Some days, I wanted to scream the word. To stamp my foot like a two-year old, thrust my chin toward the hazy purplish sky, and cry out, “It isn’t fair!”
Which wouldn’t have changed anything, I know. My daughters would still be stuck in this crummy situation, living two very different lives. Aksel would still have to live in hiding so that Arvid wouldn’t kill him. And I would still have to dance around to keep everyone safe and satisfied.
I was only allowed to see Jia once per week, for one hour. I looked forward to that hour and relished every second I was able to hold my daughter. I whispered words in her ears from my three languages, and sang her the same lullabies I crooned to Meiying each day.
But the moment my hour was up, Jia was whisked out of my arms and put back on her rigid schedule of naps and bottle feedings. There were no lullabies. No babyish games of peek-a-boo or patty cake. And every second of her little life was timed, right down to the minute she was finally allowed to lie in her crib and fall asleep.
One day, I had had enough. Poor Jia sat on the floor, bawling from exhaustion. I reached down, ready to scoop her up and soothe her cries, but Lita stopped me. “How dare you interfere with her sleep cycle!” she said, eyes flashing.
And that was it. I’d spent months walking on eggshells, playing nice so that I could see my daughter. But Lita’s words unleashed the dragon within me – and I don’t mean the sweet, gentle, Chinese dragon. “How dare you ignore my baby’s needs!” I yelled back. “How dare you force her to stay awake instead of letting her go to sleep. How dare you keep her from me, her own mother. You people are…monsters!”
Lita slapped my face so hard that the room grew fuzzy for an instant. When I could focus again, I saw Katje and Arvid staring in shock, though neither stepped forward to intervene ad Lita spewed insult after insult at me.
After that, I was only allowed to see Jia once a month.
Meiying, unlike Jia, lived in hiding with Aksel in the windowless brick room at the old quarry. Through his own resourcefulness, Aksel had managed to salvage old furniture and scraps from garbage cans and dumpsters. He built a crib for Meiying, made simple toys for her to play with as she grew, and even found some tattered picture books. Although we could not decipher the alien language, Aksel made up stories of his own to go with the pictures.
Whenever I could sneak away, I spent time with them both. Our stolen life was small and poor, but happy. As happy as we could make it, anyway. Still, I longed to return to earth – to take both girls and Aksel and be a real family. I wanted to burn up this sordid, inferior version of a life and let my girls start over again, together, in the way they deserved. But I was all out of phoenix fire.