fter German we caught a bus to Shinjuku and went to an underground bar called DUG behind the Kinokuniya bookstore. We each started with two vodka and tonics.
"I come here once in a while," she said. "They don't embarrass you about drinking in the afternoon."
"Do you drink in the afternoon a lot?"
"Sometimes," she said, rattling the ice in her glass. "Sometimes, when the world gets hard to live in, I come here for a vodka and tonic."
"Does the world get hard to live in?"
"Sometimes," said Midori. "I've got my own special little problems."
"Like family, like boyfriends, like irregular periods. Stuff."
"So have another drink."
I waved the waiter over and ordered two more vodka and tonics.
"Remember how, when you came over that Sunday, you kissed me?" Midori asked. "I've been thinking about it. That was nice. Really nice."
"'That's nice,'" she mimicked me. "The way you talk is so weird!"
"Anyhow, I was thinking, that time. I was thinking how great it would be if that had been the first time in my life a boy had kissed me. If I could switch around the order of my life, I would absolutely absolutely make that my first kiss. And then I would live the rest of my life thinking stuff like, Hey, I wonder whatever happened to that boy named Watanabe I gave my first kiss to on the laundry deck, now that he's fifty-eight? Wouldn't that be great?"
"Yeah, really," I said, cracking open a pistachio nut.
"Hey, what is it with you? Why are you so spaced out? You still haven't answered me."
"I probably still haven't completely adapted to the world," I said after giving it some thought. "I don't know, I feel like this isn't the real world. The people, the scene: they just don't seem real to me."
Midori rested an elbow on the bar and looked at me. "There was something like that in a Jim Morrison song, I'm pretty sure."
"'People are strange when you're a stranger.'"
"Peace," said Midori.
"Peace," l said.
"You really ought to go to Uruguay with me," Midori said, still leaning on the bar. "Girlfriend, family, school--just dump 'em all."
"Not a bad idea," I said, laughing.
"Don't you think it would be wonderful to get rid of everything and everybody and just go someplace where you don't know a soul? Sometimes I feel like doing that. I really really want to do it sometimes. So, like, say you whisked me away somewhere far far away. I'd make a pile of babies for you as tough as little bulls. And we'd all live happily ever after, rolling on the floor."
I laughed and drank down my third vodka and tonic.
"I guess you don't really want a pile of babies as tough as little bulls yet," said Midori.
"I'm tremendously interested," I said. "I'd like to see what they look like."
"That's O.K., you don't have to want them," said Midori, eating a pistachio. "Here I am, drinking in the afternoon, saying whatever pops into my head: 'I wanna dump everything 'n' run off somewhere.' What's the point of going to Uruguay? All they've got there is donkey shit."
"You may be right."
"Donkey shit everywhere. Here a shit, there a shit, the whole world is donkey shit. Hey, I can't open this. You take it." Midori handed me a pistachio with an uncracked shell. I struggled with it until I got it open. "But oh, gee, what a relief it was last Sunday! Going up to the laundry deck with you, watching the fire, drinking beer, singing songs. I don't know how long it's been since I had such a total sense of relief. People are always trying to force stuff on me. The minute they see me they start telling me what to do. At least you don't try to force stuff on me."
"I don't know you well enough to force stuff on you."
"You mean, if you knew me better, you'd force stuff on me like everybody else?"
"It's possible," I said. "That's how people live in the real world: forcing stuff on each other."
"You wouldn't do that. I can tell. I'm an expert when it comes to forcing stuff and having stuff forced on you. You're just not that type. That's why I can relax with you. Do you have any idea how many people there are in the world who like to force stuff on people and have stuff forced on them? Tons! And then they make a big fuss, like, 'I forced her,' 'You forced me'! That's what they like. But I don't like it. I just do it 'cause I have to."
"What kind of stuff do you force on people or do they force on you?" Midori put a piece of ice in her mouth and sucked on it for a while.
"Do you want to get to know me better?" she asked.
"Yeah, kind of."
"Hey, look, I just asked you, 'Do you want to get to know me better?' What the hell kind of answer is that?"
"Yes, Midori, I would like to get to know you better," I said.
"Even if you had to turn your eyes away from what you saw?"
"Are you that bad?"
"Well, in a way," Midori said with a frown. "I want another drink."
I called the waiter and ordered a fourth round of drinks. Until they came, Midori cupped her chin in her hand with her elbow on the bar. I kept quiet and listened to Thelonious Monk playing "Honeysuckle Rose." There were five or six other customers in the place, but we were the only ones drinking alcohol. The rich smell of coffee gave the gloomy interior an intimate atmosphere.
"Are you free this Sunday?" Midori asked.
"I think I told you before, I'm always free on Sunday. Until I go to work at six."
"O.K., then, this Sunday, will you hang out with me?"
"Sure," I said.
"I'll pick you up at your dorm Sunday morning. I'm not sure exactly what time, though. Is that O.K.?"
"Fine," I said. "No problem."
"Now, let me ask you: do you have any idea what I would like to do right now?"
"I can't imagine."
"Well, first of all, I want to lie down on a big, wide, fluffy bed. I want to get all comfy and drunk and not have any donkey shit anywhere nearby, and I want to have you Iying down next to me. And then, little by little, you take my clothes off. Sooo tenderly. The way a mother takes a little child's clothing off. Sooo softly."
"And I'm just spacing out and feeling really nice until, all of a sudden, I realize what's happening and I yell at you, 'Stop it, Watanabe!' And then I say, 'I really like you, Watanabe, but I'm seeing someone else. I can't do this. I'm very proper about these things, believe it or not, so please stop.' But you don't stop."
"But I would stop," I said.
"I know that. Never mind, this is just my fantasy," said Midori. "So then you show it to me. Your thing. Sticking way up. I immediately cover my eyes, of course, but I can't help seeing it for a split second. And I say, 'Stop it! Don't do that! I don't want anything so big and hard!'"
"It's not so big. Just ordinary."
"Never mind, this is a fantasy. So then you put on this really sad face, and I feel sorry for you and try to comfort you. 'There there, poor thing.'"
"And you're telling me that's what you want to do now?"
We left the bar after five rounds of vodka and tonic. When I tried to pay, Midori slapped my hand and paid with a brand-new ten-thousand-yen bill she took from her purse.
"It's O.K.," she said. "I just got paid, and I invited you. Of course, if you're a card-carrying fascist and you refuse to let a woman buy you a drink..."
"No no, l'm O.K."
"And I didn't let you put it in, either."
"Because it's so big and hard," I said.
"Right," said Midori. "Because it's so big and hard."
A little drunk, Midori missed one step, and we almost fell back down the stairs. The layer of clouds that had darkened the sky before was gone now, and the late-afternoon sun poured its gentle light on the city streets. Midori and I strolled those streets for a time. Midori said she wanted to climb a tree, but unfortunately there were no climbable trees in Shinjuku, and the Shinjuku Imperial Gardens were closing.
"Too bad," said Midori. "I love to climb trees."
We continued walking and window-shopping, and soon the street scene seemed realer to me than it had before.
"I'm glad I ran into you," I said. "I think I'm a little more adapted to the world now."
Midori stopped short and peered at me. "It's true," she said. "Your eyes are much more in focus than they were. See? Hanging out with me does you good."
"No doubt about it," I said.
At five-thirty Midori said she had to go home and make dinner. I said I would take a bus back to my dorm, and I saw her as far as the station.
"Know what I want to do now?" Midori asked me as she was leaving.
"I have absolutely no idea what you could be thinking," I said.
"I want you and me to be captured by pirates. Then they strip us and press us together face to face all naked and wind these ropes around us."
"Why would they do a thing like that?"
"Perverted pirates," she said.
"You're the perverted one," I said.
"So then they lock us in the hold and say. 'In one hour, we're gonna throw you into the sea, so have a good time until then."'
"And so we enjoy ourselves for an hour, rolling all over the place and twisting our bodies."
"And that's the main thing you want to do now?"
"Oh, brother," I said, shaking my head.
Midori came to pick me up at nine-thirty on Sunday morning. I had just awakened and hadn't washed my face yet. Somebody pounded on my door and yelled, "Hey, Watanabe, it's a woman!" I went down to the lobby to find Midori wearing an incredibly short jeans skirt and sitting there with her legs crossed, yawning. Every guy passing through on his way to breakfast slowed down to stare at her long, slim legs. She did have really nice legs.
"Am I too early?" she asked. "I bet you just woke up."
"Can you give me fifteen minutes? I'll wash my face and shave."
"I don't mind waiting, but all these guys are staring at my legs."
"What'd you expect, coming into a men's dorm in such a short skirt? Of course they're gonna stare at you."
"Oh, well, it's O.K. I'm wearing really cute panties today‹all pink and frilly and lacy."
"That just makes it worse," I said with a sigh. I went back to my room and washed and shaved as fast as I could, put on a blue button-down shirt and a gray tweed sports coat, then went back down and hurried Midori out through the dorm gate. I was in a cold sweat.
"Tell me, Watanabe," Midori said, looking up at the dorm buildings, "do all the guys in here masturbate, rub-a-dub-dub?"
"Probably," l said.
"Do guys think about girls when they do that?"
"I guess so. I kinda doubt that anybody thinks about the stock market or verb conjugations or the Suez Canal when they masturbate. Nah, I'm pretty sure just about everybody thinks about girls."
"The Suez Canal?"
"For example, I mean."
"So I guess they think about particular girls, right?"
"Shouldn't you be asking your boyfriend about that?" I said. "Why should I have to explain stuff like that to you on a Sunday morning?"
"I was just curious," she said. "Besides, he'd get mad if I asked him about stuff like that. He'd say girls aren't supposed to ask all those questions."
"A perfectly normal point of view, I'd say."
"But I want to know. This is pure curiosity. Do guys think about particular girls when they masturbate?"
I gave up trying to avoid the question. "Well, I do, at least. I don't know about anybody else."
"Have you ever thought about me when you were doing it? Tell me the truth. I won't get mad."
"No, I haven't, to tell you the truth," l answered honestly.
"Why not? Aren't I attractive enough?"
"Oh, you're plenty attractive, all right. You're cute, and sexy outfits look good on you."
"So why don't you think about me?"
"Well, first of all, I think of you as a friend, so I don't want to get you involved in my sexual fantasies, and second--"
"You've got somebody else you're supposed to be thinking about."
"That's about the size of it," I said.
"You have good manners even when it comes to something like this," Midori said. "That's what I like about you. Still, couldn't you allow me just one brief appearance? I want to be in one of your sexual fantasies or daydreams or whatever you call them. I'm asking you because we're friends. Who else can I ask for something like that? I can't just walk up to anyone and say, 'When you masturbate tonight, will you please think of me for a second?' It's because I think of you as a friend that I'm asking. And I want you to tell me later what it was like. You know, what you did and stuff."
I let out a sigh.
"You can't put it in, though. 'Cause we're just friends. Right? As long as you don't put it in, you can do anything you like, think anything you want."
"I don't know, I've never done it with so many restrictions before," I said.
"Will you just think about me?"
"All right, I'll think about you."
"You know, Watanabe, I don't want you to get the wrong impression--that I'm a nymphomanic or frustrated or a tease or anything. I'm just interested in that stuff. I want to know about it. I grew up surrounded by nothing but girls in a girls' school, you know that. I want to find out what guys are thinking and how their bodies are put together. And not just from pullout sections in the women's magazines but in actual case studies."
"Case studies?" I groaned.
"But my boyfriend doesn't like it when I want to know things or try things. He gets mad, calls me a nympho or crazy. He won't even let me give him a blow job. Now, that's one thing I'm dying to study."
"Do you hate getting blow jobs?"
"No, not really, I don't hate it."
"Would you say you like it?"
"Yeah, I'd say that. But can we talk about this next time? Here it is, a really nice Sunday morning, and I don't want to ruin it talking about masturbation and blow jobs. Let's talk about something else. Is your boyfriend in the same university with us?"
"Nope, he goes to another one, of course. We met in high school during a club activity. I was in a girls' school, and he was in a boys' school, and you know how they do those things, joint concerts and stuff. We got serious after graduation, though. Hey, Watanabe."
"You only have to do it once. Just think about me, O.K.?"
"O.K., I'll give it a try, next time," I said, throwing in the towel.
Excerpted from Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami. Copyright © 2000 by Haruki Murakami. Excerpted by permission of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.