Concerning the Sound of a Train Whistle in the Night
or On the Efficacy of Stories
Murakami Haruki (© 1995 by Haruki Murakami).
The girl asks the boy a question: “To what extent do you love me?”
After thinking for a moment, the youth answers quietly, “As much as a train whistle in the night.”
Keeping silent, the girl waits for the tale to continue. Without a doubt, there is a story to be had.
“Once, I suddenly woke up in the middle of the night,” he begins. “I wasn’t sure of the exact time, I think it was probably around two or three o’clock. But what time it was isn’t all that important. Anyway, it’s the middle of the night and I was completely alone, there wasn’t anyone else there. Can you imagine what that’s like? You can’t see anything; you’re surrounded by complete darkness. There is not even one sound to be heard, not even the ticking of the hands of a clock counting down the time- perhaps the clock has stopped? Then I suddenly felt completely isolated, separated some unbelievable distance from everyone and everyplace I know. I realised that I had become someone who no one, in this huge, wide world, loved anymore, someone to whom no one would speak, who no one would even remember. If I suddenly disappeared one day, feeling like this, nobody would even notice. I felt like I’d been jammed into a heavy, iron box which had been sunk to the very bottom of the ocean. Because of the pressure, my heart was aching, I felt as if I was going to be torn in two, to explode- you know this feeling?”
The girl nods. She believes she knows what he means.
The boy continues his story. “I think that this feeling is probably one of the hardest things we humans experience during our lives. I felt almost as if I wanted to die, it was that painful a sensation. No, that’s not it… it’s not that I wanted to die, it’s more like that if things had been left like that, with the air in that iron box gradually becoming thinner, I actually would have died. This isn’t just some metaphor, this is the truth. This is what it means to wake up all alone in the middle of the night. Do you still understand me?”
The girl keeps silent and nods. The boy allows a moment to pass.
“But then, I hear the sound of a train whistle all the way off in the distance. This whistle, it is really, really far away. I don’t even know where the train tracks would be, the sound is that far away… so far away that I am not even sure if I truly heard it. But I am absolutely positive that it was the sound of a train whistle. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind. I lay in the darkness, opening my ears to the silence and then I hear the sound of that whistle again. My heart stops aching. The hands of the clock start to move once more. The iron box slowly starts to float back up towards the surface of the ocean. All this happened because of the sound of that whistle, right? All because of a whistle whose sound was so faint that I could barely hear it. And the point is, I love you just as much as that train whistle.”
Just like that, the boy’s short story was complete. Next time, the girl will tell her own story.
Translated by Thomas Baudinette with reference to the translation by Michael Emmerich