With a book that held no interest sitting open in her lap, she sat on the train bound for Shintomi-cho, quietly taking in the faces of the passengers surrounding her.
The conflicting smells of bento [box lunches] and local chicken farms filled the air, creating vastly different sensations that ranged from cravings to queasiness.
The idle train, which had been stopped for quite some time at Kawaminami Station waiting for a freighter to pass, sporadically shuddered and rattled. The taunting motion made her more and more anxious to be moving.
It had been a long and exhausting weekend and the only exercise her mind would allow was staring out the window at the Japanese countryside with the same glazed intensity of a mannequin in a store window.
Until, from the murky depths of her gaze, she saw something strange in the woods just fifty feet from the train’s window. At first, all reason told her that what she saw was simply a pile of garbage. After all, just a short while ago, as the train rattled down the tracks toward home, she had mistaken ugly, metal silos for primitive grass shacks, attributing the error to her tired eyes and all but drained mental faculty.
Still… she stared at the object beneath the tree for quite some time.
She wiped her glasses.
Then looked again.
There, lying against an old, gnarly tree was an old man, dressed in the traditional, ancient attire of a Japanese farmer, sleeping.
His face was blackened and worn from the years of working all day in the fields. His rough, bony hands held tightly to a walking stick, as knobbly as the tree itself.
Squinting in an attempt to refocus, she waited for the scene to change.
Or, for the old man’s eyes to blink, his nose to twitch, his body to jerk – even slightly – in order to give life to this strange vision.
Or was it an illusion?
But there he slept.
Turning her attention back to the truth of the train car, where she hoped her mind would find a tangible distraction, she found nothing and no one which held the same interest than what she was sure she was imagining on the other side of the window.
She turned back to the object beneath the tree, expecting to see her ancient farmer replaced by a tarp or some fallen branches.
She shuddered as she focused again on the old man as he slept.
“This can’t be,” she laughed quietly and whispered to no one, becoming more and more uneasy at the sight of it.
Sliding to the edge of her seat, she looked around the train car for a friendly face who would lay this apparition to waste, but hesitated.
“Exactly what would I say?” she thought to herself. “Excuse me, but do you see that ghost beneath the tree?”
So, she remained silent and turned, once again, toward the window, intent on dispelling the strange manifestation once and forever.
Just as she turned, the train began to pull away.
Her heart began to beat faster, as she pressed her nose against the pane. She watched her one last chance to dispel the vivid vision fade into the distance.
The old farmer licked his lips and rubbed his tired eyes.
He stretched, long and slow, then rose from the shade of the tree.
As he righted his ragged straw hat and steadied himself with his walking stick, he cocked his head to hear a strange sound.
A steadily accelerating drumbeat.
The old man looked all around for the source of the sound, but it soon faded into the day.
And the day was fading away.
So on he went.
Down the road.