Full Train to Osaka
Malc and I depart in the morning for Rokkomichi train station. Little do we know what is in store for us today.
Firstly, we are traveling during rush hour, which means we are guaranteed an uncomfortable journey. Secondly, and fatally, our train arrives late - ten minutes late.
When our train pulls up it already looks full. However, we manage to get on and are only marginally squeezed in. To provide a reference point, this is similar conditions to a bus at the busiest time in Ottawa (Canada Day) - packed, but fairly comfortable all things considered.
* * *
Three stops later and there are now twice as many passengers on the same train.
Malc, who had been standing right beside me, has disappeared. I haven't moved, and neither has he, but there are now at least three people between us.
I take a rough count and find 15 or 20 people within armís reach of me. That is, if I could move my arms... The multitude of passengers are joined so tightly together that we behave as a single individual, swaying from one side to the other in rhythm with the movement of the train.
At the next stop, all the passengers standing near the edge brace their arms above the door to prevent from being shoved out of the train before the doors close. Nevertheless, more passengers manage to push and squeeze in.
Meanwhile, I am holding out one elbow slightly to maintain an inch of breathing room beside me, which provides a welcome buffer zone. During a moment of weakness, however, I let up my guard; just then, the train turns, throwing me off balance and my space collapses. Crunched in between the mob of bodies, I now exist with one foot suspended over the other, occupying the smallest possible footprint. Slowly but firmly my chest becomes compressed and my respiration ragged.
Silence. Concentrate on the sound of the train chugging.
I use the time to reflect on my predicament, and conclude that it could be worse. For one thing, I am a head taller than most of the passengers, so I feel like the sole owner of the top compartment. This is a real advantage as I can see all the way to the front of the car, easing my sense of claustrophobia and imparting the illusion of breathable air.
Three girls beside me (shoulder-height and less) are not so lucky. One girl has her head down, staring intently at her umbrella, which is clenched tightly in her hands and aligned directly under her nose. I imagine her thoughts are in another world, and that she is visualizing her happy place...
* * *
Eventually, the train arrives at Osaka and all the passengers are released. The cool air washes over me and I inhale, overjoyed by the refreshing sensation.
I reunite with Malc on the platform, we ensure that our wallets are intact, and then continue on our way.