The train from Beijing to Dandong takes 14 hours.
90 minutes in:
We’ve established ourselves in the community. The characters are numerous, varied, yet they all share a common goal. Everyone banded like the Amish tetris masters raising a barn, to organise the luggage.
There are about the same number of people sitting as standing and the same number of standers squatting or lying or stooling.
We were greeted as foreign friends. “What!? You don’t have seats? Guys, they don’t have seats, give them a hand.” So far, Old Mate behind Alex spent half an hour subtlety removing his shirt, the nice couple to my left have taught us a few tongue twisters and the Big Boss Man has said a lot of stuff, too. I just smiled and nodded.
310 minutes in:
I’ve watched the moon rise, from my stool in the aisle, I saw it turn from yellow to white. It’s high in the sky now.
I expect the delirium to set in shortly, for now I wearily fend off advances of bored China-men looking for something to amuse them. Blank stares are both effective and efficient.
333 minutes in:
I can feel the delirium, a niggling sensation like a dream you’re trying to remember. You close your eyes, ears, sit still. It seems to be exactly what you need.
I just caught my reflection in the mirror as I smoked a fake Marlboro by the bathroom. There was a lady reclined over two sinks and a piece of cardboard below.
I chuckled to myself, or maybe it was some other sound. No one cared enough to look, either way.
A surreal scene caught my eye, bodies sprawled, clinging to any inch of space, but not in a greedy way. Such innovative and efficient people we’d become.
Will I die on this train? Ridiculous, that’s just the sleepless drug talking. This is some people’s lives, the Beast of Sonder reminded me, he stuck his head from behind the chair a couple of rows back and made a sound like a mix between a lion and a train. I understood. The occupants of the chair seemed unfazed. This is all they’ve known.
He lured me back to my seat and it was only a moment for it to seem like it never happened, a cigarette of a dream.
626 minutes in:
I’m not sure I’ve slept. My eyes were closed for about 140 minutes. That’s for sure. But my brain hasn’t stopped, like the Earth that brings back the sun through this turquoise sky to my left. It’s actually about 4 to 4.
I’m not even certain that 600 minutes out of Beijing I saw a single star. But the distracting Moon rise and over-clocking mind may have blocked it out, filtering out the unnecessary extraterrestrial intrusions.
I had another dream cigarette, the window was cool against my arm as I leant to ease the load. The train rocked a little like a boat would, more than I expected. The basin, now full of water lapped back and forth, teasing the sleeping lady underneath with a cool surprise, maybe a welcome one.
At this stage, the sun is definitely close to the Earth’s rim. My eyes are adjusting but the smog or fog or morning dew restricts the view.
Uncle, to my left, has almost finished his 4 litre bottle of what smells like home-brew. Auntie has disappeared, as they have been doing in intervals, perhaps to sleep in the corridor of the next carriage. Maybe I made her up.
Maybe none of this happened.