The Third Night
By Natsume Soseki, translated by Aiko Ito and Graeme Wilson.
There’s a six-year-old on my back. And it’s certainly my child. But, oddly enough, without my knowing how or why I know it, I know that the child is blind and that his head is blue; clean-shaven blue.
I asked him when he became blind, and he answered ‘Oh, from time immemorial.’ The voice was that of a child all right but the diction seemed adult; the words, as it were, spoken between equals.
To left and right the paddy-fields lie blue. The path is narrow. Every now and again the shape of a heron lightens the growing darkness.
‘I see we’ve come to the paddies,’ said the creature on my back.
‘How can you tell?’ I asked him turning my head to speak back over my shoulder.
‘Because of the creaking of the herons,’ came the reply. And indeed, just then, the herons cried twice.
Though the child is my own, I feel a trifle awed. One cannot tell, carrying such an object on one’s back, what will happen next. As I peered ahead, wondering where perhaps I might off-load my burden, I saw an enormous forest looming up through the dark. And in the very second when I began to wonder how I might dump my burden there, I heard a jeer from my back.
‘Why do you laugh like that?’
The child made no reply, but asked me simply ‘Father, am I heavy?’
‘No, not heavy.’
‘Wait. I’ll be heavy soon.’
I said nothing but kept on trudging toward the forest. It was hard going, for the pathway between the paddies twisted irregularly. After a while I came to a point where the pathway split; and, briefly, I rested there.
‘There ought to be a signpost somewhere here,’ the brat remarked. Sure enough, a stone roughly eight inches square and up to the height of my hip was standing there. On the stone was written ‘To the left, Higakubo: to the right, Hottawara.’ Though it was dark as dark, the characters, written in red, could be clearly seen. Their red was the red of a newt’s belly.
‘Fork to the left,’ my incubus ordered. Away to the left the forest seemed to be casting down upon our heads dark shadows fallen from high above the sky. So I hesitated. ‘Needn’t be shy,’ the brat remarked. Resigned, I started off again towards the forest. As I plodded along the path and came close to the forest, wondering how this thing, this mere blind brat, could know so much, the voice on my back observed ‘Being blind is certainly inconvenient.’
‘That’s why I’m carrying you on my back; so that you’ll be all right.’
‘I ought, I know, to be grateful that you carry me; but people tend to slight me. Which is bad. Even my parent slight me. Which is very bad.’
I felt I’d had about enough. So I hurried on thinking I would get to the forest quickly and throw my hump away.
‘Go on a little more, and then you’ll see. It was just such an evening,’ said the voice as though to itself.
‘What was?’ I asked in tones that betrayed the feeling that something had only just failed to strike home.
‘What was? But you know well enough,’ the child answered scornfully. And then I began to feel that I had some idea of what it was all about. I was still quite clear-headed; but I did begin to have a vague feeling that, yes, it was just such an evening. And I felt, as the child had said, that if I trudged a little further I would indeed understand yet more. I felt that I simply must ease my mind by getting rid of this burden on my back before I discovered what the whole thing was about. For to understand would be disastrous. I quickened my pace, and hurried along faster and yet faster.
Rain had started some time back. The path grew darker and darker. I moved as though delirious. The only thing of which I felt quite certain was that a small brat clung to my back and the brat was shining like a mirror; like a mirror that revealed my past, my present and my future, no smallest fact unblazoned. Besides, the brat was my very own child. And blind. I couldn’t stand it any longer.
‘Here it is, here it is, just at the root of that cedar tree.’
The brat’s voice rang distinctly through the rain. I stopped before I knew what I was doing. I was deep in the forest and had not known it. A black object perhaps two yards beyond me seemed indeed to be a cedar tree. Just as the brat had said.
‘Father it was at the cedar’s root, wasn’t it?’
‘Yes,’ I replied in spite of myself, ‘it was.’
‘I think in the fifth year of Bunka?’
Now that he mentioned it, it seemed to me that it had indeed been in the fifth year of Bunka.
‘It was exactly one hundred years ago that you murdered me.’
As soon as I heard these words, the realization burst upon me that I had killed blind man, at the root of this cedar tree, on just so dark a night, in the fifth year of Bunka, one hundred years ago. And at that moment, when I knew that I had murdered, the child on my back became as heavy as a god of stone.