by Katrina Hamlin

She looked up from the pocket dictionary. Hard, sleeper; “Ying, chang. Ying chang. Yingchang.”

The ticket seller looked back at her. “Yingchuang?”

“Ying, chang.”

The next lady in the queue repeated her, concentrating on each sound. “Ying chan.”

An impatient teenager behind her hollered, “Yinchuan,” and then in ragged unison the entire queue shouted, “Yinchuan.”

Relieved, the girl thanked them and smiled. “Yes, a hard sleeper.”

The ticket seller nodded and pressed some keys. She proffered a train code for approval; the girl shrugged. The ticket seller prodded the arrival time with one finger. 4AM. The girl frowned. The ticket seller shrugged. There were no options. The girl sighed, and handed over the money.

The little pink ticket slipped under the window, and the girl took it. She turned to leave.

She stopped on the steps to put the precious ticket in her wallet, and to sigh again over the 4AM arrival.

She looked closely at the ticket:

Depart Day 1 Month 2 13:00 Arrive Day 3 Month 2 04:00;

Hard seat.

To Yinchuan.

She went back into the waiting room to try again. No, yingchang, a hard sleeper. Where is Yinchuan? Nobody knew. Could she return the ticket? No. Not at the local office. Only at the train station – two hours north, if the traffic was normal.

She went home with the ticket. She didn’t tell Luc she hadn’t bought the right one yet. Since he wouldn’t be meeting her at 4AM after all, that seemed alright.

She would return it tomorrow.


But she’d always had a soft spot for one way tickets, even to the wrong place at the wrong time.

She’d never had a one way ticket to a place she’d never heard of.

She thought about Yinchuan, and held back from checking any maps or books that could tell her something more than the sounds of the name.

It was only days until the holiday now. What were the chances that she’d be able to buy another ticket? Maybe she’d rather go to a somewhere or anywhere than a there.

But duty and habit made it hard to keep thinking like that. She took the bus, and stood through all the stops and the red lights and the traffic jams until the terminal, at the train station.

She queued patiently for 20 minutes, then again when she was given brusque directions to a different desk, and then once more when she found she had misunderstood the directions.

She handed over the ticket, and explained her mistake. The old man at the desk gave her money in return.


She paused in the middle of the station, and missed the ticket to Yinchuan. A tickling regret was already gathering somewhere inside.

She went to look at the departure boards and the timetables, and scanned the lists of places she’d never been to, or heard of.

She joined a new queue.

When she reached the window, she counted out four red notes, pointed to a date on the paper calender, and asked for one ticket. She didn’t bother to request a sleeper.

“To where?” said the ticket seller.

“To Xining,” said the girl.

The ticket seller pushed a few keys and checked her dates. The girl nodded.

The ticket seller slipped a pink ticket under the window. The girl smiled.

Later, she told Luc that she’d bought a ticket. She didn’t tell him anything more.