The Tokyo Express sped through the mountain inside a pitch black tunnel. Always a crowded train, it slid along the magnetic tracks seamlessly and silently. The train compartment was quieter still. But the stillest place of all was inside the souls of seven passengers.
An ache of yearning emptiness hung over them. Some were more deeply affected than others. A Chinese woman recently relocated from Shanghai to a Tokyo office looked around the train car for another Chinese face to connect with and found none. Japan has been homogenous for centuries and only recently welcomed business workers from around the world as a regular occurrence. Ming Li was suffering the loneliness of a new situation.
Across from her sat a young U.S. Army sergeant reporting for duty. The young man felt very odd in this country so far. A high school basketball star, he stood 2 feet taller than most people here. When he attempted to communicate no one understood his Alabama drawl. He was already homesick and missing Sunday dinners at Mom’s house. He was suffering the loneliness of feeling different.
A middle-aged businessman stood in the middle of the aisle clinging to a strap for balance. The classical music playing in his mind reminded him of his former girlfriend. He missed her so much. He hadn’t been able to connect with any other women online and didn’t want to take his colleague’s suggestion of a ridiculous robot companion. How can you embrace the thoughts and feelings of a robot when it’s programmed by a technician? This man was suffering the loneliness of a lost sweetheart.
Right behind him sat a child holding a toy cat. He was a shy child and had difficulty making friends at school. When his best friend Kiko the cat ran away he was devastated. Now he had no one. His parents chided him for making friends with an animal instead of his classmates. He was being ridiculous, they said. The boy didn’t care. He felt more at ease with Kiko than anyone else and would give anything to have him back. The loss of his animal friend was the cause of his loneliness.
Sitting in a special handicapped chair, the old woman took out a handkerchief and wiped her tears. The caretaker traveling with her was replacing the wet ones with freshly ironed ones. They were all monogrammed with her late husband’s family crest. The train rides got her out of her house; now eerily quiet without her husband in it. She was suffering the loneliness of a lost presence.
At the head of the train the conductor and his assistant were staring into space in opposite directions. They would drive the train together for 10 hours straight, sometimes never speaking. The older conductor suspected his protégé of undermining him to the director. He no longer trusted his former friend. He suffered the loneliness of distrust.
At the back of the train a company director was Skypeing on his phone. He was being shut down by his friends who were too busy to meet him in Tokyo. They were all married and busy with children. Meanwhile he was married to his work. He finally switched off his phone and shoved it in his pocket before opening his laptop to write a new report. His loneliness was caused by not living his life.
As the train broke past the dark tunnel into a bright Japanese sky, seven souls enduring seven aches shifted their gaze; turning their eyes toward the warming sun.
The bright day illuminated more than the metal box they traveled in.