A Blackboard in Osaka
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covered in soup stains, superseded by the modern scientific paradigm;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
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.
“But the connecting nodes you think will change once every seven
“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
At length, Toshiro came back. “I’ve
got it,” he said. “You were right, Professor.
a place where the dark energy is stable.
One place. I have the
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
“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.
he says. “Cumbernauld
“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.