At the Railroad Crossing

Another little one from when Aran was a little'un.

As soon as we bought him a picture book of trains, our son Aran has been smitten with them. Ever since then, seeing a train on the television, or even better, in real life, has triggered in him a reaction I can only describe as delighted panic, as he dashes to the television and points at the image on the screen, or strains his neck to see better if the object of his passion is just outside the car window or far off in the distance.


As a means of passing time on rainy Saturdays and Sundays, I would load Aran into the car and drive to a nearby railroad track, parking in a lot that was unused on weekends, and letting Aran climb about in the back seat, or play with the steering wheel while we waited for the trains to come. Other times I would drive down to the nearby Seibu railroad tracks, to the long straight stretch that leads from the Kawagoe terminus down into Sayama, Tokorozawa and on into Tokyo. This stretch of track, which cuts through the industrial zone of Sayama, is flanked on both sides by access roads which I would drive up and down repeatedly until a train came along, then pull up to one of the many level crossings and unwind the windows so that Aran could enjoy the clanging of the warning bells as we waited for the trains to pass.

As the trains approached, I would stoke Aran's excitement by warning him of the oncoming trains, which direction they were coming from and whether or not they were express trains, which would fly past on their way to the terminus in Kawagoe much faster than the local trains that had to stop at the stations around that area. If we were lucky, the red arrows indicating the direction of train approach would flick on in both directions, indicating we would be treated to two trains before the crossing opened and we had to move out of the way of the other vehicles that were waiting behind us at the crossing. Having crossed the tracks I would turn down the narrow road on the other side of the tracks, and continue to loop around the same section of track until Aran had had his fill, and lost interest in the passing trains for that day.

It was on one such day, as we waited at a crossing with the windows open full, listening to the chimes of the warning bells, that I reacted with faked excitement at the approach of a second train, and looked behind me at Aran in his child seat in the back of the car. He was not looking at the tracks, but at the old woman who was standing beside my car with her bicycle, waiting to cross the tracks.

Presumably she had noticed him inside the car, and since Aran has an irresistible smile, and elderly Japanese women are biologically programmed to like babies anyway, she must have soon found herself cooing and waving at him, extolling his cuteness to no one in particular. Aran was always happy to play along, never afraid of strangers as some infants can be. As I shouted excitedly back at Aran that a second train was coming, she broke off her smiling conversation with him to point in the direction of the oncoming train, and Aran turned urgently to see the approaching attraction.


I found it somehow pleasing to see that in a Japan where shutting out the people around you is so common these days, a total stranger would join in my efforts to give my son an enjoyable experience. I will tell my son of that old woman one day, and I will try and raise him to show the same kindness and generosity towards others that she showed him.


Copyright (C) 1997-2011 A.Keyes All Rights Reserved.

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