A Siberian Chinese New Year

Nicholas Quirke was waking to a very different view on 24 January 2020. It was still a world of white, but he noted that the spare brittle trees had been replaced by firs and the sturdy grasses that forced their way through the snow to create pools of brown had disappeared. The Flat, featureless land had been replaced by hills and valleys. The track curved and swayed. The snow seemed deeper here. The sky, if possible, bleaker. The towns and villages they passed through,  less modern. It seemed that with every early morning stop a new vista or feel was heralded. It was nearly 9 hours since he had gone to bed and though it had been a disturbed sleep, he noted that the dark rings were disappearing from under his eyes. No one else in the carriage had stirred, other than the guards and conductor. “Xiannian Hao”, They said. ‘Happy New Year’ he replied. The Chinese New Year started that night, the year of the Rat and Nicholas Quirke was a Rat. This was his year. What a portent, what a positive omen this spoke to him. He started the day with a bowl of noodles and a cup of Yogi ‘Men’s Tea’ he had bought with him. The routine of train life continued. They chatted, left the carriage at every station they could. The temperature getting colder at every stop. Though for the first time on the journey the sun teased and broke through for a short while the unfamiliar exotic names, Krasnoyarsk, Ilanskya, Nizaris Udinsk, taking them deeper into Siberia and a world he had thought he would never see. Having imagined a wilderness it was a surprise to find many of the major areas they rode through densely populated and highly industrialised. ‘Your must be bored’! Qifang told him after he had appeared in their cabin to say he was worried about the woman who had joined the train two days before and had only been seen once by Qifang and had been haughty. He had become convinced that she was dead and that there was a mystery afoot.  Nicholas and Lyusaku dined again in the dining car, and as it was New Year Qifang joined them. The staff seemed singularly unimpressed with his choice of the Vegetable Borsch with vegetable rice yet again, and he appeased them, choosing a plate of potatoes and mushroom Instead of rice, which some how didn’t go with the borscht., Adding a Sprite did not aid his digestion. The sciatica he had endured in 2018 seemed to have returned during his journey, though not with the vengeance it had originally manifested its self, and was always worse when he been standing to take photos from the aisle windows and when he had descended the steep steps of the carriage. He found himself, after every stop, lying down and stretching the nerve to try and release it. It always seemed to work but it was an irritant. After the last stop at Zima everyone gathered in Qifang and Lyusaku’s cabin to celebrate the New Year at midnight . Nicholas bought his Miniature Jack Daniel’s that his mother had given him, to share. There were nuts, biscuits, beer and Slavas and Kseniya bought Armenian Brandy and some crackers which he tried and immediately realised they were made with cheese.  Finally at 3pm, realising that in four hours they would need to be up to greet Irkust and the Lake. They took to their beds, still with no sighting of the Mongolian woman in the Cabin next door.


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