Beneath the high, clear autumn sky just north of the 38th boundary the village was quiet and alone.
In the empty houses, there might be just a white gourd on the dirt floor between rooms, leaning against another white gourd.
Old people met by chance would turn aside, pipes held behind their backs. And children, being children, turned away at some distance. Everyone's face was marked by fear.
The area showed no signs of what might be called the broken remnants of the present conflict. But it somehow did not seem like the old village where he had grown up as a youngster.
In the chestnut grove on the back hill, Sŏngsam halted his steps. There he climbed one of the trees. It seemed as if he could hear from a distance the shouts of the old grandfather with the wen: "You little son-of-a-guns, climbing someone else's tree again!" [End Page 305] The old grandfather with the wen had probably passed away in the time since. He hadn't been among the old people encountered in the area so far.
Holding on to the chestnut tree, for a moment Sŏngsam looked up at the blue autumn sky. Even without the branch being shaken, one of the remaining chestnuts opened, and the nut slipped out, and fell.
As he reached the front of a house, the temporary headquarters for the Public Peace Corps, he saw there was some young fellow tied up in handcuff rope.
It didn't seem to be anyone he had seen before in the village, so he went up close for a look at his face. He was stunned. Wasn't it his closest childhood friend, Tŏkchae?
What was going on, he asked the Public Peace Corpsman who had come over from Ch'ŏnt'ae with him. Vice chairman of the Farmers Collective Committee, this one was, caught hiding out in his own house.
Sŏngsam squatted down there on the dirt floor, a lighted cigarette in his mouth.
Tŏkchae was going to be sent off to Ch'ŏngdan. One of the Public Peace Corps members was going to take him.
Lighting a new cigarette from the one he had just finished, Sŏngsam stood up again.
"I'll take this sunnavabitch."
Tŏkchae all this time kept his face turned away and did not even try to look in Sŏngsam's direction.
The two came out of the village.
Sŏngsam smoked one cigarette after another. The cigarettes seemed to have no flavor. He just kept drawing the smoke in deep, and letting it out. After a while, the thought came to him that this Tŏkchae fellow, he might want a cigarette too. He remembered when they were young, how they would make cigarettes out of pumpkin leaves and smoke them behind the wall, so the grown-ups wouldn't know. But how could he offer a cigarette to a guy like this one, today? [End Page 306]
Once, when they were young, he had gone with Tŏkchae to swipe chestnuts from the old grandfather with the wen. It had been Sŏngsam's turn to climb the tree. Next instant, the old grandfather was shouting at them. He slipped and fell out of the tree. The chestnut burs pierced his backside, but they just ran. Only when they had gone far enough so the old grandfather with the wen couldn't follow, did he turn his backside to Tŏkchae. It hurt like anything, pulling out the chestnut burs. He couldn't help the tears that trickled down. Tŏkchae suddenly reached out with a fistful of his own chestnuts and stuck them in Sŏngsam's pocket. . . .
Sŏngsam threw away the cigarette he had just lit. He makes up his mind not to light another while escorting this fellow Tŏkchae.
They reached the hill road. The hill is where he and Tŏkchae had gone all the time to cut fodder, until two years before Liberation when Sŏngsam moved to a place near Ch'ŏnt'ae, south of...