I’m riding the train home from work. It’s fairly packed, definitely no seats available, when something I see compels me to stop reading the book I’m absorbed in.
Moving silently in my direction – an almost imperceptible rustling in the crowd of weary commuters – is a pair of men, both in their mid to late thirties, clutching at each other. Their faces are strained with the look you’d get trying to twist an impossibly stubborn top off a jar.
My first thought is that one of the two is epileptic and possibly having a seizure and the other – his dutiful caregiver – is gently trying to calm and protect him.
Then I realize that they are desperately grappling with each other, fighting, although the manner in which they struggle involves not a sound being made. As they move down the train carriage, the throng around them shifts subtly to allow them passage. The other passengers, noticing but not noticing, burrow ever deeper into their newspapers, manga or text messages.
“What the hell?” I think to myself, as the pair inches closer to the end of the carriage where I am standing. They get so close I could touch them yet, still, no one acknowledges anything. Suddenly, one of the man’s hands breaks free of the other’s hold, flying upward and smacking the glasses off his counterpart’s face. The specs fall at my feet and, not knowing what else to do, I stoop to pick them up. I stand and hand the wire-rim glasses to their owner, and he pauses just long enough to say “Excuse me” in Japanese before resuming his eerie combat with the other guy. I blink stupidly and nod, rendered speechless as the two somehow manage to open consecutive sliding doors and make their way into the next carriage over. Still gripping each other with the intensity of two mutes in a knife fight, they disappear into the thicket of people.
Snapping out of my amazement and looking around, I see that I am the only one who appears to have shown any interest whatsoever in the proceedings.
Like the two seemingly polite, well-dressed combatants, the people around me remain impassive in the face of it all, not so much out of indifference as in a stunningly surreal group effort to be considerate of others, to not disturb the carefully constructed harmony, and most importantly, to give everyone a chance to not lose face, not ever, not even in fisticuffs.