How I Became a North Korean

How I Became a North Korean by Krys Lee Read Free Book Online

Book: How I Became a North Korean by Krys Lee Read Free Book Online
Authors: Krys Lee
anything you can’t reverse. It’s best you not say anything more.”
    I weighed whether to return home or run away, though how and to where was beyond my ken. I thought of my
dongsaeng,
only thirteen, at home alone and waiting until I returned to have dinner. I was afraid. For the first time, I pulled Myeonghui close to me with my arm around her waist the way Jack had done to Rose on the sinking
Titanic.
Like a girl raised properly, she resisted this first embrace, then gradually gave in. Of course this must be love, I thought, giving my nostalgia and fear and longing for all I was about to lose a name.
    Much later I heard the stories of others: older women who recalled the seven years they dated their husbands before permitting a peck on the cheek; a receptionist at the Koryo Hotel who relived the illegal kiss she shared with an English teacher from Canada, who had, before he left forever, bequeathed her his final, stingy gift of loneliness. But that night there was only the way I cleaved to Myeonghui.
    My right hand was a feathery pressure on her hips; my lips memorized her eyes, her nose, her lips. And though she was a proper girl from a good family, she sensed the strangeness of the night and allowed my arms to embrace her collarbone like a necklace. She must have known we were saying good-bye. This first kiss would remind me, whenever my hometown seemed an impossible dream, of who I had been.

5
Jangmi
    S eongsik’s daughter was eight years old, the same age I’d been when I quit school as the famine swept through our country. That first day when he tried to show me the bedroom, Byeol stretched her arms and legs across the width of the door frame and blocked me from passing.
    â€œWhere are you going?” she cried. “That’s where Abba and I sleep.”
    It was the only other room in the apartment. I was relieved, the dreaded inevitable moment postponed. Seongsik lifted his daughter up again from behind, so her arms and legs as round as Pyongyang dumplings spun in the air. He said, “Now, we’ve talked about this.”
    The girl lurched backward as Seongsik struggled to hold her. I remembered being eight again and became afraid. I had licked the last of the ground-up cornmeal and bark from my bowl, then ate from my
eomma
’s bowl as well. She had let me. My schoolteachers began stealing food instead of coming to school,and our family cracked open like an egg. After Abba died, Eomma left our one-room row house and went to China for the first time, and I sulked behind my aunt’s back so I wouldn’t cry. I tried to hide how afraid I was of never seeing her again. I remember needing her. I remember loving her.
    Would I be a good
eomma
? Was anyone ever capable of being a good
eomma
? The girl called Byeol—a strange name, a star in the night sky—had uneven bangs that her father must have cut for her, and those bangs touched me. I decided I would cut the girl’s hair next time.
    I gave her hair a light stroke, so as not to scare her.
    â€œI had lice last week,” Byeol said. “Really bad. These tiny white bugs were crawling all over the comb.” I removed my hand.
    Seongsik put her down. “You going to behave?”
    She ran into the bedroom and flopped on the bed. “This is my room.”
    â€œAll right, we’ll sleep together, just for tonight. I’ll spread a
yo
on the floor.” He sighed. “Remember, she’s only eight. You know what eight is like.”
    I was grateful, and relieved, when Byeol jumped up and down on the large raised bed, refusing to leave us alone. The bed was lined with a hospital ward’s worth of dolls, some missing an arm or a leg, one headless, another bald. She snatched the one intact doll with straw-colored hair and breasts shooting out like rockets and held the doll’s lips to her ear. She peered over its head at me.
    â€œShe says she doesn’t like you,” she said. “She

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