The tall, well-nourished Japanese man smiles as, with a tight smile, he manually indicates that it’s okay for me to sit near him in the Parlour Car. A somber looking ten year-old sits across from him, raven hair spilling into dark eyes riveted upward. It’s clear he’s either uncomfortable greeting strangers or merely ill at ease in his own skin; perhaps a little of both.
The dad is talking on his cell phone in soothing tones. He sounds like a professional therapist; the language is indulgent yet matter-of-fact. What one does in the situation. What one can expect from the other person causing the first obvious distress.
An older couple approaches the boy’s open booth seat tentatively, as it’s large enough to accommodate four adults comfortably. The atmosphere is relaxed as rays of morning sunlight stream through the curved glass flanking the train’s metal roof. As the young man begins to shift over, the father executes rapid hand and arm movements demanding his son relocate next to him. Unnecessary, I speculate, for these people seem openly delighted to share space with a child.
Presently the dining car attendant fetches father and son for breakfast, and, still cooing his most soothing voice into the cell phone receiver, the father gestures impatiently for his boy to follow and together they evaporate from the car, leaving behind traces of anxiety and distress.
Post Script: On the day I am to leave this moving hotel, I part curtains to my sleeping module, only to discover the same father and son traversing the car. The boy is smiling and, though the father seems rushed, he also appears more relaxed. My pleasure in this observation can hardly be disguised, as I disembark the train.