How did I end up here?
I signalled frantically to my boyfriend from inside the automatic doors as the train slid away from the station, hoping he would decipher my hand movements as “Stay here”. His red hair, a beacon above the business-suited Japanese people around him, disappeared in the distance as the train chugged faster. I recalled my last few moments – Jacob and I quickly discussed whether we should get on the train, I jumped on and saw, after the doors had shut behind me, that Jacob hadn’t followed. Communication is the key in relationships, and travel.
An English-speaking man, with a wide, Buddha-like face, offered to escort me back to Jacob. He had seen the whole incident, and no doubt pitied the dishevelled Australian girl desperately flicking through her brand new phrase book and looking around wildly. I thanked him, and assured him that I could get back to Jacob without difficulty.
Once I ceased to worry, I saw that Kyoto’s countryside had spilled out before me. Rice fields with bending people flashed past me, and the deciduous mountainside was a continuous blur of orange, yellow and magenta. Japan wasn’t what I had expected; the intermingling of ancient and modern culture was seamless. The subtleties of this unique culture seeped into the small things I did; buying a warm can of hot chocolate from a vending machine on a deserted country road. Listening to the tinkling tune of a garbage truck as it made its morning rounds. Being tempted to buy a plastic sushi-shaped USB stick. And being surrounded by people genuinely willing to help a freckled foreigner, even if that meant holding up a line of customers in 7Eleven to be drawn a detailed, labelled map by the clerk.
The train slowed and stopped at the next station. I hurled my awkward, heavy bags from the train and limped down a crowded staircase and up another to the right platform. Artificial birds sung from a speaker. The train arrived, and again I watched the scenery dart past. I got off and ran through the throng of people, rehearsing in my head what I would ask strangers if I couldn’t find Jacob. “Have you seen a tall, red-headed man?”
I stood on the platform where he should have been, straining to see above the ocean of black heads and cursing my 5’1” frame. Oh god, oh god. Neither of us speak Japanese. How will we find each other? Then I saw him, waiting patiently in exactly the same spot. Relief trickled down my spine.
We got onto the next train together.
I’m submitting this short story to a writing competition, if you want to provide feedback I would be very grateful. If not, I hope you enjoyed reading it.