When we got back from the hotel we immediately had to turn around and walk back to the hotel because my family was late to meet with Michael, who was going to take us to the Forbidden City. The Brazilian couple was already in his van. First, we went to Tiananmen Square. Michael told us some history stuff and pointed out a huge picture of Chairman Mao. After that we went into the Forbidden City itself.
The Forbidden City is this giant palace, and it felt like we were walking through it forever. Every time I thought we had gotten to the end of the gardens and outer courts, we walked through another massive door and into yet another courtyard. There were no plants.
“You know, I am almost half American,” Michael told me. “I love Big Bang Theory. Bazinga!”
“I have to pee,” Margo announced.
“Megan Fox is my dream girl. I love America,” Michael said earnestly.
“There is a bathroom that way.” Ruby pointed off to the side. My grandmother also had to pee because old people have really tiny bladders, so she and my mom went with Margo. I stayed with everyone else, and Michael told me about how much he loved Ellen Degeneres and Desperate Housewives.
“Well, come on then, let’s keep going,” my dad said, looking pointedly at Michael.
Jim looked concerned. “They’re going to get lost,” he said.
“Relax,” my dad responded. “They’ll be fine. I don’t want to wait around forever.”
“Dad, they don’t know Chinese, and you know how bad Mom is at directions.”
Ruby and Jim offered to wait for everyone while my dad and I went ahead with Michael and the Brazilians.
Michael took us further into the Forbidden City and started explaining some architecture thing about dragons that I didn’t really care about. My dad maintained an expression of polite interest, and the Brazilian couple took pictures of everything that Michael pointed at. I felt my phone buzz in my pocket and saw a text from Margo asking where I was. I called her.
“Hello?” she said.
“Did you not see Jim and Ruby? They said they would stay right where we were when you left to go to the bathroom.”
“Well, I mean, I guess they theoretically could be there, but we kind of don’t know where ‘there’ is? Like, everything looks the same.”
“Ok, I’m calling Jim.” I tried calling Jim and Ruby, but neither of them answered. I texted Margo and told her what direction we went in.
“The Forbidden City is constructed symmetrically along a north-south axis,” Michael was telling my dad. “The frames are all composed of wooden beams and columns.”
“Everyone else is lost,” I interrupted.
“Ruby is lost? She’s supposed to know Chinese!” my dad said, annoyed.
“She and Jim aren’t answering their phones, and Margo and them can’t find anyone.”
We backtracked to look for Margo. I texted her telling her to stay where she was, but she texted me and told me she had already left there and she was coming to find us. I kept seeing this huge pile of rocks, so I think we were going in circles. The Brazilians took a picture of the rock pile every time.
“You stay here, yeah? I will look for them, come back here,” Michael suggested.
It sounded like a bad idea to me, but my dad agreed, and we stopped by some gazebo-looking structure that had benches under it.
We sat there for a while, and I started watching the people nearby. Most of them were tourists with sunglasses and umbrellas and floppy hats. There were three men in dark suits with sunglasses and earpieces. They looked like secret agents. One was reading a placard; the other two were examining the stonework. None of them was acknowledging the others.
“Look at those men who look like secret agents,” I said, nudging my father.
My father turned pale. “If the Chinese Special Ops have been called in, maybe we’d better move,” he said. “I don’t know what’s going on here and I don’t want to find out. Act like you didn’t see anything.” My father got up and I followed him to the next room. The Brazilians were completely oblivious, following us and taking pictures of each other. I was playing that phone game where you make the ball bounce off a platform and break the bricks. I was pretty into it when my father interrupted.
“What?” I said, annoyed. He’d made me lose the ball.
“There are four of them now. In this room. Maybe we should move again.”
“Okay,” I said. We got up and moved to the next room.
“They’re following us,” my father hissed.
“Are you sure?” I asked. “Maybe they’re just all over the place.”
“It’s the same ones,” my father said. “They’re following us.” He started walking more quickly, and I had to break into a jog-trot to keep up. I heard the sound of footfalls and looked over my shoulder. Behind us, the men in suits had started to run.
My father and I started sprinting. We left the Brazilians behind.
“Why are they chasing us?” I asked, unaware of having broken any laws.
“I don’t know why but I don’t plan on figuring it out!” my father yelled. “Let’s find your mother.” We kept running through the Palace grounds, trying to lose the men in suits. I didn’t know my dad could still run that fast. We ran through garden after garden, eventually hiding in a small building and calling Margo. As I dialed I saw a man in a dark suit running past, followed by a group of policemen.
“They’re with the police,” my father groaned just as Margo answered the phone.
“The police are chasing us and we don’t know why, we’re in a round building with, like, carpets or tapestries or something. Where are you?”
“I see a bunch of policemen running. Should I follow them?” she asked. She didn’t question the fact that the police were after us, which in hindsight is sort of alarming.
“Hopefully they aren’t going to show up where we are. Is there a landmark near you?” We needed to find them, and fast. I told my dad to call Jim, too.
“I see a big pile of rocks,” Margo said, “Like, a huge pile of rocks.”
“I think I know where that is,” I said, hoping it was the pile of rocks we’d passed twenty times. “We’ll meet you there. Stay put.”
My dad had no luck reaching Jim, which was unsurprising. We made sure the coast was clear and ducked out of the room full of tapestries, and as soon as we exited I saw Jim standing in the shadows behind a building.
“Dad! Look, it’s Jim!” We ran towards him. It was obvious why he hadn’t been picking up his phone: he had Ruby backed up against the wall, and their faces were squashed together.
“Oh, sick,” I said, covering my eyes.
“Jim!” my dad roared. Jim jumped back and Ruby blushed, looking ashamed. “You weren’t answering your phone! Come on, we need to avoid the cops!”
“Cops? What?” Jim turned to me, looking for more explanation, but I just shook my head and started in the direction of the giant pile of rocks. Everyone followed me, and my dad kept an eye out for the cops. We had to duck behind buildings and bushes a few times, but we made it to where the rest of our group was standing: Margo, my mom, and my grandmother had apparently run into Michael on the way there, and the Brazilians were taking pictures of the rocks again.
“Come on, let’s go,” my dad said.
“Sir, we have not finished the tour, many interesting things to see,” Michael said despairingly.
“No, time to go. Lots to see, lots to do, we’ve all seen enough of the Forbidden City.”
“This place was a lot more impressive when I came here with your father,” my grandmother told my mom.
Behind me, I heard Jim and Ruby muttering to each other. I fell back a bit to hear Ruby say “Your family is very… exciting.”
We were all glad to get on the plane that would take us to Xi’an.