Stranded Swallow


Mistaken for a deer and bad timing is how I ended up here. Well, that and I wanted to help my new sister reclaim her rightful place, but instead I am stuck inside the Forbidden City with everyone believing I am one of Emperor Qianlong’s long lost daughters. I want so badly to scream that the maid who knows how to write Chinese calligraphy so effortlessly is the real Pearl Princess.

Stupid fan. Stupid painting. Stupid calligraphy. Stupid Emperor Qianlong’s memory recognizing these relics as his. It’s not like Huang Ah Ma can’t tell there’s something off about me. I don’t pick up the poetry recitation as fast as the other girls, yet I know gungfu and none of the other girls know the first thing about self-defense. There’s your red flag right there. He has to know I’m not really one of his daughters.

Stuffy is an understatement. It’s like I can’t so much as lift my head to face Huang Ah Ma and the Empress at the wrong time or there will be corporeal punishments. It’s like these knee pads are going to cut back 1,000 years off their lives the way the Empress is so repulsed by them. Then again, I can’t expect someone who never has to kowtow to understand why I want to do things differently. It’s like they designed these Imperial Manchu shoes so there’s no way for me to run away. Running wouldn’t even do it justice. I need to fly. But the price for treason is my head on the chopping block and most likely my sister’s too. And I couldn’t do that to her. Not after we scaled a mountain and swore to be sisters to get to this step.

I don’t get to perform at any of my street shows or hang out with Liu Qing and Liu Hong anymore. I’d rather be homeless with them again. We didn’t have much, just a courtyard with all the kids, but I could have fun doing whatever I wanted, no rules, no questions asked. Instead, here I am, memorizing proverbs, going to school, learning how to walk, how to dress, how to bathe, how to recite poetry, how to write, how to dance, and even how to sing. The Empress shows no mercy if I mess up. Last night I was so stumped on this one character I ended up with ink on my face. Huang Ah Ma is going to kill me, literally, when he sees all the mistakes and hears the Empress’ progress report. Three months isn’t going to change me.

I get to eat the best food in the world and have so much more than a courtyard. I have servants, but I’m not even allowed to treat them like friends because it’s against the law. Disgusting. Where am I going to find another gungfu master? The Forbidden City is no place for me, Xiao Yan Zi. Here inside this gilded cage is not where a little swallow belongs.

YuMin Ye

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