The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami (Part 1)

The Fall of the Roman Empire, the 1881 Indian Uprising, Hitler’s Invasion of Poland, and the Realm of Raging Winds. It was a typical Sunday afternoon. There was a strong wind that came out of nowhere. I shut the windows and doors. It was like the fall of the Roman Empire. I looked at the weather forecast and it didn’t predict a typhoon. My girlfriend likes to wear a blindfold during sex. I wrote those facts in my diary. The phone rang. I thought it would be my girlfriend. However, when I answered the phone, I just heard fierce wind blowing, like Indians on the warpath in 1881. No one was on the receiving end of the call. 15 seconds, the phone got cut off. Silence was all that remained. I watched Sophie’s Choice and saw Hilter’s invasion of Poland in the film. I was listening to Shostakovich cello concerto when the phone rang. It was my girlfriend. True enough, the wind stopped. She and I would be having hotpot. Both of us wondered on the fury of the wind and why it occurred so suddenly. Strangely enough, I have managed to keep a diary for 22 years continuously, without once stopping.

There’s lots we don’t know about the wind. Same as there’s lots we don’t know about ancient history or cancer or the ocean floor or outer space or sex. – Haruki Murakami

Lederhosen. My mother dumped my father over a pair of shorts. A woman tutors electric organ and was a sports fanatic. She was very driven. She was single. I was speaking to my wife about her. I thought her that woman was never set on marrying. One day, I spoke to that woman. I visited her to my home. She was my wife’s friend. Suddenly, she talked about her parents’ divorce. They weren’t shorts, they were lederhosen. Mum headed to Germany for a holiday and Dad wanted her to buy lederhosen back for him. They got along fine. However, mum extended her trip to 1.5months and didn’t come home. This made Dad very upset. One day, mum filed for divorce, citing the reason that she no longer loved him. My dad reluctantly gave in. Mum was dumping me too. I wasn’t able to forgive her for a long time. It was 3 years later that I saw her again. Everything stemmed from that pair of shorts. My mum headed to a shop to buy souvenir lederhosen. Although she was alone, the shop owners and travellers treated her well and she felt liberated. However, the shop owners wanted to see the customer before they could size the lederhosen for him. My mum was disappointed. My mum negotiated and agreed to bring a man who is similar in size to dad to the shop so that she could buy lederhosen. The shop owners agreed with this. Mum managed to find a guy with the same size as Dad. Later on, she decided to divorce dad. Somehow, mum felt an incredible sense of disgust towards father. The man she brought in resembled dad a lot. Perhaps only women behaved in this manner.

Barn Burning. I was 31 and she was 20 and we met at a wedding party. Our age gap didn’t matter. I was married at that time. She was an advertising model. She was a model and I didn’t care whether she was sleeping with other guys for money. She was studying pantomime. For one shoot, she had to pretend to peel mandarin oranges. It was incredibly pretentious. We became pals. After her dad died, she visited North Africa. 3 months after, she brought home an Algerian guy, who she fell in love with. He worked in trading. I met the guy for a few more times after that. He seemed to be really rich. One day, she and the guy dropped by my house. My wife was out for the moment. They brought some food as well. He offered me some grass to smoke and I agreed. The guy kept smoking while the girl went to sleep. The guy suddenly mentioned that he burn barns sometimes. He simply poured gasoline and threw a lighted match. I found out that he did it once every 2 months. The barns belonged to other people. He didn’t think he could get caught. It was like an obsession. He mentioned that there were a lot of barns waiting to be burnt in this world. He believed that it was a moral thing to do. To him, burning was judging. He was simply obliging. He imagined himself to be burning barns somewhere in the world and also simultaneously existing in Tokyo, forgiving himself. Was there such a thing as simultaneity? The next barn he was targeting was nearby. Despite drinking so much, he was not drunk. They left my house. I walked around the neighbourhood and labelled the barns I saw. I didn’t know which of the 5 big ones he would strike. One month had passed, and no barns were burnt. Could he be getting me to burn a barn? Flashback: I saw this guy again. He burned a barn near my house 10 days after we first talked about it. He also mentioned he didn’t see the girl again. She disappeared miraculously. I keep running to the barns, but none of them burned down. Once in a while, deep in the night, I think of barns burning to the ground.

The Little Green Monster. I was alone at home now that my husband left for work. I looked at the garden and thought of the oak tree I planted. Suddenly, I heard a rumbling sound. Something was moving closer to me. From the ground, out crawled a little green monster with sharp claws. It was covered with green scales and had a funny nose. It sent shivers down my spine. The monster headed to my front door. It kept knocking on my front door. It explored my home and starting speaking certain words. It said ‘it wouldn’t have done you any good.’ I somehow knew that it meant no harm. I felt that it was trying to propose to me. He confessed that he loved me. However, we were only conversing in our minds. I criticized the creature in my head and its scales started protruding from its face. I could tell that it was crying. Every time I imagined a torture for it, it would lurch and writhe and wail. It begged me to stop. All it had in its heart was love. I ignored it and thought that I have the right to think anything I wanted. However, I kept thinking nasty thoughts on how to kill it. Soon, it shrivelled up to the size of a worm. Now, it seemed to try to speak to me. Suddenly, it disappeared and only its eyes remained. Later, that too disappeared into emptiness.

A Slow Boat to China. I met my first Chinese in 1960. I was digging the past for information. Who was interested in what I was trying to find out? I had a baseball accident in the past and it was nasty. Death reminds me of the Chinese. This phrase got stuck in my head ‘That’s okay, brush off the dirt and you can still eat it’. I went to a Chinese elementary school to take a test. The classroom seemed normal. Everything seemed to be in order. Everyone was waiting for their test scripts. There was a test examiner as well. He was the first Chinese I knew. He spoke about the relationship between China and Japan. I went to a port town, where there were not many Chinese. I was never close to any Chinese by in the day. I met a Chinese girl through part time work in Tokyo. She was very diligent. She was very frantic and worked hard. One day, she suffered a bad panic attack and I comforted her. We worked in a publisher’s warehouse. Although she was born in China, she hasn’t been back much. Once, I tried to ask her out to the disco. She agreed to go although I had a girlfriend back then. Thankfully, she enjoyed dancing too. Her brother was her guardian. I asked for her number. I realized that I sent her off on the wrong train, in the opposite direction from her house. When she got off at her station, I was waiting for her and apologized immediately. She started crying. She wanted to be alone now. She was not as upset now and I wanted to call her tomorrow. After she left, I realized I misplaced the piece of paper where she wrote her number on. I never saw her again. My third Chinese was an acquaintance from high school. When I was at a café, a guy came up to me and asked ‘That’s you, isn’t it?’ I had difficulty remembering who he was. He had a bad stomach. Everything appeared very vivid to him. I was still clueless about him. He was married with a 4 year old son. He didn’t want to reveal his name and appeared mysterious. It turns out that he sells encyclopedias. However, he only sells to Chinese and not Japanese. Now, I recalled that he was from my high school. We chatted a while and later parted ways. The city didn’t seem intriguing for me at all. This was never any place I was meant to be. You can read about books on China, but experiencing it yourself is a truly unique experience. I was no longer afraid of loss and destruction. In fact, I longed for China now.

The dirty facades, the nameless crowds, the unremitting noise, the packed rush hour trains, the grey skies, the billboards on every square cm of available space, the hopes and resignation, irritation and excitement. And everywhere, infinite options, infinite possibilities. An infinitely, and at the same time, zero. We try to scoop it all up in our hands, and what we get is a handful of zero. That’s the city. – Haruki Murakami

The Dancing Dwarf. A dwarf was in my dream, wanting me to dance. He danced alone after I rejected it. He set up a record player and danced. The type of music didn’t matter that much to it. It seemed to have boundless energy. He was also flexible and spontaneous. He told me his story. In his north country, no one danced. One day, he was banished to live in the forest. My dream was dying. The dwarf said that one day, I would definitely join him in the forest to dance. It has been decided, apparently. I worked in the elephant factory. We made elephants. It was very rewarding indeed. We artificially manufacture elephants. We do this because for them to reproduce naturally is way too slow. It is possible to make 15 elephants in a normal week. The ear section is the easiest. In the afternoon, we could enjoy ourselves after working in the morning. I described the dwarf to my colleague. He said ‘That’s a tough one’. He mentioned that a guy in Stage 6 knew about the dwarf too. I went to look for this old man in the tavern. There were pictures of the revolution. He worked in the factory since he was a child. He launched into stories about the revolution. He didn’t want me mentioning about the dancing dwarf to anyone else. Apparently, the dwarf danced at the tavern a long time ago. Customers loved to see him dance. Also, the dwarf could manipulate people’s emotions with a choice of dance step. The dwarf was paid to dance before the king. When the revolution started, the dwarf ran away. The revolution people were still looking for the dwarf. Some people say the dwarf caused the revolution. We liked to talk about girls who worked in the factory. I entered Stage 8 and was looking for the new girl. She was incredibly beautiful. I asked her to go dancing with me. She said I could join her, but she wanted to dance alone. The dwarf entered my dream again. Now, he looked very tired and he was not dancing. He was sick and needed a new source of energy. He knew I wanted the girl but he said I needed his help in order to get her. The dwarf would teach me how to dance in order to impress her. But his alternative was that he got into my body and danced. However, I was afraid of this. He had one condition for me, while I was dancing, I was not to say a word at all. If I spoke a word, he would occupy my body permanently. I eventually agreed. I was at the dance hall now, waiting for her. Finally, she showed up. She started dancing alone and she was perfect in her moves. Now, I started dancing and I couldn’t feel my body anymore. Later, she started whirling and stamping with me. I was deliriously happy. After a long time, we stopped and gazed into each other’s eyes. We left the place and kept walking. We went to the top of the hill and I held her. We kissed each other. Suddenly, her face began to change into an enormous maggot. Maggots were emerging from her face and body. It was stinky and pus poured out from her eyes. Everything was dissolving and I tried to close my eyes. The dwarf was laughing at me. I wanted to let out a scream, but didn’t. It was like entering hell. The dwarf was testing me, and wanted me to scream so he could occupy my body forever. I closed my eyes and kissed her. It was extremely disgusting. However, later, I realized that after opening my eyes, she turned into a beautiful girl again. I defeated the dwarf and he left my body. However, he said that I will eventually lose to him. Now, he started laughing again. The police was not looking at me. Now, I have been running from forest to forest and living on berries, trying to escape the policemen. I had to choose between letting the dwarf control me and dance in the forest forever, or continue running from the police.

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