I’ve gone through lots of scary things, some I don’t even think on no more, but that sickness was close to the worst. You know some people are real brave, like Pastor, and I figure I’ll be braver too once I’ve lived as long as him ’cause he’s already a grandpa and whatnot. And Pastor says when he dies, everyone’s gonna know it’s his time and there ain’t gonna be no reason to try to keep him from flying off to heaven, and that’s why he says he’s not one bit scared of dying. And I believe him on account of the way he talks about heaven, and it’s almost like he’s already seen it and he’s just waiting for all of us to get there together.
So there are people like Pastor who talk about dying just as if it’s like walking next door to visit a friend, except you don’t never come back and your friend’s house is a castle with everything you could want for the rest of your life. But back in the old days, I didn’t know all that much about heaven ’cause the grown-ups all said different things. Like sometimes if Papa was out later than normal and the sea was all choppy, I’d ask Mama what would happen to him if he died, and all she’d say was, “Don’t you know it’s bad luck to talk like that?” So I’d ask my sister, only she didn’t know about that sorta stuff and nonsense neither. And I guess the first I heard about heaven in the old days was when I asked Grandmother what happens when you die, and she said your spirit joins all the others and you get to be with your ancestors, which sounded boring to me at the time on account of all of them being so old and dead.
And then once I got to Chongjin, Granny was different. She’d talk about heaven as if it was gonna happen right here on earth, and we just had to wait for the Dear Leader (and the Great Leader, too, on account of him already being dead but her not remembering that most days). And them Leaders, well, they were gonna do things like give food to all the hungry and build beautiful buildings, and there’d be public singing and dancing and whatnot, and they’d even make winter shorter and more tolerable for us all. And the thing I liked about Granny’s version of heaven was you didn’t even hafta die to get there. You just had to be patient and wait on the Dear Leader, only she never said how long the waiting would take, and I don’t suspect she knew there’d be a famine so bad during the in-between time neither.
The "Twelve Days of Woong" series includes short snippets from my newest novel, Flower Swallow. Get a free copy when you donate to Liberty in North Korea or buy it from amazon.