"That's enough," my cousin said.
He spun around to sit facing forward, shifting around on the bench. "So, see anything unusual?"
"Nothing different as far as I could see. From the outside at least."
"Anything's okay-even a feeling you got or something."
"Your ear looks normal to me."
My cousin looked disappointed. Maybe I had said the wrong thing.
"Did the treatment hurt?" I asked.
"No, it didn't. Same as always. They just rummaged around in the same old spot. Feels like they're going to wear it out. Sometimes it doesn't feel like my own ear anymore."
"There's the number twenty-eight," my cousin said after a while, turning to me. "That's our bus, right?"
I'd been lost in thought. I looked up when he said this and saw the bus slowing down as it went round the curve coming up the slope. This wasn't the kind of brand-new bus we'd ridden over on but one of the older buses I remembered. A sign with the number 28 was hanging on the front. I tried to stand up from the bench, but I couldn't. Like I was caught up in the middle of a powerful current, my limbs wouldn't respond.
I'd been thinking of the box of chocolates we'd taken when we went to that hospital on that long-ago summer afternoon. The girl had happily opened the lid to the box only to discover that the dozen little chocolates had completely melted, sticking to the paper between each piece and to the lid itself. On the way to the hospital my friend and I had parked the motorcycle by the seaside, and lay around on the beach just talking and hanging out. The whole while we'd let that box of chocolates lie out in the hot August sun. Our carelessness, our self-centeredness, had wrecked those chocolates, made one fine mess of them all. We should have sensed what was happening. One of us-it didn't matter who-should have said something. But on that afternoon, we didn't sense anything, just exchanged a couple of dumb jokes and said goodbye. And left that hill still overgrown with blind willows.
My cousin grabbed my right arm in a tight grip.
"Are you all right?" he asked me.
His words brought me back to reality, and I stood up from the bench. This time I had no trouble standing. Once more I could feel on my skin the sweet May breeze. For a few seconds I stood there in a strange, dim place. Where the things I could see didn't exist. Where the invisible did. Finally, though, the real number 28 bus stopped in front of me, its entirely real door opening. I clambered aboard, heading off to some other place.
I rested my hand on my cousin's shoulder. "I'm all right," I told him.
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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