Yashimoro rounded the corner of the beach and saw a massive sperm whale washed up on shore.

He approached the beast cautiously, taking a circuitous path up the beach and toward the head, which was the size of the city bus that Yashimoro took into town for the market. There was movement in the whale’s dinner plate-sized eye. The whale was alive.

He had never smelled anything like the whale’s fermented rotten fish breath, not even from the piles of rotting whale parts at the processing plant. Whale smelled as bad alive as it did dead, Yashimoro could confirm.

A living whale of this size was worth a small fortune. Soon the fishermen would find out and arrive to claim it. But Yashimoro did not want them to get the whale. He didn’t know what he could do to stop them, but he would think of something.

Yashimoro lived atop the cliff in a one-bedroom house that his father left to him. He had no children of his own. He hadn’t been able to find a wife because of his deformity. He was born with an oversized head and one eye. Doctors gave him a glass eye as a kid, but he lost it and could not afford a replacement as an adult. The empty eye did not bother him; just the others, who laughed and called him “Nagasaki Boy.”

His mother had gotten sick from the bomb the Americans dropped and died not long after his birth. His father raised him in the one-bedroom house. Yashimoro had never lived anywhere else.

Life was good on this small island. People left him alone and he did the same. They would come now, though, for the whale. Somehow, they’d find it. Secrets of this size could not be kept.

Yashimoro put his hand on the whale’s head and looked into its eye. High tide was at around 10:30 pm. There was a chance to save the animal when the tide came in. The current time was 8:30 am.

He did not know what to do for a beached whale. His father taught him many things, but caring for a whale was not one of them. He learned from his father at the processing plant how to butcher a whale. His father worked there for many years. But Yashimoro could not stand the work. He quit the plant and survived off the fish he caught and what he grew in the garden. If there was any surplus, he sold it at the market for a bit of spending money.

He supposed he should keep the whale moist. He fetched a bucket from the house and splashed water on the whale’s head. The whale’s tail was in the water, flopping side to side. The beast was nearly 60 feet long. It would take hours to wet its body one bucket at a time.

A seagull came along and landed on the whale’s belly, picking at barnacles.

“Shoo, shoo,” said Yashimoro, throwing a stone at the seagull.

More seagulls came. Yashimoro chased them off.

“Away from my whale!” he yelled, running towards the flock waving his arms like a real life version of the scarecrow that guarded his garden patch.

The seagulls were one thing. The fishermen were a different case. They would not give up so easily.

A figure appeared on the far end of the beach. As it got closer, he saw that it was the child of his closest neighbors. So it began. The whale was found. The secret was out.

The boy approached Yashimoro.

“Hello, child,” he said. “Help me guard the whale from seagulls.”

The boy looked stupefied.

“Is it alive?” he asked.

“Yes,” said Yashimoro. “That is why we must keep the seagulls off him.”


“Because a living thing has dignity.”

The boy shrugged and obliged.

“Chase them, that’s it,” said Yashimoro.

There was something natural about the boy scaring the seagulls off. They had a comparable energy, the gulls and the boy. Both were loud and stupid.

Eventually, the boy got bored and declared that he was returning home. Yashimoro knew that the boy would tell his parents, and soon the beach would be mobbed with people greedy for whale flesh. Yashimoro also knew that if he told the boy not to tell his parents, this would hasten the inevitable.

He told the boy, “You must go on a very important mission. Yashimoro has forgotten his hat at the house. A black hat, next to the bed. Or is it in the kitchen? Anyways, Yashimoro needs the hat, boy. Please find it while I guard the whale.”

The boy set off to find the black hat. There was no black hat, though. Yashimoro had lied to the boy.

Truth be told, he could use a hat. The sun was reaching its afternoon zenith. Yashimoro shielded his face with his hand. The whale’s skin was drying out. The creature’s eye rolled in discomfort and its jaw gnashed the air. Yashimoro patted the whale and drew water to wet its skin. The animal was dying. He would probably not make it to high tide.

The boy returned much sooner than Yashimoro had hoped.

“I found no hat,” he said. “I am hungry. Mother will worry.”

Yashimoro could distract the boy no longer. He walked back home along the beach, chasing seagulls as he went.

“Does anyone miss you, whale?” Yashimoro asked the creature. Surely something this massive, with this much life force, had to be missed. But the sea was large and mysterious.

For many years Yashimoro had gazed at the sea from this beach, wondering about its mysteries. He collected things that washed up on the shore: rocks and bits of plastic and metal and flora and fauna. Mostly he enjoyed the remnants of creatures such as the sand dollars and starfish. But he’d never found anything like a bull sperm whale. This was the most precious thing the sea had ever given him.

Nature’s creations were much more interesting than man’s, Yashimoro thought. Men made big loud machines, buses and ships and planes and the like. They would never make anything as interesting as a sperm whale. Even the stupid seagulls were more interesting than the creations of man.

But what did he know of man and nature, he thought. He was just a simple old peasant who lived alone by the sea.

About an hour after the boy left, he returned with his father, a fisherman. He patted the animal’s head and said, “Don’t worry, I’ll think of something.”

The man, named Ugiri, greeted Yashimoro and said, “Is the whale alive?”

“Yes,” said Yashimoro. “The whale is alive.”

“It must be 60 feet,” said Ugiri.

“It’s a big whale,” agreed Yashimoro.

“It will die soon,” said Ugiri. “Their lungs collapse on land. We must process it before it rots.”

“There is a chance to save it,” said Yashimoro.

“You will save it, old man?” said Ugiri, laughing. “You can barely take care of yourself.”

“Ending life is easy,” said Yashimoro. “It is much braver to save a life.”

“What do you know of bravery, Nagasaki Boy?” said Ugiri, becoming impatient. “I spend more than half the year at sea. You sit around tending your garden.”

“I know that bravery is rare,” said Yashimoro, “and that cowardice is common.”

“We will see how brave you are when I return with other men and equipment. You think it is brave to save the whale, but is it brave to starve? Is it brave to be a peasant with nothing? No, it is stupid.”

“Men like you do not value life except for what value it gives you,” said Yashimoro. “There is no money in saving the whale, so you don’t care. Cowards love money. To live poor requires courage.”

“Then you must be the bravest man in the world,” said Ugiri.

The boy climbed on the whale’s back.

“Get off, boy,” said Yashimoro. “Let the whale die in peace.”

“Don’t tell my son what to do,” said Ugiri. “Old men with no children and no money give no orders. Take your leave of the whale. I will return with men and equipment and then your time will be up. Stay out of the way and I may give you a finder’s fee.”

The water was rising higher on the whale’s body, nearly to its dorsal fin. This made the task of wetting its body easier. But the animal’s breathing became labored and raspy. Before the men returned, it was dead.

Yashimoro kissed the whale’s head and stood by its side until the men arrived a couple of hours later. A dozen of them rode on the back of a giant flatbed truck fitted with a crane and carrying a bulldozer.

“Look,” said one of them. “Nagasaki Boy has finally found a wife.”

“They look alike,” said another man.

“The whale is much better looking,” said a third.

“We must work fast,” said Ugiri. “The rot begins the moment the animal dies. This thing is a ticking time bomb. If the gas pressure builds up inside, it can explode.”

Yashimoro returned to his one-bedroom house and tended his garden. The men used the bulldozer and the crane to move the whale onto the back of the flatbed. They finished around suppertime. The tide was beginning to wash over the truck’s tires.

A small crowd had gathered on the beach to watch. The townspeople gave a cheer as the truck started along the beach. The driver honked the horn triumphantly and the men waved like heroes.

Yashimoro rode his bicycle along the road to the town, wanting to see the whale one last time. The truck drove slowly so as not to disturb the awkward load. It made its way down the narrow main road through the town towards the processing plant.

Yashimoro stood by himself on a patch of grass next to the road, feeling very sad. Now that the whale was gone, his life would return to a sameness that stretched like the ocean as far as the eye could see.

The truck passed his spot on the grass and he gave a feeble wave to the glorious dead whale.

“Thank you, friend,” he said quietly. His eyes welled with tears.

He turned around to pick up his bicycle and heard a loud popping sound, like somebody shot a firecracker. Plat plat plat. Blood and entrails rained down. The whale had exploded.

People screamed and ran for cover with their hands over their heads. Blood stained the streets and building fronts. Entrails hung from trees and sat in bloody pools in the street. A man put his hand over his nose and mouth as he looked at his scooter amid a pile of massive guts while a gore-drenched woman ran past in heels.

Yashimoro looked down at his blood-splattered clothes, wheeled his bicycle around, and pedaled home, leaving the townspeople to clean up the mess they had created.