A Murakami Tale

Something about her expression pulled people in. It was as if this is something I thought of only later, of course—she was peeling back one layer after another that covered a person’s heart, a very sensual feeling.

They meet when they are twelve, students in the same school. They are quiet, lonely, and enjoy being together. Hajime walks Shimamoto home every afternoon after school. They listen to music, drink tea and talk to one another. They are too young to realize what is happening to them.

These are the central characters in Haruki Mukami’s beautiful novel, South of the Border, West of the Sun. In time, they part ways as Hajime moves to another town to attend high school and later college. While they lose touch with one another, neither can forget their times together. The feel of her hand has never left me.

Hajime marries a woman he happens to meet on the street, they have two children and he goes to work for her father who loans him money to open a nightclub. It becomes popular and with the profits he opens another. They have a home in a posh suburb of Tokyo, two cars, and a life that an observer would call idyllic.

But Hajime knows something is missing. Yes, he has a family, a job and two lovely children. But what then is missing? One night Shimamoto comes into his bar. She had read about it in a magazine. She will tell him nothing about her life. They talk and it is, of course, like old times. But she returns only intermittently and there are long periods when they don’t see each other. Hajime confesses to her one night:

Something’s lacking. In me and my life. And that part is always hungry, always thirsting. Neither my wife, nor my children can fill that gap. In the whole world there’s only one person who can do that.

Time passes until one night they drive to Hajime’s cabin, where Shimamoto wants to scatter in a nearby river the ashes of her only child, who died a day after being born. They end up spending the night together, finally consummating their love. In the morning, Hajime discovers she has left. It was the last time they were together.

No matter where I go, I still end up me. What’s missing never changes. The scenery may change, but I’m still the same old incomplete person. The same missing elements torture me with a hunger that I can never satisfy.

Hajime knows the void will never go away, that he has to get used to it. No one is going to “weave dreams for me.” He knows he must now try to weave them other others.

The novel ends in this unfulfilled way. But it is life, Hajime’s life and the incomplete lives of others too. The hidden truths of Murakami’s tale are many. This is one. Here are three others:

After a certain length of time has passed, things harden up. Like cement hardening in a bucket.

But I didn’t understand then. That I could hurt somebody so badly she would never recover. That a person can, just by living, damage another human being beyond repair.

But you don’t know how empty it feels not to be able to create anything.