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Brother's Keeper by Julie Lee

Brother's Keeper by Julie Lee

Author:Julie Lee [Lee, Julie]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Holiday House
Published: 2020-06-16T00:00:00+00:00


twenty-seven

December, 1950

No matter how hard I scrubbed with snow, I couldn’t get the blood off my pants.

Blood stained pink—the color of a woman’s gums, a toddler’s lips, a laundry woman’s ruddy cheeks. Scenes kept running through my head: Something brushing against my leg. Bodies floating past like driftwood. A bare back—its shirt lifting up in the water—rotating like a tortoise. But neither of us had been hurt.

We were in Kaesong—a small city not far from Seoul, according to my map. It had taken us four days to get here after crossing the Imjin River; the land was hilly, with mountains connecting in the distance. Electrical poles lined the town’s narrow dirt roads, shorter than the ones in Pyongyang, glowing in the dusk. Tile-roofed houses stood so close to one another that their eaves overlapped, lights shining in all their windows. None were abandoned.

Youngsoo had picked one, and I had knocked on the door, my hand shaky and tinged red. A middle-aged woman had answered, and when her eyes moistened at the sight of us, I knew we had chosen the right house to spend the night.

“Just call me Ahjuma,” she had said.

Now she sat on her floor at a low table, cutting egg pancakes into diamond shapes. I was still rubbing the hem of my pants. “Don’t fret over the stain, child. Would you like a pair of my pants?”

“No, thank you.” Omahni had cut and sewn these herself. “I’ll wear mine.” I sat beside Youngsoo, clutching our bundle of belongings.

“Well, at least let me take your things and set them over here.”

“We have nothing of value!” I blurted.

Ahjuma’s eyes grew wide, and she stared at us. Youngsoo crumpled under her gaze the way he had when his teacher scolded him for forgetting his homework.

“I only want to help. And in case you’ve forgotten, you were the one who knocked on our door, so mind your manners,” Ahjuma said, pushing bowls of rice and dumpling soup toward us. “Now, go ahead and eat.”

I looked around her house. The ondol floor was warm and clean. Clothes lay neatly folded in the corner. An electric iron sat plugged into the wall. My face burned in embarrassment. Why would this lady want anything from two dirty country bumpkins like us?

I set down our bundle, then grabbed a spoon and took a bite of rice, making sure to lower my face so she couldn’t see the red spreading across my cheeks. Neat cutouts of egg floated in the broth as a garnish, perfectly trimmed. I glanced at Youngsoo. He slurped from the edge of his bowl, then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and burped. It was the most appetite I’d seen him have since we left home.

Ahjuma clapped and squealed. “Yeobo!” she called. “Come see how well these children are eating!”

A paper door slid open, and a man limped into the room, a scowl clinging to his face. “Where did these children come from? Why are they here? Whose are they?” he demanded.



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