Echoes of Akira’s Story: The Ticket Collector

Akira Yamashita, a member of the Shakespeare and Company Network of Writers, wrote a story entitled – The Ticket Collector. The first time I read the story my only reaction was one of complete bafflement. I didn’t know what to make of it. It challenged every assumption an average storyteller ever makes about his reader.

We start out reading stories where good and evil are clearly defined and good always triumphs over evil, throughout the tale “good” suffers and is subject to many misfortunes and treachery. In the end, however, everything is sorted out in his favor and “evil” is punished. I suppose these stories are told to us to gently mold and shape our malleable child brains so we can never stray from being good. Then we grow up to read stories that take on a deeper hue with the introduction of moral ambiguity, tension, ultimate resolution, an outcome that resolves all dilemmas and reaches a satisfactory conclusion, all loose ends neatly tied. The action, the stuff that keeps us engaged and actively involved, is almost always in the middle. We absorb the “middle” as we start building our expectations for a desirable ending.

Many of us, who avidly peruse works of fiction, rarely leave this comfort zone. We seek works where reviewers’ words and analyses, back page or dust jacket synopses, lead us to believe that the ending would satisfy us. Like all things in life, a different point of view is rarely welcome. If we have slightly more evolved tastes or a need for that which is out of the ordinary, we may seek out the works of Kafka or, more recently Dave Eggers. But a glance at bestseller lists and front end merchandising at book stores dispels all misconceptions about what most folks really like to read.

Several of the comments Akira received on the network, I felt, registered confusion and perhaps even annoyance at the way the story ended. It was unconventional in the extreme. It started out in narrative mode and described a relationship between our narrator, a commuter and a fellow passenger who he met everyday and with whom he even developed a relationship that went beyond merely cordial. They exchanged casual conversation, shared books and even developed a mutual awareness of the fears, worries, comfort levels and quirks (the story indicates that the narrator develops this awareness, I am assuming it was mutual). The story ends violently with the suicide of our narrator’s co-passenger, on the train, during rush hour and our narrator’s only reaction is mild irritation.

It has been two weeks since I read this story but it has managed to take a firm hold on my imagination. I had to write about it in order to find an explanation for my unending involvement with it. Perhaps it underscores my life as an indifferent commuter, for whom the matter of getting from Point A to a Point B, 54 miles away, every single day, has become so routine and so programmed that any minor deviation from the routine causes nothing more than extreme annoyance and irritation. I know all the faces and some of the names of most of my fellow commuters. I stand in the same waiting line with them, greet them with a smile and know what their sons, daughters or spouses have been up to. I know about their vacation plans, their work problems, have mentally recorded the kinds of books they like to read and the cars that they drive. Maybe I speak more words to them than to my own loved ones. And yet, there’s a wall of indifference. People sometimes move away, change their places of work, or start taking the train or a different bus, they simply disappear or move on. The very next day they vanish from my memory banks, if I knew their names I forget them, if I never knew their names, well, they might as well have never existed.

My bus was in an accident two days ago. A car that was trying to pass my bus in a hurry got hit by the bus I was in. It was a compact car that was sent into a horrifying tailspin, it got turned around facing oncoming traffic approaching at 65-75 miles per hour. It hit several cars during its backward journey, it had a frontal collision with another car which in turn was hit by a truck. I watched the whole thing from my window seat. Did my pulse rate soar, did my eyes widen in shock and utter disbelief? I doubt it. Our bus driver had to pull over and stop. I glanced down at my watch and observed that it was 8:30 PM at night. I should have been home an hour ago. I was irritated beyond belief. Our cell phones came out as loved ones back home were told about the damn accident and how long we expected to remain by the side of the road. There were some worried glances or were these “embarrassed” glances similar to the ones the passengers in Mr Yamashita’s story had shown when the passenger committed suicide? My irritation was pronounced, this was a wrinkle in my soporific routine, a disruption.

As a storyteller I would have shown considerable lack of skill if I chose to write a story around this incident. Mr Yamashita instead, a gifted storyteller, amplified that sense of anarchy, chaos and modern day disaffection with the sights, sounds and experiences that surround us, in few razor sharp words and succinctly structured sentences, perhaps the sort of story that, in the unforgettable words of Mohammed Ali, can float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.

Well done, Akira-san.

4 Comments

  1. Well done P. That was quite a post!

  2. Just wondering if 'entitled' in the first line should read 'titled.' Well-narrated!

  3. "Entitled" is the correct usage Blue…see this link for example:http://www.nls.uk/broadsides/broadside.cfm/id/16755Pragya

  4. Thats quite a post!!! Its looooooooooooong!!


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