A Brief Encounter by Andi Brooks
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January 2, 1959
The strangest of events occurred today during the journey to my office. Indeed, so singular was it, that I am compelled to set it down while it remains still vivid in my memory. The hours prior to this remarkable occurrence were marked only by their singular lack of distinction. I arose at 5:30 am, as is my habit on days of both work and leisure, and engaged in light exercise before partaking of my usual breakfast of a small bowl of rice, an assortment of tsukemono and a cup of green tea. After reading the morning edition of the daily newspaper, I left my house at 6:45 am and walked to Nishi-ogikubo station to begin my commute. Although it has no bearing upon my story other than to demonstrate that I am a sober individual not prone to flights of fancy, I will relate that I am a senior officer of longstanding in the civil service. Which branch, it is not necessary to state, but all who are acquainted with me can testify that I possess an imagination appropriate to one in my position. A few short years shy of retirement, I am a content bachelor, having never felt the need to disrupt my routine with the presence of anyone other than a woman I engage to do my laundry and cook my meals.
My journey into the city was uneventful. Compared to the usual rush hour, the trains were blissfully quiet, it being the New Year holiday. While most of my staff have made the annual pilgrimage to their hometowns to enjoy the season with their families, I, being a native of the capital and having no living kin, wanted to take the opportunity to clear up some outstanding work without the incessant interruptions which punctuate the daily routine of a busy governmental office.
The focus of my story occurred at my destination, the recently opened Kasumigaseki subway station. When the conductor announced the imminent arrival of the train in the station, I arose from my seat and waited by the door. As the train slowed to a stop, I noticed a woman of middle age dressed in a seasonal kimono waiting upon the empty platform. I lowered my eyes when my carriage drew to a halt directly in front of her. The doors slid open, and I alighted as she stepped aboard. In the moment that it took for us to pass each other, the sleeve of her kimono lightly brushed against the sleeve of my overcoat. In that instant, I found myself miraculously transported to another time and place.
The woman, whom I had never met before, and I were walking side by side in a park. Our dress was that of the previous century. She turned to look at me as I spoke. Her smile was entrancing. I leaned close and whispered in her ear. Her cheeks flushed the most delightful shade of crimson. She gently placed her gloved hand upon my arm and looked up from beneath the brim of her hat. While we gazed into each other’s eyes, the scene changed.
The setting was of a more distant age. We were alone in a tatami room overlooking an elegant garden. Somewhere in the distance a mournful temple bell tolled. Partially hidden by her sleeve, her face was wet with tears. Her father had forbidden our union. It was, she told me through her heart-rending sobs, impossible for us to ever see each other again. When I pleaded with her to elope with me, a discretely positioned maid made her presence known at the door. My love bid me farewell and, without once looking back, was spirited away by her servant. Before I could react, the room dissolved around me.
The cries of a newborn baby filled the rude shack. I marveled at the miracle of new life nestled in my hands. Raising up the babe, I gently placed it upon its mother’s breast and knelt by her side. Bathed in sweat and weakened terribly by the long ordeal of the birth, she barely registered her surroundings. I carefully wrapped her arms around the infant and supported her head to allow her to look upon the child. Her eyelids flickered and slowly parted. At the sight of her baby’s face, a faint smile played across her colorless lips. Assured that all was well, she closed her eyes and took her final breath. I felt myself pulled backwards, and the scene receded as if down a long tunnel.
From my vantage point, I watched the festive crowd swirl like a human whirlpool. The air was filled with the sound of voices raised in joy, laughter, and music. My attendant placed a cup before me and poured a drink. Looking out across the sea of people, I watched several ox-drawn carriages (gissha) slowly make their way through the throng. My attention was caught by the flutter of a curtain at the window of one which had been forced to a halt by the mass of bodies pressing in on it from all sides. The curtain was discreetly lifted, allowing a brief glimpse of an exquisite silhouette. I knew not who she was, but in that instant my heart was hers. I jumped down into the crowd and forced my way through the multitude in pursuit of the carriage. Several times I lost sight of it, but I doggedly pushed on. Just as I had almost given up hope, the crowd parted, allowing a glimpse of the carriage ahead. It was now moving away from me. My energy almost spent, with one last effort I forged forward and, finally drawing level with the carriage, passed my fan in through the window. With that, the carriage was once again swallowed up by the revelers.
Over and over, the scene changed, sending me tumbling ever further back down through the centuries. As if flicking through a photographic album, I was allowed but snatched glimpses of our lives together. No two were the same. One moment we were young lovers exchanging poetry during a clandestine meeting beneath the moon. The next, I lay mortally wounded amid a mass of corpses upon a bloody battlefield. Her face was the last image in my thoughts as my life drained away. In another scene, gray haired and bowed by age, we sat at the hearth, surrounded by a large brood of children and grandchildren.
The scenes, though revolving quickly, all played in real time, yet they occurred in the heartbeat that it took for me to step off the train. The instant my feet touched the platform, I spun around to find the woman staring at me, an expression of pained longing etched upon her face. My own, I am sure, mirrored hers. We both reached out at the same time. The whooshing doors of the train slammed shut, leaving our palms resting on opposite sides of the window. Her eyes sparkling with tears, she opened her mouth as if to speak, but if she uttered any words, I did not hear them. An unbearable agony tore through my heart when the train began to pull away. Impotent, I stared after it in stunned silence. How long I stood there before regaining my senses, I cannot say.
Rousing myself back to reality, I hastily made my way over to the opposite platform for I felt sure that she would double back. I eagerly scanned the length of the platform for her as each train came and went. After several hours, I resigned myself to the fact that she was not coming back and dejectedly walked on to my office.
It is there, seated at my desk, that I am now penning this account. To say that my very being and my whole view of life, and death, have not just been shaken to their foundations, but completely turned upside down, would be an understatement. It is clear from the extraordinary visions bestowed upon us today that she and I have been lovers over countless lives; sometimes happily together, other times, as now, held apart by a cruel fate. Why in this life we have been allowed only this fleeting encounter is beyond my power to divine. Perhaps it is the consequence of a transgression in our last life. Whatever the reason, although I am of the firm conviction that we will never see each other again in this lifetime, I am consoled by the certainty that we will be together again in many lives to come. For I believe that our spirits are in some miraculous way bound together, and that this life is but a single chapter in an eternal saga.
Andi Brooks is co-author of the critically acclaimed Bela Lugosi biography Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain, curator of The Bela Lugosi Blog and a recipient of a Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Award for his article on the love affair between Bela Lugosi and Clara Bow, Dracula and the It Girl. Since moving to Japan in 2006, he has become immersed in the world of yūrei, yōkai and Japanese folklore. His latest book, Ghostly Tales of Japan, a collection of original ghostly stories, will be published in French and Japanese editions in 2022. He is currently writing a second volume of ghostly Japanese tales.
Ghostly Tales of Japan: available at Amazon
Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain: available at Cult Movies Press.
Published to the Kaidankai on March 2, 2022.
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Linda Gould hosts the Kaidankai, a weekly blog and podcast of fiction read out loud that explores the entire world of ghosts and the supernatural. The stories are touching, scary, gruesome, funny, and heartwarming. New episodes every Wednesday.