Author's Note: This work of fiction contains depictions of war violence. Reader discretion is advised.
Min's husband died just three years into their marriage. He was killed when his fishing boat capsized in a violent storm. From then on, she had raised her son by herself.
Life as a widowed mother was harsh. Every morning before dawn broke, Min placed her toddler in a sling tied to her back and traversed nearby mountains looking for medicinal plants. She would then sell the collected plants to the local apothecary for money. On a lucky day, Min would find a rare herb that netted her some decent money. On most days, however, she would only find (after some 14 hours of work) some generic herbs that worth no more than a few pennies. On those days, she would deprive herself of food, leaving her portion to her child. Min would rather die than to see her son cry in hunger.
Watching you grow makes me proud.
Hearing your voice makes me smile.
Having your company makes my day.
As harsh as their lives were, neither the mother nor the son once lamented their fate. They lived contentedly in poverty, earning praises from neighbors and friends.
When Min's son turned 17, their country was in turmoil. Bandits had grown in numbers and were becoming increasingly violent. A traveling salesman, who recently returned to town, told stories of bandits ransacking villages and murdering innocent people.
"These thugs are well-armed and extremely bold. They burn houses, kidnap young women and mercilessly kill anyone who dares to stand up to them. Even the authorities are wary of them."
The news brought fear to Min's village. Some people left the town for safer areas near the country's capital. Those stayed behind formed a civilian force, made up of able men who took turn patrolling the village. Though only 17, Min's son volunteered to join the patrol. Min did not want her child to participate in such a dangerous venture, but could not overcome his resolve. This was his decision and she respected it.
Not one time since her son joined the patrol had Min had a good night of sleep. She would often stay up until early morning to see her son returning home from his night patrol. Her feelings were conflicted. Although she was proud of her son for protecting the village, she was also fearful of what could happen to her only child -- the sole reason she was still living to this day. Alas, her worst fear would come true.
Min remembered that fateful day well. The widowed mother woke up early as usual to prepare breakfast for her son. Several hours passed, her son still had not returned home.
"He is unusually late today. What could be keeping him?"
The more she thought about it the more anxiety she felt. Her fear augmented with each passing hour. Min went to the neighbors, asking them if their family members had returned from the patrol. Only two had come home so far. Her fear was shared by many mothers in the village.
Midday came but Min's son was still not home. Heaven knows how many cups of tea the distressed mother consumed through morning. Her anxiety had reached a breaking point. The door of her home suddenly swung open. Her close friend and neighbor charged into the house with tears in her eyes.
"Your son.....He has been captured. They will execute him in the town square."
When Min heard the bad news, her whole body froze for a moment. The teapot she was holding slipped from her hand and crashed onto the floor. The hot liquid splashed and spilled on her bare feet. But she felt no pain, because nothing would be more painful than the loss of a mother's child. Min nearly fainted from grief, but was able to gather herself with her friend's aid. She hastily left her house, heading toward the town square.
When she got there, her son had already been executed. His severed head lay in a pool of blood.
I don't condemn you for killing my son,
because he died for his ideals.
But why couldn't you leave his body whole
and not leave a mother in agony?
A stray dog was seen near her son's head. At that instant, Min pushed through the crowd to reach her son and covered his dismembered body with her ragged scarf. The dog barked loudly at her as though to protest that she had stolen his prey. She turned to the dog and their eyes met. He saw in her eyes a mother tiger, fiercely protecting her young. The dog trembled in fear, momentarily unable to move. He would proceed to hastily retreat from the town square.
"What do you think you're doing?" one of the bandits shouted.
A group of seven men, armed with AK-47 assault rifles, surrounded Min. When she refused to reply to the earlier shout, the men started kicking the son's lifeless body. Min hurled herself over her son to protect him from the brutal hits. Even though she could not protect him when he was alive, she wanted to protect him in death.
Min's head was struck by a rifle; blood was streaming out like violent flood waters. One of the men in the group, who appeared to be the leader, took out his pistol and pointed it at her head.
"Since you love your son so much, I might as well send you to join him in the netherworld."
Just when he was about to pull the trigger, there was a loud noise coming from the sky. A military aircraft was seen circling overhead. The bandit leader's facial expression turned pale. He withdrew his gun and frantically fled the scene. His comrades would follow suit, dispersing from the square like cowardly rats looking for holes to hide.
Dark clouds suddenly amassed over the village and heavy rains started to fall. Min looked up to the sky briefly, as though to offer thanks. She then began to gather her son's remains. Using a friend’s farm cart, Min was able to transport the remains back to her house.
Min spent that night sewing the dismembered parts back together. She wanted to give her son a dignified death. Heaven knows how many tears the grieving mother shed that day bemoaning her son's cruel fate. Meanwhile, heavy downpours continued outside as though the Higher Being sympathized with her plight.
Two years later...
The unrest in Min's country had reached at a boiling point. All the anti-government factions, including most of the bandit groups, came together and formed a movement called The Resistance. As part of their propaganda to win the people's hearts and minds, the group imposed new codes of conduct which prohibited its members from raiding villages and killing civilians indiscriminately.
The new strategy appeared to work in The Resistance's favor. They were making significant territorial gains against the government. Min's village was one of the towns that were taken over by the rebel group.
Two years after her son's passing, Min had not gotten over his death. She still shed tears every time she passed by his picture on the altar. She had lived these last two years without a purpose, because the two most important people in her life had left her. Everyone in the village was concerned about her. They would take turn checking on her to make sure she would not do something regrettable.
Min's life continued in a state of malaise until one fateful night. She was sleeping in her room when she heard a sound coming from the kitchen. Thinking it may have been caused by the neighbor’s cat, she went into the kitchen to check things out. What she discovered was quite shocking. A young girl was eating the leftovers in her kitchen. Her clothes were dirty and her body was full of scratches and bruises. In her eyes, she saw a hungry and terrified girl. Min came up beside her and gave her a warm embrace. The girl's fear dissipated and her eyes were overcome with tears.
Min prepared a hot meal for her. The way the girl ate reminded her of her son. How I wish you were still here, she thought. During this whole time, the girl did not speak a word. When Min asked what happened to her, her face turned pale displaying a frightened look. Min refrained from pressing further, not wanting to agonize her. That night, the two shared a bed like a mother and her daughter. Seeing the little girl soundly asleep brought joys to Min's heart. She had not felt this way since her son's death.
The next morning, there was a thunderous knocking at the door. Min told the girl to hide in the kitchen before proceeding to open the door. Two armed men, wearing armbands of The Resistance, charged into the house.
"What is your business here?" Min asked.
"One of the regime's dogs escaped from her cell last night. Have you seen anyone suspicious?"
"I did not see anyone last night, but feel free to search the house.”
The two men were about to conduct a search of the house, but decided against it at the last minute.
"If you see any suspicious person, report to us at once."
The two men turned toward the exit door to take their leave. At that moment, they heard a sound coming from the kitchen. The two turned back and moved to the sound’s direction.
When they entered the kitchen, they saw the young girl trying to escape through the window. One of the men aimed his gun at her and was about to shoot, when Min rushed in and attempted to grab the gun from him. He tried to shrug her off but she refused to let go his hand. His comrade came to his aid. He knocked her down with his rifle.
Three gunshots were fired. The bullets pierced though Min's body; blood infiltrated her garment. Even as she was in her last breath, she took a peek at the window and saw the girl safely through. At this, she smiled.
"I was not able to save my son then, but today I found redemption. I can finally die in peace."