As Giovanni was walking out the school gate, seven or eight children from his class were gathered in the yard, forming a circle around Campanella by the cherry blossom tree in the corner. They were no doubt meeting to discuss how to get the big snake gourds that they needed to put lights into and how to make lanterns to float down the river for the star festival that night.

Giovanni hurried out the gate waving his arms high in the air. He passed by many houses where people were busily preparing for the Milky Way Festival, hanging decorative bulbs made of yew tree needles from their eaves and fixing lanterns to the branches of white cedar trees.

Without stopping off at home he turned three corners, entered a large printing house, greeted the man doing accounts by the door in a baggy white shirt, removed his shoes, stepped onto the wooden floor and opened the big door in front of him. Inside all the lights were on even though it was still afternoon, and rotary presses were clacking and clanging away and lots of people with cloth tied around their head or visors perched over their eyes were reading or counting in sin gsongs and hums.

Giovanni went directly to the man who was sitting at the tall, third desk from the door and bowed to him.

The man rummaged about on one of his shelves for a moment and handed Giovanni a sheet of paper, saying...

'This should be enough for you to pick today.'

Giovanni pulled out a small flat box from the foot of the man's desk, went to his place in a well-lit corner of the room and squatted down beside cases of type propped against the wall. He began to pick tiny type, no larger than grains of millet, with a pair of tweezers.

'Hey, Three-Eyes!' said a man in a blue apron passing behind him. Several men nearby sniggered coldly without saying a word or looking at him.

Giovanni painstakingly picked all his type, rubbing his eyes over and over again.

Some time after the clock chimed six, having thoroughly compared the flat box full of type with the sheet of paper in his hand, he returned to the man at the tall desk. The man took the box, giving him a slight silent nod.  Giovanni bowed, opened the door and went back to the accountant dressed in white who, also without uttering a sound, handed him one little silver coin.

At this Giovanni's face suddenly lit up, he bowed to the man in the highest of spirits, took his satchel from the foot of the accountant's desk and darted for the door.

From there, whistling cheerfully, he stopped in at the bread shop, bought a small loaf of bread and a bagful of sugarlumps, then sprinted off as fast as his feet would take him.

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(c) Roger Pulvers 1996
The original, ' "Night On The Milky Way Train" in English (Bilingual Edition)',
was published from Chikuma Shobo.