Mom said I would be on a plane—a real big plane that flies in the sky and makes sounds as loud as a thousand trucks. I would be flying so high that if I looked down, our house would be just a teensy little dot no bigger than a red ant. I hate those red ants. They always eat your lollipops. You wake up all excited because you still have half a lollipop you’d hidden real careful yesterday, just to realize that it’s now covered in tiny legs and horns. Even after you’ve washed them away, in the water that you take from the big tank Mom saves for cooking, there’s still that bitter, lemony taste on what is left. You pretend you don’t feel it – a lollipop is a lollipop – but when Mom sees you, she sighs and pulls you into her chest, your face feels the warmth of her skin and your head tickles in her caresses.

Mom said my new home would be a real home. It would have walls that don’t shiver in the wind and a roof that doesn’t drip the cold on your face. I would be sleeping on a bed that bounces when I jump on it, the way kids on TV do when they’re happy. Mom said Auntie has a TV. I could sit in front of it and watch as much TV as I want, not standing outside and peeping through the window when the ugly old man isn’t looking. Mom told me not to call him ugly old man, so I mister him this and mister him that, but in my mind, he’s still old and ugly, so ugly he makes Mom cry every time he comes over, shirt unbuttoned, belt loose, one hand pressed against his saggy tummy. All he says is money, money, money. I never know what else he talks about. Mom tells me to go play outside when he’s around.

Mom said I would go to school and learn to read. “You will read for both of us,” she said, holding out her pinky finger. “Promise me you will read well.” There was water in her eyes, like it was something real important, so I curled my little finger around hers and said promise. I didn’t see why reading was such a big deal to her – most kids I knew didn’t know how to read and they had fun all right. I was excited for school. I’d heard that school kids wore nice clothes and had meat for lunch everyday. “Promise me you will have so much fun that you won’t even miss it here,” Mom said. I didn’t know what “miss” meant, but nodded anyway.

Auntie arrived one afternoon in a yellow-checkered car that honked angrily when my friends and I came closer to have a look. People had told me that auntie looked just like Mom, but she did not. Her hair was short and stiff, not long and soft like Mom’s. Her fingernails were long – I wonder if her mom ever taught her that long nails were dirty and could get her sick. She gave me chocolate, grainy and bitter, but I couldn’t spit it out because Mom told me that’d be impolite.

“Auntie is a good person,” Mom kept telling me.

“If auntie was so good, why did she make chocolate so bad?”

“Just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s bad,” Mom sighed. “Auntie will take good care of you. You will get many sweet chocolates.”

Auntie put on a big smile – her teeth white and shiny – as I put on the new dress she had brought for me in her red suitcase. She asked if I was ready for the plane. I said yes. She pinched my cheek, smiling even more. She sat me next to her in the back of the car and pulled a belt that trapped me in the seat. Mom was waving at me and asking me not to forget my promises. My friends were running along the car, one of them throwing a lollipop at me through the crack on a window. I didn’t pick it up because I was trying to catch a glimpse of Mom. She was so far away now that I could no longer make out her face. Years later, I would lie in bed searching in the back of my mind for the smell of her hair and the softness of her skin. “Auntie, I don’t want to go on that plane anymore,” I said. Auntie didn’t answer. She was busy telling the driver to go faster and faster. When she finally looked at me, her big smile had vanished and there were black smears around her eyes. “From now on, you will call me mom,” she said, her long nails wrapping around my trembling hands. “I will get you anything you want. Anything.”