It had been a strenuous day of work for Sook Hee. Rising before the first glimpse of morning sun, she made her way to the base cafeteria to help prepare meals for hundreds of hungry American soldiers. It was a privilege to have this job. What if fate had called her to dishonor her family like so many other girls her age, who were selling their bodies in the base village?
She never looked directly at the soldiers, but she could feel their eyes lingering on her as she worked. Some would ask, “What are you doing when you get off tonight?” and a feeling of nakedness and embarrassment would come over her. There was one soldier, though, whose infrequent words and quiet smiles she did not mind. She actually looked forward to seeing him.
Since the death of her parents, she had lived each day in terror of death, of pain, of injury. She resisted the temptation of self-pity. At least I still have family, Sook Hee reminded herself, even though they live in another village. So many people around me have lost everyone. I could go live with my uncle’s family if this becomes too much. In Sook Hee’s culture, family was a priceless commodity. Her uncle-her father’s older brother-was the oldest son, and her grandparents lived with him and his family.
Like many Korean young people, she had been betrothed. But the war had disrupted all personal matters such as betrothals and marriage, and Sook Hee did not know whether her betrothed had survived the war. Her uncle would have to make inquiries on her behalf.
That evening when she arrived home, Sook Hee went to the water barrel alongside the house for water for her barley and tea. As she reached out to break the layer of ice on the surface, she was startled by the crunch of frozen gravel. A lone American soldier. She recognized him. She watched him with cautious curiosity.
Their eyes met, then Sook Hee’s eyes quickly lowered. She had no desire to appear forward. Again their eyes met, and she pulled back quickly, embarrassed, retreating to the safety and anonymity of the water barrel. She dipped the wooden ladle into the icy water barrel, her heart pounding, trying to ignore the inquisitive eyes of the soldier. Sook Hee surprised herself. Using the little English she had learned, she softly said, “I make tea. You like?”