In the first year of my life I was nameless. No one expected I would live long enough to be given a name. They called me simply as, Baby.
I was the youngest—the sixth child to have survived out of twelve. Six other siblings had all perished before me. Either from illness, starvation or abandonment. God knows if from anything else.
Most of my childhood was spent in fear—fear of dying. Death appeared around the corner, visiting me from time to time. And each time in a different guise. We got to know each other well—Death and I. Eventually, I stopped being afraid to die because dying meant no more suffering, no more pain . . . the end of living.Living was scarier.
Summer of 1963
Silver Valley: a small farming village in the countryside of South Korea.
THE SMELL OF EARTH hung in the air like most summer days.
I want to play outside. He doesn’t let me.
My stomach rumbles and aches. Sometimes I am used to it. Other times, it hurts too much, I’ll eat a bug like a cicada or a grasshopper. I’m not allowed to eat most of the time with them, unless there are leftovers. Omah showed me how to find roots. So sometimes I will dig in the earth to find some.
I got in trouble because I asked for food. Right now, if I could change that I asked for food, I would. Why did I ask? I rather not be here . . . not near him.
I close my eyes. My body is stretched across cool grass. My face planted in a pool of something wet, sticky . . . and I know it isn’t the damp soil. My head hurts. It throbs more if I move so I avoid shifting onto my back. My heart pounds slowly. I feel cold and the smell of metal lingers in my nostrils.
Omah. Help me. Omah. I want my Omah...
He shoves his foot against my rib cage, forcing me onto my back.
“Are you dead yet?” His voice . . . cold. Colder than the ground beneath me. Colder than the stretch of his shadow, which also wants to suffocate me, reaching over from his silhouetted body, blocking the warm sun.
In his hand—the handsaw. Its blade glinting with bright crimson where its jagged teeth had claimed some of my flesh and bone.
I held my breath for a moment. Are you going to kill me now?
Hot liquid trickles down the side of my head. He crouches beside me as if he’s hoping I am taking my last breath.
“Why won’t you just die?”
I would die if I could. Was there a method to dying? I am six years old and I can’t think of a reason to hold on to each breath. There’s no kindness here. No love. Just emptiness. Just loneliness. He often reminds me of that that I don’t belong here. They don’t want me...
As the huffs from his exhausted breathing fades, my eyes linger away from beneath his glare to the wide blue, fixed on soft beams of light poking through gliding shapes of white.
Is heaven there?
I lay listening to rustling branches swaying against the wind, the chirping of birds perched high in trees, until it all fades into silence and I slip into a dark sleep.