Saturday, September 15, 2012

Chapter 1: Wednesday Evening 4PM

It was a cold day. Late winter. Early spring. Not freezing ,just cold. Enough to make him want to reach into his backpack and retrieve his well worn fleece jacket. The cuffs of which were beginning to fray.There were coffee stains on the breast pocket from an ill timed sneeze .The kind that comes on suddenly. Without warning
He had caught the train(the only train) from Kirishima early in the morning.  The station master had told him that it would depart at 9:39 in the morning when he ran into him closing the ticket window the previous night. He spent the night in a ryokan amidst a wooded enclave upon a hill with a steeply winding gravel path. The tatami was spotless and he slept soundly through straw flavored dreams in a town where time ceased to matter. Except for the little matter of the only train out.
But that was a long time ago.He had boarded the train which, true to the station master's word, departed at the appointed minute and slithered down the mountain side in a breathless run. Quite unlike the restless diesels from his childhood at home, a long way away.
Now he was at the coast. Kagoshima. And he could see the Sakurajima across the straits.The volcano was silent. No ash belching fissures. Not even a steam trail. He felt cheated. 

His three weeks in Kyushu were drawing to a close. Three weeks of slow trains, mountain huts, naked bulbs, moonscapes, freezing (not just cold) nights, and hallucinations involving Fibonacci series, prime numbers and mythical sea gods of ancient Japan. This was as far south as he intended to travel. He needed to find a night bus out of Kagoshima to Fukuoka. He would thus save on the night's stay at an antiseptic urban inn with hand sanitizers. Monogrammed towels too.

It was close to four in the evening. The bus station was a mile away . In spite of the chill, a stubborn film of sweat formed on his forehead as he followed the signboards to the bus stop.

“Evening. Do the buses to Fukuoka depart from here?”
“Yeah. It’s a good six and a half hours away.”
"Six and a half hours you say?", he confirmed with the face at the ticket window.
"Yes. The next is at six and we have one leave every three hours hence"
"Do you have any seats left on the midnight bus?"
"Let's see", he said, adjusting his bifocals with his gloved right hand and gingerly typing into his console with one finger of his left. "The bus is mostly empty. I'll recommend the aisle seat down by the emergency exit. More room to wiggle your toes there.", he said with a practiced furrow of his brows.
"Thanks. That would be my seat then".
"For 4800 yen it is all yours"
He paid up.
"That's your ticket.And it departs at 12:05 to be precise".A gloved hand pressed the ticket and the change into his.
"You have a lot of time to kill before you are warm inside the bus".
"I'll potter around"
"You could try the pachinko joint around the corner"
"Too noisy for my tastes.Thanks anyways"
"Well good evening to you then" ,he said with an air of disappointment. Mildly aggrieved.

On his way down from the railway station, he had passed by a cinema. It had been a while since he had been to one. He headed back in the general direction of the cinema, this time taking a longer detour keeping to the coast road for most part. An old street car rumbled by on well worn tracks. Gulls and people fluttered past.

The cinema was one of those which had been built in a hurry in the bubble boom of the nineties. Three screens and a 24 hour Denny's. He went into the diner.

"Pancakes and maple syrup, please"
"Good choice sir", the waitress chirped
"Cant go wrong with pancakes.Can we?"
She smiled awkwardly.
"Coffee to go?"
"There is a dispenser by the slot machine. You can help yourself. It's free .Your pancakes will be served in 15 minutes"
"Take your time. I am in no hurry"
She smiled awkwardly again. Like she had something more to say. She hurried back to the counter and punched in his order.

The cinema schedules were on a crumpled flyer weighed down by a salt shaker.   
He had two choices. A movie about a bunch of tiresome school kids swimming from Kagoshima to Sakurajima (the trailers had been running on NHK for a while now) .The second was My Blueberry Nights(took a while for him to figure out the katakana for Blueberry). Norah Jones and Jude Law. Not much of a choice. There next was a show at nine. 

Towards the end of a long journey, time expands. It wasn’t even half past five yet. He fished out a book . Soon he was lost in painfully little details about life in Sorbonne, Sartre, Beauvoir, Paris. Another tome penned by another American trying to ascribe allusions of literary respectability to his sense of self worth in the backstreets of St.Germain living on a wired allowance and cheap pernod. He had picked up the book in a sale at the Blue Parrot Bookstore a few minutes’ walk from the Takadanobaba station on the Yamanote line in Tokyo. He left at eight and headed upstairs to the booking office. He left a larger than usual tip.
The elevator had seen better days. It shuddered as it rose up the shaft. Someone had scribbled “Tanaka for Emperor” and someone else “Akita women are best” on the inside. He had been to Akita. He had no reason to agree. Or disagree. The door opened and he walked into a foyer with a “Ticket Counter” sign pointing to the left.   

He turned left into a carpeted corridor and walked past movie posters before reaching an unnecessarily placed revolving door.

Pushing hard at the glass door he walked in.