In December when I was ten, my family visited my maternal grandmother’s house to do the end-of-the-year cleaning of their house. Since my grandmother and her family members were usually busy preparing food and gifts for the New Year, my family went there to take care of the cleaning. Their house was big and traditionally built, so there were many hidden spots that needed to be cleaned.
One day, I was cleaning all the windows from outside, standing on a ladder, when I heard a whistle in the distance. It reminded me of a locomotive I had seen in movies.
“What’s that sound?” I asked my father, who was dusting the roof edge next to me.
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Sounds like a locomotive to me.”
“A locomotive, really?” My eyes became round with excitement. “But is there any locomotive around here?”
That evening, I told my mother about the whistle I heard during the day along with my father’s comment that it must have been a locomotive.
“Is there any locomotive running nearby?” I asked her eagerly.
My mother looked confused, but my uncle’s wife, who was sitting with us, turned to me with a smile.
“Oh, yes, there is,” she said. “An old steam locomotive is running on the local line during this holiday season. It’s a special event.”
“I want to ride it!” I exclaimed. “Can I go and ride the locomotive tomorrow?”
“Of course, not!” My mother replied. “We didn’t come here to play around, remember? We are here to clean the house!”
“Well, what if I finished the cleaning early?” I insisted. “Can I go then?”
After some intense negotiation, my mother finally agreed that I could ride the locomotive with my father if and only if I finished all the cleaning tasks that were assigned to me.
From the next day, I worked even harder on my tasks. Whenever I heard the distant whistle, I prayed that the locomotive would still be running the next day.
When I finally finished most of my cleaning tasks, my mother agreed to drive me and my father to the nearest train station from where the locomotive was said to leave. At the station, my father and I bought the tickets and walked to the indicated platform.
Unlike those touristic locomotives that run only for a short distance, this one was replacing an existing train, hence covering its entire route. We could get off at any of the several stations on the route, and on the way back, we would catch a regular train to come back.
We walked past by the engine and got inside one of the cars. They were also from the old time. Surprisingly, there were not many people inside at this hour. It was just me and my father in our car until the train made its first stop and three young girls sat near us.
They were local teenagers, wearing short skirts, long socks and very vivid make-ups. It was a typical fashion among Japanese teenage girls at the time both in the cities and in the countryside. Usually, it was considered to be a way to show their rebellion against adults and their world.
But I did not feel anything rebellious from these three girls. They were very merry, apparently going to the last stop of the train. My father told me that the last stop of this train was a city famous for traditional pottery.
“It’s unfortunate that we cannot go there today.”
“Why can’t we go there?”
“It’s too far. We need to be back before dinner time.”
I understood and did not ask further. I was only happy that I was finally riding the locomotive. Then a question came to my mind.
“Dad, do you think they will do pottery once they reach there?”
I imagined these teenage girls in a loud outfit with loud voice enjoying pottery. Maybe.
Just then, an old lady with a trolley came to our car to serve us some snacks and drinks.
The teenage girls started talking to the old lady about their trip, and in no time, they were great friends.
“Wait, wait, let’s take pictures,” one of the girls said.
It was long before the time of digital cameras and smart phones. The camera they had was a Fujifilm Quicksnap – a single-use film camera.
The girls started taking pictures, then they called the old lady to their side.
“You must join us!” They said, and like a grandmother, she was hugged by the girls.
“So cute!” The girl who was holding the camera exclaimed. Of course, it was directed to the old lady. Eveyrbody laughed. The photoshoot continued for a long time in the merry mood.
My father and I got off the train after a few stops and took a regular train to go back home. On the way home, we kept talking about the teenage girls we saw on the train. Something about them was special. Their loud outfit and cheerful voices, their friendliness, and the fact that they were going to a town famous for traditional pottery.
That locomotive ride was a lot of fun, and because of these three teenage girls, our trip became even more special and memorable.