Part 4 in the ongoing tales of Mai. Enjoy it. Let others know about it. Spread the love.
Yun crawled back into his cot. His feet hung over the edge and pushed a bump into the curtain. He looked at the ceiling and the venting that ran over his head. He listened to the air rush through the sheet metal tubing. He listened to the engines of the cargo hauler rumble. Only one was running, best as Yun could tell.
“Why run both?” he said to no one. “There’s not enough cargo on board to require the extra power. Save fuel.”
That’s what his uncle would have told him. It’s what his uncle had taught him. Save. It didn’t matter what it was. Save. Always.
It was a lesson a much younger Yun had learned over dinner. Mai splurged. A big sale to a man looking for the big guns left a little extra money in his pocket. He called to his nephew as he climbed the hill when the sale was complete.
“Yes, uncle,” Yun shouted down to his uncle after Yun had scampered from the tent he’d been playing in.
He started to run down the hill. He was a 5-year-old tangle of under-coordinated arms and legs at the time. A soiled white t-shirt covered his top. A pair of tan shorts covered his bottom. Nothing covered his feet.
Mai smiled as the boy stumbled toward him and he stopped walking. He knelt down and stuck his arms out in front of him to catch his nephew. A wad of bills was still in his right hand.
Yun fell into his uncle’s arms and Mai scooped him up and hugged him to his chest.
“Tonight,” Mai said through a smile, “we eat chicken.” Yun copied his uncle’s happy face and cheered. He banged his hands together and Mai put Yun back on the ground. Yun ran ahead of his uncle and reached blindly into the tent that they shared. He pulled out a pair of worn shoes. He sat on the damp ground, slipped them on his feet, and was back standing by the time Mai made it to the tent.
“Ready,” the eager little boy said.
“What about this?” Mai asked and touched the dirt stains that were across the front of his nephew’s shirt.
Yun pulled the shirt off, its neck hanging up on his ears.
“Ready,” he said, his shirt in his hand and hanging at his side.
“No,” Mai said. “Not yet. You do have to wear a shirt.” Mai was changing his own clothes.
Yun scampered under the canvas side of the tent and dug in a crate where he kept the few changes of clothes he had. He came back out a moment later in a wrinkled blue tank top. Mai smiled.
“Still not great, but it’ll do,” he said.
Yun banged his hands together and asked, “Can I go to the boat?”
“You can go down to it,” Mai said, “but don’t get in it. You know you wait for me before you get in.”
“Yes, uncle,” Yun said as he ran off down the hill.
Mai reached into the tent and grabbed a pair of sandals he kept by his bed roll. His good sandals. He put them on his feet, shoved his large roll of cash into the pocket on his best robe, and ran off after his enthusiastic nephew.
After getting Yun and himself settled into the small boat he kept roped to the rocks near shore, Mai yanked hard on the cord of the small motor at the back of the boat. It sputtered to life and the little boat pulled slowly away from the shore.
Yun worked his way to the bow and got up on his knees.
“Careful,” Mai shouted of the motor. “Sit on your bottom, please.”
Yun dropped to a seated position.
Once the boat was out of the cove of the island, Mai pointed it toward the lights in the distance. The City of Lights. He gave the little motor more gas and listened to it whine its disapproval. Mai didn’t like being out in the open water with the small boat and this small engine. The boat slowly picked up speed and the wind that rushed across Mai and Yun was cold. Yun dropped to his stomach and did his best to get below the sides of the boat and out of the cold.
Mai smiled at his nephew, and Yun waved to him.
“A few more minutes,” Mai shouted over the engine and the wind.
Yun nodded and smiled.
Minutes later Mai brought the engine to almost a full stop and Yun got back to a seated position. The darkening sky was lit by fireworks and the embers were crashing all around them. The water sizzled. Yun stared up, all of his focus on the explosions of color above him.
“You’re missing it,” Mai said to the boy.
“No, I’m not.” Yun turned back to his uncle.
“Oh, yes you are.” Mai pointed across the bow of their little boat.
Yun looked up to see a massive structure right in front of him, dipping and bobbing on the waves of the harbor.
It was built out of dark wood with four massive masts. From each of the masts popped three sails made of a deep red fabric. And on each of the main sails on each of the masts was sewn a black, coiled snake ready to strike.
Yun jumped to his feet and clapped and cheered the ship’s passing. He recognized the symbol of the rebels.
“On your bottom,” Mai shouted.
Yun dropped to a seated position and turned to his uncle and asked eagerly, “Do you think they’re on there? My mom and dad. Are they on that ship?”
“It’s possible,” Mai said, even though he knew the chances were remote. His sister would never make it on a boat. There was a better chance she was holed up in the hills somewhere coordinating an offensive strike. Huddled in a tent, a blanket wrapped around her, and studying some lines on a map.
Yun watched and waved at the ship. A few of the men on the deck waved back.
Mai fed the motor on the back of the boat a little gas and his small craft made its way into the harbor. He was dwarfed by all the other boats. Even if they weren’t as big as the massive rebel boat, they still made him small. Their sails extended and puffed from the breeze. He steered his way to the docks on the shore and threw his line to one of the men waiting there.
The man caught it and tied Mai’s boat securely to the dock. The man lifted Yun out of the boat and offered Mai a hand. Mai gave the man a fresh dollar for his trouble and the man smiled. He nodded his thanks.
“We’ll be quick.”
The man nodded again.
Mai took Yun’s hand and they walked to the market just up the hill from the dock. It was an aisle with booths on both sides. Women selling fruits, vegetables, and fresh meats. Halfway down the aisle was an open space where pots of food were cooking over open fires. Smoke disappeared into the night sky through a hole that was cut in the roof.
Large lights hung over every other booth and bathed the whole place in a bright glow. The ladies working the booths all smiled and waved at Yun. He waved back. The woman selling spices held out a stick of candy for Yun to take. He looked up at Mai before accepting her offer. His uncle nodded, and Yun snatched the candy from her hand.
“Good evening , Mai” said the women behind the booth. Carrots, potatoes, and turnips were displayed in front of her. “Hello, Yun.”
“I think we need six carrots, two turnips, and three potatoes tonight,” Mai said. “You think three potatoes is enough, right, Yun?”
The boy smiled and nodded, still holding on to the end of the candy sticking out of his mouth.