Hayarigami: Short Story #4

The Return Train

This is a story I heard from a friend of a friend. It's about K, an employee at a small company. K was working overtime, and ended up leaving the office much later than he usually did.

K went down the usual stairs, walked through the usual ticket barrier, and began his journey home on the usual train. Perhaps due to it being almost time for the last train of the night, there were few people aboard. K, picking a seat at random and sitting down upon it, couldn't help but fall asleep, spurred on by the fatigue of the workday. K's eyes flew open, feeling his neck snap sharply.

He reflexively looked over at the window, worried that he had missed his stop, but all he could see outside was a pitch black tunnel. Even if he wanted to ask where the train was headed, the carriage was empty aside from K himself. Had everyone got off without him noticing?

He looked from side to side. The train was rounding a corner, and K could see the linked cars from where he sat. They were empty.

He waited for a while, but no announcement played inside the train, and he had no idea where the train was currently travelling. The train gradually began to slow down, the darkness outside the windows lightening, a platform coming into view. It was a station K didn't recognise. The platform was gloomy and deserted. Of course it was. Just like the train, the station appeared devoid of people, too.

The train came to a stop, and the doors opened all at once.

He had to get on a return train. K disembarked. The platform curved gently inwards, and he could see the train he had got off from head to tail. Nobody aside from K had got off the train. He checked again, but could see no one aboard it.

K looked around the silent station, searching for signs of people and the name of the station. His eyes came to a stop upon a pillar. On it was a pure white board with nothing written on it. Next, he looked over at the platform walls. There was a sign, but it showed neither a destination nor the name of the current station. There was no route map or timetable, either. Where am I? K wondered.

"This is the nameless station," a voice said, as if having sensed K's thoughts. A boy was leaning against the pillar that stood in the centre of the station. He was young, seemingly in first or second grade.

The boy grinned, approaching K.

"Which way are you headed, mister?" he asked.

K had been taking the down-train, heading away from Tokyo. He would have to get on a train going in the opposite direction and turn back.

"That side," K said, pointing at the up-train platform. The boy smiled broadly.

"Then you're going the same way as all of us." He continued, the smile still on his face. "The train'll be here soon."

"Oh, really?"

K nodded at the boy's words. The question still remained, however, as to just where this station was. There was neither a timetable nor a route map. And what was a young boy doing there all by himself so late at night, anyway? There was one other thing, too: the boy's comment about "all of us". There was no one around besides the boy and K. His parents didn't seem to be around, either.

The boy looked up at K curiously as he stood there in aimless confusion.

"What's wrong, mister? You're getting on the train with us, right?"

"Yeah, but... Hey, where is this station? And are you here all by yourself? Where are your parents?"

"None of that matters," the boy responded blankly to the flurry of questions. "You're coming with us to the other side. That's all. Right? You're coming to the other side, right? Oh, the train's here."

As the boy said, the up-train drew closer. It came to a stop, and its doors opened silently. Though sparsely scattered, there were passengers aboard it. K's eyes widened. They were all children, still young, all with their heads down as if they were crying. The boy waved at K, beckoning him to board quickly.

"R-right," K said, taking a step forward. But...

"No. You get on this train," said a voice from behind, tugging on K's trousers. Turning around, he saw a small girl standing there. She seemed to be about the same age as the boy. The girl looked into K's eyes, and said, "You get on that train."

She pointed at the train car K had been riding on. It still stood there, stopped.

K couldn't understand what was going on. He was bewildered at a station without a name, and there were two children at the station. There was an empty train, and a train filled with children. What was this place? What was happening? And just who were those children...?

"You get it, right? We go to the other side. He goes to the other one," the girl said to the boy.

The boy looked down at the ground, his shoulders slumping. Then, still silent, he looked up and stared intently at K.

His eyes were filled with an inscrutable intermingling of longing and jealousy, envy and regret. Looking at him with sadness-steeped eyes one last time, the boy turned towards the up-train―the train the children were on.

The only sound was the bell signalling the train's departure, sounding shrilly as if seeing the boy off.

"Now, you come this way. Get on, quickly." The girl took K's hand and began walking towards the down-train. "This is the train you get on." She let go of K's hand in front of the door, giving him a gentle push in the back. "Don't get off before the end next time, okay? This station isn't one that needs to have a name."

"Doesn't need to have a name?"

"Neither do those kids. They're kids who don't need to be given names. No..." The girl shook her head as if denying something. "They were all kids who didn't need to be given names. But you're not like them."

"Wait a second. I don't understand. What do you mean? Aren't you getting on?"

The girl shut her eyes sadly for a moment, then looked up and murmured, "I hope you get to give the next one a name."

She waved to K. In an instant the door closed, parting K and the girl from each other. Without a moment's delay, the train began to move. The girl grew smaller and smaller.

From inside the moving train, K watched the platform. The girl was walking towards the up-train. He could see her face in profile as the scenery began to flash past. K realised that he had seen her face before. But when...? In the distant past? Or perhaps the recent past?

The platform finally vanished from view, the train windows enclosed within darkness. He could no longer see either the platform or the girl.


K apparently didn't remember much of what happened after that. When he woke up, he found himself sitting inside the subway train. A handful of passengers were with him. A train-wide broadcast announced the name of a familiar station. K disembarked and hurried home. Upon arriving at his house and seeing his wife's face, something about it reminded K of the girl he had seen at the station.

He remembered one other thing, too: the child that had died within his wife's womb, without ever being given a name...

He remembered the last thing the girl had said to him. I hope you get to give the next one a name...

K's wife, who had waited up for K to get home despite the late hour, announced to him that she was pregnant.