Since then, Eun-Ha has spent most of his time playing outside with Seung-Jae and Su-Yeon. They explored the neighborhood alleys, played ground picking, and spent time trying to eat more snowflakes when it snowed. Their favorite game was racing at Duryu Park and Su-Yeon did most of the refereeing. The loser bought snacks such as dumplings, fish shaped buns, or puffed rice. Miraculously, even without plans, the three managed to gather in front of Eun-Ha's house or at the entrance of the market a bit after lunch quite often.
As the year changed, Eun-Ha found it hard to see Su-Yeon. As the cold weather continued, most things froze solid and presumably because of this, Su-Yeon did not come out past Duryu Park. This was because it became difficult to get around outside on icy roads. Grandmother especially warned Eun-Ha. Mount Duryu became more dangerous and difficult to climb, so even if he wanted to go, he could not.
However, one day, when the sky was exceptionally clear and there wasn’t too much wind, Eun-Ha did not miss this opportunity. He succeeded to come out after his grandmother set the table and left for a meeting at the local senior citizen center. And in one pocket, he also had two tangerines to give to Su-Yeon.
But something was strange. The alleyways felt emptier. Was it just because of the cold? There were definitely two banners that were hung on the building at first, so he wondered when it had increased so much. A banner reading, ‘We’re not leaving this place’ was fluttering halfway drooped. The phrase ‘redevelopment’ Seung-Jae mentioned before caught his eye. Eun-Ha stopped.
Redevelopment. It wasn’t a pleasant word to hear. It felt heavy, hard, and like something big was going to happen for some reason. ‘Duryu 1st District’ did too. Hence, he was scared all of a sudden. It was quiet and deserted, but Eun-Ha looked around.
‘Adults are fighting again.’
It was a thought that flashed across his mind. Eun-Ha once saw it on television. During where many people and police soldiers were fighting as if they wanted to destroy each other. His grandmother even tsked her tongue, saying they were riots. The streets turned gray with smoke, with the people marching in between flags and banners. Eun-Ha scratched his head. He thought he’d better find Su-Yeon quickly. He trembled at the chills in each alley. The front door to Su-Yeon's house was closed tightly.
He knocked on the door several times, but there was no answer. Was nobody there? Eun-Ha called a little louder and knocked the gate harder. However, no one responded. Eun-Ha crouched by the gate and sighed, White fog came out and quickly dispersed. Eun-Ha exhaled a few more times and watched his breath fog up and disappear in the air.
The, he heard the sound of slipped from beyond the gate. Eun-Ha stood up instinctively at the sound and looked back. The gate opened with a strange sound, a man in a black jumper and green sweatpants came out. He seemed like Su-Yeon's brother. His eyes and Su-Yeon's were especially similar so it was easy to tell.
"Su-Yeon's not here right now."
Su-yeon's brother said in a dry tone. It seemed like he had no particular interest in responding affectionately to the trembling little boy. He didn’t even bother to ask why he was looking for her. Who Eun-Ha was seemed beyond his concern. His face was somewhat combined with displeasure. Maybe he was also tired. The reason didn’t seem precisely because of Eun-Ha, but a sense of guilt lingered with Eun-Ha.
"That's… I'm sorry…”
"It’s ok. Come back next time."
He quickly replied in a softened voice. He seemed filled with unknown pity and complexity for some reason. After some silence, Su-Yeon's brother said goodbye and went in to the house. The gate closed and the sound of the slippers also drifted. Eun-Ha's legs turned weak. Eun-Ha, in the end, couldn’t ask why Su-Yeon wasn’t there. Where she was and when he should return either. He kept recalling his face when he said come back next time. He clearly looked neither anticipatory nor promising.
On his way home, Eun-Ha was overwhelmed by the thought that he might not be able to meet Su-Yeon again. The snowman they had gathered together to make in the alley had disappeared. The leftover snow that was piled up melted into black puddles. Eun-Ha's footsteps grew heavy with regret.
Unable to go straight home with heavy steps, Eun-Ha stopped by the stationary store. A ttakji to bring home and play with would cheer him up a bit. However, as he was browsing ttakjis in front of the stationary store, he couldn’t help but think of Su-Yeon. Soon, Su-Yeon will be attending school and he won’t be able to see her as often. Eun-Ha desperately wanted to go to school. That moment, the red ribbons hanging on the wall came into Eun-Ha's eyes. Eun-Ha recalled a conversation with Su-Yeon, who was excited to go to school.
‘You need a red ribbon and a name tag to go to school.’
Eun-Ha emptied his pockets to buy a red ribbon and a name tag. He also bought a thick black pen to write his name with. He put his red ribbon and name tag in his pocket. He wondered if there was anything else he needed, but was short on money. Eun-Ha told himself that this was all he needed to go to school for now.
저작권자 ⓒ 한국소비경제신문, 무단 전재 및 재배포 금지