I once knew a guy who touched a woman on the platform at Shinjuku station. Groped, maybe. He said he never meant to do it. Told me it was all a big misunderstanding.
“Look,” he said, “it was a busy morning, and the train was running late, but the commuters kept coming, and we all got squashed together. It just kind of happened.”
Later, after a few beers, he also said, “Look, okay. Okay. So she was beautiful, too. Gorgeous. And yeah, her curves were the kind of curves a guy like me admires. Covets, even. Curves like that? They make the kind of shape you don’t want to forget.”
So, you know, make of that what you will.
The guy said someone pushed him. He fell forward, bumped into the woman, then tried to grab her so she wouldn’t fall.
“I didn’t have time to think about it,” he said. “I thought maybe she was going to fall on the tracks. Even without a train coming, that’s some fall, you know?”
He told me he grabbed her “in the wrong place, clearly”, and it was not received well. The woman screamed, then turned, then attacked him with her handbag.
“I knew what was coming,” he said. “First the train station attendants, then the cops, then my boss, then my wife. Like dominoes falling to the end of the world, all because of a misunderstanding.”
He panicked. The crowd pushed him around. Arms reached out to grab him. The woman’s screams filled his ears. Her handbag slapped against his forearms.
“I knew if I tried the stairs or the elevator, I was done,” he said. “Finished. The station was too busy. I’d be wading through an ocean of people. They’d get me by the time I hit the ticket gates. I needed another way.”
So he leapt from the platform and onto the tracks. He said he’d seen it in the news. A guy got in trouble for something, then jumped the tracks and ran for the tunnels. He’d watched it on the television and thought it was stupid.
It was surreal, then, to find himself right there, stumbling into the darkness of the tunnels and leaving the light behind him.
“I wonder how many people saw footage of me running and thought I was stupid,” he said.
I’d seen the footage.
So that meant there was at least one.
“Eventually, I found a nook,” he said.
It was hidden behind a small section of chain-link fence under a short platform, with just enough space to squeeze under. It was about the size of a tent.
He said he sat there in the darkness, waiting. He heard sirens and whistles. Shouts followed by muttered echoes. Flashlights played across the tunnel walls, and feet trudged by the nook. The sounds began to fade.
He was left with a deep, black silence.
And then, the click-click of a lighter, and a lit cigarette, floating in the darkness.
“So, what’d you do?”
“Well,” she said. “What’d you do?”
He told me he couldn’t make her out in the darkness. He saw a vague outline. A silhouette illuminated by a single cigarette. A few orange lines on a stark, black background.
“A woman thought I touched her,” he said. “Inappropriately.”
“And did you?”
A far-off rumble grew into the roar of a passing train. Light rippled across the walls of the nook. He squinted to see the girl more clearly, but couldn’t.
When the silence returned, he said, “Well, I did, but it wasn’t like that.”
The girl exhaled smoke with the hint of a bitter laugh.
“Sure it wasn’t,” she said.
She told him she worked on the line as an assistant construction engineer. There weren’t any girls in her department, so the nook was her hideaway. She said she came mostly in the mornings.
He told her he worked for a small magazine as head-editor, and probably he was late for work again, but the girl said nothing. Her cigarette seemed to hover in the air, oblivious and neutral.
“I should get going,” he said. “I’m sorry to bother you.”
The cigarette bobbed slightly, then settled. He imagined it dangling from soft, pretty lips.
He told me he watched a few more trains pass before leaving. The nook was dark and dirty, but also entirely hidden. It was a place that existed where nobody expected, because it shouldn’t have existed at all.
“I don’t know what to say, man,” he said. “I just liked it there.”
For a week, he couldn’t get that girl out of his head. He thought about the nook and the echo of passing trains. He dreamed of cigarettes floating in the darkness.
That weekend, he bought a plastic name tag, and a white hard hat.
He took to wearing the name tag and the hard hat on Wednesday mornings. He stood at the end of the platform, and when the timing felt right, he slipped through the metal gate and headed for the tunnels.
He said, “The easiest way to break into a place is to look like you’re meant to be there.”
Usually, it was just their two cigarettes, floating in the darkness as trains passed by.
Sometimes they talked, but more often they didn’t. Mostly they just sat, and smoked, and watched the trains.
He thought about her a lot, he said.
“More than I should have,” he said. “More than was right.”
“I’m glad I can’t see you,” he said one day.
“I mean, I’m glad I don’t know who you are.”
The two of them watched a train pass by. They listened to the familiar rhythm of hurtling steel. The slow fade into silence.
“I just think I would do something stupid,” he said. “I would find a way to screw things up.”
Her cigarette remained still in the darkness.
“Look,” he said, “the day I found this place? When I touched that woman? That was an accident. I swear on my mother’s name. It was an accident. I never wanted it to be like that. I have a wife. We’ve got a kid coming. Things are where they’re supposed to be.”
He paused as another train passed by.
“But there’s a part of me that would’ve done it,” he said. “A part of me that would’ve touched her if I knew I could get away with it. If I knew that she wanted it. There’s something deep inside me that wanted her so bad I’d drop it all if she gave me half the chance. And I know I’d regret it. I know that in the pit of my soul. But I know I’d still do it.”
They sat in the silence of the empty tunnel, waiting, but another train never came.
“I don’t like that part of myself,” he said. “Somedays I just feel like I’m losing control of it.”
The girl said nothing.
“I should go,” he said.
He never went back to the nook again.
“Maybe she’s still there,” he said, “smoking her cigarettes and watching the trains in the morning. I don’t know. But I burdened her that day, and I couldn’t bring myself to go back.”
We sat in silence for a time, and listened as a train rumbled along lonely tracks, somewhere in the distance.
“I think I loved her,” he said.
And that was as much as he would tell me about it. For the rest of the evening, he drank beer, talked loud, and occasionally stared off into space, lost.
I sometimes think about that guy and the story he told me. I imagine his nook, and the girl who sits in it; alone except for a cigarette, and the occasional passing train.
Sometimes I want to ask him about it, and ask better questions, and get to the bottom of the whole thing, but since the night we talked, I’ve never had the chance.
Because when they started putting protective barriers along the train station platforms, he simply ran out of places to run to.
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