though he did not quite understand why, Komura always felt his tension
dissipate when he and his wife were together under one roof; it was the
only time he could truly relax. He slept well with her, undisturbed by
the strange dreams that had troubled him in the past. His erections were
hard; his sex life was warm. He no longer had to worry about death or
venereal disease or the vastness of the universe.
His wife, on the other hand, disliked Tokyo's crowds and longed for Yamagata.
She missed her parents and her two elder sisters, and she would go home
to see them whenever she felt the need. Her parents operated a successful
inn, which kept them financially comfortable. Her father was crazy about
his youngest daughter and happily paid her round-trip fares. Several times,
Komura had come home from work to find his wife gone and a note on the
kitchen table telling him that she was visiting her parents for a while.
He never objected. He just waited for her to come back, and she always
did, after a week or ten days, in a good mood.
But the letter his wife left for him when she vanished five days after
the earthquake was different: I am never coming back, she had written,
then went on to explain, simply but clearly, why she no longer wanted
to live with him.
The problem is that you never give me anything, she wrote. Or,
to put it more precisely, you have nothing inside you that you can
give me. You are good and kind and handsome, but living with you is
like living with a chunk of air. It's not entirely your fault, though.
There are lots of women who will fall in love with you. But please don't
call me. Just get rid of all the stuff I'm leaving behind.
In fact, she hadn't left much of anything behind. Her clothes, her shoes,
her umbrella, her coffee mug, her hair dryer: all were gone. She must
have packed them in boxes and shipped them out after he left for work
that morning. The only things still in the house that could be called
"her stuff" were the bike she used for shopping and a few books. The Beatles
and Bill Evans CDs that Komura had been collecting since his bachelor
days had also vanished.
The next day, he tried calling his wife's parents in Yamagata. His mother-in-law
answered the phone and told him that his wife didn't want to talk to him.
She sounded somewhat apologetic. She also told him that they would be
sending him the necessary forms soon and that he should put his seal on
them and send them back right away.
Komura answered that he might not be able to send them "right away." This
was an important matter, and he wanted time to think it over.
"You can think it over all you want, but I know it won't change anything,"
his mother-in-law said.
She was probably right, Komura told himself. No matter how much he thought
or waited, things would never be the same. He was sure of that.
Shortly after he had sent the papers back with his seal stamped on them,
Komura asked for a week's paid leave. His boss had a general idea of what
had been happening, and February was a slow time of the year, so he let
Komura go without a fuss. He seemed on the verge of saying something to
Komura, but finally said nothing.
Sasaki, a colleague of Komura's, came over to him at lunch and said, "I
hear you're taking time off. Are you planning to do something?"
"I don't know," Komura said. "What should I do?"
Sasaki was a bachelor, three years younger than Komura. He had a delicate
build and short hair, and he wore round, gold-rimmed glasses. A lot of
people thought he talked too much and had a rather arrogant air, but he
got along well enough with the easygoing Komura.
"What the hell--as long as you're taking the time off, why not make a
nice trip out of it?"
"Not a bad idea," Komura said.
Wiping his glasses with his handkerchief, Sasaki peered at Komura as if
looking for some kind of clue.
"Have you ever been to Hokkaido?" he asked.
"Would you like to go?"
"Why do you ask?"
Sasaki narrowed his eyes and cleared his throat. "To tell you the truth,
I've got a small package I'd like to send to Kushiro, and I'm hoping you'll
take it there for me. You'd be doing me a big favor, and I'd be glad to
pay for a round-trip ticket. I could cover your hotel in Kushiro, too."
"A small package?"
"Like this," Sasaki said, shaping a four-inch cube with his hands. "Nothing
"Something to do with work?"
Sasaki shook his head. "Not at all," he said. "Strictly personal. I just
don't want it to get knocked around, which is why I can't mail it. I'd
like you to deliver it by hand, if possible. I really ought to do it myself,
but I haven't got time to fly all the way to Hokkaido."
"Is it something important?"
His closed lips curling slightly, Sasaki nodded. "It's nothing fragile,
and there are no 'hazardous materials.' There's no need to worry about
it. They're not going to stop you when they X-ray it at the airport. I
promise I'm not going to get you in trouble. And it weighs practically
nothing. All I'm asking is that you take it along the way you'd take anything
else. The only reason I'm not mailing it is I just don't feel like
Hokkaido in February would be freezing cold, Komura knew, but cold or
hot it was all the same to him.
"So who do I give the package to?"
"My sister. My younger sister. She lives up there."
Komura decided to accept Sasaki's offer. He hadn't thought about how to
spend his week off, and making plans now would have been too much trouble.
Besides, he had no reason for not wanting to go to Hokkaido. Sasaki called
the airline then and there, reserving a ticket to Kushiro. The flight
would leave two days later, in the afternoon.
At work the next day, Sasaki handed Komura a box like the ones used for
human ashes, only smaller, wrapped in manila paper. Judging from the feel,
it was made of wood. As Sasaki had said, it weighed practically nothing.
Broad strips of transparent tape went all around the package over the
paper. Komura held it in his hands and studied it a few seconds. He gave
it a little shake but he couldn't feel or hear anything moving inside.
"My sister will pick you up at the airport. And she'll be arranging a
room for you," Sasaki said. "All you have to do is stand outside the gate
with the package in your hands where she can see it. Don't worry, the
airport's not very big."
Komura left home with the box in his suitcase, wrapped in a thick undershirt.
The plane was far more crowded than he had expected. Why were all these
people going from Tokyo to Kushiro in the middle of winter? he wondered.
The morning paper was full of earthquake reports. He read it from beginning
to end on the plane. The number of dead was rising. Many areas were still
without water or electricity, and countless people had lost their homes.
Each article reported some new tragedy, but to Komura the details seemed
oddly lacking in depth. All sounds reached him as far-off, monotonous
echos. The only thing he could give any serious thought to was his wife
as she retreated ever farther into the distance.
Mechanically he ran his eyes over the earthquake reports, stopped now
and then to think about his wife, then went back to the paper. When he
grew tired of this, he closed his eyes and napped. And when he woke, he
thought about his wife again. Why had she followed the TV earthquake reports
with such intensity, from morning to night, without eating or sleeping?
What could she have seen in them?
Two young women wearing overcoats of similar design and color approached
Komura at the airport. One was fair-skinned and maybe five feet six, with
short hair. The area from her nose to her full upper lip was oddly extended
in a way that made Komura think of shorthaired ungulates. Her companion
was more like five feet one and would have been quite pretty if her nose
hadn't been so small. Her long hair fell straight to her shoulders. Her
ears were exposed, and there were two moles on her right earlobe which
were emphasized by the earrings she wore. Both women looked to be in their
mid-twenties. They took Komura to a café in the airport.
"I'm Keiko Sasaki," the taller woman said. "My brother told me how helpful
you've been to him. This is my friend Shimao."
"Nice to meet you," Komura said.
"Hi," Shimao said.
"My brother tells me your wife recently passed away," Keiko Sasaki said
with a respectful expression.
Komura waited a moment before answering, "No, she didn't die."
"I just talked to my brother the day before yesterday. I'm sure he said
quite clearly that you'd lost your wife."
"I did. She divorced me. But as far as I know she's alive and well."
"That's odd. I couldn't possibly have misheard something so important."
She gave him an injured look. Komura put a small amount of sugar in his
coffee and gave it a gentle stir before taking a sip. The liquid was thin,
with no taste to speak of, more sign than substance. What the hell am
I doing here? he wondered.
"Well, I guess I did mishear it. I can't imagine how else to explain the
mistake," Keiko Sasaki said, apparently satisfied now. She drew in a deep
breath and chewed her lower lip. "Please forgive me. I was very rude."
"Don't worry about it. Either way, she's gone."
Shimao said nothing while Komura and Keiko spoke, but she smiled and kept
her eyes on Komura. She seemed to like him. He could tell from her expression
and her subtle body language. A brief silence fell over the three of them.
"Anyway, let me give you the important package I brought," Komura said.
He unzipped his suitcase and pulled the box out of the folds of the thick
ski undershirt he had wrapped it in. The thought struck him then: I was
supposed to be holding this when I got off the plane. That's how they
were going to recognize me. How did they know who I was?
Keiko Sasaki stretched her hands across the table, her expressionless
eyes fixed on the package. After testing its weight, she did as Komura
had done and gave it a few shakes by her ear. She flashed him a smile
as if to signal that everything was fine, and slipped the box into her
oversize shoulder bag.
"I have to make a call," she said. "Do you mind if I excuse myself for
"Not at all," Komura said. "Feel free."
Keiko slung the bag over her shoulder and walked off toward a distant
phone booth. Komura studied the way she walked. The upper half of her
body was still, while everything from the hips down made large, smooth,
mechanical movements. He had the strange impression that he was witnessing
some moment from the past, shoved with random suddenness into the present.
"Have you been to Hokkaido before?" Shimao asked.
Komura shook his head.
"Yeah, I know. It's a long way to come."
Komura nodded, then turned to survey his surroundings. "Funny," he said,
"sitting here like this, it doesn't feel as if I've come all that far."
"Because you flew. Those planes are too damn fast. Your mind can't keep
up with your body."
Excerpted from After the Quake by Haruki Murakami
Copyright 2002 by Haruki Murakami. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a
division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt
may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the
the physical and social landscape of Japan was transformed by two events:
the Kobe earthquake, in January, which destroyed thousands of lives, and
the poison-gas attacks in the Tokyo subways in March, during the morning
rush hour. Following these twin disasters, Haruki Murakami abandoned his
life abroad and returned home to confront his countrys grief. The
subway attack led to his recent Underground. And out of the quake come
these six stories, set in the months between natural catastrophe and man-made
terrorism. His characters find their resolutely normal everyday lives
undone by events even more surreal (yet somehow believable) than we have
come to expect in his fiction.
salesman, abruptly deserted by his wife, is entrusted to deliver a mysterious
package but gets more than he bargained for at the receiving end; a Thai
chauffeur takes his troubled charge to a seer, who penetrates her deepest
sorrow; and, in the unforgettable title story, a boy acknowledges a shattering
secret about his past that will change his life forever.
But the most
compelling character of all is the earthquake itselfslipping into
and out of view almost imperceptibly, but nonetheless reaching deep into
the lives of these forlorn citizens of the apocalypse. The terrible damage
visible all around is, in fact, less extreme than the inconsolable howl
of a nation indelibly scarredan experience in which Murakami discovers
many truths about compassion, courage, and the nature of human suffering.
was born in Kyoto, Japan, in 1949 and grew up in Kobe and now lives near
Tokyo. The most recent of his many honors is the Yomiuri Literary Prize,
whose previous recipients include Yukio Mishima, Kenzaburo Oe, and Kobo
Abe. His work has been translated into twenty-seven languages.