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People are sparse New Year's eve in Tokyo. Especially at the shabby little station of the grubby little private railway line that inconveniences my life every working day of the year. Except this night. For once the Keisei Densha is a convenience instead of a recurring nightmare. For once it runs all night. It runs all night for the devout or the fashionable who want a headstart on the manditory holiday visit to a temple. I'm neither of the above, just drunk according to the custom of my own culture. Drunk and reading the schedule when I notice three other "gaijin"; three other "other-people"; three more who are "not-us": foreigners. Three more talking to a middle-aged Japanese woman. One of them approaches, glances at the schedule then demands in a forceful middle-eastern accent: "I want to go to Aoto. This is the place?"

"Yeah, it is," I say, gesturing to the left side of the platform. "There should be a train in about six minutes."

"It is very far?"

"No, about six stops or so. I have to transfer there, I'll show you where to get off."

"What language do these people learn in school?"

"What? Ah, English."

"Nobody can speak English here."

"Yeah, I know."

"I am from Iran," he declares, pronouncing it like "EEERan". "I can speak English. Why can nobody speak English here?"

"Well, let's not get into that. Did you study English at university?"

"No, at school."

"High school?"

"Yes."

"How many years do you study in Iranian high schools?"

"Six years."

"Oh yeah? Same as the Japanese, I think."

"But nobody cannot speak," he says and I leave it at that. What can I add without getting into the same, old, tedious lecture.
He, like his companions, is pale though with distinctive middle-eastern features. All of them are about the same age, about my age in fact. Like me too, they all wobble a bit unsteadily. Gradually the other two "others" drift our way, followed by the Japanese lady. She's trying to make herself understood in English though the others seem to be ignoring her or, perhaps they just don't understand. But at least she's trying; not shrinking away in fear and shyness according to the dictates of the national gesture. "They're going to Aoto," I explain in her own language. She insists on using English however, ignoring me, speaking directly to the two others.

"Iran--ah--EERan kara desu yo," I assist again a few minutes later.

"EERan? Oh, I don't like those people. Very dirty. Black faces..." she says in English, tugging at at her own sagging face. She prattles on in the same way repeating the word 'dirty' several times but the Iranians don't seem to pick it up.

"Shitsurei desu yo. That's rude. Hidoi na!" I scold her as the train pulls in. "What a bitch." I'm more shocked that she said it than believed it. The Iranian guys seem to have missed the whole exchange. All three of them are jolly, rocking back and forth on their heels, making noises decipherable only to each other.

We board. The woman stays on the platform unfazed by the exchange of unpleasantries; not putting on the fake bow and scrape. The door whooshes shut. I stand even though there are lots of seats and the first guy joins me, standing too close for comfort, my comfort, as is their custom. He works for Iran Air as ground staff I learn.

"Since the revolution no tourists come to EERan. I cannot to practice my English. It becomes very bad now."

"Your English is good."

"Tehran is very expensive. We people cannot live like this. We cannot buy a car now. Only the gaurds, they can buy a car."

"The Revolutionary Gaurds?"

"Yes. Since Homeini, only the gaurds have the power. They control everything." At this point a second one joins us, listening but not speaking.

"I am single. I cannot talk to a woman or the gaurds, they will catch me. If I talk to a woman passenger for too long they will say 'you make a date' and they will catch me and put me in jail."

The second one murmurs something and the first one continues. "My friend here is a university professor. He can only teach what the gaurds, they tell him."

"My boss is a young gaurd," the professor speaks up, surprisingly fluent. "I have an MSc. A Masters. My boss, he have only the BA. But he is a gaurd. He have the beard like that but it is not Islam. It is only political. He have the power. Of course I am Moslem. But I have no beard like that. I cannot have the power.

They continue listing complaints about first the Shah, the Ayatollah and the ongoing reactionary revolution in Iran. I'm not so interested but nod occaisionally, letting a grunt escape. Conversation ends abruptly as we reach Aoto. As we leave the train the first guy says "It is not our custom but, Happy New Year." The other two repeat the season's greeting and leave me waiting in the night, waiting on yet another filthy platform, waiting, as always, for the Keisei.




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