Bangkok Surprise

Author: Murakami Haruki (村上 春樹)
Japanese Title: バンコック・サプライズ (Bankokku sapuraizu)
Taken From: 夜のくもざる (Yoru no kumozaru, 1995)

“Hello, is this 5721-1251?” a woman’s voice asked me.

“Yes, this is 5721-1251.”

“I’m sorry for calling out of the blue. The truth is, I was calling 5721-1252.”

“Okay,” I said.

“I’ve been calling all day since this morning. I tried more than thirty times, but they didn’t pick up. Um, they’re probably on a trip, or something.”

“And?” I asked.

“And so I thought, well, I might as well try calling what I guess you could call their next door neighbor, 5721-1251.”

“Okay.”

She cleared her throat. “I just got in from Bangkok last night. This really awesome, amazing, incredible thing happened in Bangkok. It’s something you totally wouldn’t believe. It’s something just really, really incredible. I planned to stay there for a week, but I cut it short by three days and came back early. I wanted to talk about it, so I kept calling 1252. I won’t be able to sleep if I don’t talk about it with someone, but it’s not something I can just talk about with anybody. And so I thought maybe the person at 1251 would listen to me…”

“I see.”

“But, you know, I was really hoping a girl would answer the phone. It would be a lot easier to talk to a girl, you know?”

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“How old are you?”

“I turned 37 last month.”

“Uh, 37? I get the feeling that someone a little younger might be better. Sorry about that.”

“No, it’s fine.”

“Sorry,” she said. “I’m going to try calling 5721-1253. Bye.”

After all that fuss, I never did get to hear what happened in Bangkok.

The Monkey in the Night

Author: Murakami Haruki (村上 春樹)
Japanese Title: 夜のくもざる (Yoru no kumozaru)
Taken From: 夜のくもざる (Yoru no kumozaru, 1995)

I was sitting at my desk at 2:00 in the morning and writing. I pushed my window open and a spider monkey came in.

“Oh, hey, who are you?” I asked.

“Oh, hey, who are you,” the spider monkey said.

“Don’t copy me,” I said.

“Don’t copy me,” the monkey said.

Don’t copy me,” I copied him.

Don’t copy me,” he copied me in italics.

Man, this is really annoying, I thought. If I get caught up with this copycat-crazed night monkey, who knows when this will end. I’ll just have to trip him up somewhere. I had a job that I had to finish by morning, and I couldn’t very well keep doing this all night.

“Heppoku rakurashi manga totemuya, kurini kamasu tokimi wakoru, pacopaco,” I said quickly.

“Heppoku rakurashi manga totemuya, kurini kamasu tokimi wakoru, pacopaco,” the spider monkey said.

Since I had said something completely random, I couldn’t actually tell if the monkey had copied me correctly or not. Well, that was pointless.

“Leave me alone,” I said.

Leave me alone,” the monkey said.

“You got it wrong, I didn’t say it in italics that time.”

“You got it wrong, I didn’t say it in ītalics that time.”

“I didn’t put a macron over the i.”

“I didn’t put a macron over the eye.”

I sighed. No matter what I said, the spider monkey wouldn’t understand. I decided to not say anything and just keep doing my work. Still, when I pressed a key on my word processor, the monkey silently pressed the copy key. Click. Still, when I pressed a key on my word processor, the monkey silently pressed the copy key. Click. Leave me alone. Leave me alone.

Zombie

Author: Murakami Haruki (村上 春樹)
Japanese Title: ゾンビ (Zonbi)
Taken From: TV ピープル (Terebi piipuru, 1993)

A boy and a girl were walking down a road next to a graveyard at midnight. It was even foggy. They didn’t particularly want to be walking in such a place in the middle of the night, but they had to pass by that way due to various circumstances. They held each other’s hands tightly and walked as quickly as they could.

“It’s almost like that Michael Jackson music video,” the girl said.

“Yeah, the gravestones are moving,” the boy said.

Just then, they heard a groan, giiiiii, that sounded like something heavy moving somewhere. The two stopped walking and, without thinking, turned to look at each other.

The boy laughed. “It’s okay. There’s no reason to get nervous. Some tree branches were scraping against each other. It was the wind or something.”

But the wind wasn’t blowing. The girl gulped and looked around. She had a bad feeling about this, a premonition that something terrible was about to happen.

It was a zombie.

But they couldn’t see any such thing. There wasn’t any indication that the dead had risen, so the two started walking again. The girl sensed the boy’s face growing strangely rigid.

“Why do you walk like such a slut?” he asked abruptly.

“Me?” the girl asked, surprised. “Do I really walk like a slut?”

“It’s terrible,” the boy said.

“Really?”

“You’re bowlegged.”

The girl bit her lip. She probably was a little bowlegged. The bottoms of her shoes tended to wear down a little more on the outside, but it wasn’t bad enough for anyone to come right out and make a point of mentioning it to her.

But she didn’t say anything. She loved the boy, and the boy loved her. They were planning on getting married next month, and she didn’t want to get into a stupid fight. I’m probably a little bowlegged, she thought. What’s the problem with that?

“This is the first time I’ve dated a bowlegged woman.”

“Really?” the girl said with a stiff smile on her face. Was he drunk? No, he can’t have had anything to drink tonight, she thought.

“And then there are the three moles inside your ear,” the boy said.

“Oh really?” the girl said. “Which ear?”

“The right one. Right inside your right ear, there are three moles. They’re really ugly.”

“Do you hate moles?”

“I hate ugly moles. What planet would you have to come from to like something like that?”

The girl bit her lip.

“And then there’s your body odor,” the boy continued. “It’s been bothering me for a while. If I had met you for the first time in summer, there’s no way we would have started dating.”

The girl sighed and withdrew her hand from the boy’s.

“Hey, hold on a second. Do you have to say it to me like that? That’s really terrible. Is that what you’ve been thinking all this time?”

“The collar of your blouse is dirty. The one you’re wearing tonight, right now. Why are you so filthy? Can’t you do even one thing right?”

The girl was silent. She was so angry that her mouth wouldn’t work.

“You know, I have a whole ton of things I could say to you. Your gross legs, your stench, your dirty collar, the moles in your ear, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Oh that’s right, why are you wearing earrings that look so bad on you? You look just like a prostitute. No, even a prostitute would have more class than you. If you’re going to wear something like that, why don’t you just put a ring through your nose? It would go perfectly with your double chin. And that’s right, your double chin made me remember – your mother is a real pig. She’s a real oinking pig. That’s what you’re going to look like after twenty years. You’re a fatso, just like your mom. What a porker! You really eat shit up. Your dad is terrible too. He can barely write kanji, did you know that? He recently wrote a letter to my parents, right, and everyone laughed at it. They were saying it was like he was almost illiterate. Did that asshole even graduate from elementary school? Your house sucks. It’s a cultural slum. It would do us all a favor if someone would douse it with gasoline and set it on fire. All the pig fat would sizzle while it burned, you bet.”

“Hey, if you hate me that much, why are you marrying me?”

The boy took no notice of her. “You’re a pig,” he said. “And then your thing. It’s really terrible down there. I just give up and do you, but it’s like a cheap rubber band that’s already been stretched out too much. If I had something like that, I would die. If I were a girl, and something like that was stuck on me, I would die of shame. It wouldn’t even matter how I died. I would just die as quickly as I could. I would be too embarrassed to live.”

The girl stood there in a daze. “How could you….”

Suddenly, the boy clutched his head. His face contorted painfully, and he sunk to the ground. He scratched at his temples with his fingernails. “It hurts!” he said. “My head is tearing apart. I can’t stand it. It’s too much!”

“Are you okay?” the girl spoke up.

“I’m not okay! I can’t take it! My skin is burning up into pieces!”

The girl touched the boy’s face with her hand. It was feverish, as if it actually were burning. The girl gently tried to stroke it, but the skin slipped off in a film. As it peeled away, slimy red flesh appeared. She gasped and jumped back.

The boy stood up and cackled, tearing off his skin with his own hands. His eyeballs plopped out of his head and dangled down. His nose shrank away to nothing more than two black holes. His lips disappeared, and his teeth stuck out, grinning at her.

“The reason I stuck with you so long was to eat your fatty piggy meat. Why else would I date someone like you? But you were just too stupid to get it. Are you an idiot? Are you an idiot? Are you an idiot? Heh heh heh heh heh heh heh…!”

And then the lump of exposed flesh came chasing after her. She broke into a run, but she couldn’t escape from the shambling mass of meat behind her. At the edge of the graveyard a slimy hand clutched her collar. She screamed and screamed.

…..

The boy held the girl’s body.

Her throat was dry. The boy looked at her, grinning.

“What’s the matter? Did you have a bad dream?”

The girl sat up and looked around her. She had been sleeping with the boy on a bed in a hotel by a lake. She shook her head.

“Did I yell?”

“A whole lot,” he said, laughing. “Your scream was really loud. I bet everyone in the hotel heard it. It hope no one thinks I murdered you.”

“I’m sorry,” she said.

“It’s okay, don’t worry about it,” the boy said. “You had a bad dream?”

“You can’t even imagine what a bad dream it was.”

“Would you tell me about it?”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” she said.

“It would be better if you talked about it. If you tell someone, then all the bad vibrations will just float away.”

“That’s all right. I don’t want to talk about it now.”

The two were silent for a moment. She hugged the boy’s naked chest. She could hear frogs croaking in the distance. The boy’s heartbeat thudded solidly.

“Hey,” the girl said, remembering. “Can I ask you something?”

“What?”

“Are there any moles in my ears?”

“Moles?” the boy asked. “Are you talking about the three ugly ones in your right ear?”

She shut her eyes. It wasn’t over…

32-Year-Old Day Tripper

Author: Murakami Haruki (村上 春樹)
Japanese Title: 32歳のデイトリッパー (Sanjūnisai no deitorippā)
Taken From: カンガルー日和 (Kangarū no hiyori, 1983)

I’m 32, and she’s 18… If you think of it like that, it’s kind of ridiculous.

I’m only 32, and she’s already 18… Maybe that’s better.

We’re friends, nothing more, nothing less. I’ve got a wife, and she’s got six boyfriends. On weekdays, she goes on dates with her six boyfriends, and once a month, on a Sunday, she goes on a date with me. On the other Sundays, she sits at home and watches TV. When she watches TV, her face is cute like a walrus.

In 1963, when she was born, President Kennedy was assassinated. Also, I asked a girl out on a date for the first time. Was the song that was popular then maybe Cliff Richard’s “Summer Holiday”…?

Ah, whatever.

In any case, that’s when she was born.

In 1963, I would never have thought that I would be going on dates with a girl who was born in that year. It still seems a little strange to me now, like I’m smoking a cigarette on the dark side of the moon.

The consensus among my friends is that dating a teenage girl is boring. Despite that, they go on dates with teenage girls all the time. Is it that they’ve managed to find girls who aren’t boring? No, that’s not it. Simply put, it is the very boringness of these girls that they find so appealing. While buckets full of boring are being dumped over their heads, they try not to let a drop fall on the girl. It’s a complicated game they enjoy wholeheartedly.

At least, that’s what I think.

The truth is, nine out of ten teenage girls are boring. Of course, they haven’t noticed this. They’re young, beautiful, and full of curiosity. They think that “boring” has nothing to do with them.

Good grief.

This doesn’t mean that I blame them, and it doesn’t mean that I hate them. I like them. They make me remember the time when I was a boring teenage boy. How would you put it, it’s pretty awesome.

“Hey, have you ever thought that you’d like to be 18 again?” she asked me.

“Not really,” I answered.

“You don’t want to be 18 again… Really?”

“Of course.”

“Why?”

“I guess I’m fine the way I am now.”

Putting her elbows on the table, she rested her chin in her hand. Deep in thought, she twirled her spoon around in her coffee cup with a clacking sound. “I don’t believe you.”

“You’d better believe me.”

“But isn’t it cooler to be young?”

“Probably.”

“Then why are you fine the way you are now?”

“Because being 18 once was enough.”

“It’s still not enough for me.”

“But that’s because you’re still 18.”

“Hmmm.”

I flagged down a waitress and ordered my second bottle of beer. It was raining outside, and I could see Yokohama Harbor through the window.

“Hey, when you were 18, what did you think about?”

“Sleeping with girls.”

“Besides that.”

“Just that.”

She giggled and took a small sip of coffee.

“So, were you successful?”

“There were times when I was successful and times when I wasn’t. Of course there were probably more times when I wasn’t.”

“About how many girls did you sleep with?”

“I never counted.”

“Really?”

“I didn’t want to.”

“If I were a guy, I would definitely end up counting. Don’t you think it would interesting?”

I’ve had times when I’ve thought that it wouldn’t be so bad to be 18 again, but when I try to think of the first thing I’d do when I turned 18, I can’t come up with anything.

I’d probably end up dating a charming 32-year-old woman. That wouldn’t be so bad.

“Have you ever thought that you’d like to be 18 again?” I would ask her.

“Let’s see,” she would grin at me while pretending to think about it. “Nope. Well, probably.”

“Really.”

“Yup.”

“I don’t get it,” I would say to her. “You know that everyone says that it’s awesome to be young.”

“That’s right, it is pretty awesome.”

“Well then, why don’t you want to be 18 again?”

“You’ll understand when you’re older.”

But really, I’m 32 years old, and I’ve reached the point where my belly gets flabby if I’m lazy about jogging for just a single week. I can’t go back to being 18. I guess that’s only natural.

When I get back from running in the morning, I drink a can of vegetable juice, plop down into a chair, and listen to the Beatles song “Day Tripper.”

“Daaaaaay-ay tripper…”

When I listen to that song, I feel like I’m sitting in the window seat on a train. Outside, stuff like telephone poles and train stations and railway bridges and cows and horses and chimneys and piled-up garbage quickly passes by. No matter where you’re going, the scenery doesn’t change much. And I used to think that scenery was pretty amazing, too.

“Would you like to change seats with me?” I ask.

“Thanks,” she says. “That’s really kind of you.”

It’s not that I’m kind, I smile bitterly. It’s just that you’re not yet used to how boring it is.

Tired of counting telephone poles,
I’m a 32-year-old
Day tripper.

Julio Iglesias

Author: Murakami Haruki (村上 春樹)
Japanese Title: フリオ・イグレシアス (Furio Igureshiasu)
Taken From: 夜のくもざる (Yoru no kumozaru, 1995)

After he stole our mosquito repellent incense, we no longer had any means to protect ourselves from the attacks of the sea turtle. We tried to send away for more incense from a mail-order company; but, just as we thought, the telephone lines had been cut, and our mail had stopped coming to us a few weeks ago. When you think about it, there’s no way that wily turtle would have allowed such a thing – up until now, we had been able to stave him off solely on account of the incense. Now, however, he must surely be napping contentedly tonight at the bottom of the blue-green sea in preparation for tonight’s assault.

“This is it for us, isn’t it,” she said. “When night comes, we’ll both be eaten.”

“We can’t lose hope,” I said. “We just need to come up with a plan.”

“But the sea turtle stole every last stick of our incense.”

“We’ve got to try to think about this logically. If the turtle hates mosquito repellent incense that much, then there’s got to be something else he hates just as much.”

“Like what?”

“Julio Iglesias,” I said.

“Why Julio Iglesias?” she asked.

“I don’t know, it just suddenly popped into my head. Like a hunch, or something.”

Following my intuition, I set the turntables of the stereo system to Julio Iglesias’s “Begin the Beguine” and waited for nightfall. When darkness came, the sea turtle would attack, and the final showdown would begin. Would we be eaten, or will the turtle go hungry?

When I heard wet, squishy footfalls close to the door a little after midnight, I lost no time in dropping the needle onto the record. As Julio Iglesias started to croon “Begin the Beguine” in his sugar-water voice, the footsteps came to a dead halt, and we heard the turtle moaning painfully. We had triumphed.

That night, Julio Iglesias sang “Begin the Beguine” one hundred and twenty-six times. I myself rather dislike Julio Iglesias, but fortunately not as much as the sea turtle.