Before the living can even see it, they smell it: droppings from millions of birds piled over centuries on a treeless island. The stench is alien for Huang Achai. Even after months of breathing air polluted by salt, excrement, sweat, and death, his nostrils have never been so brutalized. From the hold, all he can do is look up and see bright strips of sky sear through the deck’s floorboards.
Hope bucks beneath his feet. Achai and the other captives stand so close together that they sway like blades of grass in a breeze. Achai daydreams of such pleasantries, about visiting Keyuan in Boxia with his younger sister. He’d bribed a guard to let them in after saving a year’s worth of apprentice wages from their father’s shop. The memory of lavish ferns, blossoming trees, and ornate pavilions closes in on itself, like a morning glory bidding goodbye to the sun.