Concise Prose. Enough Said.
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The Man Who Bit Hair

By Hauquan Chau

So the man in the train is trying to eat the woman’s hair. He’s standing behind her, opening his mouth wide and biting down on her frizzy ends. It’s 11 o’clock in the evening and the trains on the Tsurumai Line are packed with people, glossy-eyed, either pink-faced drunk staring off into their cell phones or eyes closed oblivious to everything around them. A thick stew of smells wafts through the train, a combination of sweat, vomit, alcohol and flatulence. Many riders are plugged into their private virtual worlds.

All this time, the man in the suit is still trying to get a mouthful of hair, lightly tinted brown with hints of natural jet black near her scalp. He’s moving his head sideways now, like a hypnotized cobra, ready to strike at that tuft standing up at the back. He strikes. His teeth clack shut, but he only comes away with a wispy strand that slips out from his front teeth as he draws back. This time, the woman notices something odd behind her. She tries to step forward, away from the man, but encounters a wall of apathetic passengers. To scream out or to comfort the man is not an option. She doesn’t want to bring attention to herself and, besides, there are only a few more stops before she reaches her station. She must endure. She tenses her buttocks as she prepares herself for the touch, the violation, which is often reported in the news.

Trains are full of gropers preying on unsuspecting victim in crowded cars. Even the transit authorities realize this. The solution? In the mornings until nine, specially designated cars are for female passengers only. That’ll teach those male lechers a lesson: a car full of women but completely untouchable! It’ll drive all those hentai,sukebe males into such a wild frenzy of lust that in the end, they’ll either reform their ways or throw themselves under the train from all that torment. The service, however, is not offered in the evenings and the man in question has a different modus operandi. He’s in his fifties, bespectacled, and wearing a gray suit. Respectable-looking enough at first glance, but when the trains are packed and you’re inches from his face you see a certain menace in his eyes, a consciousness or awareness that alcohol hasn’t completely wiped away.

He takes another bite down, a flash of yellow teeth and fillings, which the woman sees from the corner of her eyes as she makes the slightest turn of her head. “Chotto…” she begins, an equivalent to a “hey” in English. There is no anger in her voice though, more like a chiding of a mother rebuking her balding, drunk, son. But now her outcry has disturbed the peace and tranquility or wa of her environ. The natural balance is upset. Oh, for shame. She has brought attention to herself and the situation, and now must trouble those around her to come to her assistance. Most people around her are too wrapped up in their own heads to even notice. Others just look on with a certain fear that inhibits them from reacting. They don’t want to have their own hair victimized. Who knows what sort of hair-fetish psycho this guy is? First the hair and then who knows, he could go after your neck.

The scene plays itself right in front of me, as I stand huddled against the door. No interpretation is necessary here. Smart bombs and laser-guided guns can be seen as an extension of human’s inner brutality despite the glossy sheen of silicon computer chips. But here, hundreds of meter below the surface, hurtling at almost a hundred kilometers an hour, surrounded by passengers connected to the outside world through their multi-colored phones with an equal assortment of cute, cuddly phone straps, the most primal action manifests itself in the form of bared teeth, retracted lips, eyes opened wide, in the likeness of our chimp forefathers.

So I push him gently on the chest with an open hand. In Japan, that’s the equivalent of smacking someone in the face. The two college students suddenly stop talking. The sleepers wake up sensing some tension in the air. The people around us edge backwards to form a circular stage for the three actors: the woman with the frizzy hair, the man with the teeth, and myself.

The woman sidesteps out of the way, leaving a space between the man and I. He makes a last weak attempt to bite her hair but she’s already out of hair-biting range.

The man and I lock eyes in an intense game of staring. Eyebrows are raised. He relies on the strategy of squinting, giving him a beady-eyed look of Clint Eastwood. I stretch my ocular muscles until I feel my eyeballs bulging out of its sockets.

The bug-eyed offensive begins to work as the man looks away, back to the woman, as if he were deciding whether her hair was all worth it or not. He glances back at me. I hold my eyes steady, tears starting to form on the edges from the dry air. And then triumph, he looks down and away, moping almost, as he resumes his drunk-man façade.

The woman thanks me and I tell her, he probably drank too much, trying to piece together the fragmented wa by offering an excuse for the man’s actions. The idea of drunkenness whitewashes all transgressions here. She nods. Yes, shoganai, it can’t be helped. That’s just the way it is. The one word that makes life easier to bear here when bad things happen and nothing can be done about it other than by submitting to it. The balance is again restored.

The train finally arrives at my stop. Just as I alight, the woman gives me one last nod of her head. I look at the man. His eyes are closed now and his body is swaying sideways. The door closes and the train moves off. Dozens of people push their way up the stairs, jostling each other for space. A bony elbow strikes my shoulders, someone behind me steps on my heel, a man jumps in front of the queue to get through the ticket gate. Shoganai, shoganai.


Hauquan Chau has been living in Japan for the last 10 years, moving every couple of years to find that perfect balance between the serentity of rice fields and the chaos of the big city.  His work also can be found at Glimpse Abroad, Oriental Tales and Flashquake.

Photo "Girl in light & darkness" courtesy of Amir Darafsheh, Teheran, Iran.

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