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A Kangaroo Sort of Day

Written by Murakami Haruki

Translated by Gabriel Rasa

 

There were four kangaroos in the pen—one male, two females, and one newborn baby.

There was nobody in front of the pen except me and my girlfriend. This wasn’t an especially popular zoo to start with, and it was a Monday morning to boot. The number of animals far exceeded the number of people come to ogle them.

Our goal, of course, was the baby kangaroo. We couldn’t think of anything else that we ought to see while we were there.

We’d read about the baby kangaroo’s birth in the metro section of the newspaper a month or so ago. Ever since then, we had spent the month waiting for a suitable morning to go baby-kangaroo viewing. But the perfect morning turned out to be hard to come by. One morning it was raining. The next morning it was (unsurprisingly) still raining. The morning after that the ground was all soggy and muddy, and two days that followed were bitterly windy. One morning my girlfriend woke up with a toothache, another morning I had to go to the city office.

Between one thing and another, an entire month went by just like that, gone before you knew it. And I have no memory whatsoever of what the heck I did during that month. I have the vague impression that I did a lot of things, but also the impression that I did nothing at all. I didn’t even notice that a month had passed until the guy collecting newspaper subscriptions came round again.

But in any case, the morning for kangaroo-watching eventually arrived. We woke up at 6 AM, opened the window curtains, and knew in a heartbeat that it was, indeed, a kangaroo sort of day. We washed up, fed ourselves, fed the cat, did the laundry, put on our sunhats, and were off.

“Hey, do you think the baby kangaroo is still alive?” my girlfriend asked once we were on the train.

“I assume so. I haven’t seen any articles saying that it died.”

“Maybe it got sick and was sent off to a hospital somewhere.”

“There would have been an article about it, in that case.”

“Maybe she’s developed some kind of neurosis and stays holed up out of sight.”

“Who, the baby?”

“Don’t be silly. The mother. Don’t you think she might have taken her baby and hidden away in some dark corner in the back?”

The ability of women to take into consideration all possible permutations of reality will never cease to amaze me.

“It’s just,” she continued, “that I can’t shake the feeling that if we let this chance slip by, then I’ll never get to see a baby kangaroo ever again.”

“That bad, huh?”

“Well have you ever seen a baby kangaroo before this?”

“Nope, can’t say I have.”

“And are you confident that you’ll get the chance to see one from here on out?”

“Huh. I don’t know.”

“Well, that’s why I’m worried.”

“But you know,” I countered. “What you say is true, but it’s not like I’ve ever seen a giraffe giving birth, or a whale swimming in the sea. Why, then, is a baby kangaroo the one of these that bothers you?”

“Because it’s a baby kangaroo,” she said, as if that settled the matter.

I gave up and turned to skim my newspaper. I have never yet won an argument with this girl, not even once.

 

The baby kangaroo was, of course, still alive. He (or perhaps she) was now a good deal larger than the picture in the paper had shown, and was galloping enthusiastically around the pen. By this point, it would have been more correct to call it a miniature kangaroo, rather than a baby. My girlfriend was somewhat disappointed with this development.

“It doesn’t look like a baby anymore.”

It looks enough like a baby to me, I tried to console her.

“We should have come sooner.”

I wandered off as far as the snack vendor to buy a pair of chocolate ice creams, and when I came back she was leaning motionlessly against fence, gazing at the kangaroos.

“It’s not a baby anymore,” she repeated.

“Oh?” said I, passing her one of the ice creams.

“Because if it were a baby, then it should be in its mother’s pouch.”

I nodded absently and licked my ice cream.

“But it’s not.”

We put that issue aside for a moment to look for the mama kangaroo. The daddy kangaroo was easily spotted, as he was both the biggest and the quietest. He was staring intently at the green shoots in the feed box, with the expression of a composer whose inspiration has dried up and gone. Which left the two females, but both of them had identical bodies, were the same color, and wore the same expression on both of their faces. It wouldn’t have been surprising for either one of them to be the mother.

“But one of them is the mother, and one of them isn’t,” I said.

“Right.”

“Okay, but how on earth can you tell which is which?”

“I don’t know,” she said.

Unconcerned by this fact, the baby kangaroo continued to run circles round the pen, pausing here and there—for no reason I could discern—to dig holes with its front legs. He/she seemed like a creature utterly impervious to boredom. The dad meandered around the perimeter, nibbled on a bit of green grass, dug a hole in the dirt, poked his head over to see what the two females were up to, lay down on the ground, then promptly bolted upright again and took off running.

“Why do kangaroos need to run so quickly?” she asked.

“So they can escape from predators.”

“Predators? What kind of predators?”

“Humans,” I said. “Humans kill kangaroos with boomerangs and eat their meat.”

“Why are baby kangaroos carried in the mother’s pouch?”

“So they can escape together. The young ones can’t run that fast.”

“So they’re protected?”

“Yes,” I say. “The children are protected.”

“How long to they have to be protected?”

I should have gotten a picture book about animals and read up on everything that is to know about kangaroos. I’d known from the start that it would come to this.

“A month or two, thereabouts.”

“Well then, that baby is only a month old,” she said, pointing at the baby kangaroo. “It should still be in its mother’s pouch.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Probably.”

“Hey, don’t you think it’d be pretty awesome to ride in a pouch?”

“I suppose so.”

“Do you think Doraemon’s magic pocket is part of some subliminal desire to return to the womb?”

“Could be, I suppose.”

“I’m positive it is.”

The sun reached its peak. I could hear kids shouting from the pool next door. A few crisp summer clouds floated across the sky.

“Want something to eat?” I asked her.

“A hotdog,” she said. “And a coke.”

At the hotdog stand, a young college student working a parttime gig was wedged in with a huge radio cassette player. Stevie Wonder and Billy Joel regaled me with songs until the hotdogs were done cooking.

When I returned to the kangaroo pen, my girlfriend pointed at one of the kangaroos. “Look there!”

Sure enough, the baby kangaroo had burrowed into its mother’s pouch. The sack on her stomach had swelled hugely, with only a pair of small, pointy ears and the tip of its tail poking out from the top.

“Wouldn’t that be really heavy?” she asked.

“Kangaroos are very strong.”

“Really?”

“That’s how they’ve managed to survive this long.”

The mother, even standing in a ray of bright sunshine, hadn’t broken a sweat. She had the air of a woman who, having finished her afternoon shopping, had now popped into the coffeeshop for a quick cup.

“So now it’s protected?”

“Yep.”

“I wonder if it went to sleep.”

“Probably.”

 

We ate our hotdogs, drank our cola, and then said goodbye to the kangaroo pen. Even as we were leaving, the papa kangaroo was still searching for mysterious signals in the feed box. The mama and baby, one unit now, were resting, while the mystery female had resumed leaping about the pen as though testing the condition of her tail.

It felt like the day was going to be hotter than we’d had in a while.

“Hey, want to go for a beer or something?” my girlfriend asked.

“Sure,” I said.