People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.

Thích Nhất Hạnh

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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 35: The Sheep Man Cometh
s the clock struck two, there came a knocking on the door. Two times at first, a two-breath pause, then three times.
It took me a while to recognize it as knocking. That anyone should knock on the door hadn’t occurred to me. The Rat wouldn’t knock, it was his house. The caretaker might knock, but he certainly wouldn’t wait for a reply before walking in. Maybe my girlfriend—no, more likely she’d steal in through the kitchen door and help herself to a cup of coffee. She wasn’t the type to knock.
I opened the door, and standing there, two yards away, was the Sheep Man. Showing markedly little interest in either the open door or myself who opened it. Carefully inspecting the mailbox as if it were a rare, exotic specimen. The Sheep Man was barely taller than the mailbox. Four foot ten at most. Slouched over and bow-legged besides.
There were, moreover, six inches between the doorsill, where I stood, and ground level, where he stood, so it was as if I were looking down at him from a bus window. As if ignoring his decisive shortcomings, he continued his scrutiny of the mailbox.
“CanIcomein?” the Sheep Man said rapid-fire, facing sideways the whole while. His tone was angry.
“Please do,” I said.
He crouched down and gingerly untied the laces of his mountaineering boots. They were caked with a sweet-roll-thick crust of mud. The Sheep Man picked up his boots with both hands and, with practiced technique, whacked them solidly together. A shower of hardened mud fell to the ground. Then demonstrating consummate knowledge of the lay of the house, he put slippers on and padded over to the sofa and sat down.
Just great, his face was saying.
The Sheep Man wore a full sheepskin pulled over his head. The arms and legs were fake and patched on, but his stocky body fit the costume perfectly. The hood was also fake, but the two horns that curled from his crown were absolutely real. Two flat ears, probably wire-reinforced, stuck out level from either side of the hood. The leather mask that covered the upper half of his face, his matching gloves, and socks, all were black. There was a zipper from neck to crotch.
On his chest was a pocket, also zippered, from which he extracted his cigarettes and matches. The Sheep Man put a Seven Stars to his mouth, lit up, and let out a long sigh. I fetched the washed ashtray from the kitchen.
“Iwannadrink,” said the Sheep Man. I duly went into the kitchen and got a half-bottle of Four Roses and two glasses with ice.
He poured whiskey over the ice, I did the same, we drank without a toast. As he drank, the Sheep Man mumbled to himself. His pug nose was big for his body, and with each breath he took, his nostrils flared dramatically. The two eyes that peered through the mask darted restlessly around the room.
When the Sheep Man finished his whiskey, he seemed more at ease. He put out his cigarette and with both hands rubbed his eyes under his mask.
“Woolgetsinmyeyes,” said the Sheep Man.
I didn’t know how to respond and said nothing.
“Youcamehereyesterdayafternooneh?” said the Sheep Man, rubbing his eyes some more. “Beenwatchingyouthewholetime.”
The Sheep Man stopped to pour a slug of whiskey over the half-melted ice and downed it in one gulp.
“Andthewomanleftalonethisafternoon.”
“You watched that too, did you?”
“Watchedher?Wedroveheraway.”
“Drove her away?”
“Surestuckourheadthroughthekitchendoorsaidyou
bettergohome.”
“Why?”
That threw the Sheep Man into a pout. “Why?” was obviously not the way to phrase a question to him, but before I could say anything else, his eyes slowly took on a different gleam.
“ShewentbacktotheDolphinHotel,” said the Sheep Man.
“Did she say so?
“Didn’tsaynothing.ButwheresheisistheDolphinHotel.”
“How do you know that?”
Again the Sheep Man refused to speak. He put both hands on his knees and glared at the glass on the table.
“But she did go back to the Dolphin Hotel?” I said.
“UhhuhtheDolphinHotel’sanicehotel.Smellslikesheep,” said the Sheep Man.
Silence again.
On closer inspection, I could see that the Sheep Man’s fleece was filthy, the wool stiff with oil.
“Did she say anything by way of a message when she left?”
“Nope,” the Sheep Man said, shaking his head. “Shedidn’t sayanythingandwedidn’task.”
“When you told her she’d better leave, she up and left without a word?”
“Right. Wetoldhershe’dbetterleavebecauseshewaswantingtoleave.”
“She came up here because she wanted to.”
“Wrong!” screamed the Sheep Man. “Shewantedtogetoutbutshe herselfwasconfused.That’swhywechasedherhome.
Youconfusedher.” The Sheep Man stood up and slammed his right hand down flat on the table. His whiskey glass slid two inches.
The Sheep Man froze in that pose until gradually his eyes lost their zeal and he collapsed back into the sofa, out of steam.
“Youconfusedthatwoman,” the Sheep Man said, this time more calmly. “Notaverynicethingatall.
Youdon’tknowathing.Allyou thinkaboutisyourself.”
“You’re telling me she shouldn’t have come here?”
“That’sright.Shewasn’tmeanttocomehere.
Youdon’tthinkabout anythingbutyourself.”
I sat there speechless, lapping my whiskey.
“Butstillwhat’sdoneisdone.Anywayit’soverforher.”
“Over?”
“You’llneverseethatwomanagain.”
“Because I only thought about myself?”
“That’sright.Becauseyouthoughtonlyaboutyourself.
Justdeserts.”
The Sheep Man stood up and went to a window, forced up the window frame with one hand, and took a breath of the fresh air. No mean show of strength.
“Gottaopenwindowsonnicedayslikethis,” said the Sheep Man. Then the Sheep Man did a quick half-turn around the room and stopped before the bookcase, peering over the spines of the books with folded arms. Sprouting from the rear end of his costume was a tiny tail. In this position, he looked like a sheep standing up on its two hind legs.
“I’m looking for a friend of mine,” I ventured.
“Areyou?” said the Sheep Man, back to me in total disinterest.
“He was living here. Up to a week ago.”
“Wouldn’tknow.”
The Sheep Man stood in front of the fireplace shuffling the cards from the mantel.
“I’m also looking for a sheep with a star mark on its back,” I pressed on.
“Haven’tseenit,” said the Sheep Man.
But it was obvious that the Sheep Man knew something about the Rat and the sheep. His lack of concern was too affected. The timing of his response too pat, his tone false.
I changed tactics. Pretending I’d given up, I yawned, taking up my book from the table and flipping through the pages. A slightly vexed Sheep Man returned to the sofa and quietly eyed me reading the book.
“Readingbooksfun?” asked the Sheep Man.
“Hmm,” I responded.
The Sheep Man bided his time. I kept reading to spite him.
“Sorryforshouting,” said the Sheep Man in a low voice. “Some timesit’slikethesheepinmeandthehumaninmeareatoddsso
Igetlikethat. Didn’tmeananythingbyit.
Andbesidesyoucomeonsayingthingsto threatenus.”
“That’s okay,” I said.
“Toobadyou’llneverseethatwomanagain.Butit’s
notourfault.”
“Hmm.”
I took the three packs of Larks out of my backpack and gave them to the Sheep Man. The Sheep Man was taken aback.
“Thanks.Neverhadthisbrand.Butdon’tyou needthem?”
“I quit smoking,” I said.
“Yesthat’swise,” the Sheep Man nodded in all seriousness. “They’rereallybadforyou.”
He filed the cigarette packs away carefully in a pocket on his arm. The fleece buckled out in a rectangular lump.
“I’ve absolutely got to see my friend. I’ve come a long, long way here to see him.”
The Sheep Man nodded.
“The same goes for that sheep.”
The Sheep Man nodded.
“But you don’t know anything about them, I take it?”
The Sheep Man shook his head forlornly. His fake ears flapped up and down. This time his denial was much weaker than before.
“It’saniceplacehere,” the Sheep Man changed the subject. “Beautifulscenerygoodcleanair.You’regonnalikeithere.”
“Yeah, it’s a nice place,” I said.
“It’sevennicerinthewinter.Nothingbutsnowallaround,
everything frozenup.Alltheanimalssleepingnohumanfolk.”
“You stay here all winter?”
“Uhhuh.”
I didn’t ask anything else. The Sheep Man was just like an animal. Approach him and he’d retreat, move away and he’d come closer. As long as I wasn’t going anywhere, there was no hurry. I could take my time.
With his left hand the Sheep Man pulled at the fingers of his black right glove, one after the other. After a number of tugs, the glove slipped off, revealing a flaking blackened hand. Small but fleshy, an old burn scar from the base of his thumb to midway around the back of his hand.
The Sheep Man stared at the back of his hand, then turned it over to look at the palm. Exactly the way the Rat used to do, that gesture. But no way was this Sheep Man the Rat. There was a difference in height of eight inches between them.
“Yougonnastayhere?” asked the Sheep Man.
“No, as soon as I find either my friend or the sheep, I’m leaving. That’s all I came for.”
“Winter’snicehere,” repeated the Sheep Man. “Sparkling white.Everythingallfrozen.”
The Sheep Man snickered to himself, flaring those enormous nostrils. Dingy teeth peered out from his mouth, the two front teeth missing. There was something uneven to the rhythm of the Sheep Man’s thoughts, which seemed to have the whole room expanding and contracting.
“Gottabegoing,” the Sheep Man said suddenly. “Thanksfor thesmokes.”
I nodded.
“Hopeyoufindyourfriendandthatsheepbeforetoolong.”
“Hmm,” I said. “Let me know if you hear of anything.”
The Sheep Man hemmed and hawed, ill at ease. “Umwellyes surething.”
I fought back the urge to laugh. The Sheep Man was one lame liar.
He put his glove back on and stood up to go. “I’llbeback.Can’t sayhowmanydaysfromnowbutI’llbeback.” Then his eyes clouded. “Noimpositionisit?”
“You kidding?” I threw in a quick shake of the head. “By all means, I’d love to see you again.”
“WellI’llbeback,” said the Sheep Man, then slammed the door behind him. He almost caught his tail, but it slipped through safe and sound.
Through a space in the shutters, I watched the Sheep Man stand staring at that peeling whitewashed mailbox, exactly as he had when he first appeared. Then wriggling a bit to adjust the costume better to his body, he took off fleetfoot across the pasture toward the woods in the east. His level ears were like a diving board of a swimming pool. In the growing distance, the Sheep Man became a fuzzy white dot, finally merging into the white of the birches.
Even after the Sheep Man disappeared from view, I kept staring at the pasture and birch woods. Had the Sheep Man been an illusion?
Yet here were a bottle of whiskey and Seven Stars butts left on the table, and there on the sofa were a few strands of wool. I compared them with the wool from the backseat of the Land Cruiser. Identical.
As a way to focus my thoughts, I went into the kitchen to fix some Salisbury steak. I minced up an onion and browned it in the frying pan. Meanwhile, I defrosted a chunk of beef from the freezer, then ground it with a medium blade. The kitchen was what you might call compact, but even so it had more than your typical run of utensils and seasonings.
If they’d only pave the road here, you could open a mountain-chalet–style restaurant. Wouldn’t be bad, windows wide open, a view of the flocks, blue sky. Families could let their kids play with the sheep, lovers could stroll in the birch woods. A success for sure.
The Rat could run it, I could cook. The Sheep Man could be good for something too. His costume would be perfect up here in the mountains. Then for a practical, down-to-earth touch, the caretaker could join us; you need one practical person. The dog too. Even the Sheep Professor could drop in.
While browning the onions with a wooden spatula, I tossed these ideas around in my head.
But my beautiful-eared girlfriend—was she lost to me forever? The thought depressed me, though what the Sheep Man said was probably right. I should have come here on my own. I should not have … I shook my head. Then I took up where I’d left off with the restaurant.
Now, if we could get J to come up here, I’m sure things would work out fine. Everything should revolve around him, with forgiveness, compassion, and acceptance at the center.
While waiting for the onions to cool, I sat down by the window and gazed back out at the pasture.
A Wild Sheep Chase: A Novel A Wild Sheep Chase: A Novel - Haruki Murakami A Wild Sheep Chase: A Novel