Sunday, May 17, 2009

SHORT STORY: Last Train to Takarazka Pt II of II

[continued from Part I]

Nakamura moved quickly along the sidewalk, hot and frustrated by the feelings he had no explanation for, his plastic bag of books swinging by his side. Then on the platform the young man in the suit bumped into him and didn’t even apologize. But no one apologized these days, Nakamura thought, as he boarded the last car of the last train of the night. He didn't realize he was standing in front of the young salaryman until he was already wedged in by passengers on both sides. He pretended not to notice the selfish young man, though. What was the point of starting anything? Still, he could feel it boiling up inside of him. He had to consciously look everywhere but at the young man. The whole train, all the passengers tonight, looked angry or sad or drunken-awful, like nobody would ever care about another soul again. Nakamura knew to catch it, this angry wave of heating thoughts. He’d put too much conscious effort into his reactions to let something this small work him up. So young people never gave their seats to the elderly anymore – what else was new? And he knew he couldn’t change it and he felt pretty lucky to be as healthy as he was. He could stand, it was good for him to stand. He’d been sat too much of the day anyway. But still he let out a sigh. It all felt like too much effort. Was life supposed to be this hard? Today if felt that hard.

The familiar musical warning trumpeted loudly along the platform and in through the open train until its lingering last, just slightly off-harmony (and thus), sour note. Twenty-four sets of car doors closed simultaneously and the train started with a thrust. Yamamoto simultaneously held tight onto his shiny black leather briefcase, which was on his lap, and looked up. It was better to look when the train was moving. The old man and the other ring holders were bobbing toward Yamamoto and back again in rhythm with the jerky movements of the train. Out the window were the short office towers, the shopping complexes, the Hankyu International Hotel. In the foreground, a billboard for a Tom Cruise movie lit with four lights from below.

The train shrieked as it took a sudden turn. Yamamoto quickly unzipped his leather briefcase. He had the empty plastic bag he had took his fruit to work in that day. His hands burrowed deep inside the briefcase and did not pull out but only tightly held onto the plastic bag. He closed his eyes, swallowing and swallowing as he did. It had to have been the oysters. He was sure of that. What he wondered was how long he could hold it? If he could make it all the way home?

It came up soon after, the way a train makes its sudden start. A jerk followed by a thrust. Yamamoto barely managed to hold on to the regurgitated food at first, sealing his lips and feeling the soft warm-wet food, like porridge, fill his stretched cheeks. That was the jerk. The thrust came as a second jolt went through his stomach and up his throat and like a thick jaundice waterfall his mouth flew open and he threw up. He hadn’t had time to get the bag he was holding out of his briefcase and instead found himself retching into the outstretched and tightly cupped-together hands of the old man in front of him.

A good deal of the warm liquidy vomit overflowed out of Nakamura’s hands down onto his jeans and down further to the train car floor. Although Yamamoto had stopped bringing up, Nakamura could see there was more to come. He quickly wiped himself off with his handkerchief and then offered Yamamoto a hand. “Do-zo,” he said and helped the boy up as the train slowed into the next station. Everyone on their train stared unabashedly when Yamamoto walked by, leaning with an arm over Nakamura, wiping the dribble from around his mouth with the sleeve of his handsome suit. He couldn’t use his hands as they were both holding shut the two sides of his unzipped briefcase, which made it difficult to get off the train fast enough – to avoid the unwanted looks. Nakamura turned to glare at the people as he helped Yamamoto out the train. There was a men’s toilet off the platform and Nakamura quickly moved the boy towards it. He hurried him into a stall. Yamamoto dropped to his knees. A new surge of food and drink immediately came up and out. Nakamura kept his hand on the boy’s back while he threw up. A few aftershocks followed. Then bile. Then nothing but empty gagging.

The boy slowly rose to his feet after. “Sumimasen. I’m sorry. Gomen Nasai. I’m very sorry.”

“Not at all. You have nothing to be sorry about.” Nakamura said as they both walked out of the stall. “Do you feel better at least?”

“Yes. Much. Thank you. You are so kind.”

“No-no. Please. It was nothing.”

They walked to the sinks. Nakamura put down his plastic bag of books, leaning it up against the back wall behind them. Yamamoto tucked his briefcase under his armpit before turning on the taps. Where the mirror should have been there was a plank of wood in its place. Nakamura turned to Yamamoto and said, “Well, that was the last train of the night. I guess we’re going to have to catch a cab.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.” Yamamoto replied, staring intently at hands as he washed them.

“Ee-yo, ee-yo. Don’t worry, don’t worry. We can share one if you like. I live in Takarazka. Is that anywhere near you?”

Yamamoto barely hesitated to apologize, turning off his tap, slapping his hands dry, and explained that he unfortunately lived off a connecting train line, that he, uh, lived in Uneno. The young salaryman then patted down his hair with his hands Nakamura splashed some more water onto his stained pants. “Oh, I see. Never mind then,” he said. “I’ll walk.”

“Walk!”

“Sure.” Nakamura said, turning around to look at Yamamoto now standing by the door.

“Why not?”

“It will take you an hour, at least.”

Nakamura, who walked whenever he got the chance, said, “And?”

“But it’s raining.”

“Not much though.”

“Please.” Yamamoto took a five thousand yen bill out of his wallet and moved back in toward the man. Standing a few feet behind him, he said, “For your trouble; so you can take a cab home.”

“Thank you. But come to think of it, I’d actually prefer to walk.” Nakamura realized it as he said it. He turned his tap off and reached into the inside pocket of his blazer for his handkerchief. As he pulled it out he remembered it too was badly stained and proceeded to turn the tap back on and wash the thing out.

“Please,” Yamamoto said, five thousand yen bill still in hand. “I insist.”

“If I wanted to take a cab,” Nakamura said over his shoulder, “I would tell you. I promise.”

“Please. Don’t be embarrassed. If you need the money . . .”

“I don’t, but thank you. That’s very kind.” Nakamura turned off the tap and faced the boy once more. This was the first moment he’d had all day to get outside of his own head. When he smiled it was in his eyes. “Believe it or not,” he said, “you run a little bookshop long enough and you figure out how to make ends meet.”

“You own a bookshop?”

“I do. A second-hand place in Hori-e. We’ve actually got a decent collection for our size. It’s just a twelve minute walk from Shinsaibashi station. You should come visit some time. You take exit seven and walk east.”

Yamamoto said thank you, that he would, though he wasn’t much of a reader any more.

“I suppose you must be busy with your job,” Nakamura said. “Young guys your age have to work pretty hard, don’t they?”

Yamamoto, inching toward the bathroom exit, said they did. He didn’t want to be rude; he just wanted to get home.

Before they parted Yamamoto did manage to give the old guy his umbrella though.

“Really it’s not necessary, but thank you. Thank you so much.”

Yamamoto couldn’t look the old guy in the eye when he was thanked. He said a quick goodbye and got into the first of the taxis at the cab stand.

“Evening,” the cabbie said.

“To Takarazka,” Yamamoto said, looking out the rain soaked window.

“People always complain about the rain. But I like it, you know? Something different at least. Don’t you think?”

Yamamoto didn’t say anything.

“I mean, how else to get the trees all sparkly green?”

Yamamoto managed a grunting response.

“Late night, huh?”

“It is late, yes. I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be rude but I’m tired.”

The cab reached for the volume control on the radio and turned it up a little.

Yamamoto was of course already miles ahead in the cab, but if he could have gone back to see the old guy, still so far from home, if he could have seen Nakamura walking at a good clip in the light rain he would have been surprised to see the smile on the old man's face.

2 comments:

  1. I took the last train from Charing Cross to Greenwich tonight. The train departed at 11:40 pm, shortly after a few last passengers squeezed in. Everybody 'looked angry or sad or drunken-awful', of course except me. Otherwise who's doing the observing? I felt I could scream and no one would hear or respond. So many of them were listening to something, talking to something, pretending to be looking at something.

    [That is one of the two responses I have for the first paragraph. Where do I put the rest of the essay? Surely comments can't be longer than the original posts.]

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  2. You remind me of a great observation my friend Chris Bailey (also in England) once made. He was griping about how angry-awful everyone on the train looked. Then he said, but I'll bet you if I could see my own reflection on the morning commute to work I'm sure I look like an angry bugger too.

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