Perhaps it is no coincidence that Proust started his famous work with a memory triggered by the aroma of fresh baked bread. (I could be mistaken because, despite my literary bent, I have not tackled the book yet. I am going to have to someday because I made a promise to my French teacher….)
Back to triggering memories because today, at the end of a long day of tests, a moment in the subway triggered a whole cascade of memories of my early twenties. Let me explain.
I took occupancy of a space near the left had door. It gave a good view of most of the train car and was one of the few places available as other commuters had taken up the seats. I was buried in my latest book, making no eye contact.
As I said, I became aware of two passengers having what appeared to be a very polite conversation. I am not sure whether I keyed in on the visual or the audio first. I suspect it was the visual because I could barely hear them. They were speaking in low tones that could only barely rise above the rattle and hum of the subway making its way home to a northern terminus.
One of the women was wearing a traditional Japanese Kimono and lugging around a large case. I immediately suspected a musical instrument of some kind. The other lady was dressed in elegant clothes befitting her age. I heard Japanese words and phrases come tumbling out of their mouths and instantly I was back in Japan.
I was back there on the platform of Hashimoto station waiting for the train to Osaka. The tiny platform kiosk offered interesting snacks and drinks. The people were reading newspaper headlines that were unknown to me. The station announcements elusively giving information that I couldn’t understand at first but grew to understand in my time there.
I remember the bakeries, the vending machines, the sound of the kindergarten kids walking in my neighbourhood, the sound of the pachinko parlours, the clop of the waterfall at the Japanese garden. I remember the sushi aisle in the supermarket. I remember driving on the left hand side of the road. I remember the sticker of the radio station Funky802 that adorned my car. I remember the quiet and loud moments that made up my existence. I remember my students struggling with English and I remember their triumphs.
My reverie was cut short when we pulled into the station. I let the ladies exit first, automatically saying どうぞ (“douzo” :Japanese for please go ahead). It seemed normal to her and she didn’t even do a double take. Secretly, I am hoping it hit her later on in the evening and either made her ponder or smile.