* * *
Chapter 5: The Country that Forbids Discrimination
-True Blue Sky-
“You should just ask the locals, Kino.”
“Yeah. That’s probably the best. —Er, excuse me.”
“Yes? Ah, you’re outlanders, I see.”
“Yes. We are travelers. We’ve only just arrived.”
“Really? Welcome to our country.”
“I have a question to ask you.”
“Yes? What is it?”
“I’m looking for a ———. Do you know where I can find one nearby?”
“…Pardon me? What did you just say?”
“I’m looking for a ———.”
“Excuse me, you are demeaning the people who work in that field. How narrow-minded!”
“Huh? No, I’m just looking for a ———.”
“My goodness! How could you use such a disgusting word? Look, Traveler. Please stop using that term. It’s offensive to those people.”
“Er…then let me use another word.”
“Er…does this country have a ———? Or maybe a ———? I’d just like to know.”
“How awful! Please, put yourself in their shoes and think about how you would feel if someone called you that! Everyone, look over here!”
“Hm? What is it?”
“What’s going on?”
“Why are you raising your voice?”
“Is something wrong?”
“Listen, everyone. This traveler just said some awful things! The most offensive words you could think of…it’s barbaric!”
“There’s no need for such overreaction, now… Excuse me, are you the traveler? The one who was speaking to the madam here?”
“Yes. It seems she was not happy with my tone.”
“Hm. Simply an overreaction, perhaps. What was it that you wanted to say?”
“Er, I was simply asking about finding a ———.”
“Wh-wh-what…? Traveler, how could you say such a word without a hint of remorse? What you just said is highly offensive towards certain occupations and groups!”
“Er…I’m just looking for a ——— where I can ——— a ———.”
“E-enough, Traveler! One more utterance, and we will have you face legal recourse!”
“Huh? Am I a ———?” What do you think, Hermes?”
“Kino, maybe it was ———? That’s why they think you’re ———. Over here, saying words like ——— or ——— makes you a ———.”
“Even the motorrad! Like rider, like vehicle, I see!”
“You don’t deserve to exist, you monster. What is wrong with you?”
“I think there’s been some sort of misunderstanding, everyone. Let me phrase it differently, please. I was trying to talk about ———. Is a ——— not a ———?”
“This has got to qualify as a hate crime!”
“See? I told you!”
“Hm. This is hopeless. There’s no cure for this intolerant attitude.”
“Keep that hateful traveler away from the children!”
“Let’s go, sweetie. Nothing to see here.”
“This is a bit of a problem. Say, Hermes? Can you think of a different way to put that word?”
“How about ‘———’?”
“In the ‘———’ sense, right?”
“Oh, how awful! How could you say such things?!”
“Enough is enough! We cannot condone your use of such bigoted words, Traveler! Stop this right now, or else!”
“Or else what?”
“…Ah! A-are you threatening me with that hand persuader you’ve got? What, do you think I’m going to stab you or something? Don’t make me laugh! I just happened to take out my knife because it was poking at me from inside my pocket! Don’t assume the worst of everything you see, you miserable excuse for a human being!”
“That’s right. Only a barbarian tries to solve everything with violence!”
“Yeah. I’m willing to bet this thug’s killed countless people just for having a different opinion. A cold-blooded murderer is what you are!”
“You should’ve heard the things out of this traveler’s mouth. The most abusive language you’ve ever heard, cruel beyond all measure. The poor creature probably doesn’t even know how much pain these words are causing.”
“I understand completely, traveler. Your discriminatory worldview makes me sad, not angry. Your parents must have been monsters who never taught you right from wrong. Or maybe you were so impoverished that they never had the chance to teach you. Your father must have been an alcoholic and your mother must have run off with a younger man.”
“Hmm… I think I understand what you’re getting at, everyone. My ——— is ———.”
“I think they mean ———, Kino.”
“Again with the hate speech! Get out. Get out of this country! There’s no room here for intolerant bigots like you! Words cannot express the anger I feel on behalf of those you are hurting. I would tear you to shreds, but we are a rational people. You may not deserve this mercy, but we will be content to exile you. So get out before we lose our patience! Everyone! Let’s work together and throw this hateful barbarian out of our country!”
“Get out! Leave!”
“You piece of shit!”
“Monster! You’re a murderer!”
“Leave us in peace!”
“Take this, you miserable brat!”
“Please, that’s enough.”
“Wh-what are you staring at me for? I-I was just picking up a rock I found on the ground. Can’t have any kids tripping over it. D-don’t get the wrong idea!”
“That’s right! He’s a good man, I can guarantee that! Not a hateful and abusive bigot like this traveler!”
“Leave us! Get out of our sight! And don’t die until you’ve left our borders! Hope the maggots enjoy your flesh! There’s not enough air in here for your discrimination and intolerance!”
“Yeah! Stop polluting our beautiful country with your dogma! You make me sick!”
“Just listening to this traveler reminds me of that dictator who massacred tens of thousands of people because of his own twisted ideology. I’m shaking. It’s almost like that monster’s come back to life.”
“Yeah. …Look, Traveler. Leave our country right this instant. And remember that verbal abuse is just as evil as physical abuse. Don’t ever come back—you’ll spread your intolerance to our children.”
“Get outta here!”
“Leave us alone!”
“We don’t want you here!”
“That’s too bad. If you’ll excuse us, then. Goodbye. I hope your ——— are ———.”
“Hateful to the end!”
“Get out! Get out!”
“Let’s go, Hermes.”
“Yeah. Bye, everyone.”
“Finally, they’re gone. Hopeless nutcases.”
“It’s sad to see that people still think that way in this day and age. I suppose you can’t expect anything else from an outlander.”
“But let’s look at the bright side. At least you won’t find people that bigoted here..”
“What were the immigration officers thinking, letting a monster like that inside? Bigots should be herded into hospitals.”
“Why can’t they do a better job? It’s not like we get a lot of visitors to begin with.”
“There’s no sense in expecting intelligence from immigration officers. They might as well be chimps.”
“True. All occupations are equal and no job should be subject to discrimination, but immigration officers are the exception. But there’s no cure for being born stupid.”
“Is it true that immigration officers don’t know their numbers? That they can’t count more than the fingers on their hands?”
“I’ve heard that, yeah.”
“Are they idiots?”
“They live such long lives for stupidity incarnate, though. Twice the average lifespan, they say.”
“I didn’t know that. How is that possible?”
“Probably because they don’t use their brains. That’s why they don’t age. But it’s not like living to be really old is always a good thing.”
“It’s crazy how they can live outside the wall, in those barbaric conditions. I heard they only come inside once a month on payday to do their shopping. So that means they live outside the wall the rest of the time, right? What do they do?”
“You know what? There’s nothing more fitting than a barbaric world for those born barbarians.”
“Hah hah! True enough, Uncivilized people will never adapt to life in a civilized society.”
“But you know, they marry normal people from inside the country, mostly people with no parents or relatives. And get this, they pick young girls, only just old enough to marry.”
“Disgusting. They’re practically kidnapping those girls and never letting them back inside.”
“Ugh. Just kill them already.”
“The people who marry them only come in once a month, too.”
“Eek! I’m getting the chills just thinking about it. I almost want to know how they live out there.”
“Apparently they wear hats and masks and gloves when they come inside, and never take them off even in the middle of summer. Doesn’t it just give you the creeps? Even when they run into people they know, they never say a word about what their lives outside are like.”
“I’m so glad I wasn’t born one of them.”
“Yeah. If you’re born into one of their families, you’re stuck with the job. It’s awful. I would have killed myself if I were.”
“Actually, even they have the legal right to choose their work. In theory, they could become anything in here. But I don’t think they could possibly do anything other than guard the gates. It’d be something to see if one of them suddenly said they wanted a normal job.”
“I don’t think it’d be so amusing. If an immigration officer sent an application to my company, I’d just tell him that his application was lost in an unfortunate accident. I don’t want them tracking filth into my workplace.”
“Which is only reasonable. I would do the same. Reject their applications even if they do well on the entrance exam, perhaps. We would lose all our customers if we were to hire an immigration officer.”
“That’s enough about the human garbage, everyone. You’ll spread the negativity. We just have to keep living with our great culture of tolerance. No need to pity those who haven’t received the privilege of being born into such a wonderful country.”
“Now let’s get on with our lives.”
* * *
There was a small guard station next to the gates.
A man sat there. He was reading at an unhurried pace. He was about 30 years of age, wearing a white button-down shirt embroidered with the words ‘immigration officer’.
Kino knocked on the guard station door. The guard put down his book and got out of his chair.
“Pardon me, but I’d like to leave the country now. What are the exit procedures?” Kino asked.
The officer smiled. “No need for exit procedures, Traveler. I never filed entry papers for you to begin with,” he said, “Do you understand what I meant now?”
Kino nodded. “Yes. I’ve been to many countries, but I’ve never left one as quickly as I did today. This is a new record.”
“I wager that record’s never going to be broken. That’s just how the people in this country are.”
“They all sounded completely serious. Was the ——— really what bothered them?”
“That’s right. But it wasn’t always like this. Not until the leader of the country commanded that ——— were ———, so they should not be ———. That’s how it’s been ever since. The ——— must be ———.”
“I see,” Kino said with a nod.
“I finally get it,” Hermes agreed.
“Sorry you came all this way just to get treated so badly, Traveler. I hope you won’t let it bother you too much.”
“Not at all!” Kino replied, smiling, “It was very fun.”
The officer nodded, also smiling. “I knew you’d say that. All the other travelers say so too.”
“And the wall is amazing, too. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“Yeah.” The officer nodded.
They looked up at the grey wall, which had no openings in sight save for the gates before them. The wall drew a gentle curve and merged with the wall on the opposite end of the country. In other words, the entire country was surrounded by a massive concrete dome.
“It’s completely enclosed. I was shocked to see what it was like inside.”
“It looks like a huge egg. I thought it was a mountain at first,” Hermes remarked.
Kino asked, “When was it built?”
“I wish I knew,” said the officer. “It’s been around since at least my great-great-great-great grandfather’s time. It was in some of the pictures he drew.”
Kino looked up at the wall again.
“It was so dirty inside. Not the people, but the city,” said Hermes.
The officer nodded passionately. “Isn’t it? The entire country is filthy. It’s completely shut off, and the people there have no grasp of basic hygiene. You might have seen it there, but people just dump trash and dirty water in the streets. There’s one river to the north—the area upstream is really clean with lots of fish, but the further downstream you go, the water gets dirtier until it’s pitch-black and you can’t tell what’s in it. You can’t touch that stuff. There are rats in every house and chronic cockroach infestations too.”
“What is a cockroach?” asked Kino.
The officer held up his thumb and index finger. “A bug, about this big. It’s flat and oval and shiny. You see them mostly around the kitchen.”
“Have you never seen a cockroach before, Kino?” asked Hermes. Kino shook her head. “No.”
“Then you’re very lucky, Kino,” said the officer, “Just the sight of those things in the dining room or bedroom gives me the chills. It’s nothing strange to the people here, though. I once went to a hotel restaurant and opened up a pot to find a few of the darned things boiled in my— Let’s stop this,” he groaned, waving his hand.
“I see… I’m almost curious to see what it’s like.”
“No you’re not. Sometimes, ignorance is bliss. Especially when cockroaches are involved.”
“Really?” Kino asked, showing genuine curiosity. The officer gave a wry grin and nodded.
“Personally, I don’t know how those people can stand living in there,” he said. “I can’t survive inside for long, even with gloves and a mask. But…the people there live their whole lives without ever seeing the outside world. That’s normal to them, and they think it’s a good thing. That’s how they’ve been taught. People living in a utopia don’t dream of paradise.”
“I see,” Kino replied, looking away from the wall.
She saw a bright blue sky and a vibrant green plain stretching into the distance. A cool breeze shook the grass. The road led east, lined by well-kept fields which eventually gave way to a dark coniferous forest.
A short distance from the wall was the officer’s house, a wooden home built by a small river. A waterwheel turned lazily in the currents. A woman who seemed to be his wife was hanging up clothes to dry. Next to her, two children were playing on wooden swings.
“It’s lovely here,” said Kino.
“Thank you. I love it here too.”
“You’d live a long life too, Kino, if you settle down here,” Hermes joked.
The officer chuckled with a nod. “You might. Most immigration officers live long enough to see their grandkids, but the people inside can barely survive to see their children finish school. Most die of illness. The terrible sanitation and air quality does that to you. Basically, it’s dangerous in there. There are no wild animals or wars, but it’s dangerous all the same.”
Kino nodded lightly several times, and looked out at the plains.
“Follow the wall north and you’ll find a detour around the country. Make sure you drop by the guard station by the West Gate—my older sister and our cousin are in charge there. They’ll let you stay the night and give you some rations and fuel for the road. And if you can, let them know that me and my family are doing all right here,” the officer said, once Kino was ready to depart.
“Thank you. I will.”
“Thanks for everything.”
Kino put on her hat and straddled Hermes.
“Say, Kino,” the officer said suddenly, “What do you think a ‘true blue sky’ is?”
“Pardon me?” Kino asked, turning.
The officer slowly explained himself. “A ‘true blue sky’. You can think of it literally if you want.”
“That sounds almost like a riddle,” said Kino.
The officer nodded. “Yeah, you can think about it that way. The people in that country, they look at the painted wall lit by the countless fluorescent lights and think that’s the true blue sky. So I wanted to know how a traveler like you would answer.”
Kino thought for a moment before responding.
“I suppose my answer would be…‘there’s no such thing’.”
“Why do you say that?” asked the officer.
“The color of the sky changes depending on the place, the time, the season, and the weather. But it’s always beautiful. Of the countless skies I’ve seen, I don’t think I could call any a ‘true blue sky’. That’s why right now, I believe there is no such thing.”
The officer nodded and nodded again, his eyes on Kino. “Of course. So that’s an answer too…” he mumbled.
“Who was it?” Hermes asked.
“Who?” Kino wondered.
“My grandfather,” the officer said immediately. Kino seemed lost for a moment, but soon gave a nod.
“I see now. Your grandfather must have asked you the same question.”
“Yeah. I was just old enough to understand, and he was on his deathbed. He said to me, ‘It doesn’t matter if you discover the true blue sky or not.’ When I asked him what he meant, he laughed and said, ‘Like I said, it doesn’t matter. Goodbye, Lügner. I love you very much.’ He passed away not long afterwards. Ever since then, I would sometimes wonder to myself what a ‘true blue sky’ actually means.”
The officer looked up at the blue sky, his back to the concrete wall.
“Maybe your answer is right, Kino, or maybe not. But either way…I’m glad I asked. Thank you,” he said, his eyes on the sky.
“Not at all. The blue sky here is very beautiful too,” Kino replied, also looking up at the sky.