Monday, April 9, 2012
A Tough Boy - Lou's Story
I woke up with a jerk. It was dark, cold and noisy. My body moved, vibrated and shook, and I couldn't stay still though I tried. I told myself that I wouldn't get sick, that I was a tough boy, just like mom always told me.
The smell of chicken filled the train cart along with that of onion, garlic, spice and ripened fruit. Earlier when the train stopped, everyone crowded underneath the open windows, their bodies pressed against the grimy exterior of the train and against each other. Merchants with little more than a bicycle and a basket of food pushed things up through the window, trusting whomever catching it will render payment upon consumption. I thought about grabbing something but I decided against it eventually. I was practically covered with shoppers hovering and stretching over the window anyway. So I pretended to sleep until I really did drift off under that cave of bodies.
The night air had long chased away the heat and stale air surrounding me earlier. I was so hungry my stomach felt pressed into my ribs. I rose to sniff the air, filling my lung with the oily scent. But it made me gag, and I shivered from the chill which made my teeth chatter. So quickly I shrank back into a tight ball and retreated into the dark corner against the window.
I remember vaguely that I waved away aunt Lana yesterday. She was in such a hurry, so I could barely catch a corner of her face, and a patch of her scarf, before the crowd surged into the cart like disturbed waves swallowing a tiny raft. I didn't know her well anyway, but grandma was sick and grandpa was busy, so she got the task to see me off. We drove for miles to get to the train station on the border of the city. Our county was too small to have a train station. She had errands to run, chicks to feed and pig pans to clean, so she was off as soon as I turned into the cart and gave her an over the shoulder glimpse.
I was excited to be going home, to see mom and dad. I wasn't a fan of my annoying little sister Sophie, but I didn't mind her too much either. I didn't mind much of anything, because I was a tough boy, just like mom always said. When they put me on the train last year to go see grandma and learn Korean, I was happy as a clam.
What five year old boy wouldn't be excited for a chance to live in the country! I ran with the dogs, filled up on fresh eggs every morning and enjoyed the pampering of aunts and uncles and cousins. I didn't remember much about the train ride here, but that just meant it must had been OK. Maybe I was cold and hungry too, but hey it was pretty short and I got to see outside whenever the daylight came around. I also got to see lots of people, carrying everything with them. From roosters in a straw cage, canvas bags and cardboard boxes, to children with thin fingers and tiny wrists like mine trying to grab onto anything that kept them from flying all the way to the head of the cart.
So I feel pretty lucky and luxuries to be sitting down. Uncle Bob must have pulled some strings to get me a ticket with a seat. I would be in Beijing in just one more day, and then mom would bring my favorite dishes to make up for the trip. My mouth watered at the thought of mom's tasty soups. My eyes watered too, at the thought of mom and her soft voices.
But oh, I wasn't crying. I was a tough boy, just like mom always said.