Underground the tokyo ga.., p.10
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       Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche, p.10

           Haruki Murakami
 
On the day of the gas attack my wife had gone back to her family’s house. Her father had died. I think it was the hundredth-day observances over his ashes. So she wasn’t home. I left as usual and changed to the Marunouchi Line at Tokyo Station. I boarded the third car from the front, the one I always travel in when I have to buy milk.

  That’s right, when I buy milk I always get off at Shinjuku-gyoemmae. I drink milk at lunch, and every other day I buy two days’ worth on my way in in the morning at a nearby store. If I don’t buy any, I get off at Shinjuku-sanchome. My office is located between Shinjuku-gyoemmae and Shinjuku-sanchome. That day was my milk day, thanks to which, I got caught up in this sarin business. Just my luck.

  That day I got a seat at Tokyo Station. If you read the written summary, the perpetrator, Hirose, first boarded the second car, then got off halfway and switched to the third car. He punctured the sarin packets at Ochanomizu, so they were right where I was sitting, by the middle door of the third car. I was too wrapped up in reading Diamond Weekly to notice anything. The detective grilled me later: How could I not notice? But, well, I didn’t. I felt like I was a suspect or something—not nice, let me tell you.

  Soon though, I began to feel funny. It was around Yotsuya Station I first felt sick. My nose ran all of a sudden. I thought I’d caught a cold, because I started to feel empty-headed, too, and everything before my eyes grew dark, like I had sunglasses on.

  At the time I was scared it was some kind of brain hemorrhage. I’d never experienced anything like it before, so I naturally thought the worst. This wasn’t just a cold; it was a lot more serious. I felt as though I might keel over any minute.

  I don’t remember much about the others in the car. I was too concerned about myself. Anyway, somehow I made it to Shinjuku-gyoemmae and got off. I was dizzy; everything was black. “I’m done for,” I thought. Walking was a terrific struggle. I had to grope my way up the steps to the exit. Outside it might as well have been nighttime. I was in pain, yet I still bought my milk as usual. Strange, isn’t it? I went into the AM/PM store and bought some milk. It didn’t even occur to me not to. Thinking back on it now, it’s a mystery to me why I’d buy milk like that when I was in such agony.

  I went to the office and stretched out on the sofa in the reception area. But I didn’t feel the least bit better, and one of the women employees said I ought to go to the hospital, so around 9:00 I went to Shinjuku Hospital close by. While I was waiting, a salaryman came in saying, “I started feeling out of sorts on the subway,” and I thought, “I must have the same thing too.” A brain hemorrhage.

  I was in the hospital for five days. I thought I was well enough to leave earlier, but my Cholinesterase level still wasn’t up to it. “Get good and well,” the doctor told me. Even so I left early. I pleaded with them, I had a wedding to go to on Saturday. It still took me two weeks for my vision to improve. Even now my eyesight’s bad. I drive, but at night the characters on the signs are hard to read. I had new glasses made, stronger ones. Recently I went to a meeting of victims and this lawyer said, “Everyone whose eyesight is worse, raise your hands,” and there were plenty of people. So it must be the sarin.

  Also, my memory’s a lot worse. People’s names just don’t come. I deal with bank employees, right? I always carry a memo in my pocket: who’s the director of which branch … Used to be that sort of thing would simply pop into my mind. Also I’m a go enthusiast, and used to play a game in the office at lunchtime. But now I can barely concentrate. It’s worrying, I tell you. And this is only the first year—what’s going to happen after two or three years? Is it going to stay like this, or is it going to get progressively worse?

  I don’t feel especially angry toward the individual culprits. It seems to me they were used by their organization. I see Asahara’s face on television and for some reason I’m not filled with animosity. Instead I wish they’d do more to help the really badly affected victims.

  “The night before the gas attack, the family was saying over dinner, ‘My, how lucky we are”

  “Tatsuo Akashi” (now 37)

  elder brother of critically injured “Shizuko Akashi”

  Ms. Shizuko Akashi suffered serious injuries traveling on the Marunouchi Line. She was temporarily reduced to a vegetative condition and at present remains in hospital care. Her brother, Tatsuo, works at a car dealership in Itabashi, north Tokyo. He is married with two children.

  After his sister’s collapse, he and his elderly parents took it in turn to visit Shizuko in the hospital. He saw to Shizuko’s every need, with admirable devotion. As head of the family, his outrage toward this senseless crime is beyond words. You can sense it in your skin just talking to him. Behind his peaceful smile and softly spoken voice there is a reserve of bitterness and stubborn determination.

  What had his earnest, gentle, devoted sister—who asked nothing more than a little corner of happiness—ever done to be struck down by those people? Until the day that Shizuko can walk out of the hospital on her own feet, Tatsuo will no doubt keep asking himself this difficult question.

  We’re the only two siblings, born four years apart. My own two kids are also four years apart and my mother says they act just like we did. Which I suppose means we fought a lot (laughs), though I don’t remember fighting much. Maybe over little things—what TV channel to watch, who got the last piece of cake … But my mother says whenever Shizuko got candy or something to eat, she would always be sure to say, “Give some to big brother, too.” But then, come to mention it, so does my little girl.

  Shizuko was always a helpful soul. At kindergarten or school, if some other kid was crying, she’d always go and ask, “What’s the matter?” And she was painstaking by nature. She kept a diary up until junior high school. Never missed a day’s entry. She filled three whole notebooks.

  When she finished junior high, she decided not to go to high school and went to a dressmaking academy instead. Our parents were getting old, she said, so rather than studying any longer, she wanted to find work quickly and lighten their load. When I heard that I remember thinking, “You’ve got more moral strength than me.” She was a serious child. Or rather, she always seemed to think things through to the end. She could never just rush something through and be done with it.

  So she went to a dressmaking academy, then got a job sewing, but unfortunately the company was mismanaged and went under. That was after three or four years. She looked around for another job where she could continue to use her seamstress skills, but nothing came up. So she went to work at a supermarket. She was kind of disappointed, but she wasn’t the sort to take off on her own and leave her parents in the lurch, and that was the only job she could find nearby.

  She worked there for ten years. She took the bus to the supermarket and worked checkout mostly. Ten years on the job, she became a kind of veteran. Even now, after two years in the hospital, she’s still officially listed as a full employee. And the supermarket’s been a great help since the attack too.

  Actually, on that day, she was supposed to attend an employeetraining seminar over in Suginami [west Tokyo]. In April, the new trainees would be coming and Shizuko was down to help instruct them. She’d gone to the seminar the previous year, too, and apparently her boss had asked her to go again.

  The day before the gas attack—Sunday, March 19—we’d gone to buy a backpack for my son, who was going to be entering grade school. My wife and I, my parents, and the kids all went out shopping together. Just after noon we all dropped by the supermarket to take Shizuko out to lunch at a nearby noodle shop. Supermarkets are always busy on Sundays and she can’t usually take time off, but somehow that day she got free and we all ate out together.

  That’s when she mentioned, “Tomorrow there’s this thing in Suginami I have to go to.” So I said, “Okay, I’ll drop you off at the station.” I had to take the kids to nursery school, then drive my wife to the station anyway. After that I’d park the car and take the train. All I had to do was give her a lift together with my wif
e. But she said, “It’s too much trouble for you. I’ll just take the local line to the Saikyo Line, then change to the Marunouchi Line.” And I said, “That’ll take forever. You’d be better off going straight to Kasumigaseki, then change to the Marunouchi Line.” Looking back on it now, if I hadn’t suggested that to Shizuko, she would probably never have suffered like this.

  Shizuko liked going places. She had one really close friend from school, and the two of them would go on vacation together. But a supermarket’s not like a normal company; you don’t get three or four days off in a row. So she had to pick a quiet time and get someone to fill in for her before she could get away.

  Another thing, she loved going to Tokyo Disneyland. She went there a few times with her best friend, and whenever she managed to get a Sunday off she would invite us all: “C’mon, let’s go!” We still have our snapshots of those times. Shizuko only liked the thrill rides: roller coasters and that sort of thing. My wife and our eldest, that’s what they like, too. Not me, though. So while the three of them went on one of those scary rides, I’d sit with my younger daughter on the merry-go-round and wait for them. Like, “You all just go have fun. I’ll wait right here.” Yeah, come to think of it, the place we went to most often as a family was Disneyland.

  Whenever there was a special occasion, Shizuko would always buy some kind of present. Like our parents’ birthdays or the kids’, our wedding anniversary. She kept all those dates in her head. She remembered everyone’s favorite things. She never touched a drop of alcohol, but since our parents drink, she’d study which brands were supposed to be good and come by with a bottle. She was always so exacting, so attentive to those around her. For instance, if she went on vacation somewhere, she’d be sure to bring home souvenirs or buy cookies for her colleagues at work.

  She’d fret so much over personal relationships at work. She’s such an earnest soul; the least little problem she’d take so much to heart. Some throwaway remark would niggle at her, things like that.

  Shizuko never married, in part because she felt so responsible toward our parents. There’d been matchmaking attempts, but either the man lived too far away or she didn’t want to leave our parents behind, so in the end nothing came of it. I’d gotten married and left home, so I suppose she had a duty to look after our parents. By then Mother’s knees had given out and she had to walk with a stick … which is what gave Shizuko such a strong sense of duty. Much stronger than mine.

  Yeah, and Father’s business had folded, which left him without work, so I suppose she decided to take up the extra financial burden. Shizuko was a hard worker. She’d say, “I don’t need time off,” and force herself to go to work.

  On March 20 I passed by the old house and picked up Shizuko, then dropped her and my wife off at the station. That must have been around 7:15. Then I took the kids to nursery school just before 7:30, and walked to the station.

  If Shizuko and my wife caught the 7:20, that would put her into Kasumigaseki just before 8:00, and it’s a long walk between the Chiyoda Line and the Marunouchi Line, so that meant she got on the train with the sarin. And to make matters worse, she probably boarded the very car where the sarin packet was. Just once a year she took the Marunouchi Line to go to a training seminar.

  She collapsed at Nakano-sakaue Station and was taken to the hospital. I heard that the station assistant who tried to give her mouth-to-mouth inhaled sarin himself and collapsed in the process. I didn’t meet him, though, so I don’t really know.

  I learned about the gas attack through Head Office. It’s on the Hibiya Line and several employees had been affected, so they called to ask if everything was all right at our end. I turned on the TV to find out what was going on and I’ve never seen such an uproar.

  I phoned my wife straightaway, but she was okay. Then I called my mother, because if there’d been any trouble Shizuko would have called her. But there’d been no message. “She must be all right, then,” I thought. “She’s probably sitting in that seminar right now.” Still, it made me uncomfortable not being able to get in touch with “To be perfectly frank,” the doctor told me, “tonight is very critical. She’s under complete care. Please limit your visit to this.” I spent the night in the hospital waiting room in case something happened. At dawn when I asked, “How is she?” all they would say was, “She’s stabilized for now.”

  That evening [March 20] our parents, my wife and kids all came to the hospital. I didn’t know what to expect, so I had the kids come too, just to be safe. Of course they were too small to understand the situation, but seeing them eased my tension, or rather let me get some feelings out. “Something horrible’s happened to Auntie Shizuko …” I started crying. My kids were upset; they knew it was serious; they’d never seen me cry before. They tried to comfort me, “Daddy, Daddy, don’t cry!”—and then we were all crying. My parents are from an older generation: the stiff upper lip. They held back all the time they were at the hospital, but when they got home that evening they cried the whole night through.

  I took a week off work. My wife did the same. Finally, on Wednesday, March 22, the doctor gave us a rundown on things. Her blood pressure and respiration had improved slightly and stabilized to some extent, but they were still testing her brain functions. She could still get worse.

  There was no explanation about the effects of sarin. We were shown an X ray of her head and were told, “The brain’s swollen.” It seemed really puffed up, but whether this was due to the sarin or to prolonged oxygen starvation there was no telling as yet.

  She couldn’t breathe on her own, so she was hooked up to an artificial respirator. But that couldn’t go on indefinitely, so on March 29 they opened a breathing valve in her throat. That’s how she is now.

  I visited every day while Shizuko was in the hospital in Nishi-shinjuku. Every day without fail after work, for the 7:00 visiting hours, unless I was really under the weather. My boss always had someone drive me there. I lost a lot of weight, but I kept it up for five months, until August 23 when she was moved to another hospital.

  In my date book, I noted that her eyes moved on March 24. They didn’t snap wide open, but rolled around slow, behind half-lifted lids. This was when I spoke to her. Again the doctor said that she wasn’t looking around recognizing things. It was just another coincidence. I was warned not to raise my expectations too high. And in fact on her. The timing was just right for her train to have hit the worst of it. I tried to stay calm; I knew it did no good to worry. I had taken the company car to see a client, when a call came in from the office. I was to contact my mother urgently. This was between 10:30 and 11:00. “We had a call from the police,” she said. “Shizuko was injured in the subway and taken to the hospital. Go quickly!”

  I rushed back to the office, took the train to Shinjuku, and reached the hospital around 12:00. I’d called from the office, but couldn’t find out much about her condition over the phone: “We are not to tell members of the family anything unless they come here.”

  The hospital reception was filled with victims. All of them were on drips or getting examined. That’s when I realized it was really serious, but I still didn’t know much. The television had said something about poison gas, but nothing in detail. The doctors weren’t much help either. All they told me that day was, “She inhaled a virulent chemical similar to a pesticide.”

  They wouldn’t even let me see her straightaway. There I was hoping to see with my own eyes what state she was in, and they wouldn’t tell me anything or let me into the ward. The hospital was crowded and confused, and Shizuko was in Emergency Care. I could only visit her between 12:30 and 1:00 in the afternoon, and 7:00 and 8:00 at night.

  I waited for two hours—two grueling hours—and then just briefly I got to see her. She was dressed in a hospital gown and lying in bed getting dialysis. Her liver was quite weak and needed help to filter out all the toxins from her blood. She was on several intravenous drips too. Her eyes were closed. According to the nurse she was in a “sleeping st
ate.” I reached out to touch her but the doctor held me back; I wasn’t wearing gloves.

  I whispered in her ear, “Shizuko, it’s your brother!” She twitched in response, or so I thought, but the doctor said her responding to my voice was practically unthinkable; she must have had a spasm in her sleep. She’d been having convulsions since they brought her in.

  Her face, to be crude, looked more dead than asleep. She had an oxygen mask over her mouth, and her face had no expression whatsoever. No sign of pain or suffering or anything. The device that measured her heartbeat hardly flickered, just an occasional blip. She was that bad. I could hardly bear to look at her. April 1 they said: “Judging from the pattern of brain damage due to contusions and hemorrhages in ordinary traffic accidents, there is virtually no chance of further recovery.” In other words, while she wasn’t a “vegetable,” she would probably remain bedridden for the rest of her life. Unable to sit up, unable to speak, barely aware of anything.

  It was hard to accept. My mother burst out saying, “Shizuko should have died. She’d have posed no more trouble to herself or to any of you.” Those words really cut deep; I understood my mother completely, yet how could I answer her? In the end, all I could say was, “If Shizuko was of no further use, then God would have surely let her die. But that didn’t happen. Shizuko is alive here and now. And there’s the chance she’ll get well, isn’t there? If we don’t believe that, Shizuko’s beyond hope. We have to force ourselves to believe.”

  That was the hardest part for me. When my own father and mother could say such things—that Shizuko would have been better off dead—what was I supposed to say? That was about ten days after she collapsed.

  Not long after that, my father had an attack. On May 6 they diagnosed cancer and he was admitted to the Kashiwa National Cancer Center for an operation. Every day I was rushing back and forth between Shizuko and my father. My mother was in no condition to move around.

 
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