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Parade Page 2

by Hiromi Kawakami


  “Omachi, it’s only because those people latched on to you that now you can see her too.” As she said “those people,” Nishida nodded her chin ever so slightly in the direction of the two tengu.

  “She appeared by my side about a year ago. Oda’s has been around since we started elementary school, and Minami says his has been with him since before he started kindergarten,” Nishida said in a whisper. Even though no one else in the classroom seemed to be paying any attention to our conversation, we spoke to each other quite conspiratorially.

  Nishida told me that the old lady who followed her around was known as a sand-throwing hag. I asked if it wasn’t rude to call her a hag, and Nishida replied, “My dad said that’s what they’ve always been called, so it’s okay.” Apparently Nishida’s father could also see the sand-throwing hag. But, Nishida said, her mother could not.

  “Cool, Omachi—you’ve got two critters,” Minami called out as he passed by.

  “They’re not critters, they’re people!” I corrected him.

  “Oh. Sorry.”

  I was amazed not to be the only one who had something following me.

  “Nishida, weren’t you surprised when it happened to you?” I asked.

  She thought about it for a moment.

  “Only at first,” she said. “I got used to her right away.” That was probably true. The fact was, I myself was already growing accustomed to mine.

  The tengu sat quietly on either side of me until third period, but after that they went off somewhere. The next thing I knew, the badger, the sand-throwing hag, and the rokurokubi woman with the long neck were also gone.

  “They’ll be back, once it gets dark,” Oda whispered in my ear.

  “They seem like they’re pretty busy.”

  The aroma of our school lunch wafted in from the hallway. A burst of laughter erupted in another classroom. The row of poplar trees in the schoolyard caught the sunlight and glistened.

  WHEN I HAPPENED TO LOOK OVER AT Sensei, his eyes were closed. The palm of his hand was still resting in mine. Sensei, I called to him, and he opened his eyes wide. “I’m awake,” he replied in a low growl.

  “Continue,” Sensei prompted, sounding just like a schoolteacher.

  AFTER A LITTLE WHILE, I BEGAN TO UNDERSTAND some of what the tengu were saying.

  “Because you spend a lot of time together, you can relate more to one another,” my mother said. The one with the dark red face was male, and the one with the pale red face was female—that much I could tell.

  “It was annoying that the boys skipped out during cleaning time at school today,” I grumbled, and both of the tengu murmured in assent with me. They made a bristling sound, like “iga-iga-iga.”

  “What if I don’t show Mom my bad grade on the test?” When I conferred with the tengu about this, the one with the dark red face agreed with me—“gai-i-i”—but the one with the pale red face shook her head—“i-ge-ge-ge.” I kept the test hidden at the back of my desk for a while, but the one with the pale red face kept making such a fuss that eventually I ended up showing it to my mother.

  “The tengu depend upon you, Tsuki, dear. You must take great care of your relationship with them,” my mother said. Meanwhile, she wasn’t all that angry about my test marks. I couldn’t help but wonder what it all meant, though I didn’t think too hard about it.

  One time I had tried asking Nishida, “Why do you think these types have latched on to us?”

  “I’m not really sure. But you know, there are plenty of other things out there that don’t make sense, right?” I was impressed by the lack of concern in Nishida’s response. She was right about that. The truth was, I myself wasn’t all that interested in the reason. I had just felt like asking the question.

  “MOM, WERE THERE TENGU BY YOUR SIDE when you were little?” This was another question I asked without really expecting anything to come of it.

  “In my case, it was a fox instead of the tengu,” my mother replied with a smile.

  “How long has it been since it’s been gone?”

  “That’s a secret.”

  I liked having the tengu around, but there were times when I felt depressed. It was fine when the two of them were chattering to each other, but when they sat still and just stared at me I wanted to tell them to get lost. Even if I didn’t actually ever say that to them.


  “They must have been a little bigger than I was.”

  “This was around when you were in third grade, wasn’t it, Tsukiko? If they were about your size, those were small tengu.”

  “I guess you’re right. Now that you mention it, they must have been tengu kids.”

  Sensei turned to lie on his back with his hands folded behind his head. The palm of my hand felt lonesome, now that Sensei had taken his away. We continued our conversation across the low table as we looked up at the ceiling.

  IT MUST HAVE BEEN DURING THE SECOND school term when the one with the pale red face seemed to fall ill. She looked thin, and even lost all interest in licking the margarine. She wasn’t drinking any flower nectar either. Both of the tengu liked nectar. When the azaleas by the side of the road were in bloom, the tengu would cling to the base of the shrubs, slurping up the nectar from the flowers greedily. They wouldn’t pluck a flower to taste the nectar, the way you and I might—they knew how to extract it deftly while leaving the blossoms intact on the branches.

  DESPITE BEING SICK, THE ONE WITH THE pale red face still followed me to school. She would lie on the floor of the classroom, not moving, even if someone stepped on her. Most of the students didn’t know she was there in the first place, so this was to be expected, but it still pained me whenever it happened.

  It was probably after that whole thing started—that’s when the tengu fell ill.

  BY “THAT WHOLE THING,” I MEAN WHEN Yuko was ostracized.

  At some point, a group of girls had decided to stop talking to her. Before long, a few of the boys went along with it too. The more ordinary students—like Nishida and me—we pretended not to notice what they were doing.

  EVEN AS THE SHUNNING GOT WORSE AND worse, Yuko never once cried. During class, she would look straight at the teacher, and raise her hand often. Whenever Yuko answered a question, half of the students in class would coldly turn their heads away. Sometimes one of the girls even murmured, “Jerk,” under her breath. Her voice sounded terribly nasty. Whenever I imagined someone speaking to me in that tone, it made shivers run up and down my spine.

  DURING RECESS, YUKO WAS ALWAYS READING a book. Nishida’s sand-throwing hag hadn’t been feeling well either. Still, she wasn’t in as bad shape as my pale red tengu. Meanwhile, the badger and the rokurokubi woman with the very long neck would wander around the room during class. Everyone seemed restless.

  Yuko and I went to the same abacus school after regular school. It was one station away by train, so Yuko and I were the only ones from our class who went there. At the abacus school, Yuko chatted with all the other students. She laughed and smiled too—she wasn’t always just reading a book. One time, she even did an impersonation of the comedian Hitoshi Ueki and his catchphrase, “Look at that—I did it again!” She didn’t really sound much like him, though.

  THE TENGU WITH THE PALE RED FACE wasn’t well when we were at abacus school either. In class, I would sit in a corner, trying to avoid making eye contact with Yuko. As for Yuko, there were several times when it seemed like she might have wanted to say something to me, but I guess I was unconsciously avoiding her. I didn’t know what to do. And, for some reason, I was scared.

  ON THE TRAIN HOME, YUKO WOULD ALWAYS stand in the same spot by the door, and I normally boarded from a different place on the platform. But one day I had jumped onto the train just before it left the station, and practically bumped into Yuko. I hadn’t noticed that she was right there. Yuko uttered a small sound of surprise. I kept my eyes lowered. We rode in awkward silence until we got off at our stop.

  I kept my head down even while we walked beside each other from the station. I was panicking about what would happen if one of the girls from our class saw me walking with Yuko. My heart was really pounding in my chest—it was terrible. I felt like cringing, all the way down to the tips of my fingers.

  “You don’t have to walk next to me, Omachi,” Yuko murmured after a while. “What?” I replied idiotically. I can still remember the tremendous relief I felt then. In that same instant of relief, I was overcome with intense self-loathing. But really I was relieved.

  When I looked up at Yuko, she was smiling. And yet her smiling face reminded me of the face of my grandmother, who had died the year before, and what she had looked like when she was laid out in her coffin.

  I REALIZED SOMETHING IN THAT MOMENT. Yuko had somehow resigned herself to the situation. She had given up being sad or being disappointed. Just like my grandmother when she had taken her last breath, Yuko had purposely stopped feeling things.

  Was it even possible to do that? I wondered. But the expression on Yuko’s face right before my eyes seemed to suggest that it most certainly was.

  “What’s the matter, Omachi?” Yuko asked. I was staring straight at her. Our eyes met. Before I knew it, I was telling her about the tengu.

  “WHAT KIND OF VOICE DID THIS YUKO have?” Sensei asked.

  I couldn’t recall much about what Yuko sounded like. I think she may have had a soft voice. I remembered that the tengu had loud voices, but when I tried to summon other details, I couldn’t really remember what the tengu sounded like either.

  I MAY HAVE SAID THAT I STARTED TELLING Yuko about the tengu, but I didn’t really go into detail. Though when I mentioned that the one with the pale red face had been sick ever since this stuff with her had been going on, Yuko seemed startled. Then she let out several deep sighs.

  “I appreciate that, even if it’s from the tengu,” Yuko murmured, as her breathing grew regular again.

  I didn’t know how to respond. Up until then, all I had done was pretend not to notice. I couldn’t honestly reply with something like “I know, right?” Of course, I told little white lies every so often, but I was aware that now was definitely not a time for dishonesty. And I didn’t mean “definitely” in a generic, conversational way—this was absolutely definitely not the time.

  We walked along in silence. When we were about to part ways, I said, “The tengu—they’re still here behind me.” Yuko waved to them and said, in English, “Goodbye.” Her wave was slightly in the wrong direction, but both of the tengu still waved back at her.

  AROUND THE TIME OF THE SECOND-TERM closing ceremony—as we were preparing to head into the third term—the girls seemed to forget about ostracizing Yuko. After that, they did a bit of the same to Nishida, but it didn’t really amount to much. This kind of thing tended to ebb and flow. It was a cruel game, administered according to sheer whim.

  There were still plenty of times when Yuko was alone, but the others seemed to pretend that what had been going on during the previous term had never happened. From time to time I would notice Yuko sitting quietly in a corner of the classroom, either reading a book or daydreaming. I hardly ever spoke to her at school. It wasn’t as if we had been friends with each other in the first place.

  OCCASIONALLY, I’D SEE YUKO TALKING TO another girl. Even when I could hear the other girl’s voice, I couldn’t hear Yuko’s at all. Although she was right there, it seemed as if she wasn’t. I couldn’t be sure whether she actually existed.

  ONCE A DAY, EVERY DAY, BOTH OF the tengu would go over to Yuko and touch her. When they did so, the spot on Yuko’s body where they had touched her would sparkle. Like a nighttime parade. Those flashes of light were pretty, but there was something terribly sad about them too.

  THE ONE WITH THE PALE RED FACE RECOVERED from her illness. She was no longer lying down in the classroom either. I had grown three centimeters taller—I was now about the same height as both of the tengu. I had the feeling that time was passing by so quickly, faster than it had last year. When I told my mother this, she laughed off my concern. “For me, a year goes by in the blink of an eye!”

  Every so often, Yuko and I ended up together on the way home from abacus school. Whenever we parted ways, Yuko would always direct a “goodbye” to the space behind me. She did it even when neither of the tengu were there, but I didn’t tell her that.

  There was something very kind about Yuko’s “goodbye.” I wondered if my voice would ever sound as kind as that. If it did, would the tengu touch me, and would the spot where they touched sparkle? And if my voice ever did sound like that, would the tengu still be following me? This is what I always thought about while I watched Yuko’s retreating figure disappear around a corner.

  “SO DOES YOUR VOICE EVER SOUND LIKE that, Tsukiko?” Sensei asked. He was still lying there, faceup.

  “Not at all. Wouldn’t you agree?”

  “Not at all, that’s for sure.”

  “That’s a rude thing to say.”

  Sensei and I gazed up at the ceiling for a while. The grain of the wood resembled various animals. A dog. A snake. A tiger. A squirrel.

  “Ah, look, there’s a tengu.” Sensei said, pointing at the ceiling. I stared at the spot where Sensei had pointed, and indeed, a pattern in the shape of a tengu began to emerge.


  “That’s a secret.”

  I see, Sensei murmured with a laugh. The buzzing of the cicadas had grown louder again. The breeze swept in, carrying the evening air with it. Stories from long ago are quite good, aren’t they? Sensei said. I’m the one who told the story, I boasted. But I was the one who asked you to tell the story. Sensei laughed again. The warmth I had felt on Sensei’s palm swelled all around him—I could sense it even without touching him. Sensei would just always be so . . . Sensei. I laughed too, as I stared up at the tengu on the ceiling. In the distance, the evening cicadas had begun to sing.


  Sometimes I think about stories that have ended.

  As the author of these stories, I have created so many different episodes and emotions. In the moment, when I am writing them down, these people and events become just as real to me as anything else that exists in the world.

  However, once I have finished writing, all those real things that “existed” for me become part of the past—a memory—just like what happens to things in the present, within everyday real life.

  As time goes by, I find myself thinking again about a certain story. I wonder, Is that world really over and done with?

  Take the story of Strange Weather in Tokyo. What happened to Tsukiko after Sensei died? What about Takashi Kojima? And Satoru’s bar? And if I were to go even further back, to when Sensei was still alive, I wonder how Tsukiko and Sensei really spent their time, day by day. When they weren’t meeting up at the bar. When they were on their own. Or on their occasional dates. Did they go on any more trips together?

  These are some of the thoughts that have passed through my mind since I finished writing that book. All the things that I wasn’t able to include in that book—things that even I, as the author, don’t know about Sensei and Tsukiko’s time together. Like echoes that I hear, far off in the distance.

  This book might describe a day that Tsukiko and Sensei spent together in early summer. On another day, presumably they passed their time differently.

  The world that exists behind a story is never fully known, not even to the author. That is what I had in mind as I created this. I hope you have enjoyed reading this memento of a story that has ended.

  © Bungeishunjū Ltd.

  HIROMI KAWAKAMI was born in Tokyo in 1958. Her first book, God (Kamisama), was published in 1994. In 1996, she was awarded the Akutagawa Prize for Tread on a Snake (Hebi o fumu), and in 2001 she won the Tanizaki Prize for her novel Strange Weather in Tokyo (Sensei no kaban), which was an international bestseller. The book was short-listed for the 2012 Ma
n Asian Literary Prize and the 2014 International Foreign Fiction Prize.

  ALLISON MARKIN POWELL is a translator, editor, and publishing consultant. In addition to Hiromi Kawakami’s Strange Weather in Tokyo, The Nakano Thrift Shop, and The Ten Loves of Nishino, she has translated books by Osamu Dazai and Fuminori Nakamura, and her work has appeared in Words Without Borders and Granta, among other publications. She maintains the database




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