U.F.O. in Kushiro by Haruki Murakami
(Translated, from the Japanese, by Jay Rubin.)
“Something to do with work?”
Sasaki shook his head. “Not at all,” he said. “Strictly personal. I just don’t want it to get knocked around, which is why I can’t mail it. I’d like you to deliver it by hand, if possible. I really ought to do it myself, but I haven’t had the time to fly all the way to Hokkaido.”
“My sister will pick you up at the airport,” Sasaki said. “She’ll be arranging a room for you. All you have to do is meet her at the gate.”
Shimao drove a small four-wheel-drive Subaru. Keiko Sasaki sat next to Shimao, and Komura had the cramped rear seat to himself. There was nothing particularly wrong with Shimao’s driving, but the noise in the back was terrible, and the suspension was nearly shot. The car had to have more than a hundred thousand miles on it. The automatic transmission slammed into gear whenever it downshifted, and the heater blew hot and cold. Shutting his eyes, Komura imagined that he had been imprisoned in a washing machine.
“Three years ago—back around the time I started college—I was dating this guy. He was a year older than me, and he was the first guy I had sex with. One day, the two of us were out hiking—in the mountains way up north.” Shimao took a sip of beer. “It was fall, and the hills were full of bears. That’s the time of year when the bears are getting ready to hibernate, so they’re out looking for food and they’re really dangerous. Sometimes they attack people. They’d done an awful job on a hiker three days before we went out. So somebody gave us a bell to carry with us. We were supposed to shake it while we walked to warn the bears that there were people around. Bears don’t attack people on purpose. I mean, they’re pretty much vegetarians. They don’t have to attack people. What happens is they suddenly bump into people in their territory and they get surprised or angry and they attack out of reflex. If you walk along ringing your bell, they’ll avoid you. Get it?”
The two listened to the moaning of the wind. The wind came from someplace unknown to Komura, and it blew past, to another place unknown to him.
“I’ll tell you why,” Shimao said in a low voice. “It’s because that box contains the something that was inside you. You didn’t know that when you carried it here and gave it to Keiko with your own hands. Now you’ll never get it back.”