An Excerpt from Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami.
“Hey Watanabe, let’s go down to the Cafeteria.”
I agreed to go, but in fact I didn’t much feel like eating. The cafeteria was so packed with doctor, nurses, and visitors. Long lines of chairs and tables filled the huge, windowless underground cavern where every mouth seems to be eating or talking – about sickness, no doubt, the voices echoing and re-echoing as in a tunnel. Now and then the PA system would break through the reverberation with calls for a doctor or nurse. While I laid claim to a table, Midori bought two set meals and carried them over on an aluminium tray. Croquettes with cream sauce, potato salad, shredded cabbage, boiled vegetables, rice and miso soup; these were lined up in a tray in the same white plastic dishes they used for patients. I ate about half of mine and left the rest. Midori seems to enjoy her meal to the last mouthful.
“Not hungry?” she asked, sipping hot tea.
“Not really,” I said.
“It’s the hospital,” she said, scanning the cafeteria. “This always happens when people aren’t used to the place. The smells, the sounds, the stale air, patients’ faces, stress, irritation, disappointment, pain, fatigue – that’s what does it. It grabs you in the stomach and kills your appetite. Once you get used to it, though, it’s no problem at all. Plus, you can’t really take of a sick person unless you eat properly. It’s true. I know what I’m talking about because I’ve done that with my grandfather, my grandmother, my mother, and now my father. You never know when you’re going to have to miss your next meal, so it’s important to eat when you can.
“I see what you mean,” I said.
“Relatives come to visit and they eat with me here, and they always leave half their food, just like you. And they always say, ‘Oh, Midori, it’s wonderful you’ve got such a healthy appetite. I’m too upset to eat.’ But get serious, I’m the one who’s actually taking care of the patient! They just have to drop by and show a little sympathy. I’m the one who wipe up the shit and collect the phlegm and mop the brows. If sympathy was all it took to clean up shit, I’d have 50 times as much sympathy as anybody else! Instead, they see me eating all the food and they give me this look and say, ‘Oh Midori, you’ve got such a healthy appetite.’ What do they think I am, a donkey pulling a cart? They’re old enough to know how the world really works, so why are they so stupid? It’s easy to talk big but the important thing is whether or not you clean up the shit. I can be hurt, you know. I can get as exhausted as anyone else. I can feel so bad I want to cry, too. I mean, you try watching a gang of doctors get together and cut open somebody’s head when there’s no hope of saving them, and stirring things up in there, and doing it again and again, and every time they do it it makes the person worse and little bit crazier and see how you like it! And on top of it, you see your savings disappear. I don’t if I can keep going to university for another three-and-a-half years, and there’s no way my sister can afford a wedding ceremony.”