01 September 2014

Coming up

Birmingham Day Trip

Over the weekend, the weather finally broke and we had the sort of autumn day you wait and wait for in the UK, with the electric blue sky and the sun streaming in every window. You throw everything open to air it out. The kids played in the garden squealing and running around, and I sat inside, reading the Murakami book my in-laws had sent at the beginning of the year, the new collection of short stories in Japanese.

I have been on a Murakami binge. Yoko's parents had given me another book, Murakami's new novel, when I was in Malaysia, but thought I had lost it in the move, a recurring problem I have with presents from Yoko's parents. I felt bad — ashamed really — having wanted to finish it before the English translation came out, the Japanese language ability badge of honour. It was gone, though, and the times I had looked for it had turned up nothing, until last Saturday when I looked again through Yoko's books and saw that it had always been there on the shelf, I had overlooked it because I thought I remembered the cover.

I read my first Murakami book Norwegian Wood in Japanese, in the summer of 2005, when I was starting to become interested in Yoko. The story I tell again and again: I was reading at a plastic table in downtown Niigata, across from the McDonalds. Yoko texted me, asking if I wanted to meet up. I'm downtown, I responded, where are you? At your apartment — it's okay, another time then. I can come now, I replied, I'll be there in twenty minutes. No, it's fine, she texted back: another time.

Having found the book and been given another chance, I was determined to not make the same mistake. I read and read and read for three days, feeling like I was watching a film. I got to the end, and had an epiphany, a remarkable moment of clarity, after a summer of Yoko's skin burning and the money evaporating and another day and another day and another day. There had been nothing to look forward to, but then the end of this book seemed to remind me that, yes, the future was coming, yes, it was bright, yes, it will be okay. Reading Japanese again made me feel remarkably strong, like I could say things to Yoko clearly after a year and half of mumbling and picking the easiest word, dropping articles, and losing all the precision that written Japanese has.

The momentum feels like it is building: Yoko got medicine from the doctor and is beginning to feel better. I keep going every morning to the gym to do my circuit training and sweat out my old self, the Malaysian self that ate all that food and sat at the computer deep into the night waiting for the autumn to come. Yoko made curtains for the windows because I didn't want to spend any more money. I get up and touch her on the leg before I head out: I'm going to the gym. A little bit more of me will come back in a couple of hours. 

On Thursday, the landlord confirmed that she would renew our contract, but wanted to put the rent up. We took it in stride and I looked for another house all weekend, resigned that I would be paying another £25 a month for this mouldy, dark terrace house. This morning, though, we viewed a property up on Tennal Rd with wood floors and larger refrigerator and no mould under the kitchen flooring. The light comes in on three sides and I stood at the top of the landing, looking around feeling like this is a house we could grow up in. It felt possible, plausible, this whole thing. The whole goddammed year we have been clawing along, but here: a kind of gift. A better place to live, for the same price, for less really. No penalty for moving. No more mould and dirty carpets. The deal isn't done, but it doesn't matter — the potential is there. 

At the end of the Murakami book, the protagonist is sucked into the darkness and the world of dreams. It's funny to remember again, at 32, the magic of books and of escaping into another person's perspective. Don't worry, you can still escape every now and again.
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