What Were You Smoking, Mr Murakami?

In the spring of her twenty-second year, Sumire fell in love for the first time in her life. An intense love, a veritable tornado sweeping across the plains — flattening everything in its path, tossing things up in the air, ripping them to shreds, crushing them to bits. The tornado’s intensity doesn’t abate for a second as it blasts across the ocean, laying waste to Angkor Wat, incinerating an Indian jungle, tigers and everything, transforming itself into a Persian desert sandstorm, burying an exotic fortress city under a sea of sand. In short, a love of truly monumental proportions. The person she fell in love with happened to be 17 years older than Sumire. And was married. And, I should add, was a woman. This is where it all began, and where it all ended. Almost.

This is where it all began, and where it all ended.

At the time, Sumire — “Violet” in Japanese — was struggling to become a writer. No matter how many choices life might bring her way, it was novelist or nothing. Her resolve was a regular Rock of Gibraltar. Nothing could come between her and her faith in literature.

After she graduated from a public high school in Kanagawa Prefecture, she entered the liberal arts department of a cosy little private college in Tokyo. She found the college totally out of touch, a lukewarm, dispirited place, and she loathed it — and found her fellow students (which would include me, I’m afraid) hopelessly dull, second-rate specimens. Unsurprisingly, then, just before her junior year, she simply upped and left. Staying there any longer, she concluded, was a waste of time. I think it was the right move, but if I can be allowed a mediocre generalization, don’t pointless things have a place, too, in this far-from-perfect world? Remove everything pointless from an imperfect life and it’d lose even its imperfection.

Remove everything pointless from an imperfect life and it’d lose even its imperfection.

Sumire was a hopeless romantic, a bit set in her ways — innocent of the ways of the world, to put a nice spin on it. Start her talking and she’d go on nonstop, but if she was with someone she didn’t get along with — most people in the world, in other words — she barely opened her mouth. She smoked too much, and you could count on her to lose her ticket every time she took the train. She’d get so engrossed in her thoughts at times she’d forget to eat, and she was as thin as one of those war orphans in an old Italian film — like a stick with eyes. I’d love to show you a photo of her, but I don’t have any. She hated having her photograph taken — no desire to leave behind for posterity a Portrait of the Artist as a Young (Wo)Man. If there were a photograph of Sumire taken at that time, I know it would provide a valuable record of how special certain people can be.

She hated having her photograph taken — no desire to leave behind for posterity a Portrait of the Artist as a Young (Wo)Man.

I’m getting the order of events mixed up. The woman Sumire fell in love with was named Miu. At least that’s what everyone called her. I don’t know her real name, a fact that caused problems later on, but again I’m getting ahead of myself. Miu was Korean by nationality, but she didn’t speak a word of Korean until she decided to study it when she was in her midtwenties. She was born and raised in Japan and studied at a music academy in France, so as well as Japanese she was fluent in both French and English. She always dressed well, in a refined way, with expensive yet modest accessories, and she drove a twelve-cylinder, navy-blue Jaguar.

Sputnik

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