There was nothing much special about Christmas in Seoul. No family dinner. No twinkle lights. No Hollywood starlet offering up holly-red kisses to GIs after a USO show, or pristine white snow to mask the haunted skyline of a ruined city.
The news reports said that Billy Graham was at the front, singing hymns and talking about peaceful nights and the birth of Christ; but this place was never silent and it sure as hell wasn’t holy. Every few days, the Reds ensconced at the front just 35 miles to the north dropped leaflets over the city or sent messages out over the airwaves, threatening the battered survivors of two previous sieges that they would be back on Christmas morning. In place of fat white flakes, propaganda fluttered down on the rooftops. “Mr. Moneybags is in Florida this Christmas. Where are you? In Korea! You risk your life, big business rakes in the dough,” argued one flyer with a portly, leering man brandishing his cigar at all-American bikini beauties.
Seoul City Command paid the political bombardment little mind and hummed its normal routine all day, but when the soldiers headed out for a night of decidedly secular celebration in the bars and the brothels of the city, Paul went to get the boy. He hadn’t intentionally scheduled it for Christmas — he’d planned to spend the night playing cards with his buddies — but the woman who was keeping him, Lieutenant Farber's woman, had said to come tonight. This might be his only chance.
It was only a couple blocks to the dark little corner shop where Jimmy slept in a small room hidden behind a hodge-podge of dusty meaningless goods stacked up in the window to mask what his guardian was really offering for sale behind a ragged curtain. Paul finished his dinner and headed out, walking briskly through the enforced darkness of a city at war.
Paul knocked on the door, stepped inside, and greeted the girl. She was small and dark; not too old and not too young. She was someone’s daughter, he thought, probably raised to be a virtuous woman who would faithfully serve her husband and give him sons. Somehow, she had ended up in this dingy backstreet shop, offering herself in exchange for the only thing that mattered after years of war — the security of a few American dollars tucked away in a cupboard. To Paul, she was indistinguishable from any of the hundreds of other camp followers who walked the streets in tight American skirts and fluffy Western-style hair, looking for rescue in the arms of a soldier or sailor. She must have picked up some English, if only enough to entice her clients, but she wasn’t interested in talking to Paul.
Maybe she was never much of a mother to the kid and she was relieved to be rid of him. Maybe it broke her heart to let him go, but she couldn't afford to say no. Spend a night with Farber every now and then, and she didn’t have to worry about the authorities shutting her down. The lieutenant was a big burly MP from Kansas who made a killing off the black market when he wasn’t enforcing the regulations that banned it. Good man to have on your side, but not a man you’d chose for your friend. She didn’t care about Farber, and he didn’t care about her. But she needed him. Maybe he had paid her off, and she considered the whole mess a successful transaction. She was just a mercenary whore who had taken the kid in to use him as bait, to attract American soldiers with his round little GI baby face; but she’d kept him reasonably well-fed and given him a warm place to sleep. It was better than the street, or the corner of the train station where clutches of orphans huddled together for warmth like litters of puppies.
Had she loved him? Would she miss him? Her face betrayed no emotion ...
Copyright Misty Ann Edgecomb, April 2009
*Note: The names of some secondary characters have been changed.