They laughed at how similar their hands looked.
They had their hands opened up side by side. The girl and her grandmother. Her precious Ha-mi. Her unique (much simpler) way of pronouncing the multisyllabic word for grandmother.
The girl looked into Ha-mi’s hand. A wrinkle, a fold, a scrunch. Unevenly aligned with the other creases, narrating the peaks and valleys of this woman’s life.
Closely she looked at those wavy lines. They appeared to magically shift, transmute, metamorphose into a silhouette of old-time farmers with sickles and handcarts. A scene that was intricately engraved into the magnificent mahogany coffee table that had sat in Ha-mi’s old office. The girl could almost smell the iodine tincture that would stain white cotton swabs in dark reddish-brown. Spreading, soaking, waiting to make wounds look worse but supposedly feel better.
Ha-mi was a doctor. The first female doctor ever to be produced in Korea. A real 5-foot giant, a warrior. She worked well into her 70s, saving one life at a time.
She was once just a little girl born in the State of Manchuria to farmer parents, who had sickles and handcarts of their own. On a cold winter’s night, when Ha-mi was five or six, she got a ride in an arthritic handcart with some other kids in the neighbourhood. Her father covered them up with a thick blanket and gave them sugar cane to chew on. The kids fell asleep to the saccharine dribble of the sugar cane and silently warming security of the blanket for the long jerky ride in the snug handcart.
With an endless construction of 60,000 evenly aligned army men, Japan had invaded Manchuria. The civilians held their hands up at anything that might be threatening. Drumming explosions. Echoing shrieks. Puddles of dark reddish-brown. Walls of stiff bodies. They were forced to flee the only home they ever knew. To South Korea, Ha-mi’s family left, with whoever they could grab. Nothing in possession, just whoever they could grab. On foot for days and days, and weeks and weeks. They never looked back.
The Manchurian farmer’s girl, once safely shielded under a blanket over a handcart, kept her hands up in fear as she survived through many lives of malnutrition, separation, and uncertainty. She survived the war, then lived the rest of her life serving the survival of others. As a true hero.
A hero that referred to her patients as “customers.” She knew they didn’t need reminding they were sick. A hero that talked to them not over a doctor’s desk, but a coffee table. An intricately carved table covered by a thick piece of glass. Light would reflect off the glass, dimming the darks and lights of the farmers, their sickles, their handcarts. The farmers looked far, far away. Like they had lived long, long ago. Like Ha-mi.
She had squeezed out most of the life she had to live and had shrivelled up into a 5-foot-little breakable. Her wrinkly hand had the carvings of all of her many lives in just as many lines. And the girl, who loved and knew her grandmother so well, hadn’t a clue.