“It feels like needles that kiss your skin, so sharp, so deep, the ceaseless pain that ceases, it ceases like joy, it ceases like pleasure, and you never know, you never know again if what you feel is pain or pleasure, never again.”
I still remember my first experience with death; it was on summer when I was a small child, perhaps as young as three.
My mother was a farmer, we were living in the north, close to Hoeryong.
Even with only three years of age I already thought of my life as wonderful, the fatherland was a paradise to me.
My mother always told me, every single day, how lucky we were, and how despicable life was outside of our house, the Americans and the South Koreans were so poor in my head, they were so miserable that they didn’t even have houses, in my mind, they lived wandering around in their countries, waiting for the moment death would relief them.
It was as close as the house on the other side of the street I could see the famine my mother always spoke about. My neighbors weren’t as lucky, a mother and her two young daughters lived inside that mud-house; I called them “the skelly family”, because, their bodies reminded me of what skeletons looked like, just like those in the children’s books at my local school.
I don’t quite remember the date, but I do remember how the world changed after that day, our supreme leader had died.
I can’t forget the rain; it was like the skies were crying for him.
We all gathered around a statue of him close to our village, and cried, I cried, and my mother cried, we cried for hours.
Not even the rain could stop us. Because it hurt, it hurt like losing a loved one.
It hurt like losing hope; it was like the spark of life inside my small child body was lost, with no signs of ever returning.
While heading back to our village two soldiers stopped us; they were dragging what looked like a dead animal, but it was no dead animal, it was the crying-in-silence body of my neighbor.
“Are you miss Lee Hee-Young?” They asked my mother, as I peeked to see how miss skelly cleaned her tears with her dirty t-shirt.
“Yes, sir.” She answered after both she and I had bowed for the soldiers.
“This rat was stealing your cucumbers.” One of the soldiers grabbed my neighbor by the hair, lifting her up, and making her scream of pain “is this your neighbor, Kim Eun-Kyung?”.
“Yes, sir” answered my mother, as the woman in front of us let her tears fall like a virgin river in the mountains.
“She has two daughters. Tell us where they are, right now.”
“No!” Screamed my neighbor, with the taint of pain in her eyes.
As soon as she screamed the soldiers threw her on the ground and started to step on her, as she cried with pain, one of them stepped on her stick-like arm breaking it on the act. The scream was so painful that the birds on the trees near us fled the scene.
“Shut up whore! If you scream one more time, you’ll regret it!” Said the older looking soldier.
“Pardon us.” Said the other soldier rapidly “where are the daughters again?”
“They were in the ceremony a few minutes ago, they are probably still there, praying for our leader and savior.” My mother, even with no hesitation, couldn’t look down to our bleeding neighbor, I, for the other side, was looking directly into the broken bone that tore her skin and meat apart.
We bowed for the soldiers, and in silence, went back home.
“Never steal son.” She told me. “Never steal, because the floor and walls have ears and eyes, and our beautiful leader will know.”
The night was coming when we saw the soldiers coming back, this time they were three, and each of them was dragging a member of the skelly family.
The older daughter of my neighbor didn’t look human anymore; her face bled, and pieces of meat and bone peeked out of her mouth, ears, and eyes. But none of them cried.
There were five rods in the small park in my village, that park only consisted of those execution rods and of some benches.
All three of them were tied to one of the rods.
Each soldier put up their rifles and screamed: “for the fatherland.” And shot three shots each, against the first, younger daughter.
They did the same for the mother and the older daughter.
The three-man laughed and laid their weapons on their backs.
My mother had told me that, enemies of the fatherland didn’t deserve a funeral, so the bodies were left there to be eaten by animals.
I still remember my first experience with death.
I still remember.
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