I walked down the streets ofShanghaiwondering which way Ryuu had gone. He was Japanese by birth, but had lived inChinasince he was three. His parents had died in a fire when he was only sixteen and he had supported his five brothers back inJapanwith the money he made here inChina.
I was inChinatrying to learn to read and write.Koreahad forbidden all women from learning the basics of our language, but I was determined to learn to read and write in order to be able to take care of myself. It was 1894 and even inChinawomen weren’t taught to read or write.
I sighed as I looked down another empty street. Ryuu had gone off running ahead of me and I had no idea where he was now. And I needed to find him because he had the keys to my room in the local inn. The innkeeper despised me and wouldn’t lend me another key if I was to ask him.
“Ryuu!” I called, glancing down yet another street. For some reason all the streets were deserted. Not a single person was out of their homes or businesses. I glanced at the sky. The sun was only just setting. It was unusual for a city as large asShanghaito be so silent at this time.
“Min Jee! Get over here!” I turned to find Ryuu sticking his head out of the local baker’s back door. I hurried over to him and he quickly swung the door shut behind me.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, seeing the distress on his face.
“Japanhas called war uponChina!” he said worriedly. My eyes widened as I looked up into his dark, brooding eyes. “Two of my brothers have been called into the army.”
My brow creased in sympathy. “I’m sure they’ll be fine, Ryuu. The Japanese Army would never send untrained soldiers into battle.”
Ryuu nodded, assured by my words that his brothers were safe for now. “What is the argument over, anyways?” I asked him.
He looked at me as though something had just now dawned on him. “Korea,” he whispered. I felt my heart stop as he said it.Korea? My homeland? Why wouldJapanandChinafight overKorea? I knew they had been negotiating over control of my homeland for quite some time now, but I could never have imagined they would actually got to war over it!
“Japansent their first battleships last week. They just landed on the shores ofChina. They will begin their invasion soon.” The baker walked over to them with a grim expression on his face. “I am terribly sorry, Ryuu, but I can’t be seen with either of you in my shop anymore.”
I looked at him with disbelief written clearly on my face. Ryuu and I had always been good friends with the baker. He was kind and often gave us samplings of his delicious foods for no charge. But seeing his expression now I could see just how quickly this war had turned against us foreigners in this large country.
Ryuu and I quickly left the bakery and raced to the inn. The innkeeper was not at the desk and we quickly dashed up the stairs. Ryuu’s room was right next to mine and he often kept my key for me because I was notorious for misplacing my belongings.
As we reached the third floor, the door to my apartment was the first thing we saw. It was hanging on its hinges, obvious broken down by a hammer or other such article. As we stepped onto the floor I saw that across the way Ryuu’s door was in the same shape.
“What is going on here?” Ryuu demanded, stalking over to his own room.
“Stay out, filth!” The innkeeper came out of Ryuu’s room with some of his belongings in hand. He dropped the items at Ryuu’s feet and snarled at him. “Pack up the rest of your stuff and get out.” He glanced at me with the same look of disdain. “Both of you!”
“What is the meaning of this?” Ryuu asked angrily, picking up his documents which the innkeeper had thrown at his feet. “We pay our rent on time every week!”
“Well, rent or no rent, I want you both out of here this instant,” the innkeeper growled, heading for the stairs. “There’s a war coming, and there is no way I’m going to be seen giving aid to the enemy.”
I exchanged looks with Ryuu, asking what we should do.
“Grab your stuff, we have to go,” he replied, entering his damaged room.
I turned around and entered my own devastated room. It looked as though a tsunami had passed through there. All of my official records and documents were shredded and strewn across the ground. I bent to gather them together then quickly packed my clothes and other belongings into my two bags.
I left my room and found Ryuu already waiting for me.
“Where will we go?” I asked him as we walked down the stairs.
“Who cares so long as you leave here!” the innkeeper shouted at us as we reached the first floor. Ryuu threw him an evil glare and slammed the door closed behind us. Then his shoulders slumped and he looked at me.
“I have no idea, Min.” He led the way through the empty streets ofShanghai. The sun had long since set and we walked through the dark streets in search of an inn that would take us. The first couple we tried all had innkeepers that we knew and refused to let us stay even just the night. As we left our area of residence we encountered innkeepers that had never seen us before. But they all took one look at Ryuu and refused to let us have a room.
“I’m sorry, Min,” Ryuu said after we had gone through all the inns on our side of the city. “You should go by yourself to the next inn so that at least you can get a place for the night.”
“I’m not going to leave you out here alone. What if someone comes by and takes your stuff or attacks you or something?” I wasn’t very comfortable with leaving him to the cold and cruel night world ofShanghai. Besides, it was nearly dawn anyways so there was no point in my getting a room to sleep for just a few hours. “Come on, why don’t we grab two benches in the park and get some rest before tomorrow morning?” Ryuu looked at me with tired black eyes. He just nodded, too tired to say anything.
I led him to the park in the center of the city and led him to a bench. I lied down on another bench a few feet from his. I was rather hesitant to sleep on the benches because I knew we were out in the open, available for anyone to steal from. I looked down at my two meager bags and Ryuu’s one tiny suitcase and nearly laughed. I doubted anyone would want to steal from us in the first place.
We slept soundly for a few hours before sunrise. Ryuu woke me once the sun had risen above the horizon and I stretched with a yawn.
“Morning already?” I asked him, rubbing the sleep from my eyes. He nodded at me.
“Come on, I’ll walk you to the print.” He kept looking every which way. I wondered what he was so worked up about. Then I remembered why we were sleeping in the park in the first place. The war. His Japanese descent.
“But the press is in the complete opposite direction of the factory,” I protested.
“Doesn’t matter. I doubt I still even have my job,” Ryuu muttered, picking up his suitcase. I looked at him, not getting up from my bench.
“What are you going to do?” I asked quietly. The money he earned here was the only thing that kept his brothers back inJapanalive. If he lost his job he would have no way of getting the news to his brothers and then the money would just stop coming…
“I honestly don’t know, Min,” Ryuu replied, sighing. “I’ll probably have to go back toJapanto take care of them myself.”
I looked at him. Go back toJapan? What would I do inShanghaiwithout him? He was the only person I knew, the only person I trusted.
He must have seen the look on my face because he smiled as he held out a hand to help me up. “Don’t worry; you could come back with me, if you wanted.”
My eyes widened. “Really?” I asked in a whisper, afraid to believe it.
“It’s not as though you have anywhere else to go, is it?” He smiled as he pulled me up and we looked into each other’s eyes. I was a head shorter than him so I had to look up to meet his gaze.
“That’s very true,” I whispered. My family had died before I leftKoreaand I hadn’t had any other relatives to turn to. I had hidden on the first ship I found headed toChinaand that was how I had gotten here. I had run into Ryuu at the docks and we had been inseparable since. He was right, without him here I had nothing inChina. And I had nothing inKoreaeither. The only place that held something of value to me was wherever he was. “What would your brothers think?” I asked him, suddenly conscious of the fact that Ryuu had a family to return to.
“They’d think I brought home another person to help feed the little ones.” Ryuu smiled as he led me to the printing shop. I had gotten a job there when I first arrived, all the better to be close to words.
As we reached the press, I saw my employer standing outside with his arms folded over his chest. “You’re late,” he muttered as we neared him.
“Sorry, sifu,” I greeted with a smile and a bow. My employer had been teaching me how to read Chinese and so I referred to him with the respectful kung fu master title as a joke. He looked down at me over his long nose with indifference.
“You are not to work here anymore.” Without another word he turned and entered the printing shop. I stared at the closed door for an entire minute before Ryuu gently pulled me away.
“I’m sorry, Min Jee, this is probably my fault…”
I shook my head, finding it difficult to find my voice. “O-Of course not, Ree.” I shook my head to clear it and smiled up at him. “That trip toJapanis sounding very nice right now.”
Ryuu grinned. “Well, let’s head down to the docks and see what we can do about that, shall we?” Ryuu lead the way through the still empty streets down to the docks. I was glad to see that at least the sailors were going on with life as usual. Ryuu and I went around to different sailors and ship owners asking if any of them could take on just two more passengers. After the first couple refusals we began to offer our work in payment for a ride. But no one was willing to board us.
“Sorry, Ryuu,” a friendly ship owner told us, “but we have to hand all our ships over to the army to use in the upcoming war.Japanalready sent out their ships. This is going to a naval fight.”
I left that office with Ryuu and we sat down near the water and slumped against each other back to back. We had no money to buy food, no rooms to go to at night, and no friends to help us.
The sun was just beginning to set when Ryuu jumped to his feet, nearly causing me to fall backward.
“Come on, why should we waste all our time sitting around?” I got to my feet and picked up my two bags. He dashed off in the direction of the forest that backed up toShanghai.
“What are we doing?” I asked as we left the city and entered the wooded area beyond.
“We’re enjoying our freedom!” Ryuu cried, dropping his bag and rolling down a grassy hill. I laughed as I watched him go down. I looked up at the sky and saw the streaks of sunlight pass through the heavy leaves.
Suddenly, before I could move, I saw Ryuu jump to his feet and look at me with concern. “Min! Watch out!” But before I could react to his warning, I was knocked to the ground from behind. I landed on my back and found the largest bird I had ever seen sitting on my stomach. As if in slow motion, I saw it reach its beak to my upper arm and…bite me. Then it flew off.
I sat up as Ryuu came running over. I grabbed my arm as it throbbed in pain.
“Are you alright?” Ryuu asked worriedly.
I nodded my head, but I didn’t feel alright. Blood was gushing down my arm and I couldn’t stop it all.
“We need to get you to a healer,” Ryuu said, beginning to get ready to pick me up in his strong arms.
“No, wait,” I croaked out. We both looked back at the arm and I gasped as I saw that I was right. The blood had stopped gushing out and as I wiped my arm with my shirt sleeve I saw that the gash was knitting back together and in seconds it looked normal.
“How did you do that?” Ryuu asked, fear dotting his voice.
“I have no idea,” I muttered, resting my head back on the soft grass with a breath of relief.
I closed my eyes as Ryuu stood up and walked around where I was lying. I felt him sit down beside me. “Why don’t we just stay here for the night? Not like we have anywhere else…” I nodded my head without opening my eyes. I drifted off to sleep and soon was dreaming strange dreams.
When I awoke I looked to my right and saw that Ryuu was still sleeping. I arched my back and felt an intense pain in both my shoulder blades. That was odd… I glanced down at my arm where the bird had pecked me and saw the flawless skin was still flawless. I wondered for a moment how the skin had healed itself. But my thoughts were soon disturbed as the pain in my back intensified.
“Ahh!” I cried out. I hopped to my feet and heard the back of my shirt rip as two…somethings ripped out of my back.
“Ohmygosh…” I looked down to see that Ryuu had gotten up. He was sitting bolt upright and staring at me with horror on his pale face.
“What?” I asked, afraid to hear the answer. I tried to turn around to see what was on my back but couldn’t get a good view. All I could make out was feathers. Feathers everywhere.
Ryuu didn’t reply to my question, he just pointed at the nearby stream. I walked over to the stream and in the early morning light could barely make out my own reflection. But the addition to my body was so obvious that I would have noticed it even if it had been pitch black.
Wings! I had large pure white wings on my back! I thought about it a moment and they fluttered up and down. For a moment I smiled and enjoyed the feeling. Then I realized this wasn’t a dream. I whirled around to face Ryuu.
“There’s no way anyone will give me a job now,” I muttered. “What do I do?”
Ryuu was looking at me as though I had just sprouted wings…which was, in fact, exactly what I had done.
“Why are you looking at me like that?” My voice quivered as I spoke.
Ryuu shook his head and put on a smile. “Sorry, I was just…surprised, that’s all.” Then he got up off the ground and walked over to me. He walked around me, inspecting the wings. “Do you think you can fly with these?” The eagerness in his voice was evident in the way he shook with enthusiasm as he spoke.
“Ryuu, even if I could, what good would it do?” I asked him.
“You could fly us toJapan!” he said excitedly.
I stared at him as though he was the one who had suddenly become a mutant and not me. “How in this world would I manage to do that?” I asked.
“We’ll work on that later. First off, can you flap those wings in a way to be able to fly?” Ryuu moved my bags away as I clenched my fists and though about flapping my wings the way I would think about moving my hands. My wings responded and began to flap erratically. I tried to slow down and control the flapping. As it became steadier, I began to rise off the ground. I flew into the air and concentrated on controlling where I was going. I landed back on the ground in front of Ryuu and he smiled and clapped.
“That was great!” he cheered.
For the next few weeks, we went hungry most nights and continued to practice my flying in the day. I began training by flying with heavy objects in my arms. I found that the wings weren’t the only change to my body. My bones had become hollow, making me lighter. When Ryuu would sneak into town to nab some food he would hear about how the war effort was going. ApparentlyJapanhad led the attack butChina’s defense had been strong. The fighting had moved fromChina’s shores toKorea’s, where they fought for control over the government.
I was sad to hear how they had moved toKoreawith their fighting. It didn’t seem fair to the natives who hadn’t asked to be caught up in the crossfire.
“So, do you think you could do it?” It had been five weeks since I had been pecked by the bird. I looked at Ryuu with a determined look on my face and nodded.
“Come on,” I said. He walked over and I flew up and hovered at a height where I could reach down and grab him under his arms. I held on tight as he bent down to grab our bags. Then I flew up as fast as I could and flew forward. I had to flap my wings twice as hard and fast as normal to keep us in the air, but it worked. I flew out in the direction of the ocean and as we flew out over the water I tried not to think about what would happen if I lost energy or dropped Ryuu out here. There was no where to land and rest. I had to keep going now that we were out over the ocean and had leftChinaand her war behind.
I kept flying until my arms were sore from carrying Ryuu and my wings ached from flapping. I looked down and gasped with relief. We were passing over a tiny uncharted islanded. I swooped down and crash landed, Ryuu flying out of my grasp as I hit the ground.
“Sorry,” I told him, panting from exhaustion.
“No, I’m sorry for pushing you so hard,” Ryuu told me, crawling over. I could tell from his motions that his body was sore from hanging from my grip for so long.
“It’s not your fault. Besides, we’re almost there. I think.” We both laughed and lay back on the sandy beach. “Wake me in a hundred years,” I told him as I closed my eyes.
Ryuu laughed. “Sure thing, Min. Also, thanks.”
But I was already asleep.
The next morning, I woke to the sound of sea gulls cawing all around us. I sat bolt upright in fear and grabbed my upper arm where the large bird had pecked me unconsciously. Ryuu sat up beside me and noticed all the birds.
“What’s going on?” he whispered to me.
“I have no idea,” I whispered back. The sea gulls took one look at me, cawed, and flew away as one.
“That was weird,” Ryuu commented, getting up and grabbing our bags. I nodded in agreement.
“Ready to go?” I asked him. He looked at me with concern.
“Are you sure you don’t want to rest longer?” he asked. I was touched by his concern. But I was determined to get him back to his family as fast as I could. It was the least I could do after he had looked after me all those years inShanghai. I grabbed him again and took off flying before I could change my mind.
Hours later we were still flying over the open ocean. My arms were getting tired of holding Ryuu up, but I refused to say anything.
“You okay?” he asked.
“Of course,” I managed to say.
We flew for some more hours and the sun began to set. That was when I finally saw it.
“Land!” Ryuu cried at the same moment. I smiled and began to flap my wings faster. We were finally here, Japan. I briefly wondered what life would be like here. Would they discriminate against me the way the Chinese had?
When we reached the land, I crash landed again the way I had before. “Sorry,” I muttered.
But Ryuu was glancing across the beach at the city beyond with a bright smile on his face. “You landed us right inKyoto!”
“Is this where your family is?” I asked hopefully, not wanting to fly any further with him in my arms. He nodded enthusiastically. He turned to me and took off his jacket.
“Here, put this on and cover your wings. We can’t let anyone else see them.” But there was no need for the jacket, as the thought of hiding my wings came to mind, my wings simply folded into my back as though they had never been there at all.
Ryuu smiled. “Neat trick. Now come on, you’ve got to meet my brothers!” I followed him up the beach and into the city.
Finally, I was walking toward what I had dreamed about since the day my parents died. A family to call my own. A home to grow old in. And a handsome, kind, and gentle man to grow old with.
Plus some wings that could prove to be helpful in years to come when I would be called upon to help with the war effort.
I never did find out what that large bird had been, though I’m sure I’ve seen it watching me many times inJapan. Other birds always act weird around me, as though I’m their queen and they feel the need to stare at me or something.
But hey, wings are fine by me, I’m not complaining.