Maplopo Presents:

Haruka Kimura

On the Bus in the Rain

Haruka Kimura, On the Bus in the Rain

The original Japanese version of this story was featured in the Kobe Shinbun on July 15, 2019. Kobe Shinbun retains all copyright to the above image.

A Novella:

by Haruka Kimura,
On the Bus in the Rain

© All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior permission of Maplopo.

It’s just past noon. The sky, a deep gray. Heavy rain mercilessly pelts the shoulder of my suit jacket and the cuffs of my pants. Standing at the bus stop, I gently move the bag in my left hand from my side and clasp it to my chest while holding the umbrella in my right. None of this matters if, after having traveled all this way, my client’s papers also get wet. Directly in front of me is an older gentleman standing so magnificently straight it makes my slight hunch noticeable.

At last, the bus arrives. Quickly, I fold my umbrella and trail behind the man in front of me, stepping onto the bus with my electronic pass in hand. Throughout its dim interior, the rin-rin-rin sound of the ticket boarding machine echoes as those entering behind me withdraw their boarding tickets. I place myself in a double-seater, third from the front, and let out a deep sigh of relief. Despite the wet weather, the bus is only half-full. A baby held by its mother in the first seat swivels around to face me. Its transparent gaze makes me a bit self-conscious, so I lend half a smile and shift my eyes to something else.

I hook my umbrella over the railing, place my bag in the seat next to me, and dab the rain drops off my suit with a towel. Then, I glance around to the nameplate of the bus driver and the advertisements posted on the walls… and just as I finish my nonchalant scan, I find myself—literally almost choking.  

Across the aisle and diagonally to my right, my exact double is sitting in a one-seater. No… technically, he’s me as a high schooler. Reflexively and vigorously, I rub at my eyes, and it sure isn’t hay-fever season.

I thought it could have been someone from my old high school with a physique similar to mine. But, it’s not. It’s definitely me, no matter how I look at it. He’s staring blankly out the raindrop-covered window, gripping the handle of a navy umbrella in his left hand, and holding a stack of flashcards in his right. A big poly-vinyl gym bag sits between his legs on the floor. He looks somewhat gentle, and in possession of a certain air of integrity if I don’t say so myself. Only, I’d say he could stand to get a haircut pretty soon.

Can this sort of thing happen? Is this bus, actually a time machine capable of traveling back in time? Despite my lack of sleep and clearly illogical thinking, I can’t pass up this chance, and decide I’ve got to say something to him.

As the bus pauses to stop at a traffic light, I grab my bag and umbrella. Just as I’m about to cross the aisle, my sense of reason returns to me. Say something? What exactly am I going to say?

To him, I’ll come off as some strange man. Our hair styles are different for one, and he certainly wouldn’t be able to imagine himself in suits. Even if I did succeed in saying something to him, he’d certainly think I was some kind of weirdo. And, assuming I could pull it off and succeed in convincing him I was his future self… again, what would I tell him? It’d be against the rules to say: “All that hard work’ll pay off… You’ll pass the entrance exam and get into your chosen university,” or, “You’ll choose not to share your feelings for that special person on graduation day.” I don’t want to trample on the future, or the overall efforts of my seventeen-year-old self.

Just then, the light turns green, and I put my half-floating butt right back into the seat. Unaware of my intentions, the bus unceremoniously moves forward. The baby from earlier, I now notice, is sound asleep, resting with its mouth slightly open.

Where might this younger me be getting off, I wonder. I don’t recall ever taking this bus line so early in the afternoon. Maybe he’s stopping off somewhere, since school let out before noon today. Anyways, if I want to say something to him, I’d better hurry because I’ve got to get off soon, like, in ten minutes or so.

Let’s just say something short and simple, I decide. I let my mind wander, and then happen upon these words: “Keep moving forward, and come to where I am.”

These past ten years, all sorts of things have happened to me—things that are kind of in line with my relatively ordinary life. There are many happy memories, and bitter ones too that beat me about—even today. But, one thing I can say with confidence is there’s no doubt he can make it to twenty-seven. My presence here is proof.

Maybe it’ll make him feel a lot better just knowing that. “Leave the rest to me. From here onward, I’ll take care of things the best I can.” If my future self were here saying that to me right now, I’d know all I needed to do was focus on doing my very best at this moment.

While I’m mulling this over, I notice my seventeen-year-old self begins flipping through his flash card deck—his attention no longer out the window. Watching him, I have this sudden intense feeling of wanting to meet myself in ten years… my thirty-seven-year-old self.

Where are you now, I wonder, and what might you be doing? To you, my twenty-seven-year-old troubles may be juvenile and immature. I’m sure you likely have your own joys and concerns. But, it’s probably better not to know. I’m already up to my neck taking care of life as it is. I want to believe in you and just keep moving forward to where you’re at. So, for now, I’ll keep moving forward one step at a time. Knowing you’ll be there for me gives me a simmering sense of fortitude.

The left-turn signal illuminates, and the bus begins to decelerate for the turn. The high-school me stows the flashcards in his bag. Looks like there’s really no time left to make my move.

“Please wait for the bus to come to a complete stop before standing.” Upon hearing this announcement, the high-school me stands and walks toward the exit, slinging that huge bag over his shoulder as he goes. For a brief second, our eyes meet. Within no time, though, I hear his electronic bus pass make that ping-ping sound, and before I know it, he’s outside in the rain-swept world.

The door closes. The bus departs.

I can no longer see his face as it’s hidden beneath the umbrella. Still, I can’t stop from continually wheeling around to catch a glimpse, feeling a sense of loss at his parting. It’s a good while later, when I finally realize the older man from earlier, seated two seats behind me, has been watching over me.

Eventually, I return my gaze frontward. As I do, the smartphone in my pocket vibrates. I take it out and check the message—my boss, section chief Yamada, is also heading out of the office. I’ve got permission to go home once my meeting wraps, he says. My stop’s up next, says the bus intercom. I lift my eyes from my phone and hurriedly press the button signaling my intent to exit.

I alight at my stop after checking to see I have everything. The skies remain in a continuous downpour. To be sure of where I’m going, I double-check the map on my phone under the bus shelter. Open goes the umbrella, and off I go into the rain.

Where I’m going is to the office of a client. No… not, actually. Where I’m headed, and whom I’m really going to meet is the future me.