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Let’s go see mom

2022.05.06 18:21

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Let’s go see mom

   One day, MJ, my second oldest sister brought out the sentence seriously. It was a bit blur first, but heartening enough for me to recollect the bosom of mom. I was about two and half years old. I wasn’t quite aware of the circumstance but knew that my mom and other members of my family were somewhere far away that was lingering in my deep sense

   During the Korean war, my family fled to Daegu from Seoul. After the armistice, my father got a job and my parents decided to move back. But, they first split the family temporarily as my mother was running a small business. The three of us amongst six siblings were told to go with dad: MJ, my second oldest sister, about 10 and half years old; MS, my third oldest sister, eight years old and me. I was too young to understand what was going on but happy to get on a train as if we were going on a holiday.

   We rented a small room with a kitchen near our dad’s company. MJ, as expected, took up the role of daily living for cooking, cleaning and washing etc. She was very clever and resourceful for managing the house but had to go to school during the day. She was in her fifth grade. MS too, was sort of going school but skipped the class frequently. She was supposed to be babysitting me but preferred to go out on her own. She wasn’t interested in helping out MJ either at all. When occasionally she was at home with me, I was fearful as she punished me physically for any reason. So, I was happy to be left on my own.

   Every morning, before my dad went to work, I asked him for one Won/ penny which was my lunch money. Regardless the time, I just rushed to the corner shop which was next to the communal well, bought something to eat. Then rest of the day, I was just hanging out, picked up food in the street and ate out of hunger. When my sisters discovered me doing that, punished me and I especially couldn’t avoid the smack from MS. Our landlord had a son called JY Yi who was my age and had a limping leg. And YS Song, a girl and NS Song, a boy were my next door neighbour and also my age. Although we sometimes played together they teased me a lot. I especially tried to get my own back and called JY Yi “A limp” and then his mother scolded me.

   Looking back, I am puzzled with my parents decision that they sent me, a toddler away however hard the situation was. And I cannot believe that I was babysitting myself in that treacherous environment. MJ, my second oldest sister, recently told me that there was not enough food for her lunch. She went to school empty stomach and ran the school ground to overcome the hunger for every lunch hour. In listening to the way she suffered made my heart bleed. She, a kid herself, was running the household for our separated family. As mentioned earlier, I was not in the better position at that time but too young to grasp the reason why was a bliss in a way. Later, when I was in school, the children who couldn’t afford lunch were fed with square shaped corn bread bun. But it wasn’t obviously available yet earlier years just after the war. MJ didn’t stop there. She always worked so hard in doing all kind of jobs to support our family that helped us getting less hunger as my father’s earning wasn’t that great.

   My uncle, my father’s younger brother was living near us and we often visited his house. As everyone was in needy at that time, we were not that welcome. There was a luminous table clock in my uncle’s that that fascinated me. It’s needles and several grooves on the face were green and I loved the sound of tick-tock while glowing. A few years ago, I happened to pop into a watch shop in Massachusetts. I was looking around and saw the same clock just sitting in front of me. I was stunned but so pleased to see it again that the same clock in the States. It proved that the memory of my younger days were actual not imaginary.

   Then the sudden voice of MJ “Let’s go see mom” was heavenly. I realised that I could actually go and see mom whose existence had been hazy in my head. I clutched MJ’s hand and we first approached the station on Kyōng’in-son/railway line. The chance on the journey was bleak. Not only couldn’t she afford the fare but not a penny with her. She told me to follow a man in front closely, who was passing the ticket line as if I was his son. Then she came through barbed wire fence and found me inside.

   We got off the train at Yōngdūngpo, changed to Kyōngbu-son to Taegu after wandering around a bit. I still vividly remember the words MJ told me at that time. “Don’t move away when you don’t see me. I will only be hiding in the loo from the ticket inspector”. Whenever she was out of sight, the inspector was there. She must’ve been so terrified by the thought of being caught and leaving me on my own in that long journey which took about fifteen hours on steam trains.

   It was dawn when we finally arrived at Taegu. We walked about one hour in the dark and reached one of our auntie’s house. I at times still smell the same morning air I inhaled all those years ago that reminds me of that exciting walk. We knocked on the door anxiously and auntie emerged. As soon as she saw us, gasped and blurted out, “How on earth…? with her wide open eyes and mouth in shock. Next time, I woke up, saw mom’s face.

   Soon enough, my father rushed down after realising that we had disappeared as there was hardly any means of communication then. My mother told us go back with dad. I resisted in crying and flouncing that I wasn’t going. MJ did the same but was persuaded by mother’s assurance that the rest of us would all join in good time. She eventually gave in and went back with dad. As mom said, soon after that, we all were on Kyōngbu-son again. This time, it was a happy trip not like the one I had coming down with MJ.

   Just before we left Taegu, the President Lee was visiting our area in Sinam-dong where packed with people near the bridge. I and a girl who I knew close were watching the procession through the crowd who were giving hearty cheers to the president. I just said to her “We are moving away”. She simply dropped her chin and said “Don’t’ go” and ran through the crowd. A man happened to spot me said, “You have got big ears like our president. You may become the president in future”. I wasn’t sure but I gathered that he was referring me to the president that made me proud a bit.

   A bit of side track, once we joined dad moved again to a house in different area. Although JY and I went to different school, saw him by chance a few times in distance. When I was called up for the national service and entered the training centre, JY was standing in front of me. I was surprised to see to him there but pleased. “Hey JY, it’s me” I greeted him. He responded hesitantly. “How do you know my name?” I told him about our past briefly but he didn’t remember a thing. I elaborated it a bit more. “I remember you were limping at that time. What happened? How were you called up?” He was really taken aback this time. “Yes, I had a leg trouble for a while but got better soon. By the way, not many people really know about it”, he said and looked at me with some suspicion. However, after the training, we were sent to the same battalion unit and spent three years our military life together but in different battery.

   I, YS and NS went to the same primary school but they never recognised me. I presumed that they had just obliterated their young days from their memories. About ten years ago, I was visiting my parents and one of my school friends took me to the school reunion. It was a karaoke bar where around 10 old boys and girls gathered out of 700 of us school leavers. Everyone introduced themselves to me by telling their class number and name. One of them said “I’m YS Song” that nearly astounded me. I also told her about our past and mentioned the name JY Yi’. She plainly said, “What are you talking about? It’s not me”.

   I was disappointed but thought she didn’t remember it at all and changed the subject. Suddenly, she grabbed my arm in astonishing look. “You were the boy who was living with two sisters! We teased you a lot back then”. She explained that she knew the name JY but JY Yi I had used wasn’t familiar earlier but a penny dropped after all. She also forgot the area as they didn’t live there that long. She also told me that NS was her nephew not brother although they were the same age. How intriguing! Our re-encounter after six decades in total different circumstances. So, it’s a small world indeed.