Photo of bamboo by Vinhdav/Thinkstock.

Photo illustration by Slate, photo of bamboo by Vinhdav/Thinkstock

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Read a Spooky Excerpt of Haruki Murakami’s New Novel

Reading between the lines.
July 27 2014 11:53 PM

Haida’s Story

A folktale from Haruki Murakami’s new novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage.

140722_FRESCA_ColorlessTsukuruTazakiCOVER
By Haruki Murakami, translated by Philip Gabriel
Copyright © 2014 by Haruki Murakami

One Saturday night, Tsukuru and Haida were up talking late as usual when they turned to the subject of death. They talked about the significance of dying, about having to live with the knowledge that you were going to die. They discussed it mainly in theoretical terms. Tsukuru wanted to explain how close to death he had been very recently, and the profound changes that experience had brought about, both physically and mentally. He wanted to tell Haida about the strange things he’d seen. But he knew that if he mentioned it, he’d have to explain the whole sequence of events, from start to finish. So as always, Haida did most of the talking, while Tsukuru sat back and listened.

A little past 11 p.m. their conversation petered out and silence descended on the room. At this point they would normally have called it a night and gotten ready for bed. Both of them tended to wake up early. But Haida remained seated, cross-legged, on the sofa, deep in thought. Then, in a hesitant tone, something unusual for him, he spoke up.

“I have a kind of weird story related to death. Something my father told me. He said it was an actual experience he had when he was in his early twenties. Just the age I am now. I’ve heard the story so many times I can remember every detail. It’s a really strange story—it’s hard even now for me to believe it actually happened— but my father isn’t the type to lie about something like that. Or the type who would concoct such a story. I’m sure you know this, but when you make up a story the details change each time you retell it. You tend to embellish things, and forget what you said before. ... But my father’s story, from start to finish, was always exactly the same, each time he told it. So I think it must be something he actually experienced. I’m his son, and I know him really well, so the only thing I can do is believe what he said. But you don’t know my father, Tsukuru, so feel free to believe it or not. Just understand that this is what he told me. You can take it as folklore, or a tale of the supernatural, I don’t mind. It’s a long story, and it’s already late, but do you mind if I tell it?”

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Sure, Tsukuru said, that would be fine. I’m not sleepy yet.

* * *

Students demonstrating at the campus of Tokyo University. January 18th 1969.
Students demonstrating at the campus of Tokyo University on Jan. 18, 1969.

© Hiroshi Hamaya/Magnum Photos

“When my father was young, he spent a year wandering around Japan,” Haida began. “This was at the end of the 1960s, the peak of the counterculture era, when the student movement was upending universities. I don’t know all the details, but when he was in college in Tokyo, a lot of stupid things happened, and he got fed up with politics and left the movement. He took a leave of absence from school and wandered around the country. He did odd jobs to earn a living, read books when he had the time, met all sorts of people, and gained a lot of real-life, practical experience. My father says this was the happiest time of his life, when he learned some important lessons. When I was a kid, he used to tell me stories from those days, like an old soldier reminiscing about long-ago battles in some far-off place. After those bohemian days, he went back to college, and returned to academic life. He never went on a long trip ever again. As far as I know, he’s spent his time since just shuttling back and forth between home and his office. It’s strange, isn’t it? No matter how quiet and conformist a person’s life seems, there’s always a time in the past when they reached an impasse. A time when they went a little crazy. I guess people need that sort of stage in their lives.”

That winter Haida’s father worked as general handyman at a small hot-springs resort in the mountains of Oita Prefecture in southern Japan. He really liked the place and decided to stay put for a while. As long as he completed his daily tasks, and any other miscellaneous jobs they asked him to undertake, the rest of the time he could do as he pleased. The pay was minimal, but he got a free room plus three meals a day, and he could bathe in the hot springs as often as he liked. When he had time off he lay around in his tiny room and read. The other people there were kind to this taciturn, eccentric Tokyo student, and the meals were simple but tasty, made with fresh, local ingredients. The place was, above all, isolated from the outside world—there was no TV reception, and the newspapers were a day late. The nearest bus stop was three kilometers down the mountain, and the only vehicle that could make it from there and back on the awful road was a battered old jeep owned by the inn. They’d only just recently gotten electricity installed.

In front of the inn was a beautiful mountain stream where one could catch lots of firm, colorful fish. Noisy birds were always skimming over the surface of the stream, their calls piercing, and it wasn’t unusual to spot wild boar or monkeys roaming around nearby. The mountains were a treasure trove of edible wild plants. In this isolated environment, young Haida was able to indulge himself in reading and contemplation. He no longer cared what was happening in the real world.

Two months into his stay at the inn, he began to chat with a guest who was staying there. The man appeared to be in his mid-forties. He was tall, with lanky arms and legs, and short hair. He wore gold-framed glasses, and he had a receding hairline, which made the top of his head as smooth as a freshly laid egg. He had walked up the mountain road alone, a plastic travel bag hanging from one shoulder, and had been staying at the inn for a week. Whenever he went out, he invariably dressed in a leather jacket, jeans, and work boots. On cold days he would add a wool cap and a navy-blue muffler. The man’s name was Midorikawa. At least that was the name he signed in the guest book at the inn, along with an address in Koganei City in Tokyo. He meticulously paid in cash every morning for the previous night’s stay.

Oita Prefecture
Oita Prefecture.

Photo illustration bySlate, photo by Yobab/Jupiterimages

(Midorikawa? “Green river.” Another person with a color, Tsukuru thought, but said nothing and listened to the rest of the story.)

Midorikawa didn’t do anything special. He spent time soaking in the open-air bath, took walks in the nearby hills, or lay in the kotatsu—the foot-warmer table— reading the paperbacks he’d brought with him (mostly mindless mysteries). In the evening he’d enjoy two small bottles of hot sake—no more, no less. He was as taciturn as Haida’s father, and never spoke unless absolutely necessary, though it didn’t seem to bother the people at the inn. They were used to these sort of guests. All of the people who came to this remote, backwoods hot springs were odd, those who stayed long term even more so.

Japanese spa.

Photo illiustration by Slate, photo of Japanese spa by Tomophotography

One morning, just before dawn, Haida was soaking in the open-air hot spring next to the river when Midorikawa came to bathe and started talking to him. For some reason Midorikawa seemed to have taken a deep interest in this young odd-job worker. It might have stemmed, in part, from the time he saw Haida on the porch reading a book by Georges Bataille.

I’m a jazz pianist from Tokyo, Midorikawa said. I had some personal disappointments, and the daily grind was wearing me down, so I came alone to this quiet place deep in the mountains, hoping to rest up. Actually, I set out without any plan, and just happened to land here. I like it, everything’s stripped to the bare essentials. I hear you’re from Tokyo too?

As he soaked in the hot water in the dim light, Haida explained, as briefly as he could, his own situation. How he’d taken a leave of absence from college and was traveling around the country. Besides, the campus was blockaded, he added, so there was no reason to stay in Tokyo.

Aren’t you interested in what’s going on now in Tokyo? Midorikawa asked. It’s quite a spectacle. One uproar after another, every day. Like the whole world’s turned upside down. Don’t you feel bad that you’re missing out?

The world isn’t that easily turned upside down, Haida replied. It’s people who are turned upside down. I don’t feel bad about missing that. Midorikawa seemed to appreciate the younger man’s curt, direct way of speaking.

I wonder if there’s anyplace around here where I might play the piano, Midorikawa asked Haida.

There’s a junior high school on the other side of the mountain, Haida replied. After school’s out for the day, they might let you play the piano in their music room. Midorikawa was happy to hear this. If it isn’t any trouble, he said, could you take me there? Haida relayed this request to the inn’s owner, who instructed him to escort Midorikawa to the school. The owner phoned the junior high to set it up. After lunch, the two of them hiked over the mountain. The rain had just stopped falling, so the path was slippery, but Midorikawa, shoulder bag slung diagonally across his shoulders, strode quickly, sure-footed, down the path. Though outwardly a city person, he was much more robust than he appeared.

Piano.

Photo illustration by Slate, photo of piano by Georgiy Pashin

The keyboard of the old upright piano in the music room was uneven, and the tuning was off, but overall it was tolerable. Midorikawa sat down on the creaky chair, stretched out his fingers, ran through all eighty-eight keys, then began trying out a few chords. Fifths, sevenths, ninths, elevenths. He didn’t seem too pleased with the sound, but appeared to get a certain physical satisfaction from the mere act of pressing down on the keys. As Haida watched the nimble, resilient way his fingers moved over the keyboard, he decided that Midorikawa must be a pretty well-known pianist.

Bag.

Photo illustration by Slate, photo of bag by Mark Wragg/Thinkstock, illustration of flowers by Oksancia/iStock

After trying out the piano, Midorikawa took a small cloth bag from his shoulder bag and gingerly placed it on top of the piano. The bag was made of expensive cloth, the opening tied up with string. Somebody’s funeral ashes, maybe? Haida thought. It seemed like placing the bag on top of the piano was his habit, whenever he played. You could tell by the practiced way he went about it.

Midorikawa hesitantly began playing “’Round Midnight.” At first he played each chord carefully, cautiously, like a person sticking his toes into a stream, testing the swiftness of the water and searching for a foothold. After playing the main theme, he started a long improvisation. As time went by, his fingers became more agile, more generous, in their movements, like fish swimming in clear water. The left hand inspired the right, the right hand spurred on the left. Haida’s father didn’t know much about jazz, but he did happen to be familiar with this Thelonious Monk composition, and Midorikawa’s performance went straight to the heart of the piece. His playing was so soulful it made Haida forget about the piano’s erratic tuning. As he listened to the music in this junior-high music room deep in the mountains, as the sole audience for the performance, Haida felt all that was unclean inside him washed away. The straightforward beauty of the music overlapped with the fresh, oxygen-rich air and the cool, clear water of the stream, all of them acting in concert. Midorikawa, too, was lost in his playing, as if all the minutiae of reality had disappeared. Haida had never seen someone so thoroughly absorbed in what he was doing. He couldn’t take his eyes off Midorikawa’s ten fingers, which moved like independent, living creatures.

Sasin T/Shutterstock

Photo illustration by Slate of video by Sasin T/Shutterstock

In fifteen minutes Midorikawa finished playing, took out a thick towel from his shoulder bag, and carefully wiped his perspiring face. He closed his eyes for a while as if he were meditating. “Okay,” he finally said, “that’s enough Let’s go back.” He reached out, picked up the cloth bag on the piano, and gently returned it to his shoulder bag.

“What is that bag?” Haida’s father ventured to ask.

“It’s a good-luck charm,” Midorikawa said simply.

“Like the guardian god of pianos?”

“No, it’s more like my alter ego,” Midorikawa replied, a weary smile rising to his lips. “There’s a strange story behind it. But it’s pretty long, and I’m afraid I’m too worn out to tell it right now.”

Haida stopped and glanced at the clock on the wall. Then he looked at Tsukuru. He was, of course, Haida the son, but Haida the father had been his same age in this story, and so the two of them began to overlap in Tsukuru’s mind. It was an odd sensation, as if the two distinct temporalities had blended into one. Maybe it wasn’t the father who had experienced this, but the son. Maybe Haida was just relating it as if his father had experienced it, when in reality he was the one who had. Tsukuru couldn’t shake this illusion.

“It’s getting late. If you’re sleepy I can finish this later.”

No, it’s fine, Tsukuru said. I’m not sleepy. In fact, he’d gotten his second wind, and wanted to hear the rest of the story.

“Okay, then I’ll continue,” Haida said. “I’m not very sleepy either.”

* * *

That was the only time that Haida heard Midorikawa play the piano. Once he had played “’Round Midnight” in the junior-high music room, Midorikawa seemed to lose all interest in playing again. “Don’t you want to play anymore?” Haida asked, trying to draw him out, but a silent shake of Midorikawa’s head was his only response. Haida gave up asking. Midorikawa no longer planned to play the piano. Haida wished he could hear him perform just one more time.

thelonious

Midorikawa had a genuine talent. Of that there was no doubt. His playing had the power to physically and viscerally move the listener, to transport you to another world. Not the sort of thing one could easily create.

But what did this unusual talent mean for Midorikawa himself? Haida couldn’t quite grasp it. If you possessed a talent like Midorikawa did, was it amazingly blissful, or was it a burden? A blessing or a curse? Or something that simultaneously contained all of these components? Either way, Midorikawa didn’t seem like a very happy person. His expression switched between gloom and apathy. A slight smile would occasionally rise to his lips, but it was always subdued and a little ironic.

One day as Haida was chopping and carrying firewood in the backyard, Midorikawa came over to him.

“Do you drink?” he asked.

“A little bit,” Haida replied.

“A little bit’s fine,” Midorikawa said. “Can you have some drinks with me tonight? I’m tired of drinking alone.”

“I have some chores to do in the evening, but I’ll be free at seven thirty.”

“Okay. Come to my room then.”

* * *

Tingfen/Thinkstock

Photo illustration by Slate, photo by Tingfen/Thinkstock

When young Haida arrived at Midorikawa’s room, dinner was already laid out for both of them, along with bottles of hot sake. They sat across from each other, eating and drinking. Midorikawa ate less than half of his dinner, mainly drinking the sake, serving himself. He didn’t say anything about his own life, instead asking Haida about where he had grown up (in Akita) and about his college life in Tokyo. When he learned that Haida was studying philosophy, he asked a few technical questions. About Hegel’s worldview. About Plato’s writings. It became clear that he had systematically read those kinds of books. Mysteries weren’t the only books he read.

“I see. So you believe in logic, do you?” Midorikawa said.

“I do. I believe in logic, and I rely on it. That’s what philosophy’s all about, after all,” Haida replied.

“So you don’t much like anything that’s at odds with logic?”

“Apart from whether I like it or not, I don’t reject thinking about things that aren’t logical. It’s not like I have some deep faith in logic. I think it’s important to find the point of intersection between what is logical and what is not.”

“Do you believe in the devil?”

“The devil? You mean the guy with horns?”

“That’s right. Whether he actually has horns or not, I don’t know.”

“If you mean the devil as a metaphor for evil, then of course I believe in him.”

“How about if this metaphor for evil takes on actual form?”

“I couldn’t say, unless I actually saw him,” Haida said.

“But once you saw him, it might be too late.”

“Well, we’re speaking in hypotheticals here. If we wanted to pursue this further, we’d need some concrete examples. Like a bridge needs girders. The further you go with a hypothesis, the more slippery it gets. Any conclusions you draw from it become more fallacious.”

“Examples?” Midorikawa said. He took a drink of sake and frowned. “But sometimes when an actual example appears, it all comes down to a question of whether or not you accept it, or if you believe it. There’s no middle ground. You have to make a mental leap. Logic can’t really help you out.”

“Maybe it can’t. Logic isn’t some convenient manual you just consult. Later on, though, you should be able to apply logic to any given situation.”

“But by then it might be too late.”

“But that has nothing to do with logic.”

Midorikawa smiled. “You’re right, of course. Even if you find out, down the road, that it is too late, that’s different from the logic of it. That’s a sound argument. No room for debate.”

“Have you ever had that kind of experience, Mr. Midorikawa? Accepting something, believing it, taking a leap beyond logic?”

“No,” Midorikawa said. “I don’t believe in anything. Not in logic, or illogic. Not in God, or the devil. No extension of a hypothesis, nothing like a leap. I just silently accept everything as it is. That’s my basic problem, really. I can’t erect a decent barrier between subject and object.”

“But you’re so gifted, musically.”

“You think so?”

“Your music can move people. I don’t know much about jazz, but that much I can tell.”

Midorikawa grudgingly shook his head. “Talent can be a nice thing to have sometimes. You look good, attract attention, and if you’re lucky, you make some money. Women flock to you. In that sense, having talent’s preferable to having none. But talent only functions when it’s supported by a tough, unyielding physical and mental focus. All it takes is one screw in your brain to come loose and fall off, or some connection in your body to break down, and your concentration vanishes, like the dew at dawn. A simple toothache, or stiff shoulders, and you can’t play the piano well. It’s true. I’ve actually experienced it. A single cavity, one aching shoulder, and the beautiful vision and sound I hoped to convey goes out the window. The human body’s that fragile. It’s a complex system that can be damaged by something very trivial, and in most cases once it’s damaged, it can’t easily be restored. A cavity or stiff shoulder you can get over, but there are a lot of things you can’t get past. If talent’s the foundation you rely on, and yet it’s so unreliable that you have no idea what’s going to happen to it the next minute, what meaning does it have?”

“Talent might be ephemeral,” Haida replied, “and there aren’t many people who can sustain it their whole lives. But talent makes a huge spiritual leap possible. It’s an almost universal, independent phenomenon that transcends the individual.”

Midorikawa pondered that for a while before replying. “Mozart and Schubert died young, but their music lives on forever. Is that what you mean?”

“That would be one example.”

“That kind of talent is always the exception. Most people like that have to pay a price for their genius—through accepting foreshortened lives and untimely deaths. They strike a bargain, putting their lives on the line. Whether that bargain’s with God or the devil, I wouldn’t know.” Midorikawa sighed and was silent for a while. “Changing the subject a little,” he went on, “but actually—I’m dying. I have only a month left.”

It was Haida’s turn now to be silent. No words came to him.

“I’m not battling a disease or anything,” Midorikawa said. “I’m in good health. And I’m not contemplating suicide. If that’s what you were thinking, you can rest easy.”

“Then how do you know you only have a month left?”

“Someone told me that. You have only two months left to live, he said. That was a month ago.”

“Who would ever say something like that?”

“It wasn’t a doctor, or a fortune-teller. Just an ordinary person. Though at that point he was dying, too.”

Young Haida turned this over in his mind, but a logical foothold eluded him. “Then did you ... come here looking for a place to die?”

“You could say that.”

“I can’t totally follow you, but isn’t there some way you can avoid death?”

“There is one way,” Midorikawa said. “You take that capacity—a death token, if you will—and transfer it to somebody else. What I mean is, you find somebody else to die in your place. You pass them the baton, tell them, ‘Okay, your turn,’ and then leave. Do that, and you’ll avoid death, for the time being. But I don’t plan to. I’ve been thinking for a long time that I’d like to die as soon as possible. Maybe this is just what I need.”

“So you think it’s okay to die, as you are now?”

“Life has gotten to be too much. I have no problem with dying as I am. I don’t have the energy to go out and find a method to help me take my life. But quietly accepting death, that I can handle.”

“But how, exactly, do you hand over this death token to somebody else?”

Midorikawa shrugged, as if he didn’t really care. “It’s easy. The other person just has to understand what I’m saying, accept it, give their complete consent, and agree to take on the token. Then the transfer is complete. It can be a verbal agreement. A handshake is fine. No need for a signed, sealed document or contract or anything. It isn’t some kind of bureaucratic thing.”

Haida inclined his head. “But it can’t be easy to find somebody willing to take it over from you, if taking over means they’re going to die soon.”

“That’s a reasonable point,” Midorikawa said. “You can’t bring up this idea with just anybody. Can’t just sidle up to somebody and whisper, Excuse me, but would you die in my place? You have to be very careful who you pick. Here’s where things get a little tricky.”

Midorikawa slowly gazed around the room, and cleared his throat.

“Every person has their own color. Did you know that?” he said.

“No, I didn’t.”

Hot spring Sea Hell in Oita Prefecture, Japan.

Photo illustration by Slate, video by Yukitsugu Aoyagi/Shutterstock

“Each individual has their own unique color, which shines faintly around the contours of their body. Like a halo. Or a backlight. I’m able to see those colors clearly.”

Midorikawa poured himself another cup of sake and sipped it, leisurely savoring the taste.

“Is this ability to detect colors something you were born with?” Haida asked, dubiously.

Midorikawa shook his head. “No, it’s not innate; it’s a temporary ability. You get it in exchange for accepting imminent death. And it’s passed along from one person to the next. Right now, I’m the one who’s been entrusted with it.”

Young Haida was silent for a while. No words came to him.

“There are colors I really like in the world,” Midorikawa said, “and ones I hate. Pleasant colors, sad colors. Some people have a very deep color, while for others it’s fainter. It can get really tiring, because you see all these colors even if you don’t want to. I don’t like to be in crowds much because of that. It’s why I wound up in this remote place.”

Haida could barely follow along. “So you’re telling me you can see what color I’m giving off?”

“Yes, of course. Though I’m not about to tell you what color it is,” Midorikawa said. “What I need to do is find people who have a certain type of color, with a certain glow. Those are the only ones I can transfer the death token to. I can’t hand it over to just anybody.”

“Are there many people in the world with that color and glow?”

“Not so many. My guess would be one in a thousand, or maybe two thousand. They’re not so easy to find, but not impossible, either. What’s harder is finding the opportunity to sit down with them and discuss it seriously. As you can imagine, that’s not easy.”

“But what sort of people would they be? People who would be willing to die in place of somebody they don’t even know?”

Midorikawa smiled. “What kind of people? I really can’t say. All I know is, they have a certain color, a certain depth of glow outlining their bodies. Those are only external qualities. If I were to venture a guess—and this is just my personal opinion, mind you—I’d say they’re people who aren’t afraid of taking a leap. I’m sure there are all sorts of reasons why.”

“Okay, granted they’re unafraid of taking a leap, but why are they leaping?” Midorikawa didn’t say anything for a while. In the silence, the flow of the mountain stream sounded more intense. Finally, he grinned.

“Now comes my sales pitch.”

140728_FRESCA_DoorsofPerception

“This I’d like to hear,” Haida said.

“At the point when you agree to take on death, you gain an extraordinary capacity. A special power, you could call it. Perceiving the colors that people emit is merely one function of that power, but at the root of it all is an ability to expand your consciousness. You’re able to push open what Aldous Huxley calls ‘the doors of perception.’ Your perception becomes pure and unadulterated. Everything around you becomes clear, like the fog lifting. You have an omniscient view of the world and see things you’ve never seen before.”

“Is your performance the other day a result of that ability?”

Midorikawa gave a short shake of his head. “No, that was just what I’ve always been capable of. I’ve played like that for years. Perception is complete in and of itself; it doesn’t reveal itself in an outward, concrete manifestation. There are no tangible benefits to it, either. It’s not easy to explain in words. You have to experience it to understand. One thing I can say, though, is that once you see that true sight with your own eyes, the world you’ve lived in up till now will look flat and insipid. There’s no logic or illogic in that scene. No good or evil. Everything is merged into one. And you are one part of that merging. You leave the boundary of your physical body behind to become a metaphysical being. You become intuition. It’s at once a wonderful sensation and a hopeless one, because, almost at the last minute, you realize how shallow and superficial your life has been. And you shudder at the fact that up to that point you’ve been able to stand such a life.”

“And you think it’s worth experiencing this sensation, even if it means taking on death? And you only have it for a little while?”

Midorikawa nodded. “Absolutely. It’s that valuable. I guarantee it.”

Haida was quiet for a while.

“So what do you think?” Midorikawa said and smiled. “Are you starting to get interested in accepting that token?”

“Could I ask a question?”

“Go right ahead.”

“Are you—possibly telling me that I’m one of those few people with that certain color and certain glow? One in a thousand, or two thousand?”

Photo illustration by Slate, photo of man by Fox Photos

Photo illustration by Slate, photo of man byFox Photos

“You are. I knew it the minute I saw you.”

“So I’m one of those people who would want to take a leap?”

“That’s hard to say. I don’t really know. That’s something you need to ask yourself, don’t you think?”

“But you said you don’t want to pass that token on to anyone else.”

“Sorry about that,” the pianist said. “I plan on dying, and I don’t feel like handing over that right. I’m like a salesman who doesn’t want to sell anything.”

“If you die, though, what happens to the token?”

“You got me. Good question. Maybe it’ll simply vanish along with me. Or maybe it’ll remain, in some form, and be passed along again from one person to the next. Like Wagner’s ring. I have no idea, and frankly, I don’t care. I mean, I’m not responsible for what happens after I’m gone.”

Haida tried creating some sort of order in his mind for all these ideas, but they wouldn’t line up neatly.

“So, what I told you isn’t one bit logical, is it?” Midorikawa said.

“It’s a fascinating story, but hard to believe,” Haida admitted.

“Because there’s no logical explanation?”

“Exactly.”

“No way to prove it.”

“The only way you know if it’s real or not, the only way to prove it, is by actually making the deal. Isn’t that how it works?”

Midorikawa nodded. “Exactly. Unless you take the leap, you can’t prove it. And once you actually make the leap, there’s no need to prove it anymore. There’s no middle ground. You either take the leap, or you don’t. One or the other.”

“Aren’t you afraid of dying?”

“Not really. I’ve watched lots of good-for-nothing, worthless people die, and if people like that can do it, then I should be able to handle it.”

“Do you ever think about what comes after death?”

“The afterworld, and the afterlife? Those kinds of things?”

Haida nodded.

“I made up my mind not to think about them,” Midorikawa said as he rubbed his beard. “It’s a waste of time to think about things you can’t know, and things you can’t confirm even if you know them. In the final analysis, that’s no different from the slippery slope of hypotheses you were talking about.”

Haida drew a deep breath. “Why did you tell me all this?”

I’ve never told anybody until now, and never planned to,” Midorikawa said, and took a drink. “I was just going to quietly vanish by myself. But when I saw you, I thought, Now here’s a man worth telling.”

“And you don’t care whether or not I believe you?”

Midorikawa, his eyes looking sleepy, gave a slight yawn.

Outdoor hot spring bath of Musōen, a tourist hotel of Yufuin Onsen.

Photo illustration by Slate, photo of outdoor hot spring bath by DryPot/Wikimedia

“I don’t care if you believe it. Because sooner or later you will. Someday you will die. And when you’re dying—I have no idea when or how that will happen, of course—you will definitely remember what I told you. And you will totally accept what I said, and understand every detail of the logic behind it. The real logic. All I did was sow the seeds.”

It had started raining again, a soft, quiet rain. The rushing stream drowned out the sound of the rain. Haida could tell it was raining only by the slight variation in the air against his skin.

Sitting in that small room across from Midorikawa suddenly felt strange to him, as if they were in the midst of something impossible, something at odds with the principles of nature. Haida grew dizzy. In the still air he’d caught a faint whiff of death, the smell of slowly rotting flesh. But it had to be an illusion. Nobody there was dead yet.

“You’ll be going back to college in Tokyo before much longer,” Midorikawa quietly stated. “And you’ll return to real life. You need to live it to the fullest. No matter how shallow and dull things might get, this life is worth living. I guarantee it. And I’m not being either ironic or paradoxical. It’s just that, for me, what’s worthwhile in life has become a burden, something I can’t shoulder anymore. Maybe I’m just not cut out for it. So, like a dying cat, I’ve crawled into a quiet, dark place, silently waiting for my time to come. It’s not so bad. But you’re different. You should be able to handle what life sends your way. You need to use the thread of logic, as best you can, to skillfully sew onto yourself everything that’s worth living for.”

* * *

“That’s the end of the story,” Haida, the son, said. “In the morning, two days after that conversation, while my father was out taking care of some business, Midorikawa left the inn. Just like when he arrived, with one bag slung over his shoulder, hiking the three kilometers down the mountain to the bus stop. My father never found out where he went. Midorikawa paid his bill for the previous day and took off without a word, or any message for my father. All he left behind was a stack of mystery novels. Not long after this, my father returned to Tokyo. He reentered college and concentrated on his studies. I don’t know if meeting Midorikawa was the catalyst that ended his long journey, but hearing my father tell the story, I get the sense that it played a big part.”

Haida sat up on the sofa, reached out with his long fingers, and massaged his ankles.

Tokyo.

Photo illustration by Slate, photo of Tokyo apartments by Yury Zap

“After my father got back to Tokyo, he checked to see if there were jazz pianists named Midorikawa, but he couldn’t find anyone by that name. Maybe he’d used an alias. So he never found out, to this day, if the man really did die a month later.”

“But your father’s alive and well, right?” Tsukuru asked.

Haida nodded. “He still hasn’t reached the end of his life.”

“Did your father believe that weird story Midorikawa told him? Didn’t he think it was just a clever story designed to pull his leg?”

“You know, it’s hard to say. I think for my father, at the time, it wasn’t an issue of whether or not he believed it. I think he totally accepted it as the weird tale it was. Like the way a snake will swallow its prey and not chew it, but instead let it slowly digest.”

Haida stopped at this point and took a deep breath.

“I guess I am pretty sleepy now. How about we go to bed?”

It was nearly 1 a.m. Tsukuru went to his bedroom and Haida got the sofa ready and turned off the light. As Tsukuru lay in bed in his pajamas, he heard water rushing by in a mountain stream. But that was impossible, of course. They were in the middle of Tokyo.

He soon fell into a deep sleep.

That night, several strange things happened.

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