Read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle Online

Authors: Haruki Murakami

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (10 page)

What should I do with the time until lunch? Go for a swim at the nearby ward pool or to the alley to look for the cat? Leaning against the veranda post, watching the rain fall in the garden, I went back and forth between the two.

Pool.

Cat.

The cat won. Malta Kano had said that the cat was no longer in the neighborhood. But that morning I had an indefinable urge to go out and look for it. Cat hunting had become a part of my daily routine. And besides, Kumiko might be cheered somewhat to learn that I had given it a try. I put on my light raincoat. I decided not to take an umbrella. I put on my tennis shoes and left the house with the key and a few lemon drops in my coat pocket. I cut across the yard, but just as I set one hand on the cinder-block wall, a phone rang. I stood still, straining my ears, but I couldn’t tell whether it was our phone or a neighbor’s. The minute you leave your house, all phones sound alike. I gave up and climbed over the wall.

I could feel the soft grass through the thin soles of my tennis shoes. The alley was quieter than usual. I stood still for a while, holding my breath and listening, but I couldn’t hear a thing. The phone had stopped ringing. I heard no bird cries or street noises. The sky was painted over, a perfect uniform gray. On days like this the clouds probably absorbed the sounds from the surface of the earth. And not just sounds. All kinds of things. Perceptions, for example.

Hands shoved into the pockets of my raincoat, I slipped down the narrow alley. Where clothes-drying poles jutted out into the lane, I squeezed sideways between the walls. I passed directly beneath the eaves of other houses. In this way I made my silent way down this passage reminiscent of an abandoned canal. My tennis shoes on the grass made no noise at all. The only real sound I heard on my brief journey was that of a radio playing in one house. It was tuned to a talk show discussing callers’ problems. A middle-aged man was complaining to the host about his mother-in-law. From the snatches I caught, the woman was sixty-eight and crazy about horse racing. Once I was past the house, the sound of the radio began to fade until there was nothing left, as if what had gradually
faded into nothingness was not only the sound of the radio but the middle-aged man and his horse-obsessed mother-in-law, both of whom must exist somewhere in the world.

I finally reached the vacant house. It stood there, hushed as ever. Against the background of gray, low-hanging clouds, its second-story storm shutters nailed shut, the house loomed as a dark, shadowy presence. It could have been a huge freighter caught on a reef one stormy night long ago and left to rot. If it hadn’t been for the increased height of the grass since my last visit, I might have believed that time had stopped in this one particular place. Thanks to the long days of rain, the blades of grass glowed with a deep-green luster, and they gave off the smell of wildness unique to things that sink their roots into the earth. In the exact center of this sea of grass stood the bird sculpture, in the very same pose I had seen it in before, with its wings spread, ready to take off. This was one bird that could never take off, of course. I knew that, and the bird knew that. It would go on waiting where it had been set until the day it was carted off or smashed to pieces. No other possibilities existed for it to leave this garden. The only thing moving in there was a small white butterfly, fluttering across the grass some weeks behind season. It made uncertain progress, like a searcher who has forgotten what he was searching for. After five minutes of this fruitless hunt, the butterfly went off somewhere.

Sucking on a lemon drop, I leaned against the chain-link fence and looked at the garden. There was no sign of the cat. There was no sign of anything. The place looked like a still, stagnant pool in which some enormous force had blocked the natural flow.

I felt the presence of someone behind me and whirled around. But there was no one. There was only the fence on the other side of the alley, and the small gate in the fence, the gate in which the girl had stood. But it was closed now, and in the yard was no trace of anyone. Everything was damp and silent. And there were the smells: Grass. Rain. My raincoat. The lemon drop under my tongue, half melted. They all came together in a single deep breath. I turned to survey my surroundings once more, but there was no one. Listening hard, I caught the muffled chop of a distant helicopter. People were up there, flying above the clouds. But even that sound drew off into the distance, and silence descended once again.

The chain-link fence surrounding the vacant house had a gate, also of chain link, not surprisingly. I gave it a tentative push. It opened with almost disappointing ease, as if it were urging me to come in. “No
problem,” it seemed to be telling me. “Just walk right in.” I didn’t have to rely on the detailed knowledge of the law that I had acquired over eight long years to know that it could be a very serious problem indeed. If a neighbor spotted me in the vacant house and reported me to the police, they would show up and question me. I would say I was looking for my cat; it had disappeared, and I was looking for it all over the neighborhood. They would demand to know my address and occupation. I would have to tell them I was out of work. That would make them all the more suspicious. They were probably nervous about left-wing terrorists or something, convinced that left-wing terrorists were on the move all over Tokyo, with hidden arsenals of guns and homemade bombs. They’d call Kumiko at her office to verify my story. She’d be upset.

Oh, what the hell. I went in, pulling the gate closed behind me. If something was going to happen, let it happen. If something
wanted
to happen, let it happen.

I crossed the garden, scanning the area. My tennis shoes on the grass were as soundless as ever. There were several low fruit trees, the names of which I did not know, and a generous stretch of lawn. It was all overgrown now, hiding everything. Ugly maypop vines had crawled all over two of the fruit trees, which looked as if they had been strangled to death. The row of osmanthus along the fence had been turned a ghastly white from a coating of insects’ eggs. A stubborn little fly kept buzzing by my ear for a time.

Passing the stone statue, I walked over to a nested pile of white plastic lawn chairs under the eaves. The topmost chair was filthy, but the next one down was not bad. I dusted it off with my hand and sat on it. The overgrown weeds between here and the fence made it impossible for me to be seen from the alley, and the eaves sheltered me from the rain. I sat and whistled and watched the garden receiving its bounty of fine raindrops. At first I was unaware of what tune I was whistling, but then I realized it was the overture to Rossini’s
Thieving Magpie
, the same tune I had been whistling when the strange woman called as I was cooking spaghetti.

Sitting here in the garden like this, with no other people around, looking at the grass and the stone bird, whistling a tune (badly), I had the feeling that I had returned to my childhood. I was in a secret place where no one could see me. This put me in a quiet mood. I felt like throwing a stone—a small stone would be OK—at some target. The stone bird would be a good one. I’d hit it just hard enough to make a little clunk. I used to play by myself a lot like that when I was a kid. I’d set up an empty
can, back way off, and throw rocks until the can filled up. I could do it for hours. Just now, though, I didn’t have any rocks at my feet. Oh, well. No place has everything you need.

I pulled up my feet, bent my knees, and rested my chin on my hand. Then I closed my eyes. Still no sounds. The darkness behind my closed eyelids was like the cloud-covered sky, but the gray was somewhat deeper. Every few minutes, someone would come and paint over the gray with a different-textured gray—one with a touch of gold or green or red. I was impressed with the variety of grays that existed. Human beings were so strange. All you had to do was sit still for ten minutes, and you could see this amazing variety of grays.

Browsing through my book of gray color samples, I started whistling again, without a thought in my head.

“Hey,” said someone.

I snapped my eyes open. Leaning to the side, I stretched to see the gate above the weed tops. It was open. Wide open. Someone had followed me inside. My heart started pounding.

“Hey,” the someone said again. A woman’s voice. She stepped out from behind the statue and started toward me. It was the girl who had been sunbathing in the yard across the alley. She wore the same light-blue Adidas T-shirt and short pants. Again she walked with a slight limp. The one thing different from before was that she had taken off her sunglasses.

“What are you doing here?” she asked.

“Looking for the cat,” I said.

“Are you sure? It doesn’t look that way to me. You’re just sitting there and whistling with your eyes closed. It’d be kinda hard to find much of anything that way, don’t you think?”

I felt myself blushing.

“It doesn’t bother me,” she went on, “but somebody who doesn’t know you might think you were some kind of pervert.” She paused. “You’re not a pervert, are you?”

“Probably not,” I said.

She approached me and undertook a careful study of the nested lawn chairs, choosing one without too much dirt on it and doing one more close inspection before setting it on the ground and lowering herself into it.

“And your whistling’s terrible,” she said. “I don’t know the tune, but it had no melody at all. You’re not gay, are you?”

“Probably not,” I said. “Why?”

“Somebody told me gays are lousy whistlers. Is that true?”

“Who knows? It’s probably nonsense.”

“Anyway, I don’t care even if you are gay or a pervert or anything. By the way, what’s your name? I don’t know what to call you.”

“Toru Okada,” I said.

She repeated my name to herself several times. “Not much of a name, is it?” she said.

“Maybe not,” I said. “I’ve always thought it sounded kind of like some prewar foreign minister: Toru Okada. See?”

“That doesn’t mean anything to me. I hate history. It’s my worst subject. Anyhow, never mind. Haven’t you got a nickname? Something easier than Toru Okada?”

I couldn’t recall ever having had a nickname. Never once in my life. Why was that? “No nickname,” I said.

“Nothing? ‘Bear’? Or ‘Frog’?”

“Nothing.”

“Gee,” she said. “Think of something.”

“Wind-up bird,” I said.

“Wind-up bird?” she asked, looking at me with her mouth open. “What is
that?

“The bird that winds the spring,” I said. “Every morning. In the tree-tops. It winds the world’s spring.
Creeeak.

She went on staring at me.

I sighed. “It just popped into my head,” I said. “And there’s more. The bird comes over by my place every day and goes
Creeeak
in the neighbor’s tree. But nobody’s ever seen it.”

“That’s neat, I guess. So anyhow, you’ll be Mr. Wind-Up Bird. That’s not very easy to say, either, but it’s way better than Toru Okada.”

“Thank you very much.”

She pulled her feet up into the chair and put her chin on her knees.

“How about
your
name?” I asked.

“May Kasahara. May … like the month of May.”

“Were you born in May?”

“Do you have to ask? Can you imagine the confusion if somebody born in June was named May?”

“I guess you’re right,” I said. “I suppose you’re still out of school?”

“I was watching you for a long time,” she said, ignoring my question. “From my room. With my binoculars. I saw you go in through the gate. I keep a little pair of binoculars handy, for watching what goes on in the alley. All kinds of people go through there. I’ll bet you didn’t know that.
And not just people. Animals too. What were you doing here by yourself all that time?”

“Spacing out,” I said. “Thinking about the old days. Whistling.”

May Kasahara bit a thumbnail. “You’re kinda weird,” she said.

“I’m not weird. People do it all the time.”

“Maybe so, but they don’t do it in a neighbor’s vacant house. You can stay in your own yard if all you want to do is space out and think about the old days and whistle.”

She had a point there.

“Anyhow, I guess Noboru Wataya never came home, huh?”

I shook my head. “And I guess you never saw him, either, after that?” I asked.

“No, and I was on the lookout for him, too: a brown-striped tiger cat. Tail slightly bent at the tip. Right?”

From the pocket of her short pants she took a box of Hope regulars and lit up with a match. After a few puffs, she stared right at me and said, “Your hair’s thinning a little, isn’t it?”

My hand moved automatically to the back of my head.

“Not there, silly,” she said. “Your front hairline. It’s higher than it should be, don’t you think?”

“I never really noticed.”

“Well, I did,” she said. “That’s where you’re going to go bald. Your hairline’s going to move up and up like this.” She grabbed a handful of her own hair in the front and thrust her bare forehead in my face. “You’d better be careful.”

I touched my hairline. Maybe she was right. Maybe it had receded somewhat. Or was it my imagination? Something new to worry about.

“What do you mean?” I asked. “How can I be careful?”

“You can’t, I guess. There’s nothing you can do. There’s no way to prevent baldness. Guys who are going to go bald go bald. When their time comes, that’s it: they just go bald. There’s nothing you can do to stop it. They tell you you can keep from going bald with proper hair care, but that’s bullshit. Look at the bums who sleep in Shinjuku Station. They’ve all got great heads of hair. You think they’re washing it every day with Clinique or Vidal Sassoon or rubbing Lotion X into it? That’s what the cosmetics makers will tell you, to get your money.”

“I’m sure you’re right,” I said, impressed. “But how do you know so much about baldness?”

“I’ve been working part time for a wig company. Quite a while now. You know I don’t go to school, and I’ve got all this time to kill. I’ve beer
doing surveys and questionnaires, that kind of stuff. So I know all about men losing their hair. I’m just loaded with information.”

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