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  • Make the Ocean Blue
  • Ch'oe Ryŏn (bio)
    Translated by Heinz Insu Fenkl (bio)

"Look, Daddy! The ocean's so blue, but how come this didn't get blue?"

The young captain was barely a day back from fishing in the deep ocean; he looked at the white cloth his daughter was thrusting at him after she had dipped it in the sea.

"What are you saying?" he asked, confused.

The six-year-old girl squatting in the sand sighed loudly. "Daddy, look at this! It's so blue over there, but the water here isn't blue at all. Why, Daddy?"

When he realized what his daughter was asking, the young captain laughed out loud toward the sea. "Ha ha-You mean it's blue out there but clear right here, right?" He laughed again but quickly stopped when he saw the annoyance in his daughter's eyes.

"Well, you know, seawater looks blue because it's transparent," he said. "When the sun shines on the water. . . ."

He was about to spout terms like "light absorption" and "reflection," but stopped himself short and fumbled for words that were easier to understand. In the end, he gave up, thrust out a hand and lifted his lovely daughter up into his arms.

"Hae-song, let's forget it. We'll take Daddy's boat out to the middle of the ocean and have a look to see if the water's really blue."

"That's great!" [End Page 167]

Hearing her father say a thing she had only chased in dreams until now, she clapped her hands and shouted with joy; but something crossed her mind, and she looked her father straight in the eye and asked, with a serious expression, "But when, Daddy?"

"When you've grown just this much more," he said, holding his broad palm less than a hand's breadth above her head. To her eyes it seemed she could grow that much after only ten nights' sleep-no, just a week.

"All right," she said. "I really want to go out there. The water will be really blue there." Full of confidence, she looked out at the horizon. The sea, still full of its secrets, shimmered intensely blue in her eyes so full of dreams and thirsty for knowledge.

Hae-song couldn't quite understand why this memory, now twenty years in the past, surfaced at this particular moment. Was she dwelling on her childhood because of some mental weakness? Try as she might, she could not figure out how this childhood memory was connected to her nervousness about the meeting she was about to have.

When she noticed the room number of the office she was looking for, Hae-song sighed-Whew-and cautiously knocked on the door.

"Hello," she said in greeting.

She made a polite bow and froze as she looked up again. The apparent owner of the room-who was on the phone at his desk facing her-was a handsome young man. He couldn't have been more than thirty. Hae-song was about to turn around, thinking she might have the wrong room, when the young man, still holding the phone, motioned with his free hand for her to wait a moment. It was a smooth, practiced gesture.

"That's right. She's been living apart from her family for about a year. Please do everything you can. So she can have a nice meal with them when she gets home. . . . Ah, I'm asking because I trust you, not because I doubt your. . . . Think what you will of that. Well [End Page 168] then, thank you for your hard work." He replaced the receiver and paused, staring down at the corner of his desk. Hae-song did not miss the warmth that shone for a moment from his eyes.

Suddenly, he looked up at her.

"I'm here to see Pak Shin-ch'ŏl, the Comrade who came down from the State to be in charge of site management," said Hae-song.

He looked her over-she was dressed in a purple summer suit rarely seen in this coastal area-and indicated a green chair.

"That would be...