Death

Nothing made sense, but everything did. Chol Tae stood at the Taedong River once more and instead of the Suryong in the dreams Chol Tae had he saw some classmates from primary school, some he did not recognize but they all wore the Youth Pioneer’s Scarf. They gathered on the bank of the river in rows of five. A teacher at the front took roll while the students sang revolutionary songs; the bus would be here soon they were assured. Where they were going no one knew, all Chol Tae knew was that it no longer mattered. The bus was smaller than they thought but it fit all of the children. There was always room for one more. This time no one missed a turn and waited for the next bus that might or might not come. But the Suryong made sure the children would all arrive at their destination. The children opened their mouths in unison.

 

Bright traces of blood on the crags of Jangbaek still gleam,

Still the Amnok carries along signs of blood in its stream!

Still do those hallowed traces shine resplendently

Over Korea ever flourishing and free!

So dear to all our hearts is our General’s glorious name,

Our own beloved Kim Il Sung of undying fame!

 

Chol Tae joined his comrades in singing the song of their hearts, for the first time he could hear and speak. Even the old woman bus driver wearing the choson-ot his mother had before she sold it on the black market for Hye Tae’s medicine joined in with the joyous singing. He looked at his singing comrades; he had never felt this alliance with so many comrades at the same time and it occurred to him there was nothing to see out the windows but a light seeping in through the vinyl windows. They were all excited to see the Suryong, none of the passengers seemed concerned about where they were heading. Chol Tae kept an eye trained on their lips out of habit, recognizing the words of the song learned since birth.

 

Tell, blizzards that rage in the wild Manchurian plains,

Tell, you nights in forests deep where the silence reigns,

Who is the partisan whose deeds are unsurpassed?

Who is the patriot whose fame shall ever last?

So dear to all our hearts is our General’s glorious name,

Our own beloved Kim Il Sung of undying fame!

 

            The bus slowed down to a stop and the children stopped singing when three elderly women appeared at the open door, making a show of not taking a single step on the bus. They said no word but waved the passengers over, their bright choson-ots filled the bright empty space with colors running down the dresses. Raised to obey, the comrades lined up to exit, Chol Tae joined the end of the line watching what would take place. He still didn’t know where they were but their happiness spread of their one undying love and Chol Tae’s distress faded away. He knew it was the same place where the Suryong appeared to him in his dreams. The women, smiling at the comrades, began singing the song at where they’d stopped off. Once they got off the bus they would never again catch another bus. The others were already off, and Chol Tae joined them in finishing up the song before they all walked off in the light to greet the Suryong.

 

He severed the chains of the masses, brought them liberty,

The sun of Korea today, democratic and free!

For the Twenty Points united we stand fast,

Over our fair homeland spring has come at last!

So dear to all our hearts is our General’s glorious name,

Our own beloved Kim Il Sung of undying fame!

 

(This song is called ‘The Song of General Kim Il Sung’)

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His father put away the telescope when their neighbors appeared at home to hide it from them. Chol Tae saw his father whistle and wave to one of the neighbors, who waved back at him. Tae Seop poked his son in the ribs before darting into the tall yellowing grass. Chol Tae set off after his father, both barefooted. The crunching of the grass was pleasing to his soles but later both Chol Tae and his father would find splinters, in the moment none of them cared. His father was too fast for him, he was nowhere in sight and the surrounding yellow grass against the backdrop of complete darkness made Chol Tae nervous. Someone grabbed him from behind and lifted him in the air, making him scream, but the laughing predator was only his father. He pointed to a dot in the sky and wrote ‘Mars’ in the notepad he used for surveying the farm. Mars, the red planet his father spoke about. Named after the Roman god of war, he wrote but Chol Tae didn’t understand what a god was. He only understood the Suryong.

Both Hye Tae and Sea Na huddled under a bridge near the Yalu River, where Sea Na just sold her last choson-ot for Hye Tae’s medicine where she saw her. At first she shook her head at how absurd it was, but it really was her. The shorter leg that still limped in the same way. Still the same missing ear. No longer carrying an air of determination, Eun Hee kept her eyes to the ground near her feet. It was the first time Sea Na saw someone from the orphanage since she walked out the front door at seventeen. She didn’t expect a reunion, certainly not in this way. Eun Hee was no longer the young child Sea Na befriended in another lifetime and there was nothing but grief to share so Sea Na averted her eyes away from her childhood friend and took Hye Tae’s hand walking away, making sure Hye Tae would not see.

It was the Suryong’s job to take care of the masses, Sea Na bitterly considered, she knew it was a crime against the state to think like that but they were starving, everyone was. Wasn’t it the Great Leader and the Dear Leader the citizens trusted to keep them fed and safe? She grasped her daughter’s forehead, still feeling the fever that held Hye Tae in limbo. Hye Tae was her only daughter and even with her inability to hear Sea Na wished life had been fairer towards her daughter. A long time ago Sea Na believed everything ended in Pyongyang but she wasn’t in Pyongyang anymore.

Gratefulness

The Suryong cared for his people and they all basked in this knowledge of the Sun’s guidance. A chuckle hid under his glasses, but his mouth did not hide, his white teeth gleamed when he uncovered a piece of the sky and sweet-smelling butterflies filled the space around Chol Tae and the kindly Suryong holding the six year old boy’s hand. Walking among a creek they saw to be filled with fish. At the sight of the fat fish Chol Tae felt his stomach rumble. The Suryong must have heard the rumble in the child’s stomach because the next thing he did was to sing a song, one Chol Tae missed on the Suryong’s lips. Three fish jumped out of the water and into the firm hands of the Suryong. The fish knew they were lucky to die pleasing the Suryong, becoming slack in his hands as he tended to a fire that appeared without Chol Tae realizing it did. The Suryong shared stories with Chol Tae of his boyhood while the fish became crispy in the fire. The Suryong’s smile turned into a frown and the fish became crows with bloodied beaks, cawing at something behind Chol Tae, who turned around to face a train with the flag of the imperialistic bastards followed by a thick snake of smoke lapping at the air and filling Chol Tae’s nose. Before the train crashed into them a siren went off and the covers erupted in a flurry of movement. Chol Tae blinked, first seeing himself prodding him awake. Of course it wasn’t him, he told himself. His twin sister Hye Tae stood over him, shaking him awake and then he saw his parents’ furrowed eyebrows instead of the Suryong’s chuckling eyes.

With the rising sun, the Suryong again became a tangible reality. Chol Tae could not escape the pangs of hunger in his stomach; he kept on thinking about the fish he so nearly feasted on while his mother prepared the little rice they had left, shaking the bag furiously to get every grain in the pot. They were still lucky, when people in South Korea had it worse than they did under imperialistic control of the American bastards. Their hyong Hyeol Seop once told Chol Tae and Hye Tae women in South Korea ate sweet pills anyone with money could buy that ended their pregnancies whenever they wanted to. Here in North Korea their babies were born safe! Chol Tae didn’t want to hear more of what Hyeol Seop was telling them. In South Korea if a baby was deaf it would be left to die, but that didn’t happen here in North Korea, the Suryong wouldn’t allow it. Both he and Hye Tae were still with their family and had two meals a day despite the sanctions imposed on them, all due to the protection of the Suryong. He was still grateful.

Everything is in Pyongyang

Pyongyang appeared in view from the cracked windshield of the van and gasps lifted from the throats of every young orphan sitting in the back of the van. Sea Na’s eyes scanned the paved street, not believing there was no speck of dirt to be seen. Citizens prodded around with brooms doing their part in keeping the capital clean but they were smiling. In Hamhung the masses dragged their feet with soldiers constantly barking at them to hustle and no one smiled but it was clean and quiet in Pyongyang. The van stopped and Bae, their overseer, told them to get out in a single file line. Soon they would embark to Mansude Hill where the statue of the Suryong stood. Sea Na couldn’t remember to count the steps, her head was too dizzy with excitement. Finally they were going to give respects to the Suryong who served to protect the masses from the evils of capitalism and provide for their fruitful lives.

Eun Hee next to her pointed to a portrait of the Suryong their father with a smile creeping on Eun Hee’s small countenance. Together they gazed upon one of his gentle faces that appeared everywhere to reassure the citizens. Around the two girls were families, something she and Eun Hee did not have. Women in choson-ots shouted for their children to straighten their backs and soldiers waved their children off back to their mothers in line. Sea Na briefly wondered if one of them was her mother, who realized her mistake and was now looking for her daughter. She still had faint dreams of her mother, but she was no longer sure if it was really her birth mother’s face or a combination of the distortion of time and the countless faces she saw at the orphanage trying to pick out a child they would bring home with them.

Sea Na forgot her birth mother when her eyes reached the bronze statue, her worries crashed to the ground and a deep gratitude enclosed her for the fatherly leader that shouldered their burdens as if it were his own. The benevolent face of Kim Il Sung remained frozen in an eternal display of advising others on what was the best for the people of Choson. Nothing would go wrong this close to the greatness that provided everything they ever needed. It was thanks to the Suryong she had clothes on her back to speak for. A quiet murmur dissipated as they bowed to their loving leader. The orphans bowed their heads so low Sea Na thought they looked like a headless group. One day soon, she hoped, their cousins in South Korea would experience his kindness and blossom as much as the comrades had when the Suryong saved the people of Choson from decline.

Afterwards Bae drove them to the Revolutionary Martyr’s Cemetery where the busts of all the comrades that sacrificed their lives fighting against the imperialistic bastards and were worthy of praise. The most loyal were buried in the cemetery, the orphans learned, and were revered by the people. While Bae took a smoke break by the van and the orphans scattered to read the names of the martyrs, Sea Na looked down at the Taedong River sweeping through Pyongyang. Everything was in Pyongyang, Sea Na noted, where people prospered in comfort near the Suryong.

Soon Bae told them it was time to go back to the orphanage out of Pyongyang the faces of the orphans fell, their day in paradise was over. Inside the smoke filled van the orphans kept their noses glued to the window watching the city shrink out of their reach. One day, Sea Na determinedly told herself, she would prove her loyalty to her father the Suryong and the Juche idea. No matter what it took, she would prove to be loyal enough to live in Pyongyang.

Simplicity

Freshman year of high school was filled with candy and passed notes.

Every break between class, walking to our next class we’d munch on sweet lollipops sold by the student council. All the different flavors too, and then the swapping for our desired flavors. I always felt so lucky to be considered your best friend, knowing your bright personality and your intelligence. You walked next to me, by my left side. Always looked at me as your equal. Your confidence was contagious though. You gave me that part of myself, after walking next to you for four years. You’re right, though. The four years weren’t enough for us, like you wrote in my senior yearbook. There was going to be much more. And now the four years are all there is, all there ever will be.

I only wish… I could have been a friend to you like you were to me. My fear was the only thing getting in the way. Didn’t even think it would have that much of a consequence. I can never forget what I didn’t do for you. I’m so so so sorry.. I don’t deserve anything good anymore.

I want to go on an adventure.

Run around, chase butterflies. Or chase fleeting thoughts as they rise and we give in to our ideas that come and go. Do all the little things that makes life fun to live again. Being in Italy was wonderful, and I miss Europe and traveling deeply in my heart. As soon as I save up enough, I’m heading off towards an unknown destination without a look back. This time I don’t think I’m coming back home. There is nothing here.