The Death of Noguchi
Once again my life turns upside-down, as if the coloured pieces of glass in a kaleidoscope suddenly make up a new bizarre pattern.
On the 17th August my former sponsor Kauzo Noguchi collapsed on the street and was taken by ambulance to the university hospital of Tokyo.
He had had a heavy stroke and thus had to get an immediate operation. A couple of days later he was operated on again but still without any result.
This once almost almighty man was in a coma in the centre of the sunbathed and indifferent Tokyo. Every now and then he opened his blind eyes. That was it.
When I was in fifth grade I read in a schoolbook that the ancient Egyptians believed that the deceased had a long and dangerous way to the land of the dead. As a child I didn’t understand it: what kind of dangers are there when you are already dead?
Sitting by Noguchi’s hospital bed I started to believe in this strenuous path. The black man, who’s arrival in my life was predicted by my fellow-patient Manana at the nerve hospital, was floating between the heavens and the underworld without finding his way to the land of shadows.
His secretary found me surprisingly quick.
“I’m sorry for Mr. Noguchi’s strong illness. But… is it appropriate if I visit him in the hospital?” I asked the secretary. ”Maybe Mr. Noguchi’s relatives will object.”
“It was his wife that asked me to call,” the secretary answered.
Never, even not when I entered the wrestling ring, had I felt more Japanese than while sitting next to Noguchi’s death bed. I tried not to talk to his lifeless physical corpse. I was only looking at his face in the beginning and at the end of each visit. The rest of the time my sight was turned somewhere inside myself. I didn’t have to close my eyes. I didn’t see anything. Once in a while I saw myself from the outside: a heavy, immovable figure in kimono, the bull’s neck below the short, blond hair, the hands on the knees, legs in hakama-trousers.
You have written to me, Iraida, that you will be re-born like Audrey Hepburn or some other American actress. But I – I will be re-born Japanese.
That I ended in this country was predetermined. It was no coincidence. It was my karma.
The night before the 26 August my benefactor found his way to the end. He died without regaining his consciousness so peacefully that somebody at his funeral enviously whispered:
“It seemed like an angel’s death…”
In the hospital I was alone with Noguchi. At the funeral we were surrounded by people. Even though the Buddhist monks were mumbling their suttas the feeling of eternity would not appear. I couldn’t stop glancing curiously in all directions.
Among the mourners I spotted quite a few celebrities. There were some of my old acquaintances: a Mongol rikishi that I used to call Djengis Khan, the fighting yokozuana brothers – earlier Wakanohana and Takanohana. Also their famous father was there, with whom none of the brothers had spoken for years.
There was also an amazingly rich politician… what was his name again? A couple of years ago he lifted the skirt of a secretary while they were riding a car together during his election campaign. For this relatively innocent expression of seku haru – sexual harrasment – he paid with his mandate. It’s a hard time for the Japanese politician! The paparazzi’s photo was published in the newspapers as a repulsive example. But he didn’t lose his highly placed friends. Furthermore an older Casanova with a preference for young lamb meat was someone to be seen. According to the news bills a couple of years ago he had a harem of youngsters in Thailand. Why is he not wearing handcuffs?
At last it was my turn to go to the coffin.
Among the chrysanthemums I saw Noguchi’s skinny and pale face – and suddenly I was overwhelmed by a strong wave of sorrow.
Good God, it happened so fast! It was almost yesterday that I was sitting in his living room speaking Russian and as usual a little irritated with him. “Can you imagine what kind of accident has happened in Kokugikan!” he complained. “Japan’s Sumo Organisation has introduced a ban on smoking. Not even in the most expensive boxes is it allowed to smoke!All the ashtrays have been taken away, there is not a single ashtray left…” I should have liked to share your worries, I was thinking gloomily.
Now I felt most of all like doing the sign of the cross above his coffin.
My strange supporter, proud and humble at the same time. President for a multinational sauce empire. Protector of an ancient sport. A young slave who studied Russian at the Royal University of Tokyo according to his father’s will.
I was already in the queue to say goodbye to the widow, simultaneously I was secretly waving to Djengis Khan: he seemed to want to go for a beer afterwards.
Then a young man came up to me. It was Noguchi’s sister’s son.
“Demidov-san, we ask You to stop,” he said when I was expressing my ritual condolences.
“I am sorry to bother”, he dryly proceeded. ”But You have to stop.”
Then I broke the record.
“How is that – have to?” I asked angry.
“You are an heir”, the young man explained.
Maybe you can’t believe it, Iraida, but I was deadly frightened!
All of a sudden I saw myself forced to wear a black suit and play golf with wrinkled lovers of young lamb meat…
Upset I shuffled after the young man like a cow that is escorted to the butchery. Luckily the misunderstanding soon found its explanation. According to Noguchi’s will it was not the sauce empire that was transferred to me only a certain amount of money. Profane, trivial money. Thirty million yen.
(From Zinaida Lindén’s novel “Gloria mundi”, to be published at Söderströms and Gummerus publishing house in 2007).
(Illustration by Jaga Jankowska)
(translated by Lasse Kristensen)