A Blackboard in Osaka

Chalk-dust drifts in the lecture room.  Professor Nakasara stops wiping his blackboard and observes the white cloud in silence, distracted by a million microscopic worlds.  In that moment his mind is lost among these shimmering specks, peacefully floating past, free and perfect.  The bell rings.  With a sigh he turns back to the board to erase all that has gone before.

  

            Everyone in Osaka University was using white-boards now.  Only Professor Nakasara kept his old chalk-board, but even that would be soon replaced and he with it.  Perhaps they would allow him take the board when he left.  Yes, he considers, of course they would.  They’d like nothing better than to be rid of his old fashioned ways.  Old useless Nakasara covered in soup stains, superseded by the modern scientific paradigm; there was no place for the spirits of the past. 

 

            The board was clean now, empty of ideas.  In the glazed door his reflection halts to look back at him, a small grey figure he does not care for.  ‘Old chalky’ they call him, and he wonders where the brilliant young physicist has gone.  He wipes his hands on his cloak and departs.

           

            “You want fries with that?” they ask at the canteen.  Nakasaka nods and takes the tray to his table.  A part of him will miss all this: the fellowship and the structure to the day.  Another part will rejoice to be free.  Didn’t they know there was more to life than this?  If only they had eyes to see past their scientific limits, past the theorem and equations and grasp the magic of it all.  But a lifetime of study had not been able to reconcile science with spirit.  A few more years and it would all come to nothing in quiet retirement.

            “Mind if I sit down, Professor?” his colleague asks.

            “Please do, Toshiro,” says Nakasara with a smile.  Toshiro sits.  He both admires and pities the older professor.  

            “I enjoyed your lecture today,” says Toshiro. “It got me thinking, especially what you said at the end.”

            Nakasara smiles.  At least someone had been listening.

            “I’ve got a friend in the Tycho Satellite Project,” Toshiro continues. “They say they’re picking up the first patterns over the planet.”

           

            August and September passed.

            Professor Nakasara spent most of his time at his desk now.  One of his students had given him a calendar from Scotland, the typical tourist souvenir of lochs, hairy cows and the milky-white thighs of Highland dancers.  When he was tired from writing, he would sit still and imagine himself in that distant land.  Then he would look out across Osaka.  There it was, the modern Japanese city – ordered, sensible yet sterile, confined by its own culture, defined by its own future.  Yes, there was spirit in Japan, but not in the monstrous city sprawl.  Osaka was a giant mechanical beast, a colossal infrastructure where every part was constrained by form and function. ‘If I see another Zen garden,’ he once said to his wife, ‘I’ll just scream!’

 

            How unlike Scotland, Nakasara considered.  There in that far off idyll was true freedom: the pure air, the untamed wilderness and uncultivated beauty of all that he longed for, all that would accept him for who he was and all that he held dear.  Nakasara has not heard of the deep-fried Mars bar.

 

            In October, Toshiro took the professor to see the completed map of the dark energy patterns that crossed the planet.  This was exploration into new scientific ground and no one knew exactly what it meant. 

 

            “Generally the web of lines shifts once every month,” Toshiro explained, “but there are these intersections that remain constant.”  Toshiro pointed to several dots across the Prefecture.  Nakasara nodded, understanding only the fact that he doesn’t understand.  In his mind he connects the dots and he smiles for the shape is like the origami swan his granddaughter gave him.

 

            On the way back to his room, Professor Nakasara’s heart skips a beat.  He has remembered where he had seen that pattern before – the swan shape.  In his desk are old manuscripts from the Edo period, detailing supposed lines of Yin and Yang.  He flips through them hurriedly till he comes to the one for Osaka.  His hands tremble; the pattern is the same.

            Nakasara is almost out the door with excitement, eager to share his discovery with Toshiro but he stops abruptly, remembering how they had all laughed at him before.  There was no room for wild theories, no room for the spirits.  If he was going to suggest that dark energy and Yin and Yang were the same, he would need more proof.

 

            The month passed slowly. Professor Nakasara has been keeping himself and Toshiro busy.

            “What does he want with you all the time?” Toshiro’s friend asks him.  Toshiro shrugs. 

            “He’s just the old professor,” Toshiro replies, knowing he was the only one to associate with the old soup-stained fool.

            “But he’s a disgrace,” said the friend. “You should really get him to wash his gown. It’s more crusty green than ever.”

            Toshiro smiles uncomfortably.  His friend is right.

 

            One afternoon, Nakasara called for Toshiro.  Nakasara traced the lines on the print-out Toshiro had given him.

            “The energy lines change every lunar cycle, yes?” he asked.

            Toshiro nodded.

            “But the connecting nodes you think will change once every seven years?”

            “That’s right,” said Toshiro. “If we extrapolate their rate of increase and decline, it suggests they come and go.”

            “And are there any that don’t change?”

            “How do you mean?” Toshiro asked.

            “Somewhere on the planet there may be a single source,” said Nakasara. “If we can only find a node that is constant, eternal even, then I’ll be able to prove my theory.”

             Toshiro is anxious the professor will make a fool of himself again.  He is too close to him, too afraid his own career will be hampered by Nakasara’s ridicule and disgrace. 

            “I’ll go check the figures,” he replied.  But Toshiro went to speak to the principal.

            Nakasara paced between the empty desks.  If only he could locate the source of the world’s positive spiritual energy, the well-spring of Yang, he would have proof that this world was more than numbers and equations.  Somewhere on the planet would be true beauty, a nirvana, a Shangri-la, he thinks.  How proud he will be when he alone reveals the magic the world has been missing.

 

            At length, Toshiro came back.  “I’ve got it,” he said. “You were right, Professor.  There is a place where the dark energy is stable.  One place.  I have the co-ordinates here!”

            Toshiro lays down the print-out and points to the place.

            “Get a map,” Nakasara called.  Toshiro brings a globe.

            The old professor spins it round, scanning the lines of longitude and latitude.

            “Here, Professor!” said Toshiro, pointing to the place.

 

            Nakasara’s eyes close in complete satisfaction.  Scotland!  Of course, it had to be.  The origin of the primal forces of nature could come from nowhere else.  This was where he would find his Eden.  The professor’s mind fills with images of tranquil glens, of deer and birds and waterfalls.

He is certain now that he will find the perfection he has been looking for, a perfection not spoilt by human hands.

            “Why don’t you go there?” Toshiro asks.

            “Yes, of course,” Nakasara agrees. “I should.”

            “Tonight even,” Toshiro suggests. “Find your place, professor.  All you need are the coordinates.  Go and be first to see it in the flesh!”

           

            That evening, Nakasara boarded the international flight.  It would take two days before he could arrive at the place of mystery and wonder.

 

            “Where’s Nakasara?” Toshiro’s friend asks.

            Toshiro laughs heartily.  “That old fool is never coming back.  We’ve sorted him out, once and for all.”

            Toshiro takes his friend to the computer.  He connects to google maps and shows him the street view of Nakasara’s fabled centre of perfection.  His friend laughs when he sees the image.

            “Wow!” he cries. “That’s the ugliest place I’ve ever seen.  Where is it?”

            Toshiro struggles a little with the foreign name.

            Cumbernauld,” he says. “Cumbernauld shopping centre.”

            “You sent him there?!”

            Toshiro sniggers again.  “I'm publishing his thesis.  It’ll certainly finish him here at the university.”

            They both look at the picture of the ghastly shopping centre again.

            “I think you’re right, Toshiro.  I’d always wondered what would become of old Nakasara.  Who would have thought he’ll be finished off by a piece of 1960’s Brutalist architecture!  I suppose you’re in line for his position?”

            “His room is practically mine already,” Toshiro said.  “Do you want to lend me a hand later?”

 

            Toshiro blows the dust off the frame of the old blackboard and begins to unscrew it from the wall.  His nice new white-board will replace it.  There's no way Nakasara will be back with such a stain on his career.  That's worth a trip to Cumbernauld any day.

 

 
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