It’s 22:11, and I’ve just sat down on my train home for the night… about an hour after originally planned, and a good distance from where I had intended to board the train. I am covered in sweat (my own, thankfully), and am still breathing a bit heavily. “That was certainly a fun little adventure,” goes through my mind, and I smile. It really was.
About an hour ago, I was on the Yamanote line, heading up to Nippori to catch my train home from there. A group of four Australian life guards boarded the train, and stood in front of me. Something about them caught my attention immediately, and had me turn off my audiobook, though I couldn’t have said what. Eventually, I took out my earphones, too, – it really is a great way to spy on a conversation, wearing earphones with no sound actually being produced by them – and listened a bit more closely to their conversation, because they seemed to be going somewhere quite far, and also seemed a bit unsure of how exactly to get there.
Two of them ended up sitting next to me after my precious neighbors exited the train. The girl who sat down next to me directed at me a strong, “Howdy!” as she sat, thus beginning our conversation.*
We chatted, and it was fun, and their month-long exchange program sounds quite cool. However, not the point. I checked with the fabulous Google Maps to see what time their last train home was. They were going to Onjuku, which is Really far from Tokyo, and the trains headed for it are seldom and end early. Sure enough, they were cutting it amazingly close. Plus, that had totally gone in the wrong direction on the Yamanote line. If they had gone the opposite direction on this loop line, they’d have been to Tokyo station in plenty of time. But then we wouldn’t have met, I guess.
My stop came and went, despite their entreaties that I just leave them to chance. No way, I thought. I’ve been in your place before – I am so not abandoning you to a likely failure to get home for the night. You’ll all be welcome to stay with me if you miss your train.
They were going to have 7 minutes to catch their train, which was not one of the standard lines. I realized quickly that they had little idea as to how to find their specific train (and Tokyo station kind of really sucks with its signage and help on finding the right track for trains – my train isn’t even listen as a line that goes through the station in most places, even though it totally does and it doesn’t change names or anything), so I rushed out with them to help find the line (of which I had never heard).
We scrambled down the steps – I had warned them that it wasn’t a small station, even though it wasn’t the largest – and started searching at the platforms for the train line name (I had given them what name to search: Wakashio.).
After 2-3 minutes, someone found a sign. I checked it, and it was the right line. We started running toward the extension area of the station, and found a sign declaring the line 400m in that same direction.
I hesitated then, deciding if I needed to go with them. When I remembered that I want to help them out if they miss the train, I started running, too, empty suitcase in hand (It makes sense, I promise.). The suitcase slowed me down a good bit, and I had a late start, so I was well behind them. The staircases just kept going downward, and then there’d be a walkway followed by yet another staircase and walkway. At last, I found the track, saw the sign still showing the 22:01 train, and guessed that they had to be down there already. I rushed down, and looked back and forth. I couldn’t see anyone aside from the train guy standing on the platform.
As I looked around the windows, trying to find them, to make sure they hadn’t made a wrong turn somewhere, and totally lost the track, the train worker checked with me if I needed to be on the train. I told him that it was all right, I was just checking for my friends.
Gosh, I hope they’re on this train, I thought, as the doors began to close. I just wish I could see them to be sure. A man came sprinting off the steps, and the doors slid back open quickly to admit him. No one else was around. They have to be on this train.
My heart felt like a quarter of it was in my stomach as the train pulled away… and then I saw it. Male gaijin hair blowing in the air vent, while a pair of male gaijin arms stretched in exhaustion next to him. That’s they. Those are their shirts, their hair, that guy’s arms. If the two guys made it, the two girls must be with them.
I still lingered a few minutes near the tracks, just to be sure, but I was rather certain: They made their train. After seven stops and an hour twenty, they’d all be safely to their beach town again, able to go to their own beds for the night.
And so I at last went up to catch my own train home, chuckling at how, for once, I was not the one having to rush to catch my last train home. Someone lives farther than I do this time. This last time.
I’m not sure if I would have been so tickled by this whole thing had it been any other day. But tonight is my last night in my apartment, my last night in my little Ibaraki town. I couldn’t decide earlier if I were going to stay at my place tonight or my friend’s (down in Tokyo). Helping these guys was an easy decision. So I get to stay one last night in my apartment, and say a good goodbye in the morning.
I can do this.
*Note: The Howdy, it turned out, was a ‘just ’cause’ greeting, and they were genuinely surprised to find that I am actually from Texas, where Howdy is actually a normal thing.