Her legs weakened. The line was long and the people seemed to be closing in on her, threatening to swallow her up. She tried to fan herself with her ticket, but the paper was too flimsy to have any affect.
The line seemed to be stopped and she couldn’t see far ahead enough to tell what the hold up was. Her stomach twisted and she felt light-headed. She should have eaten. The tea was not enough. Between the flight, the letter and the farewell from Danno, she was ready to pass out. She put her hand on the man’s back in front of her, trying to steady herself. He turned around and gave her a dirty look. His wife began yelling at her in another language. People turned and stared.
“I’m sorry,” she said, but the woman continued to yell, getting closer to her face. Ala could smell remnants of meat on her breath. Ala’s eyes watered as she felt the fullness make it’s way up her throat. With chipmunk cheeks, she ran out of the line down the hall in the direction she remembered the restroom to be.
There was still a line outside of the ladies room, so she ran into the men’s room and vomited, missing the stall by three feet. She got down on all fours and closed her eyes. She needed to lie down. She needed to eat. She needed someone to tell her that she could make it through the flight if she just stood up, rinsed out her mouth and boarded.
She stared at the puddle. Because she was so hungry, it was mostly frothy bile. She carefully rose to her feet and grabbed a stack of paper towels. She threw them onto the mess and tried to wipe up as much as she could with her foot. The nausea returned and she lied down on her stomach, letting her face rest on the freezing tile.
Her phone rang, and very slowly, she sat up and took it out of her bag. It was Jase calling. She chose to ignore him. Once again she stood up and kicked the soggy paper towels into the corner. She had to get to her seat as quickly as possible. She could relax then, and possibly even get some sleep.
Leaving the restroom, she realized that she had left her suitcase at the gate. This panic brought her to a jog even though she still felt like crawling. The boarding area was empty. She read the monitor to make sure she was in the right place for the flight. Her suitcase was gone. She looked under the row of seats . She went to the personnel desk, but no one was there to help.
It appeared that she had missed last call for boarding the plane. There would have been announcements, but she wouldn’t have been able to hear them while vomiting. She had gotten to the gate as quickly as possible. She would have to find Danno and see if there was a way she could switch to his flight instead. She would also need to report her missing suitcase. She tried to remember if anything valuable was packed inside.
All she could think of was a brooch her mother had given her when she was seven years old. They were Christmas shopping in the city in the middle of a blizzard. The lady who helped Ala’s mother take care of her was supposed to go with to carry bags, but had gotten the flu. It was a very special day for Ala. She and her mother had lunch in the tearoom and she was permitted to order off of the full menu, rather than the children’s portion. They had bought presents for relatives who would be coming in for the holiday, back when Ala’s mother still invited people to come stay.
They hurried through the street, struggling to grip the bags blowing all in directions and made it to the revolving door of the grand department store. This was their last stop of the day. They both laughed with relief as soon as the warm air hit their faces with the rich new perfumes of the season surrounding them, and stepped onto the escalator.
Ala’s mother tried to untangle her purse strap from the cluster of bag handles, when the brooch on her coat fell off. Ala knew this was a gift from her grandmother and followed it with her eyes as it fell against the slatted step.
Ala looked up and saw the steps being swallowed, one by one, as they reached the top. She quickly crouched down to grab the brooch before it fell through the grate. Her small fingers gripped the gilded edge of the large pearl encrusted plate just as her mother turned to see what she was doing.
“Ala! Are you crazy?” Her mother yelled, grabbing the arm of Ala’s coat and yanking her up and off of the last step. She shook her shoulders hard. “Do you want to get your hand cut off?” Ala had no idea the escalator was dangerous. She held out her hand to reveal the brooch, which had pierced and was stuck in the palm of her hand.
“I wanted to save it for you,” she whispered, now embarrassed at the few shoppers watching them.
“That?” her mother scoffed, “Keep it. It’s fake. Come on!”
Ala didn’t realize her mother had meant that the large pearl in the center was not an actual pearl, but painted plastic. She had thought it was the most beautiful piece of jewelry she had ever seen and loved it because her grandmother had loved it. She swallowed hard to avoid crying and pulled the needle from her hand. She followed her mother into housewares, shoving the brooch into her pocket.
She found a seat facing the wall of windows, and slouched down, watching the planes take off. Now the brooch was with whoever stole her suitcase. Even if she reported it missing, she knew she wouldn’t get it back. She felt violated at the thought of someone looking through her underwear.
The plane she was supposed to be on backed out and taxied down the tarmac. Ala opened her purse to make sure that her passport, license and the check from Emmanuel were still inside. It would be inconceivably difficult to leave the airport, had her identification been in her suitcase.
A woman screamed, throwing her hands to her mouth and pointing to the window. Ala whipped her head around to see the fluffy clouds of black smoke floating up from the bright orange flames shooting out under the right wing of the plane. She stood up slowly and pressed her face against the glass.
An emergency chute sprung out and one by one, like wind up toy soldiers, tiny figures slid down and ran. There was a loud pop and people gathered around her at the window in time to see the large fire cloud engulf the plane, flames snaking both wings and all sides. Banging on the glass and screaming continued as Ala squinted ahead, trying to make sense of what was happening. Fire engines and squad cars surrounded the dying star, and the few who had escaped huddled together.
Running commenced with people going in all directions, crashing into one another. She didn’t know what to do or who to call. She would’ve been dead had she made it on in time. At least she had been with him one last time. She heard people shouting and shoes squeaking, babies crying and whistles blowing. She could smell smoke and wasn’t sure if it was from the cigarette she had or the world ending outside.
Danger had followed her. She wasn’t safe being who she was. Her phone rang. She took it out of her bag and, without looking to see who was calling, tossed it in the trashcan, along with her ticket. She put her sunglasses on and looking straight ahead, walked quickly toward the exit of the airport.
Please read this letter in its entirety. While I know your instinct may be to tear it up, or act as if you’ve never received it, please work against it. It is imperative you know that I am not writing to you out of anger for what may or may not have happened. I am still out of the country and, while I have received disturbing news about my property being disrupted, I am a firm believer in assessing a claim before reacting. This only has to do with…
Her seat seemed to slump and began to shake suddenly. Danno woke up and took her hand. Their tray tables rattled, spilling her ginger ale on her legs, and the seat belt lights blinked incessantly. The stewardess wobbled toward the front of the aisle and picked up the intercom speaker.
First she spoke in Korean and then, Ala assumed, repeated, “Please everyone take your seats and fasten your seat belts. We are experiencing some turbulence and at the captain’s request, please remain in your seats.”
Ala had acquired the bad habit of never wearing her seat belt on flights. She reached down to find the buckle and the plane shifted again, slamming her forehead against the tray table.
“Oh no, here sit back, let me see,” Danno said, rubbing the spot on her forehead that she knew would later erupt into a bump.
The vibration grew quicker and the stewardesses strapped themselves into the seats parallel to the rows in the front of the cabin. Ala shoved the letter into her purse and zipped it, making sure all of the compartments were closed. Her legs shook as she felt her stomach drop, as the plane seemed to turn in the opposite direction.
The intercom came on again and a man’s voice took over. He spoke Korean in a calming tone, but Ala could tell there was vomit rising in the back of his throat he was trying to keep down. The speaker cut out before her could repeat himself in English.
A drink cart came crashing down the aisle, slamming into a man’s elbow. He screamed.
“Put the Goddamn brake on that cart!” He yelled. A stewardess unstrapped herself from her seat and ran over. Grabbing the cart handles, she struggled to push it forward. The man got out of his seat to help her.
“I’m sorry Sir. The brake was on.”
An alarm went off and the tension among the few passengers flourished, as the air seemed to tighten around them. Ala pictured them plunging into the black water and being ripped apart by whatever unseen beings they would disturb. She felt up and down her seat, trying to find the flotation device. Danno took her hand.
“Calm down. The plane isn’t going down. It’s a storm.” He pointed to the droplets covering her window. “Don’t waste your energy being hysterical.”
“But it might go down. Everyone is scared,” she said.
“Come here,” he said, wrapping his arm around her. He pulled the blanket up over both of their legs and put his neck pillow behind her back. Even with the awkward armrest jutting into her ribs, she began to feel better.
“Apple,” he whispered.
She looked at him.
“What are you doing?”
“Now you say a food that begins with the letter “B”.” The stewardess reached into the drink cart and pulled out a few ice cubes. She wrapped them in a napkin and handed them to the man to hold against his elbow. The lights flickered in the cabin. Ala tried to hold in her urine. “Come on,” he said.
“Bologni,” she said. He nodded.
“Chicken Cordon Bleu. That’s two points for me.”
“Why is that?”
“Because I used the letter “c” twice.”
“Fine. Dagwood Sandwich,” she said.
“What is that?”
“You know, from Blondie. The sandwich that looks like it’s twelve layers of meat and cheese.”
“The comic book? The sandwich enthusiast. My father and I used to read them on weekends.”
Her eyes filled with tears. She had avoided her parents and now was going to drown in the dark before ever seeing them again. The pressure around her heart made her nervous to move any part of her body.
“Fine, the point is yours under the condition that this so called sandwich has been attempted by someone other than a fictional character. Éclair.”
An overhead bin opened, tossing a trunk out that burst open when it hit the floor. A lady screamed and made the sign of the cross against her chest. Ala closed her eyes.
“Hardly a food, but fine.”
“You’re sort of a pain in the ass with this game.”
“I just play fair,” he said, rubbing the palm of her hand. “Kale.”
The plane veered sharply and straightened out. The alarm stopped pulsing and the lights stabilized. Ala was sure they had crashed and that she was watching the scene while dead. The stewardess tried to adjust her cap and walked back to the intercom.
“It seems that we are through the turbulent portion of our flight. The captain asks that you please remain in your seats with your seat belts fastened. We will come through with beverages offerings once we receive clearance.”
“We’re okay,” he said. “And I’m pretty sure I won.”
Ala pinched his forearm and then rested her head against his chest. She drifted off just as the sun cut through the black sky.
Her nails scraped against the sealed flap as she looked around to make sure no one was watching her. Everyone seemed to be concerned about the directions for boarding gates or taking items out of their suitcases to meet the approved weight for checking bags.
Ala thought about calling her parents to let them know she was leaving the country. She was used to doing so even if she was only leaving the city, and couldn’t imagine their worry when they realized they had no idea where she was. This however, was before their hobby had taken such precedence in their lives.
If she called her parents, and they bothered to pick up the phone, they would try to stop her from getting on the flight. Her father would probably drive to the airport. They would see Danno and would want to talk to him. They would think he was trying to coerce her to leave the country.
The seating area was hot and she could feel the bottom of her feet sticking to the leather in her sandals. She loosened the straps, took them off and stretched her toes. She ripped the edge of the envelope open slowly.
She looked up and saw a security guard towering over her. He wore a hat that was too small for his head and had a radio in his hand ready to notify someone if he needed help.
“I have to ask that you put your shoes back on.”
“Why?” She said.
“Well, it’s a public area. And shoes are required for sanitation reasons.”
Ala looked past him at a young woman changing a baby’s diaper on the floor. A man next to her was sleeping with a stream of drool dripping onto his shirt. Another man ate from a cardboard container and picked at his ear. It was hard to believe that she could be singled out as being the most disruptive out of these people.
“What about them?” She said, pointing at the group.
“What about them?” He said, shifting his weight, growing impatient.
“They’re clearly not taking sanitation into account.”
“They all have shoes on.”
“You mean to tell me that I can wipe up shit in the middle of this sea of people, but I can’t take my shoes off for a minute? Even though I’ll have to take them off for security?” She heard her voice getting sharper.
“Yes,” he said, smiling. His teeth were brown around the gum line and it bothered her. She didn’t like taking criticism from people whom were themselves making the same mistakes. She had always had difficulty with supervisors that she didn’t feel matched her intelligence. Now it made her furious that a man was referring to her as unpolished, when he himself seemed to have poor hygiene habits.
She picked up one of the sandals and stood. Her intention was to smack him across the face with the dirty sole.
“Is there a problem?” Danno said, approaching with the boarding passes.
“Yes. He won’t let me take my shoes off for a minute even though all of those foul people over there are doing whatever they want.” This she said too loudly and summoned several dirt looks.
Danno smiled at the guard and gently removed the sandal from her hand. Dropping it to the ground, he said, “Do me a favor and put you shoes on.”
“Why?” She said, knowing that she would be putting them back on, but feeling ashamed that the security guard was going to get his way.
“So we can get on with the trip. Come on. Just do it. Please.”
She rolled her eyes at the guard and sat back down. Danno nodded at him as he strutted away. Ala nearly broke one strap by tugging it roughly across her foot. She straightened her dress and swung her purse over her shoulder.
“I got our tickets. There’s only one issue. We couldn’t get on the same connecting flight from Seoul,” he said.
“Oh really?” She said, deflated.
“You’ll get there before I do.”
“How long will we be apart?”
“About twelve hours. We’ll be so exhausted at that point, you’ll barely notice. I did my best.”
“I know. Thank you,” she said.
“We are carrying on, so security should be quick.”
She followed him into the snaking line and waited, making sure she did not make eye contact with anyone.
“And how are you today?” A man checking their tickets asked.
“We’re fine, thanks,” Danno said before Ala could respond. She could tell he felt like she was yanking him into the quicksand with her. She wouldn’t be surprised if he tried to drug her before they boarded the plane to avoid any confrontations.
They found a table by the window in the club cafe. The glass slanted forward enough to be able to see planes taking off. The linens and china were elegant and Ala felt under dressed. She put on a pair of sunglasses and arranged her hair so that she had more of a side part.
Danno ordered a bottle of white wine for them since it was so hot and a platter of oysters. Ala worried that her stomach would turn if she had only that before flying and decided to order a chicken salad as well.
“Are you excited?” He said, beaming at her. Among her anxiety, she had forgotten how much she looked forward to spending each day with him.
“I can’t wait to get there,” she said.
“What’s the first thing you want to do?”
“Meet you at your gate.”
“And after that?”
“Visit the Bogyoke Market and buy hats.”
“That’s a great idea. I read that it’s common for scalps to start frying within the first hour.”
“The book used the term “scalps frying?”
“Of course. Crouton?” He dangled his fork in front of her face.
“No thank you,” she laughed. “But what are you going to do while we’re apart?”
“Work, no doubt.”
“Of course. I used to work out of Guyana years ago.”
“Don’t you think you’ll want a new job?” She said, toying with the hard boiled egg on her plate.
“Well sure, but not until I learn Burmese.”
“What about working in tourism?” She said. He placed his hand over hers on the table.
“Believe me, you won’t want me to have a different job. No one will bother us. That’s the beauty of working remotely.”
“Alright,” she said, finishing her wine. He leaned across the table and kissed her.
They lingered at the magazine stand so that they wouldn’t have to pace around the gate. Ala bought several books and a large blanket. Danno bought cough drops and a neck pillow.
“My throat always hurts during plane rides.”
“Maybe they’ll serve some nice warm fish soup to soothe you.”
He grabbed her and, pinning her arms to her sides, blew against her neck.
“Stop!” She squealed.
The cashier rolled her eyes as she handed them the bags.
The first six rows of the plane were empty and Ala hoped the stewardess would permit them to move up to first class, even though it was unlikely. She settled into her window seat as Danno tucked the blanket around her legs. Takeoff was smooth and the few people on the flight were quiet. Ala drank ginger ale to settle her stomach and was soon asleep.
Waking up, she looked at the black sky out the window. She liked the idea of flying over the ocean at night, of being midair in the pitch black. Danno was asleep next to her and she was wide-awake. She wanted to wake him and pull him into the bathroom after her, something she had never done. She felt like a restless honeymooner.
A subtitled movie hummed from the screen in front of them but she had no interest. She took one of the new books from the bag and into page three her eyes began to burn. She took her purse from under her seat and found her lip balm. Applying it, she saw the envelope and took it out. She finished opening the flap and unfolded the pages.
Danno drove slowly, letting other cars pass them on both sides of the road. Ala held tightly to his arm, slightly squeezing it every time she thought about bringing up the wallet.
“I feel better,” she said.
“So do I. You look better,” he said, gently rubbing her knuckles with his thumb, sending shivers down her spine. “We should buy some boots at the airport. For hiking.”
“Do they sell them there?” She asked.
“I’m sure. They have everything else you could need. You’ll also have to teach me about all of the poisonous plants and trees to avoid.”
Ala tried to recall the books she had read about Burma. When she first became infatuated with the idea of a visit, she had chosen the books on a romantic whim, rather than practical preparation. Sitting in a dust ridden hidden corner or the library, she had paged through each volume, running her fingers over the pictures printed on the old paper, smiling. The more severe the argument with Jase was, the more seriously she studied the text.
She learned about arrow poisons and gloriosa root. She had chosen a wardrobe from a catalogue fit for hiking through the jungle toward the love temple. It was important to wear sturdy soled shoes, but not anything that could be destructive to the land. All of the clothes she had with her now were frilly and pretty, meant for a summer filled with parties and boat rides. She would have to wear layers until they could find proper gear.
“We still haven’t eaten. Is the club okay?”
“Fine,” Ala said. Danno cared a lot more about the kind of food he ate than she did. Her parents had always ordered out when they were home. Neither could use a microwave properly. Prime rib was a favorite, along with buttered noodles for Ala. It was the only dish she wanted to eat because meat and onions terrified her. Her parents never pushed her to try anything else.
Danno reached into his suit pocket and pulled out an envelope.
“This was in the mailbox,” he said, handing it to her.
She felt the grain of the thick ecru paper that she remembered to be Emmanuel’s stationary. It matched the envelope from the letter he had given her which proposed the summer housesitting job. She put it inside of her purse. It was important to relax before the flight. If she were to have another outburst, Danno would not let her anywhere near the plane.
He pulled over on the shoulder before the airport entrance. A car pulled up and dropped off a man with shiny shoes and teeth. He approached the driver’s side.
Danno stepped out and opened the trunk. The man stepped aside and twitched slightly. His head moved back and forth rhythm Ala only noticed because she was staring. She let herself out of the car and hurried over and he placed all of their luggage on the curb.
“What is going on?” She asked.
“Give me a minute,” Danno said in a voice that wanted to yell at her, but held back. He closed the trunk and tossed the keys to the man. Then, he opened the door to the other car and gestured for her to climb inside.
Rainbow was behind the wheel and nodded in the rearview mirror. Danno climbed in and tapped Rainbow on the shoulder. He started driving and turned on the radio.
“I sold the car,” Danno said.
“Airfare,” he said.
She had forgotten to take money into account. It was the reason she hadn’t gone to the temple sooner. Now she believed she hadn’t gone so that she could meet him. Still though, she knew he had a lot more money than what the car cost. The sinfully beautiful car that he could have had many of for all she knew. She didn’t know if the car meant anything to him, but it meant a lot to her.
He smiled and looked out the window. He was happy about the transaction. She nestled into the nook of his arm and took a deep breath. He wasn’t attached to things like she was. He was used to moving on.
Rainbow pulled into the drop off lane at departures.
“Bye,” she said. He nodded. Danno got out without saying anything. An attendant came over with a rolling cart and loaded their bags onto the deck. The wheels squeaked and made her very nervous, like everyone was going to notice them and know they were trying to get out of the country.
The airport was very crowded for it not being a holiday weekend. The line for security was wrapped around three cues. There were suitcases stacked on trunks and strollers used for random bags and children clung to their parents legs.
“You don’t look so good,” Danno said, his face nearly losing color. “Go sit down. I’ll get our tickets.”
Ala pulled out her compact mirror. Her face was deep red, almost resembling a rash. Her feet barely moved forward. She had to find a way to calm down. This trip was what she had wanted. This was the reason she took the job. She made her way over to a scratched plastic chair and sunk into it. She watched families and business men pass by, nearly colliding into each other from opposite directions. No one seemed to look where they were going. Her hands shook as she reached into her purse and pulled out the envelope.
She dragged her suitcase, which inched on explosion from the last pair of shoes she had wedged in, to the car and Danno lifted it into the truck. She then walked back through the house, making sure windows were shut and that the back door was locked. She threw away any foods with debatable freshness and made sure there weren’t any dishes in the sink.
This was all she had to do. This was enough. A note left to Emmanuel could incriminate her; at the very least he could bring it to her parents. And she couldn’t handle any disruption in her plans to leave. She arranged her hair the best she could, using a bobby pin to smooth away the cowlick that seemed to spring forth with the hacking off of her hair. Her mind wandered into a trance as she wondered whether or not the man who cut her hair had had a family.
“Are we leaving?” Danno called through the screen door.
“Yes,” she said, doing one last scan to make sure she wasn’t leaving anything behind.
She turned the dial in the car quickly, trying to find jazz music on the radio in order to take her mind off Danno driving to the racetrack, which was the last place she wanted to be. They hadn’t discussed going, but she recognized the route and knew it was better not to dispute the visit. He had to go, and that was final.
Her parent’s house looked dark, even with the sun shining across the roof and front lawn. She didn’t see cars in the driveway, but this didn’t mean they weren’t home. Her stomach constricted as they cruised past and she tried to take deep breaths and not think about how there was a good chance that she would never see them again. And there was a possibility that they wouldn’t care if they were out of her life.
She rubbed the back of Danno’s neck as he turned into the parking lot. He pulled into a spot and left the engine running as he reached for a file in the backseat. A large woman with greasy long hair rushed two small children into a car across the lane. One of them, a small boy, was crying and she grabbed his arm while stuffing a French fry into his mouth. The child coughed, gritty white potato pieces flying from his mouth, and the woman slapped his face. Ala’s cheeks grew hot as they did whenever she watched someone innocent endure violence on television. She reached over with a shaky hand and opened the car door. Climbing out, she screamed at the top of her lungs.
“Let him go!” She surprised herself by the volume her voice reached.
The boy looked at her with pink eyes as the woman cocked her head to the side.
“What did you say?”
“Let him go you awful cow.” Danno was now out the car and rushing around to Ala’s side.
The woman grimaced and twisted the boy’s arm, making him scream in pain. Ala ran over and grabbed the woman’s damp hair. She twisted and pulled as hard as she could. The woman let go of the child and elbowed Ala in the ribs. Immune to the pain, Ala stomped down on the woman’s foot as hard as she could. She had never laid a hand on anyone before being taken away and held against her will. It felt really good and terrified her. She didn’t want to stop. She wanted to kill this terrible woman.
Danno was now trying to break the women up as a security car that always circled the lot was now headed toward the scene. The little boy climbed into the car next to the other child and slammed the door shut.
Ala blocked out the obscenities the stringy woman screamed at her and watched the spit fly from her crusty lips. She smiled.
“You’re an animal,” Ala said.
“It’s none of your damn business,” the woman said, scratching at her scalp. The patrol guard stepped out of the car calmly and addressed Danno with a head nod.
“Is there a problem?” He said, pushing his sunglasses to the top of his head.
“Well…” Danno started.
“Yes, there is. That woman was abusing that boy. I saw her nearly rip his arm off.”
“That’s not what I was doing,” the woman said. “She yanked my hair out. I wanna press charges.”
“I can contact the police if you’d like,” the guard said, “You’ll both have to give statements.”
Ala looked at the small boy, who somehow seemed to be drifting off to sleep amid the chaos. This was not the first time his mother had touched him, and she knew it wouldn’t be the last if she didn’t do something.
“Call the police,” she said.
“Ala,” Danno whispered, “What for?”
“That boy isn’t safe.”
“We’re supposed to be getting out of here,” he said, with his hand on her chin. The patrol guard walked back to his car to get his phone. Ala looked into Danno’s pleading eyes. He did not want to even be going to Burma, but he was for her. She could tell her was afraid, even though he wouldn’t admit it.
“Hello Arlene, it’s Cliff. Yeah, I’m going to need to contact the authorities,” he said into his radio. The woman leapt into her car and started the engine.
“She’s leaving! Stop!” Ala yelled as the woman sped away, leaving a cloud of dust. Coughing, Ala ran after the car, but had to stop to avoid oncoming traffic. Danno had followed her and now took her hands.
“I got her plate number,” he said. Ala began to cry, knowing that the boy would probably be given a severe punishment because of her.
“We can file a report in the office,” the patrol guard said.
“I’ve got a few things to take care of,” Danno said, relieved the woman was gone.
“I’ll go,” Ala said, climbing into the patrol guard’s car.