Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami is one of my favorite books. A big reason for this is because of Murakami’s lucid world-transporting metaphors. After re-reading Kafka on the Shore for the fifth time I decided to compile a list of all metaphors from the book for your convenience below.
Sometimes fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing directions. You change direction but the sandstorm chases you. You turn again, but the storm adjusts. Over and over you play this out, like some ominous dance with death just before dawn. Why? Because this storm isn’t something that blew in from far away, something that has nothing to do with you. This storm is you. Something inside of you. So all you can do is give in to it, step right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging up your ears so the sand doesn’t get in, and walk through it, step by step.
And you really will have to make it through that violent, metaphysical, symbolic storm. No matter how metaphysical or symbolic it might be, make no mistake about it: it will cut through flesh like a thousand razor blades. People will bleed there, and you will bleed too. Hot, red blood. You’ll catch that blood in your hands, your own blood and the blood of others. And once the storm is over you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.
My sister’s looking off to the side so half her face is in shadow and her smile is neatly cut in half. It’s like one of those Greek tragedy masks in a textbook that’s half one idea and half the opposite. Light and dark. Hope and despair. Laughter and sadness.
Sometimes the wall I’ve erected around me comes crumbling down. It doesn’t happen very often, but sometimes, before I even realize what’s going on, there I am—naked and defenseless and totally confused. At times like that I always feel an omen calling out to me, like a dark, omnipresent pool of water.
You look for silence, but guess what? All you hear over and over and over is the voice of this omen. And sometimes this prophetic voice pushes a secret switch hidden deep inside your brain. Your heart is like a great river after a long spell of rain, spilling over its banks. All signposts that once stood on the ground are gone, inundated and carried away by that rush of water. And still the rain beats down on the surface of the river. Every time you see a flood like that on the news you tell yourself: That’s it. That’s my heart.
No sooner do I settle down than my consciousness, like a battery that’s lost its charge, starts to fade away, and I fall asleep.
Her smile steps offstage for a moment, then does an encore, all while I’m dealing with my blushing face.
“By the way, where are we?” I ask. “I have no idea,” she says. She cranes her neck and sweeps the place with her eyes. Her earrings jiggle back and forth like two precarious pieces of ripe fruit ready to fall.
I stare at her chest. As she breathes, the rounded peaks move up and down like the swell of waves, somehow reminding me of rain falling softly on a broad stretch of sea. I’m the lonely voyager standing on deck, and she’s the sea. The sky is a blanket of gray, merging with the gray sea off on the horizon. It’s hard to tell the difference between sea and sky. Between voyager and sea. Between reality and the workings of the heart.
Afterward I plop myself down on a bench in the plaza next to the station and gaze up at the sunny sky. I’m free, I remind myself. Like the clouds floating across the sky, I’m all by myself, totally free.
When I open them, most of the books have the smell of an earlier time leaking out between the pages—a special odor of the knowledge and emotions that for ages have been calmly resting between the covers. Breathing it in, I glance through a few pages before returning each book to its shelf.
As I relax on the sofa and gaze around the room a thought hits me: This is exactly the place I’ve been looking for forever. A little hideaway in some sinkhole somewhere. I’d always thought of it as a secret, imaginary place, and can barely believe that it actually exists. I close my eyes and take a breath, and like a gentle cloud the wonder of it all settles over me.
Her long hair is loosely tied back, her face very refined and intelligent looking, with beautiful eyes and a shadowy smile playing over her lips, a smile whose sense of completeness is indescribable. It reminds me of a small, sunny spot, the special patch of sunlight you find only in some remote, secluded place. My house back in Tokyo has one just like that in the garden, and ever since I was little I loved that bright little spot.
I’m free, I think. I shut my eyes and think hard and deep about how free I am, but I can’t really understand what it means. All I know is I’m totally alone. All alone in an unfamiliar place, like some solitary explorer who’s lost his compass and his map. Is this what it means to be free? I don’t know, and I give up thinking about it.
I stare at this ceaseless, rushing crowd and imagine a time a hundred years from now. In a hundred years everybody here—me included—will have disappeared from the face of the earth and turned into ashes or dust. A weird thought, but everything in front of me starts to seem unreal, like a gust of wind could blow it all away.
They’re full of obscene, violent, sexual, basically outrageous scenes. Like the genie in the bottle they have this sort of vital, living sense of play, of freedom, that common sense can’t keep bottled up. I love it and can’t let go. Compared to those faceless hordes of people rushing through the train station, these crazy, preposterous stories of a thousand years ago are, at least to me, much more real. How that’s possible, I don’t know. It’s pretty weird.
Her apartment’s two blocks from the Lawson’s. A tacky, two-story building. She walks upstairs, takes the keys out of her pocket, and opens the green paneled door. The apartment consists of two rooms plus a kitchen and a bathroom. The walls are thin, the floors creak, and probably the only natural light the place gets during the day is when the blinding sunset shines in. I hear a toilet flush in some other unit, the scrape of a cabinet being shut somewhere. Seedy, all right, but at least it has the feel of real people living real lives. Dishes piled up in the kitchen sink, empty plastic bottles, half-read magazines, past-their-prime potted tulips, a shopping list taped to the fridge, stockings hanging over the back of a chair, newspaper on the table opened to the TV schedule, an ashtray, a thin box of Virginia Slims. For some strange reason this scene relaxes me.
Time wasn’t the main issue for him. He didn’t even own a watch. Nakata operated on his own sense of time. In the morning it got light, in the evening the sun set and it got dark. Once it got dark he’d go to the nearby public bath, and after coming home from his bath he’d go to sleep. The public bath was closed on certain days of the week, and when that happened he’d just give up and go back home. His stomach told him when it was time to eat, and when the time came for him to go pick up his sub city (somebody was always nice enough to tell him when that day was near) he knew another month had passed. The next day he’d always go for a haircut at the local barber shop. Every summer someone from the ward office would treat him to eel, and every New Year they’d bring him rice cakes.
Nakata let his body relax, switched off his mind, allowing things to flow through him. This was natural for him, something he’d done ever since he was a child, without a second thought. Before long the borders of his consciousness fluttered around, just like the butterflies. Beyond these borders lay a dark abyss. Occasionally his consciousness would fly over the border and hover over that dizzying, black crevass. But Nakata wasn’t afraid of the darkness or how deep it was. And why should he be? That bottomless world of darkness, that weighty silence and chaos, was an old friend, a part of him already. Nakata understood this well. In that world there was no writing, no days of the week, no scary Governor, no opera, no BMWs. No scissors, no tall hats. On the other hand, there was also no delicious eel, no tasty bean-jam buns. Everything is there, but there are no parts. Since there are no parts, there’s no need to replace one thing with another. No need to remove anything, or add anything. You don’t have to think about difficult things, just let yourself soak it all in. For Nakata, nothing could be better.
She hesitates for a moment, then lowers my boxers, pulls out my rock-hard cock, and cradles it gently in her hand. Like she’s making sure of something, the way a doctor takes a pulse. With her soft hand touching me, I feel something—a stray thought, maybe—spring up in my crotch.
I go back to my sleeping bag and close my eyes. This time I can get to sleep. A deep, deep sleep, maybe the deepest since I ran away from home. It’s like I’m in some huge elevator that slowly, silently carries me deeper and deeper underground. Finally all light has disappeared, all sound faded away.
It’s Monday and the library’s closed. The library is quiet enough most of the time, but on a day like this when it’s closed it’s like the land that time forgot. Or more like a place that’s holding its breath, hoping time won’t stumble upon it.
“Excuse me, but I have a question,” one of the women comes over and says. The tall one. Her tone of voice is hard and unyielding, like a loaf of bread someone forgot on the back of a shelf.
“Neglect…,” Oshima says, and makes a face like he’s swallowed something bitter by mistake. He doesn’t much like the sound of the word, it would seem.
But what disgusts me even more are people who have no imagination. The kind T. S. Eliot calls hollow men. People who fill up that lack of imagination with heartless bits of straw, not even aware of what they’re doing. Callous people who throw a lot of empty words at you, trying to force you to do what you don’t want to. Like that lovely pair we just met."
“But there’s one thing I want you to remember, Kafka. Those are exactly the kind of people who murdered Miss Saeki’s childhood sweetheart. Narrow minds devoid of imagination. Intolerance, theories cut off from reality, empty terminology, usurped ideals, inflexible systems. Those are the things that really frighten me. What I absolutely fear and loathe. Of course it’s important to know what’s right and what’s wrong. Individual errors in judgment can usually be corrected. As long as you have the courage to admit mistakes, things can be turned around. But intolerant, narrow minds with no imagination are like parasites that transform the host, change form, and continue to thrive. They’re a lost cause, and I don’t want anyone like that coming in here.”
It doesn’t matter how much I think things over, how much effort I put into it. In fact, the harder I try, the more I lose my sense of who I am. It’s like my identity’s an orbit that I’ve strayed far away from, and that really hurts. But more than that, it scares me. Just thinking about it makes me flinch."
“That depends,” Oshima says. “Sometimes it is. But irony deepens a person, helps them mature. It’s the entrance to salvation on a higher plane, to a place where you can find a more universal kind of hope. That’s why people enjoy reading Greek tragedies even now, why they’re considered prototypical classics. I’m repeating myself, but everything in life is metaphor. People don’t usually kill their father and sleep with their mother, right? In other words, we accept irony through a device called metaphor. And through that we grow and become deeper human beings.”
I sense something and suddenly wake up and there she is. It’s the middle of the night but the room is strangely light, moonlight streaming through the window. I know I closed the curtains before going to bed, but now they’re wide open. The girl’s silhouette is clearly outlined, bathed by the bone white light of the moon.
She’s got to be a ghost. First of all, she’s just too beautiful. Her features are gorgeous, but it’s not only that. She’s so perfect I know she can’t be real. She’s like a person who stepped right out of a dream. The purity of her beauty gives me a feeling close to sadness—a very natural feeling, though one that only something extraordinary could produce. I’m wrapped in my covers, holding my breath. She continues to sit there at the desk, chin propped in her hands, barely stirring. Occasionally her chin shifts a fraction, changing the angle of her head ever so slightly. As far as anything moving in the room, that’s it. I can see the large flowering dogwood just outside the window, glistening silently in the moonlight. There’s no wind, and I can’t hear a sound. The whole thing feels like I might’ve died, unknowingly. I’m dead, and this girl and I have sunk to the bottom of a deep crater lake.
She reaches up and touches the hair at her forehead—her slim, girlish fingers rest for a time on her forehead, as if she’s trying to draw out some forgotten thought.
In the depths of our crater lake, everything is silent. The volcano’s been extinct for ages. Layer upon layer of solitude, like folds of soft mud. The little bit of light that manages to penetrate to the depths lights up the surroundings like the remains of some faint, distant memory. At these depths there’s no sign of life. I don’t know how long she looks at me—not at me, maybe, but at the spot where I am. Time’s rules don’t apply here.
Time expands, then contracts, all in tune with the stirrings of the heart.
I close the curtains and crawl back under the covers, but there’s no way I can go back to sleep now. My head’s too full of that enigmatic girl. A strange, terrific force unlike anything I’ve ever experienced is sprouting in my heart, taking root there, growing. Shut up behind my rib cage, my warm heart expands and contracts independent of my will—over and over.
In the middle of the room, where time seems to have drifted to a halt, we find an old Sansui stereo. Covered in a thin layer of white dust, the stereo itself looks in good shape, though it must be over twenty-five years since this was up-to-date audio equipment.
She looks like a symbol of something. A certain time, a certain place. A certain state of mind. She’s like a spirit that’s sprung up from a happy chance encounter. An eternal, naive innocence, never to be marred, floats around her like spores in spring.
Still, there’s something in this photo of the nineteen-year-old that the middle-aged woman I know has lost forever. You might call it an outpouring of energy. Nothing showy, it’s colorless, transparent, like fresh water secretly seeping out between rocks—a kind of natural, unspoiled appeal that shoots straight to your heart. That brilliant energy seeps out of her entire being as she sits there at the piano. Just by looking at that happy smile, you can trace the beautiful path that a contented heart must follow. Like a firefly’s glow that persists long after it’s disappeared into the darkness.
“The world of the grotesque is the darkness within us. Well before Freud and Jung shined a light on the workings of the subconscious, this correlation between darkness and our subconscious, these two forms of darkness, was obvious to people. It wasn’t a metaphor, even. If you trace it back further, it wasn’t even a correlation. Until Edison invented the electric light, most of the world was totally covered in darkness. The physical darkness outside and the inner darkness of the soul were mixed together, with no boundary separating the two. They were directly linked. Like this.” Oshima brings his two hands together tightly.
A short time later I fall into a restless sleep. My body needs rest, but my mind won’t allow it. I swing like a pendulum, back and forth between the two. Later, though—I’m not even sure if it’s light out or not—birds begin making a racket in the garden, and their voices pull me completely awake.
I tug on jeans and pull a long-sleeved shirt over my T-shirt and go outside. It’s after five o'clock and nobody else is up. I walk out of the old-looking town, through the pine forest set up as a windbreak, past the seawall and out onto the beach. There’s barely a breeze against my skin. The sky’s covered with a layer of gray clouds, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to rain anytime soon. It’s a quiet, still morning. Like a layer of soundproofing, the clouds absorb every sound the earth sends up.
Oshima looks up, listening to the thunder as if calculating how far away it is. He turns to me and shakes his head. “Not necessarily. Symbolism and meaning are two separate things. I think she found the right words by bypassing procedures like meaning and logic. She captured words in a dream, like delicately catching hold of a butterfly’s wings as it flutters around. Artists are those who can evade the verbose.”
She’s hidden, asleep, like a 3-D painting in the forest of her heart. But if you look carefully you can spot her. My chest starts pounding again, like somebody’s hammering a long nail into the walls surrounding it.
Clouds move outside and the moonlight flickers. It must be windy, but I can’t hear it. “Miss Saeki,” I say again, carried away by some urgent, compelling, overwhelming force.
“But if you knew you might not be able to see it again tomorrow, everything would suddenly become special and precious, wouldn’t it?” “I suppose so.” “Have you ever thought about that?” “I have.” A surprised look comes over her. “When?” “When I’m in love,” I tell her. She smiles faintly, and it continues to hover around her lips. This puts me in mind of how refreshing water looks after someone’s sprinkled it in a tiny hollow outside on a summer day.
She takes in a breath and pauses. The expression on her face slowly retreats somewhere far away, then comes back. Kind of like a parade that disappears down a street, then marches back up the same street toward you again.
“Man alive, that was fantastic. I’ve never felt like that,” Hoshino said, languidly sinking back in the hot tub. “That’s just the beginning,” the girl said. “Wait till you see what’s next.” “Yeah, but man that was good.” “How good?” “Like there’s no past or future anymore.” “The pure present is an ungraspable advance of the past devouring the future. In truth, all sensation is already memory.” Hoshino looked up, mouth half open, and gazed at her face. “What’s that?”
“You still don’t get it, do you? We’re talking about a revelation here,” Colonel Sanders said, clicking his tongue. “A revelation leaps over the borders of the everyday. A life without revelation is no life at all. What you need to do is move from reason that observes to reason that acts. That’s what’s critical. Do you have any idea what I’m talking about, you gold-plated whale of a dunce?” “The projection and exchange between self and object…?” Hoshino timidly began. “Good. I’m glad you know that much at least. That’s the point. Follow me, and you can pay your respects to your precious stone. A special package deal, just for you.”
After a while, though, I sense that something’s different. Something in the air that disturbs the perfect harmony of our little world. I strain to see through the gloom. What is it? The wind momentarily picks up, and the blood coursing through my veins begins to feel strangely thick and heavy. The dogwood branches draw a nervous maze on the windowpane. Finally it comes to me. The silhouette isn’t that of the young girl. It looks a lot like her, almost an exact match. But it isn’t exactly the same. Like a copy of a drawing laid over the real thing, some of the details are off. Her hairstyle is different, for one thing. And she has on different clothes. Her whole presence is different.
Unconsciously I shake my head. It isn’t the girl sitting there—it’s someone else. Something’s happening, something very important. I’m clutching my hands tightly beneath the covers, and my heart, unable to stand it anymore, starts pounding hard, beating out an unexpected, erratic rhythm. As if that sound is the signal, the silhouette in the chair starts to move, slowly changing its angle like some massive ship changing course. She takes her head out of her hands and turns in my direction. With a start I realize it’s Miss Saeki. I gulp and can’t let my breath out. It’s the Miss Saeki of the present. The real Miss Saeki. She looks at me for a while, quietly concentrating like when she’s looking at the painting, and a thought hits me—the axis of time. Somewhere I don’t know about, something weird is happening to time. Reality and dreams are all mixed up, like seawater and river water flowing together. I struggle to find the meaning behind it all, but nothing makes any sense. Finally she gets to her feet and slowly comes toward me, holding herself as erect as always. She’s barefoot, and the floorboards faintly creak as she walks. Silently she sits down on the edge of the bed, and remains still for a time. Her body has a definite density and weight. She has on a white silk blouse and a navy blue skirt that reaches to her knees. She reaches out and touches my head, her fingers groping through my short hair. Her hand is real, with real fingers touching me. She stands up again, and in the faint light shining in from outside—like it’s the most natural thing to do—begins to undress. She’s in no hurry, but she doesn’t hesitate, either. In smooth, natural motions she unbuttons her blouse, slips out of her skirt, and steps out of her panties. Piece by piece her clothing falls to the floor, the soft fabric hardly making a sound. She’s asleep, I realize. Her eyes are open but it’s like she’s sleepwalking. Once she’s naked she crawls into the narrow bed and wraps her pale arms around me. Her warm breath grazes my neck, her pubic hair pushing up against my thigh. She must think I’m her dead boyfriend from long ago, and that she’s doing what they used to do here in this very room. Fast asleep, dreaming, she goes through the motions from long ago.
You’re pulled along, a part of it, unable to pin down the principles of prophecy, or of logic. Like when a river overflows, washing over a town, all road signs have sunk beneath the waves. And all you can see are the anonymous roofs of the sunken houses.
“What I mean is, did you come back to this town to die?” Like a silvery moon at dawn, a smile rises to her lips. “Perhaps I did. But it doesn’t seem to matter. Whether you come to a place to live or to die, the things you do every day are about the same.”
Miss Saeki returns her coffee cup to the saucer with a hard, neutral sound. She looks straight at me, but she’s not really seeing me. She’s gazing at some void, some blank space somewhere else. “Do I know your father?” I shake my head. “As I told you, it’s just a theory.”
“I’m in love with you, and that’s what’s important. I think you understand that.” Like someone rising to the surface of the sea from deep below, she takes a deep breath. She searches for the words to say, but they lie beyond her grasp. “I’m sorry, Kafka, but would you mind leaving? I’d like to be alone for a while,” she says. “And close the door on your way out.”
Miss Saeki looks up, surprised, and after a moment’s hesitation lays her hand on mine. “At any rate, you—and your theory—are throwing a stone at a target that’s very far away. Do you understand that?” I nod. “I know. But metaphors can reduce the distance.” “We’re not metaphors.” “I know,” I say. “But metaphors help eliminate what separates you and me.” A faint smile comes to her as she looks up at me. “That’s the oddest pickup line I’ve ever heard.”
“There’re a lot of odd things going on—but I feel like I’m slowly getting closer to the truth.” “Actually getting closer to a metaphorical truth? Or metaphorically getting closer to an actual truth? Or maybe they supplement each other?” “Either way, I don’t think I can stand the sadness I feel right now,” I tell her. “I feel the same way.” “So you did come back to this town to die.” She shakes her head. “To be honest about it, I’m not trying to die. I’m just waiting for death to come. Like sitting on a bench at the station, waiting for the train.”
Once more I take her hand in mine. The scales are shaking, and just a tiny weight would send them tipping to one side or the other. I have to think. I have to decide. I have to take a step forward. “Miss Saeki, would you sleep with me?” I ask.
“Do you mind if I ask you a question?” “About what?” “Where did you come up with those two chords?” “Chords?” “The ones in the bridge in ‘Kafka on the Shore.’” She looks at me. “You like them?” I nod. “I found those chords in an old room, very far away. The door to the room was open then,” she says quietly. “A room that was far, far away.” She closes her eyes and sinks back into memories. “Kafka, close the door when you leave,” she says.
“Anyone who falls in love is searching for the missing pieces of themselves. So anyone who’s in love gets sad when they think of their lover. It’s like stepping back inside a room you have fond memories of, one you haven’t seen in a long time. It’s just a natural feeling. You’re not the person who discovered that feeling, so don’t go trying to patent it, okay?” I lay my fork down and look up. “A fond, old, faraway room?” “Exactly,” Oshima says. He holds his fork straight up for emphasis. “Just a metaphor, of course.”
After sex, she starts to cry. That’s one. She buries her face in the pillow and silently weeps. You don’t know what to do. You gently lay a hand on her bare shoulder. You know you should say something, but don’t have any idea what. Words have all died in the hollow of time, piling up soundlessly at the dark bottom of a volcanic lake. And this time as she leaves you can hear the engine of her car. That’s number two. She starts the engine, turns it off for a time, like she’s thinking about something, then turns the key again and drives out of the parking lot. That blank, silent interval between leaves you sad, so terribly sad. Like fog from the sea, that blankness wends its way into your heart and remains there for a long, long time. Finally it’s a part of you. She leaves behind a damp pillow, wet with her tears. You touch the warmth with your hand and watch the sky outside gradually lighten. Far away a crow caws. The Earth slowly keeps on turning. But beyond any of those details of the real, there are dreams. And everyone’s living in them.
But I know I can’t go anywhere. “But you can’t go anywhere, you know that very well,” the boy named Crow says. You held Miss Saeki, came inside her so many times. And she took it all. Your penis is still stinging, still remembering how it felt to be inside her. One of the places that’s just for you. You think of the library. The tranquil, silent books lining the stacks. You think of Oshima. Your room. Kafka on the Shore hanging on the wall, the fifteen-year-old girl gazing at the painting. You shake your head. There’s no way you can leave here. You aren’t free. But is that what you really want? To be free?
“Perhaps most people in the world aren’t trying to be free, Kafka. They just think they are. It’s all an illusion. If they really were set free, most people would be in a real bind. You’d better remember that. People actually prefer not being free.” “Including you?” “Yeah. I prefer being unfree, too. Up to a point. Jean-Jacques Rousseau defined civilization as when people build fences. A very perceptive observation. And it’s true—all civilization is the product of a fenced-in lack of freedom. The Australian Aborigines are the exception, though. They managed to maintain a fenceless civilization until the seventeenth century. They’re dyed-in-the-wool free. They go where they want, when they want, doing what they want. Their lives are a literal journey. Walkabout is a perfect metaphor for their lives. When the English came and built fences to pen in their cattle, the Aborigines couldn’t fathom it. And, ignorant to the end of the principle at work, they were classified as dangerous and antisocial and were driven away, to the outback. So I want you to be careful. The people who build high, strong fences are the ones who survive the best. You deny that reality only at the risk of being driven into the wilderness yourself.”
You tell her she must know who you are. I’m Kafka on the Shore, you say. Your lover—and your son. The boy named Crow. And the two of us can’t be free. We’re caught up in a whirlpool, pulled beyond time. Somewhere, we were struck by lightning. But not the kind of lightning you can see or hear. That night you make love again. You listen as the blank within her is filled. It’s a faint sound, like fine sand on a shore crumbling in the moonlight. You hold your breath, listening. You’re inside your theory now. Then you’re outside. And inside again, then outside. You inhale, hold it, exhale. Inhale, hold it, exhale. Prince sings on, like some mollusk in your head. The moon rises, the tide comes in. Seawater flows into a river. A branch of the dogwood just outside the window trembles nervously. You hold her close, she buries her face in your chest. You feel her breath against your bare skin. She traces your muscles, one by one. Finally, she gently licks your swollen penis, as if healing it.
The massive bank of thunderclouds crossed the city at a lethargic pace, letting loose a flurry of lightning bolts as if probing every nook and cranny for a long-lost morality, finally dwindling to a faint, angry echo from the eastern sky. And right then the violent rain came to a sudden halt, followed by an unearthly silence. Hoshino stood up and opened the window to let in some air. The storm clouds had vanished, the sky covered once more by a thin membrane of pale clouds. All the buildings were wet, the moist cracks in their walls dark, like old people’s veins. Water dripped off power lines and formed puddles on the ground. Birds flew out from where they’d sought shelter, chirping loudly as they vied for the bugs that were out themselves now that the storm had abated.
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."
Do you know where the idea of a labyrinth first came from?“ I shake my head. "It was the ancient Mesopotamians. They pulled out animal intestines—sometimes human intestines, I expect—and used the shape to predict the future. They admired the complex shape of intestines. So the prototype for labyrinths is, in a word, guts. Which means that the principle for the labyrinth is inside you. And that correlates to the labyrinth outside.” “Another metaphor,” I comment. “That’s right. A reciprocal metaphor. Things outside you are projections of what’s inside you, and what’s inside you is a projection of what’s outside. So when you step into the labyrinth outside you, at the same time you’re stepping into the labyrinth inside. Most definitely a risky business.”
Like an anchorless ship, time floats aimlessly across the broad sea.
Which isn’t easy. Like Napoleon’s army on the retreat, going back is more difficult than going forward, I discover. The path back is misleading, the dense vegetation forming a dark wall in front of me. My own breathing sounds loud in my ears, like a wind blowing at the edge of the world. A huge black butterfly about the size of my palm appears from the shade of the trees and flutters into my line of sight, its shape reminding me of that bloodstain on my T-shirt. It flies slowly across an open space, then disappears among the trees again, and once it vanishes everything suddenly seems even more oppressive, the air chillier. I’m seized by panic—not knowing how to get out of here. The crow squawks out shrilly again—the same bird as before, sending the same message. I stand still and look up, but can’t see it. A breeze, a real one, blows up from time to time, ominously rustling the dark leaves at my feet. I sense shadows racing past behind me, but when I spin around they’ve hidden themselves.
I’ve made it back to the world I came from. Signs of summer—so precious now—surround me. Sunlight envelopes me like a film, warming me up. But the fear I felt clings to me like a clump of unmelted snow in the corner of a garden.
I wake up in the middle of the night dying of thirst, get out of my sleeping bag, and drink some water. Glass after glass—five or six. My skin’s covered with a sheen of sweat, and the front of my boxers is tented in another huge erection. My cock’s like some animal with a mind of its own, operating on a different wavelength from the rest of me. When I drink some water my cock automatically absorbs it. I can hear the faint sound of it soaking up the water.
I remember Napoleon’s troops marching into Russia in the summer of 1812. They must have swatted away their share of mosquitoes, too, on that long road to Moscow. Of course mosquitoes weren’t the only problem. They had to struggle to survive all kinds of other things—hunger, thirst, muddy roads, infectious disease, sweltering heat, Cossack commandos attacking their thin supply lines, lack of medical supplies, not to mention huge battles with the regular Russian army. When the French forces finally straggled into a deserted Moscow, their number had been reduced from 500,000 to a mere 100,000. I stop and take a swig of water from my canteen. My watch shows exactly eleven o'clock. The library is just opening up. Oshima’s unlocking the door, taking his usual seat behind the counter, a stack of long, neatly sharpened pencils on the desk. He picks one up and twirls it, gently pushing the eraser end against his temple. I can see it all clearly. But that place is so far away.
“Actually, I don’t have any memories either. I’m dumb, you see, so could you tell me what memories are like?” Miss Saeki stared at her hands on the desk, then looked up at Nakata again. “Memories warm you up from the inside. But they also tear you apart.” Nakata shook his head. “That’s a tough one. Nakata still doesn’t understand. The only thing I understand is the present.”
She smiled. “I’m glad.” Nakata kept his hands on top of hers for a long while. Eventually Miss Saeki closed her eyes, quietly giving herself over to memories. There was no more pain there, for someone had siphoned it off forever. The circle was once again complete. She opens the door of a faraway room and finds two beautiful chords, in the shape of lizards, asleep on the wall. She gently touches them and can feel their peaceful sleep. A gentle wind is blowing, rustling the old curtain from time to time. A significant rustling, like some parable. She’s wearing a long blue dress. A dress she wore somewhere a long time ago. Its hem swishes faintly as she walks. The shore is visible outside the window. And you can hear the sound of waves, and someone’s voice. There’s a hint of the sea in the breeze. And it’s summer. Always it’s summer. Small white clouds are etched against the azure sky.
“It all really happened, so you can’t undo it,” Crow tells me. “She shouldn’t have abandoned you then, and you shouldn’t have been abandoned. But things in the past are like a plate that’s shattered to pieces. You can never put it back together like it was, right?” I nod. You can never put it back together like it was. He’s hit the nail on the head.
“You must think it’s strange we still lug around these heavy lumps of steel,” the tall one says, turning around. “They’re worthless. Never had any bullets anyway.” “But they’re a kind of sign,” the brawny one says, not looking back at me. “A sign of what we left behind.” “Symbols are important,” the tall one adds. “We happen to have these rifles and soldiers' uniforms, so we play the part of sentries. That’s our role. Symbols guide us to the roles we play.”
A faint breeze is cutting through the woods, making the leaves of the trees around me tremble. That anonymous rustling forms ripples on the folds of my mind. I rest a hand against a tree trunk and close my eyes. Those ripples seem to be a sign, a signal of some sort, but it’s like a foreign language I can’t decipher. I give up, open my eyes, and gaze out again at this brand-new world before me. Standing there halfway down the slope, staring down at this place with two soldiers, I feel those ripples shifting inside me.
I walk into the bedroom, make a tangle out of getting my pants and shoes off, then slump down on the bed, bury my face in the pillow, and close my eyes. The pillow smells like the sunlight, a precious smell. I quietly breathe it in, breathe it out, and fall asleep before I know it.
Her trademark smile plays around her lips. “There’s something I have to tell you.” Her smile’s nearly identical to the young girl’s, though with a bit more depth, a slight nuance that moves me.
“Just one thing,” she says, raising her head and looking me straight in the eye. “I want you to remember me. If you remember me, then I don’t care if everybody else forgets.” Silence descends on us for a time. A profound silence. A question wells up inside me, a question so big it plugs up my throat and makes it hard to breathe. I somehow swallow it back, finally choosing another. “Are memories such an important thing?” “It depends,” she replies, and lightly closes her eyes. “In some cases they’re the most important thing there is.”
I wanted you to have the painting. After all, the painting is originally yours.“ "Mine?” She nods. “You were there. And I was there beside you, watching you. On the shore, a long time ago. The wind was blowing, there were white puffy clouds, and it was always summer.” I close my eyes. I’m at the beach and it’s summer. I’m lying back on a deck chair. I can feel the roughness of its canvas on my skin. I breathe in deeply the smell of the sea and the tide. Even with my eyes closed, the sun is glaring. I can hear the sound of the waves lapping at the shore. The sound recedes, then draws closer, as if time is making it quiver. Nearby, someone is painting a picture of me. And beside him sits a young girl in a short-sleeved light blue dress, gazing in my direction. She has straight hair, a straw hat with a white ribbon, and she’s scooping up the sand. Steady, long fingers—the fingers of a pianist. Her smooth-as-porcelain arms glisten in the sunlight. A natural-looking smile plays at her lips. I’m in love with her. And she’s in love with me.
I go over to her. Her ear brushes against my neck, the earring hard against my skin. I rest both palms on her back like I’m deciphering some sign there. Her hair brushes my cheek. She holds me tight, her fingers digging hard into my back. Fingers clinging to the wall that’s time. The smell of the sea, the sound of waves breaking on the shore. Someone calling my name from far, far away.
And she leaves. She opens the door and, without glancing back, steps outside and closes the door. I stand at the window and watch her go. Quickly she vanishes in the shadow of a building. Hands resting on the sill, I gaze for the longest time at where she disappeared. Maybe she forgot to say something and will come back. But she never does. All that’s left is an absence, like a hollow.
My feet are buried in lead and won’t budge. If I go on I’ll never see her again. I come to a halt. I’ve lost all sense of time. I want to call out to the soldiers in front of me, I’m not going back, I’m staying. But no voice comes out. Words have no life in them. I’m caught between one void and another. I have no idea what’s right, what’s wrong. I don’t even know what I want anymore. I’m standing alone in the middle of a horrific sandstorm. I can’t move, and can’t even see my fingertips anymore. Sand as white as pulverized bones wraps me in its grip. But I hear her—Miss Saeki—speaking to me. “No matter what, you have to go back,” she says decisively. “It’s what I want. For you to be there.”
I stand in the clearing in front of the cabin and gaze up at the sky. The world around me is suddenly filled with brilliant sounds—birds chirping, water gurgling down the stream, wind rustling the leaves. All faint, but to me it’s like corks have been pulled from my ears and now everything sounds so alive, so warm, so close. Everything’s mixed together, but still I can make out each individual sound. I look down at the watch on my wrist, and it’s working again. Digital numbers flash on the green screen, changing each minute like nothing had ever happened. It’s 4:16.
I go into the cabin and lie down on the bed in my clothes. I’m exhausted. I lie there on my back and close my eyes. A bee is resting above the window. The girl’s arms glisten in the sunlight like porcelain. “An example,” she says. “Look at the painting,” Miss Saeki says. “Just like I did.” White sands of time slip through the girl’s slim fingers. Waves crash softly against the shore. They rise up, fall, and break. Rise up, fall, and break. And my consciousness is sucked into a dim, dark corridor.
“Have you been surfing for a long time?” I ask him. “Hmm,” he says, and then there’s silence. Finally, when I’ve almost forgotten the question, he answers. “I’ve been surfing since high school. Then it was just for fun. Didn’t really get serious about it till six years ago. I was working at a big ad agency in Tokyo. I couldn’t stand it so I quit, moved back here, and started surfing. I took out a loan, borrowed some money from my folks, and opened a surf shop. I run it alone, so I can pretty much do whatever I want.” “Did you want to come back to Shikoku?” “That was part of it,” he says. “I don’t know, I don’t feel right unless I’ve got the sea and mountains nearby. People are mostly a product of where they were born and raised. How you think and feel’s always linked to the lay of the land, the temperature. The prevailing winds, even.
The window’s open, the June breeze gently rustling the hem of the white lace curtains. A faint scent of the sea is in the air. I remember feeling the sand in my hand at the beach. I walk away from the desk and over to Oshima, and hold him tight. His slim body calls up all sorts of nostalgic memories. He gently rubs my hair. “The world is a metaphor, Kafka Tamura,” he says into my ear. “But for you and me this library alone is no metaphor. It’s always just this library. I want to make sure we understand that.”
Over the bridge and across the water we go, and I transfer to the bullet train at Okayama Station. I sink back in my seat and close my eyes. My body gradually adjusts to the train’s vibration. The tightly wrapped painting of Kafka on the Shore is at my feet. I can feel it there. “I want you to remember me,” Miss Saeki says, and looks right into my eyes. “If you remember me, then I don’t care if everyone else forgets.” Time weighs down on you like an old, ambiguous dream. You keep on moving, trying to slip through it. But even if you go to the ends of the earth, you won’t be able to escape it. Still, you have to go there—to the edge of the world. There’s something you can’t do unless you get there.