Reading Haruki Murakami for the First Time

So I’m on the second leg of a triple-bus ride home from the east side, and I’m totally absorbed in the first chapter of “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” by Haruki Murakami. Okada is falling asleep in the hot sun in a stranger’s back yard, and a sixteen year old girl with a bad cut across her eye is whispering in his ear about death. Other than that I have no idea where I am, what’s going on, or what music I’ve been piping into my own ears. The chapter ends and I look up. The bus is just dipping down onto the floating bridge across the lake, and the sun is setting. Emmylou Harris sings, “When I stop dreaming, that’s when I’ll stop loving you.” A water skier cuts back and forth across the wake of a boat. We are down on the floating part of the bridge, just above the water. Close to the skier. The young man in a business suit sitting in front of me watches the skier. I look around. No one else seems to notice that there’s a water skier and he’s having a lot more fun than us. Total languor. The high rise where my grandma lives with a lot of other old people stands on the edge of the west side of the lake. The sun has slid halfway down the building, and lights up the windows there. The way it works there is that you move into the top floors when you’re still spry and independent. Then as you get weaker and less able to take care of yourself, you slide down floor by floor, toward the lake. In the middle floors they help you live, and on the bottom floors they help you die. The bus rises on the other side of the lake. We drive over a marsh, turn around a bend and roll across the University Bridge. I feel strange. It’s like happiness. I get off to change buses. I sit on a bench. The warmth in the air is still surprising, and the breeze on the nape of my neck is like a benediction. I trade Emmylou for Damien Jurado. My bus comes almost immediately. I bound up the steps, thinking, “I have brilliant bus luck!” I put a little extra oomph into my smile for the driver, who is young and cute. The eyes of the other passengers turn to me, to inspect me, to see how awful it would be if I were to sit down next to them. I gaze on them all with benevolence. Hello, beautiful sorority girl in the red ball cap. Bless you, my child. Hello, little old man with an oxygen tank. May peace be with you. I sail to the very back of the bus rather than sit next to anyone. The bus lurches forward, but still I’m steady on my feet. I sit down. Damien Jurado croons in my ear. It’s a beautiful song about suicide. I’m in love again, with wraiths and disembodied voices. I look down. Where is my bag? It’s not here. There’s no bag. I left it on the bench. I jog up to the front of the bus — “You have to let me off–I left my bag back there!” The bus driver looks at me in the mirror and says, “Oh no, your bag! Good luck–” He says it so sweetly, it shocks me. All in all, I can’t switch gears. My bag with my credit cards, keys, paycheck, five favorite cds and Haruki Murakami is sitting alone, undefended on a bench, and I’m jubilant. I can’t switch gears. I hurl myself off the bus and sprint back toward the stop. But there’s a trick! There’s no sidewalk leading back to where I’d been sitting. The bus stop had been just a sign and a bench on a little concrete island under an overpass. There’s no shoulder either. I keep running, thinking the path I’m on might lead to stairs that wind down to the street below. It doesn’t. I run back the other way until I can cross the street. I dash through a construction detour. I can hardly believe my strength and speed. I’m flying. I dodge cars to cross the street again and arrive all out of breath and beaming because there is my bag. It was so drab and unassuming, it blended right in with the greyish-brown of the bench. Probably no one even noticed it there. So I sat back down to wait for the next bus, looped the bag over my head and opened “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” to Chapter 2.

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