There’s hardly any sound except the gentle swoosh and hum of the train we’re sitting in. Standard railway announcements fill the air. This station. Next station. Mind the doors. They’re in Japanese. Sweet, sweet Japanese dipped in rich soy sauce. There are faces around me. Oh, so many faces. I feel like I’m eavesdropping on their lives. I’m being intrusive. Voyeuristic, even. But gosh, how could I not look? How could I not sniff out the stories around me?
There’s an elderly woman sitting opposite me with her legs crossed, making notes in her diary, tucking her hair behind her ears as she pauses to think. There’s silver, powdery make-up on her eyelids, glistening quietly as the sun peeps in through the clear glass windows of the train. Tufts of puffy, white fur is peeking out of her wrists. A muffler is wrapped fashionably around her neck – cosy, snug. Flamboyant Japanese letters flow out from the tip of her pen and onto the paper. A slow, unhurried drawl. Each letter looks like a little piece of art, but in reality, she’s only keeping a tab on her expenses.
A tall, thin, youthful student is standing by the door, eager to reach his destination. His straight hair falls over his forehead and covers his eyes. His earphones are plugged deep inside his ears, eyes fixated on the screen, fingers tapping away adroitly. He’s probably isn’t even typing full sentences or using proper punctuation marks. He’s okay with that, and so are his friends. There’s a fresh scratch mark on his finger right under his nail. Impatience has its follies. He looks like he can’t wait for life to happen to him.
A middle-aged man is wearing a white face mask. His pants are crisp, pristine and white. He looks antiseptic. He’s fast asleep next to the window, and his body is hunched forward as if he’s on battery saver mode. His face is slightly scrunched up as if he’s dreaming of something unsavoury. His black overcoat hangs loosely around him, as if it was hesitant to be taken out this cold Monday morning. He looks like if he was left alone, he could go into hibernation.
Three teenagers, schoolboys, friends. They’re huddled together as if there’s an invisible bonfire between them. There are tiny, pink pimples strewn across their faces. They’re all gangly and have their hands deep in their pockets. They’re wearing black coats and serious expressions. They talk in soft tones, but when they laugh, they don’t hold back. As they throw their heads back and guffaw at their shared jokes and quips, their eyes become half-moons and their noses crinkle with mischief. Their laughter defies the discipline they seem to possess. It’s like a pair of orange coloured socks peeking out from under a dull, grey business suit.
Two kids hover around their mother. They’re wearing colourful pyjamas with unrecognisable cartoon characters stamped all over them. The mother is wearing a spotless white face mask and an overgrown jacket that isn’t large enough to conceal her bump. She looks wearily at her children as they wriggle and squirm around her. She seems too tired to intervene as they quarrel. She glances at two girls standing against a pillar, clad in black skirts with checkered patterns. They’re giggling, their poker straight hair seems to laugh along. She looks at them only for a fleeting moment and then looks away.
There’s a young girl with blunt-cut hair adorned with red and white ribbons and tiny, golden bells. Her knitted stockings have diamond-shaped patterns on them. She’s wearing a brightly coloured frock that has tiny dancing dolls all over it. Her bright red coat has pompons on the sides, and her face looks like it’s been painted white. Her stark red lipstick is hard to miss. She looks like one of those dolls you’d find decorating a little girl’s birthday cake. She has tassels hanging from her big bag. She’s smiling. She jingles softly every time she looks up from her phone to talk to her friend.
On the other side, an old man sits next to the window. He has salt and pepper hair. He dons black pants, a black overcoat, and shoes so black you could see your face in it. A maroon muffler is coiled tightly around his neck. If it weren’t for that dash of colour in his ensemble, he could well be in a black and white movie and dissolve amongst the crowd with ease. A shiny briefcase sits next to his legs. His gaze never leaves the window, his irises flitting rapidly from side to side, keeping up with the passing views. His eyes are fixated beyond the world outside the spotless glass. As if he looked away, reality will pull him into a world he doesn’t belong to.
A pre-teen schoolboy is wearing a blue cap and clutching a pink book in his hands. He wears a look of trepidation, the kind that you have before an exam. His white socks are hanging low, exposing his fair ankles and his black buckled shoes look too serious for his age. He has one bag slung over his tense shoulders. It looks too boxy and rigid for comfort, and he has another smaller one on his lap. His right knee moves up and down absent-mindedly.
A woman with pale pink hair and silver sparkles on her nails sits at the far end of the train. Her legs are splayed outward carelessly, the heels of her white sneakers are hoisted upward towards the edge of her seat. She has an air of effortless calm around her. She has a little brown bag by her side and she’s engaged in an animated conversation with her friend. He’s wearing brown-rimmed glasses, a watch with a big, golden dial, black jeans, and a grey jacket. They both look sufficient together. At peace, and oblivious to everyone around them. If everyone around them ceased to exist this very moment, they’d barely even notice.
A schoolgirl is standing amidst a horde of commuters. She has a book open in her hands. She’s studying English. Japanese sentences are written on the right and their easy basic meanings on the left. She’s holding on tight to the railing with one hand and is surrounded by people as they sway collectively with the soft movements of the train, but her book gets her full attention.
A young woman is perched on the edge of her seat. She’s wearing a black leather jacket, brown skirt and black boots up to her knees. Her hood is up and her golden mane seems to be flowing outwards in every direction through it. Her heels look uncomfortably long and pointy, and her lips are a pleasant shade of glossy pink. Her skin looks like it’s made of unadulterated porcelain. Her eyes bore into her phone that’s way too close to her face. She seems like she’s in the middle of an intense discussion with a friend. A colleague, perhaps? A relative? Maybe her mother. Her slender legs are crossed over each other and her hand reaches out to her little blue bag from time to time, just to make sure it’s still there.
A girl, seemingly in her late-twenties, is slouched on her seat, wearing shiny nylon pants and golden hoops. She has a bored expression on her face as if she’s been commuting far too much and for far too long. She wants to be home with a cup of hot coffee by her window. Maybe have her cat sit on her lap and not have to make conversation with anyone. She’s bored with the world. She’s bored of the desultory drivel of everyday life. She seems as if she moves around with a constant, dull, painful itch. She’s carrying a plain white cloth bag that’s hanging unenthusiastically around her white sweater. Her hair is tied up in a messy bun. She wants to be elsewhere.
I feel a tap on my shoulder. We’ve reached our destination.