Sunday, January 9, 2011

Of long gone Summers and taking the wrong train

Minmaya!! That was the name he was looking for. He had spent an entire Saturday and a bit more, but yeah, early Sunday or late Saturday, depending on the kind of person one is, he finally managed to roll out the syllables painfully encrypted in the depths of his sub conscious. 2:10 AM.

It was a name from four summers ago, not too long ago, many would say,again depending on the kind of person one is... but he had grown old in the meanwhile. Four years... "Older than I once was, younger than I'll ever be, but that's not unusual" as Paul Simon would say.... The summer of 2007, was preceded by a long winter and a longer more painful spring.

He had decided the summer would be his epilogue to the story of his last one year. A year he made choices, including a choice not to make one. Choices that defined him, more than any event in his 25 year old life. 25 is a nice round figure. He never understood why 25, not 24 and 26 are counted upon as significant take-stock milestones. Was this a result of the decimal system? What ages did the Romans deem significant ?

Mimaya became a little paragraph in his epilogue. A dead end on the JR Tohoku line. A point of must return. He had left Tokyo's Ueno station early in the morning at 5AM. Changed seven crossing the torturous spine of the Japanese mainland, all to reach Aomori in time to catch the 1130PM ferry across the Tsugaru on to Hakodate.
Crossing the sea, gave him a metaphorical finish line. To start a new race all over. To be done with the race he had been running all along. A race he had lost, but like the athletes trailing the winner and runners up, just pointlessly kept running to reach the ribbon which has been breasted and subsequently trampled upon by a horde who already finished ahead of him. Flying didnt give him the same feeling. It had to be a boat. A break in the medium not dimension.
Reaching Kanita three fourths of the way, he felt confident enough to hop on to the train heading north, without asking the ever polite station attendant of the final destination.

It was a little toybox of a train. The kind railways put in at the fringes of their network. Fringes forgotten by people but alive as numbers in the budget sheets of a Rail company. But none the less important to the two people every square kilometer who live in these fringes. People who plan their entire social lives around a timetable at the neighborhood railway platform(yeah not station). Soon, he was passing through cabbage fields (reminded him of Chekov's Soviet), little platforms with people sitting on benches on the platforms not to catch trains, but to catch up on conversations and sunshine. The train, hesitantly gathered speed, knowing surely that she had to stop in the next minute or two and then she gave up hope at the slightest tug at her brakes,stopping to drop off a lady and her unmarried 35 year old daughter here, a milkman there.. He could not see the coastline, but he could smell the sea. A smell not unlike the sea of his home.

It was a good two hours where he sat looking out of the window, acknowledging or ignoring fellow passengers depending on how much he liked them when he saw them on the platform as the train drew in. He never listened to much music on the road..or on the rail. He never managed to finish a book on the road. He needed long pauses in motion to be able to dispose of a couple of chapters. His books always got back badly dog eared from a trip. Not from use, but being shoved into a rucksack which seemed to have enough wiggle room when the trip started, but now was strangely refusing to accommodate.

A little into the afternoon, he rolled into a quaint little town called Minmaya and yeah, it didnt take him too long to figure that he would be going nowhere for a while. A traveller can easily know by the sounds the train makes at the last stop. It's like a collective sigh of an audience after a rather boring lecture one has to sit through more out of politeness than heartfelt interest.
He asked the station attendant(ever polite) in his pidgin Japanese. He always took care to use the pidgin version. He had learnt that the moment, one asks a question in fluent Japanese, one gets an answer in fluent Japanese, and it aint easy for him to keep count once that starts happening.
He got a suitably "yukkuri hanashitekudasai" response telling him what he had suspected.

This was the end of the line. Would you like to stay?
Then why are you here?
Wrong train.
Wrong train he says,haha.Where do you want to go.
Aomori?Haha. Go back to Kanita.Haha.
Well, haha.When does train leave?
In an hour.Are you sure you dont want to stay?Haha.
Well, haha.

And there he was in a little town, a town he would have liked to settle into a quiet retirement like the one the station master was looking forward to..or not. A town, where time was measured not in minutes, but in seasons. Four springs old, three summers ago. He sat on the bench watching the train. She was in a deep unshakeable slumber, like people who sleep with no sign of life.
He knew then, that he would miss the ferry. Five hours in a day is a tough little stretch to make up for when all one has is a Seishyun 18 ticket and a lot of time to kill. He made peace and waited for the train to wake up.


Looking back, four summers hence,with the benefit of hindsight he realised that reaching Aomori in time for the ferry, would really not have made any difference. His obsession with the prize was strong enough for him to disqualify winners, move the finish line and ....may be he still races against ghosts for prizes long won.

Minmaya was just another bend in the track. A nice little memorable bend from four summers ago.
He uploaded the blog entry, switched off the lights, opened the curtains and faded away with hazy images of deer at sheer gorges, volcanoes with jagged cones, a shop attendant who rented bicycles next to an onsen, who served milk in bottles....and the prize.

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