فصل 03

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Chapter three

Like fathers

Jun Kawaguchi opened the door of his Wimbledon home. He was a slim, reserved man of about thirty, who even in his obvious sadness for his dead father, remembered how to be polite to guests. I had been surprised that he had agreed to see me and I said so to him.

‘I often read your articles, Miss Jensen. You understand karate. You understand many things,’ Jun replied.

I liked this man. He seemed to have good taste.

‘My father was a very popular man, as I am sure you know, Miss Jensen,’ he went on. ‘He was well respected by everybody he met.’

It was true. I had seen Kawaguchi-sensei give a demonstration about five years ago at Crystal Palace. He was a great karateka. He was also a quiet, gentle man, as polite as his son. It was hard to believe he was a man with enemies.

‘Can you think of anyone who hated him or disliked him?’ I asked.

‘The police asked me that. Well, you know of course that he and Asano-sensei had a big argument about twenty years ago and they never spoke again, as far as I know. I don’t think they really hated each other though; it was a matter of principle more than anything. Anyway, Asano died last year as you know.’

I had written about his death in The Daily Echo.

Asano-sensei had died of throat cancer after a very long illness. The matter of principle that Jun talked about was about a number of techniques. Kawaguchi claimed that Asano was moving too far away from the teachings of their master, Ohtsuka-sensei. Asano, for his part, felt that he was making progress. In the end they had a huge argument and never spoke to each other again. These guys got excited about things like that.

‘I don’t know of any other enemies,’ he said, ‘my father was a peaceful man, like all great masters.’

It was true that the great masters seemed to have an unusual sense of peace around them. I had once met Ohtsuka-sensei, in Japan, two years before he died; he had been training for about fifty years by that time. He was a kind, smiling man with no sense of aggression about him. His face seemed to shine with a kind of peace. That was perhaps the most attractive thing about martial arts training: how training in the arts of war - or budo as it is called in Japanese - could make you less, not more, aggressive.

Jun asked me to excuse him and went out of the room to make some tea.

I looked around the sitting room of the comfortable home. There were signs of children - toys in the corner and pictures of the family on top of the piano. Jun and his wife with a little boy of about eight and a girl of about five. Formal-looking photographs including one of Jun’s father, severe-faced, in traditional Japanese dress with a samurai sword by his side. Apart from that, there were few signs of Japan, just an old print of a Japanese lady in a kimono on the wall and a few origami birds that the kids had probably made.

I was looking at the tiny coloured paper birds when Jun came back into the room with a tray.

‘They’re cranes,’ said Jun. ‘In Japan they symbolise good fortune. They don’t seem have brought my family any good fortune though, do they Miss Jensen?’

I didn’t answer but accepted a cup of Japanese green tea which Jun gave to me with both hands, in the traditional Japanese manner. The slightly bitter taste of the tea was strangely comforting.

Then Jun said, ‘The children are at school. My wife has gone to look after my mother. She is very upset, as you can imagine.’ Jun’s face became very serious, almost solemn, and for a moment he looked just like his father in the formal samurai photograph. ‘I am making the arrangements for my father’s funeral.’

‘Why did your family leave Japan?’ I asked.

‘My father was one of the chosen few who came to Europe to teach karate-do. He believed it was his fate, it was what he had to do. He started training when he was nine years old, he knew nothing else. It was his life. He chose Britain because he had learnt English at university and spent a year in London. He liked it. He had friends here.’

‘Do you study karate yourself?’ I asked.

‘I did, until about five years ago,’ Jun replied. ‘It was hard not to follow my father when I was a child. I am the only son you know. But now I work in the city for a Japanese bank and I am a family man, as you can see.’ He nodded his head in the direction of the photograph of his wife and two children. ‘Anyway, I could never be as good as my father. It’s hard, you understand.’

Yes, I did. I understood exactly.

My dad grew up in the East End, the poor part of London. They say there are only two ways out of the East End; one is to become a criminal, the other is to become a boxer. Dad chose boxing. As a young man he was a professional boxer. Even though he was now eighty, he still moved like a boxer, and looked like one. He had had his nose broken twice. He had had a promising career in the boxing ring but the Second World War interrupted it. He ended up wandering around Italy in hiding from the Germans. He learnt Italian but lost his career. When he got back to London after the end of the war it was too late for him to carry on boxing; he had lost five years. He had an old friend who worked for a news agency - he helped Dad and Dad became a journalist.

As a child I remember the phone ringing constantly at home. Dad was always on a story and rushing around madly. My mother was the calm one. It was my Dad who taught me how to fight. He never treated me any differently from my brother. He showed me how to fight with my fists up when I was five and to get up quickly if I fell down. I was never allowed to give up. When my brother and I fought and I fell down he would count… ‘10, 9, 8, 7 .. as if he were the referee at a boxing match. I always got up before he counted down. It was a lesson that would be useful to me many times over the years. Whenever something bad happens in my life and I feel like giving up, I hear Dad’s voice in my ears, telling me to get up off the floor.

When I was nine he gave me a punch bag as a birthday present. I remember telling my teachers at school about it, assuming that they would be as happy as I was. They were shocked, I think, as was my mother, but I was so proud of that punch bag. Dad hung it up for me in the playroom and after school I would go and practise punches for hours. I still have it, though it is now old and soft.

I suppose it was natural that I would end up being interested in the martial arts, though for me it was karate, not boxing. We were always arguing about which was the best fighting system, boxing or karate. We were both certain that we were right, of course. Dad would still spend hours showing me boxing techniques in his living room, as he had when I was a kid.

‘Look,’ he would say, demonstrating his favourite punch, the right hook. ‘What punch can be more effective than that?’ I am sure that it had been deadly in its day. But he was - is - the sweetest person in the world and even as a young man, was never aggressive, except in the boxing ring. I suppose he was the one who taught me that you can be a fighter and be peace-loving at the same time.

I also became a journalist of course, just like him. I was following in Dad’s footsteps - and it wasn’t always easy. Dad read The Daily Echo every day and he read my stories with particular interest. He would phone me when I had written something he disagreed with, or when he thought my style was not quite right. Sometimes I would get cross, but more often than not he was right.

Later that day I was at his home in Chiswick. He had had a bath and, with a towel round his neck, he looked like he had just stepped out of the boxing ring. We chatted about this and that and then I told him about the Kawaguchi murder.

‘Kawaguchi. I’m sure I know that name,’ he said and scratched his head, trying to remember from where and when. This could have taken a long time. I was never sure whether Dad’s memory was bad because he was old, or because he’d been hit” in the head so many times when he was in the boxing ring. I sometimes thought it was a mixture of both.

‘He was pretty famous,’ I offered.

‘Yes… but I’m sure… there’s something…’ He tried to get his memory to work, with no success. Eventually, he gave up. We talked of other things and forgot about it.

When I got home that evening there were two messages on my answerphone. One was from Balzano: ‘Where the hell are you? And what’s happening on those Japanese murders?’ The other was Dad: ‘I’ve remembered what it was… Kawaguchi… that was the name of the girl who was involved in the London Road case when John Blakeston was murdered. I’ve got some newspaper cuttings here.’

10th October 1960 Brixton Prison

Darling Jamey

Thank you for coming to see me yesterday. I’m sorry that I was feeling a bit down after the first few days of the trial. It is very hard for me, you know, being accused of this horrible crime and knowing that I didn’t do it, that I am innocent. Sometimes I feel like I’m in a nightmare and any minute I’m going to wake up and it’ll be all over.

There are all kinds of lies being said at the trial, and I just have to sit and listen to it, for the most part. I can’t wait until it is my turn to speak - then I will really show them. I only have to prove that I was in Manchester and nowhere near where they say I was.

Anyway, I am sure that this thing will be all over soon. I was quite surprised by what you told me yesterday. I won’t talk about it now, for obvious reasons. * But you must have faith that everything will be all right in the end. And you know that I could never have committed an awful crime like this, don’t you?

Please pray for me, darling Jamey, lovely Lovat.

Love

Brendan

Letters from prison would be checked and read by prison officers.

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