Pick Me Up When I Get In

train5A 10 pm departure. Only a half hour out of Kunming and already the windows displayed a repetitive wheel of blackness. The 66 hard beds in car five were half full. Families with small children, students, some middle-aged business men in button down shirts, the ubiquitous black leather shoe of the Chinese male.

A young couple crowded into the single bunk below me, splitting the cost of the 550 yuan ticket. A shirtless traveling taxi driver displayed his belly and talked loudly on his cell phone, spitting sunflower seeds. Periodically our train passed a bright construction site on the side of the tracks. The electrician on the next bunk was drunk. He had begun shadow boxing.

We blew through a small town. Then the night air grew dense with distant lights. Train staff passed through the car, delivering hot water, sweeping the floor, rolling up the curtains and then rolling them down again, selling thin white “night slippers” for 12 cents a pair. A beer and snack cart jostled down the corridor, the attendant yelling a continuous stream of offerings. Then all the lights went out and we rode on in blackness. It was 11:15 pm.

That night Mr. Hu got really drunk. He asked me repeatedly where I was from and when I told him, he shouted one of the few English words he knew. “Perfume!” He tried to hold my hand, repeating enthusiastically, “Perfume! Perfume!” He asked me again where I was from and did a little dance while processing the answer.

Then Mr. Hu informed me that at 31 he had already gone to Yunnan University and finally made the decision to become an electrician. Yes! An electrician! Yes, okay, okay, he had enjoyed an amount of beer and Chinese liquor earlier in the evening. Sure. But the burning question he had for me, the one he could hardly contain: “Foreign lady where are you from?” I told him to leave me alone. Around 3 am the whole car woke to Mr. Hu’s shouts: “Yes I am in a big drink. Pick me up when I get in. It’s the west train station! The west! The west.

In the morning Mr. Hu was gone. A few waterlogged tealeaves dreamed in the bottom of my plastic mug. Newspapers flapped on the table and a breeze came in from an open window. I’d been on this train for only 18 and a half hours. It would take three more days to get there.