The Sound of Bells

Written for: Bonetree in the Yuletide 2007 Challenge
by lydiabell
Thanks to CadetDru and tzikeh for beta-reading and hand-holding.

At first, Kwangsoo hadn't realized that the decorations had anything to do with his faith. He couldn't understand what the people were saying as they hung shiny silver ropes and colored glass balls. It wasn't until they'd hung a caricature of St. Nicholas that he had made the connection between the bright trappings and the celebration of the Savior's birth.

There had been a young boy from Pan Mun Jom in the bed next to his that morning. Beaming around a stick of striped candy, he'd shown Kwangsoo a card one of the nurses had given him, with a picture of the Christ child and his mother in a barn surrounded by Magi and shepherds. Upon closer inspection, Kwangsoo noticed that all of the figures were dogs dressed as human beings.

In his church in Pyongyang, Christmas had been celebrated modestly, with nativity scenes and a simple service. They'd heard of the St. Nicholas tradition in Western cultures, but hadn't practiced it themselves. They had sung hymns, and played the church's beautiful bells to express their joy and gratitude.

The bells had long since been silenced, the church bulldozed.

His family had been forced to leave their home in the North when the government had begun to arrest those who would not renounce Christianity. They'd been able to bring nothing but clothing, photos, and their Bible.

He was starting to wonder whether he'd fled people who wanted to destroy his religion, only to find shelter with people who simply degraded it without a thought.

Kwangsoo was grateful when the priest came to his bedside.

The man's Korean was very limited, but he was able to convey a few phrases, such as "My Korean is very limited," and "I hope you're feeling better," and "Would you like me to pray with you?" Kwangsoo eagerly nodded his assent to the latter, and nodded again when the priest pulled out a string of beads and gave him a questioning look.

He wasn't Catholic, but he had Catholic friends and knew what the rosary was. He watched the man's hands sweep over the beads and listened to the rhythm of the prayers, adding his own murmured words to those of the priest.

When the prayer was over, he thought to ask the man what he felt about the baubles and the card, but he couldn't think of a simple enough way to express himself. Instead, he broached a subject that had been troubling him since he'd woken up surrounded by Americans. "I fight for the South now," he stated, enunciating carefully, "but I am from the North."

"I know," the priest said. He seemed to search for words for a moment. "It is good."

He nodded. He'd expected nothing less from a man of God, but what of the others? He glanced around the room meaningfully.

The priest followed his gaze. "It is good," he said again with a gentle smile. "They heal all."

His doctor had some contraption attached to his head from which a sprig of leaves and berries hung. He must have noticed Kwangsoo eying it, because he pointed to it and waggled his eyebrows. Kwangsoo just stared at him. The doctor shrugged and set about taking his vital signs, chattering all the while.

He'd been shot in the left side -- not too badly, as far as he could tell, as the pain was tolerable and none of the doctors and nurses looked very worried when they checked on him. Still, he couldn't help flinching when the doctor removed the bandage and carefully probed his wound. The doctor paused in his monologue and looked Kwangsoo in the eye. He placed his hand on Kwangsoo's arm and spoke again, this time in low, soothing tones. Kwangsoo remembered the priest's words, and began to truly believe that he would be all right.

After dinner, it seemed like everyone in the camp had gathered in the recovery room. Upbeat music played on the radio, and everyone wore red and green and cheerful expressions.

A man in a red dress and hat and a false beard came to his bedside. He was carrying an enormous sack, from which he withdrew a small package and handed it to Kwangsoo. Kwangsoo was startled. It would be rude to refuse the gift, but he had nothing to give in return. Anyway, what kind of gift did one give to men who wore dresses and dressed up dogs as the Holy Family? The man seemed not to notice his dilemma, but just beamed at him and moved on to the patient in the next bed.

Kwangsoo opened the package, careful not to tear the bright paper. It was a bar of chocolate. Despite his misgivings, he grinned. They hadn't had money for chocolate, or any luxuries, since leaving Pyongyang. His boys would be thrilled.

The priest waved at him from across the room and smiled as he sang. Next to him stood a young man, barely older than his own eldest son, holding a stuffed toy. He smiled, too, and said words that Kwangsoo could neither hear nor understand but imagined to be friendly all the same. In a corner, his doctor danced with a nurse. She laughed when he pointed to the greenery on his head, but leaned in and gave him a kiss. Kwangsoo settled back against his pillow and closed his eyes. He was warm and safe, and surrounded by kind people, and if he ignored the gaudy decorations, he could almost imagine that he heard the sound of bells.