[After our mother died,] we begged and sometimes we worked by doing some errands, cleaning and serving. If we were lucky, we would get a leftover bowl of soup that we shared.
One day, after finding my sister lying in the mud, I decided to steal some food for her. First I begged the lady of the noodle shop, but when she refused I stole a bowl and started to run away while she was busy with other customers. I didn’t make 10 steps before the woman caught me. She and two other adult customers in the store beat me and yelled, “You little bastard and useless thief!” But I only thought about my sister.
To save her life, I poured noodle soup on my belly that I covered with a cloth. The broth dripped down through my pants, but under the cloth some strips of noodle hung over my belt. I walked to my sister, clenching my bleeding nose with one hand while holding up my belly with the other. Then I shook her. She had been lying with her eyes closed for hours and hours. I took off my belt and took the noodles from my belly and put them into her mouth. How eagerly she ate! My stealing saved her life.
At the market, I heard that there was a lot of food in China across the Tumen River. They even said that people in China would give away food to the beggars from North Korea. Those words kept ringing in my ears and never left.
It was 11o’clock in the morning when I reached the bank of the Tumen River with my sister. On the bank, some armed soldiers were on guard duty. We pretended to collect and eat some young grass. I told So-yon that we had to be prepared to overcome some expected whipping in order to go to the better place.
Fortunately, we safely reached the other side. Our bodies shivering, we ran to the town squeezing water out of our clothes.