Chapter 35

When the phone rings at seven a. m. I’m still sound asleep. In my dream I was deep inside a cave, bent over in the dark, flashlight in hand, searching for something. I hear a voice far away at the cave’s entrance calling out a name faintly. I yell out a reply, but whoever it is doesn’t seem to hear me. The person calls out my name, over and over. Reluctantly I stand up and start heading for the entrance. A little longer and I would’ve found it, I think. But inside I’m also relieved I didn’t find it. That’s when I wake up. I look around, collecting the scattered bits of my consciousness. I realize the phone’s ringing, the phone at the library’s reception desk. Bright sunlight’s shining in through the curtains, and Miss Saeki’s no longer next to me. I’m alone in bed.

I get out of bed in my T-shirt and boxers and go out to the phone. It takes me a while to get there but the phone keeps on ringing.

“Hello?”

“Were you asleep?” Oshima asks.

“Yeah.”

“Sorry to get you up so early on a day off, but we’ve got a problem.”

“A problem?”

“I’ll tell you about it later, but you’d better not hang around there for a while. We’re going to head off soon, so get your things together. When I get there, just come out to the parking lot and get right in the car without saying anything. Okay?”

“Okay,” I reply.

I go back to my room and pack up. There’s no need to rush since it only takes five minutes to get ready. I take down the laundry I had hanging in the bathroom, stuff my toilet kit, books, and diary in my backpack, then get dressed and straighten up the bed. Pull the sheets tight, plump up the pillows, straighten out the covers. Covering up all traces of what went on here. I sit down in the chair and think about Miss Saeki, who’d been with me until a few hours before.

I have time for a quick bowl of cornflakes. Wash up the bowl and spoon and put them away. Brush my teeth, wash my face. I’m checking out my face in the mirror when I hear the Miata pull into the parking lot.

Even though the weather’s perfect, Oshima has the tan top up. I shoulder my pack, walk over to the car, and climb into the passenger seat. As before, Oshima does a good job of tying my pack down on top of the trunk. He’s wearing a pair of Armani-type sunglasses, and a striped linen shirt over a white V-neck T-shirt, white jeans, and navy blue, low-cut Converse All-Stars. Casual day-off clothes.

He hands me a navy blue cap with a North Face logo on it. “Didn’t you say you lost your hat somewhere? Use this one. It’ll help hide your face a little.”

“Thanks,” I say, and tug on the cap.

Oshima checks me out in the cap and nods his approval. “You have sunglasses, right?”

I nod, take my sky blue Revos from my pocket, and put them on.

“Very cool,” he says. “Try putting the cap on backward.”

I do as he says, turning the cap around.

Oshima nods again. “Great. You look like a rap singer from a nice family.” He shifts to first, slowly steps on the gas, and lets out the clutch.

“Where are we going?” I ask.

“The same place as before.”

“The mountains in Kochi?”

Oshima nods. “Right. Another long drive.” He flips on the stereo. It’s a cheerful Mozart orchestral piece I’ve heard before. The “Posthorn Serenade,” maybe?

“Are you tired of the mountains?”

“No, I like it there. It’s quiet, and I can get a lot of reading done.”

“Good,” Oshima says.

“So what was the problem you mentioned?”

Oshima shoots a sullen look at the rearview mirror, glances over at me, then faces forward again. “First of all, the police got back in touch with me. Phoned my place last night. Sounds like they’re getting serious about tracking you down. They seemed pretty intense about the whole thing.”

“But I have an alibi, don’t I?”

“Yes, you do. A solid alibi. The day the murder took place you were in Shikoku. They don’t doubt that. What they’re thinking is you might’ve conspired with somebody else.”

“Conspired?”

“You might have had an accomplice.”

Accomplice? I shake my head. “Where’d they get that idea?”

“They’re pretty tight-lipped about it. They’re pushy about asking questions, but get all low key when you try turning the tables on them. So I spent the whole night online, downloading information about the case. Did you know there’re a couple of websites up already about it? You’re pretty famous. The wandering prince who holds the key to the puzzle.”

I give a small shrug. The wandering prince?

“With online information it’s hard to separate fact from wishful thinking, but you could summarize it like this: The police are now after a guy in his late sixties. The night of the murder he showed up at a police box near the Nogata shopping district and confessed to just having murdered somebody in the neighborhood. Said he stabbed him. But he spouted out all kinds of nonsense, so the young cop on the beat tagged him as crazy and sent him on his way without getting the whole story. Of course when the murder came to light, the policeman knew he’d blown it. He hadn’t taken down the old man’s name or address, and if his superiors heard about it there’d be hell to pay, so he kept quiet about it. But something happened-I have no idea what-and the whole thing came to light. The cop was disciplined, of course. Poor guy’ll probably never live it down.”

Oshima downshifts to pass a white Toyota Tercel, then nimbly slips back into the lane. “The police went all out and were able to identify the old man. They don’t know his background, but he appears to be mentally impaired. Not retarded, just a teeny bit off. He lives by himself on welfare and some support from relatives. But he’s disappeared from his apartment. The police traced his movements and think he was hitchhiking, heading for Shikoku. An intercity bus driver thinks he might’ve ridden his bus out of Kobe. He remembered him because he had an unusual way of talking and said some weird things. Apparently he was with some young guy in his mid-twenties. The two of them got out at Tokushima Station. They’ve located the inn where they stayed, and according to a housekeeper, they took a train to Takamatsu. The old man’s movements and yours overlap exactly. Both of you left Nogata in Nakano Ward and headed straight for Takamatsu. A little too much of a coincidence, so naturally the police are reading something into it-thinking that the two of you planned the whole thing together. The National Police Agency’s even getting in the act, and now they’re scouring the city. We might not be able to hide you at the library anymore, so I decided you’d better lie low in the mountains.”

“A mentally impaired old man from Nakano?”

“Ring any bells?”

I shake my head. “None.”

“His address isn’t far from your house. A fifteen-minute walk, apparently.”

“But tons of people live in Nakano. I don’t even know who lives next door.”

“There’s more,” Oshima says, and glances at me. “He’s the one who made all those mackerel and sardines rain down from the sky in the Nogata shopping district. At least he predicted to the police that lots of fish would fall from the sky the day before it happened.”

“That’s amazing,” I say.

“Isn’t it?” Oshima says. “And the same day, in the evening, a huge amount of leeches rained down on the Fujigawa rest stop on the Tomei Highway. Remember?”

“Yeah, I do.”

“None of this slipped past the police, of course. They’re guessing there’s got to be some connection between these events and this mystery man they’re after. His movements parallel everything so closely.”

The Mozart piece ends, and another begins.

Hands on the steering wheel, Oshima shakes his head a couple of times. “A really strange turn of events. It started out weird and is getting even weirder as it goes along. Impossible to predict what’ll happen next. One thing’s for sure, though. Everything seems to be converging right here. The old man’s path and yours are bound to cross.”

I close my eyes and listen to the roar of the engine. “Maybe I should go to some other town,” I tell him. “Apart from anything else, I don’t want to cause you or Miss Saeki any more trouble.”

“But where would you go?”

“I don’t know. But I can figure it out if you take me to the station. It doesn’t really matter.”

Oshima sighs. “I don’t think that’s such a smart idea. The station has to be crawling with cops, all on the lookout for a cool, tall, fifteen-year-old boy lugging a backpack and a bunch of obsessions.”

“So why not take me to a station far away that they’re not staking out?”

“It’s all the same. In the end they’ll find you.”

I don’t say anything.

“Look, they haven’t issued a warrant for your arrest. You’re not on the most-wanted list or anything, okay?”

I nod.

“Which means you’re still free. So I don’t need anybody’s permission to take you anywhere I want. I’m not breaking the law. I mean, I don’t even know your real first name, Kafka. So don’t worry about me. I’m a very cautious person. Nobody’s going to nab me so easily.”

“Oshima?” I say.

“Yes?”

“I didn’t plan anything with anybody. If I had to kill my father, I wouldn’t ask anybody to do it.”

“I know.”

He stops at a red light and checks the rearview mirror, then pops a lemon drop into his mouth and offers me one.

I slip it in my mouth. “What comes after that?”

“What do you mean?” Oshima asks.

“You said first of all. About why I have to go hide in the hills. If there’s a first reason, there’s got to be a second.”

Oshima stares at the red light, but it doesn’t change. “Compared to the first, the second isn’t very important.”

“I still want to hear it.”

“It’s about Miss Saeki,” he says. The light finally turns green and he steps on the gas. “You’re sleeping with her, right?”

I don’t know how to answer that.

“Don’t worry, I’m not blaming you or anything. I just have a sense for these things, that’s all. She’s a wonderful person, a very attractive lady. She’s-special, in all sorts of ways. She’s a lot older than you, sure, but so what? I understand your attraction to her. You want to have sex with her, so why not? She wants to have sex with you? More power to her. It doesn’t bother me. If you guys are okay with that, it’s fine by me.” Oshima rolls the lemon drop around in his mouth. “But I think it’s best if you two keep your distance for a while. And I don’t mean because of that bloody mess in Nakano.”

“Why, then?”

“She’s in a very delicate place right now.”

“How so?”

“Miss Saeki…,” he begins, searching for the rest. “What I mean is, she’s dying. I’ve felt it for a long time.”

I raise my sunglasses and look at him closely. He’s looking straight ahead as he drives. We’ve turned onto the highway to Kochi. This time, surprisingly, he keeps to the speed limit. A Toyota Supra whooshes past us.

“When you say she’s dying…,” I begin. “You mean she’s got an incurable disease? Cancer or leukemia or something?”

Oshima shakes his head. “That could be. But I don’t know anything about her health. For all I know she might be saddled with a disease like that. I think it’s more of a psychological issue. The will to live-something to do with that.”

“You’re saying she’s lost the will to live?”

“I think so. Lost the will to go on living.”

“Do you think she’s going to kill herself?”

“No, I don’t,” Oshima replies. “It’s just that very quietly, very steadily, she’s heading toward death. Or else death is heading toward her.”

“Like a train heading toward the station?”

“Something like that,” Oshima said, and stopped, his lips taut. “But then you showed up, Kafka. Cool as a cucumber, mysterious as the real Kafka. The two of you were drawn together and, to use the classic expression, you have a relationship.”

“And then?”

For a brief moment Oshima lifts both hands off the wheel. “That’s it.”

I slowly shake my head. “I bet you’re thinking I’m the train.”

Oshima doesn’t say anything for a long time. “Exactly,” he finally says. “That’s it, exactly.”

“That I’m bringing about her death?”

“I’m not blaming you for this, mind you,” he says. “It’s actually for the best.”

“Why?”

He doesn’t answer this. You’re supposed to find the answer to that, his silence tells me. Or maybe he’s saying, It’s too obvious to even think about.

I lean back in my seat, shut my eyes, and let my body go limp. “Oshima?”

“What is it?”

“I don’t know what to do anymore. I don’t even know what direction I’m facing in. What’s right, what’s wrong-whether I should keep on going ahead or turn around. I’m totally lost.”

Oshima keeps silent, no answer forthcoming.

“You’ve got to help me. What am I supposed to do?” I ask him.

“You don’t have to do anything,” he says simply.

“Nothing?”

He nods. “Which is why I’m taking you to the mountains.”

“But what should I do once I get there?”

“Just listen to the wind,” he says. “That’s what I always do.”

I mull this over.

He gently lays a hand over mine. “There are a lot of things that aren’t your fault. Or mine, either. Not the fault of prophecies, or curses, or DNA, or absurdity. Not the fault of Structuralism or the Third Industrial Revolution. We all die and disappear, but that’s because the mechanism of the world itself is built on destruction and loss. Our lives are just shadows of that guiding principle. Say the wind blows. It can be a strong, violent wind or a gentle breeze. But eventually every kind of wind dies out and disappears. Wind doesn’t have form. It’s just a movement of air. You should listen carefully, and then you’ll understand the metaphor.”

I squeeze his hand back. It’s soft and warm. His smooth, sexless, delicately graceful hand. “So you think it’s better for me to be away from Miss Saeki for the time being?”

“I do, Kafka. It’s the best thing right now. We should let her be by herself. She’s bright, and tough. She’s managed to put up with a terrible kind of loneliness for a long time, a lot of painful memories. She can make whatever decisions she needs to make alone.”

“So I’m just a kid who’s getting in the way.”

“That’s not what I mean,” Oshima says softly. “That’s not it at all. You did what you had to do. What made sense to you, and to her. Leave the rest up to her. This might sound cold, but there’s nothing you can do for her now. You need to get into the mountains and do your own thing. For you, the time is right.”

“Do my own thing?”

“Just keep your ears open, Kafka,” Oshima replied. “Just listen. Imagine you’re a clam.”

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