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  • Excerpts from Rina
  • Kang Youngsook (bio)
    Translated by Jung Yewon (bio)

Chapter One: The Border

The soldiers walked slowly towards the twenty-two escapees, rifle muzzles pointed at them. A girl who had been licking her lips with her dry tongue stood up suddenly and opened her mouth to say something. "I told you not to move!" shouted the soldiers. She knelt down in her place again, and looked up at the faces of the soldiers who had come near. They were carrying rifles, but they, too, looked as though they were starving to death.

The name of the girl, who was short, and had an oval face with yellow pimples on her forehead, was Rina. She was sixteen, the oldest girl of parents who were workers in a coal-mining area. After school, she went to a job-training center for youth, and assembled simple machine parts late into the night. When she grew sleepy and tired of the work, she lifted the screws up under her nose, saying to them, "Die, die," and then threw them down one by one at her feet.

One of the soldiers walked over and stood before the escapees who were kneeling in small groups. The rubber soles of his shoes had fallen apart, and looked like the gaping mouths of angry toads. The soldier bent down, and with his finger, tapped the head of the boy who was sniffling next to Rina. The boy was trembling, and Rina could feel the tremor through her arm. [End Page 125]

"Sing something. Don't you know any songs? Sing a song, any song, one that you learned at school. I'm bored to death," the soldier said.

The boy said, "I don't go to school," and began to cry even louder. The boy's father, who was sitting a few steps away, scowling, tried to soothe his son without success. The frightened sound of the boy's sobbing echoed throughout the border region, which was as dark as a cave. It was rumored that little boys captured during escapes were sold off into other countries and forced to work night and day, and that little girls were sent from place to place to work as prostitutes, and freed only when they were dying from disease. Whenever Rina heard such stories, she fell into confusion. It was difficult for her to decide which was worse: to live in a tiny house in a coal-mining town, where even the laundry was gray, or to go live in a foreign country, even if it meant becoming a prostitute.

"I can sing," Rina said to the soldiers, and at that moment, a one-year-old baby and a three-year-old child began to cry. They kept on crying because they were hungry, and their mothers, not knowing what to do, just kept offering them their nipples as though they were milk machines.

The border was said to be about two kilometers away. Ever since her father told her that he had decided to flee the country, Rina had dreamed about the border every night. The sounds of wind and gunfire never ceased, and pillars of fire shot up here and there in the darkness. Those who escaped and were captured were lined up naked and shot to death, and their corpses were burned to cinders. An owl with sullen eyes kept watch over everything going on there.

Still, Rina did not doubt that the border, spread out like a green riverbank in the distance ahead, would open up at any moment. She believed that this green riverbank would rush towards her like a wave, and spread open like the sky. She also believed that an invisible hand would draw all the escapees safely into a net, and pull them across the border, as though by magic. [End Page 126]

The twenty-two escapees consisted of three families and young workers from a sewing factory; they had been born and had lived all their lives near the border.

"I found some people to escape with. We should flee this country." When her father quietly made this important announcement, Rina thought he was lying. Her father was...


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pp. 125-151
Launched on MUSE
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