By Trina Denner
It was cold.
The carriage doors opened to let in the young woman, and, with her, a gust of wind that carried an assurance of snow. They closed behind, silencing the platform, sealing her in with the fragrance of wool and warm bodies.
The train did not dally in its launch, but transitioned from stationary to fast in one solid movement.
The faux fur lining the edges of her jacket held droplets of winter. Although, it wasn’t winter yet. It was barely October. She shrugged off the hood, and with wet beads falling to the floor, she was revealed. Rusty smears flecked her skin; the colour of parched bone.
The men did not look at her. They gently curved their faces to left or right. She gave a snappy shake of her head to dislodge the hair wedged at her nape, knowing they would not turn towards her. Not that she would mind if they had.
She raked her fingers through hair down her chest, enjoying the feeling of it, unraveled.
She found the men oddly unreachable, and in a way, disappointing.
Nothing like the boys back home, with their howls and barking. Their strained voices from Holden dual-cabs yelling ‘show us your tits’.
She grabbed at an overhead hand-hold, scanning for a seat. It was mid-morning and the daylight was faint.
Not like back home.
This was a sun wrapped in blue cellophane. Crisp and cool. She was used to a sun with harsh angles, drawing contrast and colour from everything it touched. Bouncing off the surf, blinding you so you couldn’t see if it were your brother on that wave, or your boyfriend. Hell, it could even be your grandmother’s podiatrist for all you could see, in that sun, from the dunes.
The young woman chose to sit on a side-facing seat, between two men, who moved in responding unison. Both shifting their weight, minutely away, and back down, as if at a more respectable distance. She wasn’t sure if she’d sat there just to make them uncomfortable, and she didn’t care to work it out.
She sat as an isthmus. No, as an island.
Contained, obvious, and quite decidedly remote.
And bare, she reflected, as she turned, finch-like, to take in the gentleman on her right. Funny that she would think of him as a gentle-man, in his middle-aged business suit, with his ever-dark hair and posture noble enough for a monarch. He was definitely not a bloke. Or a fella. Or a lad.
He turned further from her. Almost imperceptibly so, but she was as a bird in that moment, and noticed his discomfort under her placid scrutiny. She flicked her head to the other side, crossing her leg against his silent rebuff.
On her left sat a man not much older than herself. He wore dark glasses. Superdry. And mowhawk-reminiscent hair. And Tsubi jeans. And a Comme de Garcons jacket.
Stylin’, she thought, but then went on to consider nothing else about him as she noticed the two women across.
They were old. So old. Fragile old.
Their eyes were closed in sleep, this pigeon pair, and for all intents and purposes, they were dead. Frozen in last century; painted white faces and rose bud lips that were mostly just rouge on skin rather than actual lip. And those funny thick-white socks with their clogs, which made her thoughts shift whimsically to running through summer in thongs.
So different from the old ladies back home with their fawn coloured slacks, pleated definite and straight down the front of each leg, and singlets for bras, and their hair permed into tight, fake balls of violet.
The two ancient dolls swayed gently in their sleep. Hands on purses neatly in their laps, and white-gray hair twisted smooth and stabbed through with sticks that held glass beads jingling softly as they danced with the motion of the train.
They stirred in her a memory she did not recognise as her own.
She closed her eyes, recording the sight of them. Their kimonos of red and pale blue, and cherry blossoms and herons. The finest of thread woven into a gloss. The young woman smiled as the eyes of one flickered in her slumber. It was the smaller woman. The plumper one.
She wondered what she dreamed about that should cause her lashes to flutter so, speculating that perhaps it was her lover from decades past who had returned to her, where age could not reach them. His hair jet and eyes alert, and his lips parting softly as he kissed her dream.
The red letters scrolled across the digital board at the corner of her vision. Shinjuku station.
She stood with a last look at the old women, who refused to stir as the train baulked at the sight of the station.
The doors opened and the scent of early winter burned her nostrils. She stepped down and was immediately engulfed in the tide of black-haired travelers. She, ginger and bright, zigzagged in a haphazard line as she moved away from the train.
Image by Wilson Lau