She came at summer’s end and needed a place to stay for a few days. She stayed for almost a year. And in my heart, forever.
She was quiet, mostly kept to herself, made sure to be helpful
with household chores and when she took her turn in the kitchen, it was often a memorable meal.
She was my mother’s aunt. She called her Tia Maria. All elder women are grandmothers. So we called her “Lola.” Lola Tia Maria.
We were told to be kind to her and to be specially quiet when she was quiet.
Sometimes, in the late afternoon when the sun begins to cast shadows that taller versions of ourselves call us to play from the ground, we could hear her sighing and singing a tune, and sometimes she would be dancing, as though waltzing with someone from the shadows, or somebody we could not see. Then she would start crying.
She was tall, with long hair she drew to a bun at the nape of her neck. She did not wear make up and she did not have any teeth. She was beautiful. Other women in the house thought she would be more beautiful if she had teeth or wore make up.
In one of those times when she cried so quietly, I held on to her and she held on to me also that we cried together until she laughed. Then she wiped her tears, went to the kitchen and taught me how she made popped rice.
About 20 years before she lived with us, she was one of the women who was taken to the “rape camps” during the Japanese occupation when she was just seventeen. As many as ten men a day would rape her. “Comfort women.”
The ‘Peace Monument,’ representing the ‘comfort women’ forced to become sex slaves for the Japanese Forces during the Second World War, sits at Toronto’s Korean Community Centre, the Korean Canadian Cultural Association (1133 Leslie St.).
A film called “The Apology,”by Tiffany Hsiun that told the story of three former “comfort women” who were among the 200,000 girls and young women kidnapped and forced into military sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II is currently showing at Hot Docs until Thursday December 8.
I need to see this film. I also need to sit at the “Peace Monument” at the Toronto Korean Community Centre. I want to remember the warmth of Lola Tia Maria’s tears. Perhaps, I will also make popped rice.