The woman’s face is so close to mine that I can tell her eyebrows aren’t real. Doodling in some eyes, fins, and tails would turn the pair into two fish facing off. Her eyes are red from crying. Her cheeks are streaked with gray from mascara that made a run for it. She looks down at me. I sink into my corner seat. There’s no place to hide in the basement of the First Korean Full Gospel Church.
“I feel so sorry for you. Poor, poor boy. Poor, poor Ok. What are you going to do? My heart, my heart,” she says, slapping her chest with her right hand, which is shackled with golden rings suffocating her plump fingers. “My heart aches for you and your mother,” she says, and pounds my back with a force that would dislodge a rock from my throat.
I bow my head and wait for her to move on to the group of women in the middle of the room, huddled around my mother like burrowing wasps, buzzing loud
prayers. They moan and babble because the Holy Spirit has a hold of them. I wish the Holy Spirit would get a hold of me so I could wail my sadness too.
As soon as Fish Brows leaves, another woman rushes to me. She squats down at my feet so she can meet my lowered head. She puts her hand on my shoulder, looks up into my eyes, and tells me my father is in heaven, smiling down on me. See him? The woman bids me to be good and strong for my mother and have faith in God’s will, because I’m the man of the house now. God works in mysterious ways.
I nod like a robot. She stands and pulls me in to her, pressing my cheek against her stomach. I hear her heart beat, her insides gurgle, and her stomach growl. She opens her purse, digs out her wallet, pulls out bills, stuffs the money into the pockets of my borrowed suit jacket two sizes too big, and tells me to take good care of my mother. What does this mean? Isn’t she supposed to take care of me? I politely say thank you.
As Moneybags leaves, another woman walks toward me. She carries a plate of food. She’s short and round and looks plenty hungry. I brace myself for baptism by spit and bits of food. The plate is piled high with rice, fried dumplings, grilled short ribs, fried chicken wings, kimchi, bean cakes, potato salad, and japchae noodles. The woman looks down at me, smiles like we know each
other, and puts her plate of food on my lap. It smells good. She tells me to eat, eat up, even if I’m not hungry, even if I don’t feel like it, because I’m going to need all the strength and energy to grow through this very hard thing that’s happened to me. It’s not normal, she says. It’s all wrong. What a senseless mess. Makes you want to kick some idiot’s butt, she says, shaking her head and exhaling, “Aigo. Aigo.” I take a bite of rice. It’s warm and soft and sticky, and tears start to form in my eyes, and soon my food is being sauced with snot. The woman hands me a napkin, and I thank her. I wipe my face, thinking how much I need my father to come back to life.