Standing on a pebbled path in the Parque de la Exposición one August evening, Katzuo Nakamatsu looked on at the sakura blossoms. The branches of the small trees, which were scattered around the park and laden with rosy flowers, glowed in the leaden light, filling him with a private joy and, he believed, a secret spirituality. Children played on the green lawn, couples chatted on wooden benches, pedestrians and families walked among the ancient fig trees and ceibos. He took a deep contented breath, yes, the flowers were graceful and lovely; then he walked toward the carp pond, shifting the angle of his gaze, and still, the opaque light stayed the same, and the sakura branches continued gleaming exquisitely. He smoked a cigarette, contemplating his view of the composite, the pond with green water there, the perfumed sage here, surrounded by grass, creepers, and the flushed sakuras, there was nothing to probe, no forehead wrinkles, no gesture of delight. Indeed, nothing foretold anything, not the lowery sky, not the people walking in the gardens, not the humdrum cooing of the pigeons, not the frogs moaning in the cisterns, until the strange moment when Nakamatsu began to feel burdened, the weight of consciousness, unseeing affliction. In the eternity of the instant, in a manner of speaking, the green of the afternoon flickered out, the park’s babbling was erased, as if the world had taken flight, the pebbled paths disappeared, no serene gardens, or laughing families, or murmuring young couples, or ponds full of fish: the only thing in the air now was the sakura tree, its branches and luminous flowers. And in that fragment of afternoon, from that imperturbable beauty, Nakamatsu noticed, sprang a death drive, a vicious feeling, like the sakura were transmitting extinction, a shattering, destruction. Facing this unusual, abnormal reflex, Katzuo managed to close his eyes, as if invaded by exhaustion, it all seemed like a dreadful illusion, abhorrent, and without knowing why he began to tremble, sweating, pallid, shaken to the core, unable to dislodge that feeling of death. He stood paralyzed on that pebbled path, face drained of color, eyes clouded over, breathing slowly, he focused inward, his hands wavered, and nevertheless, the horrendous feeling remained in his consciousness. He waited a moment, a sensible length of time, before opening his eyes, and this time he could make out, real and tangible, a crew with ekeko faces, marching through the grass under the sakuras, colorful chullos on their heads and leather pouches at their backs. Their hunchbacked figures bundled into suits and ties, they let out grunts and babbled in Quechua, their little mustaches accentuating their wax faces, they were like rag dolls, cartwheeling, tripping over each other, while the festive onlookers applauded, and cheered, and tossed coins. Uncouth, brutish, crude. He couldn’t stand it. Aghast, Katzuo Nakamatsu fled, making his way on a paved path toward the gate that opened onto Avenida Garcilaso de la Vega, looking at no one, face forward, his head trembling, eyes wet with tears, alien to the street vendors selling ham sandwiches and ladling emoliente as he plunged in among the vehicles and buildings on that central artery. He came to a stop on Paseo Colón, faltering, bewildered, unsure whether to cross the road full of minibuses and blaring horns, his body was dazed, in any case, the sensation of death had stayed in his consciousness, and an animal fear was hollowing out his belly, which was beset by a violent churning, his throat was parched, he felt faint. Now, aimlessly, he moved through the dissolute streets, unrecognizable roads, past suffocating houses, impregnable stairways and doors, closed-up offices, and dark corridors, he had enough restraint left to keep himself from breaking into a run, and howling on all fours like a dog. His heart lashed. It was hard to breathe. There was a prickling in his legs. A blazing anguish, a brutal sun seemed to be burning his face, poaching his intestines, boiling on his back, sweat flooding, and the entirety of the street laid out before him, restaurants, vehicles, glass-paned doors, mere meters from him, looked iridescent and yellow, radiated a blinding light, in spite of the raw Lima winter sky. This is the solitude of hell, he said to himself, still on pins and needles, his skin burning, absorbing the heat, utterly lost, walking in no particular direction, guided by instinct. Only when he made landfall on Alfonso Ugarte did he recognize the wide avenue with its three arteries, he could see the silhouette of the roofs, a few balconies, the walls of the police station, the stony old houses, the hoarse puffing of the trucks, the provincials walking by, and for the umpteenth time he checked and confirmed the abyss of feeling alive, stricken, devastated. This is insanity, he noted with terror, and he could not fling himself down onto the avenue, could not screech, or bang against the wall, weeping over his misery, he told himself to calm down, continuing on his halting way through Breña’s dense streets. With no tears or consolation, inhaling the unwholesome air, eyes wild, the frames of his glasses slipping down his nose, Katzuo, in that instant, felt a dreary cold, his feet were freezing, goosebumps lined his skin, and the coat he was wearing wasn’t enough to keep him from trembling, it was as if he had shifted onto ice. It wasn’t just in his head, the temperature had dropped, the dampness warping his bones, and the very streets were no longer visible, the pale light looking clotted, unreal, and beyond it no street corners existed, no businesses, residences, panels, lights, curbs: just emptiness. Katzuo idled outside of reality, body rigid, looking like a pale corpse, he was scarcely breathing, no longer groaning, he could feel his own dreadfulness, his stupidity, his fatigue. He told himself a second time, this is the solitude of cold, perhaps to confirm his own fate, but nothing mattered anymore, just death, his own irrefutable death. A glimmer of consciousness, and he found himself sitting on a bench, in Parque Manco Cápac across from the church on Avenida Iquitos, and there he saw the dark night, the deserted grass, parishioners and prostitutes circling the monument to Manco Cápac, the municipal hall on the corner, the uncertain walls of a school. He adjusted his coat, noted the dim light in the park, maybe three or four hours had passed, diminishing his torment; he decided to go back via Bausate y Meza, cross the boundary of Avenida Manco Cápac, and advance into the heart of La Victoria, via Luna Pizarro, Abtao, and Huamanga; Nakamatsu knew, these were the old hideaways he usually took one or the other of, since he recognized their colorful street corners, the furrowed concrete of the back patios, the drab liquor stores, uneven sidewalks, the streets with their posts and windows, the uproarious watering holes, the packed rooms, the scrunched-tight residences, the teenagers gathered in any old doorway. He inhaled the irreparable poor-neighborhood air, leaving behind the little windows in the houses, litter in the doors, the mechanics stationed there, the gaudy walls and fences, posters in drugstores, barbed-wire roofs, a newspaper stand, and the parked cars. This was the world he ought to leave behind, these streets so often trod, smelled, observed, bemoaned, that inexorably were being pulverized and erased before his eyes. No, never, he had never been able to join this reality, he had simply lived it indifferently, distantly, not getting involved, impassive, strange, marginal, he was after all the son of Japanese people, a nisei, almost a foreigner, and all those places, their people, were alien to him, they constituted those in his vicinity, the neutral zone where he deposited his gaze, and he was forbidden from joining, and being like them with their legs, their eyes, their arms. Of course, he often saw his friends, he could even hold a conversation, exchange opinions, gossip, questionable jokes, but never secrets, nor could he express his private feelings, because his Asiatic temperament prevented it, and his equanimity born of mistrust, frigidity, even disdain.
When he got to the small building where he lived, in the El Porvenir neighborhood, on extension La Mar block three, the listless Katzuo said to himself: the solitude of home. And indeed, after climbing the stairs to the second floor and entering the living room of his apartment, despondent, he began to walk in circles, looking at the pink walls, the dusty curtains over the window, quietly irritated, until he crumpled into his desk chair, in front of the bookcase, and lowered his head, his eyes fixed on the floor, breathing slowly, face still, whole body still, in a posture of helplessness. Nakamatsu didn’t need to explode into complaints, recriminations, that wasn’t his style, his shoulders sunken, brought low, he let his consciousness stir, with no illusions, much less hope. He was fifty-eight, depleted, old, death was approaching indifferently, he couldn’t deny it, and because of some lack of fore- sight, perverse destiny or chance, his demise had been revealed to him, and he, impotent, ought to accept his lot without bitterness; when faced with that which could not be repaired, he found confrontation impossible. Perhaps yes, maybe no, it was plausible that fatalism, that old ancestral sediment, had been rejuvenated in his person, compel- ling him to passivity, non-resistance, to not violate the order of things, accept the dark plans for his death. That was how he understood it. In the larger cosmic equilibrium, a minute substance expired, reached its end, he, and life’s infinite other forms, reappeared vigorous, lush, ver- dant, through nature’s tumultuous transformations. As such, Katzuo Nakamatsu was required to submit; in his misfortune he worried about the shape his death would take: a car accident? a sudden heart attack? a murderous hand? He didn’t know, and couldn’t imagine, withdrawn into his serene contemplation, the unlit room, sprawled in his chair, in front of the bookcase, his head still, his neck, his feet, his shoulders, static, inert, focusing inward, the barest of gleams in his eyes behind the thick frames of his glasses.
From The Enlightenment of Katzuo Nakamatsu by Augusto Higa Oshiro. Used with permission of the publisher, Archipelago Books. Copyright © 2005 by Augusto Higa Oshiro. Translation copyright © 2023 Jennifer Shyue.