This story comes from my own experiences growing up in Tokyo and riding the subway. Hearing the ethnic Japanese speak about me in Japanese without realising I was fluent. The prompts were courtesy of 3WordWednesday with Naughty, Tactic and Zenith, Visual Thesaurus word of the day: ecdysiast (basically a faux Greek word meaning stripper, coined in the mid 20th century,) as well as the word cutting (as in: inclined or likely to wound the feelings of others especially because of a ruthless incisiveness <a cutting remark>) from Trifecta…
The traffic idles, echoing the Morse code stutter of raindrops against the windowpane. Echoing the turbulence he felt inside, although the constant vibrations and the fumes of an army ensnared while crossing the bridge could conceivably account for it. That would be his answer, if anyone ever asked. Sam stares out through his reflection and across the river of brake lights, into the sun mounted above the horizon, far from its zenith and setting behind the grey steel spider web of the Story Bridge. He wears his headphones. Always. He feels like a stranger in a strange land, caught in flagrante, almost naughty, an ecdysiast filmed in the midst of his twice-daily rite. Leaning against the graffito not even planned, the scrawled phone number, the promise that she “loves it, a good time guaranteed,” he stares down the aisle, watching his fellow commuters. His eyes shift between faces, quickly skipping away at the threat lurking within the challenge of eye contact with a stranger. He watches, ever alert, ever wary. His tactic: if you can see them coming, you can act – rather than be forced to react.
He is terrified; although he tries to show a brave face, tries to hide behind his veneer of casual indifference. He leans back in his seat – it was always his, portside out, starboard home – and scans the crowd. His headphones on, his iPod turned off. He sits, in the backseat of the bus, crowded out of real life by the press of the masses. Forcing himself to listen to their conversations, to hear their cutting hatred of him said aloud, mocking him as they suppose temporary deafness, as they assume his ignorance of English.
“Fucking Asians, I can’t fucking stand them. Look at him just staring out the window; he thinks he’s fucking better than us.” Sam sits, and stares out the window into the mirages cast deep within the shimmering heatwave rising off the tarmac. Just once he would like to tell them he could hear them. That he could understand every word. That he was born less than five kilometres from this exact point, in the left hand lane where they found themselves, suspended high above the serpentine brown of the river below them. He never will.