by MURAKAMI Haruki
translated by Theodore W. Goossen
Inside the pen were four kangaroos: one male, two
females, and finally a new-born baby.
The baby kangaroo was, of course, still alive. He (or she) was much bigger than the newspaper photo had shown, and was energetically hopping about on the ground. It was not really a baby but a miniature kangaroo. She was a bit disappointed.
'It doesn't look like a baby any more.'
'It could still be called a baby,' I consoled her.
'We should have come here sooner.'
I went to the concession stand and bought two chocolate ice-creams. When I returned, she was still pressed against the fence gazing intently at the kangaroos.
'It's not a baby any more,' she repeated.
'Really?' I replied, passing her the ice-cream.
'A baby would still be in its mother's pouch.'
I nodded and licked my ice-cream.
'And this one's not.'
At any rate, we looked around for the mother. The father was easy to pick out. He was the biggest and most serene of the hunch. He was perusing the green leaves in his feed box with the air of a composer whose creativity had long since dried ap. The other two were both females, identical in build, colour, and expression. Either could plausibly be the mother.
'Still,' I said, 'one is the mother and the other isn't.'
'So where does the one that isn't fit in?'
She said she didn't know.
Untouched by such concerns, the baby kangaroo hopped about, pausing here and there to dig meaningless holes in the ground with its front paws. It seemed to be a creature who didn't know what boredom was. It hopped around and around its father, stopped to nibble some grass, pawed at the earth, teased the two female kangaroos, sprawled out on tile ground, and then got up and started racing around again.
'Why do kangaroos hop so fast?' she asked.
'To escape from their enemies.
'Enemies? What enemies?'
'Human beings,' I said. 'Human beings kill them with boomerangs and eat their meat.'
'Why do the babies go in the pouch?'
'So that they can escape together. Babies can't run very fast.'
'So that means they're being protected, right?'
Yes,' I said. 'Every child is well looked after.'
'Up until what age?'
I kicked myself for not having checked my illustratad encyclopaedia of animal beforehand. I should have known this was bound to happen.
'Until one or two months, I guess.'
'Well, this one's a month old,' she said, pointing at the baby kangaroo, 'which mean, it should still ride in the pouch.'
'Uh-huh,' I said. 'I guess so.'
'Boy, don't you think it would be great to curl up in a pouch like that?'
'Yes, I suppose so.'
'I wonder about Doraemon's pocket,' she said, mentioning the cartoon cat whose pocket held an endless supply of marvellous inventions. 'Do you suppose it's a kind of return to the womb?'
'I don't know.'
'I bet it is.'
The sun was really up now. Children's excited voices came drifting across from a nearby swimming pool. Summer clouds, with their distinct shapes, floated through the sky.
'Feel like something to eat?' I asked her.
'A hot-dog,' she said. 'And a Coke.'
The hot-dog stand was shaped like a wagon, and the young student running it had brought his big radio-cassette player. So while I waited for my hot-dogs, I was treated to songs by Stevie Wonder and Billy Joel.
When I returned to the kangaroos' pen, she shouted and pointed to one of the female kangaroos.
'Look! The baby's in the pouch!'
Sure enough, the baby had slipped into its mother's pouch, which was now immensely swollen. All that was poking out were two pointed ears and the tip of a tail.
'Wouldn't it be awfully heavy?'
'Kangaroos are very strong.
'That's how they've survived up to now.
Although she was standing in the blazing sun, the mother showed no trace of sweat She looked as if she were taking a break in one of Aoyama Boulevard's fancy coffee-shops after finishing her midday shopping.
'So the baby is still being looked after, isn't it?'
'Do you suppose it's sleeping?'
We ate our hot-dogs, drank our Cokes, and bade farewell to the kangaroos' pen.
When we left, the father kangaroo was still searching in his feed box for his lost score. Fused together, the baby kangaroo and its mother were being borne along by the flow of time, while the mysterious female was hopping about as if running a test on her tail.
It promised to be the first real scorcher in a long while.
'Honey,' she said. 'Wouldn't a beer be nice?'
'Sure would,' I said.