trunks of fallen trees. Every so often I would lose my footing, trip over a root, stumble on a slippery stone. A handful of fallen pine needles had collected in my shoes, pricking my ankles. But I didn’t stop to fish them out. I chose instead to accustom myself to their faint jabbing and keep up my momentum. The higher I climbed, the more the trees thinned out. By the time I reached the first plateaus, the night sky was starting to lighten and I was able to step up my pace. The shapeless blackness above me was giving way to a metallic blue shining forth from its very depths. Through the damp mist that was still lingering among the conifers, the outlines of the distant mountain ridges started to take shape. As a child I used to think of them as sleeping giants, silhouettes looking skywards, with trees rather than hair above their rocky foreheads. I could make out the arched eyebrows of recumbent faces, their noses, lips and pointed jaws, which trailed off to merge with the undulations of the plateaus. All around me birds were now greeting the break of day, and I noticed that I was starting to hurry – as if the animals were urging me on. The steep ascent to the top of the Bocksberg would take me getting on for another two hours. Another ten thousand steps, by my reckoning, and when I reached the summit my day’s work would only just be beginning. I had a lot to fit in today, and it all depended on daylight, to whose tyrannical rule I had resolved to submit myself. Eleven hours of daylight lay ahead of me at that point, but now I am down to nine. It gets dark at half past six. I’ll have a little dusky light then for a while longer, and, if need be, the beam of my torch, for as long as the battery lasts. Then I need to be finished with my writing.
TRANSLATOR’S NOTE The chapters of the novel are all headed ‘HITOTSU’, meaning ‘one’ or ‘first’. This relates to the narrator’s interest in karate. When the five guiding principles of karate are recited, each one is traditionally preceded by the word ‘hitotsu’, to indicate that all are of equal and prime importance. Now, looking back over his life, the narrator uses the same formula to indicate that, in the same way, the various episodes in his life all carry equal significance.