a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
When hunger struck Yeong-Su, it was like the venom of a snake. It was long, and painful. It wasn’t like the hunger one gets when it is time for lunch. It was the type of hunger one got when starved for days. Yeong-Su had been spending time with his friends when an artillery strike wiped out his neighborhood, one of the many destroyed towns in Incheon. The Communists in the North were responsible for the flattening of Yeong-Su’s town, and that was why he scavenged for food every day. Although he found nothing, he would always search.
It became a habit. He would walk out to the streets and search the rubble. He surely could have done something else. He could have begged at the gates of one of the American army bases. He would have at least gotten a bar of chocolate. But, he never did. He just kept searching. That one rubble. It was just an ordinary pile of rubble. brown, and dusty, with dirt all over it like salt on a seasoned steak. Nothing special to anyone else. However, it seemed that the rubble held meaning for Yeong-su. He felt the rough wood as it ran down his skin. He moved chunks of planks from the pile to open space. He had a purpose for being there, in front of the destroyed house. He placed his hands one at a time, crushed by the hunger. He repeated this motion until the sun dissolved below the horizon. Then, he would go back to his shelter, a covered enclosure that consisted of a pillow and a blanket stained with mud. The enclosure didn’t do its purpose. Everyday, rain trickled down his cheek like tears.
He had done this for many months, about six or seven. The amount of wood he took out increased and the pile shrunk. Once he uncovered the inside, he found all sorts of things, such as a book, clothes bathed in dust, and a photo. It showed three people, their heights declining from left to right exponentially. The photo was clearly of value to him. He kept the photo.
Once, a man came up to him. “What are you doing? What is it you’re digging?” the man asked.
Nothing came out of Yeong-Su’s mouth. He just ignored the man.
“You should come with me. You're too young to stay here on your own.”
Yeong-Su said nothing.
The man, frustrated, grabbed Yeong-Su’s hand. Surprised, he punched the man in the face. Now enraged at the boy, the man kicked Yeong-Su in the ribs who coughed out blood. The man was tall, and his muscles bulged out of him. He wore a full-green attire, along with a green poncho. He held a rifle close to his face which was covered with facial hair, and dotted with moles like ants on a picnic mat.
The man was not alone, though. He had a friend, a more sympathetic person. He held the other man back. The man’s friend said some words which Yeong-Su did not understand. They exchanged a few words, then left.
Yeong-Su kept searching. He found more things, such as a brush, a bag, and rotten food. More people approached him, offering him food and places to stay, Yeong-Su only pushed them away.
Yeong-Su uncovered more pictures. He kept all of the pictures he found.
The man’s friend came back. He must have felt sorry for Yeong-Su. He still ignored the man. Unlike the mole-sprayed soldier, his friend was a kind man. He had patience. He just simply waited for Yeong-Su to finish.
Yeong-Su kept searching. He ignored the man. He uncovered layers of wood and clothing.
Later in the afternoon, the man asked, “Do you want a bar of chocolate? It’s sweet. Sweets are rare, you know.”
Yeong-Su hesitated. However, he had starved for many weeks. His temptation was too strong to resist a glistening bar of chocolate. His hands slowly approached the purple HERSHEY'S wrapping. His hands grabbed the edge of the wrapper and slowly opened the packaging. He opened it like a long-lost treasure box. He cautiously raised the chocolate bar and placed it in his mouth. There was a crunching sound. Then, another. Multiple crunches were expelled from the boy’s mouth. Then, the crunches stopped.
The sound of digging continued. Yeong-Su, this time, was less hostile to the man. Yeong-Su exchanged conversations with the soldier. He found out that the soldier’s name was Fred. He had been called to service during the Second World War. Unfortunately, his children did not make it through the war.
Fred helped Yeong-Su search through the pile. They dug for days. Yeong-Su kept digging the northern part of the rubble, while Fred dug on the other side.
“Why don’t you come with me? I will provide you with three meals, as well as a place to sleep.” Fred said.
Yeong-Su kept his silence. He was digging to the center of the rubble when he found something special. it looked like a stick, but it was too thick to be one. It could have been a metal bar, but it was too soft to be one. Yeong-Su hesitated, but he kept digging. He uncovered more of this stick and four more almost identical ones were found. They were connected to some sort of round object. The round object was connected to a thicker stick. Yeong-Su didn’t need to uncover more to find out what it was. He did not want to believe that what he was thinking was true.
Fred approached him, immediately realizing what it was. After a few seconds of silence, he gently said, “Come with me. I promise to take utmost care of you.”
Yeong-Su stared blankly at the collections of sticks. No, it wasn’t a collection of sticks. It was a hand, bruised and discolored. It was Yeong-Su’s mother’s hand. A streak of tears flowed down Yeong-Su’s cheek. He thought for a very long time and slowly stood up, turning to the man and said, “Let's go.”
* = Editors' Choice work
Unless otherwise noted, all pictures used are open-source images in the public domain.