The Impossibility of Writing Truth: Nonfiction by Gen Del Raye

“Human Incident, Ten-Minute Delay”


This is the truth. The train was between Takatsuki and Kyoto. The sound came first. It sounded like an empty beer can rolling on asphalt, but that’s not what it was. I heard the train slow down and then it stopped on an empty stretch of track. It was a quiet afternoon, and the sky was blue except for a few clouds, and I could see run-down houses and low buildings from the windows of the train. After a while the ambulance came, and that’s when I knew. You could tell from the way the siren switched off long before it drove into sight that someone had already told them what they would find.


This is the truth, but I can’t write about it. I don’t know why. I’ve tried many times. I’ve tried it factually, like I did just now, and I’ve tried it mixed in with a whole world of lies and fantasies, but I’ve never managed to do it right. If good writing is about truth, than it should have been easy. But I don’t think good writing is about truth at all. I think it’s about meaning, and that’s why I can’t write about it. Because a person died, and as far as I can tell it didn’t mean anything. No wonder I keep trying to write about it. No wonder I fail. I want death to mean something, but sometimes it just doesn’t.


I’m not trying to say that I dream about that time, or that I think back on it constantly. I’m not trying to say it was traumatic. I was in high school when it happened, and that’s more than old enough to deal with things like that. And I’ve seen worse since then. But I will say this. Every once in a while, when I want to remember it, I can remember everything.


I can remember how rhythmic and metallic it was, the sound of a train scraping over a corpse. I can remember how it started a few cars ahead, and then quickly moved toward me. I can remember that it passed under my seat, and that I could tell exactly when it happened because it was that sort of sound, the sort that’s almost a solid object, the sort that you can track with your eyes. I remember I leaned across my seat and peered into the aisle because I was convinced that I would see something rolling toward me. I think other people were doing the same. I remember the crackle of the PA system when the train stopped, and the phrase human incident. I remember how slow the ambulance was when it came into sight, and how methodically, after a long delay, they loaded the stretcher into it.


This is also true. Back then getting to school took me more than two hours. That meant I spent almost five hours a day on trains, and I did that for three years, and that is why it was inevitable that eventually I would see what I saw that day. There’d been many near misses before. Dozens, maybe hundreds of them. It’s surprising when I think back at how many deaths there must have been on that line. Red numbers on the electronic bulletin board. Human incident, ten-minute delay. That’s why part of me, when it happened, was excited. I was excited to see what had been surrounding me this whole time. I was excited to finally watch it in action, to learn how it worked. I was like a sixteen-year-old passing an accident on the highway for the first time from the vantage point of the driver’s seat.


I learned one thing. It takes a long time to get a train running after it runs over a person. It takes maybe one and a half to two hours. That’s what I learned.


There were many other people on that train, probably hundreds of them. There were eight-year-old kids and there were eighty-year-old grandmas. There were businessmen and businesswomen and high schoolers and college students too. If I had to guess, judging from their reactions, I would have said they learned the same thing I did. I saw them cough, open newspapers and magazines, check their watches and phones – what else was there to do? Maybe they learned that it’s more difficult that night to finish your homework on time. Or that it’s harder than usual to wake up the next morning for work or school.


This was almost ten years ago now, and I’d imagine that most of those people have forgotten it, or maybe they remember it but only think about it if they are reminded. I guess it’s possible that the only reason that I still think about it is because I wrote it down not long after it happened. From time to time, every couple of years, I keep writing it down. I write it down because I think that maybe this time, if I’m more honest, or more careful, I’ll do it right. But all the time I know that I never can, and never will.

Gen Del Raye grew up in Kyoto, Japan and lived there until he was eighteen. Currently he is studying marine biology in Honolulu, Hawaii. His stories are forthcoming in Pidgeonholes and Petrichor Machine. 


Curated by FORTH Nonfiction Editors.

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