"Are we there yet?" Ming asked. He stared out into the pitch black, knees pulled up to his chin, shivering.
"Not yet. Soon." his Mom answered, squeezing his shoulders, her chin on his head.
"Are they going to turn the lights back on?"
"In the morning. It's time to sleep. That's why they turned them out. Just like we do at home."
"But at home I have a nightlight. It's too dark!"
"Oh, I guess theirs broke. Here's our light." She directed her mini-mag light against the back of the seat in front of them, her hand forming a barking dog. Ming stared, thumb in mouth.
"We'll eat soon, at breakfast. Now we have to sleep". She stroked his hair until Ming nodded off. As he did so, he felt as if he suddenly drifted faster and faster, careening fast as light.
* * *
He woke to the sound of conversation. It was light, and a man's drole face stared blankly at him from the seat before him. It annoyed him. The blinding bright light streaming in annoyed him. In the cabin card games were being played, cocktails were sipped, and dinner was being served. Ming squinted his eyes at the steaming tray of crab legs being lowered onto trays across the aisle. He breathed it's warm briny scent.
"Hey! It's supposed to be breakfast!" Ming said.
His Mother sat beside him, thumbing dreamily through an in-flight magazine. She raises her eyes to him, then lowers them again. "Aren't we lucky though. Eating like kings." Sure enough, a clay hotpot is set before Ming. The steward lights a flame underneath the hotpot. "Space noodles!" says the steward.
He shoves the lid aside to peer at noodles, meat, and broth jiggling inside. He eats hungrily and loudly. When he finishes he picks up the lid to place back on to the pot. Startled, he sees the ocean below right through the bottom of the pot. He stares. The ocean sparkles in the sharp light below. "Hey," he says, "where's the land? There's no land yet!"
His mother peers over at the newly discovered portal. "Oh yeah. I see. I guess that's what they were talking about a little while ago. The captain came on and said they can't see any land; they are looking."
"Soooo, they can't find any?"
"Well, keep looking and maybe we will find it."
"I have to find it?"
"Someone has to find it, right?"
Ming scans the waves below. But the waves all look the same and they are so tiny. He doesn't know where to look. He scans right to left, from the bottom to the top, as the ocean traverses beneath them. When he tries to focus, his eyes quickly tire from the bright light. "I need my sunglasses Mommy"
"Your sunglasses are in our suitcase. And you know where our suitcase is!"
"In the ocean!" His eyes are wide with mirth.
"In the cargo hold, with the other suitcases, and the naughty children." She smiled.
"Can we go down there!"
"Maybe after lunch. After they clear the aisles."
"You mean breakfast. We just ate breakfast."
His mom considers his statement, then continued with her magazine. Ming squinted his eyes as he munched on chocolate covered strawberries, the red juice dripping. The liquid drips down into the claypot-portal. Instead of splashing onto the surface of the portal, the liquid crystallized and burst. Red shards shoot down toward the sea and disappear. Meng wonders if some things can go through the claypot, and other things can't.
"This is nice," his Mom says, peering down at an item in her magazine. It is a full-page item, which means it is special. Ming recognizes a pontoon boot. He scans her face, unsure what interests her about the boat. "What do you want that for?"
"Well, the thing is, you never know what you will need and when" she replies snootily. Subsequent pages display: real estate, animals, rocket ships, boats, and food of all kinds, both fresh and prepared.
"Could we get this." Meng leans over and puts his thumb on a 1/4 page add displaying a bouquet of chocolate flowers exploding out of a candy house.
For reasons she doesn't recognize, the sharp shove from his little body annoys her terribly, as if her son were no more than a tumor embedded in her side. Even as she chases away this sensation, a portion of her boils and threatens to shoot right through the roof.
"You'll get fat" she reminds him, satisfied with her cruelty. From the catalogue she orders a prefab single family house, which can be assembled in a single day using simple tools. In response to Meng's questioning look, she opens her eyes wide and shakes her head to put a kiss on him.
* * *
They are walking through the cargo hold looking for their suitcase. "I want my coat and my iPad" Meng says, scanning the stacked bags. "What? I can't hear you". The tiny high pitched scream of the engine and the interior roar cushion their speech.They walk past a row of large plastic dog crates. "Hey," says Meng, "there's a kid in there!". Sure enough a small child sits calmly inside the nearest crate, tilting a plastic maze game to work the ball towards the goal. She is dressed in traditional folk dress. The child's furrowed brow belies whether she notices them or not. "Shoot" she frowns, shaking the maze.
"Do you want to come out?" Meng asks, eyeing the catch holding the metal grate shut.
She twists her mouth sideways. "Mmmmmm, no. Not really."
"Why don't you want to come out?" he asks.
"I'm waiting for my friends to come" she replies.
"How will they find you?"
"'Cause this is where we always sit!"
"Always? You mean every time you fly to China?"
"We're not flying to China! And no – I mean always always! Most days!" She returns to her maze. The maze is a spiral formation. The tiny ball rolls, carefully missing the traps along the way.
Meng and his mom continue on their search among the suitcases.
* * *
They awake to find the item ordered from the in-flight magazine had been placed on their trays in a crisp white bag. "How long did we sleep?" asked Meng, yawning and sore.
"I don't know. I guess they landed and got everyone's duty-free picked up" said his Mom, rubbing her eyelids elegantly with just the tips of her fingers.
"Wait – we landed?"
"The captain said we were landing to refuel only. They still can't figure out where land is"
"So, where did we land. . ."
"I'm not sure. it was really dark outside. Maybe like an aircraft carrier or something?" She opened her pocketbook to find her glasses and chapstick.
Meng opens the bag from the in-flight store and unboxes the item. The house his mother ordered turns out to be a tiny detailed model. It looked full size in the catalogue. "Why's it so small," Meng wonders. He was excited about the big house, the real house in the picture.
"This is just the token for the real house" his Mom replies. "We keep this one, until we have a chance to settle down".
Meng pouts. "We should have got the chocolate."
His Mom smiles wide. "We did get the chocolate." She turns toward the window. "Look." He looks out. Among the soft clouds, and every bit as big, the chocolate lollies sway and dip in the sun.
"But we can't get there!!!" Meng wails.
His mom strokes his hair gently. "Isn't that the way it is."