As the bullet train pulls out of the station, I hurry to the center of the car and take off my backpack before crashing unsteadily into my assigned window seat. My ears are ringing hard, and my right leg feels like it’s on fire. As usual, I spend a second wondering if I’m going to die.
Nobody in the car comes over to help me. Most of them are sleeping, and the majority have headphones in. Left alone, I grab hold of the armrest, lean over, and just try not to pass out. It probably wouldn’t be a good idea to fall unconscious on a night train full of strangers.
After a minute the ringing in my ears begins to fade, and I feel more steady. Instantly I reach into my backpack, pull out a water bottle, and take a drink. This sometimes helps make my symptoms more manageable. Thankfully, today it works.
I sit back into my seat, taking deep breaths, massaging my leg. What a mess, I think. What a wreck… How much longer can I do this?
How much longer can I live?
Gritting my teeth slightly, I turn my gaze to what’s beyond the window. The city passes by in quick flashes of bright light. Above the buildings I can see a few stars splattered on the dark night sky. It’s a nice scene, but I can’t really enjoy it. I close my eyes, silently begging my leg to calm down and shut up.
A young woman suddenly plops into the seat next to me. I look at her, startled. She’s wearing black-rimmed glasses, jeans, and a dark gray T-shirt with a brand logo that I can’t identify. The lower half of her long, straight blond hair has been dyed a light purple. She has earphones dangling around her neck, and I notice that she seems incredibly alert for this time of night.
“Hello,” I say back shakily.
“Are you okay? You look like you don’t feel well.” Her voice is deeper than I might have expected.
“Thanks. I’m not feeling great, but this happens a lot, so it’s nothing to worry about…”
She reads the uncertainty in my voice. “Okay, well, can I do anything for you?”
I’m about to say no, but after some thinking I ask hopefully, “Can you stay here in case I pass out? I don’t want…”
My breath catches for a second; I glance away, grimacing and holding down my leg. The young woman looks after me with care.
When I can I finish, “I don’t want my backpack to get stolen.”
She knows it’s about more than just a stolen backpack. She gives me a reassuring smile. “No worries. Night trains attract all kinds of nasty folks. I’ll watch over you. What station are you getting off at?”
At this point the ringing in my ears comes back. I lean over automatically, grabbing the armrest and closing my eyes.
The rest of the night is a blur. I pass out at least twice, and at some point I think I throw up. When I wake up in my bed the next morning, I really don’t remember how I got there. I feel a lot better, though – my spells only ever last a day, if that. I get up groggily, go to the bathroom, and then head to the kitchen for breakfast, still trying and failing to remember the events of the night before.
As I reach over to open the fridge, I notice a sheet of printer paper on the kitchen table. There’s a message scribbled on it. I go over to pick it up. It reads:
Good morning Kohaku!
How are you feeling? I hope you’re better now. You were terribly sick on the train last night, so I helped you get home. Your backpack is on the sofa. Don’t worry, I’m not a stalker or anything, I didn’t write down your address or go through any of your stuff. I don’t live near here anyway. Take care of yourself, and good luck.
From A Passing Stranger
Holding the note in my hand, I feel like I want to cry for some reason…