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  • The Lion
  • Yasutaka Tsutsui
    Translated by Kim Akashi (bio)

"Hey…" When the first number was over, the electric-bass player, Takahashi, came center stage to where I was playing the electric guitar in front of the mike. "Did you add vocals?" he asked in a low voice.

"Vocals? No." I had no idea what he was talking about.

"Well," Takahashi said hesitantly, "we've got a vocalist by the keyboard. I think it's a lion."

"What?" I turned around and got a shock. Next to the keyboard sat a lion—a lion with a luxuriant mane. "He's doing vocals?"

"He started scatting in the middle of the first number."

"Was he always here?"

"I don't think he was here at the beginning," Takahashi said doubtfully. "I think he came in after we started playing."

The strange thing was that the audience wasn't fazed. They were smiling and looking at the stage like always.

"The audience isn't scared," I said.

"Maybe they think it's part of the show."

Sakamoto, the keyboard player, and Ueda, the drummer, didn't seem frightened either.

"What should we do? Keep on playing?"

If we told the lion to get out, he might get mad and bite us. As they say, let sleeping lions lie. We left the lion alone and started the second number.

The lion shut his eyes and let out a low growl. Then he started to sway from side to side and began to sing, punctuating his song with roars. It was a lion's voice, but when he got into the song, his high notes sounded exactly like a woman's. More than anything, it was a voice with intelligence. I don't know if he was improvising, but he deviated from the melody and came up with pretty good phrasing. I was impressed. The other band members seemed satisfied with his performance too.

Where did this lion come from? What was he doing here? As I was playing and thinking, I suddenly remembered that I had encountered this lion before. It had taken me so long to remember because the meeting had been as unreal as a dream. I was half-convinced it was a figment of my imagination and had buried it so deep in my memory that I never thought about it. It was probably the same for my wife, who had shared the experience with me. [End Page 66]

It was about five years ago. Machiko and I were newlyweds living in a studio on the first floor of a wooden apartment building. The fusion band that I had formed was just starting to become popular and in demand at clubs here and there. Since the money was coming in, we had been talking about moving to a nicer place.

One night when we were watching the late movie on TV, we heard a heavy thud against the door. When I cautiously opened it, a huge beast with brown fur crashed onto the dirt floor of the entryway. It was the lion.

I let out a yell. "What the hell!"

Machiko ran to the corner and jumped on the bed. She pointed at the intruder and screamed, "Seal!"

"It's not a seal!" While I spoke, I watched the lion, who seemed to be unconscious. "It's a lion."

"Is…is he dead?"

His mane rose and fell, and his shoulder was bleeding. "It looks like he's out cold. Look at all that blood."

Machiko came closer. "He's hurt?"

"It looks like he was shot."

The lion opened his eyes and gave a low moan as if in pain. Machiko screamed and jumped back on the bed. The lion looked up at me mournfully.

"He's very tame. I wonder if he's a pet."

"A lion is still a lion. He's only tame because he's hurt."

But then I saw a gleam of intelligence in his eyes, and I knew I had to help him. For some reason it never occurred to me to call the police. I shut the door and told Machiko, "Help me lift him up into the room."

"No! What if he...