Nagoya Writes

January 6, 2008

The Train Ride by Ernest Schaal

Filed under: Issue: Dec 2006,Prose,Schaal — usbengoshi @ 7:58 am

Looking back, he remembers the heat of that day but not the blue sky. The blue was a solid blue, with not a touch of gray. It was the type of blue called aqua blue, or 0080FF on his HTML color chart. In other words, it was a light greenish-blue that is more often associated with Caribbean waters rather than with Japanese skies. He should have remembered such a sky.

He always remembers that day as being drab and overcast. Sometimes he even remembers it as raining, the type of rain that makes an early afternoon look pitch dark. Drab and overcast weather seems to better match his memory of that day.

When he boarded the train in Gifu, he easily found a window seat. He didn’t particularly like window seats, but he always saved the aisle seat for her because she felt claustrophobic whenever she sat anywhere else. It became just an engrained habit within him that he found himself avoiding the aisle seat even when he was alone. He doubted if she would ever be with him again, but he still kept the aisle seat open for her.

The air conditioning was on full blast, which made the empty train car too cold. A lot of people catch summer colds because of the extreme differences between the hot outdoors and the air-conditioned indoors. As the train car filled with commuters, the car began to warm up.

A fashionably dressed woman in a light grey suit and high heels took the seat next to him. She reminded him of a young Audrey Hepburn, the one that appeared in “Sabrina” and “Roman Holiday” and still appears so often in Japanese advertising.

The woman didn’t have the same facial features as Ms. Hepburn, but they had the same “look,” the same sense of style. The woman looked young, thin, fresh, intelligent… all the qualities that he usually dreamed of in his ideal woman.

When she sat down beside him, she began to read a book. He noticed that it was “Farewell to Arms” by Hemmingway, his favorite author.

Before his most recent relationship, he probably would have commented on the book, trying to segue into a discussion of Hemmingway’s role in literature, with the hope that he would soon have her cellular phone number. Now he was free again, but he didn’t feel up to making the effort. The heat and recent events had drained him of the energy needed to face possible rejection.

Instead of striking up a conversation with a potential woman of his dreams, he did something that he normally didn’t do. He looked out the window and watched the scenery go by. The train trip to downtown Nagoya only took about twenty-five minutes, and yet they passed plenty of rice fields.

Back home, where he came from, there would never have been fields of crops that close to the heart of a major city. There also would never have been houses interspersed within those fields.

Back home, rural areas were rural, and urban areas were urban, and the two of them would not be so intertwined.

Most of the rice fields were freshly planted with thin rice seedlings and the fields were filled with water, so that the houses looked like small islands, isolated from each other by a sea of calm, green water.

Looking at the view, he wondered if the people living in those houses were as isolated from each other, like the houses were isolated by the rice fields.

Within a few minutes, the view changed from fields to buildings, as they entered the city of Owari-Ichinomiya. This is the one train station that all trains stopped at between Gifu and Nagoya.

The woman who reminded him of Audrey Hepburn must have gotten off there. When he turned from the window, she was gone, as if all of a sudden. What made him turn from the window was a strong odor of tobacco, which came from the clothes of the person taking her place, a rough-looking Japanese guy reading a comic novel with sword fights and severed limbs.

He found the change in seating partners depressing.

He noticed that the temperature of the train car had gone from uncomfortably cold to uncomfortably hot and stuffy. He turned back to the window as the train began to move again, and soon they were again among rice fields and islands of housing.

Every once in a while, a train would pass on a parallel track and the air pressure caused by the passing train would force his train to rock violently. And for a moment his view was blocked by the blurry vision of the passing train that was soon gone.

In the distance, there was a baseball game on a large school field, or maybe it was softball. It was too far to tell. He thought it was a high school, but again, he couldn’t tell. It could have been a middle school instead. It was so far away that he couldn’t even tell if they were boy teams or girl teams.

The school field and the players were only visible to him for only ninety-eight seconds, before other buildings blocked the view. Still, he thought he remembered it clearly.

The windows of the train car were closed because of the air conditioner. The train was noisy, and some schoolgirls were chatting as they stood by the door, but he thought he remembered hearing the players’ laugh. He remembered it as a mocking laugh, as if they knew he was alone and they were celebrating the fact that they were not.

When he got to Nagoya, he had forgotten about the woman seated next to him for part of the trip, but he would long remember those ball players, and the mocking laughter that he thought he heard on a hot, drab, rainy day.

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1 Comment »

  1. He may have forgotten about the woman, but the interface between emotional responses on his train ride would resonate for some time and, perhaps later over tea or through a crack in his consciousness where light or some other manifestation pricked the imprint on his soul, he would remember her once more. I suggest that she (or rather what she may have represented) would be the more enduring of the two. A poignantly written piece of prose.

    Comment by Sue — January 11, 2008 @ 9:05 pm | Reply


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