Bubble-Culture Blues

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  The train pulls into the station exactly when it’s supposed to, belching out a flock of soon-to-be flyers, hurrying off with their bags and emptying the carriages. Libby and I and a handful of homecomers take their place, shuffling aboard with a stark contrast of haste and take our seats in a silence I find hard to break.

  Everyone around is either reading manga or listening to music or playing videogames or – if none of the above – sleeping, or at least pretending to. I’d been told about this bubble-culture before arriving. this reflex nature to set up a shield against the world and it’s inhabitants whilst travelling. Still, it weirded me out, the perfect solace in the cabin.

  Libby is the first to break it, naturally.

  “When are we going to see uncle?” she asks suddenly, as if only just remembering he’d be stopping by.

  “He said he’d come by the apartment later tonight, when he gets out of work. ”

  Libby hasn’t seen her uncle since the Christmas before last. It wasn’t so long ago that he was an everyday player in her life. A guest star so regular he got a spot in the opening credits. That was before he’d moved to the east to follow a job opportunity and, although he never let it be known, something of a lifelong dream, I think.

  When Libby was growing up her uncle was the closest thing I had to a wife – that is, a partner in all that unknown. Someone to help me out with the impossibly impossible task of raising a baby. Looking back I don’t know how we got through it – we were both as clueless as each other, of course, but having him there made it easier regardless. If it hadn’t been for Grace I would have been terrified at the prospect of him moving away and leaving me all alone as the single surrogate parent of a teenage girl and the monstrous introduction of hormones, in all their terrifying guises. Grace’s prescence gave him the unspoken permission he’d been waiting for.

  At Tōkyō-eki, Japan’s busiest station, we stumble and squeeze our way through the peaking mid-morning crowds and somehow manage to make the change to a Shinkansen direct to Nagoya, another ninety minute trip that’s due to pull into sunny central station at noon. The change of atmosphere as we board the N700 series is immediate, the mad rush outside dying in an instant and replaced instead by the relaxed interior of the luxuriously furnished cabin. If I was a train geek I’d be train-geeking out right now.  The humidity and it’s consequent dissipation is what I appreciate the most, and I relax into a forward facing window seat and prepare to snooze the trip away under the comfortable command of the air conditioner above.

  Minutes later and I’m finding it hard to care about sleep as we pick up speed, the many mini-metropoli of Tokyo whipping past the window as we head west. The bullet train lives up to its name, blasting out of Tokyo and across the tea fields in a blur of blues and greens. Libby, too, is staring wide-eyed as Japan soars past as we approach the dizzying speeds of nearly three hundred kilometres an hour.

  As we watch the world race by like a movie on fast-forward and feel our ears pop Libby reaches over the table between us and puts her hand on mine. I glance over at her and she smiles.

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~ by Joseph Blame on November 5, 2010.

One Response to “Bubble-Culture Blues”

  1. I’m really enjoying this so far, it really feels like your there with them. I’m sure your trip is helping with the descriptions of everything!

    P.S. Because you so relentlessly point out my typo’s, I’m curious to know what a ‘widow seat’ is 😛

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