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  • The Sky1
  • Hyŏn Tŏk
    Translated by Dafna Zur (bio)

The ball, which he’d hidden behind the large wooden board in the inner gate, was gone. He reached out and felt for it, but the space was empty. Mungi’s heart began to pound.

What if the kids in the neighborhood had gotten their hands on it?

On second thought, that might actually be for the best. Because if the ball had found its way into Aunty’s hands, that would mean big, big trouble.

Mungi watered the flowers in the inner courtyard and tried to stay calm. All the while, his eyes darted searchingly to Aunty’s face. She was in the kitchen making dinner. Their eyes met each time she walked in and out of the kitchen. He found nothing different about the way she looked at him. He started to feel better. A street beggar or one of the neighborhood kids must have taken it. Otherwise she wouldn’t be this calm, he thought. He quickly returned to his room.

But when he opened his desk drawer, he made another shocking discovery. The binoculars, which he’d hidden so carefully deep inside the drawer, were gone. And that’s not all. The inside of the drawer was a mess. Someone had been there. [End Page 355]

Uncle will be home from the office any minute now. I’m doomed!

Mungi sat at his desk and tried to read. But his eyes were blurry and his heart was racing. There was no way he was going to be able to concentrate.

The whole thing started a few days earlier. He was given money by his aunt to go to the butcher’s and buy a slab of meat for the evening meal. The local butcher’s was always packed at that time of day. He waited forever for his turn. When it came, he presented the money. The fat owner took the money, placed it in the deep straw basket, sliced the meat carefully, weighed it, wrapped it in paper, and gave it to him. And then the change came: nine coins and several silver pennies . . . ?! Mungi was confused. When Aunty had given him the money, even when he had handed it over to the butcher, the boy was sure that what he had was a one-wŏn note. He looked suspiciously at the money, then at the butcher. But the butcher was busy slicing meat for the next customer. In his confusion he had been pushed to the back of the line. The more he thought about it, the less certain he was that Aunty had given him a one-wŏn note to begin with. And if she hadn’t, then there wasn’t anything amiss. The best thing to do was to check with her as soon as possible. On the way home he kept shaking his head and replaying the events in his mind. Was it his mistake? Or the butcher’s?

He turned down an alley. There, a few paces away, was his buddy Sumani. Mungi hurried to catch up.

“When are you going home?” he asked Sumani, and threw one arm over his shoulder. “Want to hear something weird?”


“I went to the butcher, right? And I thought I gave him a one-wŏn note but he gave me ten-wŏn’s worth of change.”

“For real? Let’s see.”

Mungi opened the palm of his hand, and examined the money and the meat again. Sumani blinked. Then he spoke.

“I’ve got an idea.” [End Page 356]


“First, give your aunt only the small coins.”

“Then what?”

“If she doesn’t say anything, come back and meet me. We’ve got work to do.”

“Work? What kind of work?”

“Just show up, ok? It’s a good kind of work.”

Mungi did as he was told, and removed from his jacket pocket only the small change. Aunty took the money, counted it carefully twice, put the money in her pocket and turned around to wash the meat as if nothing was amiss. Just to make sure, he lingered for a while and watched...


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pp. 355-366
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