Nebraska Center for Writers

from THE 30-KILOMETER WALK
by Court Merrigan

THAT I PLANNED TO OFF MYSELF did not mean an end to details. I discovered this during the bureaucratic hoopla that ensued when I took a teaching job at a high school in Japan. Immigration and tax authorities suddenly took an intimate interest in my existence. I did my best to fish for amusement from the numberless boxes, lines, and blanks, which for a time constituted the whole of my grip on the slippery eel of life.
All lands seem perfect from a plane’s porthole, but Japan managed to be slightly more so: wreathed in ragged patches of mist, creased with a harmony of uneven hillocks. The first Japanese I saw was enthusiastically pounding on a new section of concrete runway, sporting billowing purple pantaloons, camel-toed boots, and a canary-yellow hard hat. The head English teacher from the high school, a Mr. Takiyashi, took me to a hotel as the cityglow overtook twilight. Pulsating Tokyo was a spiked steel-and-concrete supernova, a web of warrens knotted as a labyrinth. I spent a singular night in a closet-sized fifty-first story room, sleeplessly surveying the nictating horizon.
In the morning, we left Tokyo by bullet train, our knees jarring together at each jolt of the tracks. My host’s English made it hard to believe he held a Master’s Degree in English Rhetoric, with his talk of how there are not many equipments in your apartment, and I will take you to that one, your apartment place. I was greedy for the gulps of novelty blurring past the window, but Mr. Takiyashi was so nervously intent on chat that politeness dictated smalltalk. We debarked at an orderly train station, loudspeakers emitting high-pitched voices—warning, cajoling, offering, begging—impossible to say. We went through a city, dwarfish and drab after all-encompassing Tokyo, bundles of wires blotting out whole sections of sky above impeccably dressed pedestrians striding self-importantly, onto an elevated expressway that followed the course of a cemented river, up into the filmy countryside.
The 30-Kilometer walk is beginning to the new year for in-entering students, Mr. Takiyashi said. They go walking from high school through all villages everywhere asleep. At night because the day is hot. Now is the time of summer in Japan. Even we walk to the shop we will sweat. Will you join us?
Of course, I said. When?
Tonight, he said. At 10 pm.
We pulled up at a gray apartment block. As we hauled my luggage five stories up, Mr. Takiyashi said, Any students sick in any ways must come to opening ceremony. But they do not go walking, because they maybe don’t finish. This is dangerous. Are you okay to take part in the walking?
I am, I said. Absolutely.

Reprinted with permission
from Blackbird
Copyright © 2007
by Court Merrigan


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