THE TRAIN MAN
The foreigner got on the express train in the windy
seaside town of Izuro.
He put the ticket in his coat pocket. The line ended
in Shinagawa station
in Tokyo. It was a long ride. Over the windows were
and a small television screen promoting cultural
When he looked towards the front he saw the door leading
into the next cab
and the other doors leading farther up, like the
within a mirror.
He could see the cabs ahead shift left and right
in little jerks he barely
felt as the engine twisted on the tracks going up
the Izu Peninsula.
It was mid-afternoon.
The cab was fairly crowded, yet there was an empty
Some people preferred to stand, reading newspapers
They swayed back and forth with the train, holding
on to hanging loops.
The foreigner, pressing his coat to his body, sat
between an old woman and
a boy wearing a leather jacket with a silver American
Indian painted on its
lapel. Looking out the window, the foreigner saw
the fronts of wooden houses
flash past and then a large white cloud. He felt
He was in Japan for two weeks.
He had finished the business part of it and intended
to use the days
remaining just being a tourist. It was his first
Max wanted to experience the countryside, and something
of old Japan,
but he had problems relaxing. There was too much
to see and of course his
time was limited.
He heard a tiny singing voice. The boy beside him
was rocking his head.
A wire led from inside his jacket to a plug in his
ear. The pocket radio
must have been at full volume to be heard from inside
the boy's head.
The music sounded scratchy, like the buzzing of
a kind of insect made of
aluminum foil. It didn't specially bother Max. But
he realized the boy
would soon be deaf in a few years. He wanted to
warn him, but Max knew only
one language. And doing it with gestures could be
So, he simply scratched his head, smoothing down
the gray with the black
hairs. The seacoast was chilly. He had walked around,
then drank a beer
before boarding the train. He closed his eyes and
soon fell into a doze.
The sleep had no color.
He was woken up by a pain below his throat. A funny
sensation, like the
result of a blow, numbed the left side of his face.
When he tried to think,
he realized that he didn't know where he was.
Frightened, he tried to look around but discovered
he couldn't move his head
much. He stared out the window.
The left side of his face and his left leg were
Max realized he had had a stroke, but he remembered
He could not talk. The back of his head was propped
against the window
glass behind him. An icy cube of fear tumbled behind
his eyes, dropped
into his throat, and spun against his cheeks. He
felt his heart turn
inside his chest. Slender apartment houses flashed
past. On the roof of
a building a gorilla advertising the pachinko parlor
Max wanted to think but found that at least for
the moment he did not
know how. He felt his will but did not know the
He floated inside a wordless mentality that wrinkled
with the throb of
his pulse, inarticulate like the mind of an animal
that was drowning or
being pursued by a
Max struggled to move his lips and soon found that
he could better and
better. The numbness receded from his chin, from
his cheek, and then there
was only a spot of ice on the tip of his left ear
next to his skull.
In his left leg the numbness remained in a band
around his ankle.
And, to his relief, he didn't feel his heavy tongue
anymore and he could
He said, "Aaaah, aaaah,ooowwwwwwW."
Beside him and across the aisle, people glanced
at him curiously.
He was okay again.
He thanked....thanked.... But he could remember
He told himself he was 'alive'.
He didn't feel grateful.
The word felt hollow, a sound, and he didn't understand
what he meant by it.
He stood up, took two steps, wondering where he
He knew he had to be in some place, that he belonged
He happened to notice what a man standing beside
him was reading.
It was a magazine filled with cartoons.
Max stared at the drawings of figures talking to
each other, sleeping,
kicking other drawings, and kissing in a place that
looked like where
he was, the figures with dots for eyes and black
hair moving from one
frame to the next like a trail of the past into
the future but there on
the page the past drawn in its frame didn't vanish,
it remained next to
the future. Each frame by itself meant nothing,
a moment paralyzed like
Perplexed, he checked the world around him with
that on the page,
and the similarities conspired to unsettle him.
He thought to himself, 'I am alive',
but felt more sense for the 'life' in the comics
than for the quiet people
in the long room that rattled and zoomed past the
ever changing pictures
in the windows.
Then Max was thrown back.
The train screeched around a curve. He grabbed at
one of the hanging loops
for standing passengers, missed it, and found himself
rocked back onto his
People began to peer earnestly at him.
He sat now very still. He struggled to deflect stabs
of wild claustrophobia
that almost brought pain to his eyes and with each
attack a sensing of mad
vision that was even more frightening. The cool
expanse of mind of only
moments ago was invaded by an amorphous struggling
Who was he?
What was he seeing? Where were they going?
And what were the pictures in the windows, another
kind of comics?
To distract his mind, he studied the people.
Some of them too seemed to be studying him.
One face looked almost like the next.
He was attracted to those faces whose lips were
painted but those averted
his eyes. Some others appeared to be sleeping. On
the back page of a news-
paper was the picture of a naked person with legs
spread apart and who
seemed to be in pain.
The picture disturbed him as he stared at it.
Its nakedness made him wonder about the others and
He looked down at his body and slowly unbuttoned
He touched his flesh and hairs, then ran his hand
inside but didn't feel
the obvious chest bulge possessed by the person
in the picture.
He discovered his belly button.
Yes, this was like in the picture.
Max felt that he was clarifying some mysteries of
his identity and
he exclaimed, "Ah!,"
Then he felt the hard strap around his waist; so
different from the texture
of his hands or the other kind of skin that hid
Moving down, he touched a tiny handle, glanced at
the naked picture
and, holding his breath, pulled down the zipper.
He stuck his hand inside his pants and pulled out
his sexual organ.
Out from a crown of stiff hairs, the sight of the
thing, fairly light
in coloration and somewhat firm at the end of which
was a slit like a shut,
lashless eye in a faceless pinkness, shocked him
and he screamed.
He was not the only one.
When he looked up, away from the thing, he saw other
which frightened him even more and he screamed a
Everybody was staring at him, some with open mouths,
some with jaws
dropped, others with twitching brows, and strangely,
one or two with
A person with painted lips hugged a very small person's
head to cover
its eyes. The one with the newspaper was laughing,
but suddenly some
persons got up, shaking their arms and making plenty
of noise, started
moving towards Max.
He didn't understand a word of what they were shouting.
A man in a cap, wearing a bluish uniform, started
running down the long,
shaking room towards him.
Had the world gone mad?
Max jumped up and himself careened away from them,
swatting off the hands
that sought to grab him. A dense clump of people,
it seemed the whole room,
was up and after him.
Pages of newspapers were thrown about, and a thick
comic book twirled
sharply across his temple.
He didn't know what to say, what to explain when
everything to him
was so new.
How could he explain to them the mystery of his
being when they were making
He passed through a doorway into a next long room
and here the persons were
seated and calm, reading and dozing, but he couldn't
suddenly stop running
and he exploded past them, a moment before the hysterical
gang after him
two or three of whom stopped to explain the situation
but also a few more
bodies joined the chase.
The next room looked full with standing persons
that Max suddenly crashed
into, eyeglasses and purses sent flying amid a commotion
that grew more
frightening, more irrational with the world shaking
and groaning around
him and the pictures in the windows transforming
from colored frames to
blackness and then bursting into buildings and trees
It was terrible and Max wished he was....and Max
screamed his first words,
So perhaps he was getting better, the wound in his
brain healing, letting
a word drip onto his tongue.
He pushed into the next room.
"What? What? What?"
He heard a shout he thought he understood -
"Hey, man! What's happenin' ?!"
"What? What? What?" Max answered.
Suddenly, something changed.
The world around him stopped going forward.
He was thrown into a cluster of bodies that began
to press into a side
of the room that slid open. Max found himself in
its midst being rolled
out of the world. Shoved and spun around, but glad
to discover he did not
drop into a void.
The cold wind surprised him, and the great room
flooded with bodies,
and a noise booming in a box up on a pole. He had
never looked at so many
persons standing up, moving - but going where?
They didn't see each other when they passed, almost
all of them clutching
the little books or newspapers of obviously unimaginable
The bodies poured out of the holes in his world.
He did not know why - he was being pushed on into
He could not see, dragged in a crush of accelerations,
what surface held
Instantly - like a dark insight - he imagined that
nothing existed below him,
a hollow like his mind.
One huffing body carrying a red box changed his
direction, forcing him
against an interlacing mass that abruptly separated,
thinned away, became
only one person stepping out of the bright hole,
and Max quickly jumped back
in, zipping up his pants.
He stood again on a hard surface.
He heard the door shut behind him. As before persons
were seated in two
long opposing rows. Others were standing. Max felt
a jerk sideways,
the room started moving.
It was a good feeling.
The tension in his neck eased. He glanced into the
Everything appeared calm.
There was another sharp pull as the room gained
Pictures flew across the window frames.
He held off a floating sensation as the movement
climbed over an angle
of the track.
Max felt so relieved to be in familiar surroundings
that he almost forgot
he didn't know who he was. Came the old sliding
sound of steel on steel
like a long bright snore. Max held his throat, just
to touch his flesh,
to be surprised by its warmth. The ticking on the
side of his neck intrigued
him; a flow inside that seemed to tickle into his
The persons around him appeared frozen, their lips
compressed in a feature-
Max wondered if they felt what he was feeling?
Why did they seem to him so distant, why.....alive..only
when their faces
were twisted in anger?
He moved carefully through the room and passed a
little person who was
blowing into a paper propeller pinned to a stick.
The propeller whirred
as yellow streamers along the circumference wiggled
out, changing the
little face. Tiny white teeth showed and it made
bright sounds that Max
He was afraid to look down, but repeated in a low
"Heh, heh, heh, heh!"
Quickening his steps, he walked into the next room.
The man with a cap and bluish uniform was nowhere
Something else drew his attention.
Up on the side of the room was a small screen that
showed a person
standing on its toes. Also from the screen came
a pleasant sound within
which the person moved, slowly turning on its toes
and lifting one leg
high in the air; it bent and leaped in a manner
that was so smooth and
effortless that Max wondered what kind of world
the screen represented.
The figure moved with a rapid fluttering of its
feet through a colored
air against a background of shapes very different
from what appeared
in a blur across the windows of the room.
Then the person suddenly grew large in the screen
so that its face filled
it entirely, for a moment; painted and beautiful
with a smile that seemed
so satisfied Max knew the world in the screen was
where he wanted to be.
Utterly captivated, he watched the figure put out
its long slender arm
to touch another dancer and just then the person
with painted lips stand-
ing beside him dropped her hand from the handle-loop.
Keeping an eye on the screen, Max held her fingertips
with his, threw his
other arm up, and mirroring the grace he witnessed
in the boxed world,
sprung onto his toes.
As the woman's face hardened into a density of distance,
Max twirled on the
blunt pivot of his shoes, hearing the music, feeling
grace like a luminous
beat in his heart.
It was then that Max knew who he was.