An old Japanese man dressed in a wool sweater and baggy trousers sits on the porch of a small studio apartment, a gray striped tabby cat seated behind him.
Nakata: Do you want a bite of my egg sandwich?
Cat: Thank you, but I see you have a can of sardines there as well. Might I trouble you for some sardines instead?
Nakata: Yes, that is quite all right. Here you go.
He opens the can for the cat and places the can in front of him. The cat licks at the can’s contents, briefly toys with an open-eyed sardine, then leaves the rest untouched.
Nakata: Do you mind if I call you Mr. Kamatsu?
Cat: But Kamatsu is not my name. Cats have no use for names.
Nakata: Yes, yes, but it’s so much easier for me. Nakata is not very bright, you see. I had an accident when I was a little boy, and since then, I have not been able to read or write.
Cat: You can’t read or write? That’s odd for a human your age. And yet you can speak to cats.
Nakata: Since the accident. Please, can I call you Mr. Kamatsu? It would be ever so much easier.
Cat: Fine. Suit yourself. But I have no use for names.
Nakata: I haven’t seen you here before, Mr. Kamatsu. Are you new to the neighborhood?
Kamatsu: I live with my human in the Taeko district, where there are not so many female cats. Mating season is drawing nearer. I am here to explore my options.
Nakata: Mating. That is the thing you do with the weenie, right?
Kamatsu: Yes, that’s it.
Nakata: Ah, I see. Yes, there are quite a few female cats in the area. Mimi, for one, though she is a Siamese and quite picky. Not to say you are unworthy, of course, good sir. Just that she is not an easy catch.
Kamatsu: I know the type. Will you be mating too?
Nakata: No, Nakata does not mate. I live alone, on a sub-city from the government. It’s for old people, like Nakata, who are not too bright. It’s enough for me to eat egg sandwiches, or tuna, and sometimes a little eel. I like eel, don’t you?
Kamatsu: Yes, eel is one of my favorites. You live alone? Don’t you have family?
Nakata: I am alone. Nakata has two younger brothers. They took care of me for a while after our parents died, but then Nakata became a burden. My older younger brother helped me apply for the sub-city and find a place to live. Since then Nakata is alone. It’s all right. I don’t need much.
Kamatsu: Such is life. You’re born, you grow old, you ache, you die. You’re alone through all of it, even when others are around you. There is no escaping a lonely death. I should know; I’m on my seventh incarnation.
Nakata: What is incarnation?
Kamatsu: It is a lifetime in a series of lifetimes.
Nakata: You are on your seventh lifetime? Nakata has only had this one. I’m sorry, but Nakata is a bit slow. If the only thing in life is to grow old, ache, and die, what is the point? Why not save yourself the ache and just die?
Kamatsu (licks his paws): That’s the million-yen question, isn’t it?
Nakata: I don’t understand.
Kamatsu: There is no point. Not inherently, anyway. Every living being passes through the same things. You can only hope that you do not ache too much before you go, and if you’re lucky, you might have a few satisfying shits in the meantime.
Nakata: What about God?
Kamatsu: Nobody knows, do they? I haven’t seen Him, have you?
Nakata: No. But we are told we should believe in Him and honor Him.
Kamatsu: Suit yourself. But I haven’t seen Him, and frankly, I find it strange to imagine some big man in the sky conducting one huge social experiment on all of creation, and for what? His own amusement? To find out who really loves him? That’s not very convincing, nor does it sound like something a highly evolved being would concern himself with. Is that what you believe?
Nakata: I don’t know what I believe. As I said, Nakata is not very bright. I live a simple life and occasionally talk to cats. That is my life.
Kamatsu: Well, if you ask me—
Sounds of violence emanate from the apartment next door. A baby cries, there is a loud thud, and then a man storms out the front door, slams the screen shut, gets into a car and peels out and away. There is silence, except for the lone cry of a child.
Nakata: Did you hear that?
Kamatsu: It would be hard not to, what a racket.
Nakata: We should go over there, don’t you think?
Kamatsu: No, we should not. That smells like trouble. Definitely trouble.
Nakata: But someone could be hurt.
Kamatsu: Even more reason to stay out of it.
Nakata does not listen. He stands up slowly, with his hand pressed against the pain in his lower back and begins to shuffle next door. Kamatsu rolls his eyes, but follows him, tail twitching, nonetheless.
Kamatsu: I’m telling you, my instincts are saying this is all wrong. You don’t want to get involved.
Nakata reaches the screen door, slowly unlatches it, and steps inside, eyes blinking to adjust in the darkness.
Nakata: Hello? Is anyone home?
Kamatsu (fur standing on end): I don’t like this. Not one bit.
Nakata steps forward and finds the apartment in disarray. Objects are strewn about the room, broken bottles and needles lie around the floor, and the only sound is coming from a baby lying swaddled in an old laundry basket. Nakata reaches down to touch the baby and finds the baby’s face is quite hot. He looks over to the side, and from this angle, he can see a woman’s body on the floor behind the couch. He shuffles over to the woman, who has serious bruises on her face and legs and needle tracks on the insides of her arms. He reaches down to touch her neck and feel for breath.
Nakata: I think this woman is dead.
Kamatsu: I told you this is a bad business. We should leave now.
Nakata: What about the baby? We cannot just leave the baby.
Kamatsu: Of course we can and should. Leave this to someone else. The baby is not your responsibility. Come on, let’s go.
Nakata (with an uncharacteristically stern frown): NO!
He picks up the screaming child and holds it close to him. Ever so gently, he tucks the baby in his arms, and carefully steps over broken glass and past molded crumbs out of the apartment and over to his place, with Kamatsu following, muttering the whole way.
Inside his apartment, he tries to feed the baby, but to no avail. He cannot get the child to eat anything or stop crying. Kamatsu watches on, simultaneously fascinated and repulsed.
Kamatsu: You know, kittens prefer to drink milk from their mothers’ teats.
Nakata: I don’t have teats and I don’t think that mother can help him now.
Kamatsu: Do you have milk?
Nakata lays the baby on his table, goes to his refrigerator, and pulls out a small carton of milk and pours it into a glass.
Kamatsu: You should probably warm it first.
Nakata nods, and places the glass in the microwave for 40 seconds. He pulls it out, tests the warmth with the tip of his pinky finger, then tries to pour some into the baby’s mouth. It spills all over the place.
Kamatsu: You need a teat.
Nakata (wiping up the mess): Nakata does not have teats.
Kamatsu: Well, you need something to drip it into his mouth more slowly or you’ll just have another mess.
Nakata tries using his fingertip, but he can only get one drop at a time and the baby is still shrieking. He then tries dipping in the end of a paper towel and dripping the milk slowly into the baby’s mouth. The baby’s crying slows to a mewling sound, but he gets frustrated, and shakes his head and fists in protest against the texture of the paper towel. Kamatsu, instead of helping, licks his balls. Nakata goes to a kitchen drawer, pulls out a small, soft rag, dips it into the milk and tries again with the baby. This time, the baby begins to suck. Soon he is sucking so quickly, Nakata must keep dipping the rag in and feeding him. Repeatedly he does this until the baby begins to slow and seem satiated. The baby lets go a bubbly fart and giggles.
Nakata: Did you see that? Did you see the baby? He just farted and laughed at himself!
Nakata is amazed.
Kamatsu: Yes. Amazing. Now…what are you going to do with him?
Nakata: What do you mean?
Kamatsu: Well, I hate to state the obvious, but you cannot keep him here.
Nakata: Why not? Nakata has milk, and now, with the rag, Nakata has teat.
Kamatsu: Babies need a lot more than that, my friend.
Nakata: We will figure it out, when the time comes.
Kamatsu: Not to put too fine a point on it, but how old are you, Nakata?
Nakata (still gazing in awe at the child): This year, Nakata is 87 years old.
Kamatsu: Right. So in all likelihood, you will die before the child reaches his tenth year.
Nakata does not respond.
Kamatsu: I don’t know how you humans are with babies, but I do know how you are with kittens. Everybody likes cute kittens. They don’t like old cats. What will happen to the child after you die? Who will take care of him? Someone might want him now he is young and cute, but who will want him when he’s older?
Nakata still does not respond.
Kamatsu: This is madness.
Nakata (looks up suddenly): It is not madness. It is the point, isn’t it? Before you said the point of life is to grow old, ache, and die. But that’s not true. I can do more! I can help this child. I can love him, even when he is all alone, just like Nakata. I can love him. … I do love him.
Kamatsu: Until you die. And then what?
Nakata: It doesn’t matter. I can love him now and every moment until I die.
Kamatsu shakes his head. Seeing Nakata totally absorbed with the child, the cat departs.
* * *
The following morning, Kamatsu returns to find the old man rocking the child to sleep in his arms. The cat sits beside him, observing Nakata’s tender, fatherly guard over the baby, who is at total peace.
Kamatsu: How was the baby last night?
Nakata: He was beautiful.
Kamatsu: Even with the crying and the pooping and the making a big fuss?
Nakata: Even with all those things.
Kamatsu: So you’re still in love then?
Nakata: Yes. Nakata still loves. (A long pause.) But Nakata thinks Mr. Kamatsu is right. I can love this child until I die, but if I am all he has, when I go, he will ache. And if he lives a long time, he will have a long ache. I can give him Nakata. Or I can give him more.
Kamatsu: What are you saying?
Nakata: Nakata gets a sub-city from the government. Nakata called the people who give the sub-city and told them about the baby. They are sending someone now to come pick him up. They will find a home for him.
Kamatsu: But now you will ache. That is a heavy price.
Nakata: It doesn’t matter.
They move outside and sit together on the porch, waiting for the government officials to arrive. When they come, Nakata presses a kiss onto the child’s forehead and sheds tears as he hands him over. The officials put the child in a special car seat and drive away. Nakata and Kamatsu stand at the edge of the porch, watching them leave.
Kamatsu: Do you still love now, Mr. Nakata?
Nakata: Very much.
Kamatsu (his head tilted in curiosity): Do you think the child loved you?
Nakata: Yes, I think he did.
Kamatsu: Hmm, maybe he did. He won’t remember you though.
Nakata: No, he won’t. That is probably best.
This piece was written for a shared with a Bigger Picture Blogs Writing Circle, where it was discussed and then edited. Full disclaimer: Nakata is a character stolen, with my gratitude and apologies, from a book I’m in the middle of reading, Kafka on the Shore, by Haruki Murakami, though otherwise this story is my own. Maybe that makes this fan fiction? In any case, it’s merely my own writing practice, not something I would publish seriously. This is just me barely dipping my toe in to explore some of the things I mentioned in my last post.