Miho and Goro

By William Wetherall

A girl leaves her fishing village, mother, and friend
for an unknown future at the other end of the world

Began 1997, last revised 2006-12-05 (1,710 words)

Miho and Goro

By William Wetherall

Miho smiled when she saw that the train was practically empty, as Goro had said it would be. Not that she thought the first local that morning would be crowded. She worried only that someone she knew might also board and want to sit with her and ask questions. Goro, she knew, would tell no one.

Sweet Goro. Tall, square-shouldered Goro with the strong cheek bones, arched nose, white teeth, black eyes, and heart as clear as snowmelt. Goro whose ears had always been hers, to listen to her sorrows, her dreams. Goro the ticket clerk, who had played the keyboard of the machine that cold morning like a piano, punching in her destination, connecting stations, trains and times, then gazed into her eyes and at her mouth while the panel flashed and the printer chattered. He had handed her the tickets in an envelope, then pushed back the bills she had set on the counter and covered her hand with his.

"Take care of yourself," he said.

"Thanks," she said. "You too."

She hurried through the wicket, suppressing tears, then looked back, prepared to smile, but Goro was bent over the machine while the man who had been waiting behind her talked. She boarded the nearest car and stopped beside an empty row of seats by the window along the platform.

Sweet dumb Goro! she thought, dropping her leather shoulder bag on the aisle seat while glancing out the window. She imagined him racing out, spotting her, waving at her, even rushing into the car to lift her suitcase to the luggage rack.

She sat by the window and looked at the old wooden station, smaller than some of the houses in the village. A kettle steamed on a keresene stove in the center of the waiting room. A mother and two children were sitting on a bench along a wall. An elderly couple was at the ticket counter but she could not see the window. A whistle blew but the couple paid no attention. They would wait for the express.

The train pulled away and soon was lumbering along the bay, glowing in the break of dawn. She watch the waves thinking of Goro. If he were just a little more ambitious! The only boy in the village who had ever stoked her fires, and he wanted to stay there and mildew in a job he had gotten through a trackhand uncle. He was always touching her with his eyes but would hold her hand only when he was sure no one was looking. How often she had been on the brink of encouraging him to hold her. Her whole body tingled at thoughts of the things she would not have stopped him from doing.

The train stopped at the next station. It would wait a few minutes for the express to pass. She eyed the early travelers on the platform. No one she knew, no one craning their neck looking for someone. She'd gotten this far. The rest would be easy.

Miho closed her eyes for the first time since getting up that morning. She envisioned herself still at home in her warm futon, awakening to a noisy commercial from the radio in the kitchen, dreading another day of work at the cannery. Never again would she stand beside that smelly conveyer belt, for minimum wages and a back ache, to cull out any creature that didn't belong in a can of crabmeat.

She could see her mother rising at six o'clock, half an hour after she had snuck away to board the 5:52 local. Her mother would have dressed and washed, turned on the rice cooker, swept the hallway and foyer with the front door open to the breeze off the sea, then lit a pair of joss sticks and chanted a sutra at the mortuary altar in the sitting room after offering her father a small dish of steamy rice.

For as long as Miho could remember, even after that day they had found flotsam from her father's boat, she had always awoken to a clean house full of fresh air and the smell of bean-paste soup and grilled mackerel. She closed her eyes but could not shut out the scene of her mother discovering that her daughter had gone and not even left a note. She fought off an urge to dash to a phone on the platform and call her. Tell her she was going to Tokyo and would be okay. Instead she let her body totally settle on the firmly cushioned seat and waited for train to go on.

She had the two seats to herself until Okunai. By then some people were standing but the aisle seat remained empty. She had pulled her feet out of her shoes and curled her legs beside her, well on her side of the seat, yet people would gawk at her and move on. Then at Okunai a man with a stubble beard and seaburnt face reminiscent of her father planted himself beside the seat and dropped a backpack on it. She squeezed her legs closer to her body and even smiled at the man but he just stood there.

The man pretended to look out the window but she could feel his eyes on her face, long lashes, brows so thick they nearly crossed the bridge of her nose. They fell to where her wavy black hair cascaded over the shoulders of her silver fur jacket, to the Mickey Mouse watch and bangles on her wrists, and the rings on her long fingers, tipped with nails enamled red and flecked with silver dust, clasped on the lap of her stone-washed jeans. They dwelled on the flesh of her legs between the cuffs of her jeans and the ankles of her socks, then drop to the white running shoes on the floor in front of her seat. Only when he had confirmed the petiteness of her feet did he lift his bag off the seat, ease himself into the space beside her, craddle the bag on his lap, and close his eyes. Soon his head was bobbing, and now and then it would fall on her shoulder and stay there until she shook it off.

Miho had gotten used to people staring at her in the village. She'd gotten her lashes, brows, thick hair, and even her clear skin from her father. Old timers told her she was even more beautiful than her grandmother, who she had known only through photographs her mother had hidden away with father's things.

She could still remember the first time she caught Goro gazing at her from the other side of the class one day in the sixth grade. He had turned absolutely crimson and averted his eyes when she smiled at him. The only other time she had seen him gaze at anything so intently as he gazed at her was when he gazed at the stars from the beach the night he accompanied her there to leave flowers a year after her father's death.

The train pulled into Aomori at precisely 6:41 as Goro said it would. She had nine minutes to get off, go to the toilet, buy something to eat at a kiosk, and claim her seat on the express. She followed the man, who followed everyone else, all too anxious to get on their way to pay her so much as a glance of attention.

She bought three laver-covered rice balls filled with salmon, cod roe, and the meat of a pickled plum, a carton of apple juice and a can of milk tea, a bag of tangerines and a box of chocolate raisins. She also armed herself with a pack of blueberry gum to clean her teeth, freshen her breath, and ease her jaws of the boredom she knew would come with the silence she planned to impose on anyone who dared strike up a conversation with her.

The platform attendant blew his whistle and the doors snapped shut with a pneumatic hiss. The train jerked to a creeping start and Miho breathed easier when it cleared the platform and picked up speed. The tranfer had gone very smoothly. Some signs had been confusing but she had followed Goro's advice and immediately asked questions.

She had less time to change to the Tohoku Shinkansen at Hachinohe. There, too, everything had gone exactly as Goro had said. She would have called and told him so if she had brought her cell phone. Her mother would find it and think she was in one of her moods and had just gone out for a walk. By the time she realized otherwise, she would also know there was no way to reach her.

Miho checked her watch as the train pulled into Ueno. Its four-fingered white gloved hands pointed to 12:05. She polished the plastic case on the fur of her coat. It was still practically scratchless six years after her father had given it to her on her twelfth birthday. He had said Emperor Showa himself had had one just like it and worn it with pride. She, too, would go to Disneyland. First the one in Tokyo. Then, after saving enough money and learning more English, she'd see the real one in California.

She gathered her things and battled the crowds through the maze of connecting lines. Goro, who knew everything there was to know about trains, had said the Yamanote line would be light green. She spotted two such signs and angled toward the one that said Shibuya.

Then she saw a pay phone by a kiosk. Goro had said to call her as soon as she arrived in Ueno. Sweet Goro. She read the instructions on how to use the phone. She was about to drop some coins in the slot when she realized she didn't know his number. Three years ago she had programmed it into her cell phone and never had to remember it. It was his idea to leave the cell at home if she really didn't want to be bothered by calls. Sweet, dumb Goro, she thought, smiling through the tears that suddenly spilled from her eyes as she rolled her suitcase to the escalator that descended to her future.

This story is a retitled, expanded, and expanding version of The Runaway, in which the woman's name was Kayo.