..... [NEXUS] [PLEXUS]
It was a winter's day, several years ago. An elderly man, tall and solid-shouldered, turned up at my clinic in Tsuchiura, a town about an hour away from Tokyo by train. His face was a good deal larger than the average person's, with a forehead deeply lined with dark creases, thick, purplish lips, and a muddy, yellowish tinge to the eyeballs: the kind of face that at first glance set him apart from most people.I got him to strip to the waist. His whole back was covered with a tattoo -- a dragon-and-peony design, though the colors had faded with the years, leaving the dragon's scales pale, like stylized clouds, and its whiskers almost at vanishing point. Even so, the design was striking and, in its way, oddly attractive. Inside the petals of the peony stood a woman. The dragon was about to swallow up the peony, and the woman with it. Her eyes were half-closed and her palms joined in prayer but an enigmatic smile played around her lips.I would have liked to photograph it if possible, but I'd never seen the man before in my life, and something about his air of absolute assurance made me hesitate, so in the end I never got around to making the suggestion.Examining his abdomen, I found the liver enlarged. It was obvious that there was fluid collected in the abdominal cavity. As I waited for him to get up from the examining table, I said,"I'll give you an introduction to a general hospital; I think you'd better get treated there. "But he smiled slightly and said,'I'm seventy-three, doctor. I've done pretty much as I pleased all my life, and I don 't expect to be cured at this stage. "The inside of his mouth was black with nicotine, so that it was like peering into a small cave. His voice was low and hoarse."I was a bit wild when I was young, I'm afraid, and now my body refuses to do as I say any more. So I decided to hand the gambling place over to one of my younger men and retire here to the country. You know the massage woman who lives below the embankment? I had her give me a rubdown two or three times; quite a hand at it, she is. She was the one who recommended me to come to you."I see."I'm not going to get better whoever treats me, am I?"Did they tell you that at some hospital or other?"I can tell myself. To be honest, I didn't come here with any high hopes. I just thought maybe you could give me a shot sometimes when it hurt. Now, don't worry -- I'm not asking for drugs or anything. I expect it's because of the diabetes, but my legs hurt like hell at times. I thought perhaps you'd take a look at me then, and make things a bit easier."Since he seemed unwilling to accept any fuller treatment, I decided to do what I could to help. I had my own reasons, though, for agreeing to this arrangement. I see dozens of different people every day in the course of my work, but I'd never come across anyone like this man before. There was something intriguing about him. And privately I decided to get him to tell me all about himself someday.He began to come to my clinic twice a week. Fortunately, the abdominal fluid didn't increase as much as I'd thought it might, and the pain in his legs, too, continued for a while to give him little real discomfort. Then, one day about a month later he asked me if I'd care to go and see him at his place when I had the time."It s just a shack, I'm afraid," he said, "but I can manage a cup of tea and a warm place to tuck your feet in. I imagine you've had a normal, decent sort of life so it might be interesting for once to hear about something a bit different."Early the next evening, in a cold, driving rain, I went to visit the man at his house. He was waiting for me, with a pile of mandarin oranges in a bowl on the small table covering the sunken hearth, ready for his guest. Occasionally, the faint sound of someone playing a shamisen was audible through the drumming of the rain."It s the girl amusing herself, " he explained.As to whether it was his daughter though, or how old she was, he told me nothing. That evening, I listened to him for about three hours. Every thirty minutes or so he seemed to get tired, and we would take a break for a cup of tea; politely, he would invite me to take one of the mandarins, then peel one carefully for himself and eat it before proceeding in his hoarse voice with the next short section of his tale.In this way I came to visit him, with a tape recorder at least once ewery three days. And by the time I had more or less heard him out, the cold winter had slipped away and spring breezes were blowing across the land.What follows is a part of his story as he told it to me. Now I come to set it down, I find myself wishing that I had questioned him more closely about all kinds of things; but he is gone, and it is too late now.