Issue 173, Spring 2005
Let me tell you about my mornings.
I’m an early riser. Most days, I wake up even earlier than my wife.
If the sun has risen, thin rays of light filter down through the cracks in the ceiling. I just lie there for a while, gazing up at all those rays of light trickling in.
No light appears on days when it’s cloudy or raining, even if I wait. On the rare occasions when it snows, the room seems faintly bright even before dawn.
It’s warm inside my futon, but the tip of my nose is cold. I want to rush into the bathroom right away, but I have a hard time making myself leave the futon.
After a while, my wife wakes up. She goes off to the toilet before I can manage to get up. My wife is a good riser; no sooner is she up than she’s cleaning the house and setting the pot on the fire, humming all the while.
Eventually I get myself ready, and by the time I start making the rounds, checking up on the humans I picked up the previous day or the day before that or even earlier, a bright red fire is blazing in the fireplace, water is boiling away in the whistling kettle, and the whole room is fragrant with the wonderful scent of toast. My wife works fast.
The humans I’ve collected are in the next room.
Most of them are sprawled on the floor. There are tons of futons and blankets and pillows in there. Very few of the humans ask us if it’s all right to use them. Some burrow down into the heaped-up blankets as soon as we take them into the room. Some push aside the humans who are already stretched out on the floor and snuggle up inside their nice, warm futons. Some keep wheeling around the room, stepping on the humans who are lying down. That’s what these humans are like.
Even so, after half a day or so everyone settles down into his or her own place or territory or what have you, and silence descends on the room.
Every morning, I go around and give each human a few soft pats on the shoulder. First, this allows me to make sure they’re still alive. Second, it gives me a chance to find out if they want to leave immediately, or if they’d prefer to stay a little longer.
I drag the dead ones out of the house and drop them down a hole that has been dug outside, even deeper into the earth. The hole extends more than a hundred meters below the surface. I didn’t dig the hole. Neither did my wife. It took our ancestors generations to dig it, working at their own pace.
Originally, the hole was intended to be a place where our clan could drop its dead. But as time passed, our numbers dwindled; now, we have no one left in the world but our parents and our siblings, of which we each have two.
Our parents and siblings live even further south than Kyushu, in a place fairly deep down under the ground. They live quiet lives, free from interactions with humans. Every so often my wife’s mother sends us letters, but all she says in them is that we ought to hurry up and get out of Tokyo, and come join them where they are. She seems to worry that my brother-in-law and sister-in-law might get the itch to move to Tokyo, too.
I can always tell which humans are likely to want to leave immediately because they respond when I touch their shoulders, lifting their faces to look up. The humans all have this forlorn look on their faces then. They keep their eyes locked on mine, perfectly still, and mutter things under their breath.
I give each human another soft pat on the shoulder, smiling warmly. Then I return to the main room, where my wife is, and have a few slices of crispy fried bacon and yogurt with peach jam on top.
When I finish eating, my wife and I carry the big pot of gruel that she has cooked into the next room to give to the humans. My wife ladles the gruel into bowls; I get the humans to line up. Of course, you can’t expect too much from these humans: before you know it they’re cutting the line, or if they find it too much of a hassle to line up they just grab other people’s bowls. They’re all like that. Whenever they do something bad, I tell them to stop, and if they still don’t stop I give them a swat with my claws and force them to listen. That’s how I maintain order.
After all the gruel has been eaten, the room falls silent again. I start getting ready to go to work. My wife polishes the kitchen sink, then starts the washing machine, which moans as it spins. She comes to see me off; I throw open the trap door and go out into the street. I take my time walking to the station. I’ve got on my cashmere coat and my muffler. And I’m wearing my leather gloves. I get cold easily. I change trains twice on my way to work; the commute takes a little under an hour.
Arriving at work, I punch my timecard. While I’m waiting for one of the office girls to make tea I glance over the faxes that have been left on my desk. When I first came to work at this company, people sometimes threw rocks at me or pelted me with rotten vegetables and things, but over the years both my colleagues and my superiors seem to have grown accustomed to my presence.
The young humans who have joined the company in recent years don’t even seem to notice how different I look. I don’t think they consciously decide not to wonder about me, why my form is so unlike theirs; they simply can’t be bothered. People sometimes make comments—“You’re pretty hairy, aren’t you?”—but no one openly stares at me anymore, or presses me for information about my background. Until a decade or so ago, people really gossiped a lot.
I sit at my computer until lunchtime, mostly dealing with statistics. Sometimes a young woman comes from general affairs and asks me to write out an address on an envelope in calligraphy, using a brush. I’m a good calligrapher. Everyone says I write sharper-looking characters than anyone else in the company.
I sit there quietly plowing through my assigned tasks until the time comes to open the box lunch that my wife has made me. I get cold even though the office is heated, so I put disposable heating pads on my stomach and lower back. Lunchtime rolls around right about the time the pads begin to lose their heat.
Let me tell you about my lunch break.
When I finish eating my lunch, I carefully wrap up the empty box again and go give my hands a good washing. I wash off my face while I’m at it. I eat with chopsticks, but I also make good use of my claws and the palms of my hands. My hands get sticky from the oil, and little bits of food get stuck on the fur on my cheeks and around my mouth.
I don’t know if it’s because no one can stand the sight of me eating or because people see no reason to spend even their lunch breaks in the office, but either way the young woman manning the phones and I are the only two left in our section. There isn’t a sound in the whole office, and it gets a little chilly.
I start feeling so cold that I go out to spend what remains of the lunch break in the park in front of the station.
There are lots of humans over in the park, holed up in cardboard shacks; I make it my practice to accept the hospitality of whoever’s shack looks the warmest.
“Hey, you’re not human, are you?” says the drifter, who has been scrutinizing my hands and feet and face as I crawl inside. These drifters look much more closely at me than the young humans at the office.
“Human? I should say not!” I say, puffing out my chest.
“Don’t be so hoity-toity,” the drifter chuckles. “You’re just an animal.”
“What do you mean by that! Humans are animals, too, aren’t they?”
“Well, yeah. You’ve got a point there.”
Our exchange typically comes to an end around then. These drifters aren’t too talkative. The humans I collect aren’t too talkative, either. Generally speaking, the humans in Tokyo have all become pretty closemouthed of late.
As I sit there with my back pressed up against the drifter’s, I gradually start to feel warm. It’s much warmer pressing up against a human back than it is in the office, even when it’s raining—even, in fact, when it’s snowing. And yet humans don’t seem to huddle together very often. Sometimes I wonder why humans are so distant with one another.
I never pick up drifters. The humans I collect are more unstable than them.
I leave the drifter’s cardboard shack and walk around for a while in the alleys that run behind the buildings near the station. There aren’t any unstable humans there, not in the alleys. Strange though it may seem, they tend to appear in brighter, more open spaces. Around the kiosks in the station, for instance, or in well-lit coffee shops with wide glass windows, or in department stores.
There are cats in the alleys. Whenever they see me, their hair stands on end and they yowl at me. They say: Giyaa! Humans like cats, so they look displeased when cats cry Giyaa! at them. I try to steer clear of cats when I walk in the alleys.
Sometimes there’s a hole near the end of an alley; when I scrunch up and burrow down inside, I find that the soil there is nice and soft. I dig into the soft soil with my claws, deeper and deeper. Sometimes I get carried away and end up tunneling all the way home. My wife bristles when she sees my wonderful cashmere coat all covered with dirt. I give her a kiss and make my way back through the tunnel.
Aboveground, the sunlight is blinding. Even on cloudy days it takes a while after I emerge from the earth for my eyes to get used to the light; I have to wait a bit before I can even open them. I stand there for a moment, feeling the brightness through my tightly closed eyelids. The light feels cold. Even though it comes from the sun, it feels cold. My wife says this is because the sun is just too far away from the earth. Down inside the earth it’s much warmer than aboveground, because there you’re closer to the lowest reaches of the earth, where the magma is. Even the humans I collect look much warmer sprawled out in the second room of our house than they did when they were aboveground.
Eventually my eyes grow accustomed to the light, and I am able to open them. I brush the dirt from my coat, wrap my disheveled muffler around my neck again, and return to the office. By the time the lunch break draws to an end, the office is completely filled with humans. I switch on the monitor of my computer and call up rows and rows of figures from inside the hard drive. A young woman makes me some hot tea. I take sips of it, holding the teacup between my claws.
Sometimes my claws slip, and I drop the teacup on the floor. The young women rush right over and, without a word, begin sweeping up the fragments. The young women won’t look me in the eye. None of the humans at work ever look me in the eye. They never try to talk to me, either.
I sit at my computer, tapping away on the keyboard with my claws.