Intense Train Experience

 

We are all going to die.

Anything, it could be a bomb, a fire, an earthquake or just a kitten on the train tracks causing the conductor to apply the emergency brake and that’s it, people die.

I’m on the Yamanote line at, I can’t see my watch but it’s about 7:40 in the morning, and this car is so packed, far beyond “capacity”, that certain doom seems to be a physical thing.  It hangs out above all our heads in the only free space left in this cattle car of death.

Doom relaxes and looks down at us snickering.

Certain Doom has a cappuccino and has lit a cigarette.

The Yamanote line services 3.7 million people per day. That’s an incredible amount and it was never designed to do this.  In a country obsessed with safety, at least on the surface, it’s clear to me, at this moment, that in fact safety takes a back seat to getting asses injected into this already absurdly filled train car.

Station hands pushing passengers into the car so the doors can slide shut; I’ve seen this before.  Station hands having to physically rip the doors open when the train arrives because there’s too much pressure against the glass inside the car; a novelty.  Tokyo keeps coming up with ways to terrify and impress me.

Both my hands are raised up, holding onto one of the steel bars cris-crossing the ceiling of the car.  Every time the train accelerates away from the previous station, my arms shake as I fight to maintain my grip.  The 80% of commuters who are holding on to nothing sway with the mass of everyone and I feel as though I’m supporting the entire weight of the car.  It’s a physical and natural force. I’m reminded of the ocean.

I detest commuters that don’t hold on.

As the train reaches it’s cruising speed, the weight shifts off of me and I can breath again.  I can’t move, at all, but I can breath.  I look down and in front of me, pressed into me, is a girl. She must be fourteen years old and she’s wearing a dark blue sailor suit and has a black leather school bag draped over a shoulder.  The top of her head reaches up to my chest.

The train rocks and rolls and continues it’s journey.

The girl in front of me slowly lays her head on my chest.  She doesn’t look up at me but she only lays her head slowly on my chest and even if I wanted to, there would be no way for me to push her off.

Another station, Takadanobaba; Station staff tear the door open, people spew forth.  People get packed on.  Positions shift slightly.  I can see the young girl now, still in front of me, literally cheek to cheek due to the angles, with a sixty year old business man who is the same height as her and he’s deeply tanned with distinguished white hair and a dated but impeccably maintained dark blue suit that matches the girls school uniform.

What is it like to be this man?  How many times has he ridden this train? How many office meetings has he gone to? How many times has he yelled at his wife or caressed his child’s hair late at night, in the dark?  How many affairs has he had and when was the last time he was on this train and smiling, talking to a woman that smiled back at him?

And what’s it like growing up on these trains?  I see children everyday in the crowd.  Just little kids.  What’s it like being an year old girl crushed  between bodies that are connected to faces you can’t even see?  What does it do to her when she finally realizes that the man was pushing himself against her in a strange way?  Does she realize? 

Who was that man anyway and where did his life go?

At Shinjuku, finally, and the doors are pulled open by the sentinels and a mass exodus occurs.  People come streaming forward shuffling in baby steps onto a platform clogged with other people.  Nobody is really moving.  The speaker system is repeating commands to stay calm and move slowly and to clear the stairs but the stairs are solidly blocked with people just standing there, waiting to come onto the platform.

A woman two bodies in front of me gets pushed and loses her balance.  She falls, catching herself in a very awkward position, one hand on the ground, the other clutching her bag, her ass in the air.  She seems unable to get up and everyone is bumping her and shuffling and people are becoming mean.

People are losing their disguises.

I shove someone out of the way and reach the woman just at the top of the stairs and I simply, from behind, wrap my right arm around her waist and lift her up, carrying her down the stairs with me one little step at a time.  She’s very light, not much more than the weight of a child. Her body feels tiny and useless, like there is no core to speak of; nothing solid. I can’t imagine existing this way but something tells me that she doesn’t wake up at night in cold sweats after long conversations with dead people.

At the bottom I set her down on her own feet and she looks at me for only a moment and her eyes are red from tears that were filling and she’s in her late 20’s and an utter wallflower. She says “Argatou Gozaimasu. Sumimasen Deshita.” As if it was her fault she couldn’t survive in the mosh pit with the angry salary men and nihilistic 17 year old high school boys and the jaded construction workers and the drunk party girls going home and the foreigner.  So, I just walk away from her and pass by the long full line of people waiting to get onto the Yamanote line.

I notice then as I climb the Chuo line stairs toward the platform that it’s largely empty and nobody seems to be around.

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