was labeled ‘mentally unfit’ and promptly shipped home to Japan. Your typical ‘colony case.’”
Having polished off three meatballs, the Sheep Professor moved on to the roll.
“The basic stupidity of modern Japan is that we’ve learned absolutely nothing from our contact with other Asian peoples. The same goes for our dealings with sheep. Sheep raising in Japan has failed precisely because we’ve viewed sheep merely as a source of wool and meat. The daily-life level is missing from our thinking. We minimize the time factor to maximize the results. It’s like that with everything. In other words, we don’t have our feet on solid ground. It’s not without reason that we lost the war.”
“That sheep came with you to Japan, I take it,” I said, returning to the subject.
“Yes,” said the Sheep Professor. “I returned by ship from Pusan. The sheep came with me.”
“And what on earth do you suppose the sheep’s purpose was?”
“I don’t know,” the Sheep Professor spat out. “The sheep didn’t tell me anything. But the beast did have one major purpose. That much I do know. A monumental plan to transform humanity and the human world.”
“One sheep planned to do all that?”
The Sheep Professor nodded as he popped the last morsel of his roll into his mouth and brushed the crumbs from his hands. “Nothing so alarming. Consider Genghis Khan.”
“You have a point,” I said. “But why now? Why Japan?”
“My guess is that I woke the sheep up. It probably would’ve gone on sleeping in that cave for hundreds of years. And stupid me, I had to go and wake it up.”
“It’s not your fault,” I said.
“No,” said the Professor, “it is my fault. I should have caught on a long time ago. I would have had a hand to play. But it took me a long time to catch on. And by the time I did, the sheep had already run off.”
The Sheep Professor grew silent. He rubbed his icicled white brow with his fingers. It was as if the weight of forty-two years had infiltrated the furthest reaches of his body.
“One morning I awoke and the sheep was gone. It was then that I understood what it meant to be ‘sheepless.’ Sheer hell. The sheep goes away leaving only an idea. But without the sheep there is no expelling that idea. That is what it is to be ‘sheepless.’”
Again the Sheep Professor blew his nose on a wad of paper. “Now it’s your turn to talk.”
I began with the route the sheep took after it left the Sheep Professor. How the sheep had entered the body of a rightist youth in prison. How as soon as this youth got out of prison he became a major right-wing figure. How he then crossed over to the Chinese continent and built up an intelligence network and a fortune in the process. How he’d been marked a Class A war criminal, but how he was released in exchange for his intelligence network on the continent. And how, utilizing the fortune he brought back from China, he’d laid claim to the whole underside of postwar politics, economics, information, etc., etc.
“I’ve heard of this man,” the Sheep Professor said bitterly. “Somehow the sheep has an uncanny sense of the most competent targets.”
“Only this spring, the sheep left his body. The man himself is in a coma, on the verge of death. Up until now, it seems that a brain dysfunction covered for the sheep.”
“Such bliss. Better that the ‘sheepless’ be without this shell of half-consciousness.”
“Why do you suppose the sheep left his body—after all this time building up a huge organization?”
The Sheep Professor let out a deep sigh. “You still don’t understand? It’s the same with that man as it was with me. He outlived his usefulness. People have their limits, and the sheep has no use for people who’ve reached their limit. My guess is that he did not fully comprehend all that the sheep had cut out for him. His role was to build a huge organization, and once that was complete, he was tossed. Just as the sheep used me as a means of transport.”
“So what has the sheep been up to since?”
The Sheep Professor picked up the photograph from the desk and gave it a flick of his fingers. “It has roamed all over Japan to search out a new host. To the sheep, that would probably mean a new person to put on top of the organization by one scheme or another.”
“And what is the sheep seeking?”
“As I said before, I can’t express that in words with any precision. What the sheep seeks is the embodiment of sheep thought.”
“Is that good?”
“To the sheep’s thinking, of course it’s good.”
“And to yours?”
“I don’t know,” said the old man. “I really don’t know. Ever since the sheep departed, I can’t tell how much is really me and how much the shadow of the sheep.”
“A while ago, you said something about having a hand to play. What would that be?”
“I have no intention of telling you that.” The Sheep Professor shook his head.
Once again, silence shrouded the room. Outside, a hard rain began to fall. The first rain since we’d arrived in Sapporo.
“One last thing: could you tell us where the place in the photograph is?” I asked.
“The homestead where I lived for nine years. I raised sheep there. Appropriated right after the war by the American Forces, and when they repatriated the place to me I sold it to some rich man as a vacation home with pasture. Ought to still be the same owner.”
“And would he still be raising sheep?”
“I don’t know. But from the photograph it sure looks as if he’s raising sheep. Whatever, it’s a good remove from any settlements. Not another house in sight. The roads are blocked in the winter. I’m sure the owner uses the place only two, maybe three months a year. It’s nice and quiet there.”
“Does anyone look after the place when the owner’s not there?”
“I doubt if anyone stays there over the winter. Other than myself, I can’t imagine any other human staying there the winter through. You can pay the municipal shepherds in the town at the foot of the hills to look after the sheep. The roof of the house is sloped so that the snow naturally slides off onto the ground, and no worry about burglars. Even if somebody did steal something up there, it’d be a pain to get it to town. It’s staggering, the amount of snow that falls there.”
“So is anyone there now?”
“Hmm. Maybe not now. The snow’s going to start soon and bears’ll be roaming around for food before they go into hibernation. You’re not planning to head up there?”
“Probably will have to. We have no other real lead.”
The Sheep Professor sat for a while with his mouth shut. Tomato sauce from the meatballs at the corner of his mouth.
“You should probably know that prior to you one other person came here asking about the homestead. Around February it was. Age and appearance, well, kind of like you. He said he was interested in the photograph in the hotel lobby. I was pretty bored at the time, so I told him this and that. He said he was looking for material for a novel he was writing.”
Out of my pocket I pulled a snapshot of the Rat and me together. It was taken in the summer eight years before, in J’s Bar. I was in profile, smoking a cigarette, the Rat was looking at the camera, signaling thumbs up. Both of us were young and tan.
“This one’s you, eh?” said the Sheep Professor, holding the snapshot under the lamp. “Younger than now.”
“You’re right—taken eight years ago.”
“The other one’s that man. He looked older than in this photo and had a moustache, but it was him.”
“A moustache?”
“A neat little moustache and the rest stubble.”
I tried to picture the Rat with a moustache, but couldn’t quite see it.
The Sheep Professor drew us a detailed map to the homestead. You had to change trains near Asahikawa to a branch line and travel three hours to get to the town at the foot of the hills. From there it was three hours by car to the homestead.
“Thank you kindly for everything,” I said.
“If you really want to know the truth, I think the fewer people that get involved with that sheep the better. I’m a prime example. There’s not a soul the happier for having tangled with it. The values of one lone individual cannot bear up before the presence of that sheep. But well, I guess you’ve got your reasons.”
“That I do.”
“Be careful now,” said the Sheep Professor. “And place the dishes by the door if you would.”
A Wild Sheep Chase: A Novel A Wild Sheep Chase: A Novel - Haruki Murakami A Wild Sheep Chase: A Novel