A harrowing commute


Tokyo – Not that it was as traumatizing for me as it were for the passengers directly involved, but it certainly jolted me out of my early morning sleepiness. My routine commute on the Keio line provided its normal push and crush to bump my office attire into shape, but that day, it offered something extra. I had taken the express train to shave some valuable minutes off my commute, but those plans were dashed when the train stopped for what seemed forever at a station.

My exasperation at the prospect of being late for work was soon met with anxiety, then confusion. First, I heard a slight gasp. Hurried breathing was quickly accompanied by a woman crying softly in pain. Peering from an adjacent door, I didn’t realize what had happened. I could only see a middle-aged lady squatted strangely at the other door. The lady next to her was reaching out, bizarrely trying to somehow yank something out of the train. Only when she called out for station staff that I realized something was badly amiss.

The rest just happened rather haphazardly. Someone must have mentioned that the woman had caught her hand in the door. “Just close the door, quickly,” she wailed. When in-station announcements mentioned passenger trouble, it seemed that the problem had not been properly communicated. Help soon arrived in the form a collapsible ramp used to bridge the gap between the train and the platform. This was followed by a senior-looking figure (at least, in terms of age) passing the door and asking where the problem was. I, like the rest of the passengers, could only look on. The surreal calm in the station seemed to be tinged with a frantic effort to do just about anything. The lady nearby soon stopped asking for assistance. Someone rolled in a wheelchair nonchalantly while I found time to message my family on the circus as it played out.

With some help from station staff, the woman soon  to get her hand out of the door. Finally saved, she stumbled to a nearby bench, clutching her swollen left hand. She was clearly trembling in pain, but yet they left her alone in her anguish and distress.

Station staff came round to visually check the offending door assembly for damage (at least twice) but no one remembered to bring an ice pack for the suffering customer. All this while, the nearby lady had been telling station staff to look at what seemed to her a fracture. Nevertheless, mechanical safety had been ensured and my commute was soon ready to resume.

As the train left the station, apparently 5-7 minutes late, I saw a lady station officer crouching down toward the cringing figure on the bench. That image has stayed with me as the glimmer of hope in a country that is inflexible, mechanical, and, as a result, usually inept in its first response.

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