from Going Backwards
by DAZAI Osamu (太宰治)
written 1935, published as part of collection The Last Years『晩年』in 1936
He wasn’t an old man. He was only twenty four years old. But he was indeed an old man. While normal people live a year at a time, he lived at triple the rate. Twice, he had tried to kill himself. One of those times was a lovers’ suicide. Three times he had been thrown into a police cell. As a thought criminal. Though he’d never managed to sell one, he’d written over one hundred novels. But this wasn’t the old man’s true calling. It was just a waste of time, so to speak. The two things that still made his crushed heart pound and his gaunt cheeks blush were getting drunk and indulging his neverending fantasies while staring at passing women. Or rather, the memory of those two things. His crushed heart, his hollowed cheeks — these were no lie. For on this day, the old man has died. The two things in his long life that were not lies were that he lived and that he died. He carried on lying until the moment of his death.
The old man had now taken to his sickbed. He’d caught some disease from playing around. He’d had some property, enough to live on without worrying. But not enough to go off gallivanting around. The old man didn’t think of dying now as something to regret. He couldn’t understand a life of just scraping by.
When most people near their deathbed, they stare long and hard at the palms of their hands or look up blankly into the eyes of their relatives, but the old man just closed his eyes. He said nothing, only shut them tightly, sending his loosely open eyelids fluttering. He could see butterflies, he said. Blue butterflies, black butterflies, white ones, yellow ones, purple ones, light blue ones, hundreds and thousands of butterflies, flocking just over his forehead. This had been clearly what he said. For miles around, a haze of butterflies. The sound of a million wings beating, like the roar of horseflies at midday. Perhaps they were battling. The fine powder of their wings, their broken legs, their eyes, their antennae, their long feelers all fell like a rain.
When told he could have whatever he wanted to eat, he answered rice porridge with azuki beans. When at the age of eighteen he had written his first novel, he had depicted an old man on his deathbed murmuring that he wanted rice porridge with azuki.
The porridge was made for him — hot water and azuki beans added, then salt for flavor. For the elderly in the countryside, this was a treat. With his eyes closed and head held up, he slurped from the spoon, then said, ‘No more.’ Asked if he wanted anything else, he gave a thin laugh and replied that he wanted a woman. His wife, a good-natured illiterate, though clever, young and beautiful, in front of the line of relatives, blushed though not from jealousy and, with the spoon still in her hand, stifled her sobs as she cried.