CHAPTER 15 HEY FOREIGNER, I'M TALKING TO YOU (JIRO)
It’s easy to let the rhythmic pulse of the train lull him into a light sleep, let the cushy seats and the warmth of the car embrace him. Jiro crosses his arms over his chest, careful to keep himself as small as possible. At ten o’clock at night during the week, the train headed toward his apartment isn’t crowded, but he never knew at what stop that could change and he didn’t want to be caught looking like some arrogant foreigner, thinking only of his own comfort as he stretched his six feet one frame along the car, taking up the space of two average-sized Japanese men.
Jiro lets his eyelids droop and settles further into his seat, releases a contented sigh. God bless Japan for all the creature comforts Americans unsuspectingly did without. He’d certainly had no idea that public transportation standards could be so high. There was no doubt in his mind that New York train cars would be quarantined straightaway before being burned to the ground if Japanese officials ever got their hands on them.
The cheery pink seat Jiro is sitting on not only looks recently vacuumed and shampooed but is cushier than the couch at his current Airbnb. He hasn’t traveled on a train yet that is grungy or smelly or sub-par in its condition. Everything looks sparklingly clean. He still never touches the handles dangling from the ceiling of course…but that is his personal OCD, nothing inspired by his current environs.
Jiro’s lids droop. He has ten more stops to go so he lets himself succumb for a moment. When the train jerks to a stop a few minutes later, his eyes flit open to see that he’s being observed by a man around his own age with blue eyes and shockingly blond hair. The man looks away before Jiro can nod ‘hello’.
Jiro is surprised when the guy’s head swivels in his direction again a second later. “Hey man,” Jiro says, nodding his head. The car’s fairly empty by now; just a mom with a stroller and two kids, a few other people on their phones or sleeping nearby.
The dude acts as though he doesn’t hear Jiro. He looks blankly at him, then turns his eyes toward the other side of the train.
Jiro closes his eyes. What was it with foreigners in this country? Why did they seldom return the greeting when he said hello or acknowledged their presence? Why did they often act like he was invisible when he stuck out like a giraffe among zebras just as much as they did?
Sometimes, he is tempted to ignore them too, but he usually gives into his nature. Which is to connect. Which is to include.
Last week, he had been struck by the sight of a man of color on the train. It hit him then, how ethnically homogenous this country was. In LA, he had taken diversity for granted. He did remember reading somewhere that Japan was one of the least ethnically diverse countries in the world. Jiro wondered if this man felt uncomfortable in his skin as an obvious minority, or if he embraced it, as Jiro did. Anyway, he’d grinned at the guy when their eyes met for the second time.
Thinking Jiro couldn’t hear him (Jiro had been wearing earbuds at the time), the guy had simply looked straight down at his feet, muttering audibly, “why is this guy staring at me? Why is he staring at me?”
If it wouldn’t have made things more awkward, Jiro would have laughed out loud from the sheer ridiculousness of…everything.