Tuesday, July 21, 2015
The Empty Seat Gets Taken
I noticed the car filling up as the departure time neared... See, the thing is, you (and by "you" I mean "I") can't help but think about what's going on around me. I endeavor not to let it monopolize my attention, though, by keeping distractions on hand at all times. But, still, no matter what, I have to acknowledge it and file it away, in as detached a manner as possible (on a good day.)
This was one of those good days.
I scanned the car as the the departure time arrived and noticed, predictably, that the only empty seat was, alas, the one beside me. No one was standing as of yet.
Moment of truth...or, in this case, mounting truth (after all, at this point, it was the last seat available and had been weighed and found wanting by a number of passengers already).
A man boards -- the first to have to outright choose to stand instead of take the seat -- and, after scraping his eyes over me, did just that...a half a car away. Mind you, I'm taking note of this as inconspicuously as possible. If they're aware that their behavior is being scrutinized by me then their counter-surveillance skills parallel my own. And I would find that hard to believe -- for I've been honing mine for damn near 9 years now -- but not impossible.
The next to board through the nearest door was a woman, clearly eager and expecting to sit, spots the seat beside me and heads straight for it. Then, again, sadly and predictably, she almost stumbles in her effort to curtail her forward momentum. I almost look up from my iPad just to give her enough eye-contact to let her know I'm well aware that I am (or at least whatever she saw when she looked at me is) the reason for her sudden hesitation.
I used to think I could put the person at ease if they were able to see my eyes and the utter lack of ill-intent in them. But, that had backfired so many times I began to wonder if my eyes no longer lacked ill-intentions. That, in fact, there was something in my eyes that conveyed the message "Never Mind the Dog, Beware of Owner!" with a hand on the trigger of a smoking gun. So, I've given up on that. I've accepted this as the status quo.
She really wanted to sit down, though. She walked over to the nearby door leading to the next car and peered through it determined to find a free seat. Apparently gaijin were in short supply on this train and all those seats were taken, as well. She turned back to the free seat beside me and I felt her eyes on me, again, doing some serious thinking now. I could almost hear the shelling from the internal battle in her mind with whatever was prompting her fear.
I used to try to imagine what must be going through their minds. I avoid such inclinations now as often as I can. I know they are to no avail and little good can come of the practice. However, annoyingly, I felt this untoward urge to cut a glare at her, to scare her off, for her prolonged hesitation, which was becoming spectacle...others in the vicinity, previously content to pretend not to be aware of her predicament, were beginning to look up from their iPhones, Manga, and newspapers to observe her handling of this dilemma...one they all might find themselves in someday...
Then, surprisingly, she came to a stop and stood in front of the seat, I didn't give her a much deserved look, though. I just let it go...as much as something like this can ever be let go, as much as I ever let ugliness of this nature go. Even as I tried to respond to a reader who'd given me a shout out on my book page, I could feel her eyes trained on me. When I scrolled down the page, I could see the reflection of her shadowy face gazing down at me... Fuck it! I lifted my head and caught her eyes, transfixed...on the iPad? I quickly looked away before she noticed and then back down to my lap, wondering what could be holding her attention so fixedly.
My first thought was she probably could read English and was surprised at the book's title...that thought lasted until I heard her say, "Sumimasen..." as she took the seat beside me. Now, helplessly, I glanced over at her, and she kinda half-smiled / nod-bowed. I was too surprised to react.
Rarely has anyone who has gone as far as to do the little chickenshit two-step in front of the empty seat been overcome by a desire to actually take it. WTF! I felt an intense desire to know why, like we'd been having a conversation, she and I -- hell, everyone in the vicinity and I -- and suddenly, mid-convo, she just up and changed the subject...apropos of nothing and without any indication that she was partial to explaining why. I'm sure I wasn't the only one engaged enough to want an explanation, either; a bit of conjecture somewhat confirmed by several sets of stupefied eyes that were upon her.
I looked back at the page, no longer suspecting English ability on her part...still, nothing jumped off the page. I sat there stumped. I was about to chalk it up to yet another in a long series of inexplicable encounters I've had over the years when I noticed her peeking at my iPad again, semi-surreptitiously. I followed her peripheral line of sight as well as I could and I realized it was aimed at the banner, where it reads in her native tongue: 世界平和 (world peace) こころの色はみんな同じ (Everybody's heart is the same color) and 世界をひとつに(One World)
I had used some of the art my kids at work had painted a couple of years ago for the banner. There was no way to confirm, short of asking her (which I didn't...punked out) if the artwork and its message had anything to do with her having decided to take the seat; nor could I draw any conclusions of what the implications of her response might be. Nevertheless I felt a sense of...I dunno...let's just say something closing in on truth.
It was enough to inspire me to allow her an ironic smile. I turned her way and gave it to her.