Hard Seat from Shenzhen to Shenyang Chapter 2

Go Stop

by Renee Reynolds

He woke with a start. Tingles shot from the bottom of the feet to the center of the brain. From falling usually — or the body’s warning of it. What else. A dull pain in the right cheek. Another fight? Shenyang? The gear shifted to answer and he sat up with a grimace. That’d be a seatbelt in his face, he’d lost his train long ago and was nowhere near Shenyang.

He’d gotten off of the train somewhere in the dark. Baijiu, he whispered it like Rosebud.

Ni Hao? Women zai nali — zai nar? Asked the boy.

En? Grunted the driver. Gears grinded and ashes fell from his lips.

The van lurched and the boy took note: Foggy windows; Slippery road; Burning butt between teeth of driver. He will not ask again. For now, he’d take on the challenge of the passing road signage.

I can hack this. That’s what he muttered after the train had left him. After he left his pack with her. After she laughed at him. After he smoked that joint over that poo-filled toilet. After she wouldn’t kiss him even if he tried. After —  his memory stopped there. He imagined his pack now. It held the other bottle of baijiu, a canister of hash and his medication — capsules this time. They were less of a stomach-stripper but they also bore that sticker: an outline of a bottle with a big NO-line through it.

The signs told him nothing. Stale farts, bad breath and cigarette smoke continued to coat the windows. He leaned back to adjust the hollow in his head. The blood in there was like cake batter.

His eyes closed and minutes later the van stopped. The driver then got out, slid open the door, lit another cigarette and put his hand out. The boy was not well but clear enough to observe what this meant.

Duo xiao qian? He slurred.

Yi bai kuai.

The boy dug in his back pocket for his missing wallet. Then he dug in his vest pocket for wishful thinking. A wad of hondos — his affectionate name for 100RMB notes — and his passport too. Xie xie ni, Jesus! He did not haggle, or ask where he was. There was no way to determine a fair price for how much worse this could have been. He placed one crumpled pink bill onto the driver’s palm which became a finger pointing at a ticket window.

Shenyang, said the boy.

Finally on a train again he could sleep. Except that he couldn’t. At least the pounding had stopped.

Riding a bicycle forever. Pushing with urgency, with purpose, for a destination you’ll never meet. Something someone had said on the last train. That girl. Those businessmen from Fujian. No. Something from the bottom of the baijiu bottle. Maybe.

No. The last assignment. Yes, that’s right. For fun. No grades, just sharing. He’d write one too and if the weather fair, there’d be a reading in the park. They could stand on the stone tables, eat baozi and sesame balls, read aloud and laugh together one last time. He’d leave them with fond memories, of this teacher who came from America.


Yes but no. Too cold, and a little too terrifying for some. One by one they filed in – the students who were so obliged. Under half of the class showed but he was happy enough. Cloud, Pan Pan, Gleam, Smiling, Bacon, CoCo, Sylvester, Aaron and Go Stop.

Go Stop, the class leader who never took his coat off, volunteered his dream first. It is not only the last dream he can remember, he explained, it is the only dream he can remember and thought today, the only one he has ever had.

From behind gigantic, brown-tinted glasses, he cleared his throat until all eyes rested on him. His diction was a little stiff but his grammar, nearly perfect:

I wake up late for school. I get the lock off and ride my bicycle to school in very big hurry of course…I ride and I ride and I ride and I ride and ride and ride, ride, ride but I never arrive…passing by the trees and the cars and the busses and stores….I ride and I ride and I ride but I still never arrive. I get later and later and everyone gets older and older, and old, old, old, but I never arrive….

Eternal strife. That’s what the room was filled with when Go Stop finished. Next, Bacon shared her insect nightmare, CoCo her kissing the candy dream, Cloud his spaceship tale (suspiciously like an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation) and so on – all amusing and all in all a great last class. But it was Go Stop’s dream and Go Stop in general sticking with this American boy as he packed his things for the train.

The train moved. Only then could he find sleep.

This is part of a ongoing collaboration between HAL writers.  It continues here.