I was thirty-seven then, strapped in my seat as the huge 747 plunged through dense cloud cover on approach to the Hamburg airport. Cold November rains drenched the earth and lent everything the gloomy air of a Flemish landscape: the ground crew ran gear, a flag atop a squat airport building, a BMW billboard. So Germany again.
once the plane was on the ground soft music began to flow from the ceiling speakers: a sweet orchestral cover version of the Beatles’ ” Norwegian Wood”. The melody never failed to send a shudder through me, but this time it hit me harder than ever.
I bent forward in my seat, face in hands to keep my skull from splitting open. Before long one of the German stewardesses approached and asked in English if I was sick. “No,” I said, just dizzy”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure. Thanks.”
She smiled and left, and the music changed to a Billy Joel tune. I straightened up and looked out the plane window at the dark clouds hanging over the North Sea, thinking of what I had lost in the course of my life: times gone forever, friends who had died or disappeared, feelings I would never know again.
The plane reached the gate. People began unlatching their seatbelts and pulling baggage from the storage bins, and all the while I was in the meadow. I could smell the grass, feel the wind on my face, hear the cries of the birds. Autumn 1969,and soon I wou1d be twenty.
True, given time enough, I can bring back her face. I start joining image-her tiny, cold hand; her straight, black hair so smooth and cool to the touch; a soft, rounded earlobe and the microscopic mole just beneath it; the camels hair coat she wore in the winter; her habit of looking straight into your eyes when asking a question; the slight trembling that would come to her voice now and then (as if she were speaking on a windy hilltop)-and suddenly her face is there, always in profile at first, because Naoko and I were always out waking together, side by side. Then she turns to me, and smiles, and tilts her head just a bit, and begins to speak, and she looks into my eyes as if trying to catch the image of a minnow that has darted across the pool of a m1impid spring.
I do need that time, though for Naoko’s face to appear. And as the years have passed, the time has grown longer. The sad truth is that what I could recall in five seconds all too soon needed ten, then thirty, then a full minute――like shadows lengthening at dusk. Someday, I suppose, the shadows will be swallowed up in darkness. There is no way around it: my memory is growing ever more distant from the spot where Naoko used to stand-ever more distant from the spot where my old self used to stand. And nothing but scenery, that view of the meadow in October, returns again and again to me 1ike a symbolic scene in a movie. Each time it appears, it delivers a kick to some part of my mind. “Wale up,” it says. “I’m still here! Wake up and think about it. Think about why I’m still here.” The kicking never hurt me. There’s no pain at all. Just a hollow sound that echoes with each kick. And even that is bound to fade one day. At the Hamburg airport, though, the kicks were longer and harder than usual which is why I am writing this book: To think. To understand! It just happens to be the way I’m made. I have to write things down to feel I fully comprehend them.