: The Interpreter :

an excerpt by Mary Morris

On the bullet train to Nagoya Mr. Tobita sits across from Joanna. He has been with her in Tokyo and Kyoto, and now they are traveling north. Mr. Tobita rides, facing her, with his back in the direction of the train. Joanna is relieved because she thinks she would get ill, riding backwards. But it doesn't seem to bother Mr. Tobita. He doesn't disturb her as she leafs through her papers, reviewing her notes for that evening's lecture. Despite Mr. Tobita's discretion, Joanna is wishing that she had not worn a skirt. She keeps her legs tightly crossed. The sound of her legs crossing and uncrossing unsettles her.

She gazes out the window as the flat landscape of Japanese towns and villages rushes past. An old woman walks bent under a load of sticks. A businessman stands at a train stop, rocking on his heels and checking his watch. Soon the old woman and the businessman whisk by, but Joanna keeps her eyes to the glass.

She does not want to look at Mr. Tobita's face.  He is a studious-looking older man with oily skin.  There is a pallor to his face as if he has been locked in a closet for years. And he has a smile that doesn't go away. Joanna wonders if he suffers from a malformation of the jaw. “Is it true,” she asks, trying to make small talk, “that these trains are never late?”