Every Falling Star

“My father left to find food, said he was going to China, and he hasn’t come back yet. … My mother went to Aunt’s house to get food, too. She told me she would be gone a week and to eat salt and drink water until she got back. That was, I think, about ten days ago.”

[My fellow street urchin] Young-bum responded, “… I believed you were just acting dumb when we told you about things going on in Joseon. But really… you don’t know! …Your family was kicked out of Pyongyang, fancy-pants, because Pyongyang people don’t come here to live unless the government has told them to get out. And when Pyongyang fancy-pants people are asked to leave, they’re stripped of everything.

“Everyone knew about your family the moment you arrived in that train station, all polished like those shiny metal escalators in the metro in the capital. Everyone talked behind your father’s back about how a great star of the regime must have done something really bad to have fallen into a garbage heap like this.”

I felt the knot in my throat grow tight. My father hadn’t wanted me to know these things.

“You can’t go back to Pyongyang,” Young-bum continued, his voice light and soft as if he genuinely wanted to comfort me. “And even if you found a way, your grandfather isn’t there anymore. When someone does something against the government, the entire family is usually penalized. Your doctor grandfather has been kicked out, too. Or if he hasn’t been kicked out, he’s been stripped of all his things and likely left on his own to survive.

I lowered my head, feeling all hope drain, like on a hot steamy day being given a glass of water with holes in it. I swallowed hard so as not to cry.   Read more

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