Written by Murakami Haruki
Translated by Gabriel Rasa
Every once in a while, bad things seem to happen one after another.
That’s just a cliché. But when a few bad things do start happening, that gets kind of hard to swallow. You miss the girl you were supposed to meet up with, you lose a button on your jacket, you run into someone on the train that you really didn’t want to see, your tooth starts to hurt, it starts to rain, and when you get into a taxicab, there’s been an accident that made traffic grind to a halt—that sort of thing. Give me a guy who says “sometimes, bad things just happen” at a time like that and I guarantee you I’d knock his block off.
I bet you’re that guy.
After all, there’s a reason why it’s a cliché.
That’s why it’s difficult to get along with other people. Sometimes I think that if I could become a doormat and spend my whole life lying down, how wonderful that must be. But I suppose even in the world of doormats they have their own woes and clichés. Oh well, I guess one’s as good as the other then.
In any case, there I was, trapped in a taxicab on a backed-up overpass. The autumn rain made a pattering sound on the roof. The ticking of the meter rising pierced my brain like a pop gun being fired.
To make matters worse, I’d gone three days without smoking. I tried to think happy thoughts, but not a single thing came to mind. With nothing else to do, I spent a while contemplating the order in which I could help the girl out of her clothes. First her glasses, then her wristwatch, her bracelet, and then…
“Hey, mister,” the cab driver said suddenly. I had finally gotten to the first button on the girl’s blouse. “Do you believe in vampires?”
“Vampires?” Dumbfounded, I scrutinized at the driver’s face in the rearview mirror. The cabbie stared right back at me.
“Yeah. Do you think they exist?”
“You don’t mean metaphorical vampires, or vampire bats, or the nosferatu of science fiction—you mean ‘real’ vampires?”
“Of course,” the cabbie replied, as the car moved forward a whopping fifty centimeters.
“I don’t know,” I said.
“It’s not a question of knowing—do you believe in vampires or don’t you, which is it?”
“I don’t,” I said.
“You don’t believe in vampires, hmm.”
“No, I don’t.”
I took a cigarette from my pocket and brought it to my mouth, twirling it in my lips without lighting it.
“What about ghosts? Do you believe in them?”
“I’ve got a hunch they might.”
“I don’t want your hunch, I just wanted a yes or no answer.”
“Yes,” I answered—no way around it now. “I believe in ghosts.”
“You believe in ghosts, hmm.”
“But you don’t believe in vampires?”
“But what’s the difference between vampires and ghosts?”
“I suppose because ghosts are the antithesis of the body.” I have a knack for spouting stuff like that without having to think about it.
“Vampires, however, are the epitome of it.”
“So what you’re saying is, you accept antitheses, but not epitomes.”
“Because if you start believing in some crazy things, pretty soon you don’t know where to stop.”
“You’re pretty smart, aren’t you mister?”
“Hahaha, it’s because I spent seven years in college.”
As the driver watched the line of cars meandering forward I held the slender cigarette in my lips and flicked at my lighter. The smell of the spark filled the car interior.
“But say there are vampires, what then?”
“Then I guess I was wrong.”
“Is that so bad?”
“It’s terrible. You should have more conviction in your beliefs. If you believe there’s a mountain, then there’s a mountain; if you believe there isn’t a mountain, then there isn’t.”
It sounded like some old song by that band Donovan.
“So that’s the issue?”
“That’s the issue.”
With the unlit cigarette in my mouth, I took a deep breath. “Well what about you? Do you believe in vampires?”
“ ‘Why.’ Because I do.”
“Can you produce any actual proof?”
“My conviction has nothing to do with proof.”
“If you say so.”
I gave up and returned to the buttons on the girl’s blouse. One, two, three…
“But I can prove it,” said the cab driver.
“Because I’m a vampire.”
There was silence for a while. The car had only moved about five meters in all the time we’d been talking. The rain was still pattering on the roof. The meter had passed 1500 yen.
“I’m sorry, but could I borrow a light?” I asked.
I lit my cigarette from the white Bic lighter that the cabbie held out, sucking the first nicotine in three days into my lungs.
“Traffic sure is awful, isn’t it,” said the cabbie.
“Indeed,” I said. “But about vampires…”
“You’re really a vampire?”
“That’s right. I know, you think I’m lying.”
“Okay… well, how long have you been a vampire?”
“About nine years now, I think. To be precise, since the year of the Munich Olympics.”
“Do you mind if I ask you a question?”
“Sure, go ahead.”
“Why are you a cab driver?”
“Well I don’t want people to think ‘vampire’ when they see me. It’s no good to go around wearing a cape, riding in a stagecoach, living in a castle, etc. So I pay my taxes properly, I even have my license. I go to clubs, I play pachinko. Is that weird?”
“No, not particularly. But I don’t quite see what you’re getting at.”
“You don’t believe me, do you mister?”
“I told you I’m a vampire, but you don’t believe me.”
“Of course I believe you,” I said hastily. “If you believe there’s a mountain, then there’s a mountain.”
“Then we’re all good.”
“So do you drink blood sometimes?”
“Well, I am a vampire.”
“I suppose some blood tastes better than others.”
“Yes. Blood from someone like you is awful. You smoke too much.”
“For a while there I was trying to quit, but I couldn’t do it.”
“The best blood is from girls. It’s just nicer for some reason.”
“I can understand that. By the way, if you were to name an actress, who do you think would taste good?”
“Kayako Kishimoto, she seems like she’d taste good. Kimie Shingyoji would be nice too. Not Kaori Momoi though, she’s not my type. You get the idea.”
“Must be nice, getting to drink their blood.”
We parted ways fifteen minutes later. I opened the door to my room and flipped the lights on, took a beer from the fridge and drank it. And then the girl that I hadn’t been able to see earlier called. While I listened to her story, it turned out that there was a perfectly good explanation for why we’d failed to meet up. These things just happen sometimes.
“Hey by the way, it’d probably be best if you didn’t ride in any black taxis with Nerima plates for a while.”
“Why?” she asked.
“Because the driver is a vampire.”
“And you’re worried for me?”
“Black with Nerima plates?”