Wednesday, October 13, 2004

"Ten Nights' Dreams" Soseki Natsume 3

[This is my translation of the third story in "Ten Nights' Dreams" by a modern Japanese author Soseki Natsume. For a brief information about the book and the author, please look at my comment. And also, I'd appreciate feecbacks from you!]

The Third Night

The dream went like this.

A six-year-old child is on my back. There is no doubt it’s my son. Strangely though, he has gone blind and has become a novice monk, before I know it. I asked him when his eyes went blind, to which he replied, “I’ve always been, you know that.” His voice is certainly that of a child, but the language is nothing but the adults’. And as if on equal terms with me.

On both sides are green rice paddies. The path is narrow. From time to time shadows of herons glide across the darkness.

“Now we’re in rice field,” said the voice on my back.

“How do you know?” I asked, turning my head backward.

“There’ve been herons’ screeches, obviously,” he said.

Then indeed a heron gave a couple of screeches.

I began to feel uneasy, even though he’s my own son. Who knows what will become of me with this thing on my back. As I looked ahead, hoping to find a good place to dump it, there was a deep forest in the dark. That forest could do, I thought. As soon as it occurred to me, I heard a “humph!” from behind.

“What’s so funny?”

The child didn’t answer, and just said, “Father, am I heavy?”

I said no.

“Soon I will be,” he said.

In silence, I walked aiming at the forest. The irregular winding path in the rice paddies wouldn’t lead me there easily. A while later the path came to a fork. Standing at the fork, I took a little break.

“There must be a stone standing here,” said the child.

True there was a stone, nine by nine inches, standing waist-high. On the surface it read, Higakubo to Left, Hottahara to Right. Even in the dark, the carmine letters were clearly visible. Carmine letters were the color of an eft’s abdomen.

“You’d better go left,” commanded the child. Toward the left the forest cast the shadow of darkness over our heads, from the distant sky. I hesitated a little.

“There’s no need to hesitate,” demanded the child. I had no choice but to head toward the forest. As I paced along the narrow path toward the forest, wondering how a blind could know all that, it commented on my shoulder.

“It’s no fun to be blind. Such an inconvenience.”

“What’s the matter? You’ve got me carrying you on my back.”

“I appreciate you hump me, but it’s no fun to be made little of. It’s no fun. Even a parent thinks little of me.”

I felt weary. To dump it fast in the forest, I hastened my steps.

“A few steps ahead, and you’ll see. –It was the night just like this, wasn’t it?” From behind I hear him mutter, as if talking to himself.

“What night?” My voice came out tense.

“You know it very well, don’t you?” Answered the child mockingly. Suddenly I felt like I knew it. But I didn’t know it clearly. It might have been just like tonight. And it might become clear a few steps ahead. It might be foul to know it clearly. I’d better get rid of it once and for all before it gets clear, and I’d better be relieved. I hastened my steps further.

It started to rain a while ago. The path was increasingly dark. I’m in a near trance. It is just a dwarf stuck to my back, illuminating all my past, present, and future, glaring like a horrible mirror that never misses a single detail. Moreover it is my own son. And it is blind. I’ve had enough.

“Here, here, it’s exactly at the root of that cedar tree!”

The child’s voice was clearly audible even in the rain. I found myself standing still. I was already in the forest before I knew it. The black object about six feet away indeed appeared to be a cedar tree, as the child said.

“Father, it was by the root of that cedar.”

“Yes, it was,” it slipped out.

“It was the year of dragon, 1808”

It indeed seemed to have been the year of dragon, 1808.

“It was exactly a hundred years ago, that you killed me.”

No sooner than I heard it did a realization burst in my mind that I killed a blind, at the root of this cedar tree, in a moonless night like tonight, in the year of dragon, 1882, exactly a hundred years back from now. As soon as I realized that I was a murderer, the child weighed heavy on my back as if it were a stone statue of a Budhisattva.


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