Saturday, September 04, 2004

Comments, Links

This is going to be a long entry of passages that I connected with in Murakami's The Wind-up Bird Chronicle:

"No, I wasn't," said Lieutenant Mamiya, biting his lip. "We were in different units – different divisions, even. We worked together in a small-scale military operation that preceded the Nomonhan battle. Corporal Honda was later wounded at Nomonhan and sent back to Japan. I didn't go to Nomonhan. I lost this hand of mine" – and here Lieutenant Mamiya held up his gloved left hand – "in the Soviet advance of August 1945, the month the war ended. I caught a slug in the shoulder from a heavy machine gun during a battle against a tank unit. I was on the ground unconscious, when a Soviet tank ran over my hand. I was taken prisoner, treated in a hospital in Chita, and sent to an internment camp in Siberia. They kept me there until 1949. I was on the continent for twelve years altogether from the time they sent me over in 1937. I never set foot on Japanese soil the whole time. My family thought I had been killed fighting the Soviets. They made a grave for me in the village cemetary. I had a kind of understanding with a girl there before I left Japan, but by the time I got back she was married to another man. Twelve years is a long time."

Twelve years is a long time.

I arived at the tearoom ten minutes early, but Noboru Wataya and Malta Kano had already found a table and were waiting for me. The lunchtime crowd was thick, but I spotted Malta Kano immediately. Not too many people wore red vinyl hats on sunny summer afternoons. It must have been the same hat she had on the day I met her, unless she owned a collection of vinyl hats, all the same style and colour. She dressed with the same tasteful simplicity as before: a short-sleeved linen jacket over a collarless cotton top. Both pieces were perfectly white and perfectly free of wrinkles. No accessories, no make-up. Only the red vinyl hat clashed with the rest of the outfit, both in tone and in material. As if she had been waiting for my arrival to do so, she removed the hat when I took my seat, placing it on the table. Beside the hat lay a small yellow leather handbag. She had ordered some tonic water but had not touched it, as before. The liquid seemed somehow uncomfortable in its tall glass, as if it had nothing better to do than produce its little bubbles.

Two things: for a while, I took to ordering drinks and not touching them either; also, I like the image of the uncomfortable tonic water.

I let out a sigh. Not that sighing was going to accomplish anything, but it was something I had to do. "So, then, Kumiko had been involved with this man for some time?"

"Two and half months or thereabouts, I believe."

"Two and a half months," I said. "How could it have been going on for two and a half months without my noticing anything?"

"Because, Mr Okada, you had no doubts whatsoever about your wife," said Malta Kano.

I nodded. "That's true. It never once crossed my mind. I never imagined Kumiko could lie to me like that, and I still can't really believe it."

"Results aside, the ability to have complete faith in another human being is one of the finest qualities a person can possess."

"Not an easy ability to come by," said Noboru Wataya.

I think I have, modesty aside, this ability. It was the reason I "lost" my backpack in Beijing in 2002, and the reason payed twenty dollars for an orange juice and a cold shoulder last night. But if the good guy loses, he was still the good guy... right?

May Kasahara touched her lips to my mark – her lips were small and thin, like an extremely well-made imitation. Then she parted those lips and ran her tongue across my mark – very slowly, covering every bit of it. The hand she had placed on my knee remained there the whole time. Its warm, moist touch came to me from far away, from a place still farther than if it had passed through all the fields in the world. Then she took my hand and touched it to the wound beside her eye. I caressed the half-inch scar. As I did so, the waves of her consciousness pulsed through my fingertips and into me – a delicate resonance of longing. Someone should take this girl in his arms and hold her tight, I thought. Probably someone other than me. Someone qualified to give her something.

"Goodbye, Mr Wind-up Bird. See you again sometime."

I like the "resonance of longing", and feel the same way about people sometime. "Someone other than me."

Lately it's really been bothering me that, I don't know, the way people work like this every day from morning to night is kind of weird. Hasn't it ever struck you as strange? I mean, all I do here is do the work that my bosses tell me to do the way they tell me to do it. I don't have to think at all. It's like I just put my brain in a locker before I start work and pick it up on the way home. I spend seven hours a day at a workbench, planting hairs into wig bases, then I eat dinner in the cafeteria, take a bath, and of course I have to sleep, like everybody else, so out of a twenty-four-hour day, the amount of free time I have is nothing. And because I'm so tired from work, the "free time" I have I mostly spend lying around in a fog. I don't have any time to sit and think about anything. Of course, I don't have to work at weekends, but then I have to catch up on the laundry and cleaning, and sometimes I go into town, and before I know it the weekend is over. I once made up my mind to keep a diary, but I had nothing to write, so I gave up after a week. I mean, I just do the same thing over and over again, day in, day out.

But still – but still – it does not bother me at all that I'm now just a part of the work I do. I don't feel the least bit alienated from my life. If anything, I sometimes feel that by concentrating on my work like this, with all the mindless determination of an ant, I'm getting closer to the "real me". I don't know how to put it, but it's as if by not thinking about myself I can get closer to the core of my self. That's what I mean by "kind of weird".

Sometimes I feel the same way, that the more I think about things, the less I experience them and the more muddled my thinking becomes. CS Lewis said something similar in his childhood autobiography, that there is an Object, and a Feeling we get when we pursue that Object. If we pursue the Feeling (in his case, Joy), we will not find it. But if we concentrate on the Object, we will experience Joy again.

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