Welcome to Akishina!

Excerpt from Earthlings by Sayaka Murata

Photo by Jack Anstey on Unsplash

This is an excerpt from the book Earthlings by Sayaka Murata, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori.

Uncle Teruyoshi was waiting at the ticket gate when we arrived at Nagano Station.

“Thank you for going to the trouble of coming out to meet us,” I said.

His hair was now completely white, and for a moment I didn’t recognize him. The figure waving to me and calling out “Natsuki!” looked more like my grandfather than the uncle I’d known twenty-three years before.

“I’ve heard all about Akishina from Natsuki. Being able to actually go there is like a dream come true! Thank you so much.”

“Oh, the pleasure is all mine. These days it’s what you call a critically depopulated village, with lots of empty houses. It’s a bit bleak, really. Grandpa will be happy that you youngsters have come all this way to pay him a visit.”

Uncle Teruyoshi looked smaller than I remembered. I’d probably also grown a bit since elementary school, but I didn’t think that was the only reason.

“Shall we go and have lunch somewhere? Once we get to Akishina, there’s no stores or eateries or anything, so it’s best to do some shopping for food before we go.”

“Thank you, but we already brought pretty much everything we need with us,” I said, showing him the big bag I was carrying over my shoulder.

“You haven’t changed at all, Natsuki. You always were well prepared,” he said with a smile.

“Do you mind if I go to the bathroom before we set off?” my husband asked.

As he ran off to find the bathroom, Uncle Teruyoshi said, it’s quite a bit cooler here than in Tokyo, isn’t it? You can wait inside the car if you like.”

“No, I’m fine. I also anticipated that and brought a coat with me.”

“You did? I guess you know the Akishina weather well, too, Natsuki,” he said, the corners of his eyes crinkling. “I told Yuu that you were coming. He himself said it would be better if he stayed somewhere else, but it’s not easy at such short notice.”

“I’m sorry to have caused such a fuss.”

“No, it’s fine. That house had been lying empty ever since Granny died and was a bit desolate. There had been talk of demolishing it since it’s so run-down, so I was happy when Yuu said he wanted to stay there. It somehow felt a bit like the old days. The two of you always did love that house, didn’t you?” Uncle murmured, narrowing his eyes as he reeled in the memories. Then he looked down. “I felt really bad about what happened back then, you know.”

I looked at him in surprise.

“You were both just children and didn’t know any better. And all of us adults totally overreacted. We tried to put a lid on it to cover it up. Adults are so violent and overbearing, they really are.”

“Not at all…well now that I’ve grown up I can understand the circumstances better. You didn’t do anything wrong, Uncle Teruyoshi.”

“Does your husband know about what happened? Sorry if I’m sticking my nose in where it’s not wanted.”

“You don’t need to worry about him,” I said flatly.

He looked a little relieved and smiled. “You married well, didn’t you?”

“Are you okay? You don’t look too good,” I said to my husband.

“I’ll be okay,” he groaned, holding a handkerchief over his mouth.

Uncle Teruyoshi drove skillfully around the hairpin bends. The mountain road was steeper and narrower than I remembered, with a cliff dropping off to one side, and there weren’t any guard rails. Every time we went around a curve, our bottoms slid over the back seat and squashed our bodies against each other.

“It’s tough for people who aren’t used to it. Shall I stop somewhere for a rest?”

“No, I’m okay.”

“Really? If you can cope, then it’s definitely better to get it over and done with. These bends are really hard to deal with when you don’t know them. Are you doing okay, Natsuki?”

“Yes, I’m fine,” I said bravely, although actually I was feeling quite uneasy about falling off the edge. I didn’t want Uncle to think I’d gone soft living in the metropolis and had forgotten how wild the Akishina mountains were.

“You haven’t changed at all, have you, Natsuki?” Uncle said, looking pleased.

The tensions of meeting after such a long time was beginning to dissipate, and I could feel the beloved uncle who had always spoiled me as a kid coming through.

“Just three more bends to go, and we’ll be there. Hold on just a bit longer!”

Leaves scratched against the window. I had the feeling that the greenery was pressing in on us with a greater intensity than it had long ago. I was up against the window gazing at the trees like I’d done as a child. We climbed up and up the unfamiliar winding tunnel of green until my ears started popping painfully, then suddenly the vista opened out before us.

“We’re here! Natsuki and Tomoya, welcome to Akishina!” he announced, bringing tears to my eyes.

And there, just beyond the familiar small red bridge, was the Akishina that I had replayed in my mind time and time again over the years.

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

Earthlings – Summary

Here is the book summary from Goodreads:

Natsuki isn’t like the other girls. She has a wand and a transformation mirror. She might be a witch, or an alien from another planet. Together with her cousin Yuu, Natsuki spends her summers in the wild mountains of Nagano, dreaming of other worlds. When a terrible sequence of events threatens to part the two children forever, they make a promise: survive, no matter what.

Now Natsuki is grown. She lives a quiet life with her asexual husband, surviving as best she can by pretending to be normal. But the demands of Natsuki’s family are increasing, her friends wonder why she’s still not pregnant, and dark shadows from Natsuki’s childhood are pursuing her. Fleeing the suburbs for the mountains of her childhood, Natsuki prepares herself with a reunion with Yuu. Will he still remember their promise? And will he help her keep it?

Copyright © 2018 by Sayaka Murata.

Translated by: Ginny Tapley Takemori

More details here on Goodreads and on Storygraph.

Leave a Reply