In a vacant lot in Tokyo, an old man strikes up a conversation with a black cat. The cat is initially surprised that that a human can speak to and understand him, but they soon fall into an easy conversation. The old man introduces himself as Nakata and asks if he can call the cat by the name Otsuka, and the cat agrees. Nakata tells Otsuka that ever since an accident when he was young, he hasn’t been able to read or write—and although he gained the ability to speak to cats, many people tell him he’s dumb. He speaks in a simple, somewhat halting manner, sometimes referring to himself in third person. He also lost all his memories in the accident, and the ability to understand abstract concepts.
Nakata reveals that his childhood accident profoundly altered his mind in ways he’s still trying to understand even now. The fact that he can speak to cats suggests that something supernatural happened on Rice Bowl Hill, fitting with Murakami’s larger project of using surrealism to emphasize the power of the mind. Nakata’s experiences and disabilities have isolated him, leaving him to live a largely solitary existence.
Nakata tells Otsuka that he makes some extra money by searching for lost house cats. Right now, he’s on the search for a tortoiseshell cat named Goma. Otsuka, unfortunately, hasn’t come across Goma, but he wishes Nakata luck. He also observes that Nakata’s shadow seems to be fainter than a normal shadow.
Nakata has learned how to leverage his special abilities to support himself in a world that has been less than kind to him. The significance of his faint shadow is unclear, but suggests that he is somehow fundamentally different from others, perhaps as a result of his accident.