Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Story: Kkotjebi

("The Unwanted")

Mama collected grass to sell in the market, she wrapped up huge bundles and carried them on her back and under her arms. I hardly remember her face under all the accumulated dirt since the last time it rained enough to wash it off. She doesn't take me with her for fear that the local authorities will take me away and put me into the hands of the local people's committee.

They collect the homeless children not because they care about them, but just to gather them and keep them from possibly defecting. It was about control and saving face for the leaders of the government more than anything else. It's not like the local people's committee has the desire or ability to keep the kids from running away, they don't have the resources to feed us either.

I know what the illegal market looks like, though. I know that those selling things spread blankets on the ground and put their meager goods on them. Some of them are selling their allotted rations while some have connections and sell what they can wheedle from their comrades.

My mother is barely able to walk and talk, she is so malnourished. She is becoming skin and bones, I can feel them as we embrace under the tree behind the bushes where we sleep at night. I know that this is an injustice but I am a small child, I have no power to change anything.

Once, when she had more energy, I should have ran away. She would have been better off without another mouth to feed. Now I am the one who is pulling most of the grass that she ambles off to the market to sell. I know that we will boil grass to eat as always if she cannot make enough to buy a bit of rice. I see how weak she is and I know that one day soon, she will stop living.

Propaganda posters line the walls near the market, some of them show farmers with an abundance of food. More food in their illustrated hands than most people saw in a year. These posters were lies, of course, all of them were lies. Nobody believes them any more. Nobody believes that the rest of the world is worse off than we are.

Mother was a child when the Arduous March happened. A great famine that left many dead of starvation. A time when even the well-connected cadres found that their rations were not being delivered. The ones who trusted the government the most were the hardest hit, the ones who traded illegally had some small chance.

Mother told me that millions had died. She said that piles of bodies were simply burnt in fields because there wasn't anyone able to dig mass graves. Even the cruel local army units, normally the best fed people, had no energy. It was much worse then, she told me, though I can hardy fathom how that is possible.

One day a foreign reporter came. He secretly interviewed my mother, he seemed shocked to hear she was in her early twenties. The reporter seemed to know that if he were caught, my mother could be executed for talking to him. Then he turned the camera around, there was a small screen like a television and he showed us pictures of his country.

I could only cry when I watched the pictures of supermarkets, little girls with nice dresses and toys, these were things I never had. I felt the hatred well up in me, it was strong. I was weak but it was strong, I nurtured this strength. I wanted this strength. I felt this strength and something changed me.
Mother had the opposite reaction. She abandoned any hope. She refused to get up and I picked the grass alone. She didn't want to go sell it, I was afraid I would be caught by the soldiers of the Ministry of People's Security. I wanted to try. I wanted to help my mother eat something.

I carried as much as I could. Almost as much grass as my mother usually carried. Seeing the propaganda posters rose the anger inside me, it was warm and comforting. The woman wanted to pay less than regularly because I was a child and my complaints would get me in more trouble than her. I noticed the patch of ground next to her was empty.

I inquired about the person who usually sold things next to her. She looked around but the soldiers were far away. She told me that the other woman had been suspected of listening to a foreign radio station and had been taken away during the night. It was possible she could be executed and her whole family could be sent to the work camps.

I felt like I was shaking. My body shivering. Where had this energy come from, I did not know. This rising hate and anger was making me stronger. I spent everything I had gotten on a pittance of rice, wrapped inside of a piece of old newspaper. I would give this to my mother. For some reason I was feeling strong, and I wanted to tell mother how to feel strong too.

She was asleep. I try to wake her up. I have rice, I tell her, get up and eat. I wanted to tell her I knew a secret power. She did not respond to anything I said or the shaking or when I hit her arm or when I cried and picked up her head and held it to my chest.

I screamed in my grief, my anger, my hate. The tree that had sheltered us exploded into flying splinters.

That was when I knew what I was going to do. I could not dig a hole so I picked up the broken branches and covered my mothers body. I boiled the rice and ate it myself. I had to go north, I would find a main road to the capitol city. I would use my power and I would explode the fat tyrant that had done this to us.

From that moment on I abandoned my name. Now I would only be Kkotjebi. The Unwanted.

People were not allowed to travel far without governments permission. Very few owned a vehicle anyway and many villages had no roads leading to them. I would not allow anything to stop me, I knew my power was getting stronger. Nobody was going to be able to stop me.

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