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Excerpt

Excerpt

Kino No Tabi: Book One of the Beautiful World

written by Keiichi Sigsawa, Illustrated by Kouhaku Kuroboshi

Prologue

And then there was darkness.

There was no light. No moon, no stars. Only the sound of the wind in the trees, wafting through the darkness.

"You know . . . it's kind of like . . ." Kino trailed off. A contemplative silence followed. Or perhaps sleep.

"Kind of like what?" Hermes asked.

"I sometimes wonder if I'm really just a terrible person. Sometimes I feel like I am. Sometimes, it actually makes sense that I am. Because I can't change things; or worse --- I just tell myself I can't, so I don't. But whenever I get like that --- feeling terrible, I mean --- everything else --- the world, the people I meet --- it all becomes incredibly beautiful to me. I fall in love with it. That's why I keep traveling --- because I want to experience more. Because sometimes, I get to see some good. Maybe even do some good."

Kino paused to entertain another thought. "Still, I know if I keep on moving, I'll always see more sadness, more tragedy --- experience more sadness and tragedy."

"But if you experience it --- if you know it's tragic --- how can you be a terrible person? Terrible people don't experience other people's pain . . . do they?"

"I don't know. I only know it doesn't mean I'm going to stop traveling. I love traveling, and even though I see so much death --- even though I have to kill people sometimes --- I want to keep doing it. And . . ."

"And?"

"I can stop anytime." Kino's tone was resolute. "So I keep going . . . You see?"

"Honestly? Not really."

"Oh. Well, that's okay."

"You sure? I mean, it helps if we're of one mind about things . . ."

"How can I expect you to understand it if I don't? And I don't. Not really. I'm still confused, Hermes. And in order to find my way out of this confusion, I keep traveling." As if there were a road that led away from it.

"Ah . . ."

"I'm going to sleep. We've got a long way to go tomorrow. Good night, Hermes."

"Good night, Kino."

Thick cloth softly rustled, and then utter silence filled the darkness again.

1. Grownup Country

When I met the man who called himself Kino, I was eleven years old and still living in the village where I was born. I can honestly no longer remember what I was called then. I do remember that it was the name of a flower, and that if you changed the sound just a little bit, it became a terrible insult. The other children made fun of me a lot.

Kino was tall and very thin when I met him. He came to my village on foot. The young gate guards were not at all sure that they should let him in. They had to contact their superiors and wait for their judgment. While they waited, the guards forced him to apply a powdery, white insect repellent to his head merely to humiliate him. It didn't appear to achieve the desired effect.

I noticed him while he was being forced to wait, watched him as he entered with immense dignity, and never took my eyes off him until he was right in front of me. By then, the sun was setting, and his long shadow came all the way to my feet and then covered me.

He was wearing a type of boot that I had never seen before. He wore a black jacket and a long brown coat that was so dusty, I wondered if he'd found it in a hole in the ground. He carried a tattered backpack on his shoulder. He was thin, too. So thin, it made me hungry to look at him. His cheeks were sunken, his hair disheveled. White powder still clung to the strands.

I was taller than any of my friends, but he still had to stoop to speak to me. "Hey there, little girl. My name is Kino. I'm a traveler. What's your name?"

I thought Kino was a good name, short and easy to say. Better than some stupid flower name. I told him my name anyway.

"What a pretty name. Tell me, is there a hotel in town? If you know a place that's not too expensive and has a shower, I sure would appreciate it. I'm awfully tired."

At the time, my mother and father ran a cheap hotel. "Sounds like our place," I said.

Kino smiled happily. That was just what he wanted, he told me.

I led him to my home.

Father clearly disliked Kino on sight, but his face showed his disapproval for only a moment before he put on a strained smile. Then he rose from behind his desk to lead my new friend to his room. He did not, after all, disapprove of Kino's money.

Kino picked up his bag again, thanked me, and went up the stairs after my father.

I went to my own room. There was a banner on the wall with "Three more days" written on it in big

red letters.

The next day, I woke up around noon and washed my hair in the bedroom sink. My father and mother hadn't come to wake me up. After all, it was my final week. The banner in my room now read "Two more days."

I heard a noise at the rear of the house, and went out through the garden.

Behind my house was a big pile of scrap metal with bits of machines that had broken down years before. The village children often played around in it --- that is, until the sun went down.

Kino crouched next to the scrap heap, hammering on something. It was a wheel rim. Not the thick kind that goes on a car, but a thin one. There was a motorcycle frame lying next to Kino. I supposed the wheel belonged to it.

Kino noticed me watching. "Good morning," he said. His hair was still disheveled, but the insect powder was gone, so it shined a bit more.

"What are you doing?" I asked.

"I'm mending this motorcycle. I asked if I could buy it, but your father said it was an old piece of junk and I could have it if I wanted."

"You can fix it?"

"I can cure it." Kino laughed, adding that it would take some time because it was in pretty sorry condition.

When he had finished hammering the wheel into shape, he attached it to the motorcycle. Then he busied himself hammering on things, pulling on them, and putting little pieces together to make bigger, more complicated pieces.

I watched him for a while. Then I got hungry, and went into the house to get something for breakfast.

After breakfast, I went out to check on Kino again. He had about half the motorcycle "cured." It was standing upright now, leaning on a bent kickstand.

"It looks just like a motorcycle I used to travel with a long time ago," Kino said, turning around. He was polishing a rod of some kind.

"How long will it take?" I asked casually. "To finish curing it, I mean?"

"Mm, about another day, I think. He should be moving around soon enough."

He? "Motorcycles can move on their own?" I asked, latching onto Kino's strange choice of words.

"Well, to be completely accurate, not on his own, no. Someone has to sit on top of him, make a pact with him. Then he can move."

"What's a ‘pact'? "

Kino looked at me, and patted the motorcycle's gas tank lightly, almost stroking it. "In this case, the contract is a promise to help each other."

"Help each other how?"

"Well, I can't run nearly as fast as a motorcycle can drive," he said.

I nodded. He was sort of scrawny and probably couldn't run very fast or far.

"And motorcycles may be able to go fast, but they can't keep their balance unless someone is sitting on top of them."

"Okay." I nodded.

"So I sit on top of the motorcycle and provide balance; the motorcycle provides speed, and we can enjoy our travels together."

"So you help each other. That's a pact," I concluded.

"Exactly. So as soon as he wakes up, I'll ask him what he thinks."

"Will he tell you?"

"Of course!" he said, and winked at me.

I went back inside, made some tea, and brought a cup out to Kino. He sipped it and said it was very good. When he'd finished a little less than half the cup, he said, "We should pick a name for him. What do you think?"

"What did you call your old motorcycle?"

"Hermes."

"Sounds good to me."

"Really? Hermes it is, then." Kino smiled happily.

I believe I smiled back.

After that, Kino resumed curing the motorcycle. I sat behind him, watching for a while, then asked, "What do you do, Kino?"

"Do?" he asked, without turning around. His hands kept on working.

"You're a grownup, right?"

"Well, more of one than you are, at any rate."

"But every grownup has to do some kind of job, right?"

Kino looked a little confused, I thought. Now I understand why. "Um . . . yes, I guess so."

"Then what's your job?" I pressed.

"Hmm, I suppose you could say I'm a traveler," Kino replied. "Yes. A professional traveler."

"So your job is to go to all kinds of different places?"

"Yeah."

"Even bad places?"

"Sometimes. But most places are good, and I have a very good time."

"Well, then that's not a job," I said. Kino's hands stopped working, and he turned around to look at me. "Jobs are hard," I explained. "They're never fun. They're not supposed to be. They're just something you have to do to stay alive. If you have fun doing it, then traveling is not a job."

"Really?" he murmured, tilting his head to one side.

I thought he was laughing at me, so I tried to show him I understood how the world worked. "That's why tomorrow --- no, the day after tomorrow --- I've got to have an operation."

He looked puzzled. "What kind of operation?"

"To become a grownup. So this is my ‘final week.' "

Kino asked me what I meant. At first, I was surprised that he didn't know about the "final week." Then realized I shouldn't be. Of course he didn't know about the final week; he wasn't from around here. I decided I should explain. Even though it would take a long time, I knew he would listen.

In my village, I told Kino, everyone who's over twelve was considered a grownup. Everyone under that age was a child. Grownups were people with jobs and responsibilities.

The grownups would always tell their children, "You children get to do whatever you like. And that's okay. But grownups can never do what they like, because they have jobs. You need a job to live. Your job is the most important thing in your life. When you are at work, you have to do things you don't want to do, even things you think are mistakes. But don't worry. When you turn twelve, you'll have an operation. We'll open up your head and take out the child inside of you. This operation will transform you into a grownup. Then your mommy and daddy can relax, too."

The week before this operation --- the week before each child's twelfth birthday --- was called the "final week." No one from the village was allowed to speak to that child. They spent their last week in solitude. I don't think anyone ever told us why this was, although every child I knew had a theory.

When I finished my clumsy explanation, Kino said, "I see. That's a brutal system."

"Why do you say that? With this operation, every child can become a proper grownup!" I was genuinely puzzled. If you couldn't have the operation and become a grownup, what would become of you?

"I don't really know what you mean by ‘proper grownup.' Is a proper grownup someone who does things they don't like? Can you really enjoy life when all you do is stuff you hate? And forcing everyone to have an operation . . . I don't really understand that, either." Kino frowned.

I had to ask, "You said you were more grown-up than me. So did you have an operation or not?"

"No. No operation."

"So you're a child?"

"No."

He wasn't a child, and he wasn't a grownup? I didn't get it. "So what are you?"

"What am I? I'm Kino. A man named Kino. That's all. And I travel."

"You like traveling?"

"Yes, I do. That's why I travel. Of course, you can't make a living traveling, so I sell medicinal herbs I find on the way or unusual items I pick up here and there. You could call that a job, I suppose. But fundamentally, what I do is travel. I do what I like to do."

"What you like . . ." The thought struck hard. I was very jealous. Until then, I had believed that children should have this operation and become grownups. Liking something or hating something were feelings only children were allowed to have.

My childhood was almost over. And now, here was Kino telling me it might not have to be.

"What is it you like the most?" Kino asked.

I answered quickly, "I like to sing!"

Kino smiled at me. "I like to sing too. I often sing while I travel." And he started singing. It was a fast song, and I didn't understand the words, and he was really bad at singing. When he finished the song, he said, "But I'm not very good, am I?"

"No," I agreed wholeheartedly and laughed, relieved that he knew he was terrible and I didn't have to hurt his feelings.

Kino chuckled. "But even though I can't sing, I enjoy trying."

I knew exactly how he felt. I sometimes sang when I was by myself and there was no one around to hear my song except me.

So I sang a song I liked. It was slow, but happy, a very pretty melody. I still sing this song often.

When I finished singing, Kino applauded. "You're really good! I'm surprised. You may be the best singer I've ever heard."

Embarrassed, I thanked him.

"You like to sing, and you're really good at singing, so why not become a singer?" Kino asked.

"I can't become a singer."

"Why not?"

"Because my mother and father aren't singers."

He shrugged as if to say he didn't get it, so I thought I'd better explain it to him.

"The reason grownups have children is so they have someone to take over their jobs, right? Things have always been that way. It's --- "

"Custom? Duty?" Kino supplied.

I nodded.

Kino said, "I see . . . that's the way your village is." He looked very sad about it, but turned back to curing the motorcycle.

I watched the back of his head for a moment, then said, "It's not like that everywhere?"

He paused in his work, then shook his head.

I went back to my room.

That evening, I lay in my bed, thinking. I had always believed that the best thing --- the only thing to do --- was have the operation and become a grownup. Now, I started to wonder if there wasn't something unnatural about the way my village did things. Something unnatural about not doing what you liked for the rest of your life, but rather something you hated. And worse --- not even being able to say you hated it.

I thought about this for some time, and I reached a sort of conclusion. I didn't want to be a child always, but if I was going to grow up, I wanted to do it myself. I didn't want to be forced to grow up the same way as everyone else. Even if I got the order and timing wrong, I wanted to become the kind of grownup I wanted to be --- the kind of grownup Kino was. And I wanted to find a job that I was good at, and that I liked --- both at the same time.

I wanted to be myself.

The next morning when I woke, "Last day!" was written on a banner on the wall. I went downstairs to the outdoor patio at the front of the hotel, where my parents were. They were not allowed to talk to me, but they could respond if I spoke to them first.

I rewound everything I'd thought about the night before, and said, "I don't want to have an operation to become a grownup. Is there any other way to grow up? A way to become a grownup and stay myself?" I just asked, not making a fuss.

But those words were to change the course of my destiny. And Kino's as well.

My parents reacted as if they were having a nightmare. They stared at each other, terror leaping in their eyes.

My father shrieked, "Stupid child! How can you say that! You wicked, wicked little girl! How dare you speak such . . . such treason! Such blasphemy! Do you want to stay a child your whole life and never grow up?"

Then he looked at my mother, and she took over --- her words lashing out like a whip, stark fear in her eyes. "Apologize, you silly child! Say you're sorry!

To your father! To me! To the village! Beg us to forgive your foolish whims! Promise you will never again say such a thing, and we'll . . . we'll forget it ever happened."

"Why would you suddenly say something like that? Did somebody teach you these insane ideas?!" my father shouted.

It makes sense to me now that they reacted as they did --- after all, neither of them had been able to resist having this operation. They had convinced themselves it was a wonderful thing. It was a defense mechanism to protect their own peace of mind. But while my mother was eager to believe these were the foolish ramblings of a child, my father could not dismiss my words so easily. He looked for a way to attribute them to someone else. Someone like Kino.

Hearing the commotion, nearby grownups began to gather round the patio.

"What's wrong?"

"I heard shouting . . ."

Their manner was reproachful, since my parents were not behaving the way proper grownups should.

To my surprise, my father said, "I do beg your pardon. My foolish daughter said the most terrible thing! She does not wish to undergo her operation tomorrow!"

I was stunned that he had told them this --- that he hadn't tried to cover his shame.

Our neighbors' response was predictable.

"What? Idiot! You raised her poorly! This is your fault!"

"Grow up without an operation? The very idea is insane!"

"How can you talk about the great operation that way? You might be a child, but some things are unpardonable!"

Then they began to shriek at me, like something had broken inside and they had to continue until they ran out of words.

"Please forgive us! We have allowed her to stray from moral ground!" my mother wailed.

My father glared down at me. "This is what happens when you say stupid things. You have brought shame upon us! It was that filthy traveler, I tell you. He put these imbecilic ideas in your head!" My father grabbed me by the arm and, dragging me behind him, went looking for Kino.

Kino was outside the rear entrance. Standing next to him was the motorcycle, sparkling like new. It was hard to believe it had been junk just two days before. Kino's oversized backpack was strapped behind the back seat, shaking in time with the engine's vibrations. The back tire didn't touch the ground, but spun in the air, suspended from the kickstand. Draped across the seat was the brown coat Kino had been wearing when he entered the village. It was clean now, but no less worn.

My father screamed at him, shaking me so hard my teeth rattled, "You there! Yeah, you . . . dirt-ball!"

When Kino turned to him with unruffled calm, my father's fury shifted to madness, and he shrieked, sounding more animal than human.

Kino looked down at me and said quietly, "This is what the operation gives you? Perhaps you're better off without it." He winked at me.

I giggled. In an instant, my mind felt clear and calm. I was resolved.

 "You! You!" My father shook his clenched fist at Kino, spittle and froth flying from his mouth.

Kino regarded my father with the patience of a saint. "Yes?"

"Yes? Yes? I'll give you ‘yes!' On your knees! Beg for pardon! From me! From everyone in this town!"

Cocking his head to the side, Kino asked, "Forgiveness? Whatever for?"

In answer, my father howled again. His face was red, and his whole body shook. I looked up into this proper grownup's face. He didn't look any different than I did when I'd had a fight over something stupid with a friend and run home crying.

He was about to yell something else, or possibly just howl again, when a voice cut in, "I think that's enough." It was a village elder.

I didn't exactly know what his proper title was at that time, but I knew he was an important man. His manner was as different from that of these frenzied adults as could be. Was there, I wondered, an operation for that too?

The village elder spoke to Kino. "Traveler, in every village, in every home, there are different customs. You know this."

It was not a question, but Kino answered, "I do."

"In this village too, we have our own customs. These customs are ancient and are not to be altered by any actions you take. I'm certain you see that."

Kino's shoulders slumped. "I do. I was just leaving your village, Elder. If I stay here any longer, I'm liable to be killed. Are there protocols I must observe in order to leave?"

The elder said there were not. "If you go straight that way," he said, pointing in the direction that the motorcycle was facing, "you'll reach a gate. Use it. But I don't believe your life is in any danger. You entered this village properly, following the procedures. I guarantee your safety until you are through the gate. This is the Land of Grownups, after all."

Kino turned toward me, crouched down, and looked into my face. I became dimly aware that my father no longer stood over me. "Goodbye, little flower," Kino said.

"Do you have to leave?" I wanted him to stay longer. I wanted to know him after my operation. I wanted to talk to Kino as an adult.

But Kino said, "I only stay three days in any one place. You can learn almost everything about most places in that length of time. Besides, if you stay longer than that, you won't be able to visit as many new and different lands. Goodbye. Be well."

I waved at him, and Kino was about to climb aboard the motorcycle when my father reappeared, carrying a long, thin carving knife. My mother was behind him, weeping and wringing the front of her blouse.

Kino turned around.

My father looked at the village elder, holding the knife up for his inspection. The elder nodded.

I gazed at my father, thinking only how strange it was that he had a carving knife outside. It was just so out of place.

Kino asked the village elder why my father had brought a knife.

The elder, in the same precise and detached tone of voice he had been using all along, spoke the most dreadful words, "He will use the knife to dispose of the girl."

All color drained from Kino's already pale face. "What?"

"She has denied her need for the operation and disobeyed her parents. A child like that can hardly be left to run wild. Children are at all times, for very good reason, the possessions of their parents. Parents made their children, and they have every right to dispose of a flawed one."

That was when I realized that my father intended to kill me. I didn't want to die, but there was nothing I could do about it. I looked up and saw an expression on my father's face I had never before seen.

"Good for nothing," he whispered, and his words held pure hatred.

"Traveler. Please step aside. It is dangerous here," the village elder said.

My father came at me with the knife. I saw the silver blade glisten, and thought, How pretty.

Then the world went silent and time slowed down to a mere crawl. I saw Kino dive toward me from the side, trying to stop my father's lunge. But the knife was coming at me too fast.

Thank you, but you're too late.

The blade was inches from me when my father twisted it to one side and caught Kino in the chest as he dove between us. It slid into his body.

Sound returned, and I heard a strange cry. Kino stood as if embracing my father, the end of the carving knife protruding from his back. He fell at my feet, the knife still stuck in him. His body hit the ground with a dull thud and lay still. I knew he was already dead.

There was a gasp from the gathered villagers, followed by a long silence.

Unable to think, I took a few steps backward and collided with the motorcycle. It wobbled on its stand but remained upright.

Then my father laughed. He looked around him, and said, "You saw it! You saw how this man leapt between us. There was no time for me to turn away. I meant to kill my daughter, you know that. But I killed him instead." He turned to the village elder. "What should we do about such a horrible accident?"

I knew what my father said was absurd. Every grownup there knew it as well. They all eyed each other. They looked at my parents, then at the elder.

After a moment, the elder said, "Well, the traveler did jump in the way of the knife, so I suppose there's nothing to be done. It's not as if you tried to stab him. It was, as you've correctly said, an accident. A very unfortunate accident. You are guilty of nothing. Does everyone agree?"

The grownups around them nodded, their eyes blank and wide. "Yes, of course, it was an accident. Very unfortunate. Very sad," they kept saying. My father bowed to the village elder. "And this wicked child?"

The elder turned his dark eyes to me. They were like chips of onyx --- flat, black, silent. "You may dispose of her. If there is anyone to blame for the traveler's death..." He shrugged and turned away.

My father bowed a second time and said, "Your wisdom brings me much contentment."

My mother merely stood behind him, staring at me with her hands over her mouth. She said nothing, this woman who had once called me her "little flower," just as Kino had . . . before he died.

Even though I knew they would kill me, at that time, I was happy that at least I was to die without the operation --- without becoming a "proper grownup."

My father reached down and tried to pull the knife out of Kino's body, but it resisted. My mother bent down to help. The hilt was covered in blood, so she pushed my father's hands aside and grasped it through the sleeve of her white blouse. He put his hands around hers and slowly, they pulled it out --- inch by inch --- with a horrible grating sound.

Thinking back, this delay was Kino's final gift to me. As if, somehow, he held onto the blade of that knife to buy me time. For as my parents worked at the knife, struggling for control of it, a little voice whispered in my ear.

"Can you ride a bike?" it said. It sounded like the voice of a little boy, younger, even, than me.

"Yes," I whispered back.

The voice continued, "If you stay here, you're going to die."

"I'd rather die than stay alive and have the operation. That operation's worse than dying if it makes me like them."

Again, the horrid grating of metal on bone. About half the knife was out.

"But honestly, do you want to die?"

Honestly? "I'd prefer to live."

"Then," the voice said quietly, "time for a third choice."

"What's that?"

Almost all of the knife was out.

"You can ride a bicycle, yes?"

"Yes."

"Then, climb up on the seat of the motorcycle behind you. Grab the handlebars. Twist your right hand toward you and lean your body forward. It'll be just like riding a bicycle --- a big, heavy bicycle."

With a horrible sucking sound that I still hear some nights in my sleep, the knife slid out of Kino's corpse, and my father and mother fell over backward. My father had the knife. The grownups around them cried out in alarm, and then laughed nervously.

"And then what?" I asked, too loudly.

The grownups looked around at me strangely, as if they'd forgotten I was there --- as if they'd forgotten what this was all about. My father held the horrible carving knife in his bloodstained hand and grinned at me. He was terrifying, but I felt no fear.

"We drive away!" the little voice cried.

I spun around and leapt onto the motorcycle's seat just as my father rushed toward me, waving the knife. My mother screamed.

As I had been told to do, I twisted the right handgrip and leaned forward. The motorcycle fell heavily from its stand and the engine roared to life. My body was thrown backward, and I clung desperately to the handlebars and gripped the gas tank with my knees.

The cluster of grownups was suddenly behind me.

I was riding the motorcycle. And it was just like riding a big, heavy bicycle. I steadied the handlebars lightly as we crossed uneven ground. Once on the flat road, we sped away.

"Good work! Keep it up!" the voice cried. "Keep a firm grip on the tank with your thighs. That'll keep you steady. I'm going to tell you how to change gears now."

I followed the voice's instructions. The wind was in my face, making my eyes water. Through my tears, I could see the gate ahead of us getting bigger and bigger, then suddenly it was behind us too, and we were out on the open road, running through seemingly endless fields of green, green grass. It was the first time in my life I had ever been beyond the village gates.

I thought of nothing as I drove, concentrated on nothing except keeping my balance. Not of my parents, not of Kino, not of the cold, onyx eyes of the village elder. Not even of the life I'd left behind.

The wind stung my eyes, but I paid it no mind. I drove on, sobbing.

I don't know how long I drove. Minutes, hours, days. Then the voice said, "Right, I think that's enough of that."

I came back to myself, blinking, and sat up straighter on the seat.

"Do what I tell you."

As instructed, I carefully pulled on a lever with my left hand, and moved my right foot against a pedal, and the motorcycle gradually slowed down. When it seemed about ready to stop, I stuck out my feet.

On a bicycle, my toes would have bounced lightly off the ground and I would have glided to a stop, but this was different. My feet hit the ground hard, and the heavy motorcycle toppled over.

"Eep!" my patient instructor bleated. Still holding the handlebars, I hit the ground and rolled, ears ringing with the sound of metal on dirt.

"Well, that was perfectly terrible! Who taught you to ride a bike, what's-your-name?"

I ignored the voice and lay on my back, looking up at the sky. It was empty, and blue. I turned my head and saw nothing but grass and flowers bobbing in the breeze. I stood up and looked around. I was in the center of a field of red flowers. The field was so wide that when I glanced back along the rut that the motorcycle's tires had made in it, I could no longer see my village. But just for an instant, I flashed back to the traveler lying there, in the yard behind our hotel, with the knife through his heart, dying.

"Kino," I whispered. Oddly, I was not sad. I could no longer cry. I had cried out every tear in my body and given them to the wind. But neither was I happy. I just stood there, numb.

"Hey!" said a voice from near my feet. I looked down, and saw the motorcycle lying on its side. "I said that was perfectly terrible!"

"What?"

"Your driving, is what. Would it be too much trouble for you to set me upright?"

As odd as it seemed --- as unexpected --- the voice was coming from Kino's motorcycle.

"Motorcycle? Is that you?"

"Of course it is! There's nobody else here, is there?"

The voice sounded a little angry.

There wasn't anyone else around. We were alone in the field of red flowers. "Right, sorry."

"I don't need your apologies, little girl, I need you to put me upright. Please," the motorcycle added, sounding needy.

I found that tone more charming than the demanding whine. I did as it asked, crouching down, pressing my chest against the seat, and pulling it upright with all my strength.

We had crushed a good many red flowers.

I put my foot on top of the kickstand and pushed down on it while pulling the motorcycle upward. The bike moved backward over the stand and didn't topple over again when I let go.

"Thanks," it said.

"You're welcome," I replied.

"That was close back there." It sounded relieved.

For a second I had no idea what it meant. Then I remembered the sunlight gleaming on the blade of the carving knife. It was as if I'd watched it happen to someone else. As if I were no longer that little village girl.

"Thank you for saving me," I said automatically.

The motorcycle answered, "Right back at you. If I'd been left there, who knows what would have happened to me? I'm glad you rode me out of there, Kino."

 "What did you just call me?" I asked.

"Kino."

"Why?"

"A moment ago, I asked you your name, and you said Kino."

"But I'm . . ." and I started to say my name, but that name was no longer mine. That was the name of a child who'd lived in that village without a care in the world. Who believed you had to have an operation when you turned twelve to become a "proper grownup." That child had died today, or perhaps she had merely grown up all on her own. In any event, she no longer existed.

I took a step closer to the motorcycle and said, "I am Kino. It's a good name, isn't it?"

"Yeah, I like it. Say, what's my name? Do I have one? I don't remember."

I remembered the name the other Kino and I had chosen the day before. "Hermes. Your name is Hermes. After an old friend of . . . someone who died.

"Hm . . . Hermes. Not bad," said Hermes, trying his name out a few more times, evidently pleased. Then he asked, "What's next, Kino? What do we do? Where do we go?"

We stood there in the center of a sea of red, the soft perfume of flowers and grass rising up around us. I had no answers for him, and he had none for me.

So, we began our travels knowing nothing, least of all where we were going.

Kino No Tabi: Book One of the Beautiful World
by written by Keiichi Sigsawa, Illustrated by Kouhaku Kuroboshi

  • Genres: Manga
  • paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: TokyoPop
  • ISBN-10: 1598164554
  • ISBN-13: 9781598164558