Authors: Haruki Murakami
"So you're all set for money, then?" the boy named Crow asks in his typical sluggish voice. The kind of voice like when you've just woken up and your mouth still feels heavy and dull. But he's just pretending. He's totally awake. As always.
I review the numbers in my head. "Close to thirty-five hundred in cash, plus some money I can get from an ATM. I know it's not a lot, but it should be enough. For the time being."
"Not bad," the boy named Crow says. "For the time being."
I give him another nod.
"I'm guessing this isn't Christmas money from Santa Claus."
"Yeah, you're right," I reply.
Crow smirks and looks around. "I imagine you've started by rifling drawers, am I right?"
I don't say anything. He knows whose money we're talking about, so there's no need for any long-winded interrogations. He's just giving me a hard time.
"No matter," Crow says. "You really need this money and you're going to get it—beg, borrow, or steal. It's your father's money, so who cares, right? Get your hands on that much and you should be able to make it. For the time being. But what's the plan after it's all gone? Money isn't like mushrooms in a forest—it doesn't just pop up on its own, you know. You'll need to eat, a place to sleep. One day you're going to run out."
"I'll think about that when the time comes," I say.
"When the time comes," Crow repeats, as if weighing these words in his hand.
"Like by getting a job or something?"
"Maybe," I say.
Crow shakes his head. "You know, you've got a lot to learn about the world. Listen—what kind of job could a fifteen-year-old kid get in some far-off place he's never been to before? You haven't even finished junior high. Who do you think's going to hire you?"
I blush a little. It doesn't take much to make me blush.
"Forget it," he says. "You're just getting started and I shouldn't lay all this depressing stuff on you. You've already decided what you're going to do, and all that's left is to set the wheels in motion. I mean, it's your life. Basically you gotta go with what you think is right."
That's right. When all is said and done, it is my life.
"I'll tell you one thing, though. You're going to have to get a lot tougher if you want to make it."
"I'm trying my best," I say.
"I'm sure you are," Crow says. "These last few years you've gotten a whole lot stronger. I've got to hand it to you."
I nod again.
"But let's face it—you're only fifteen," Crow goes on. "Your life's just begun and there's a ton of things out in the world you've never laid eyes on. Things you never could imagine."
As always, we're sitting beside each other on the old sofa in my father's study.
Crow loves the study and all the little objects scattered around there. Now he's toying with a bee-shaped glass paperweight. If my father was at home, you can bet Crow would never go anywhere near it.
"But I have to get out of here," I tell him. "No two ways around it."
"Yeah, I guess you're right." He places the paperweight back on the table and links his hands behind his head. "Not that running away's going to solve everything. I don't want to rain on your parade or anything, but I wouldn't count on escaping this place if I were you. No matter how far you run. Distance might not solve anything."
The boy named Crow lets out a sigh, then rests a fingertip on each of his closed eyelids and speaks to me from the darkness within.
"How about we play our game?" he says.
"All right," I say. I close my eyes and quietly take a deep breath.
"Okay, picture a terrible sandstorm," he says. "Get everything else out of your head."
I do what he says, get everything else out of my head. I forget who I am, even.
I'm a total blank. Then things start to surface. Things that—as we sit here on the old leather sofa in my father's study—both of us can see.
"Sometimes fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing directions," Crow says.
Sometimes fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing directions. You change direction but the sandstorm chases you. You turn again, but the storm adjusts.
Over and over you play this out, like some ominous dance with death just before dawn.
Why? Because this storm isn't something that blew in from far away, something that has nothing to do with you. This storm is you. Something inside of you. So all you can do is give in to it, step right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging up your ears so the sand doesn't get in, and walk through it, step by step. There's no sun there, no moon, no direction, no sense of time. Just fine white sand swirling up into the sky like pulverized bones. That's the kind of sandstorm you need to imagine.
And that's exactly what I do. I imagine a white funnel stretching up vertically like a thick rope. My eyes are closed tight, hands cupped over my ears, so those fine grains of sand can't blow inside me. The sandstorm draws steadily closer. I can feel the air pressing on my skin. It really is going to swallow me up.
The boy called Crow softly rests a hand on my shoulder, and with that the storm vanishes.
"From now on—no matter what—you've got to be the world's toughest fifteen-year-old. That's the only way you're going to survive. And in order to do that, you've got to figure out what it means to be tough. You following me?"
I keep my eyes closed and don't reply. I just want to sink off into sleep like this, his hand on my shoulder. I hear the faint flutter of wings.
"You're going to be the world's toughest fifteen-year-old," Crow whispers as I try to fall asleep. Like he was carving the words in a deep blue tattoo on my heart.
And you really will have to make it through that violent, metaphysical, symbolic storm. No matter how metaphysical or symbolic it might be, make no mistake about it: it will cut through flesh like a thousand razor blades. People will bleed there, and you will bleed too. Hot, red blood. You'll catch that blood in your hands, your own blood and the blood of others.
And once the storm is over you won't remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won't even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm you won't be the same person who walked in. That's what this storm's all about.
On my fifteenth birthday I'll run away from home, journey to a far-off town, and live in a corner of a small library. It'd take a week to go into the whole thing, all the details. So I'll just give the main point. On my fifteenth birthday I'll run away from home, journey to a far-off town, and live in a corner of a small library.
It sounds a little like a fairy tale. But it's no fairy tale, believe me. No matter what sort of spin you put on it.
Cash isn't the only thing I take from my father's study when I leave home. I take a small, old gold lighter—I like the design and feel of it—and a folding knife with a really sharp blade. Made to skin deer, it has a five-inch blade and a nice heft. Probably something he bought on one of his trips abroad. I also take a sturdy, bright pocket flashlight out of a drawer. Plus sky blue Revo sunglasses to disguise my age.
I think about taking my father's favorite Sea-Dweller Oyster Rolex. It's a beautiful watch, but something flashy will only attract attention. My cheap plastic Casio watch with an alarm and stopwatch will do just fine, and might actually be more useful.
Reluctantly, I return the Rolex to its drawer.
From the back of another drawer I take out a photo of me and my older sister when we were little, the two of us on a beach somewhere with grins plastered across our faces. My sister's looking off to the side so half her face is in shadow and her smile is neatly cut in half. It's like one of those Greek tragedy masks in a textbook that's half one idea and half the opposite. Light and dark. Hope and despair. Laughter and sadness.
Trust and loneliness. For my part I'm staring straight ahead, undaunted, at the camera.
Nobody else is there at the beach. My sister and I have on swimsuits—hers a red floral-print one-piece, mine some baggy old blue trunks. I'm holding a plastic stick in my hand.
White foam is washing over our feet.
Who took this, and where and when, I have no clue. And how could I have looked so happy? And why did my father keep just that one photo? The whole thing is a total mystery. I must have been three, my sister nine. Did we ever really get along that well? I have no memory of ever going to the beach with my family. No memory of going anywhere with them. No matter, though—there is no way I'm going to leave that photo with my father, so I put it in my wallet. I don't have any photos of my mother. My father threw them all away.
After giving it some thought I decide to take the cell phone with me. Once he finds out I've taken it, my father will probably get the phone company to cut off service.
Still, I toss it into my backpack, along with the adapter. Doesn't add much weight, so why not. When it doesn't work anymore I'll just chuck it.
Just the bare necessities, that's all I need. Choosing which clothes to take is the hardest thing. I'll need a couple sweaters and pairs of underwear. But what about shirts and trousers? Gloves, mufflers, shorts, a coat? There's no end to it. One thing I do know, though. I don't want to wander around some strange place with a huge backpack that screams out, Hey, everybody, check out the runaway! Do that and someone is sure to sit up and take notice. Next thing you know the police will haul me in and I'll be sent straight home. If I don't wind up in some gang first.
Any place cold is definitely out, I decide. Easy enough, just choose the opposite—a warm place. Then I can leave the coat and gloves behind, and get by with half the clothes. I pick out wash-and-wear-type things, the lightest ones I have, fold them neatly, and stuff them in my backpack. I also pack a three-season sleeping bag, the kind that rolls up nice and tight, toilet stuff, a rain poncho, notebook and pen, a Walkman and ten discs—got to have my music—along with a spare rechargeable battery. That's about it. No need for any cooking gear, which is too heavy and takes up too much room, since I can buy food at the local convenience store.
It takes a while but I'm able to subtract a lot of things from my list. I add things, cross them off, then add a whole other bunch and cross them off, too.
My fifteenth birthday is the ideal time to run away from home. Any earlier and it'd be too soon. Any later and I would have missed my chance.
During my first two years in junior high, I'd worked out, training myself for this day. I started practicing judo in the first couple years of grade school, and still went sometimes in junior high. But I didn't join any school teams. Whenever I had the time I'd jog around the school grounds, swim, or go to the local gym. The young trainers there gave me free lessons, showing me the best kind of stretching exercises and how to use the fitness machines to bulk up. They taught me which muscles you use every day and which ones can only be built up with machines, even the correct way to do a bench press. I'm pretty tall to begin with, and with all this exercise I've developed pretty broad shoulders and pecs. Most strangers would take me for seventeen. If I ran away looking my actual age, you can imagine all the problems that would cause.