The escape was harder than I ever though it would be. the slightest noise around me made me stop on my tracks and reach out for the dagger that was hidden in my coat. I was never a fighter. I just accepted whatever the life gave me and thought this is the way things should be. I could see the reflection of the river and to my disappointment it was totally melted. The only way for me is to go around the river to the other side but it is riskier than getting across the river. There are guards everywhere around the river waiting to catch those who try to escape. Sometimes they are hidden behind bushes and you never know where they are hiding until they come out to catch you. If the river was still frozen I could have escaped without being that much visible due to the mist surrounding the river.
Unluckily, I forgot to bring my boots and I’m only wearing my old flip-flops which would break at any point. My whole body was shivering as the only coat I have is not durable during winters. Well, my parents never thought that I deserve a winter coat like the one they got to my beloved brother. Before I could safely escape, I might get frostbite and die. At least it’s much better than going back to hell and living in agony for the rest of my life.
Some never dream of escaping North Korea. For them this is the greatest nation in the whole world and our leaders are the best out there. and the naïve me believed the lies and all the nonsense they said to me thinking that indeed this is the best country to live in and that the world outside is worse and no human can possible live there. I had to grow up to understand that I was wrong and that I was fooled my whole life. Here, men treat women worse than animals. I have to admit; my dad treats my mother slightly better than others. Every single day my brother and my father beat me until I can’t get up even for things that a normal person can see that clearly not my fault. Even for smallest inconvenient things I get beaten up.
Yes, I’m a victim of domestic violence. At first I thought I deserved to get beaten as they know better than I do and that they are right. But, I was so wrong. Every single day of my life I get beaten up to a pulp until I can’t walk and get medicine for myself. Some days it’s not that hard but most of the days I bleed and faints. Those days they beat me again once I wake up calling me a weakling that shouldn’t have been born. I tried everything an 18-year old could do to stop them from beating me like an animal, but it never stopped. I have begged to my mother to save me but she always looks away when I get beaten. I once went to the police with all my injuries asking for help only to make them take me back hell to get beaten up again.
I believed that our country is the ‘greatest nation’ out there too. I believed everything my teachers told me about our country and how our leaders always prioritize us and how everyone is living better lives compared to people in the rest of the world, until the police took me back to hell even after seeing all of my injuries. The so-called ‘greatest nation’ doesn’t care about us, they only care about money and torturing others. I respected our leaders, teachers and adults too until they all turned a blind eye to my suffering. I wouldn’t have cared if get beaten for something wrong that I actually did rather than getting beaten for things that I never even intended to do. I have tried many ways to escape from them. I tried running away to other provinces. But they would always find me and beat me again and again. That’s when I decided I won’t be safe until I leave this ‘great nation.’
I don’t know about the world out there, but it can’t be worse than living in North Korea getting beaten up. For me, anything that is not a part of North Korea is a safe-heaven. Just then I heard footsteps near me and I stopped dead on my tracks.
“Who’s there?” someone asked and unconsciously reached to my dagger. I would kill myself rather than letting anyone take me back. Those who try to escape never make it there alive, they are tortured in the most inhuman degrading ways in order to get information about if they are spies of the other nations or not. My legs gave away and fell down on to the floor. I didn’t utter a single word nor dared to make a sound. If I tried to run away I would get shot. I could feel tears running down my face just when the light of the tort blinded my eyes. It took me several minutes to adjust my eyes to the light.
“Who are you and what are you doing here?”, the man asked again and I didn’t say anything. When my eyes got finally adjusted I finally saw a man way younger than my dad holding a gun and a torch looking at me. At first his eyes were so scary but when he looked closely at me his eyes became filled with pity. I hated it. I hated when people look at me with pity every single time I go out after getting beaten. They only know how to make me feel more worthless. Suddenly another man spoke somewhere near,
“Eun-Ho is someone there?” so the man in front of me must be Eunho. He gave a glance at me and offing the torch yelled back, “no, it’s just my wife has come looking for me.” I was taken back by what he said. I thought he would tell that he found an escapee and take me back. His face softened and he took a step closer to me making me get up quickly, only to fall back.
“I’m not going to hurt you. I’m trying to help you, I promise.” He stopped in his tracks and held out his hand towards me. The worse thing that could happen is me killing myself. So I let the man do whatever he wants to do with me after all it’s not like anyone was willing to help me when my parents were killing me every single day of my life. The man removed his coat and slowly put it around me. For the first time in my life I felt warm inside and out. Then he took off his boots and put them on my frozen legs. His hands were warm compared to my hands that were icy cold.
“I’ll take you to my home, it’s near” when I didn’t say anything, he added, “no one’s there, don’t worry.” Before I could protest he took my feeble body in his arms and carried me away and I drift away to unconsciousness.
My whole body was hurting and I couldn’t move a muscle. I could feel someone walking while looking at me but I couldn’t comprehend if I was dead or alive. Then I suddenly remembered that I was taken away and I got up quickly and sat. I was in a bed in a small room. Actually, it can’t be even called a room. It’s a small house. I can see the kitchen. There isn’t any furniture except a small table and a chair.
“You finally woke up,” the man called Eunho said offering me a mug. When I didn’t take it, he took my hands and make me hold it adding, “it’s milk not poison.” I didn’t give a nod nor acknowledged his presence. However, it was comforting in a way that I couldn’t tell the feeling exactly. I looked down at myself and only then I saw my clothes has been changed and my arms and legs were covered with bandages.
“Sorry, I couldn’t just let you sleep like that. I swear I only changed you clothes and put medicine to your wounds. I swear I didn’t do anything else,” he rambled. For me, it wasn’t the fact that he seeing my naked body that bothered me nor the fact that he seeing my injuries that bothered me, but the fact that he helped me. He didn’t take me back to the authorities as an escapee. Finding my voice I asked, “Why are you helping me.” He was taken back as his eyes widened, “I thought your mute” and added, “it’s only natural that someone helps a person who’s indeed of help.”
I looked away and let tears fall down my face. Here is a person who willingly helped me when I didn’t ask for it nor had to beg for it. For the whole 18 years of my life, he is the first person to ever help me. I have asked and begged every adult I have seen, I could find, to help me but no one did. No one ever took a step towards me, not even my own family.
“Thank you. I mean it.” He gave a slight nod looking at me curiously. He must have questions but he didn’t ask me. He didn’t ask me the next day nor the day after. He didn’t tell me to go nor let anyone take me. He only touched me to dress my wounds and let me wear his clothes. He went to patrol after making me eat. Even when I didn’t say anything, he didn’t ask me except never failing to ask me how I’m doing every day. Something no one has ever asked me. Every single passing day I grew warmer inside. I felt comfortable around him more than I have been with my family. He doing something illegal by keeping an escapee at his home. He could get killed without even a trial.
I don’t know how long it has been since Eunho carried me to his home, but one day he suddenly came running home bleeding.
“Eunho, what happened?” I asked running to get the first aid kit. But he held my hand and stopped me. “We have to go now.” I could sense something dangerous but I couldn’t pinpoint to what’s happening. Then I realized, my dad must’ve found me. He must be coming to take me away.
“They know you’re not my wife and that you are an escapee. You have to run now” he said clutching his stomach which was bleeding fast. “I’m not leaving you like this.” Before he could protest I got the first aid kit and bandaged his wound. How can I leave someone who only gave me warmth? Then there was a loud bang on the door and my whole body tensed. I was frozen on the spot and I could feel my body giving away. He is here. He found me and he’s going beat me until I die. The only thought that was inside my head was how I’m going to survive the beatings again and how I’m going to save Eunho. He would get killed because of me. The only person who I can actually call my family. Someone who helped me when my own family looked away.
Eunho suddenly grabbed my arm and started running towards the back door. He opened the backdoor of the house slowly as much as he could without gaining attention of whoever near the front door. His backdoor directly faces the river and I couldn’t see any guards moving. Holding my hand, he ran towards the river, making sure he wouldn’t let go of my hand. It hurt as he was holding my hand so tightly. But, I didn’t complain. I ran with him as much as my feet could take me. I didn’t ask him anything nor gave away any noise being scared someone will see us.
Eunho took me around the river carefully hiding whenever he saw a guard. When we were so close to the other country, he let go of my hand and said, “you see the guards there? when I say go run as fast as you could towards them. the moment you cross the line say you’re looking for refuge. They’ll help you and you’ll be safe.” I couldn’t understand what he was saying but I nodded and asked, “what about you?” he didn’t look at me in the eyes when he said he’ll be right behind me. I doubted it but I didn’t say anything. He suddenly took me close to him and hugged me with his whole strength and whispered, “stay safe, Na-eul.” Before I could ask him anything he pushed me towards the guards and shouted “GO.” So I did as I was told. I ran towards them with all remaining strength I had in my body until I heard gun shots. I stopped and looked back and saw guards running towards my way. As I had stopped, one guard aimed his gun at me and pulled the trigger. I couldn’t move. Suddenly Eunho was in front me and only then I realized he was shot. He took the bullet that was aimed at me.
“I told you to run without stopping” he said and fell to the ground. I screamed as much as I could. Then leaving him there I ran towards the guards of the other country who was standing few feet away and said exact words Eunho wanted me to tell except the fact that I said “we” pointing towards Eunho who was lying on the ground. A woman came from inside and held me while two men ran towards Eunho and brought him in.
At 60 years old, you begin to remember all the things that happened in your life. Every good thing and every bad thing. For me, the good thing was meeting Eunho. He showed me a new life that I didn’t know I could lead. He gave me hope and more than anything he gave me love, my own family couldn’t give me. He protected me and helped me without even asking. Without him I wouldn’t even be alive right now, I would have died long time ago somewhere far away in a dark place. I’m forever grateful for Eunho for giving my life a meaning and for being my family. I turned towards my husband who was sitting next to me holding my hand tightly and whispered, “Thank you, and I love you, Eunho.”