“Kanagawa. Next stop, Kanagawa Station.”
It’s the same every morning at 9:42am. I glance up at the announcement, waiting for the subway doors to slide open with a whoosh. A handful of people get off, but only the foxes get on, slipping between the trousered legs and rolling briefcases.
Too late to be part of the morning rush, they sidle into the car, like me. But they probably have somewhere to go.
They trot inside, unhurried, and sit beneath the nearest empty bench where the luggage or grocery bags should go. Both crouch low, anticipating the sudden jolt of departure with all four paws.
The train eases forward and the foxes relax. The vixen, with her dark red coat, licks the face of her mate. His coat is less glossy, more mangy and wild. I glance away.
The little boy and his grandmother, who always get on at Minami station, also watch the foxes. Curious, but never surprised. The boy whispers something to the elderly woman and she nods, her face serious.
I reach into the bag between my feet, thinking to break off a crumb or toss a grape to the foxes, but pause, my bag half unzipped. I forgot my lunch at home. I can picture it in the entryway, sitting on top of the umbrella stand, waiting patiently for me to slide on my shoes. My wife no longer follows me to the front door to see me off in the morning. She’s never asked why I stopped leaving at 6:45am and instead wander out the door closer to 9 o’clock.
I tighten the tie around my neck and glance around the car. On the other side of me, the elderly Chinese man (I heard him speak once on his phone) is also watching the foxes. His face is grave, his eyes focused, as if he is afraid to let them out of his sight for even a moment, else they slip away.
The foxes ride the subway past four stations, and always disembark at Nakano. They don’t stand up at the announcement (“Nakano. Next stop, Nakano Station.”), but prefer to wait until the doors slide open. Then they sprint out from under the bench, weave between the legs of the oncoming passengers (no one gets off at Nakano, not during the workweek), and disappear down the platform.
I’ve considered following them. I suspect we all have; I glance again at my fellow passengers, but no one makes a move to stand. It would be disrespectful to stalk the foxes.
I’ve wondered if they get back on the train at some point during the day to head back to Kanagawa, but I’ve never found out. I only take this train in one direction, day in and day out. I take another line to get home, just to mix it up.
The next day, 9:42am. I glance up from my newspaper as the train pulls into Kanagawa Station. The door slides open and I watch for the foxes. A few seconds pass, all the normal passengers have disembarked. The doors chime and slide closed.
I stare at their empty spot under the bench. I clear my throat and run my hand through my hair. There are no foxes today.
I glance up at the little boy and his grandmother. They are silently staring at the spot under the bench. I glance at the Chinese man. He is staring at the spot under the bench, his intense eyes shimmering, his lips tight and drawn.
Whispers drift from the grandmother, and her arm is around the little boy, whose head is now buried in his hands. I clench my fists, allow the nails to bite into my palms.
“Sendagi. Next stop, Sendagi Station.”
Well, it’s not like I have anywhere else to go. I toss my newspaper onto the plastic seat beside me and stand up. The grandmother and the elderly Chinese man turn towards me, startled. I make eye contact with each and nod briefly.
When I get off at Sendagi Station, I loosen my tie and begin to run back to Kanagawa Station. The foxes always board the train at Kanagawa Station.
Amber A. Logan is a Creative Writing PhD student and university instructor living in Kansas. She is an otaku about everything Japanese.