It has been a number of years since your editor James first made contact with my crewmate Miho. We had been serving together aboard the Nisshin Maru during the summer it had encountered the Ningen, and when something of our experience resurfaced on the 2Channel forums, I knew at once whose flapping mouth was responsible. Yet our project leader, Captain Tadatoshi, surprised us by dismissing Miho’s treachery out of hand. Nothing is news for very long on the internet. Her story would be lost like the sound of a raindrop in a thunderstorm. It would go no further than if she had announced the existence of the Ningen in the middle of a supermarket.
Your man James worked fast. He emailed Miho with a list of questions, only for her to react with the inelegant panic of a little animal that is for once exposed to the open air, with a purely predatory world looming around it. I knew what was coming.
“So you’ve given him my email address?”
“But Jiro, you… you… are the Ningen.”
I am not the Ningen. Yet any account of this creature which does not feature myself would be like a history of Dr. Watson which fails to mention Sherlock Holmes.
I received a tirade of questions. James was like a man who is inquiring about an item of furniture. Would I be so kind as to supply the Ningen’s length, breadth, width, colour, texture, weight and age? I politely requested that our correspondence be terminated.
What led me to change my mind years later was a conversation with my wife, in which the journalist popped up in passing and we both realised that neither of us had heard of the website which he worked for. I spent half an hour on the internet searching for the Tychy website, to eventually arrive at a forlorn little spot. It must have a smaller circulation than the photocopied “newsletters” which are laboriously stapled together every month aboard the Nisshin Maru, informing the crew about the latest birthdays and revealing the “crewmate of the month.” You could publish your most embarrassing secret on Tychy and it might as well be buried at the bottom of the sea.
To my story: In 2006, I was working as a medical consultant aboard the Nisshin Maru. By then I had devoted over eight years of my life to Dr. Tadatoshi and I was in a serious relationship with Haruka, one of his senior veterinary technicians.
The Nisshin Maru had been two days in the Southern Ocean when our harpoon vessel surprised a pod of minke whales and their calf, floating in the water as sleek and shiny as fresh livers. They were each bopped on the head and their carcasses were retrieved to be jumbled up shapelessly on the boat’s deck, in a device rather like a letter rack. We took delivery of them at the Nisshin Maru an hour before dinner, which caused the most terrible inconvenience for everybody. The chef was furious. By the time that we sat down to dinner, the soup was less warm than the carcasses which we had been inspecting.
Our job aboard the Nisshin Maru is to monitor the factors which influence mortality rates amongst Antarctic cetaceans. The three whales were clear of cancer, but the bull was suffering from diabetes, rendering him a particularly valuable specimen and one which I was impatient to install in my lab. I had made something of a name for myself during the last conference season with a paper on the prevalence of diabetes amongst minke whales.
Yet when I sat down to dinner, my prize diabetic whale dived out of my thoughts in an instant. Haruka was absent from my side. She finally arrived with the second officer Shigeyoshi, and to my horror it seemed that they were expecting to sit together. The pair beamed serenely with suddenly identical smiles, defying the table to comment.
Room had to be made for Haruka and everybody was obliged to surrender their seats and shuffle along. The glances exchanged around the table would occasionally catch the light, like the flashes of rapiers. Everybody looked very scared and fiercely jolly. I was now next to the captain’s wife, a shrill old bat who affected not to understand why Haruka had changed seats, and kept inquiring at great volume.
I was turning slowly to stone, nodding carefully at her indignant questions, raising my wine glass stiffly to my lips every second moment even though it was now completely empty, my skin hardening and thickening under the humiliation. Far, far away, my mind paddled furiously like a tiny deranged shrimp in some remote sea cavern.
I had to get out of that room. I lunged for more wine and then changed my mind and pushed the bottle further out of reach. My girlfriend – I mean, Haruka – shot me a synthetic-sympathetic smile. I could sense that she was watching me keenly, like a mother discreetly checking up on the infant son whom she has sent off to play with the other children.
The dinner broke up, with audible groans of relief, when Haruka announced that she needed to return to her laboratory. As she left, Shigeyoshi gave me a look which seemed to declare that he could have kissed her, but that he chose not to out of respect for my feelings.
Haruka was waiting for me at the lab. It was a little like a trap: she had marshalled and rehearsed every stage of what she was going to say, whereas I was forced to think on my feet. It was like being surprised by a boss who has spent all weekend on the golf course deciding upon the best way of telling you that you’re fired. For all of her forethought, the moment found Haruka still, like myself, in evening dress. She seemed to have only realised that she was wearing her ballgown when preparing for her first incisions. She was standing before a chunk of whale the size of a small tube carriage, removing her earrings and not knowing where to put them.
The preliminary pre-dinner X-ray had picked up a bundle of tapeworms within the whale’s intestine, and Haruka was required to retrieve the creatures and weigh them. Yes, my assistance would be of great help.
We carved a rudimentary doorway into the meat with chainsaws and then eased ourselves in to get at the intestines. The interior of the whale was rich and soft and velvety. I might have been invited to tête-à-tête with Marie Antoinette within her most opulent private chamber.
“I thought you’d be okay,” Haruka reasoned, sliding on the blubber in her Wellington boots. “You don’t mind do you?” It sounded as if she had just borrowed my car for an hour.
I was almost speechless with awe. A long hushed drumroll seemed to have commenced inside my skull, an aimless suspense with no prospect of an end. “I thought we were happy.”
“I need a man who can make me happy. You’d lost interest in learning how to.”
She had said this mildly, with no trace of rebuke. My voice shaking at the injustice, I began to shed my accusations, as if laying out a clever hand of cards. She was the one who never liked to kiss, because she just didn’t do it. She was the one who lay there insensibly when I tried to make love to her. She was the one who insisted upon darkness because she didn’t want me to see her naked. But dismayed, I realised that this conversation could have been only useful months ago.
We began to pound on the sides of the intestine, to drive the tapeworms towards the anus where they could be collected in a basket. “And you can satisfy yourself without a woman,” Haruka reminded me.
Perhaps she knew about my DVDs. Whenever she is away on one of the harpoon vessels, I bolt myself inside my cabin with an animation from my rucksack. I was once embarrassed about my needs, but you cannot bind a grown man for long with fussy teenaged scruples. A panting little girl in school uniform is attacked by huge purple tentacles, questing all around her body and into every orifice. She weeps with terror as they probe further. I become unsheathed like a gleaming sword. I am pure electricity, shooting with a zillion sparks.
“I am sorry,” Haruka announced, sadly but firmly. And then she was preoccupied in the strings of worm that were unwinding at her feet.
I wanted to do something theatrical and desperate. Shigeyoshi and I would come to blows at the captain’s table. The ship would feel sorry for me; Shigeyoshi would skulk away wretchedly, exposed as somebody who had polluted the world and ruined everything with his existence. But the next morning Shigeyoshi had sailed away on his harpoon boat and Haruka was too busy in the lab to spend any more time reflecting upon the failure of our relationship. Slowly but remorselessly, like a glacier, life was moving on.
Perhaps you are squealing “too much information!” I apologise for providing what must seem like a dozen prefaces, but they are necessary for understanding how the Ningen appeared in the form that it did. This I will recount in my next email.