by MURAKAMI Haruki
translated by J. Philip Gabriel
Hi, how are you?
This morning 1 went to a zoo in the neighborhood to see the kangaroos. Itfs not a very big zoo, but somehow theyfve managed to gather together most every kind of animal—Everything from gorillas to elephants. But if what youfre afterfs a llama or an anteater, then youfd better not go there. There arenft any llamas or anteaters. No impalas or hyenas either. Not even a leopard.
Instead, theyfve got four kangaroos.
One is a baby, born just two months ago. And therefs one male and two females. I have no idea what kind of family organization they have.
Every time I look at a kangaroo I always find it strange to think of what itfd be like to be one of them. What are they jumping all around a silly place like Australia for? And why are they killed by such an awkward sort of stick as a boomerang?
I really donft know.
But, well—it doesnft really matter. Itfs no big deal.
At any rate, while I was watching the kangaroos I found myself wanting to send you a letter.
You might think this a little weird. gWhy did you want to send me a letter after watching kangaroos? What do kangaroos have to do with me?h youfll ask. But please donft worry about that. It doesnft matter. Kangaroos are kangaroos and you are you.
What I mean is this.
There are 36 subtle steps between the kangaroos and you, and when I followed them one by one in the correct order, I arrived at where you are. Thatfs all there is to it. Even if I tried to explain all of these steps to you one at a time, I donft think youfd understand and besides I donft even remember them.
eCause therefre 36 of them!
If the order of any one of them had gotten messed up, I wouldnft have been sending you this letter. Instead I might have all of a sudden decided to jump on the back of a sperm whale in the Arctic Ocean. Or I might have set fire to the neighborhood tobacco shop.
Guided by this stack of 36 coincidences, though, here I am sending you a letter.
Itfs all very strange.
O.K., let me begin by introducing myself.
Ifm 26, and work in the merchandise control section of a department store. This is—as I think you can easily imagine—a terribly boring job. First, we check the merchandise purchased by the stock department to see if therefre any defects. We do this to make sure no cozy relationship builds up between that department and the wholesalers, but itfs all done kind of half-heartedly. We sit around shooting the breeze, pulling at shoe buckles, or taking bites out of cakes, just things like that. This is what they mean by merchandise control.
And one more job, actually our main one, is to answer complaints we get from customers about our merchandise. For instance, two pairs of new stockings both got runs in them, or a wind-up toy bear fell off a table and wonft work anymore, or a bathrobe shrank by a quarter in the washing machine. Those type of complaints.
Well, you might not be aware of it, but the number of these complaints is depressingly large. Therefre so many that four employees, running around all day, canft keep up with them. Some complaints seem justified, and some are outrageous. And some are hard to place in either group.
For conveniencefs sake we divide them into three ranks, A, B, and C. In the middle of the room are three large boxes labelled A, B, and C, and we throw the letters into them. We call it the eThree-Step Critique of Reason.h Of course this is an in-joke at the office. Please donft let it bother you.
Anyway, the three ranks are as follows:
A. Reasonable complaints. Cases in which our company must take responsibility. We take a gift box of sweets to the customerfs house, and exchange the merchandise for something appropriate.
B. Cases in which our company is not to blame, either morally, legally, or according to standard business practice. In order not to damage the stores reputation, and to avoid any unnecessary trouble, however, we take the appropriate action.
C. Cases in which it is clearly the customer at fault. We explain the situation and request that they withdraw their complaint.
Now, concerning your complaint we received the other day, after careful examination, we ye arrived at the conclusion that itfs the type that should be ranked C. The reason why is—all right? Please listen carefully—
1. The record that you bought 2. especially after a week has passed 3. without a receipt, cannot be exchanged. No matter where you went in the world you couldnft exchange it. Do you understand what Ifm saying?
This ends my official explanation.
Your complaint has been rejected.
However, if one distances oneself from the official position-something Ifm always doing-my personal reaction to your complaint-that you mistakenly bought Brahms instead of Mahler-is one of sincere sympathy. This isnft a lie. And that is precisely why instead of a perfunctory office memo, Ifm sending you this kind of, in a certain sense, intimate message.
To tell you the truth, all week Ifve tried over and over to write you a letter.
Ifm very sorry, but according to standard business practices, we canft exchange your record. But something in your letter touched me, and personally, blab blab blab.... That kind of letter. But I never could write it well. Itfs not that Ifm poor at writing, itfs just that when I decided to write, the words wouldnft come. The words that did come were not to the point. Itfs a strange thing.
So I decided not to reply. If Ifm going to send you an incomplete letter, itfd be better not to send anything. Donft you think so? I do. An imperfect message is like a mixed-up train schedule.
But this morning, in front of the kangaroofs fence, I experienced the accumulation of 36 coincidences and had a revelation. What this was, in other words, was an enormous incompleteness.
What, you might ask, is an enormous incompleteness?-and well you might ask. An enormous incompleteness, well, to put it simply, might be something like someone in effect ending up forgiving someone else. I forgive the kangaroos, the kangaroos forgive you, and you forgive me-this kind of thing, for example.
This kind of cycle, however, is not permanent; someday the kangaroo might not want to forgive you. But donft get angry at the kangaroo just because of this. Itfs not the kangaroofs fault or your own. And itfs not my fault. The kangaroo, too, has very complicated reasons for this. Who could ever criticize a kangaroo?
To grab hold of the instant is all we are able to do. To grab hold of the instant and take a souvenir photograph. In the front row from the left, you, the kangaroo, and me.
I gave up trying to write it down. No matter what I did it wouldnft come out right. For instance, if I write the word gcoincidence,h what you feel from the shape of this written word might be completely different-or even the opposite-of what I feel from the same shape. I think this is very unfair. Ifve stripped to my undershorts, but youfve only undone three buttons of your blouse. Itfs really unfair.
So I bought a cassette tape, and decided to record the letter to you directly.
(Whistling. Eight bars of gThe Colonel Bogey March.h)
Howfs that? Can you hear me?
I donft know how youfll feel when you receive this letter-I mean tape. I canft even imagine. Maybe youfll feel very uneasy about it. Because-because in response to a letter of complaint from a customer the head of merchandise control records his reply on a cassette-and itfs a personal message-and sends it, a highly irregular, and depending on your viewpoint, really stupid thing to do. If it does make you uneasy, and you send this tape back to my boss, itfd put me in a terribly delicate position at the office.
If youfd like to do so, please go ahead.
If that happened, I wouldnft be angry or hate you. You see, wefre on a 1000/0 equal footing. That is, I have the right to send you a letter, and you have the right to put my means of making a living in jeopardy.
Thatfs right, isnft it.
We are equal. Please just remember that.
Oh, right, I forgot to tell you something. Ifve named this letter the gKangaroo Communique.h
Everything needs a name.
Letfs say youfre keeping a diary. Instead of writing something long like gToday an answer to my complaint came from the chief of merchandise control at the department store,h you can just write gToday the eKangaroo Communiquef came.h And itfs a wonderful name, donft you think? From far across the broad plain, a kangaroo with mail in its pouch comes hopping your way.
Rap rap rap. (The sound of a table being hit.)
This is a knock.
Knock knock knock... do you see?
If you donft want to open the door, you donft have to. Either way is all right. If you donft want to listen anymore, please stop the tape and throw it in the garbage can. I just want to sit outside your door and talk by myself for a little while, thatfs all. I have no idea whether youfre listening to me or not. If I have no idea, then it doesnft really matter whether you listen or not, does it? Ha ha ha.
OK—anyhow letfs do it.
Incompleteness, though, is quite troublesome. I didnft think talking in front of a mike like this without any script or plan would be so hard. I feel just like I was standing in the middle of a desert sprinkling water around with a cup. Therefs nothing to see and no response.
So Ifve started talking toward the needle on the VU meter. You know what a VU meter is, donft you? Itfs that thing with the needle that shakes and oscillates according to the volume. I donft know what the V and the U stand for. But even so, they are the only presences that show a response to my speech.
By the way, they have a simple set of values.
In other words, V and U.
This V and U are like, well, a comedy team. If not V, then U, if not U, then V. What a wonderful world. It makes no difference to them what I talk about. All theyfre interested in is how much my voice makes the air tremble. Thatfs all. For them, because the air is trembling, I exist.
Isnft that great?
When I look at them, I feel like saying anything, just to keep on talking.
That reminds me. The other day I saw a really sad movie. It was about a comedian that no one laughed at, no matter how many jokes he told.
You understand? Not a single person laughed.
Talking in front of this mike like I am now, I suddenly If remembered that movie.
Itfs a strange thing.
The same lines spoken by one person are screamingly funny, but spoken by someone else are not funny at all. Strange, isnft it? I thought about it, and felt that maybe the difference is somehow inborn. I mean, you know, the tips of their semi-circular canals are curved a little more than other people, something like that.
Sometimes I think about how happy Ifd be to have that ability. Things I always find funny that have me rolling on the floor, once I tell them to others are not a bit interesting and are surprisingly boring. I feel like Ifve become the Sandman of Egypt. And first of all...
Do you know about the Sandman of Egypt?
You see, uhc the Sandman of Egypt was born the prince of Egypt. A long time ago, the age when there were the pyramids and the sphinx and all. But since he had such an ugly face-a really terribly ugly face-the king shunned him and abandoned him deep in the jungle. And what happened next was he was raised by wolves or apes. Not so unusual. And then for some reason he becomes the Sandman. Whatever the Sandman touches changes into sand. Breezes change to sandstorms, brooks become streams of sand, and plains turn into deserts. Thatfs the story of the Sandman. Heard of it? You havenft, right? Thatfs because I made it up. Ha ha ha.
Anyhow, talking to you this way makes me feel like this become the Sandman. Everything I touch turns to sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand.
cSomehow Ifve talked too much about myself But if you think about it, it canft be helped. eCause I donft know anything about you. All I know about you is your name and address, thatfs it. I have no idea how old you are, how much you make a year, what shape your nose is, whether youfre fat or thin, married or not. But those are not important. It might even be better that I donft know. I want to handle everything simply, as simply as possible, in a word, metaphysically.
What I mean is, I have your letter here.
Thatfs enough for me.
Just like a zoologist who can calculate from droppings hefs collected in the jungle an elephantfs diet, behavioral patterns, weight, and sex life, based on one letter I can feel the existence of a person—you. Of course facial features, brand of perfume, etc., those kind of useless things are left out. Existence-itself.
Your letter was really quite captivating. The style, handwriting, punctuation, paragraphing, rhetoric-everything was flawless. Not outstanding. Just flawless.
Every month I read over 500 letters, but honestly this is the first time Ifve ever read one so moving. I snuck your letter home, and read it over and over. Then I analyzed it thoroughly. Since it was a short letter, this wasnft much trouble.
I found out a lot through analyzing it. First of all, the overwhelming number of commas. For every period there were 6.36 commas. A lot, donft you think? Thatfs not all. The way the commas were used really went against all rules.
Please donft think Ifm making fun of your writing. Because I am simply moved.
Not just by the punctuation. All the elements of your letter—even the single ink stain—aroused and shook me.
Because, in the final analysis, in those sentences you are nowhere to be found. Of course therefs a story. A girl—or a woman—bought the wrong record. Though she had the feeling that the wrong pieces were on it, it was a week before she realized shefd bought the wrong record. The sales clerk wouldnft exchange it for her. So she wrote a letter of complaint. This is the story.
I had to read your letter three times before I understood that story. Because your letter was completely different from the other letters sent to us. To put it plainly, therefs not even a complaint in your letter. No emotion either. The only thing that is present is—the story.
To tell you the truth, I was a little worried. I couldnft figure out if your letter was meant to be a complaint, a confession, a declaration, or whether it was the establishment of a kind of thesis. Your letter made me think of a news photograph of a massacre. No caption, no article, just a photograph. A photograph taken in some nameless country beside some unknown road, of corpses strewn about.
I canft even figure out what it is you want. Your letter is like the jumbled complexity of a makeshift ant hill, giving no clue as to where to begin. A marvelous thing.
Bang bang bangc a massacre.
Thatfs right, letfs simplify things further. Make them very very simple.
What I mean is, your letter uplifts me sexually.
Thatfs what I mean.
Ifd like to talk about sex.
Knock knock knock.
If you arenft interested, please stop the tape. Ifll talk to the VU meter by myself. Blab blab blab.
The front legs are short and have five toes, while the remarkably large hind legs have four. Just the fourth toe is fully developed. The second and third toes are quite small and are fused.
... This is a description of a kangaroofs feet. Ha ha ha.
Well then, about sex.
Ever since I took your letter home, all Ifve been thinking about is sleeping with you. In bed with you beside me, when I wake up in the morning youfre still there. When I wake up youfre already up and I can hear the sound of a dress being zipped. But Il... hey, do you know therefs nothing that breaks as easily as the zipper on a dress?c I keep my eyes closed and pretend to be asleep. I canft see you. And you walk across the room and disappear into the bathroom. Then finally I open my eyes. I eat and go to work.
The night is pitch black-Ifve put up special blinds on the window to make it that way-and of course I canft see your face. I donft know your age or weight, or anything. So I canft touch your body with my hand.
But, wellc thatfs all right.
To tell the truth, itfs all right whether I have sex with you or not.
cNo, it isnft.
Let me think for a minute.
OK—this is what I mean. I want to sleep with you. But itfs OK if we donft. What I mean is I want to be in as fair a position as possible. I donft want to force people to do anything or have them force me. Itfs enough to feel your presence beside me, to have your punctuation marks running around and around me.
Do you understand me?
What I mean is this.
Sometimes itfs very trying for me to think about the individual. A soon as I do my body feels like itfs about to be broken into pieces.
Take, for instance, when Ifm riding on a train. Therefre several dozen people riding on the train. In principle these are merely gpassengers.h gPassengersh carried from Aoyama
Itchome to Akasaka Mitsuke. But sometimes I get to feeling very uneasy about the presence of each passenger. What could this person be, what could that person be, why is he riding on the Ginza Line? And then itfs too much. Once I start to feel uneasy therefs no end to it. That office workerfs starting to go bald on both sides of his forehead, isnft he... the hair on that girlfs shins is a little thick, wonder if she shaves once a weekc why is that young guy sitting over there wearing that tie whose color clashes?clike that. And finally my body starts trembling all over and I want to leap from the train. The other day—youfll probably laugh—I was on the verge of pushing the emergency brake button beside the door.
But just because Ifve told you this, donft get the idea that I am particularly sensitive or nervous. I am not overly sensitive or nervous. Ifm a very ordinary, everyday office worker, the kind you see everyday, who works in the merchandise control section of a department store. And I like the subways.
And itfs not that I have any sexual problems either. I have a girlfriend, and since about a year ago wefve been sleeping together twice a week, an arrangement we re both pretty satisfied with. But Ifve been trying very hard not to think too deeply about her. I donft feel like marrying, either. If we got married, Ifm sure Ifd start to think deeply about her, and I have absolutely no confidence wefd be able to get along once that started. Thatfs the way it is, isnft it? If you worry about the way the teeth of the girl youfre living with are aligned, or the shape of her nails, it wonft work out.
Please let me talk a little more about myself.
This time without any knocks.
If youfve listened this far, please listen all the way to the end.
Just a moment. Ifm going to have a cigarette.
...Up till now Ifve hardly ever said a thing about myself to anyone. eCause therefs nothing much to talk about. Even if I did, probably no one would be interested.
So why am 1 talking to you this way?
Itfs because, like I said before, right now I am aiming at an enormous incompleteness.
What was it that touched off this huge incompleteness?
Your letter and four kangaroos.
Kangaroos are fascinating animals, and I never get tired of looking at them, no matter how many hours I watch. What are they thinking about? They jump meaninglessly round their enclosure all day, and occasionally dig holes in the ground. And what do they do with these holes theyfve dug? Nothing. They just dig holes. Ha ha ha.
A kangaroo gives birth to just one baby at a time. So a female kangaroo gets pregnant as soon as shefs given birth. If it werenft that way they couldnft maintain their numbers. A female kangaroo, then, spends nearly her whole life in pregnancy and raising young. If she isnft pregnant, shefs raising them, if not raising them, then pregnant. So you can say that kangaroos exist to make kangaroos continue to exist. Without the existence of kangaroos, they wouldnft continue to exist, and without the goal of continuing the existence of kangaroos, kangaroos themselves wouldnft exist.
Itfs a strange thing, isnft it.
Ifm sorry the order of what Ifve said has gotten all mixed up.
Ifll talk about myself.
Actually, Ifm extremely frustrated by having to be myself. Not by my looks or ability or position. Just by my being myself. I feel itfs extremely unfair.
Now please donft get the idea from this that I am a very frustrated person. Ifve never once complained about my job or salary. Sure, my job is pointless, but so arc most jobs. And moneyfs not a big problem.
Let me be more precise.
I want to be in two places at once. This is my one and only desire. Besides this I have no other desires.
But this separate entity known as me gets in the way of this desire. Donft you think this is a very unhappy fact? This desire of mine is a modest one, I think. Itfs not that I want to be the leader of the world or an artistic genius. Or to fly through the air. I just want to exist in two places at once. Not three or four, you understand, just two. While listening to an orchestra in a concert hall, I want to roller-skate. While being the head of a department storefs merchandise control, I want to also be a McDonaldfs Quarter Pounder. While sleeping with my girlfriend, I want to be sleeping with you. While being an individual, I also want to be a universal.
Let me have another cigarette.
Ifm a little tired.
Ifm not used to this, talking so honestly about myself.
One thing I want to affirm: I donft have any sexual desire towards you, a woman. As I said before, I am very angry at the fact that I can only be myself. Being a single individual makes me terribly unhappy. I canft stand odd numbers. So I donft want to sleep with you as you the individual.
How wonderful itfd be if you could be split in two, and I could be split in two, and those four people could share a bed. Donft you agree?
Please donft send a reply. If you want to send me a letter, send a letter or complaint in care of the company. If you donft have any complaint to make, think of something.
Well, thatfs all.
I just played the tape back up to this point. To tell you the truth, Ifm not satisfied with it at all. I feel like the guy in charge of feeding animals at the aquarium who lets a sea lion die by mistake. I worried quite a lot about whether this tapefs something I should send to you or not.
Even now that Ifve decided to send it, Ifm still worried.
At any rate, Ifve been aspiring to incompleteness, so I guess I should go along with it without any qualms. What supports it all are you and the four kangaroos.
Well, thatfs all.