08 February, 2017

A train ride

This was taken another day, when there was plenty of space
on the train and the platform!
On Monday I took one of the most crowded train rides I've ever had.

Our train was five minutes late. I wasn't feeling stressed because I've taken this train before and, though usually crowded, it is manageable for 30 minutes. Alas, the longer it takes for a train to arrive, the more people line up to get on.

When the train pulled up, the carriage I had lined up to hop on had people plastered on the inside of the door-windows. I was at the front of the line and had seconds to rip off my scarf and gloves before being thrust into 30 minutes of hot sardines. I would have liked to take my down jacket off too, but there simply wasn't time.

A few people got off, but the area I stepped into already was well populated. One step inside the door and I was forced to push against others. It was push or be pushed as the press of people behind me pressed forward to get onto the train. I pushed my way a little bit away from the door, but there really wasn't far to go. Just a sea of too many black jackets, filled with people who occupied the space that I and a dozen people behind me wanted. It seemed to be impossible that we could all get on without injuries. Yet we did.

As I pushed my way in, I got twisted to the side a little and could see a lady in her 60s who'd gotten on behind me. She shut her eyes and screwed up her face. She wasn't happy, and indeed looked like she might start to cry. At that point I started to feel panicky. Japanese people are usually so calm in such situations, her distressed face was not a comfort.

The doors were slow to close as, I presume, people squeezed one last limb or edge of a bag in. I presume, because I've seen it before. In reality I couldn't see past the few people whose backs, arms, legs, and shoulders, I was jammed up against. My world became very small. 

The train started forward and we were jostled into what turned out to be a better position for me. At least my feet were on the floor and they were underneath me, but the crush of people on my body eased slightly. I was still touching five people, with five more within easy reach, and someone had something jammed into my back. I had no room for my hands to hold my phone, or indeed reach either of the bags hanging off my shoulder. There was no space to adjust anything. You simply stood.

We still had 30 minutes of journey left, including four more train stops. At each stop the pressure got worse as more people got on than got off every time. By the end I wondered if it were possible to get a rib fracture, simply from riding on the train.

I gradually was pushed further into the carriage. Turned slightly each time, so that I saw different people. One younger lady had found a pocket of space to type on her phone, but it was near her waist. Every now and then she raised her face to the ceiling, as if to suck in more of the stale air that hung over us. Oh, how I longed for someone to open a window.

I ended up with someone's black shoulder jammed under my chin. This person (I don't know whether female or male) was clearly trying to pretend they weren't there at all. He or she had two hoodies over their head, and a scarf pulled up to cover their nose, with gloves still on hands. I shuddered with how hot he or she must be.

Next to the hooded person was someone also slightly taller than me, I was jammed against her back. She had wispy hair that drifted onto my face and nose. It was at this point that I realised my hands were pinned to my stomach and I couldn't even rub my nose or brush the hair away. I began to feel as though I was paralysed from the neck down.

I started silently praying for those around me. Short, simple prayers. And silently singing "Jesus Loves Me". . . but I couldn't make it to the end of the chorus. I also tried to breath slowly and deeply. I'm not a panicky person, but this wasn't a usual situation for me.

Whenever the train slowed to stop for a station I nearly lost my footing as momentum pushed everyone forward, and the press of bodies carried my torso forward, but left my feet firmly anchored to the floor. I guess it was the same for everyone. I was glad I wasn't next to the front wall of the carriage! I was also glad that I kept my footing. It's not uncommon to be lifted off the floor, if you are a small person, or end up with just one foot on the floor. Not fun at all.

When, finally, we reached our destination, the end of the line, the press of bodies spewed out the door and sucked me backwards towards fresh air. Alas the bag with my lunch and water bottle was stuck between people in front of me and didn't get sucked at the same rate as I did. I was left hauling on my bag's straps in an attempt to not be separated from it.

When I and my bags finally got out, it was a delight to be outside in the fresh air. Though we were free to move, we moved as only slightly liberated sardines: in one direction and with small steps until we got off the platform, then the pace increased so that you weren't stepping on the person in front of you.

Within five minutes I was on another train. Also crowded, so I didn't have a seat, but spacious enough that I could use my hands, have a sip of water from the bottle in my bag, and use my phone. It seems like unwarranted liberty!

The third train of my morning I even snaffled a seat. That felt like pure luxury.

An hour and a half after I got on that first train I walked into the missionary meeting that I was attending and immediately sought a coffee. It felt like I'd been sucked up, chewed, and spat out by the Tokyo train system and some reinforcements on a Monday morning were necessary.

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