By Hwang Sun-Won (1953)
Translated by Brother Anthony of Taizé
No Korean short story is as beloved as this one, published while the
Korean war was still in progress. In part, the popularity comes from
its great simplicity of language and content. It is a tale that school
children can easily understand, and be touched by. Like many Korean
stories, it shifts frequently between present and past tense, giving a
sense of immediacy. Themes touched on include nostalgia for a lost
innocence, the fragility of human life, the contrast between ancient
rural ways and the difficulties of modern city life, and the simplicity
of true joy.
As soon as the boy saw the girl beside the stream, he realized that she must be the great-granddaughter of Master Yun. She had her hands in the water and was splashing it about. Probably she had never seen a stream like that in Seoul.
She had been playing with the water in the same manner for several days
now, on the way home from school. Until the previous day she had played
at the edge of the stream, but today she is right in the middle of the
The boy sat down on the bank. He decided to wait until she got out of the way.
As it happened, someone came along and she made way.
The next day, he arrived at the stream a little later. This time he
found her washing her face, sitting there in the middle of the
stepping-stones. In contrast to her pink jumper with its sleeves rolled
up, the nape of her neck was very white.
After washing her face for a while, she stares intently into the water.
She must be looking at her reflection. She makes a sudden grab at the
water. Perhaps some baby fish were swimming by.
There is no knowing if the girl is aware or not of the boy sitting on
the bank as she goes on making nimble grabs at the water. But each time
to no effect. She simply keeps grabbing at the water as if for the
sheer fun of it. It looks as though she will only get out of the way if
there’s someone crossing the stream, as on the previous day.
Then she plucks something from the water. It was a white pebble. After
that, she stands up and goes skipping lightly across the
Once across, she turns round : " Hey, you."
The white pebble came flying over.
The boy found himself standing up.
Shaking her bobbed hair, she goes running off. She took the path
between the reed beds. Then there was nothing but pale reed heads
shining bright in the clear autumn sunlight.
The girl would soon reappear on the far side of the reeds. Then he
began to think she was taking a long time. Still she did not appear. He
stood on tiptoe. And he began to think she was taking an extremely long
Far away on the other side of the patch of reeds, a bunch of reeds was
moving. The girl was hugging the reeds.
Now she was walking slowly. The exceptionally bright sunshine shone on the girl’s reed-like hair.
It was as if a reed, not the girl, was walking across the fields.
The boy remains standing there until that reed can no longer be seen.
Suddenly he looked down at the pebble she had thrown at him. The
moisture had dried. He picked it up and put it in his pocket.
Starting the next day, he came down to the stream a little later. There was no trace of her. A good thing, too.
It was strange, though. As the days without a sign of her went by,
somewhere in the boy’s breast a feeling of loneliness was growing. He
got into the habit of fingering the pebble in his pocket.
One day, the boy sat down in the middle of the stepping stones, just
where the girl had sat playing with the water. He dipped his hand in
the water. He wiped his face. He stared into the water. His darkly
tanned face looked back at him. He hated it.
The boy grabbed at the face in the water with both hands. Several times
he grabbed at it. Then he suddenly sprang up in surprise. Why, the girl
is coming, walking in this direction!
‘She was hiding, watching what I was doing.’ The boy started to run. He
missed his step on a stone. One foot went into the water. He ran faster.
If only there was somewhere he could hide. On this side there are no
reeds. Just buckwheat fields. He had the impression the perfume from
the buckwheat flowers was pricking his nostrils as never before. His
head was spinning. A salty fluid seeped between his lips into his
mouth. His nose was bleeding.
Blocking his bleeding nose with one hand, the boy went running on. He
had the impression of a voice following him, repeatedly calling out,
‘Silly boy, silly boy.’
When he reached the edge of the stream, the girl, whom he had not seen
for several days, was sitting beside the stream playing with the water.
He started to cross the stepping stones, pretending to ignore her. A
few days previously, he had simply made a fool of himself in front of
the girl, so today he crossed the stepping stones cautiously, whereas
before he had walked across them as if they were a highway.
He pretended not to hear. He climbed up the bank and stopped.
‘Hey, what kind of shell is this?’
Unthinkingly, he turned round. He found himself facing the girl’s
bright dark eyes. He quickly turned his gaze to the girl’s palm.
‘It’s a butterfly clam.’
‘That’s a pretty name.’
They reached the point where the path divided. From here the girl has
to go a mile or so downhill, the boy two or three miles uphill.
The girl stopped and said, ‘Have you ever been beyond that hill?’
She pointed beyond the end of the fields.
‘Why don’t we go? Down here in the country, it’s so boring I can’t stand it.’ ‘It’s a long way, anyway.’
‘How far do you mean by far? Up in Seoul we used walk a long way on
picnics.’ The girl’s eyes seemed to be saying, ‘Silly boy! Silly boy!’
They took a path between two paddy fields. They passed close to where the autumn harvest was under way.
A scarecrow was standing there. The boy shook its straw rope. A few
sparrows go flying off. The thought comes to him that he was supposed
to go home early today to scare the sparrows from their main paddy
‘This is fun!’
The girl is holding the scarecrow’s rope and is tugging at it. The
scarecrow sways, seems to be dancing. A light dimple appeared on the
girl’s left cheek.
A bit further away there is another scarecrow. The girl goes running
toward it. The boy is running behind her. It’s as if he’s trying to
forget that today he was supposed to go home early and help with the
He just runs on close beside the girl. Grasshoppers strike their faces
and leave them stinging. The perfectly clear azure sky of autumn starts
to turn before the boy’s eyes. He is dizzy. It’s because that eagle up
there, that eagle up there, that eagle up there is turning.
Looking behind, the girl is shaking the scarecrow he has just run past.
It sways better than the other one. At the place where the rice fields
ended was a ditch. The girl jumped across it first.
From there as far as the foot of the hills was all fields.
They passed the top of a field where millet stalks were stacked together.
‘Look, little yellow melons. Are they good?’
‘Sure, they’re alright, but water melons taste better.’
‘If only I could eat one . . .’
The boy went into the field where white radishes have been sown among
the remains of the melon plants and came back with two radishes he’d
pulled up. They were still not fully grown. After he had twisted off
and thrown aside the leaves, he handed one to the girl. Then, as if to
say ‘this is how you eat it,’ after taking a bite at the larger end he
peeled away a strip of the peel with his nails and bit into the flesh
The girl followed suit. But before even three mouthfuls, she exclaimed,
‘Oh, it’s peppery and it stinks,’ and hurled it from her.
‘It tastes awful, I can’t eat mine either.’
The boy threw his even further.
The hills had come nearer.
Colored autumn leaves drew close to their eyes.
The girl went running toward the hills. Now the boy was not running
behind her any more. Instead, he was picking more flowers than the girl
‘This is chrysanthemum, this is bush clover, this is bellflower . . . ‘
‘I never realized that bellflowers could be so pretty. I love purple! . . . But this flower like a sunshade, what is that?’
The girl pretends to be holding the valerian like a parasol. At the
same time, the delicate dimple appears in her slightly flushed face.
Again the boy picked a handful of flower for her. He selects only fresh flowers to give her.
But the girl says: ‘Don’t throw even one of them away.’
They climbed up by way of the ridge.
On the slopes of the valley opposite, a few thatched cottages were grouped harmoniously.
Neither said anything, but they sat down side by side straddling a
rock. All around them seemed exceptionally quiet. The hot autumn
sunshine was spreading the fragrance of grass drying, that was all.
‘What kind of flower is that?’
On a rather steep incline, the last flowers of the season were blooming on a tangled arrowroot creeper.
‘It looks just like wisteria. There was a big wisteria in our school up
in Seoul. Seeing those flowers makes me think of the friends I used to
play with underneath it.’
The girl stands up and heads for the slope. She seizes a creeper where
there are many flowers blooming and starts to tug at it. It does not
snap easily. Making more of an effort, she ends up slipping. She
grabbed hold of an arrowroot vine.
The boy, alarmed, came running over. The girl held out a hand. As he
was pulling her up by the hand, the boy apologizes that he would have
picked it for her. Drops of blood were seeping from the girl’s right
knee. Automatically the boy applied his lips to the scratch and began
to suck. Then, struck by some thought, he rose and went running a
little way off.
Returning a moment later, out of breath, the boy said: ‘If you spread this over it, it’ll get better.’
After he had spread pine resin over the scratch, he went running to the
place where the arrowroot vines were and bit off with his teeth several
that had a lot of flowers; these he brought back up to her. Then he
said: ‘There’s a calf over there. Come on.’
It was a yellowish calf. It had not yet had its nose pierced with a ring.
The boy seized the bridle tightly, pretended to scratch its back and
mounted it with a bound. The calf bucks and begins to turn in circles.
The girl’s pale face, pink jumper, indigo skirt, together with the
flowers she is holding all turn into a blur. It all looks like a great
bunch of flowers. He feels dizzy. But he’s not going to get off. He was
proud. Here was something the girl could never imitate, that only he
‘What do you think you’re doing?’
A farmer was coming up through the high grass.
He leaped off the calf’s back. He expects to be scolded – ‘Suppose you hurt the calf’s back by riding it, what then?’
But the long-bearded farmer merely glanced once toward the girl,
grabbed the calf by the halter, and said, ‘You’d best get home fast.
There’s a shower coming up.’
Indeed, a dark cloud is rising over their heads. They suddenly find
themselves surrounded on all sides by noises. The wind blows past with
a rustling sound. In a flash everything around them turned dark purple.
As they make their way downhill, raindrops can be heard striking the
oak leaves. Big raindrops. The napes of their necks felt cool. Then in
an instant a curtain of rain bars the way ahead. Through the rain, they
could see a shack standing in a field. They would have go and shelter
there. But the pillars were all aslant and the roofing was in tatters.
He helped the girl up, pointing out a spot where the roof was leaking
Her lips had gone blue. Her shoulders kept trembling.
He took off his cotton jacket and wrapped it round the girl’s
shoulders. She raised her eyes and simply looked at him; she remained
silent, letting him do as he wished. Next, he drew from the bunch of flowers she had
been hugging those with broken stems and crushed flowers, that he
spread under her feet. Rain soon began to drip onto the spot where she
was standing. They could not shelter there any longer.
After looking outside, the boy went running toward the millet field, as
if struck by a thought. He pushed apart one of the stacks formed by
leaning the millet stalks together upright, then carried over another
stack and added it to the first. Then he parted the stalks again,
before waving her to come over.
The rain did not penetrate inside the stack of millet. It was a dark
and very narrow space. The boy sat beside the stack and let the rain
soak him. Steam rose from his shoulders.
The girl told him, in a kind of whisper, that he should come and sit
inside. I’m alright, he replied. Again, the girl told him to come and
He had no choice but to enter backwards. As he did so, he crushed the
flowers the girl was still holding. But the girl thought it did not
matter. The stench from the boy’s wet body filled her nostrils. But she
did not turn her head aside. Rather, she felt that the trembling in her
body was diminishing on account of the warmth of the boy’s body.
Abruptly the noise on the millet leaves stopped. It was clearing up outside.
They emerged from among the millet stalks. Not far in front of them
sunlight was already shining down dazzlingly. Arriving at the ditch,
they found a great flood of water filling it. In the sunlight it shone
red, a muddy torrent. They could not jump across it.
The boy turned his back to her. The girl obediently let him carry her. The water rose as far as the boy’s rolled-up breeches.
The girl cried out, and clasped the boy’s neck.
Before they reached the stream, the autumn sky had cleared and soon it
was completely blue, cloudless, as if nothing had ever
After that there was no sign of the girl. Every day he ran to the
stream to look, but she was not to be seen. At break-time in school he
used to search the playground. He even stole a secret glance into the
5th-grade girls’ classroom. But she was not to be seen.
That day too the boy came out to the stream side, rubbing the white
pebble in his pocket. Lo and behold, if the girl was not sitting there
on the bank of the stream!
The boy felt his heart begin to race.
‘I was sick all this while.’
Certainly, the girl’s face had grown paler.
‘Wasn’t it because you got wet that day, in the shower?’
The girl nodded silently.
‘Are you better now?’
‘Not yet . . .’
‘Then you ought to be lying down.’
‘It was too boring so I came out. . . . You know, it was
fun, that day . . . only, somewhere that day this got stained and it
won’t come out.’
She looked down at the front of the pink jumper. It was stained with what looked like dark red mud.
The girl silently displayed her dimple, as she asked, ‘What kind of stain could it be?’
The boy was simply staring at the front of the jumper.
‘You know, I’ve figured it out. That day, when we crossed the ditch, I
rode on your back, didn’t I? This stain came off your back then.’
The boy felt his face flush. At the parting of the ways, the girl
added: ‘Here, we picked the jujubes up at our house this morning . . .
. for the ancestral rites tomorrow . . .’ She offers him a handful of
jujubes. The boy hesitates.
‘Taste one. My great-grandfather planted the tree, he says. They’re
very sweet.’ The boy held out his hands cupped together, saying: ‘Why, they’re really big!’
“Then this time, after the ancestral rites, there’s something
more. We’re vacating the house.’ Before the girl’s folk had moved down
here, the boy had already heard his parents talking; he knew how Master
Yun’s grandson’s business in Seoul had failed, so that he was unable to
return to his home. It looked as though their family house
was going to pass into other hands now.
‘For some reason, I hate the thought of moving house. It’s the parents’
decision, of course, so there’s nothing I can do . . .’ For the first
time, a sorrowful look came into the girl’s dark eyes.
On his way home after parting from the girl, the boy found himself
repeating countless times to himself, ‘The girl is moving house.’ He
did not feel particularly regretful or sorrowful. However, the boy was
unaware of the sweetness of the jujube he was chewing.
That evening, the boy went in secret to old Deoksoi’s walnut orchard.
He climbed the tree he had singled out during the day.
Then he began to beat at the branch he had singled out with a pole. The
sound of falling walnuts was strangely loud. His heart froze. But the
next moment he was wielding the pole with unsuspected vigor: You big
nuts, lots of you, come on, fall down, lots of you, fall.
On the way back, he kept to the shadows cast by the nearly full moon.
In two days’ time it would be the autumn full moon. It was the first
time he felt grateful for shadows.
He stroked his swollen pocket. He did not care a bit about the saying
that peeling walnuts with bare hands often brings up a rash. All he
could think was that he must quickly give the girl a taste of these
walnuts from old Deoksoi’s trees, the finest in the whole village.
At that moment an alarming thought struck him. He had failed to tell
the girl that once she was better, before they moved away, he wanted
her to come out one last time to the streamside. You fool! You fool!
The next day, on returning home from school he found his father dressed in his best clothes, holding a chicken.
He asked where he was going.
Without bothering to reply, his father weighed up the chicken he was holding: ‘Will one this size do?’
His mother handed him a mesh bag: ‘It’s already been clucking and
looking for a place to lay for several days. It may not look very big,
it must be fat.’ This time the boy tried asking his mother where his
father was going.
‘Why, he’s off to the house of Master Yun over in the valley by the old
school. He can use it for their offerings . . .’ ‘Then he should take a
really big one. That speckled rooster . . .’ At those words his father
laughed out loud and said, ‘Hey, there’s flesh enough on this one.’
The boy felt abashed for no real reason, so he threw his school books
down, went across to the stable and gave the cow a good slap on the
back as if he were killing a blowfly.
The water in the stream matured daily.
The boy went up to the parting of the ways and turned downhill. The
village round the old school looked very near beneath the clear blue
His parents had said that the girl’s family was moving to Yangpyong the next day. There, they were going to run a tiny store.
Unthinkingly, the boy caressed the walnuts in his pocket while with the
other hand he was bending and breaking off a host of reeds.
That evening the boy kept returning to the same idea, even after he was
lying down to sleep: Tomorrow, suppose I went to see the girl’s family
leaving. If I went, perhaps I might see her.
Then he must have drifted off to sleep, but then: ‘Well, really, what a world we live in . . .’
Father must have come back from the village. ‘Just look at the family
of Master Yun, now. All their fields sold off, the house they’ve lived
in for generations handed over to other folk, and then the child dying
before the parents . . .’ His mother, sitting sewing in the lamplight,
replied: ‘That great-granddaughter of his was the only child, wasn’t
‘Yes. There were two boys but they lost them both when they were still
small . . .’ ‘How can a family be so unblessed in its children?’
‘That’s a fact. The girl, now, she was sick for several days and they
couldn’t even afford any proper medicine. Now the whole family line of
Master Yun is cut off. . . . But you know, that little girl, don’t you
think it’s a bit odd? Why, before she died, believe it or not it seems
she said that if she died, she wanted them to bury her in the clothes
she’d been wearing every day, just as they were. . . .’