Before my seven-day quarantine at a hotel in Fujian Province, I, along with other passengers, were swallowed by a mother sperm whale named Dōng Fāng东方. She was our ride home. In Dōng Fāng’s belly we slept, ate, made friends, and learned that she just gave birth so it would be a fast ride. Dōng Fāng swam in spurts, and our bodies kept smashing into each other’s. That’s how I learned more about the other passengers, such as Zhào Mián 赵棉, the woman by the emergency exit. She had an undocumented child sleeping under her left armpit. My neighbor Qíng 晴 and her mom Méi 梅 had just sold their massage store of fifteen years to buy the ride home, so Qíng could see her father for the first time. Qiáng Wēi 蔷薇, the woman practicing Tài jí 太极, brought her dead sister in the luggage so she would be buried in her home village.
As Dōng Fāng reached the shore of Fujian Province, we were spit out of her belly. Bathed in salty saliva and digestive acid, we no longer needed to be disinfected. Then I was called to declare my luggage items. It turned out that I wasn’t permitted to bring a chicken with me. I explained she wasn’t livestock but a friend hatched from an egg that I brought to the States a few years ago. They said I shouldn’t have brought an egg to the States in the first place. I said ok fine but this chicken, who was a former egg, and now at its last month of life, belonged to China and should return to China and die in China. They nodded and let us go.
Fujian is tropical and so hot. Luckily my room had AC all day long. I was well protected. We weren’t allowed to leave our rooms. The hallways were vacant. No one stepped outside their doors. Food, cleaning supplies, test results and period pads were delivered to me by the doorstep daily. I kept the TV on so that it spoke Chinese to me in all dialects, day and night. Jet lagged, I ate Fujianese fish balls and watermelon at midnight. The night was two feet away from me. When the sun revealed persimmon seeds, the night pulled its darkness into the stuffing of a tiny mooncake. Stuffing is to be expected, something joyful, like how my mom always presented it to me. I could never guess what was inside her mooncakes. One time she stuffed an entire one hundred-year-old willow tree inside. I asked her how she did it. She said that her grandparents left that tree for her before they died. Within ten days, Mom chopped it into pieces and stewed it for another ten days to make the stuffing!
I was in quarantine in the same time zone as my mom, how romantic!
On day three, I noticed there were other animals in my room: a pig, a dog, and a horse! And they claimed that they came from my dead grandma’s yard. But how did you find me? I asked. The pig remembered me because she looked me in the eyes before being sacrificed for Chūn Jié春节. When I was four, I was given a pet pig before they killed her the next day. I played with the horse with a red cloth as if he was an ox. And the dog, I fed him grasshoppers!
I called Zhào Mián, Méi, and Qiáng Wēi to let them know about the animals. Zhào Mián said that her child had unfortunately gotten COVID but recovered as a great lawyer. Méi said her mom found a big house on a deserted island and they decided to bring all of their family members to reside with them. Qiáng Wēi said that her luggage had become a big pond and her sister was inviting her to swim together everyday.
I really wanted to go home and tell my mom all this. I tried escaping through the toilet, but my head was too big. Then I tried flying away, but my damn face could still be recognized. Why couldn’t I have the face of an animal?
Eventually, I saw my family and we visited Xī Jiāo Gōu 西郊沟, the village my great grandparents’ built. He and my great-grandma planted a willow, an elm, two plum trees and thirty acres of wheat. When he died, his potatoes sprung everywhere in the size of the biggest stuffed buns.