It Will Be Good
Staring back at her was a Barbie doll, subtle eyeliner applied to perfection. Coats of hairspray, and the work of a steaming straightener, disguised her unruly, black hair. She grabbed her phone, tilted her head, and smiled at the reflection of herself as she snapped another mirror pic to post on her Instagram story.
Three sharp knocks. The doorknob turned and jiggled against the lock. “Sierra, open this door right now!”
“Ok, ok, I’m coming!”
A hand on one hip, Sierra opened the door for her disgruntled mother. “Are you ready?”
“Bring your bags out so Dad can load the car.”
Just a few days ago, her parents had announced that they were leaving for a business trip. Sierra would have to stay with her grandma in South Korea. Her plans to spend Spring Break with her friends, shopping and eating ice cream by the pool, were officially ruined.
“B8, B8, B8,” Sierra muttered as she searched for her seat. She squeezed past a mother and child who were sitting in her row and plopped down next to the window. As the plane accelerated across the runway, she saw the mother take the little boy’s hand. He smiled, dimples appearing in each of his chubby cheeks. Sierra looked away and clenched her teeth. Her legs felt weak. She squeezed her hands into fists, suddenly wishing her own mom was next to her. Pushing these thoughts from her mind, Sierra quickly snapped another selfie. “First time on a plane! See you in Korea!” she captioned. Just then, her phone buzzed, notifying her of a new post. Her best friends, bulky sunglasses perched on noses, were posing by the beach. Each girl had her arm around the other as they smiled and waved at the camera. Sierra’s heart ached as she realized they hadn’t said anything to her. Not even a, “We will miss you,” or “Have fun!” It was as if their 4-year friendship had already been forgotten. She shut her phone off and closed her eyes as the plane jolted upwards into the sky.
After 13 hours of sleeping and binging The Office, Sierra arrived in South Korea.
An elderly woman with dark grey hair, a slight hunch, and a warm smile walked over.
“Oh, uhh . . . yes. Hi.”
“Wow! I don’t see you since you were small baby,” her grandma said as she hugged Sierra tight. “You call me Halmoney, Grandma in Korean.”
Halmoney smiled, took Sierra’s hand, and led her to the bus station. Sierra’s face turned a deep red, as her eyes darted quickly around to see if anyone was looking. She was relieved when her grandma let go to give the driver their tickets. It was Sierra’s second time riding public transportation ever. She slowly sat down on the hard plastic chair, reminding herself that a shower would rinse away the germs.
The bus carried them down a dusty, dirt road and eventually dropped them off a few blocks from Halmoney’s house. Sierra looked down at her now muddied mules. She sighed as her grandma talked non-stop, her speech heaving with a Korean accent and incorrect grammar. “I was so happy to hear that you coming! I make lot of food. I think you like?”
A small, one-story house came into view. Skyscrapers and bright lights winked from the neighboring city of Seoul. Sierra bit her lip, but it wasn’t enough to prevent the inevitable explosion of a girl who’d never left her cozy home. “Let me make this clear. I didn’t even want to come. Why am I here? I hate this! I hate planes! I hate buses! I hate getting my shoes dirty! And I’m never, ever going to sleep in a place like that,” she pointed at her grandma’s house.
Halmoney looked at her with puzzled eyes for a long second. She unlocked the door and carried Sierra’s luggage inside. With nowhere else to go, Sierra followed. She ignored the dinner her grandma had prepared and stormed off into the only room with a bed. Blankets were already set up on the ground. Not knowing where she was meant to sleep, Sierra took the bed, letting her grandma lie on the ground.
A blinding ray of sunlight and squawking birds jolted Sierra up. It was 6:00 AM. Sierra headed straight for the shower and for the first time, skipped the makeup and curling iron. There was no point in looking pretty when she knew no one here. On the kitchen table sat a different spread from last night - freshly cooked rice, steamed eggs, and seaweed soup. “Jo-oon a chim, good morning! Did you sleep good?” her grandma exclaimed. She glanced up from her cooking and gave Sierra a quick but genuine smile. Sierra winced at the thought of the words she had screamed at her grandma yesterday. Either she forgot about it or she’s crazy, Sierra thought.
“Good morning,” she muttered.
“I go shopping and make kimchi today! You come with me?”
Aisles and aisles were packed with colorful fruits, vegetables, beverages, snacks, and chopstick sets for children. There were stands where workers cooked different types of soups and dishes to serve as samples. Her grandma weaved her way through the crowd, and headed straight to the back of the store. After looking through every single cardboard box filled with yangbaechu cabbages, she finally chose one containing fresh and vibrant leaves. Sierra scooped up the box before her grandma could try anything to hurt her back. It was the least she could do after the rough night they had yesterday.
When they arrived home, her grandma made a red paste that they would smother onto the cabbages. She made Sierra whisk the seasoning -- sesame seeds, ground red peppers, minced garlic, and a generous dash of fish oil -- into the sauce. “I made my first kimchi with my grandma too.”
“That’s nice,” Sierra responded. They squatted down next to a large mixing tub containing the cabbage. Halmoney demonstrated how to rub each cabbage leaf with the red paste they had just made.
“Tell me about Mom,” Sierra said. It was the first time she had initiated a genuine conversation.
“Well, your mom . . .,” Halmoney chuckled. “She was stubborn girl! I had work and told my sister to pick your mom up from school. But your mom wouldn’t go in the car because she was scared. She say over and over ‘stranger danger!’ I had to leave work early because your mom wouldn’t go with aunt.”
They went on and on, telling stories and laughing and making kimchi.
“I’m sorry,” Sierra finally whispered.
After a long-held silence, her grandma responded, “I still remember what my grandma tell me when we made kimchi together. She said kimchi only good if cabbage is good and red paste is good. No matter how good cabbage is, kimchi will not be good if paste is not good. If paste is good but cabbage is bad, then kimchi will be no good.” Halmoney took a piece of the cabbage and put it in Sierra’s mouth. Sierra wrinkled her nose and stuck out her tongue after swallowing.
“I think we got bad cabbage.”
Halmoney laughed, “You have to be patient and wait for ee-guh -ferment and ripen. Wait a few days and it taste very good. This kimchi will be good.” And Sierra believed her.
Lying on the patterned blankets on the floor, Sierra thought about the day she had with her grandma. Suddenly, a deep cry escaped her. All the tears that had been pushed down for years rushed out. She felt that her life had been piled on by a red paste that reeked with poor influence - from friends who only accepted her with contacts and straightened hair; from laughing at people’s jokes about her culture and race because she was afraid that if she didn’t laugh, she would cry; from parents who told her to ignore those girls and to simply “work hard.” Her guilty tears were mixed with joy as she realized what had been weighing her down for so long. She decided that under all the fake smiles, burned hair, and foundation, she would rediscover her good, strong cabbage. It would take time - just like it would for the cabbage to ripen. Hearing her cries, Halmoney came in and sat next to Sierra. She wrapped her frail, yet strong arms around her, and Sierra whispered to herself, “Yes, this kimchi will be good.”
Anna Nam is a fourteen-year-old student from Eastern Pennsylvania. In her free time, she loves to write, cook, and play soccer!