"The examination will take some time and I can handle it alone," my cousin said, "so why don't you go and wait for me somewhere?" After a quick hello to the doctor, I exited the exam room and went to the cafeteria. I'd barely had a bite for breakfast and was starving, but nothing on the menu whetted my appetite. I made do with a cup of coffee.
It was a weekday morning and one little family and I had the place to ourselves. The father was in his midforties, wearing a navy-blue-striped pair of pajamas and plastic slippers. The mother and little twin girls had come to pay a visit. The twins had on identical white dresses and were bent over the table, serious looks on their faces, drinking glasses of orange juice. The father's injury, or illness, didn't seem too serious, and both parents and kids looked bored.
Outside the window was a lawn. A sprinkler ticked as it rotated, misting the grass with a silvery spray. A pair of shrill long-tailed birds cut right above the sprinkler and disappeared from sight. Past the lawn there were a few deserted tennis courts, the nets gone. Beyond the tennis courts was a line of zelkovas, and between their branches you could glimpse the ocean. The early summer sun glinted here and there off the small waves. The breeze rustled the new leaves of the zelkovas, ever so slightly bending the spray from the sprinkler.
I felt like I'd seen this scene, many years before. A broad swatch of lawn, twin girls slurping up orange juice, long-tailed birds flying off who knows where, netless tennis courts, the sea beyond . . . But it was an illusion. It was vivid enough, an intense sense of the real, but an illusion nonetheless. I'd never been to this hospital in my life.
I stretched my legs out on the seat opposite, took a deep breath, and closed my eyes. In the darkness I could see a lump of white. Silently it expanded, then contracted, like a microbe under a microscope. Changing form, spreading out, breaking up, re-forming.
It was eight years ago when I went to that other hospital. A small hospital next to the sea. All you could see out the window were some oleanders. It was a hospital, and it smelled of rain. My friend's girlfriend had her chest operated on there, and the two of us went to see how she was doing. The summer of our junior year in high school.
It wasn't much of an operation, really, just done to correct the position of one of her ribs that curved inward a bit. Not an emergency procedure, just the type of thing that would eventually have to be done, so she figured why not take care of it now. The operation itself was over quickly, but they wanted her to take her time recuperating, so she stayed in the hospital for ten days. My friend and I rode there together on a 125cc Yamaha motorcycle. He drove on the way there, I drove on the way back. He'd asked me to come. "No way I'm going to a hospital by myself," he'd said.
My friend stopped at a candy store near the station and bought a box of chocolates. I held on to his belt with one hand, the other hand clutching tightly the box of chocolates. It was a hot day and our shirts kept getting soaked, then drying in the wind. As my friend drove he sang some nothing song in an awful voice. I can still remember the smell of his sweat. Not too long after that he died.
His girlfriend had on blue pajamas and a thin gown sort of thing down to her knees. The three of us sat at a table in the cafeteria, smoked Short Hope cigarettes, drank Cokes, and ate ice cream. She was starving and ate two sugarcoated doughnuts and drank cocoa with tons of cream in it. Still that didn't seem enough for her.
"By the time you get out of here you're going to be a regular blimp," my friend said, somewhat disgustedly.
"It's okay-I'm recovering," she replied, wiping the tips of her fingers, covered in oil from the doughnuts.
Translated by Philip Gabriel. Copyright (c) 2006 by Haruki Murakami
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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