Perhaps it was the constant dull clatter of Tokyo’s Chuo line wearing down the tracks over two long years during which I dangled from the end of a plastic ring that had lulled me into a sense of nonexpectancy. The constant press of knees, elbows and designer bags had become only vague sensations as my mind produced more fanciful illusions of uncommon adventure, none of which were currently possible for man of my means. And so I resigned myself to the numbing clatter, often even welcoming it after a long day. In retrospect, this desensitizing was most certainly a ploy of fate to provide a contrast for the unimaginable.
The evening commute that late autumn day started as any other with swarms of salaried workers inflating around me, each maneuvering for their own pocket of oblivion. After three stops my grasp of the ring was merely perfunctory as the limbs and torsos around me had closed in. I was mentally strolling some empty beach when the scent of my fictitious floral shore suddenly seemed oddly more salient than usual. Then something feathery brushed my right cheek. I opened my eyes a crack.
Her hair was so close I couldn’t focus on it. Its scent was an ineffable mix of blossoms, and it only lightly covered a small mole on an elegant ear. Perhaps viewed from a normal distance, such a combination of feminine features would not have so captured my attention. But in that limited space and moment there could not have been a more wondrous discovery.
It was only when I felt a warm moist breath on my shoulder that I also began to breathe again – deep breaths that feathered her hair further off the mole residing on her ear. My eyes fought to focus but were defeated by the swirling fragrance and sense of proximity. A charge of erotic energy began its slow descent down my neck as I became progressively aware of all the points at which our bodies had formed comfortable unions. As each point of contact became conscious, the local tingle of nerves rose in a wave of ecstatic sensation. This was only heightened by our asynchronous breathing – her chest rising and falling slightly faster than my own, but just as deeply.
Ever so briefly the impulse to view and know her face was entertained – then quickly dismissed. I dared not risk fracturing the fragile moment.
The pressure of the crowd dissipated over the next few stops. But neither I nor the hair dancing under my breath moved to a more respectable distance. In a distant consciousness, I heard my station announced. The doors opened. She must have sensed the indecisive quiver of my legs. A faint warm sound emerged from her lips, indiscernible, but its effect was paralyzing. The doors closed.
A few minutes later – or an hour perhaps – all other passengers had found seats. She was now leaning herself unabashedly against my chest which seemed to throb louder than the more rural rails we were now on. My focus was still on the small mole behind the light curtain of hair.
It was at some unknown station that a sudden panic overcame me. The delights of the surreal were interrupted by pulses of rationale that offered only cynical glimpses of all eventualities. When the doors opened, I leaned forward just enough for my lips to lightly touch her ear, then spun away out the door and staggered to the other side of the platform while I listened to the doors closing behind me. I never saw her face.
I don’t remember the ride back home. I do remember the subsequent sleepless weeks and the anguished sense of disrupted fate. I cursed my fears and for several months carefully scanned the crowd on the train home hoping to somehow recognize her. I never did. But the sensations from the experience never quite faded. From that defining moment, life seemed both more beautiful and sad; beautiful in that my heightened senses absorbed life’s more intricate pleasures quite freely now, but sad in that I had fled the only opportunity in my adult life to act on what had possibly been an instinctive recognition of a soul mate. I vowed that if ever again I felt such an unmistakable chemistry, I would follow it through to any conclusion. I begged fate for another opportunity.
More months passed. The monotony returned. I once again swayed from my plastic hook with eyes closed, now only imagining the tickle of hair on my cheek. The giggles of young commuters sometimes made me aware of the various emotions crossing my face. However, once home and alone and staring vacuously up at my bedroom ceiling, only my stark isolation was felt. Fate had been unforgiving.
It was nearly a year after the encounter that I decided one cold evening to relinquish all the ephemeral notions of impulsive romance. I would not find her nor a similar experience ever again. I resigned myself to the world of conventional dating.
The new girl was cute – perhaps a bit too cute. She laughed at what I said, and dutifully spent the night with me twice a week after I dutifully paid for a fine dinner. We understood our roles well, and each displayed the other’s picture proudly on our cell phones. After a few months we had even given each other pet names and had discussed the practicalities of living together. But all our interactions were well above the surface of anything meaningful or truly passionate. It was as if the unexpected and unfamiliar had been selectively removed from my life.
Last Saturday we met for our usual lunch date, then packed ourselves aboard the Yurikamome line bound for Odaiba. I reluctantly agreed to see the usual romantic flick, bought popcorn and drinks, then settled in beside my date amongst a sea of similar couples. It was during an unconvincing scene in which the leading man, against all odds, encounters an old love to live happily ever after that I fully realized that I had been a fool to have expended so much time and emotional energy on the impossible. Sitting here holding the hand of a predictable girl on a predictable day was as much as one could expect and hope for in a world that painfully punished overly-romantic notions.
When the lights came back on we filed out into the lobby. I told her that I’d wait for her outside the ladies room. She disappeared and I stood with several others waiting for their respective dates. My eyes were drawn towards one pretty girl who was lazily leafing through the promotion rack just outside the men’s room.
I must have been staring. She glanced up with uneasy eyes. Then a strange startled expression washed over her face and she froze. The flier she had been holding fluttered to the floor. A somehow familiar sensation began its descent down my back. I suddenly realized that once the euphoric tingle had traveled the length of my spine it would be too late.
With a brazen certainty not my own, I strode over and stopped a breath away from her trembling lips. I paused for a moment, then lightly brushed back her hair to expose the mole I knew was there.
This story, written around 2003, is slightly autobiographical.