Hard Seat from Shenzhen to Shenyang Chapter 3

Middle Kingdom Field

by W.M. Butler

The old woman chuckled as the white girl got off the train, lugging her friend’s bag off onto the empty spit stained platform to stand staring aimlessly about. The train lunged forward a few jarring feet before finding its momentum, with the lurching grind of the engine, the old woman tapped the window with the baijiu bottle, the girl turned to watch as the grandmother screwed off the cap, held the bottle aloft, smiling and swigged the dregs down.

Gan Bei, Granny. Thought the girl as the train clacked away from the station, she watched as it disappeared down the line. She was left alone on the platform; she didn’t even know where she was. She looked around for a sign so she could get her bearings. When she finally found one she could not make heads or tails of it. She could not read characters. There was no one around, nobody waiting for a train heading in either direction; there was nobody to help. She stepped to the edge of the platform looking in both directions and discovered nothing but track on either side and only darkness in front of her. In the distance she could see a slight smattering of lights allowing her to barely make out low, two-level buildings with sweeping roofs so rarely seen now-a-days in big cities, most of them torn down, the families relocated to high-rise concrete apartment towers. She looked both ways again just to make sure and instead of heading through the station she adjusted the weight of the boys bag on her shoulders. What was his name again? She thought. Did they even share that information? They must have. She jumped down onto the tracks and walked out into the darkness. She must have been walking for a half hour when her head started to reel, the exertion of trudging through this field was taking it’s toll, the ground beneath her feet was moist and wet, her feet where soggy and uncomfortable. The two bottles of Baijiu she drank were truly taking their toll. She needed to rest, she needed to calm down and figure out what came next. She placed the bag on the driest piece of mud she could find and laid down to rest, she was just so tired. She just wanted to rest her eyes for a while.

When she awoke she had no idea what time it was or how long she was out. She started to panic! She started to rummage in the boy’s bag until she found the boy’s stash, tore it out and began breaking a hard green chunk into powder. She had never rolled a joint before, using the papers she found she managed, it was sloppy and deformed. She tied off both ends tight and licked the seam together with what little spit she had left in her mouth, it held together well enough. She dug back into his bag for a light but couldn’t find one. At least it was getting lighter out; it must be close to dawn. Had she really slept that long? In a field? In the middle of fucking god knows where?


Her hands shook and she began to feel afraid, what the hell was she thinking? She almost jumped out of her skin when she heard a flick next to her ear and a flash of heat. She scrambled up and screamed. It was only then that she realized that a man stood before her holding a lighter with a tiny blue and orange flame dancing from the top of it, staring at her as if a white girl sitting in a rice patty in the middle of China was the most normal thing in the world. He was dark and wiry thin. In the anemic predawn he seemed made up of gnarled roots and sinewy twists that ran up and down his bare arms. He smiled a toothless grin and gestured her towards the lighter. She cautiously looked around, there was nobody but them in the entire field; it must be his. He must own this land. She took the two steps towards him and cupped her hand around the flame and puffed deeply. The pungent smell of the hash closed the space between them and the man laughed.

Meiguo xiang yan?

Yes. Yes, American cigarette.

She took a deep toke this time feeling the heaviness hit her lungs and fill her body; she held it in and then began coughing uncontrollably. The man laughed again but studied the joint with some interest.


He pointed to the joint then himself. It was clear that he wanted to try. Of course he did; he probably had never had a foreign cigarette before. Only this wasn’t an American cigarette but she couldn’t very well tell him what it really was, besides what harm could a couple puffs do? She hesitated but then held it out for him to take.

Xei xei!

With long knobby fingers he took the joint and mimicking her, inhaled deeply and held it in. He to started coughing.

Good? Said the girl.

Goooood. Said the man.

He then took three more hits from it before passing it back to her. She finished it off and looked for a place to stub it out, not wanting to toss it in his crops she scraped it off on her shoe and placed it in her jacket pocket. Not knowing what to do and feeling very light headed and now a little giggly, she sat down on the bag. The man stood staring at her for a while, his smile growing bigger and bigger until it cracked his face in half and he started laughing and laughing; tears rolled down his cheeks.

Very good! He said, and in a smooth motion squatted down beside the girl. Together they stared off towards the village buildings as the sun’s rim peaked over the roofs. They remained silent for some time watching the dawn sweep away the last shards of gloom.

Wo zai nar? She asked, uncertain where she was.

The man laughed again and patted her knee with one hand, with the other he made a broad sweeping gesture.


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