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from the September 2003 issue

from He’s Alive

In this 1995 story, Bun-nyo is an elderly superintendent at a reservoir in the countryside. She devotes much of her time and effort to taking care of a flourishing flower garden that she has planted in honor of the Great Leader Kim Il Sung, who visited the reservoir once in her younger days. The story begins as she hears the devastating news of Kim's death.

"Grandma, Grandma, get up."

Bun-nyo heard voices, choking with tears, and felt small, desperate hands shaking her shoulders. Slowly, she opened her eyes. They were met with another pair, filled with tears. Then Bun-nyo saw ten or more pairs, all looking down at her, all teary.

"Why are these children crying?" she thought, as soon as she recognized her grandson Il-guk and his classmates.

Soon, she remembered the tragic news that had made her faint, but only vaguely, as if it were something she heard a long, long time ago.

"How can it be? Our Great Leader? Is that why these children are . . ."

Bun-nyo sat up abruptly. She looked away from the crying children standing in front of her, up at the overcast sky, holding her breath and listening intently. She could hear the sound of raindrops falling on the puddles, splashes of wind and the sobs. . . . Then, amidst all the noise buzzing in her ears, she heard solemn music, reverberating all around. It was "The Song of General Kim Il Sung," a tune of such courage and excitement that it always filled her with joy.

Bun-nyo felt her heart beat strong again inside her chest.

"No, of course the Great Leader has not passed away. Just listen, they are playing his song on the radio."

"Please pick some flowers for us," said one of the little boys, wearing a class president badge on his arm, still crying.

Bun-nyo could not understand right away what the boy's words meant. All she could remember was the letter from the teacher that her grandson had brought over in the morning, requesting flowers for the school. This again seemed just a vague memory, like something that happened a long time ago.

"Grandma, we came for some flowers," her grandson, standing in the front row, asked once again.

Still not understanding what the boys were saying, Bun-nyo said, "I wrote your teacher that I'd send seeds instead. Did she still insist on getting flowers?"

"No, we want some to take to Pyongyang, to the Hill of Our Great Leader at Mansu-dae . . ."


"It's okay. Our Great Leader walked a thousand ri all by himself to reclaim this country. Pyongyang is not too far for us. And we remember the directions from our field trip."

"Oh, my dear children!" Only now realizing why the boys were asking for her flowers, Bun-nyo crumbled to the ground, her body weak, her eyes staring at Il-guk blankly, as if she had lost her mind.

Il-guk got down on his knees and buried his head in Bun-nyo's chest. The other children started to cry even harder, clasping onto Bun-nyo's arms.

Bun-nyo lifted Il-guk, who was now sobbing aloud, and said anxiously, "Don't cry. Our Great Leader is not dead. He promised me that he would come back here. I've been growing these flowers to greet Our Great Leader when that day arrives, so how can I let you take them away?"

The children's eyes, still filled with tears, looked up at Bun-nyo, this time carrying flames of hope. These flames had such an effect on Bun-nyo that she decided to believe her own words. She forced herself to stand up and pushed the children out the door, which had stayed open all this time.

"So now, stop your crying and return to your studies. Go do your homework, now!"

The children headed out of the reservoir grounds, looking back at Bun-nyo, their eyes still glittering with those teary flames.

Bun-nyo closed the door and turned around. As the children's footsteps gradually grew distant, the mournful voice of the announcer on the radio sounded louder, breaking Bun-nyo's heart even more. She turned around again, her back to the reservoir, as if to turn away from that voice, then looked back at the water pumps, shaking her head.

She thought, again and again, that such a thing could never happen. How could something like that ever happen!

To Bun-nyo, Our Great Leader was God himself, a celestial being. And she had never once worried that the sky she lived under would ever collapse. Neither had she worried about the sun above her head falling from the sky. How could that sun, that sky, fall out of the blue, without any sign or warning? Bun-nyo was utterly unprepared to believe this horrible news, as inconceivable as a thunderbolt from a clear sky. Someone at the radio station was making a terrible, irreparable mistake on the air! She stumbled to the radio and pulled out the plug. A strange silence followed.

Bun-nyo walked out of the reservoir grounds, her steps heavy and slow, and looked around the flower bed. On the shoulder of the road, where a dense stack of red bricks formed a fence, she saw a cluster of jumoni flowers fallen to the ground. She had received the seeds of these flowers from a gardener who had stopped by one day while passing through this area. He had sent the seeds to her by mail, saying jumoni flowers were Our Great Leader's favorite.

Bun-nyo's heart ached, realizing the flowers had probably fallen during the rain the previous night but she had not noticed until now. She righted the flowers and began to heap soil around them with her bare hands.


Bun-nyo stopped what she was doing and looked up.

It was the young man who worked at the oil drill, looking down at her with teary eyes. He plopped down, as if he no longer had the strength to stand, and shouted hoarsely, "How can something this horrible happen? How? How can Our Great Leader's heart stop beating?!" The young man seemed unable to continue his words and began to wail out loud, shaking Bun-nyo's arms.

Slowly, Bun-nyo pulled out her arms from his grasp and said sternly, "Stop crying. Don't you remember what I said earlier-how can Our Great Leader leave us when reunification is so near? I bet there has been a terrible mistake."

"What?! Then . . ."

Bun-nyo saw the same flame spark up in the young man's eyes as she had seen in the children. The impact of the flame was much stronger than the first time. Bun-nyo felt a relief as comforting and delicious as waking from a childhood nightmare and realizing that it had only been a dream.


Bun-nyo once again felt as if she were spiraling into a dreadful nightmare as she heard another teary voice from behind her. She turned around to look, shuddering as if to shake off the thought, and saw a man standing on the other side of the fence. It took her a while to realize that it was her own son.

"Mother, I heard that Our Great Leader . . ."

Bun-nyo was overcome with fear and had to stop the words that would soon flow out of his mouth. She yelled, "Don't say anymore." Then she rushed over to him, and brought her muddy finger to his lips, to keep him from talking. "You--you are one of the secretaries. How can you ever think Our Great Leader can pass away so easily? No, that can't be."

She was crying out loud, more to herself than to her son, but at the same time, she cold not help searching her son's eyes for some kind of hope. But unlike the boys from her grandson's class and the oil drill worker, her son's red, swollen eyes did not spark up with flames. His deep, dark eyes, which he had inherited from his father, were filled with nothing but sadness.

Bun-nyo felt as if she were sliding deep into a labyrinth. The pagoda that she had been stubbornly building since hearing the horrible news this morning seemed to crumble down all at once.

"Mother, we are going to need all of your flowers," her son said, still standing on the other side of the fence, his voice weak. Bun-nyo just looked at him with forlorn eyes, not registering right away what he was trying to say.

"I thought we should have a flower basket made in our farm's name and take it to Our Great Leader's statue," said her son, his voice still weak.

Bun-nyo listened blankly, then as if she had been poked with a needle, she shouted scornfully, "You're talking crazy. I did not grow these flowers to send to Our Great Leader's grave. I . . ." Then she walked out the door, toward the street.

"Mother, where are you going?" her son asked, puzzled.

"I'm going to Pyongyang . . . to go see Our Great Leader for myself."


Her son took a few steps toward her, then stopped at her words. The oil drill worker, who had been sitting by the flower bed all this time, listening to their conversation, also looked up in surprise.

But Bun-nyo, who had now reached the street, looked back and sternly shouted, "Take care of the flowers for me until I come back, you hear me?"

"Yes, Mother," her son said, dumbfounded.

Bun-nyo gazed toward the town center, where a pagoda, built as a monument to pray for the health and longevity of Our Great Leader, stood tall and strong. Then she turned around, then started walking toward Pyongyang.

She saw a long trail of people on the other side of the street. They were also headed for Pyongyang, just like Bun-nyo, unable to believe the horrible news that they had heard.

Bun-nyo was one of those people, who crowded the city of Pyongyang during those ten days and ten nights.

Read more from the September 2003 issue
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