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  • At the School for the Blind and Mute
  • Hwang Sunwŏn
    Translated by Jane Lee

At the news of Yŏng-i’s disappearance he shot a glance toward the open sea. The blind child waiting by his door did likewise.

It would be a while before the new day dawned. From the push-up window in the dormitory inspector’s room at the school for the blind and mute, the sea off the Songdo coast near Pusan was still pitch black. The fresh morning breeze was decidedly cool on his neck.

As he changed into his clothes, he was already thinking that the chances of finding her were slim. An image of Yŏng-i sinking into the dark water flickered before his eyes. Most likely her body would never surface—probably she had looped a heavy rock around her tiny neck.

One gloomy night at the end of February he had emerged from a restaurant to discover a blind girl standing by the gate. In the dreary darkness he made out a delicate neck supporting a pale face in which only the black eyebrows moved.

The girl proceeded to tell him she had lost her sight during the recent war, from a head injury caused by a shell fragment. She had lost her parents too. She had turned fifteen this year.

The emotions of a child who had gone blind early in life were very different from those of a child who had lost her sight at a later age. One who had lost sight as a baby simply lived life, no questions [End Page 157] asked. But a child who had learned the ways of the world and then gone blind was not about to accept her fate. Yŏng-i likewise refused to let destiny compel her. During that first encounter at the restaurant gate, her distinctive fluttering eyebrows told him how she felt.

Almost from the start, trouble was brewing between Yŏng-i and her new roommates. One of the rules of this new realm was that the children already living there had the right to boss the newbies around. The problem was, from the day she arrived Yŏng-i wouldn’t go along. At night she monopolized the blanket, not wanting the skin of another child to touch hers, and during the day she complained that the other children’s eyes smelled like sewage. Her roommates flocked to the dormitory inspector’s room.

The blind children were distinctly different from the deaf children. First of all, they were habitually suspicious of everyone and everything. They accepted nothing as real without first feeling it against their own skin. And there was a great deal of jealousy among them. The blind children already there had needed days to resolve their differences and learn to room together, and now Yŏng-i had come along and soured the mood for everyone. He knew that as dormitory inspector he should have scolded or reasoned with the child to make sure there would be no repeats. But instead it was the other children he moved to a separate room, hoping to soften the heart of this girl who had gone blind so recently and developed so much hatred toward the world.

Only Su-gi remained behind with Yŏng-i. Su-gi was much younger, and unlike Yŏng-i, had lost her sight early, around the age of three, to an eye disease. She had arrived at the school some five or six years earlier, and already by then she had a heart of gold. This despite her father having been drafted into the Japanese imperial army, never to return. And then after the war her mother had passed on, leaving Su-gi an orphan. The best Braille-reader at the school, she wished someday to become a skilled Braille-reader and therapist so she could devote her life to helping other blind children. [End Page 158]

Su-gi always yielded to Yŏng-i, who instead of feeling appreciative, seemed to consider this a bother.

“You wicked little bitch! You think you’re better than me, huh? You know what, you’re wrong. I may...


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pp. 157-171
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