Friday, September 18, 2015


My childhood came to an abrupt end one day when I overheard a conversation between my parents.

I was twelve years old. Two years ago my family had moved to this new place, a village at the foot of a mountain where most people earned their livelihood from toiling on the land except for a few merchants whose shops clustered around the tiny market pavilion. I had eased into the new normal with my new school, new friends and playgrounds.

My father had ditched his suit and tie and my mother her pretty dresses to put on peasant working clothes. My father had transformed an old bicycle into a contraption that could carry my mother on the back seat, two hoes with handles strapped to the bike body, and a couple of baskets hanging from the sides. Together they would leave early in the morning for the fields and come back quite late, usually when all the ducks and chicken had been fed and repaired to their coops for the night.

It was true that money was extremely low and we had to grow our own food, but there was an equally important reason for my parents to undertake the labor of farming. Manual laboring was the new political correctness; any other lifestyle was deemed corrupted and could result in real trouble for individuals and their families. For the whole country had fallen to communist forces a couple of years back, and we were having our first taste of living under a communist regime.

At school we saluted a new flag and was taught to revere a man half smiling from his beard. Under his gaze from a portrait hanging high above the blackboard, we learned that we had been liberated from cruel oppressors and a new bright future was wide open for us. All thanks to the bearded man and his fighters, whose heroic deeds filled up our textbooks and were measured by how many they had killed. We listened to the demonization of those called enemies and were urged to nurture a deep hatred against them, which despite my eagerness to obey I could not find anywhere in my heart. We sang songs that expressed gratitude to the bearded man and his party, who for some strange reason were credited with providing us with food and clothes.

Ironically at home food was getting less and less on our table, and my clothes became worn and faded with no prospect for new ones. A somber mood seemed to have descended on the household, but I did not mind; for I had friends to play with, fields and streams and groves to roam about, and on a rainy day books to bury my head in. Until one day when I overheard a conversation between my parents.

I was just outside their bedroom when my father said to my mother, "There's nothing we can do." She softly repeated it as if in resigned acceptance, and a sudden chill seeped through my body. I had always taken for granted that whatever trouble the world might bring to our door, my parents would be able to ward it off with a wave of hand. Now by their own admission, we were facing a problem about which they were just as helpless as I was. The wall of security had just crumbled around me, and I no longer felt protected.

From that moment I knew my childhood had ended, and things would never be the same again. One day my father was summoned to the District Public Security Headquarters and did not return until six years later.

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