If Cho Se-hu※i (b. 1942) had written nothing else besides his linked-story novel Nanjangi ki ssoaollin chagu※n kong (A Tiny Ball Launched by a Dwarf), he would remain one of modern Korea's most important writers. Such is the significance of that work in the history of modern Korean letters. After making his literary debut in the Kyo※nghyang shinmun, a Seoul daily, in 1965, Cho published but a single story during the next ten years. But then in short order, from 1975 to 1978, he published the twelve stories that would form Nanjangi ka ssoaollin chagu※n kong. Two books have appeared since: Shigan yo※haeng (Time Travel, 1983) and Ch'immuk u※i ppuri (The Roots of Silence, 1985).

In Nanjangi ka ssoaollin chagu※n kong, or Nanssogong, as the book is known among aficionados, Cho set himself a daunting task: to critique Korean industrialization and the captains of Korean industry during the latter years of the Park Chung Hee dictatorshsip. To do so without running afoul of the regime's strict security laws required the author to utilize a subtle irony in his narratives. At the same time, to reach the widest possible audience, Cho employed syntax that was simple enough to be understood by any Korean with a rudimentary education. The result, like many great works of literature, is a book whose basic message is evident but whose deeper meanings await the careful and deliberate reader. In any event Cho succeeded admirably in his undertaking: the book has appeared in more than 100 printings since its publication in 1978.

Alternating among a laboring family, a family of the newly emerging middle class, and a wealthy industrialist's family, the stories in Nanssogong are written in a spare and occasionally abrupt style featuring rapid shifts of scene and viewpoint. Long paragraphs alternate with stretches of terse dialogue. Reproductions of bureaucratic forms and an extract from a laboring family's budget book give us a taste of the realities of a dwarf's life - the dwarf epitomizing the "little people" on whose backs the Korean economic miracle took place, and his tiny ball suggesting the eternal legacy of the laboring masses. These particularities of life in South Korea in the 1970s are juxtaposed with snippets of information on science past and present and allusions to the workings of the universe-two of the stories in the novel are entitled "Uju yo※haeng" (Space Travel) and "Kwedo hoejo※n" (Orbital Rotation). Two other stories are built upon the concept of spatial form: "Moebiusu※ u※i tti" (The Möbius Strip), included in this issue of Korean Literature Today, and "Ku※llain sshi u※i pyo※ng" (The Klein Bottle). The titles of these stories refer to objects whose inner and outer surfaces are interchangeable. In Nanssogong interchangeability symbolizes the dualities, contradictions, and anomalies of industrialization and of contemporary Korean society.

"The Möbius Strip" was first published in the journal Sedae in February 1976. "Knifeblade" (K'allal) appeared first in Munhak sasang in December 1975. "A Tiny Ball Launched by a Dwarf," the title story of the novel, first appeared in print in the Winter 1976 issue of Munhak kwa chiso※ng.








There are three knives in Shin-ae's kitchen. Two are kitchen knives - one large and one small. Once a year Shin-ae calls a knife sharpener to put a new edge on the large one. A good sharpener knows knives. There are some who don't. Those who don't will start with the grindstone for the first sharpening. Shin-ae snatches the knife from such sharpeners and goes inside. When the ones who know knives take this one in hand their eyes open wide and they silently observe it. Knife sharpeners are struck by the sight of a good knife. They start by gently putting the blade to a fine whetstone. Sharpeners these days will say that a person could live and die a hundred times and never produce such a knife. To make this knife, they say, the blacksmith would have tempered the blade numerous times, hammered it countless times. His son would have worked the bellows. Who knows, the son might still be alive. If so, he would be a grandfather by now. And someday he will die. The smith will have long since passed on. Shin-ae's mother-in-law, who had this knife made for her own use when the smith was alive and hammering- she too has passed on. Shin-ae is forty-six. It won't do to have the large knife sharpened by an amateur. With the small one it's all right. It's a run-of-the-mill knife she bought several years ago. There's not much to say about a knife like that. She bought it for 180 wo※n from a knife peddler who was hawking his wares in the usual way by scraping the blades of two knives together. It's a run-of-the-mill knife you can buy for a similar price just about anywhere. The third knife in Shin-ae's kitchen is a fillet knife. It's a frightening knife. Taut blade, 3 millimeters at the back; pointed tip; 32 centimeters long.

It doesn't seem like a knife made for kitchen work. The thoughts that come to mind when she takes it by the handle are truly frightening. Hyo※n-u, Shin-ae's husband, bought it the previous spring. Why did he buy such a knife?

She can't figure it out. Shin-ae likes to compare herself and her husband to dwarfs. We're tiny dwarfs- dwarfs.

"Well, aren't we?" she asked her husband, who was home from work. "Am I wrong?"


Her husband was reading the newspaper.

High officials call for social reforms; no party restructuring, declares opposition head; commentary on National Security Law; UN Secretary-General calls for ROK-DPRK talks; U.S.-USSR spacecraft stage dramatic docking high above Elbe River; violent crime up 800 percent over past decade; foundation head embezzles 100 million wo※n from school; South Vietnamese refugees in U.S. demonstrate against extravagant ways of former officials; employment outlook dim despite recovery; add-ons boost budget to 1.52 trillion wo※n; new Youido National Assembly Building rests on twenty-four pillars costing 10 million wo※n each; residents of condemned dwellings in redevelopment zone lack 300,000 wo※n, give up apartment rights, seek new housing; Kunsan tearooms cite defense tax, hike cost of phone calls; "dead" man revived at graveside; armed robbery; rape; forgery; timber thieves; red pepper cut with sawdust; fishmongers add dye, pump up fish; pop song "Too Much" found indecent, banned; winning number for housing lottery; actress bares all; "For Whose Sake Chastity? " reads ad; university professor calls maldistribution of profits an invitation to crime and consumption. Nothing different here from the previous day's newspaper. Nothing out of the ordinary in these stories. And yet people read the same newspaper day after day.

Her husband was reading that newspaper.

"Am I?"


"Will you please put that paper away?"

Such is life, Shin-ae tells herself once more. Last night her husband tossed and turned, unable to sleep, till the owl in the wall clock hooted two in the morning. He leaves early in the morning. Spends twelve or thirteen hours away from home. What he does at work, what happens to him there, the anxiety, doubt, fatigue that follow him around constantly- his hopes have evaporated. From the radio in her daughter's room across the way came the voice of a foreign singer whose face Shin-ae couldn't picture, singing in whatever language those people spoke. Someday that girl would be thinking in a different language. Shin-ae worried about her daughter. If only their situation were a bit different. Why so much anxiety about managing their small family? Her husband was reading the newspaper, as if by doing so he wished to add to the fatigue that had already accumulated. He was exasperated with himself and the life he led. He felt ill at ease in society and in the times in which he lived. He had studied history. He had read many books. The thoughts written down in those many books had once upon a time influenced young Hyo※n-u.

He had wanted to talk about all he had learned from books. And then suddenly he became taciturn. He grew up. Likewise Shin-ae had once been a girl of many dreams. A bright and pretty girl. One who grew up using her mind. Hyo※n-u had said, the first time she met him, that his greatest desire was to write a good book. The two of them fell deeply in love. And so they married. They knew each other's ideals and they held high hopes. But in the face of reality those ideals, those hopes, were of no help to them. The husband found it necessary to earn money. This was the thing he hated the most. To earn this despised money he found it necessary to work hard. For his mother had fallen ill. It was her stomach. She died of stomach cancer. The mother having passed on, the father became ill. It was an illness the doctors couldn't identify. The father suffered terrible pain. Not even morphine injections offered relief. The doctors said he would soon die from the mysterious disease. But he lived another two years, fighting the terrible pain. He died at the mental hospital where he spent his last months. The father had lived his entire life at odds with society and the times. Shin-ae was well aware that her husband was cut from the same cloth. The man whose greatest desire had been to write a good book couldn't compose a single line. He decided he was aphasic. Although he worked with deadly determination to earn his detested money, all he had to show for it was debt. The hospital, while offering no cure for his parents, was forever demanding utterly prohibitive sums from the proceeds of that determination. He was too drained to weep when his father finally passed on. As they consoled each other, husband and wife sold the Ch'o※ngjin-dong home in downtown Seoul that they had long occupied, and paid off the debts. With what remained they had bought a small house here in the outskirts of the city. The problem was the water. There wasn't any the previous night, or the night before that. Three nights before, only a little came out. Shin-ae had squatted in front of the faucet in the yard, waiting for the water. And at two-thirty in the morning it had finally come on. It had trickled out, the tiniest amount, from the faucet there by the front gate, the lowest area of their lot. She had filled a bucket using a small earthenware water jar and taken it into the washroom. Before she could half fill the bathtub, the faucet gurgled and the water stopped. At four-thirty the heavens began to brighten. Sleepless and thinking dark thoughts, she forced herself to prepare breakfast.

Her husband didn't put down the newspaper. He had told her that at work, in pedestrian underpasses, when viewed by indifferent passersby, when surrounded by exhaust from vehicle tailpipes, he felt pursued and at a loss. He had said that every day without fail when he commuted on the packed buses he saw city garbage trucks leaving on their rounds several at a time. Shin-ae understands what her husband is saying. She wonders how many souls a day are loaded into those garbage trucks and then disposed of? But no one in this world talks in that manner.

Fatigue has accumulated on her husband's eyelids like covers on a bed. He puts the newspaper aside. He looks like he's about to faint dead away.

"You haven't listened to a word I've said."

It seems to her now that even the members of her own family each speak a different language. What they say never gets through.

"What in the world are you talking about?" her husband asked.

"I'm saying we're dwarfs!" Shin-ae said, practically shouting.

"How come we're dwarfs?!" came her daughter's voice from the veranda.

Followed by the idiotic blaring of a television. The family in the house behind theirs had turned on their set. What are they, deaf? It's so loud. Aren't there any normal people anymore? At the same hour each night the woman of that house called her young children, and even the housekeeper before she had finished the dishes, and sat them down, and they all proceeded to sniffle. First the housekeeper weeps, then the woman weeps, and finally the children sniffle. When they aren't crying they're laughing. And if it's not crying or laughing then it's singing. "Why, Why Do You Call Me? " or else "Nothing Better" or else "Darling, You Don't Know."

The children who live in that house read weekly magazines in bed. Among the articles they read is this one: "'Sexy Sounds's From a Car - Orgasmic Outcries and Heavy Breathing, Recorded Live."

The soap opera continues to blare from the TV. Two members of that family aren't home yet. The man of the house and the eldest daughter. The man is an inspector at the tax office. What's lacking in that family is one thing alone- a soul. There's always plenty of everything else. Well, perhaps the "always" part isn't quite accurate. Misconduct, corruption, bureaucratic cleanup-there was a time when those words appeared almost daily in the newspaper. Only then did the family in back lower the volume on their TV. They stowed away their refrigerator, washer, piano, tape player, and other such possessions in the basement and brought out their old clothes to wear in public. The newspaper often quoted a high official as saying that any government official whose misconduct came to light would be dealt with in accordance with the law. But the misconduct of the man of the house in back must not have come to light, for he emerged unscathed. "If misconduct comes to light"- these words smacked of a very peculiar irony.

In any event, the family in back emerged unscathed, the television soap opera continued, and the man of the house and the eldest daughter still hadn't returned. Where could that man be at this hour, and what could he be doing? Where could the eldest daughter be, and what could she be doing?

The eldest daughter had taken a drug. Fortunately they had found her shortly thereafter and had managed to save her. A doctor arrived, put a rubber tube down her throat, and flushed out the poison. The tax inspector and his wife heaved a sigh of relief. The doctor, though, shook his head.

"Too early. If you let her stay here, she'll take it again."

"Then what should we do, Doctor?" asked the woman of he house in back. She trembled pathetically.

'"With all due respect, you should take her to a clinic."

"Excuse me?"

"A clinic."

"Then, would you please have her admitted to your clinic, Doctor?"

"I'm afraid I can't help you," said the doctor. "You need to find an obstetrics clinic."

At the time, the eldest daughter was wearing a long skirt.

That morning Shin-ae had seen her leave the house in long, loose-fitting pants that swept back and forth as she walked down the alley.

If you go by the government pay scale, the salary of the man of the house in back is quite a bit less than that of Shin-ae's husband. Her small family lives humbly on a larger salary but their large family lives extravagantly on a smaller salary. How do you explain it? We've heard about the good life till our ears ache, but the family in back seem to be the only ones enjoying it. No poverty there. And so Shin-ae asks herself: For goodness' sake, which side is that family on? And which side are we on? Which side is good, and which is bad? And for goodness' sake, can you even say there's a good side to this world?

Feeling edgier by the minute, Shin-ae claps her hands over her ears trying to block out the sound of the TV from the house in back.

"Hye-yo※ng," she says, raising her voice to her daughter in the room across the way. "How about turning off the radio?"

"Is that better?"

The sound grows softer but the English-language song from her daughter's radio is still audible among the actors's voices from the TV.

"Kill it."

"Mom, you're acting weird tonight."

Her daughter approaches.

She's in her pajamas.

She's holding her math notebook.

"If you're going to study, the radio has to be off."

"Mom, you're saying that because you don't know any better."

"I don't Are you telling me I'm wrong?"

"You're wrong."

Shin-ae hears her heart drop.

"All right, then, how am I wrong?"

Again she considers her age and her daughter's. They live in the same world yet fail to understand each other. It's because they think differently. She grows morose.

In the meantime her husband has fallen asleep. His face wears a scowl. But he'll be better come morning. What sort of anxieties had kept him awake until late the previous night?

"It's too loud!" called out her son from the room between his parents' and sister's rooms.

Shin-ae, daughter in tow, went out.

"What's the fuss?"

"We've got to move, or else! Listen to that racket. We get it from the front and we get it from the back. Why should we put up with it?"

The TV from the house across the alley sounded louder in the middle room. Shin-ae hadn't been paying attention to the sound of that TV that evening.

"At least we can try to be quiet," said Shin-ae. "Father's sleeping."

"Are you kidding? How can he sleep through this?"

"You're not old enough to know what it means to be exhausted."

In her son's hand is a black notebook several times thicker than her daughter's math notebook. Her son's classes are more advanced than her daughter's. It's amazing the variety of knowledge that's accumulating in such orderly fashion inside his head. At this rate, a few more years of study and he'll have the opportunity for more privileges and income than anyone else his age.

But Shin-ae felt stifled when she mulled over her son's future. She sensed that for some time now her son believed that nothing was right except what he learned at school. The schoolteachers taught that everything is good. This was the accepted way of thinking in society at large. But to Shin-ae's son it was an absurd lie, behind which much was hidden.

The son had absorbed too much influence from his father. He would probably suffer on account of the ideas passed on to him by his father. Wouldn't those ideas, so forthright, so righteous, prove to be yet another source of aggravation for her son? It was clear that he would meet with a frightful shock when he ventured out into the world.

"Your father couldn't get to sleep last night," said Shin-ae.

The TV from across the alley was as loud as ever.

She recalled the face of the man of that house.

This man works in the advertising department of a baking company. Shin-ae was among those who had received a box of cookies from him. The wife had distributed a box to each of the neighbors, saying her husband had been promoted to assistant director.

"Just a little something -see how you like them," the woman said. "Daddy's assistant director now."

She was volunteering information.

"Things are looking up now. People who know our situation are making a big fuss because we haven't done anything for them. And it's understandable, since the budget for the ad department is several billion wo※n. The people who handle TV, radio, and newspaper ads have started coming around. And people from the ad agencies too. It's not just cookies- his company produces ice cream and milk too, and that's why they have such an unbelievable budget for advertising."

"Billions? I'll say it's unbelievable. But why do these people come to your house?"

The woman stared at Shin-ae. And then she spoke quickly.

"They want him to buy ads. They want his business, and to get it they come loaded with money. People who know our situation know that in six months Daddie;s going to make a bundle."

"A bundle of what?"

"Money, that's what."

"How much of a bundle?"

That was the start of it. The family across the alley grew noisy. And more than just noisy, the house was unusually well lit and produced new smells. From the vent window of the kitchen, which faced Shin-ae's yard, the smell of broiling meat rode the breeze to Shin-ae's house. When her family sits down to dinner around their humble meal table dominated by vegetable dishes, the aroma of broiled short ribs wafts across their yard.

The sound of voices comes in too.

"Children, eat your dinner."

"I don't want it."

"I cooked some ribs for you."

"I said I don't want any!"

"Well, later, then. Pok-sun, why don't you bring everybody a glass of orange juice."

Like the neighbors in back, those across the alley became a scourge to Shin-ae.

"Would you like to see our new TV?" the woman had said not long afterward.

This was the TV that was blaring now.

"If a problem is important then you need to sit yourself down till you solve it," Shin-ae told her son. "You can do anything you put your mind to. Don't let yourself be bothered by the sound of a TV in someone else's house; if you do, then it means your mind is drifting. Didn't you say you wanted a job where you could make a difference? The great people of the past, they didn't dedicate their lives to outmoded notions. I think I heard that from you. You say such things and yet you let little things get to you. If you can't study, then go outside and get some fresh air."

Her son said nothing.

He wore a pained expression.

Shin-ae had spoken and her heart ached.

She closed the door to her son's room.

Her daughter had stepped down to the yard.

Shin-ae saw her turn on the faucet at the front of the yard.

"Not a peep out of it," her daughter said.

"No reason why there should be."

Shin-ae approached and her daughter observed her.

"Please go to bed early tonight," her daughter said.


"I'll get the water."

"What's this all about?" Shin-ae demanded.

"I want to do it, that's all."

"It doesn't come on until two in the morning or so."

"Still, I can sleep afterward. Every night I go to bed early and it bothers me to think about you sitting in front of the faucet. You're out here in the middle of the night. When other moms are sound asleep. Other moms let their housekeeper get the water; they go to bed early. The people in front and back of us, they have their own water supply-they don't need much from the city. It upsets me to think that every night when I'm going to sleep my mom is out here like someone on a remote desert island. Please go to bed early tonight- I'll take care of the water for you."

"You'll be dozing off in class."

Shin-ae spoke like this, but her heart thrilled. All of a sudden our Hye-yo※ng is so mature! And before I know it she'll be old enough to say, "Mom, I'm tired of everything."

"But I'm still wondering about what you said earlier. Why am I wrong?"

"Did I say that?"

"Yes- when I said you have to turn off the radio when you study, you told me I was wrong."

"Really, Mom."

Her daughter blushed.

On the TVs front and back a commercial jingle came to a climax.

"I'd already forgotten," said her daughter. "But Mom, please try to be a little more understanding."

"About what?"

"I feel like I can study better when I'm listening to a pop song."

"That's a new one."

"Honest, Mom, that's how I feel."

"All of a sudden the world you two live in seems so narrow."

"You mean it was different when you were young?"

"Yes, it was. When your dad and I were your age we took part in campaigns in the farm villages-we were all quite devoted. And they tell me your grandfather spent time in China, Manchuria, Siberia, even Hawaii. Now there's a man who had a hard time of it."

"But why?"

"Why?" Shin-ae looked into her daughter's face. " For the country-that's why."

"But I don't understand why Grandfather was unhappy till the end of his life."

"The way things worked out didn't appeal to him. Bring me that bucket," said Shin-ae. "For you kids, there isn't a country to save anymore."

"Mom, why don't you go inside now," her daughter said again. "I'll go to bed after I get the water."

"Well, we could both get it."

"Is it on already?"

Shin-ae squatted, almost kneeling, at the front of the yard and lifted the iron lid of the water meter housing. Then she bent over. "Goodness-now how did I forget that."

To her daughter she sounded uncommonly composed. From the housing she retrieved the fillet knife.

"I was using it this afternoon and I guess I left it there."

"Mom, that's blood, isn't it?"

"Nothing to be scared of," Shin-ae said. " I had a little accident this afternoon." Her voice was still composed.

The daughter looked into her mom's face.

Shin-ae thought of the dwarf.

Earlier that day the dwarf had been standing in front of the two neighbor women, toolbag draped over his shoulder.

"Trust me, ma'am," said the dwarf. "Please trust me and let take care of it."

The woman of the house in back shook her head. "I don't trust you."

The dwarf said nothing.

The woman inspected the dwarf. ""How old are you?"

"Fifty-two, ma'am."

"Good lord, is that right?!" She inspected him once again.

The dwarf spoke up: "All of a sudden there's no more work. And my children lost their jobs at the factory and they're out of work. Please let me do this-I'll give you an honest job."

But the two women, looming over him like giants, shook their heads. The dwarf did not even come up to their shoulders.

Shin-ae had been looking out the vent window of her kitchen. The dwarf stood silently, toolbag over his shoulder.

"Mister?" Shin-ae spoke impulsively. "Could you do something for us?" She had said this without knowing what the dwarf did or what she could give him to do in their house.

"He's lying," said the woman from across the alley before the dwarf could answer. "He says he can put in a new faucet so we can have water sooner. Have you ever heard of such a thing?"

"Why is it a lie?" said Shin-ae. Her voice sounded louder than she had anticipated.

"Well, if it isn't, then you have him do it and see what happens," said the woman from the house in back.

"Thank you, we will," Shin-ae said as she closed the vent window.

She emerged from the kitchen and stepped down to the yard. The faucet stood in the sunshine, bone dry. There wasn't a drop of moisture in the house.

Out she went. But it was the strangest thing. No one was there. The dwarf was nowhere to be seen. As Shin-ae walked up the alley she looked toward the side street that connected with the main street. The dwarf had left the alley and was turning right onto the main street, where the bus ran.

Shin-ae scurried toward the main street. The dwarf was out of sight. She was met with the ear-splitting sound of a stereo from an appliance shop. She followed the main street until she arrived at a weathered sign. On it were painted a faucet and a pump.

"What can we do for you, ma'am?" said a man inside the shop. "Are you planning to dig a well?" he asked politely.


Shin-ae peered inside.

"Come on in."

"We've not getting any water from the city line."

Shin-ae entered the shop like someone being pushed from behind.

"Then you ought to have a well dug." The man was standing in front of a heap of metal pipe. "Once you have the well, you put in your own water service. We've put in practically every private service in the neighborhood. Where do you live, ma'am?"

"Down below the vineyard."

"We've done a lot of work there. Hooked up the gentleman who works at the tax office."

"The missus here lives just this side of them," said another man. Half a dozen men were playing flower cards at the foot of the pile of pipe.

"Well, then, you probably know all about us, ma'am. We hooked up the baking company gentleman too. Turn on the tap and the water gushes out, anytime you want. No different from using the city water line."

As the man spoke, a chipped front tooth came into view. His right arm sported a tattoo of a nude woman. Again he spoke, revealing the chipped tooth.

"Don't let the cost of it be your priority, or you'll end up worrying about water the rest of your life. Just try it and see how you like it. We had a gentleman ask us to come and look at his water line-well, you can look till the cows come home but what good will it do? While we're on the subject, I might add that we did a job up there where the president of the wig factory lives. They have a big swimming pool and they fill it with their own water. It sounds simple, but when I tell people that an automatic pump does the filling, they're always surprised."

"What if we put in a new faucet? Won't we get our water sooner that way?"

"Hell, no-doesn't make sense."

Shin-ae regretted having entered the shop. "Well, that's all I wanted to know." Best be gone quickly, she told herself.


The man's shout made Shin-ae's heart drop.

"You-I'm talking to you!"

With a frightening scowl the man hefted a cast iron pump by the bottom. It was unimaginable. The dwarf had appeared outside and the man was about to run out after him. Steadying the heavy tool belt on his shoulder, the dwarf stepped backward hesitantly, then walked quickly out of sight. Shin-ae nudged the man aside and left. The man said something, revealing his chipped tooth, and followed Shin-ae. She couldn't understand what he was saying. The dwarf was taking the main street. Shin-ae ran along, not looking back. From the shopfront the man shouted something. Shin-ae pursued the dwarf while trying to calm her racing heart. Presently the man's voice could no longer be heard. The dwarf stepped clear of a cultivator emerging from an alley on the left. This was the last place you would expect to see a cultivator, a machine manufactured at a farm equipment factory, transporting a load of coal briquettes.

Shin-ae walked right up to the dwarf. "So here you are."

The dwarf scanned the surroundings, then stepped into the alley. Shin-ae, remaining where the dwarf had stood, saw the man in front of the pump shop glaring in her direction.

Is he still there?" the dwarf asked, not stirring from the alley.

"He went back inside," Shin-ae said.

The dwarf set down his toolbag and mopped the sweat from his face.

"Why are you scared of him?" Shin-ae asked.

The dwarf blinked like a scared rabbit.

What could possibly have inspired such terror? Shin-ae wondered. Several people stood in front of a drugstore waiting to use a pay telephone. As she turned to look at them the dwarf moved his hand. He tore off a piece of pastry from his pocket and put it in his mouth.

"Could you help us out, mister?" said Shin-ae.

Tight-lipped, the dwarf observed her.

Shin-ae turned and walked off. Behind her she heard the steps of the still silent dwarf.

"I'm sorry," he said by and by. "I was afraid you and the neighbor women would get into a fight on my account, so I left."

The dwarf's toolbag, which he carried over his shoulder, contained a variety of well-worn tools. That toolbag was much too heavy for him.

"Why don't you set it down," said Shin-ae.

The dwarf set to work.

He removed the iron lid of the water meter housing and examined the meter. Then he produced a measuring stick and measured its depth. He also measured the height of the faucet above the ground in front of the soy crock terrace.

"Ma'am, look," said the dwarf. "This spigot's six feet or so above your water line. And it's about five feet above where the line joins your meter. The other problem is, the city doesn't have enough water for everybody. And the pressure's low. So I'm going to put in a new spigot for you that's lower. That way you can get your water before those other families, because their spigots are high too. I'm not a liar, ma'am."

"I know," said Shin-ae, her heart pounding.

"We'll keep the new spigot behind the meter," said the dwarf. "Can't put it in front; that would be cheating- same as stealing. You'll have to get down on your stomach to fetch water, but that's better than staying up all night. I imagine you'll get your water three or four hours before the other families. That will get you by for the time being. One of these days we'll live in a world where everyone has enough water."

The dwarf produced his well-worn tools and set to work. Shin-ae's heart was still racing. The dwarf bent over so far he looked as if were planted upside down, and cut through the city water line. His tools had been used so long they were pretty much useless now. That seemed to make his work more difficult. Her had one advantage, though: his small build enabled him to work bent over inside the cramped water meter housing.

Shin-ae squatted beside the meter and made conversation.

"Where do you live, mister?" she asked politely.

"Over there, below the brick factory," said the dwarf. "You can see the smokestack from here. There's a bunch of houses clustered below, all with a big number painted on them. Out front there's a sewer ditch. Come on down sometime. It's kind of a mess there, but we manage to have fun. The neighbor children don't grow right, so they look real small, but they're cute kids. The wife drives pigs down the bank of the sewer ditch to wash 'em."

"You raise pigs too?"

"People next door do. If our children hadn't been canned at the factory, I could have bought a few for us to raise ourselves."

"How many children do you have."

"Three." The dwarf came to a stop. "They aren't dwarves."

"How why do you say that?"

"Well, look at me."

"Mister?" said Shin-ae. "I like a person like you. I was just thinking how nice it would be to have you next door to us."

Shin-ae felt a lump in her throat. The dwarf bent over and returned to work.

"Once the children catch on at another factory, the first thing we're thinking to do is buy a few pigs. Why don't you come around then?"

While the dwarf worked, Shin-ae passed her hands over the tools and the sections of cast iron from his bag. These consisted of a pipe cutter, monkey wrench, socket wrench, screwdriver, hammer, faucets, pump valves, a selection of screws, T joints, U joints, and hacksaw. Metal, and nothing else. All of it resembled the dwarf. These instruments that resemble the dwarf probably rest quietly in the shadow of the brick factory's smokestack while he sleeps. His family too, they'll all be sleeping quietly. On windy nights the rippling of water in the sewer ditch will carry over the wall to the yard of the dwarf's family, all of them quietly sleeping. On windy days they'll tremble uneasily, all of them. The brick factory smokestack looms too high for them to sleep peacefully. For the dwarf there lies yet another danger just one step outside his neighborhood. That danger takes several forms. This world is not a safe place for the dwarf. Could that be the reason for what happened next? The dwarf finished his work, and when he had gathered all of his tools into his toolbag, one by one, that man appeared. The man with the chipped tooth, whose arm sported the tattoo of the nude woman-the man from the pump shop. It was hard to believe, but he kicked open the gate and entered. Slap went his hand against the face of the dwarf, who had turned toward the man in surprise. The dwarf's face snapped backward. And then forward, from a slap to the opposite side of his face. The dwarf crumpled up, blood streaming from his nose. It was frightening. Shin-ae took the dwarf in her arms. She felt a choking sensation. "What are you doing!" she shouted. "Who do you think you are!" The man yanked Shin-ae by the arm. Helplessly she was dragged clear and thrown to the ground. With one hand the man picked up the dwarf. His fists drove into the dwarf's chest- thunk! thunk!-and then he lifted the dwarf with both hands and tossed him to the ground. The dwarf fell like a dead stump. He resembled a dead thing. But he wasn't dead; he was squirming. The man dealt with the dwarf as if he were an insect. He placed a foot on the dwarf's stomach. "What are you sniffing around here for? You got some kind of magic for making the water run? What do you think you're doing messing with houses that need wells? I think we need to fix you. How about it? Huh? How about it??he said, stomping on the dwarf's stomach. The dwarf's face was a bloody mess. It had all taken place in the space of a few breaths. He was killing the dwarf, thought Shin-ae. And now he was kicking him in the ribs. The dwarf rolled over twice, then curled up like an inchworm. She had to save him, thought Shin-ae, and she ran. She sprang onto the veranda, then down to the kitchen. She picked up the big knife and the fillet knife. The big knife, tempered numerous times, hammered countless times by the smith while his little boy pumped the bellows, and the sharp fillet knife, thirty-two centimeters long and frightening to hold by the handle-shin-ae took these knives. Her teeth were chattering together. She was going to kill the man. In one brief instant Shin-ae had sprang back onto the veranda, then down to the yard. "I'm going to kill you! I'm going to kill you!" She stabbed at the man's side with the fillet knife. The man screamed and fell back from the dwarf. The fillet knife could have pierced the man's flesh and dealt him a fatal wound to one of his internal organs. But luck was on the man's side. Because he had fallen away from the dwarf so quickly, the knife had missed. It had glanced off his side and merely traced a line of crimson down his arm. The man clasped his arm and backpedaled as blood began streaming from the wound. He was seized with fear. When Shin-ae had brandished the knife and shouted "I'm going to kill you! I'm going to kill you!" he realized she had tasted blood. The man shook his fist at Shin-ae, but it was a last, feeble effort that couldn't have deterred her. He whirled about and ran off. Shin-ae latched the gate and the hands holding the knives dropped limply to her sides.

The dwarf had risen partway and was watching. The two of them were silent. Shin-ae thought of chickens inside a manufactured coop. She had seen a photo of breeders using artificial lighting to increase the hens' production. The terrible ordeal those hens go through in their coop-the dwarf and I are undergoing the same sort of thing. But all she could think of was that she and the dwarf, unlike the egg-laying hens, were being used in an experiment to see how well they could adapt to a painful disruption of their biological rhythms and to what extent they developed pathological symptoms. Across the back wall the neighbor woman looked at the dwarf, a bloody mess, and at Shin-ae, her hands with the knives hanging limply at her sides. And the woman across the alley was looking at them through her window. As soon as their eyes met Shin-ae's the women flinched and went back inside.

"Mister?" said Shin-ae. "How are you? Are you all right? Tell me you're all right."

"Yes, I'm all right," said the dwarf

His bloody mess of a face had swollen suddenly. He forced his split lips into a smile. He had a strong grip on life. Shin-ae was startled-where in that weak body was hidden the strength to weather such a terrible ordeal? Thus far he and his family had been more than equal to their filthy neighborhood, filthy living quarters, meager diet, terrible diseases, and physical fatigue, as well as all the other ordeals that had oppressed them in various guises.

Again the dwarf gathered his tools together in the toolbag. If the two neighbor women hadn't been peeking out at Shin-ae, she would have burst into tears.

"Mister?" Shin-ae spoke quietly. "We're dwarfs too. Maybe we've never thought of each other that way, but we're on the same side."

She put her bloody fillet knife beneath the newly lowered faucet.

And now her daughter was startled to see the knife. She didn't know what had taken place that day. Shin-ae could try to explain, but her daughter was yet unable to understand properly. It was a most complicated thing. More complicated than simultaneous equations and the symbols of the chemical elements-the two most difficult things for her daughter at school. It was on a different scale altogether.

Shin-ae took the fillet knife from her daughter and set it aside.

"Bring me that bucket, will you?"

"Mom, it's only eleven o'clock," said her daughter. "I said I'd fetch the water, so you go to bed."

"No, starting tonight we'll be getting our water early."

"Did someone come from the water department?"

"They don't come around except to get the water bill."

"Well, then what?"

"Just wait a bit."

Shin-ae took a deep breath.

She thought of the dwarf's face.

"Mom, what is it?"

"Actually, I had a new faucet put in. Don't need that stupid thing sticking way up out of the ground. We'll be using that one down there."

"So we'll get a good flow now?"

"what do you think?"

"I really don't know."

"The neighbors didn't believe him when he said they'd get their water sooner."

"Who's he?"


"someone good?"

"Yes, someone good."

Again Shin-ae knelt and bent over. In that position she took the bucket from her daughter and placed it beneath the new spout. She was afraid she might tumble over. "Dear God, please...." With a trembling hand she turned on the tap.

A gurgling sound coursed up the pipe. She turned the tap all the way on.

She could hear it, the gurgle of water.

And then it was spilling from the pipe into the bucket.

"He was right! Here it is!"

The TVs in the two houses front and back were oblivious to the lengthening night. Her daughter bent down next to her and shouted something. But Shin-ae's ears heard only the sound of water.






A Little Ball Launched by a Dwarf




People called Father a dwarf. Their perception was correct. Father was a dwarf. Sad to say, that was their only correct perception of Father. They were wrong about everything else. On that eternal fact I would bet all that we have-we meaning Father, Mother, my brother Yo※ng-ho, my sister Yo※ng-hu※i, and I. And when I say "all," that includes "the lives of us five." People who live in heaven don't need to think of hell. But the five of us lived in hell and we thought of heaven. There wasn't a single day that we didn't. Because each and every day of our life was insufferable. Our life was a war. And every day we were losers in that war. Still, Mother put up with it. But what happened on that particular morning seemed difficult even for her to bear.

"The precinct head brought this," I said.

Mother was sitting at the end of our tiny veranda eating breakfast.

"what is it?" she asked.

"A condemnation notice."

"So, finally," Mother said. "They're telling us the house has to go, aren't they? Well, we knew we'd eventually have to deal with it, like everything else."

Mother stopped eating. I looked down at her meal tray. Steamed barley with rice, dark soybean paste, a couple of shriveledΑup peppers, potato chunks in soy sauce.

I slowly read her the notice:



Eden District

House number: 444,1 September 10, 197X

TO: Mr. Kim Pul-i, 46-1839 Felicity Precinct, Eden District, Seoul

RE: Condemnation of hillside structures in redevelopment zone


As listed owner of the following structure, which according to the provisional authorization of new housing developments has been found to lie within the Felicity Zone 3 Redevelopment Area, you are hereby requested, pursuant to article 15 of the Municipal Housing Reconstruction and Redevelopment Act and articles 5 and 42 of the Building Code, to demolish said structure by September 30, 197X. Noncompliance will result in demolition being enforced under the terms of applicable law, in which case you will be liable for the expenses thereof.


Condemned Structure: 46-1839 Felicity Precinct, Eden District, Seoul


Construction: Lot Size: Floor Space:

*                *               *

Chief, Eden District


Mother sat without a word at the end of the veranda. The shadow of the brick factory's tall smokestack angled over our cement wall, covering our tiny yard. The neighbors had come out into the alley and were shouting about something. The precinct head shouldered his way through them and set off toward the bank of the sewer creek. Mother took her unfinished breakfast into the kitchen. There she sat, knees drawn up. She lifted a hand and struck the kitchen floor once, and then her chest.

I went to the precinct office. It was thronged with the people of Felicity Precinct and they were loudly expressing their opinions. Perhaps two or three at most were listening; the rest, dozens of them, chattered away practically in unison. But what was the use? Chatter wouldn't solve a problem like this.

A notice had been posted on the bulletin board outside. It concerned such matters as the procedure for occupying an apartment, what to do in case one gave up the right of occupancy, and the resettlement allowance to which one was entitled. The area around the office was like an open-air market. A swirl of residents and apartment brokers rushing this way and that. There I met Father, my younger brother, and my sister. Father sat outside the seal engraver's shop. Yo※ng-ho was approaching the bulletin board I'd just left. Yo※ng-hu※i stood in front of a black car parked at the entrance to the alley. They had left home early in the morning looking for work, then returned upon hearing about the condemnation notice. Who could work on a day such as this? I walked up to Father and shouldered his toolbag. My brother approached and transferred the bag to his shoulder. I yielded without protest, and in the process I saw Yo※ng-hu※i come toward us. Her face was flushed. Several apartment brokers surrounded us offering to buy our occupancy rights. Father was reading a book. This was something we had never seen him do. The cover was wrapped in paper, so I couldn't tell what it was. Yo※ng-hu※i bent over and took Father's hand. Father looked up with a blank expression, then rose, brushing off his backside. "Look, a dwarf," said those who had never seen him before.

The number plate for our house was attached to the front gate post and Mother was using a kitchen knife to pry it off. I took the knife and pried out the nails from the other side. Yo※ng-ho seemed to find this disagreeable. Work that was agreeable, though, was not something we could hope for. Inscribed on the aluminum plate was the number of our unauthorized dwelling, and Mother knew there would be trouble if she didn't remove it for safekeeping.

Mother looked silently at the plate resting in her palm. Yo※ng-hu※i now took her hand.

"If you all hadn't lost your jobs I wouldn't be so concerned," Mother said. "Twenty days from now-it would take a miracle. All we can do now is deal with things one at a time."

"Are you talking about selling our occupancy rights?" asked Yo※ng-hu※i.

"Selling-what are you talking about!?shouted Yo※ng-ho.

"Well, it takes money to move into an apartment."

"We're not going to an apartment either."

"Then, what are we going to do?"

"We're going to live right here. This is our home."

Yo※ng-ho bounded up the stone steps and put Father's toolbag under the veranda.

"Someone was talking about this just a month ago," said Father. He had just finished reading the condemnation notice, which Mother had handed him. "Since the city has built apartments for us, there's nothing more to talk about."

"They weren't built for us," Yo※ng-ho said.

"We need lots of money to move in, don't we?" asked Yo※ng-hu※i. She was standing in front of the pansies in the yard. "We're not leaving. We've got noplace to go. Isn't that right, Eldest Brother?"  she asked me.

"I'm not going to stand here while some son of a bitch tears down our house," said Yo※ng-ho, "no matter who he is."

"Cut it out,"I said. "The law's on their side."

As Father had said, there was nothing more to talk about.

Yo※ng-hu※i, standing where the pansies grew, looked away. She was crying. It didn'ttake much for her to cry. She had been like that since childhood.

"Don't cry, Yo※ng-hu※i," I used to tell her.

"The tears keep coming out."

"Then, try to be quiet about it."


But she couldn't. We were at the grassy place near the bank of the sewer creek and she was crying. I put my hand over her mouth. Yo※ng-hu※i smelled like grass. From the alley in the residential area across the sewer creek came the smell of grilled meat. Although I knew what it was, I used to ask Mother anyway.

"Mom, what's that smell?"

Mother walked on without a word.

Again I asked: "What is it, Mom?"

Mother took my hand and walked faster. "It's meat cooking. One of these days we'll have ourselves some."


"All right now, hurry along, "Mother said. "You study hard, and you can live in a nice house and have meat every day."

"That's a lie!" I said, shoving Mother's hand aside. "Father's a bad man."

Mother came to a dead stop.

"What did you say?"

"My father's a bad man."

"You want a spanking? Your father's a good man." ?

"I want to have clothes with pockets like everyone else."

"You hurry along, now."

"Mom, how come you don't put pockets on our clothes? 'Cause you don't have money or things to eat to put in them, right?"

"One more word about your father and I'll give you a spanking-remember that."

"Father can't even be a bad guy. Bad guys have lots of money and stuff."

"Your father's a good man."

"I know," I said. "You've said it a thousand times. But I don't believe it anymore."

"Mommy," said Yo※ng-hu※i. She was standing at the door to the kitchen. "Eldest Brother didn't listen to you. He sneaked out to smell the meat. Not me, though.

Mother said nothing. I scowled at Yo※ng-hu※i.

"Look, Mommy, he wants to hit me because I told you he went out to smell the meat."

Yo※ng-hu※i wasn't about to stop crying. I removed my hand from her mouth. It was a mistake to take her to the grassy place. I regretted hitting her. Yo※ng-hu※i's cute face was soaked with tears. Back then our clothes didn't have pockets.

Father set the condemnation notice on the edge of the veranda and read his book. We didn't hope for anything from Father. He had put in enough work over the years. And he had experienced enough trouble. Father wasn't the only one to have experienced trouble. His father, his grandfather, his grandfather's father, that father's grandfather, and so on down the line, from one generation to the next- they may have experienced even more trouble than he. At the print shop I once had the opportunity to typeset copy for an unusual document of sale. The setting of one part in particular required me to move my hands fast and hard: "Maidservant Kim Yi-do※k begot slave Ku※m-dong in the kyo※ngin year; slave Ku※m-dong's good wife begot slave Kim Ku※m-i in the cho※ngin year ; slave Ku※m-dong's good wife begot slave To※k-su in the kisa year; slave Ku※m-dong's good wife begot slave Chon-se in the shinmi year; slave Ku※m-dong's good wife begot slave Yo※ng-so※k in the kyeyu year; slave Kim Ko※m-i's good wife begot slave Ch'o※l-su in the pyo※ngsul year; slave Kim Ku※m-i's good wife begot slave Ku※m-san in the muja year." At first I didn't realize what I was working with. But by the time I composed the next plate I had an inkling. It was part of a sales document involving slaves. I typeset that book for ten days. During that time I said nothing to Father. Nor did I say anything to Mother. Mother's mother, her grandmother, her grandmother's mother, that mother's grandmother- I knew what kind of work they had done as humble people of the lowest class. And in Mother's case it was no different. Not for a day did she enjoy peace of mind, and the drudgery she performed to pay off her indebtedness was the same. Our ancestors were bound by heredity to a life of physical toil. They could be inherited, bought and sold, given away, and taxed.

One day Mother said to me, "You children are suffering and it's all because of me. It has nothing to do with your father."

She had said this to me for I was the eldest son. It was something she had heard from her mother and now she was passing it on to me. For a millennium our ancestors had left behind these words for their posterity. But I already knew. I knew that Father was the offspring of a hereditary slave.

During the generation of my grandfather's father the slavery system came to an end. At first my paternal great-grandparents knew nothing of it. When finally they learned of their freedom what do you suppose they said ? "Please don't send us away. " Grandfather was different. He tried to liberate himself from the old ways. Grandfather's elderly master gave him a house and land. But it was to no avail. In terms of ignorance, Grandfather was no improvement upon Great-grandfather. Through Great-grandfather's generation the life experiences of one's forefathers were helpful, but they proved of no help to Grandfather's generation. Grandfather had neither education nor experience to draw on. He lost his house and his land.

"Was Grandfather a dwarf too?"Yo※ng-ho once asked.

I gave him a rap on the head.

When Yo※ng-ho was a bit older he said, "Why do we have to hush things up like before? Isn't it kind of ridiculous? I mean, nothing's changed."

I kept silent.

Yo※ng-hu※i produced a handkerchief and dabbed at her eyes. Father continued to read his book. Mother was talking with Myo※ng-hu※i's mother, who lived in the house in back of ours.

"How much did you sell for?"

"We got a hundred and seventy thousand."

"I guess that's more than the moving allowance that City Hall said they'd give us?"

"Twenty thousand more. In any event, you folks won't be able to move into an apartment, either, will you?"

"I should think not!"

"They say it's five hundred eighty thousand if you buy an apartment and three hundred thousand if you lease. And either way you have to pay fifteen thousand a month."

"So everyone's selling their occupancy rights?"

"Yes. And don't you folks wait till the last minute."

Mother wore a pained expression.

"We're ready to leave. We could go tomorrow, "Myo※ng-hu※i's mother added, "if you folks can give us the money. A couple of swings of the ax will take care of our house."

Again tears gathered in Yo※ng-hu※i's eyes. She'd been like that even after she grew up. Girls cry easily. I went to Yo※ng-hu※i and she pointed to the floor of the soy-crock terrace. Written in the cement was "Myo※ng-hu※i likes Yo※ng-su."Been there ever since the house was built. Yo※ng-hu※i smiled. That was the happiest time for us. Father and Mother had carried home rocks from a ditch. They'd made steps with them, and cemented the walls. We were still young and couldn't do hard work. Even so, there was much to do. For several days we didn't go to school. Every day was fun. Several times a day a group of people we had never seen before would tour the neighborhood. That was the only time the young children in their dirty clothes stopped crying. Even the browbeaten dogs of shouting owners stopped barking and retreated. The entire neighborhood grew calm. Suddenly it was so still-what the heck was going on? I was ashamed of the way our neighborhood smelled. They had bowed and greeted Father. Father had to stand on tiptoe to shake hands with them. But that didn't matter to us. In our eyes our dwarf of a father was a giant.

"See that?" I had asked.

Yo※ng-ho nodded.

"So did I," Yo※ng-hu※i said.

The man who had just bowed and greeted Father said he would put in a bridge over the sewer creek, pave the streets, and renovate the houses in our neighborhood. Taking our cue from the adults, we clapped very, very loudly. The next man quoted the previous one's promise to put in a bridge and pave the streets, and said we should put that man to work for the district head; he, on the other hand, promised to do this and that on behalf of the nation, and asked us for our support. Once again the grownups clapped. And once again we followed their lead. Until I myself was grown up I often thought of that affair. My impression of those two was deeply embedded in my mind. I hated them. They were liars. They had such fantastic plans. But plans were not what we needed. Already many people had made many plans. But nothing had changed. And even if those people had achieved something, we wouldn't have been affected. What we needed was people who could understand our suffering and take it upon themselves.

"She's one in a million," said Mother.

"Who?"asked Yo※ng-ho.

"Myo※ng-hu※i's mother. She lent us a hundred and fifty thousand so we can give our renter's deposit back to him."

"Yo※ng-hu※i's Mom," said Myo※ng-hu※i's mother from the other side of the back wall. "Don't take what I said the wrong way."

"I won't," said Mother. "And you can rest assured we'll pay you back."

"You know where that money came from."

"Yes I do. When I think of your Myo※ng-hu※i I get all choked up."

"Elder Sister Myo※ng-hu※i," Yo※ng-hu※i used to call out. "Come on over. Come on over to our house."

"You like your new house?"


"If you don't get rid of what you wrote on the soy crock terrace I'm not coming over."

"I can't."

"Why not?"

"Because the cement's all hard."

"Then I'm not coming over."

I could tell Yo※ng-hu※i was crushed. But I saw Myo※ng-hu※i anyway. Back then there were woods to the right of the sewer creek bank. If you sat there you could see the lights from the print shop through the trees. The people there, they even worked in the middle of the night.

"If you promise me something then I'll let you do it,"said Myo※ng-hu※i.

"Promise what?" I said.

"That you won't work at that print shop."

"Are you out of your mind? I'm not going to work at a place like that."

"Really? You promise?"

"Yeah. I promise."

"All right. You can feel me, then."

Myo※ng-hu※i offered me her chest. It was positively tiny.

"You're the first one," Myo※ng-hu※i said. "No one but you has ever felt my chest."

I had my left arm around her shoulders and felt her with my right hand. The curves of her chest were warm.

"Don't tell anyone," she whispered. I could feel her breath beneath my ear.

"I won't."

"And don't tell your brother and sister."

"I'm not going to."

"If you keep it a secret and keep the promise you just made, I'll let you do whatever you want."

"For real?"

"For real."

"Can I feel you somewhere else now??

Myo※ng-hu※i, though, looked like she didn't have any energy. She was always like that with me. Sometimes she just sat there in a daze.

"What's the matter?" I was worried. "Are you sick?"


"Well, what is it, then?"

"I don't like the food we eat at home."

"How come?"

"I'm sick of it."

"You'll die, then."

"I want to die."

"Myo※ng-hu※i, I'm not going to work at that shitty old print shop. I'm going to study and go to work for a big company. I promise."

"I'm hungry," little Myo※ng-hu※i said with a smile.

"What would you like to eat?" I asked her.

She took my hands. And as she answered, she counted off on my fingers one by one: "Citrus soda, grapes, instant noodles, pastries, apples, eggs, meat, rice without barley, laver."

She left one finger uncounted. That was all Myo※ng-hu※i needed at the time. When she was older she became a tearoom waitress, an express bus conductress, and a caddy. One day she returned home looking pale. This was her farewell. Later Mother said that whenever Myo※ng-hu※i came home her stomach was big. Myo※ng-hu※i breathed her last at a suicide prevention center, the kind that deals with poisonings. "No, Mommy, no!" she shouted while in the throes of the poison. Grownup Myo※ng-hu※i, at her final moment, must have been wandering among the memories of her childhood. The savings account she left behind contained a hundred ninety thousand wo※n.

"Here's a hundred fifty thousand wo※n," Myo※ng-hu※i's mother had said. "The first thing you want to do is let your renters leave."

Mother silently accepted the money.

"No one else will move in knowing the house is going to be torn down."

"That's what I mean."

"Spare yourself all those mean things they're saying. Since they want to leave, let them go."

"But how can I accept this money?!"

"Elder Sister Myo※ng-hu※i liked you," Yo※ng-hu※i said to me. "You knew that, didn't you?"

"Enough,"I said.

Yo※ng-hu※i played her guitar. The moon rose above the smokestack of the brick factory. My radio wasn't working; I missed several days of lectures for my high school correspondence course.

I couldn't keep the promise I'd made to Myo※ng-hu※i. I dropped out at the beginning of my third year of middle school. I couldn't attend any longer. Mother and Father hoped I'd continue my studies. But they didn't have the wherewithal to support me. Upon close observation Father appeared much older than others his age. Apart from those of us in the family, no one knew this. Father was three feet three inches tall and weighed seventy pounds. Swayed by their preconceptions of these physical defects of Father's, people didn't realize he was old. Father fell into a state of resignation and depression at the realization that he had entered his twilight years. His teeth were going bad and many were the nights that he couldn't sleep. His eyesight weakened and his hair thinned out considerably. His attention span and powers of judgment diminished, not to mention his willpower. Over the course of his life Father had done five kinds of workΑΑselling bonds, sharpening knives, washing windows in high-rises, installing water pumps, and repairing water lines. And then one day he announced he would do something else: he would work for a circus. He brought home a hunchback and they proceeded to discuss a variety of things. First, he could work as an assistant to the hunchback. The two of them discussed the routine they should perform. At this point Mother protested. We raised objections as well. Father listlessly backed down. The hunchback sat looking at us with a blank expression. He left with tears rolling down his cheeks. From the rear he looked utterly dismal. Father's dream was shattered. Shouldering his heavy toolbag, Father went out in search of work. It was that evening that it happened.

"Children! " Mother called out to us. "Something's wrong with your father's voice."

"What is it?" I asked him. Father didn't say a thing.

"I'd better go to the drugstore," said Mother. She stepped down into the yard.

"Get me some alum," said Father. It didn't sound like his voice. We could hear his stubby tongue rolling up inside his mouth. Mother came back with some lozenges called Hibitan.

"They don't have any alum, but this is supposed to be better. You suck on them. Will you take them, please?"

Father silently accepted the medicine and put one of the lozenges in his mouth. After this, Father couldn't speak well. His tongue kept curling up inside his mouth. When he slept, he bit his tongue.

"Your father is worn out," Mother said. "Don't depend on him anymore. The three of you need to go to work instead."

Mother cried. She went to work at the print shop bindery. Wearing a rubber thimble, she folded printed sheets. I grew fearful. I left to start work as an assistant in the the print shop office. I learned later that you gain nothing without sweat. Myo※ng-hu※i wouldn't see me. She gave me the cold shoulder. In the space of a few months Yo※ng-ho and Yo※ng-hu※i dropped out of school as well. We felt more comfortable doing this than you might have thought. No one harmed us. We received unseen protection. Just as aboriginal peoples in South Africa were granted protected status in designated areas, we received protection as a different group. I realized that we could not set foot outside our area. After putting in time as an office helper and then with leading, special characters, and type distribution, I did type resetting. Yo※ng-ho did printing. I didn't like the idea of both of us working at the same place. Yo※ng-ho felt likewise. And so before he started at the print shop he tried doing odd jobs at an ironworks. And he worked at a furniture shop. I went there and saw him at work. I saw little Yo※ng-ho standing amid the din and the haze of sawdust and I told him to quit. Although there was an awful din at the print shop as well, there wasn't any sawdust. We worked ourselves to the bone. Our wrists thickened in the print shop. At the time Yo※ng-hu※i worked in a bakeshop located in the corner of a supermarket on the main street. If nothing else, we were grateful that she worked in a clean environment. Yo※ng-hu※i wore a sky-blue uniform. Through the bakeshop window Yo※ng-ho and I watched her work. She was pretty. People would not have believed Yo※ng-hu※i was the daughter of a dwarf. We thought that no matter what, we should study. If we didn't, we'd never be able to leave our area. The world was divided too arbitrarily between those who had studied and those who hadn't. Ours was a terribly backward society. It operated exactly the opposite of what we had learned in school. I read any book I could get my hands on. After I moved up from type resetting to typesetting I developed the habit of reading what I was working on. If I felt my little brother and sister needed to read it, I would take the galleys and run off several proofs. Yo※ng-ho and Yo※ng-hu※i listened carefully to what I said. They eagerly read the proofs I brought home for them. The truth was, these efforts involved no great sacrifice on my part. I passed the high school qualifying exam and entered the correspondence high school program.

Late one autumn night that year Father took me for a ride in the sewer creek in a small wooden rowboat. He silently plied the oars.

"Come back!" Yo※ng-hu※i shouted from the yard. "That boat's not safe!"

Father rowed out into the stream anyway. The faint outline of Yo※ng-hu※i beckoning us came into view. Starlight glittered on the surface of the water. The boat was leaking. We had made off with some planks when the church on the hill was built. Yo※ng-ho and I had risen late at night and brought them home. It was no loss to the church. Our boat, though, was in bad shape. Yo※ng-hu※i worried about Father. I knew how to swim. In the middle of the stream Father took in the oars. The water in the boat was up to our ankles. I removed a shoe and bailed. Father took the shoe from me. He was smiling.

"Yo※ng-su," she said. "Remember the hunchback who was here yesterday?"



I took off my other shoe and bailed with it. Again Father stopped me.

"I don't know what you mean," I said.

"No use playing dumb. I know what you're thinking."

"What do you mean?"I asked respectfully.

He was talking about something that had happened three and a half years ago, not yesterday. It was the first time I had ever seen the hunchback. Father continued on, however.

"We used to work together. We did a balancing act on a huge wheel."

"Father, what are you saying? When did you do that?"

"You're the oldest son. If you, the oldest son, won't believe me, then your brother and sister won't, either."

"I'm sure Mother doesn't know about this, either."

"Son,"Father said. "You're the only one who needs to know. Your mother is ill. The hunchback who was here yesterday will come again. Don't stop me. The other work is too hard for me now. How long did you think I could change water lines and install pumps? I can't come down tall buildings on a rope anymore, either. I can't do it."

"It's all right if you don't work, Father. We're working."

"Who told all of you to go to work?" Father said. "All you need to do is go to school. That's your job."

"All right, Father,"I said. "Now please give me that shoe."

Father gazed at me, then returned the shoe. I bailed water.

"Yesterday the hunchback was here because he wanted to help me. He'll be here tomorrow too. You say you're never met him? Don't be ridiculous. He and I worked together. Remember? Don't you even think of trying to lord it over me."

"When did you say that man was here?"


"Please pass me those oars."

Father gave me the oars. There was nothing I could say. It was three and a half years previous, and not the day before, when we had met the hunchback, but Father wouldn't have believed me had I told him this now. I rowed carefully. The boat had sunk beneath the surface by the time we reached shore. I took Father in my arms and we made our way through the waterweeds. Both of us were soaked. Father was shivering all over. I handed him to Mother. There was no one in this world who was better at nursing Father.

"something's wrong with Father,"I said.

"You shut your mouth!" said Mother. "When is it ever going to sink in? He's worn out, that's why."

That winter Father kept to his room. I retrieved the boat and tied it to a post. The days grew cold and I brought the boat into our yard. That same night the stream froze over.

In the evening Myo※ng-hu※i's mother visited once again.

"Yo※ng-hu※i's Mother," she said. "Wait a bit longer. The price they're offering for the occupancy right keeps going up. It was a hundred and seventy thousand this morning, and now it's jumped to one eighty-five. We were foolish to go ahead and sell-look at what we lost."


"Fifteen thousand!"

Mother found the aluminum number plate she had pried off during the day and wrapped it in a piece of paper. This she placed in the wardrobe along with the condemnation notice.

"Yo※ng-hu※i," Mother called. "Where did your father go?"

"I don't know."


"Father went out a little while ago without saying anything."

"Yo※ng-hu※i, where's Eldest Brother?"


"I wonder where he could have gone." Mother's voice had grown anxious. "Children, go find your father."

I was reading the book Father had put down before he left. It was called The World Ten Thousand Years From Now. All day long Yo※ng-hu※i had sat in front of the pansies playing her guitar with the broken string. It was the guitar we had bought at the Last Market. That's where I had gone to buy a radio for my high school correspondence course lessons, and Yo※ng-hu※i had tagged along. I had found a radio in usable condition. But Yo※ng-ho※i had picked up a dust-covered guitar lying in the dust and tried it out. She bent over the instrument and strummed it. Her profile, half covered by her long hair, was so pretty. The sound she produced on the guitar was a perfect complement to her. I wouldn't be able to afford the radio now. So I found a cheaper one and gestured toward the guitar Yo※ng-hu※i held. The radio had broken down and one of the guitar strings had snapped. Yo※ng-hu※i played the guitar, snapped string and all. I didn't know what was on Father's mind. Father had borrowed The World Ten Thousand Years From Now from a young man who lived in the residential area across the sewer creek. His name was Chi-so※p. He lived in a three-story house in that bright, clean residential area. Chi-so※p was a tutor for the family who lived there. He and Father were able to communicate with each other. I had overheard Chi-so※p. He had said there was nothing we could expect from this world.

"Why is that?" Father had asked.

"Because the only thing people have are loveless desires," said Chi-so※p. "There is not a soul who knows what it is to shed tears for others. A land with such people and no others is a dead land."

"I'll say!"

"Haven't you worked your whole life long, sir?"

"Worked? Yes, I have. And I've worked hard. Everyone in the family's worked hard."

"And you've never done anything bad? Never broken the law?"


"In that case, you must not have prayed. Or else your heart's not in your prayers."

"I've prayed."

"But look at yourself. Isn't it obvious that something's wrong? Haven't you been treated unfairly? Now you must leave this dead land."

"Leave? Where to?"

"To the moon.'


Mother's anxious voice was louder. I put down the book and hurried outside. Yo※ng-ho and Yo※ng-hu※i were looking in the wrong place. I went to the bank of the sewer creek and looked straight up at the sky. The brick factory's tall smokestack loomed near. Father was standing at the very top. Just one step in front of him hung the moon. Father took hold of the lightning rod and reached out with his foot. In that position he sent a paper airplane flying.




I lay in the grass near the bank of the sewer creek. I was damp all over with dew. The slightest movement and the dewdrops on the weeds and grass fell onto me. I had been lying there on my stomach all night long. I could see nothing. And then little by little the darkness began to retreat. A lump rose in my throat, a lump of pain at not being able to spend the final night in "our house."The neighborhood was still sound asleep. But it was unnecessary for me to wait longer. The rumor that aliens had taken Yo※ng-hu※i away in a flying saucer was ridiculous. From the beginning I had put no stock in it.

"Children!"Mother had said. "we can't just sit here and do nothing."

"What am I supposed to do?" I had said. "I already went looking for her."

Where the barber shop had been torn down I had come across The Lush.

"Don't bother looking for her," he said.

"Did you actually see her?"

"That's what I said."

The Lush had a hiccupping fit and wasn't very coherent.

"Sir, you're the only one who says he's seen Yo※ng-hu※i. Could you please give us some details?"

"Your father knows."

"No, he doesn't know, either."

"How could that be? Your father sent out the signal and the flying saucer came."

I needn't have listened further. But I stood there nonetheless.

"It was like a huge dish. Creatures came out from the bottom, and just like that they led Yo※ng-hu※i up inside. Later I found out it's called a flying saucer."

The Lush was hit with another fit of hiccupping.

"Speak no more," I said.

"Well, why don't you go look for her?" said The Lush. "Go see where your sister is. No place she could be. I was so thirsty I woke up. No one else would wake up at that hour. They took Yo※ng-hu※i and just like that they flew off. They had big huge heads and little spindly legs."

"Goodbye," I said.

"I'm not going yet," said The Lush. "I'll drink these up and then I'll have to go."

He pointed to the six windows and double-panel front gate stacked on the floor of what used to be his home. The day before, he had sold the tiles he? stripped from his roof, his pump head, and two condiment crocks, and he? drunk the proceeds. More than two-thirds of the people in our neighborhood had torn down their houses and left.

I rose from the grass. The starlight above had grown faint. The sky slowly began to brighten. I heard the crying of young children. I retied my shoelaces, which weren't loose, then jumped up and down several times. My older brother had emerged from our front gate and was walking along the bank. His shoulders drooped.

"Brace up, Elder Brother," I used to tell him.

"Bracing up isn't the answer," he said.

"Well, what about courage?"

At lunchtime he came to see me instead of eating. We hunkered down behind the machine room and talked.

"We don't know how to put it into words, no, but this is a kind of fight," he said. Elder Brother had a way with words. "We have to fight just to get the basics. The fight is always a conflict between what's right and what's wrong. Think about which side we're on."

"I know that."

Elder Brother had skipped lunch. We were limited to thirty minutes for lunch. We worked in the same factory but led an isolated existence there. Everyone in the factory worked in isolation. The company people recorded and evaluated our output. Of the thirty minutes we had for lunch, they told us to spend ten minutes eating and the remaining twenty minutes kicking a ball around. We workers went out to the cramped yard and all we did was kick that ball. They kept us at a distance from each other-no socializing-and all we did was drip with sweat. And we didn't have proper rest periods. The factory wanted to have its own way with us. We worked into the middle of the night in a stuffy, noisy environment. Of course, it wasn't about to kill us. But our pay, which didn't reflect the horrible working environment plus our sweat, kept our nerves taut. And so although we were still growing, we exhibited growth deficiencies. Our concerns and the company's were perpetually in conflict. The company president frequently used the word recession. He and his staff employed this word as a smokescreen for the various forms of oppression they used against us. Otherwise he talked about the wealth we would all enjoy if we worked hard. But the hopes he spoke of held no meaning for us. We were more interested in having properly seasoned side dishes in our cafeteria meals. Things never changed. They only grew worse. Our twice-yearly raises were reduced to one. The night-shift bonus was much reduced. The workforce was reduced. The workload increased, the workday lengthened. The day we workers were payed, we watched our tongues. It was difficult to trust our co-workers. Those who spoke up about the unreasonable treatment were fired before anyone knew it. On the other hand, the plant was enlarged. A rotary printing press appeared, and then a paper-folding machine, and then an offset rotary press. The company president spoke of the crisis that confronted him. If he lost out in the competition with rival companies he would have no choice but to close down. These were the words we workers feared most. The president and his staff realized that.

Just the thought of it was frightening. If a large plant closed its doors numerous workers would have no place to go. The number of employees that small plants could take on was limited. I wouldn't be able to earn money and might remain unemployed. I could look for a new place to work but it would take getting used to. It would be a small plant, and so the workplace might be worse, the pay might not go up, and the amount might be much smaller than what we received now. It was an awful thought. The majority of the workers had come to the plant in their youth and had spent three or four years of their precious growth period here. Except for the skills they acquired, there was nothing here in the way of a foothold for growing up. The understanding of us workers was limited to what we were familiar with. None of us wanted to lose the foothold he'd sweated for. The company people didn't want us to think. Workers worked, and that was it. The great majority of the workers accepted a situation in which change was impossible. And there was no one to awaken them to a single thing. Nor did the adults among us have any experience to pass on. All they saw was that reality moved in the direction opposite of what their hearts told them was right. There was too much that we didn't know. This was fortunate as far as the company president was concerned. His family had a machine they pushed about the yard to cut the grass. In the yard were well-tended trees that absorbed the bright sunlight and grew fast and thick. The trees were cared for by a tree doctor from the General Tree Clinic. I had once passed by that clinic. "Valued Citizens-Are Your Trees Healthy?" read the sign. And beneath in small lettering: "Detection of Pests * Detection of Blight * Pruning * Maintenance." We don't have any trees at home, and I'm not healthy," said the young assistant who was with me. We laughed so hard we had to clutch our sides. And then I wondered what was so funny. Almost every day the young assistant had a nosebleed.

Brother removed his shirt and placed it over my back. His pantlegs too soon were damp with dew from the grass and weeds.

I tried to explain: "No one's seen Yo※ng-hu※i except The Lush. This is where he said the flying saucer landed."

"So you stayed up all night? What did you see?"

"You think I believe him?"


"I didn't know where to look for her."

"Let's go home.'

"Elder Brother, why do you think Yo※ng-hu※i left home?"

"Because of you two," Mother had said. "She left because you're hanging around doing nothing. We have no money, no house. All of it's your fault. Other youngsters played it safe and they're still working-why did you two have to get yourselves fired?"

"Yo※ng-hu※i always says where she's going. I can't figure it out."

"Probably couldn't stand it any more," Elder Brother said.

He produced a woeful expression. My brother had always been more of a deep thinker than I. And he knew a lot. He read even more books after he dropped out of school. If Father weren't a dwarf, my brother could have ended up a scholar. In every spare moment he read books. It was for his sake that I gave him printed matter fresh off the press. He patiently read the most difficult material. And when he came into some money he shopped at a used book store and read those books too. Books gave him everything. My brother frequently wore the expression of a suffering man. He copied things down in a notebook, things I didn't understand. These were some of the writings:

"What is violence? Violence is not just bullets, nightsticks, and fists. It is also the neglect of the suckling babies who are starving in the nooks and crannies of our city."

"A nation without dissenters is a nation of misfortune. Who is bold enough to try to establish order based on violence?"

"The seventeenth-century Swedish prime minister Axel Oxenstierna said to his son, 'Do you realize how unwisely the world is ruled?' Our situation has not improved that much since Oxenstierna's time."

"If leaders are well off, then human suffering is forgotten. Accordingly, their use of the word sacrifice is utterly hypocritical. I think the exploitation and savagery of the past were forthright in comparison."

"Isn't the capacity to cry in response to the despair of one's neighbors paralyzed or forfeited in the so-called educated people who cry while reading Hamlet or while listening to Mozart?"

"We have witnessed the passing of generation upon generation, century after century, but to what end? Because we were isolated from the world, we gave it nothing, taught it nothing. We have contributed nothing to human thought.... From the thought of others we have adopted only the deceptive exterior and useless trappings."

"To govern is to give people something to do in order that they may accept their society's civilization and remain occupied, and to prevent them from wandering the peripheries of an empty, dreary life."

For me, my brother was unknowable. While I read the notebook, he wore the expression of a suffering man. It was precisely the face of a dignified, suffering man. I managed to suppress a laugh. My brother probably scorned me for my ignorance and foolishness.

"What do you figure on doing with this?" I asked.

"Yo※ng-ho," Father used to say. "I want you to read books like your brother."

"It's not a matter of doing something with it," my brother said. "Books help me learn about myself."

"Now I understand," I said sometime later. "You're an idealist."

I felt wonderful saying this. I wanted to let my brother know that I'd grown up like him. I wanted him to know I wasn't like other boys and girlsΑΑI was mature enough to use difficult words. I studied his suffering idealist's face. My expectations were off the mark. My brother was angry. At the time, I couldn't understand why he had to be angry. I myself admitted I was foolish. We were the children of a dwarf. Shoulders drooping, my brother left. I picked up a pebble and threw it into the ditch. Bubbles rose silently from the water. From our yard I lobbed pebbles one after another toward the ditch.

"Yo※ng-ho," said Mother. "That's enough-go on down to the precinct office and see what's going on."

"It doesns't matter whether I go or not. An hour ago it was two hundred twenty thousand wo※n. You think it's gone up again?"

"Go over there anyway and find out. Tell them we'll sell for two hundred and fifty."

I picked up another pebble and lobbed it toward the ditch. People were milling about in front of the precinct office. There were a few cars. Only two kinds of people were there. People selling their occupancy rights and people buying them. The sellers, their faces anxious, tried to read the brokers's expressions. They were malnourished faces, all of them. Those faces smelled of tears. I breathed in that smell, breathed it deep inside me. Someone took my arm. It was Yo※ng-hu※i. She looked away; her face had been reddened by the sun. She'd been to Chamshil. The current price at the realtors'soffices near where the apartments were going up was also two hundred twenty thousand, she said. I felt there was no use holding out any longer.

"Brother," she said. "Tell Mother we should sell. Before the price takes a sudden drop. Tell her."

"I'll buy," said a woman. "I'm not a realtor. I'll be occupying the apartment myself. Will you be able to transfer the title?"

"Of course," I said. "We have the number plate."

"what does this number plate of yours look like?"

"It's a small aluminum plate. It's marked 'unauthorized structure' and there's a number."

"Then what is this 'No Plate' business? Whatever it is, it's cheaper."

"'No Plate' just means a house without a number plate. Years ago when the city surveyed all the squatter houses some of them were left out by mistake, some of them were determined to be on private land, and some were lost in the paperwork."

The woman was perspiring. She dabbed at herself with a handkerchief and indicated the bulletin board. Posted there was a title transfer form for unauthorized structures. Written below it was a list of the necessary supporting documents. "Title transfer form, one copy; specimen impression of buyer's registered seal, one copy; duplicate of sales contract, one copy; guarantor's affidavit, one copy," the woman read.

"Just a copy of the sales contract should do it," I said. "And we can write in a purchase date that's a month or two before the date of the condemnation notice."

"is that going to get us in trouble?"

"No, ma'am, because the title will be transferred to you. And you'll be the occupant of the apartment."

"Isn't that against the law?"

The woman stood stiffly, dabbing at her perspiration.

"You could ask the people in the precinct office who take care of housing matters," I said. "Ask them why they're handling something illegal."

"Two hundred twenty thousand is too expensive. Could you lower it ten thousand?"

"Ma'am," I said. "Our house is about to be torn down. If we were to rebuild it, we would need one million three hundred thousand wo※n. This was the house our father worked his whole life to build. Our price for that house is two hundred twenty thousand. If we subtract the hundred and fifty thousand deposit we owe our renters, that leaves us with seventy thousand."

"So you're saying two hundred ten thousand won't work?"

I said nothing. The woman turned away. Yo※ng-hu※i punched me in the back with her small fist. A short time later she punched me again. She was wearing blue jeans. They looked good on her. Without looking at Yo※ng-hu※i's face I turned and walked away.

"Wait before you sell," said a man in a car. "I'll buy."

"For how much?"

"How much are you asking?"

"Two hundred fifty thousand wo※n."

"Fine. I'll come around this evening. And if any of your neighbors are selling, tell them to hold out and wait for me."

"Wait a bit longer," Father had said. "there are people who speak the truth and then get buried. I think that's happening to you kids."

Elder Brother and I had stood on the concrete bridge above the sewer creek. Father had sat with his legs between the railings, drinking. I had to wait until Father finished. At the far end of the bridge was The Lush, passed out and snoring. Father's capacity was less than a quarter of his. That night Father drank half of the Lush's capacity. It grew late and the neighbors turned off their lights and went to bed. Two houses remained lit- The Lush's and ours. I was afraid Father would drink himself to death that night. Elder Brother had not taken Father's bottle away from him. I tried to imagine the day Father would close his eyes for the last time. Death was the end of everything. The minister at the church on the hill was different. He spoke of human nobility, suffering, and salvation. He said humans commenced a different life after they died, but this I couldn't understand. There had been no nobility to Father, no salvation. Only suffering. I had once seen the slave sale document that my brother had typeset. Surely it was not Father alone who had suffered. Father and Mother hoped that all of us children would start a new life. But we had already lost our first battle.

I tried to imagine the day I would close my eyes for the last time. I didn't even measure up to Father. Father, his father, his grandfather, his grandfather's father, that father's grandfatherΑΑall of them were the product of their time. I felt that my body had become smaller than Father's. When I closed my eyes for the last time I'd be nothing more than a small clown.

Nobody gave us anything to do. People prevented us from entering the plant. The president and his staff stood at the window of the conference room looking out at us. They had deprived us of our work.

"So, why don't we talk it over again?" Father had said. "You're saying you two are the only ones left? All of you stopped work together and decided to negotiate with the president, but the others betrayed you and you were the only two left, is that what you're saying?"

"Father, haven't you had enough?" I said.

"Well done." Again Father tilted his bottle and drank. "You did well and those youngsters did well."

"We're going home."

"All right, go ahead. And send your mother out."

"That won't be necessary." It was Mother. She had almost tripped over The Lush. "This is wonderful! The two of you together can't take proper care of your father."

"Easy now." Father tossed his empty bottle beneath the bridge. "The boys were splendid today. They met with the president. Told him that if the company was to do well, they'd need to cut a few of their own throats. And not to force the workers to do anything he wouldn't want forced upon himself. Boys, you think your mom understands? Hmm?'

"Father, that's not how it happened," I said. "We couldn't meet anyone. Our plans leaked out and we got firedΑΑthat's the size of it."

"It amounts to the same thing! " Father said in a loud voice. "If you'd met with the president that's what you would have said. Right? Answer me."

"Yes," I answered in a small voice.

"Hear that?" he said to Mother. "Did you hear that?"

"No need to worry," Mother said. "The boys are first-rate skilled workers now. They can get a paying job at any factory they go to."

"You don't know what you're talking about."

"I don't? Well, I think it would be good if the boys moved to a different factory."

"It won't work. All the factories know by now. They're all the sameΑΑno factory will take the boys. You don't realize what these boys did today."

"That's enough. The way you carry on, a person would think they committed treason or something."


"Let's go."

Elder Brother strode across the bridge. At the far end he hoisted the comatose Lush to his back. He tottered off and managed not to fall. Brother hadn't eaten right for several days. And he hadn't slept well. His tongue had developed cold sores and he'd lost his appetite. At night he felt wide awake and couldn't sleep. And now all of this was beginning to show. Brother lowered The Lush to the floor of his veranda. The Lush's young daughter appeared rubbing her eyes and layed out her father on his back. We emerged from the alley and took a deep gulp of the night air. There was Mother, carrying Father on her back. My brother turned away, pressing his hands to his head.

The workers, as they usually did, had gone out to the cramped yard to kick the ball around. They made no attempt to turn their heads in our direction. After twenty minutes they surged back inside the plant, dripping with sweat.

"What the hell!" my brother had mumbled to himself.

"I hope you don't change your mind this evening," said the man in the car.

'If it's two hundred and fifty thousand wo※n, then no problem," I said.

That night the man in the car bought up the occupancy rights of all the neighbors who still had them. He bought them all up at two hundred fifty thousand apiece; other brokers had paid two hundred twenty thousand. Again that night Yo※ng-hu※i sat in front of the pansies playing her guitar. She picked two of the pansies and stuck one in the guitar and the other in her hair. She didn't budge, merely played the guitar. The man offered Father a cigarette.

It's two hundred fifty thousandΑΑwe're clear on that?" Mother asked.

An older man who had accompanied the man in the car opened a black briefcase and displayed the money. He sat down on the veranda and filled out a sales contract. Mother went inside and reappeared with an envelope of documents and a personal seal. Father wrote his name-Kim Pul-i-in Chinese on the seller's line and affixed his seal. The older man didn't realize the meaning of Father's name: ku※ppuri, reflecting the desire of poor parents for a son to become wealthy. He had no way of knowing the connotation of painful longing in that name. One by one Mother handed over the items she had wrapped so carefully: the number plate with its knife scratches; the condemnation notice, which had caused Mother to put down her spoon and chopsticks and pound her chest three times; two copies of the specimen impression of Father's registered seal, used for the first time, to dispose of their house dirt cheap; a title transfer form, with Father's name entered; and two copies of the family register, containing the names and ages of the powerless members of our family. Yo※ng-hu※i, sitting in front of the pansies at the side of the yard, hung her head. The man held out the money. Mother shook her head, retreated, and sat. Father accepted the money. He held it exactly three seconds, then handed it to Mother. Mother received it with both hands.

The next morning Mo※ng-hu※i's mother had her house torn down. Mother repaid her the one hundred fifty thousand wo※n. The two wives silently held each other's hand. A moving truck threaded its way into the narrow alley and loaded Myo※ng-hu※i's family's belongings. Myo※ng-hu※i's mother wiped away her tears with the hem of her skirt.

"Isn't it funny!" she said with a great sigh. "The thing that makes us close makes a time like this so difficult."

These words were pepper in our eyes. The moving truck went past our house. Father lifted his right hand halfway, then lowered it. In his left hand was Chi-so※p's book. It had been soiled by the grime from Father's hand. In Father and Chi-so※p we seemed to see two people who had flown off beyond the atmosphere. In a single day they made several round trips to the moon.

"Life is too hard," Father had said. "So I decided to go the moon and work at an observatory. My job is to keep an eye on the telescope lens. Since there's no dust on the moon, there's no need to clean the lens or anything like that. But they still need someone to keep an eye on it."

"Father, do you really think something like that's possible?" I asked.

"What have you learned up to now?" Father said. "Three centuries have gone by since Newton presented his laws. You've learned about them, right? Ever since grade school. And you talk like someone who knows nothing about the fundamental laws of the universe."

"So, did someone say he'd take you to the moon?"

"Chi-so※p wrote a letter to the Johnson Space Center in Houston. He'll get an answer from Mr. Ross, who's in charge there. It can probably be arranged in the futureΑΑI'll go with the astronauts."

"would you please give that book back to Chi-so※p?" I asked. "And don't believe what he saysΑΑhe's crazy."

"Look at these pictures. That's Francis Bacon, and that's Robert Goddard. The people of their time called them lunatics too. And do you know what achievements these lunatics left us with?"

"No, I don't."

"Dead learningΑΑthat's what you got at school."

"Anyway, would you please give him back the book?"

"All of you are hoping I'll have troubles in this land till the end and die all withered up, aren't you? Hoping I'll be beaten down by hard work, struggle to the end, and breathe my last, no?"

"Think what you wish."

"Don't you all have any mind to learn something from Chi-so※p?'

"What the hell are we supposed to learn from him?"

"Before Mr. Ross's letter arrives I have something to show you. I'm going to show you how to launch an iron ball. I'll tell Chi-so※p."

"Couldn't find her?"


"Then where have you been all night?"

I picked up another pebble and lobbed it toward the sewer creek. Mother was exhausted too and could speak of nothing else. Elder Brother ushered Mother inside the gate of our house. It was a quiet morning. Over a hundred houses had been torn down and only a few were left. If Yo※ng-hu※i hadn't gone off, we too would have left the previous day. There was no other reason for us to miss the demolition deadline.

Our last days in Felicity Precinct were a nightmare. We wandered in search of Yo※ng-hu※i. No one had seen her. Yo※ng-hu※i had left home without a bag. All she had taken were the guitar with the broken string and the two pansies. I lobbed a slightly larger pebble. No sound this time either. The ripples pushed out among the waterweeds. Chi-so※p was walking straight toward me; he'd just passed the lot where the barbershop had stood. In his hand was beef. Father met him at the gate, took his hand, and led him into the yard. Father handed the beef to Mother in the kitchen. The kitchen grew smoky. My brother was hunkered down in front of the fuel box fanning the fire. He stood up, wiped away tears, and fed wood into the fuel box. Mother emerged from the kitchen and wiped her tears. For several days now we had been splitting the wood from Myo※ng-hu※i's house and using it for fuel. Brother split the doorjamb from Myo※ng-hu※i's house, fed the fuel box, and came outside. He smelled of smoke. Father had a hacking cough. Father and Chi-so※p said nothing. Chi-so※p read the book he had lent Father. Father had said Chi-so※p was in prison. According to Father, he had gone to prison without doing anything wrong. Chi-so※p sat on the edge of the veranda reading the book. My brother and I stood beside the cement wall looking out. All the houses had been torn down and we had a direct view of the precinct office. Beyond it we could see bright, clean houses. To the right Yo※ng-hu※i had worked was visible. From where we had stood outside the bakeshop window she looked truly pretty. No one would have believed she was the daughter of a dwarf. We had looked for Yo※ng-hu※i as long as we could but hadn't found her.

I could smell beef soup boiling on the stove. And grilled beef. Mother set down the meal table and wiped it with a dishcloth. People were standing in front of the precinct office. People with sledgehammers. They crossed the places where the houses had been torn down and came toward us. I locked the front gate. Mother set the table. My brother then took it out to the veranda. He worried about me. Needless worries. I would have remained calm even if they were to bring their sledgehammers down on my head. Father began eating first. Then Chi-so※p beside him. Mother, sitting at the end of the veranda, drank soup. My brother and I soaked our cooked rice in our soup. There was knocking at the gate. We remained where we were and ate. Where was Yo※ng-hu※i at this moment? What kind of meal was she eating? We didn't know. Resting on our meal table was all the time that had passed in our family, ever since the days of our first ancestors. If you took that time and cut it with a knifeblade, from every opening there would flow blood and tears, hollow laughter and a hacking cough. The people who had been knocking at the gate surrounded the house. They smashed our cement walls. Holes appeared and then the walls came down. Dust rose. Mother turned toward us. We silently continued to eat. Father placed slices of grilled beef on top of the rice in our bowls. They stood examining us through the haze of the cement dust. They didn't enter, waiting until we had finished our meal. Mother went into the kitchen and returned with scorchedΑrice broth. Father and Chi-so※p drank. When the broth was gone Mother picked up the meal table. I stepped down into the yard and opened the front gate. Mother brought the meal table out to the yard. Brother followed with the cloth bundles containing our quilts and clothing. The people with the sledgehammers inspected us silently from across the ruins of the walls. One by one we hauled out the things Mother had packed. Mother went into the kitchen and came out with the bamboo rice strainer, kitchen knives, and cutting board. Father emerged with his bag of tools over his shoulder. Standing before the people with sledgehammers was a man holding not a sledgehammer but paper and pen. His eyes met Father's. Father indicated the house with his free hand, then turned away. The people with sledgehammers began pounding at the house. They swarmed at the house and knocked it down. Mother sat with her back to the house, hearing but not seeing it collapse. They struck at the north-facing wall and the roof came down. The roof came down and dust rose. The men retreated, then swarmed at the remaining walls. It seemed so easy and then it was over. They put down their sledgehammers and cleaned their sweaty faces. The man with the paper wrote something down. Chi-so※p handed the book to Father. He approached the man.

"what have you done just now?" he asked respectfully.

It took the man a few seconds to understand.

"You had until the thirtieth to demolish the house, correct? The deadline passed. We carried out the demolition according to the law. And that's all there is to it."

As the man was about to turn away Chi-so※p hastened to speak.

"Sir, do you understand what you have ordered to be done? It could be a thousand years, but for convenience' sake we'll say five hundred. What you have just done, sir, is tear down a house that stood for five hundred years. Not five yearsΑΑfive hundred years."

"Five hundred years? What are you talking about?"

"You don't know?"Chi-so※p countered.

"Get out of my way."

"You've set a trap. You or your superiors. You didn't know that over a hundred families settled here? Isn't that setting a trap? Go tell themΑΑtell them I hit you."

Unbelieving, the man neglected to turn away. Chi-so※p's fist landed flush in the man's face. The man crouched, burying his face in his hands. Blood flowed between his fingers. As he crouched, Chi-so※p hit him once more. The man sprawled forward limply. We had had no time to intervene. Noe had the people with the sledgehammers. Too late, they surged forward and fell upon Chi-so※p. Together several of them hit, butted, stomped him. It was time for my brother and me to step forward. But Father took us by the arm and drew us back.

"Stay out of it," he said. "Let he who knows speak up about it."

My brother and I watched, Father detaining us. The end came quickly and simply. The man rose and Chi-so※p lay sprawled on the ground as if dead. The people stood Chi-so※p up. Mother broke into sobs. Chi-so※p's face was soaked with blood. It streamed from his head down his face. They led Chi-so※p away. They went the way they had come, straight across the nowΑempty lots. They could be seen passing the precinct office, heading toward the main street. Father turned to us and gave the book to my brother. He walked off toward them. Father's small shadow followed him. I could no longer bear up. Sleep overcame me. I retrieved a section of our front gate and lay down on it. Feeling the sun on my back, I slowly drifted off to sleep. Except for Chi-so※p and the people in our family, the whole world was strange. I take that back. Even Father and Chi-so※p were a bit strange. As I lay in the sunshine I had a dream. Yo※ng-hu※i was throwing the two pansies into wastewater from a factory.




The owl in the clock on the living room wall hooted four times. I'd never been up this late. Compared with this one night, the seventeen years I'd lived till then seemed so long. But seventeen years was nothing compared with the time lived by our ancestors, a period once calculated by Eldest Brother. And the time lived by our ancestors was nothing compared with...? Well, Father had said he would go to the moon and work at an observatory. From the moon even Berenice's Hair is distinctly visible. According to Chi-so※p's book, that nebular constellation is five billion light-years away. I can't even compare my seventeen years to five billion years. Even a thousand years might be but a few grains of sand in comparison. To me, five billion years is an eternity. I have no idea what eternity feels like. If it has some connection with death, then maybe through death I can begin to understand it.

When I think of death a scene comes to mind. A desert horizon. Around nightfall the wind becomes sandy. At the end of the line described by the horizon I stand naked. My legs are slightly spread, my arms drawn close to me. My head is lowered halfway and my hair covers my chest. If I close my eyes and count to ten my outline fades and disappears. All that remains is the windy gray horizon. This is death as I know it. Can such a death be unrelated to eternity? Our life is grayness. Not until I left our house could I observe it from the outside. Our gray-coated house and our gray-coated family were revealed to me in miniature. The people in our family ate with their foreheads touching, talked with their foreheads touching. They spoke softly and I couldn't understand them. Mother, reduced to a size even smaller than Father's, stopped on her way into the kitchen and looked up at the sky. Even the sky was gray. I hadn't run away from home dreaming of my own independence. Leaving home didn't mean I had become free. From the outside I could look at our house. It was horrible. Like my two older brothers, I had dropped out of school. Just before that, I had read these words in our supplementary reader: "Water, water every where, Nor any drop to drink." The Ancient Mariner had lost his boat and was afloat on the sea. With water all around him he was thirsty. From the outside I watched our miniature house and the miniature people of my family, all enveloped in gray, and I thought of the Ancient Mariner. I was the same as he.

I got out of bed. The bed trembled but no matter. He was fast asleep. Just to be sure, I'd opened the bottle again and shaken some of the drug onto the handkerchief. I gently covered his mouth and nose with the handkerchief and silently counted to ten. I thought back to the beginning. He had stood next to me while the older man wrote out the sales contract. And he had stood next to me while Father signed the contract and stamped it with his seal. He had noticed me running up to the precinct office the day the condemnation notice arrived. He had left my side when Mother handed over the items she had wrapped so carefully. As he turned away his right hand brushed against my chest. Mother received the money with both hands. Nobody saw me leave. I choked back my rising tears. I sneaked out to the alley beside the sewer creek and went to the precinct office. Not a soul remained from the mass of people there during the day. His car was parked in front of the bulletin board. I stood in front of the car and waited for him. He appeared, surrounded by his men, to whom he was speaking in a loud voice. He stiffened when he saw me. The older man handed him the black briefcase. He sent his men away and approached me.

"Waiting for me?" he asked.

I nodded.

"How come?"

"Is ours in there too?" I asked, indicating the black briefcase.

"It better be."

"I wanted to follow it."

"What for?"

I had no answer.

"What's on your mind? I have to go."

"That's our house," I managed to say.

He looked down at me.

"Not any more," he said. "I bought itΑΑpaid money for it."

He produced a key and unlocked the car. After setting the black briefcase inside, he got in. I knocked on the window with the palm of my hand. He opened the door on the other side. Not until I climbed in did I realize I'd left home with the guitar. He took the guitar and placed it in the back seat for me. He turned the car around in front of the precinct office and we left. I sank down, burying myself in the seat.

"Sit up," he said. We had left Felicity Precinct and were on the way out of Eden District. As he drove he took a look at my face. We arrived at a red light and he took the flower from my hair and sniffed it. Then he stuck the small blossom in his upperΑleft jacket pocket.

"we live in Yo※ngdong," he said. "I'll let you off a little further along, and you can go back home."

"I don't want to," I said. "I don't have a home to go back to anymore."

"What are you going to do, then? Steal the briefcase?"

"I haven't decided."

"Fine," he said. "In the meantime I'll give you a job. But you'll have to listen to me. If you don't, then out you go. Fact is, you're prettyΑΑthought so the first time I saw you. But there's one thing you have to remember: never say no to me, no matter what. If you can do that, I'm willing to give you more money than anyone else I've hired. Think it over and decide."

There was nothing to think over. Eldest Brother said it had taken a thousand years to build our house. I hadn't really understood what he meant by that. Exaggeration, of course, entered into what Eldest Brother said. But he wasn't lying. When I turned seventeen Mother discreetly tried to teach me a woman's traditional duties toward kin and family. Chastity she emphasized till she was blue in the face. She couldn't forgive me if I so much as thought about a man at night. She would have strangled herself if she'd known the kind of life I'd led since leaving home. He treated me kindly. The very first thing he did was have some clothes tailored for me. Several outfits, all at once. I felt obligated to pretty myself up for him. His apartment was in Yo※ngdong. As was his office. In the office I cut clippings on residential housing from the newspaper and pasted them in an album. I did the same thing every day. If there weren't any articles on residential housing I killed time reading other articles. His advertisements appeared in the paper every day: "Everyone's interested in Chamshil; Phone immediately for free consulation on Chamshil apartments; U※na your honest guide to real estateΑΑU※na Realty." Advertisements for residential complexes also appeared: "New Ch'o※nho Bridge, Chamshil area, fastΑgrowing location along First Kangnam Way; Bargain-priced units for your dream home; don't miss this opportunityΑΑU※na Home Realty. "He was a ruthless man. Twenty-nine years of age, he was capable of anything. The number of apartment occupancy rights he'd bought in our neighborhood was on the small sideΑΑnot what you would expect. Because he had practically cornered the market on occupancy rights in the redevelopment zones. He had also tucked away a fair amount of land in the Yo※ngdong area.

His family was wealthy. What he was doing now, he had told me, was nothing more than a warmup. He was destined for greater things in his father's company. After returning to the apartment at night he would call home. At the other end of the line sat his father. He reported to his father what he had done and asked his advice. He virtually stood at attention when he telephoned him. After the call he examined item by item the ledgers kept by his employees. He sold for four hundred fifty thousand wo※n each the apartment rights he had bought in our neighborhood. He sold for no less. It was unimaginable. I had assumed he would get ten or twenty thousand wo※n more than what he had paid. While he sat in the living room working, the housekeeper set out his meal and waited for him to come to the table. The housekeeper had been sent by his mother. He paid her extra not to inform his family about his arrangement with me. After I moved in, the housekeeper would leave for the night. Per our agreement, I never said no to him. No one could say no to him. I was living with a person who occupied a world completely different from mine. He and I were different from the day we were born. Mother said that my first cry was a scream. Perhaps my first breath was hot as hellfire. I had insufficient nourishment in my mother's womb. His birth was a thing of warmth. My first breath was the pain of acid flowing over a wound; his was comfortable and sweet. The foundation of our growth was different as well. Many choices were available to him. I remember nothing but what was given to my two brothers and me. Mother had dressed us in clothes without pockets. He had become stronger as he grew, but we were the opposite-we weakened. He wanted me. Wanted me, then wanted me again. I slept in the nude every night. I dreamed every night. In the dream my brothers had found jobs at a different factory and had left for work. Father made several trips a day to the moon and back. Half asleep, I would hear Mother's words: "Yo※ng-hu※i, what are you doing now that you've left home?"

And then I would answer: "Our apartment occupancy rights are in his strongbox. I put them at the very bottom.

They haven't been sold yet. I'll get them back before he sells them. I learned the combination."

"Who told you to do something like that ? Get up and get your clothes onΑΑright now."

"I can't, Mom."

"We've decided to go to So※ngnam. Get upΑΑquick."

"I can't"

"The naked body of one of your great-grandmother's younger sisters plugged up the local reservoir. Do you know why? Because she shared her master's bed. Her mistress had her beaten to death."

"Mom, I'm different."

"You're the same."


"The same."

"I'm different!"

"You're going to go to hell because of that. A young thing and you like it!"

"That's right. I like it."

"You go to hell!"

I squirmed and opened my eyes. It was the middle of the night. He was fast asleep and wouldn't awaken. My body smelled of his semen. He liked me. Young me. Liked me absolutely. And so I could liberate myself from guilty thoughts.

I took what was ours from the strongbox. In the strongbox was money along with a pistol and a knife. I took the money and the knife as well. I imagined Father curled up at the foot of the observatory on the moon. Maybe he had already seen Berenice's Hair, five billion light-years away. To me, five billion years was an eternity. Not much I can say about eternity. As far as I was concerned, one night was too long. I removed the handkerchief from his face and recapped the bottle. Thank heaven for that drug! It had anesthetized my suffering body that first night and put me to sleep. And so I hadn't been able to see his expression that first time. I opened my handbag and looked inside. Everything was there. I got dressed. My mind was a blur. I opened the door and went out to the living room. I didn't look back at him. Nothing else of mine remained in the apartment. The clothes I had on the day I left home, the shoes with the worn-down heels, and the guitar with the broken string that Eldest Brother had given me were no longer there. I took a deep breath and opened the apartment door. Outside, I pushed the door shut. It locked automatically.

Daybreak was still distant. I waited for a taxi in front of the apartment building, caught one. The driver turned on the headlights and sped down the empty streets of Yo※ngdong. We started across the Third Han River Bridge and I asked the driver to stop. I opened the door and climbed out, and the refreshing air wakened my foggy mind. I rested my arms against the railing and looked down at the surface of the Han and the milky light now reflected on the flowing water. The driver likewise climbed out and leaned against the railing. He lit a cigarette he watched me. The sky began to brighten. All during the winter, when Father had lain in bed, Mother had gone to work. I realized now that these were the dawn colors that had greeted Mother when she left the house. I heard the screech of a boat dredging for gravel. I got back in the taxi and after taking the Namsan Tunnel we sped through downtown. The sinners were still asleep. No mercy to be found on these streets. I got out at Paradise District. I passed some time walking its streets and alleys. Finally I went to a tearoom and ordered a hot drink. As I drank I produced the sales documents Father had stamped with his seal and tore them up. When we were young this entire area was vegetable patches. I finished my drink and walked along the asphalt road that had covered those gardens. No need to wander any longer. I went directly to the precinct office. First thing in the morning and it was crowded. One of the clerks in the Construction Section glanced at me as I took my place at the end of the line. He stopped what he was doing and gave me a piercing look.

"Isn't that the dwarf's daughter?"

The whispering of the employees reached me. I stood tall, awaiting my turn. I heard documents being stamped, number plates dropping into a container, laughter. I produced the number plate for our house. I felt the scratches from Mother's kitchen knife against my fingertips. My turn came.

"What's up?" the Construction Section clerk asked. "Do you know your family moved?"

"Yes," I said. "I need a proof-of-demolition certificate."

"A proof-of-demolition certificate? What for?" He produced a puzzled expression. "You sold your right of occupancy, didn't you? With that gone, what do you need this other for?"

"The man in the sedan bought it," said the man next to him.

I stood quietly for a few seconds. "Which side are you on, Mister?" I said. "We're the ones who ought to be moving into an apartment."

"I can't argue with that."

The clerk looked at the man next to him. They shrugged.

"Do you have the papers?" the clerk asked me.

"What papers?" said the man next to him. As long as she has the notification letter and the number plate we don't have anything to say in the matter."

"Here they are," I said.

I handed him the number plate and condemnation notice. The two of them compared these with the ledger. The second man tossed the number plate into a large receptacle. Inside were many other number plates. Our number plate dropped onto the others with a faint tinny click. The clerk handed me a form.

With a trembling hand I filled in Father's name, citizen's registration number, and date of birth and the date of origin of our squatter home. I couldn't write straight. I'm weaker, that's why, I thought. As my eldest brother had said, I've been a crybaby ever since I was young. Tears blurred my vision and I paused before finishing. I pushed the proof-of-demolition form in front of the clerk.


Number              Verification of Demolition                 Effective

 458                 of Unauthorized Structure              immediately


Resident registration number: 123456-123456

Date of birth: 1929/3/11

Address: 46-1839 Felicity Precinct, Eden

District, Seoul

Legal address: 276 Felicity Village, Felicity

Township, Eden County, Kyo※nggi Province



Location of condemned structure: 46-1839 Felicity

Precinct, Eden District, Seoul

Classification: owner-occupied (O) rental ( )

Demolition date: 197X/ /

Unauthorized structure in existence since:



                Use    Application for occupancy of apartment

Verification of the above hereby requested:


Applicant: Kim Pul-i



Chief, Felicity Precinct 1, Eden District

"I don't know the demolition date,?I said.

The clerk fixed me with a stare. ?here have you been??

I said nothing.

He wrote in the date: October 1.

"And you don't know where they moved, right?"


"You haven't heard anything?"

Now it was my legs that felt rubbery. I propped myself up against the edge of the desk. The second man prodded the clerk. Using a small seal, the clerk stamped the form next to the word "Verified" and passed it behind him to the section chief. Holding a hand to my head, I left the line. I felt a faint fever throughout my body. The section chief rose and beckoned me. He stamped his official seal above the words "Chief, Felicity Precinct 1. "Before handing it to me, he took me to the window. He indicated a neighborhood below a grape patch, across the main street.

"Third house from the upper end," he said. "Ask for the missus there. Mrs. Yun Shin-ae. She knew your father very well. She came here several times a day-looking for you."

"I've met her," I said. "I need to drop by the District Office and then go to Housing Affairs. When I'm done there I'll go see her."

"The missus will tell you everything," said the section chief. "She's a very nice missus."

"Thank you."

I said goodbye and left. The office employees were watching me as I talked with the chief. They wanted to say something to me. I couldn't have remained there a moment longer.

I went to the main street and caught a taxi. We passed the supermarket and the bakeshop came into sight. Other girls were doing the work I used to do. If I took a look I could see our neighborhood at a glance. I steadied myself. I couldn't bring myself to take that look. My business at the District Office went smoothly. I went to the Housing Section, turned in my proof-of-demolition, and applied for apartment occupancy. Descending the steps to the entrance, I was hit with dizziness. I felt like I'd been away from home for years.

He'd made me even weaker. Since leaving home I hadn't had a peaceful night's sleep. I was malnourished not only in my mother's womb but after I was born. The table at which he and I ate was always loaded with food. But its nourishment didn't stay with me. It was more than just the mental pressure. He who offered me tasty food proceeded to exploit the calories it contained. Staying up all that last night had its effect too. My only thought was to lie down somewhere, anywhere. I had to finish my business quickly and go see Shin-ae. She would send me to my family.

I retraced the route I had taken at dawn. After emerging from the Namsan Tunnel I crossed the Third Han River Bridge. His apartment building, standing in an open field, came into sight. I opened my handbag and felt his knife inside. At the top of the ivory handle was a small metal attachment the size of a bead. Press it and the blade shot out. I had the taxi stop in front of the Housing Affairs office. Numerous people were walking toward the entrance. I hurriedly worked my way among them. And then I was carried forward. Carried by the people to the plaza in front of the building. The white building reflected the sunlight, dazzling my eyes. It was like a banquet day. Awnings and all. I found the place with the application forms and stood in line. My turn came and the clerk asked to see my receipt from the District Office. He then handed me an application form. I left the line and ran my eyes through the section concerning the leasing of apartments. Among the regulations listed was this one: "Applicant and occupant must be one and the same and cannot offer a third party the right to sublease or to lease as security for an obligation." A dead issue. On the part of the application form containing that provision I jotted down Father's name, address, and citizen's ID number. Again my hand shook. My legs grew rubbery and I felt like squatting down. After filling out the form I got back in line. In that line there was no one from a redevelopment zone but me. Even so, the clerk at the desk at the head of the line asked everyone the same question: "You bought it, didn't you?"

He asked, knowing full well the answer. But his question did not bring a quick response from anyone.

"You bought it, didn't you? "this clerk asked me as well.

"Yes, I bought it!"

That's what I would have answered if only I hadn't felt sick. He was an unfriendly man in a bad mood. I was sick. I said nothing. This clerk stapled together my application form, the receipt from the District Office, and the copy of our family register. He stamped the top of each page with his receipt seal. I took the papers, turned to leave, then made myself small. I went to the far side of the line and surveyed the area directly in front of the building. There he was, standing in front of his car. Standing there strong in body. I waited for him to leave, making my weak body small. I thought I just might kill him if I encountered him. The thought of dying had probably never crossed his mind. What did he know about human suffering? About despair? He'd never heard the rattling of an empty rice bowl, never heard the clatter of hands and feet, knees, teeth that couldn't bear the cold. Naked I'd received him whenever he had wanted, and he'd never heard the moans I'd swallowed. He was one of those who branded people with red-hot iron. I opened the briefcase and felt the knife. There he was, waving. A man emerged from the building. He shook hands with the man and together they climbed into his car. The car made its way alongside the people and left the plaza. Again tears oozed from my eyes. What he had was too much.

I followed people into the Business Section. Again I fell into line. I felt my forehead and waited my turn.

"Aren't you feeling well?" the clerk asked when my turn came.

"No, I'm all right,"I said as I handed him my papers.

He verified the documents, jotted an application number on my receipt, and told me to go to the Accounting Section and pay. A woman found some water and gave it to me. I drank the water. The people in the Accounting Section asked nothing. They counted the money, stamped a receipt, and gave it to me.

"It's all over," I said.

The people looked at me.

I wonder if they knew.

I was done at the Housing Affairs building and I left. I made it to Shin-ae's house without collapsing on the street. As I pressed the buzzer at the front gate I looked at our neighborhood. Our house, the neighbors's houses, all the other housesΑΑthey were nowhere to be seen. The bank of the sewer creek was gone, the brick factory smokestack was gone, the hillside path was gone. No trace there of the dwarf, the dwarf's wife, the dwarf's two sons, and the dwarf's daughter. Only a broad clearing. While calling out to her daughter, Shin-ae took me in her arms. I couldn't even produce a proper how-are-you. Shin-ae had once tended to Father like this when he was injured, and had helped him up. She and her daughter carried me inside and lay me down. While she undid my blouse her daughter brought a washcloth. She treated me as Mother would have. She wiped my face with the washcloth, wiped my hands and feet, then covered me up with a fluffy quilt.

"Thank you, ma'am." I was barely able to open my eyes.

"Now don't you say another word, " she said. "We're bringing the doctor over. Let's not talk anymore today."

"I'm all right," I said. My eyelids dropped shut. "It's just that I haven't been able to sleep. And now I'm sleepy."

"Go to sleep, then. And sweet dreams."

"I got back what they took from us."

"Good for you!"

"Paperwork and all."

"Good for you."

"You know where they moved, don't you?"

"Of course."

"I saw the section chief." I wasn't sure if I was asleep or awake as I said this. "He said you'd tell me everything."

"Is that all he said?"

"Did something happen?"

"Go to sleep. We can talk later."

"I don't think I can go to sleep until I've heard."

I opened my eyes again. The daughter went out to the veranda. Presently I heard the front gate close. She had left for the clinic to fetch the doctor.

"Your family were beside themselves trying to find you," she said. "From this window you can see where your mother was waiting, there where the house was torn down. The more important issue was that your father was missing. Your family was moving to So※ngnam, but your father wasn't here. Well, what's the use of dragging it out? Your father`'s passed on. They found out the day they brought down the smokestack to the brick factory. The demolition people discovered your fatherΑΑhe'd fallen inside it."

The thing was, I couldn't get up. I was lying on my side, eyes closed, like a wounded insect. I couldn't breathe. I pounded my chest. Father was standing in front of our torn-down house. Father was short. Mother took Father on her back when he was injured, turned toward the alley, and entered it. Blood streamed from Father. I called out to my brothers. My brothers came running. We stood in the yard looking up at the sky. Overhead a black iron ball traced a straight line across the sky. Father, standing on top of the brick factory smokestack, waved at us. Mother set down the meal tray at the end of our plank veranda. I heard the doctor come in through the front gate. Shin-ae took my hand. Ahhhhhh! The wail rose slowly in my throat.

"Yo※ng-hu※i, don't cry, " Eldest Brother had said. "For God's sake don't cry. Someone will hear you."

I couldn't stop crying.

"Doesn't it make you mad, Eldest Brother?"

"Stop it, I said."

"I want you to kill those devils who call Father a dwarf."

"Yes, I'm going to kill them."

"You promise?"

"Yes, I promise."





The Möbius Strip



The mathematics teacher entered the classroom. The students noticed that he hadn't brought the textbook. They trusted this teacher. In this school he was the only teacher to have won the students' trust.

"Gentlemen, he began. This has been a challenging year for you. You're really put your heart into your studies, all of you. And so, for this last class I'd like to talk about something that's not related to the college entrance exam. I've looked through some books and I've found something I'd like to share with you. Let me start by putting it to you in the form of a question: Two boys have just finished cleaning a chimney. One of them comes down from the chimney with his face black as night. The other comes down without a trace of soot. Now, gentlemen, which of the boys do you suppose will wash his face?

The students looked up at their teacher standing on the podium at the head of the classroom. None of them was quick to answer.

After a momentary silence one of the students rose.

-The one with the dirty face.

-I'm afraid not, said the teacher.

-Why not? asked another student.

The teacher explained.

-Two boys come down from the chimney, one with a clean face, one with a dirty face. The boy with the dirty face sees the boy with the clean face and decides his face is clean, too. And the boy with the clean face sees the boy with the dirty face and decides his face is dirty, too.

The students gasped in surprise. Every pair of eyes remained fixed on the teacher standing on the podium.

-Let's try it a second time: Two boys have just finished cleaning a chimney. One of them comes down from the chimney with his face black as night. The other comes down without a trace of soot. Now, gentlemen, which of the boys do you suppose will wash his face?

The very same question.

This time a student immediately rose.

-we know-it's the boy with the clean face.

The students waited expectantly for the teacher to respond.

-No, that's wrong.


-You won't have to answer that question again, so please listen carefully. Two boys, together, cleaned the very same chimney. And so it's not possible that one of them had a clean face and the other a dirty face.

The teacher now took a piece of chalk and wrote "Möbius strip" on the chalkboard.

-Gentlemen, this is something you already know about from your textbook, but it's not related to the college entrance exam either, so just relax and listen to what I'm about to say. Now a surface can be inner or outer. For example-paper has a front and a back; the earth has an interior and an exterior. If you take a plain sheet of paper and cut away a long rectangular strip, then paste the two ends of that strip together, you get the same thing -an inner and an outer surface. But-if you give that strip of paper a twist and then paste the ends together, you can no longer distinguish inner from outer. What you have now is a single curved surface. And this, gentlemen, is the Mbius strip you know so well from your textbook. I'd like you to think now about this curved surface that has no separate interior and exterior.


Squatlegs entered the beanfield. Daylight lingered and he was able to pick several fully ripened stalks. There were too many weeds. Holding the stalks in his armpit, Squatlegs scooted along between the furrows on hands and crippled legs. It was so quiet he could almost hear the seeds falling from the weeds. Beanfield? More like a weedfield. Squatlegs came out on the ocher-colored dirt road and took the beanstalks in his hand. He smelled the burning wood, a good smell. The sky had begun to darken. The wood he had set ablaze before venturing into the beanfield burned bright red. He placed a piece of sheet metal over the fire, then shelled the beans and roasted them. The wood was bone dry and burned with scarcely a wisp of smoke. Just a few hours before, this wood had been part of Humpback's veranda.

They had torn down Humpback's house, the men with the sledgehammers. They had pulverized one of the walls, then stepped back and the north-facing roof had simply collapsed. That was all they had to do to his house. Humpback had been sitting where the prince's-feather grew beside the poplar tree. He had risen and merely gazed at the sky. His wife and their four children were picking the ears of corn left for seed on the cornstalks bordering their yard. Before the men with the sledgehammers moved to the next house they had silently observed the woman and children. They hadn't resisted the men, they hadn't cried. The men had found this disturbing.

Night was falling. Squatlegs heard the whisper of wings in the fields-a spiraling flock of goatsuckers hunting insects. He continued to shell beans onto the piece of sheet metal. He enjoyed the smell of the wood burning, the beans roasting. People were passing along the other side of the lake-a group of laborers working on the new apartments. Squatlegs watched as their silhouettes cut across the field beside the lake and on toward the bus stop.

While awaiting Humpback's footsteps he removed the piece of sheet metal from the fire. Still no sound of him. Humpback's wife, their biggest one, the other children-they'd exercised self-restraint, all of them. Squatlegs chewed on a cooked bean. Humpback's porch was burning briskly. The others in the neighborhood hadn't restrained themselves. They had clutched and wailed at the men with the sledgehammers. They believed that they wouldn't be held responsible if they acted as a group. They had seized one of the men with the sledgehammers and had kicked and butted him. A few minutes later the man rose, bleeding. He shook his fist at them, then spit out the blood collecting in his mouth. His front teeth were broken and bloody.

When the men with the sledgehammers had approached, Squatlegs had made way for them, pointing out his house. He had withdrawn to the side of the road where the cosmos were in full bloom and there he had sat down. His wife and children hadn't been as composed as Humpback's family. His wife had squatted behind their pump and shielded her face with the hem of her soiled skirt. Beside her the children had kept rubbing their teary eyes. In no time the roof and walls were leveled, leaving only dust.

Squatlegs heard Humpback's footsteps. Humpback had a plastic container, which he set down out of range of the fire. The container was full of gasoline. He had toted this heavy container for two or three miles along the dark road. Where the road ended at an empty lot, people were peddling worm medicine wrapped in aluminum foil.

The medicine peddlers drove around in an old junker bought at an auto graveyard. Inside were lauan timbers, hefty rocks, beer bottles, spikes, samurai swords honed to a fine edge. These were the tools of trade of the man they called the Master. This man could break a rock or a beer bottle with the chop of a hand, he could snap a lauan timber in two, with his teeth he could draw out a spike driven into wood until the head was bent. When he strapped one of the swords to his palm with nylon cord, touched the tip to his stomach, applied pressure, then withdrew it, people had the sensation that their body tissues, skin and all, were being shredded by the blade. But the Master remained unscathed.

The Master's strength was awesome. Humpback had obtained the gasoline from him. He had closely observed the interior of the car. Squatlegs noticed Humpback look back toward their village, now veiled in darkness. Humpback hunched down and Squatlegs pushed the piece of sheet metal toward him. Humpback put a bean to his mouth, but instead of eating it he spoke in an undertone.

"What's that?"


"I thought I heard something."

The two of them momentarily held their breath.

"Birds," said Squatlegs. "Goatsuckers flying around for food."

"At night?"

"They sleep during the day. Stick to the trees and sleep."

Humpback put back the bean he was about to eat. Squatlegs watched as he lit a cigarette with trembling hands.

"What's the matter?" asked Squatlegs.



"Nothing to be scared of."

"If you don't feel up to it, go on back."

Humpback shook his head. His children were asleep in the tent. Before going to sleep they had made a fire in front of the tent. Squatlegs' children had contributed their kitchen door to the flames. It was in pieces, couldn't be sold.

It was pitch black inside the tent. The village people standing in front of the fire had gone their separate ways and the troubled land where once their houses had stood was draped in darkness. Some of the grownups had made their way toward a hazy column of light.

A car was parked in the vacant lot in front of the checkpoint manned by the night guards. Inside the car a man looked over some documents along with notarized impressions of personal seals. The man passed money out through the window. The people who had given him the documents squatted in front of the car and counted the money.

Squatlegs returned the piece of scrap metal to the fire and shelled more beans onto it. He would have been happier if Humpback had at least eaten some of them. These last few days he hadn't seen him eat a thing.

"About time he left, isn't it?" Humpback asked. The cigarette, mostly ash, hung from his fingertips.

"Yeah,"said Squatlegs. "Don't let him kill me. This guy is fat as a pig. If he gets on top of me, he'll smother me."

"Then why did you tell me to go home?"

"If you go home, I'll have to come up with another plan."

"Another plan?"

"Forget it."

Squatlegs looked around. His field of vision was screened by the apartments. The dark skeletons of the buildings filled the expanse from east to west. Humpback scooped sand onto the fire. Squatlegs removed the piece of sheet metal, then looked on, mute, until the other had put out the fire. The last ember was covered and gloom enveloped the surroundings.

Humpback said, "His lights are on."

Squatlegs looked toward the village. The car's headlights swirled in the evening sky, then slowly moved toward them.

Squatlegs pushed the piece of sheet metal toward Humpback.


Humpback kicked it into the beanfield. Container of gasoline in hand, he started walking. Squatlegs followed quickly. Water had gathered in a large hollow in the road. There were two stepping stones, and Humpback hopped across, feeling his way. He waited. Squatlegs avoided the puddle, scooting over the roadside weeds until he came to where Humpback was standing. He sat himself squarely in the middle of the road. He produced a length of electric cord from each pocket and displayed them to his friend. Humpback nodded, crossed to the right side of the road, and hid himself in the beanfield. Silence lay in every direction and Squatlegs grew fearful. He felt like talking to his friend.

"Did you find out the going price today?"

"Yeah," came Humpback's disembodied voice.

"How much?"

"Three hundred eighty thousand w?"

Squatlegs no longer felt like talking.

"Look there,"came Humpback's voice from the beanfield.

Squatlegs saw two columns of light approaching, churning the evening sky. He closed his eyes. All that remained of the bright lights was thick gloom on his retina. He didn't budge-not when the car entered the puddle, not when the horn sounded. The bumper pushed up against his chin and finally the car stopped. Curses poured out from the man inside.

Humpback hugged the ground.

The man emerged from the car. Still blinded by the headlights, Squatlegs pivoted to the side and squinted up at the man.

"What do you think you're doing!"

Squatlegs mumbled something in a small voice.

The man bent down.


"I want to die," said Squatlegs. "Run me over-pretend I'm not here."

The man had to hunch down beside Squatlegs to make out what he was saying.

"What the hell for? There's got to be a reason."

"You remember me?"

"Sure. You sold me your right of possession."

"Yes. For a hundred and sixty thousand wo※n."

"You have a problem with that? I gave you ten thousand more than you would have gotten from the city."

"No. No problem at all," said Squatlegs. "We used it to pay back the deposit to the people who rented from us."

The man said, "Fine. Now get out of the road."

Squatlegs turned his face away.

"Now that we've given away that money, there's nothing left."

"You didn't have enough money for an apartment, so you sold your right of possession. So what's the point?"

"Did you see what happened to our house?"

"Yeah, I saw." The man's voice now had an edge to it.

"Our house is gone." Still the same small voice. "You owe me another two hundred thousand, mister."


"Just because I don't know much doesn't mean you can get away with what you did. You bought something worth three-eighty for one-sixty, then sold it for a two-twenty profit-you can't do that. Give me two hundred thousand, and you've still got twenty thousand for yourself, okay? And don't forget-you bought up everyone's right of possession."

The man rose.

"Move! Or else I'll do it for you."

"Be my guest."

For the briefest instant Squatlegs lost his presence of mind. The man's shoes had struck him in the chest. Instinctively, Squatlegs clutched and hung to the shoes that kept coming at him. But he was too weak. The man pummeled his face with large fists, then hurled him easily into a patch of grass.

Knocked practically upside down, Squatlegs tried to crawl back onto the road.

The man noticed and turned toward his car. He would have to get by this obstacle before it regrouped.

He bent over to climb inside. And then a dark shadow slammed into the pit of his stomach. The man's large body slumped to the ground. Humpback, emerging from his hiding place in the field, had kicked the man with murderous force.

"I'll give you the money!" the man wanted to say. But he couldn't speak. Humpback had already taped his mouth shut. Nor could he move. He was tied fast with the electrical cord. The man watched Humpback help Squatlegs past the front of the car. Squatlegs's face, revealed in the headlights, was a bloody mess. Humpback wiped it for him. Squatlegs was weeping.

"Have fun watching me get laid out like that?" said Squatlegs. "What took you so long? You wanted to see me get laid out, didn't you."

"Knock it off," said Humpback as he turned and walked toward the car. "We have to get this guy into the car. And we need to find his briefcase."

"All right, load him in."

The man thrashed about, then lay quietly, exhausted.

Humpback climbed in and the two columns of light slanting across the evening sky vanished. He cut the engine. The black briefcase was beneath the driver's seat.

Outside, Squatlegs had propped the man up in a sitting position. Humpback emerged from the car, took the man around the waist, and stood him up. The two friends walked the man to his car and sat him in the driver's seat.

Squatlegs said, "Let me sit next to him."

Humpback lifted Squatlegs and set him in the passenger seat. He himself climbed in back and opened the black briefcase. The man watched silently.

Humpback said, "Money and papers."

"Let me see."

The man realized that Squatlegs and Humpback had everything.

Squatlegs rummaged through the briefcase. "He's already sold ours."

The man blinked.

"Look some more."

"He's got our names written down in a notebook. And some of the names are crossed out-must be the ones he sold."

Squatlegs looked hard at the man. The man nodded.

"For three hundred and eighty thousand-right?"

Again the man nodded.

Humpback said, "Count the money."

Squatlegs began counting. He produced two piles of exactly two hundred thousand wo※n each.

"Our money," he said.

The man nodded once more. He watched as Squatlegs passed one of the piles to his friend in the back seat.

Squatlegs's hands trembled. Humpback's too. Their hearts pounded.

Squatlegs unbuttoned his shirt, put the money in an inside pocket, then buttoned the shirt and tidied it. Humpback put his share in the outer right-hand pocket of his shirt. His clothes had no inner pockets.

With the money taken care of, Humpback recalled what he had to do the following day. Likewise with Squatlegs. His children were asleep in the tent.

Squatlegs said, "Fetch me that container." In his hand was the remaining piece of electrical cord.

Humpback located the plastic container in the beanfield. He watched the face of his friend. Indeed, watched it to the exclusion of everything else. Then he set off toward the village. The night was unusually quiet. Not a point of light could be seen, such that he couldn't be sure just where the village lay. By and by he paused and listened hard, wondering if Squatlegs was scooting along behind.

Squatlegs ought to be curling himself up and dropping out of the car. He ought to be closing the door with a thunk, putting his hands quickly to work, and scooting out onto the ocher soil of the road now spread with darkness.

As he walked along, Humpback thought of his own normal pace and of how fast Squatlegs could go when his hands worked quickly.

Arriving at the village, Humpback proceeded to what remained of an out-of-the-way house and pressed down on the handle of a pump. He cupped the water in his palms and moistened his lips. He felt the outside pocket of his shirt. Squatlegs was scooting toward him, breathing hard. Humpback met him, looked into his face; it was hard to make out in the gloom.

Squatlegs reeked of gasoline. Humpback worked the pump and washed Squatlegs' face. Face smarting, Squatlegs closed his eyes. But the pain was nothing. He thought about the money inside his shirt and what he had to do the following day. Flames shot up from the far end of the dirt road down which he had scooted. His friend tried to rise and he sat him down.

Humpback's family certainly had restrained themselves when the men with the sledgehammers arrived. His family hadn't been as composed. Squatlegs didn't like his friend jerking up like that. He himself was startled by the explosion. But presently it was over. The distant flames subsided, the sound of the explosion died out.

Darkness, silence enveloped the two men. Humpback set out. Squatlegs followed.

"Lots of things to buy," said Squatlegs. "A motorbike, a pull-cart, and a popper. All you have to do is drive. Then nobody has to see me scooting around anymore."

Squatlegs waited for his friend's reaction. But Humpback had nothing to say.

"What's up?" Squatlegs caught up with Humpback and grabbed his pantleg. "Hey, what's up with you?"


"Scared?" Squatlegs asked.

"No way," said Humpback. "But it's weird. I've never felt like this before."

"Then, everything's fine."

"No, it isn't."

Squatlegs had never heard his friend speak in such calm tones.

"I'm not going with you," said Humpback.


"I said I'm not going with you."

"What's this all of a sudden? Look, tomorrow let's go to Samyang-dong or Ko※yo※-dong. Lots of rooms to let there. Get the families settled and then we go around with the popper. Once we buy the motorbike we can go anywhere. Remember the time we went to Karhyo※n-dong? All the families who turned out with stuff to pop? We had the popper working nonstop till nine o'clock. Wasn't the popcorn they wanted. They just got to thinking about the old days and decided to bring the kids out. All we got to do is find a place like that. Every few days we'll bring home a pile of money that'll make the little woman's mouth drop. So what's on your mind?"

"I reckon I'll go with the Master."

"That medicine peddler?"


"Are you out of your mind? At your age? How much peddling you think you can do?"

"There aren't too many people who are perfect. He's one of them. He does that scary stuff with the knife to draw a crowd, works himself to the bone peddling, and lives on the proceeds. That worm medicine he sells is the real thing. And he knows my physical condition is an added attraction." And after a pause, "The thing that scares me is your state of mind."

"I get the message. Go, then. I'm not going to stop you. But remember, I didn't kill anyone."

"Sooner or later, though,"Humpback said, turning back, "we've got to find a solution."

Squatlegs heard nothing but footsteps as darkness enveloped his friend. Before long the footsteps were gone as well. He scooted off in search of the tent where his children were sleeping. He clenched his jaws so he wouldn't cry. But tears were streaming unchecked from his eyes. One more long night-when would it end"


The teacher rested his hands on the lectern. He spoke to the students.

-Ask yourselves whether there exists a solid whose inner and outer parts can't be distinguished. Imagine a solid where you can't divide inner and outer- a Möbius-type solid. The universe-infinite, endless-we can't seem to tell its inside from its outside. This simple Mbius strip conceals many truths. I'm confident, gentlemen, that you'll give some thought to why I brought up the chimney story and the Mbius strip in this, your last class. It will gradually become clear to you that human knowlege is often put to extraordinarily evil uses. Soon you'll be in college, and there you will learn much more. Make absolutely sure, gentlemen, that you never compromise your knowledge for the sake of self-interest. I've tried to teach you according to the standard curriculum, but I've also tried to teach you to see things correctly. I think it's time now for you to test yourselves on how my efforts have turned out. So how about a simple goodbye and let's leave it at that.

The class monitor sprang to his feet.


The teacher returned the students' bows, stepped down from the podium, and left the classroom.

The winter sun was slanting downward and the classroom grew dark.