Editor's Note: Each year, Nueva students submit their work to the Bay Area Scholastic Writing Awards. This year, 16 students received recognition (for 21 different pieces) from a panel of professional novelists, editors, teachers, poets, librarians, journalists, and other literary professionals from more than 2,300 submitted works. A few students have offered to share their winning pieces with the Nueva community. This piece was written by sophomore Gabe A., who earned a Silver Key for his flash fiction piece, "Ghosts." He shared a brief artist's introduction as well.
I wrote this piece about my grandma (my Halmeoni) who immigrated to the U.S. in October 1974, and opened a Sandwich shop called "Bunny's Sandwich Nook" in the city of Anaheim, California. Bunny's Sandwich Nook, or what my family called Gage (가게), was a vital source of income for my grandparents, where my Mom, her two younger siblings, and my grandma worked. I feel that using creative writing as a medium for sharing family history and this immigration experience can foster cultural empathy and create a sense of cultural humility towards each other.
My Halmeoni cannot look her ghost in the eye; as if it would enter her body and grasp her limbs, and force my helpless Halmeoni to return to work. Her bones rusted and hands calloused. Her daughters and son raised each other. She would work and work and Halabeoji read his newspaper. We all have ghosts. The ones that seemingly fade, until unexpectedly unearthed by a familiar scent or reminiscent sight.
Her ghost lives within the shop. The mayonnaise, the lettuce, the Italian dressing. The rye, the wheat, the white bread. The spot in the kitchen where the oldest daughter would watch while she was snapped at by impatient customers. The grey tiled floor where her son knelt restocking chips as he watched a man berate his mother, then fling his sandwich in her face before storming out of the store. My Halmeoni sent three of her children to college by making sandwiches. Those three went on to attend graduate school and raise children my Halmeoni adores.
We all have ghosts. Halmeoni’s never faded. Her bones stayed worn, her hands calloused, and her ghost continually haunting her. Yet Halmeoni was happy. She had sacrificed her body and her pride, but she was still content. For when she is reminded of her arduous past, the ghost crawls up her back and bides in its greed-painted sulk. Only she sees not the looming shadow, but the product of it: her grandchildren that she so closely cherishes.
She pours her heart into her grandchildren—into the deep, brisk broth that she ladles over smooth buckwheat noodles. She places a small, soft mound of rice on top of dried seaweed. She nestles sweet dried anchovies in the center and folds the seaweed with her chopsticks. She lifts the folded seaweed and my youngest cousin opens her mouth. Her cheeks bulge full of rice, and she giggles. My Halmeoni’s heart swells, as she watches us enjoy her cooking. Though she never says I love you, I have known since the day I met her.
When Halmeoni takes her final breath, she will see the sprouting seed she has planted in a foreign land blossom and lean towards the sun, slowly binding its root to the unfamiliar soil. The flower flourishing, in a firm foundation under the golden heat—Halmeoni will watch it, and Halmeoni will smile.
The ones whose translucent shadow never fades. The single door jingles its melody, she calls for a 17 special in her hollow voice, the cash register pings.