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Promises kept

August 17th, 2018 Leave a comment Go to comments

There was a time early on when I thought I could be the rats’ friend, as if they could be my pets. It is amazing to me how innocent and simple that idea is to me now, just two years later, when I am willing to crush their skulls in my hands without hesitation. I do this without malice, strictly as a matter of survival for myself and my family. In fact, I do it without any feeling at all other than the stabbing hunger. Always the hunger.

We were thrown into the gulag the day before my sixteenth birthday unceremoniously, a matter of routine for our government. Our father had been overheard saying something about the Dear Leader and all of us were rounded up in retaliation. I have long suspected whatever he said was benign and simply misunderstood, but I’ve never been able to confirm this, as he was tortured and killed in our camp before I could ask. My mother, two sisters and I were forced to witness his humiliating murder at gunpoint, and there was a moment I was sure the soldiers would shoot my sister Ha-eun for sobbing too loudly.

The last thing my father did before they finally slit his throat was to gaze deeply at me, not my mother, and so I have done everything in my feeble power to fulfill the promise I made when I stared back. I silently swore to ensure the four of us would survive in any way available, which I have, spending every waking moment considering it. Our hut’s walls have been improved by mud sealant in places, marginally keeping the cold out, and I have discovered a method for making crude thread which keeps our meager clothes intact. The rats are simply a safeguard against malnutrition, though it is no longer working. Our mother has become increasing ill and has forced us into a retaliation.

Tomorrow we will run. I understand the Chinese border to be in the direction of the sunset, though I know not the distance, and we will be in great peril along the way, if not beyond. Yet we can no longer survive within these walls. I do not expect our mother to complete the journey in her frail state, but I will not allow her to die here without an effort. She too gave me a look that demanded a commitment, a visual connection that conveyed perfect understanding, where I doubled down on protecting my siblings but was relieved of my duty to her. I will remain vigilant in protecting her, but I am grateful she realizes the odds and foresees our inevitable tragedies. For while we may lose our mother, the pact now states that only I may go next.

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