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June 1932

At the very beginning of summer, less than six months before the young pastor arrived at the boardinghouse and fell ill, Sunja met the new fish broker, Koh Hansu.

There was a cool edge to the marine air on the morning Sunja went to the market to shop for the boardinghouse. Ever since she was an infant strapped to her mother’s back, she had gone to the open-air market in Nampo-dong; then later, as a little girl, she’d held her father’s hand as he shuffled there, taking almost an hour each way because of his crooked foot. The errand was more enjoyable with him than with her mother, because everyone in the village greeted her father along the way so warmly. Hoonie’s misshapen mouth and awkward steps seemingly vanished in the presence of the neighbors’ kind inquiries about the family, the boardinghouse, and the lodgers. Hoonie never said much, but it was obvious to his daughter, even then, that many sought his quiet approval—the thoughtful gaze from his honest eyes.

After Hoonie died, Sunja was put in charge of shopping for the boardinghouse. Her shopping route didn’t vary from what she had been taught by her mother and father: first, the fresh produce, next, the soup bones from the butcher,  then a few items from the market ajummas squatting beside spice-filled basins, deep rows of glittering cutlass fish, or plump sea bream caught hours earlier—their wares arrayed attractively on turquoise and red waxed cloths spread on the ground. The vast market for seafood—one of the largest of its kind in Korea—stretched across the rocky beach carpeted with pebbles and broken bits of stone, and the ajummas hawked as loudly as they could, each from her square patch of tarp.

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published: Literary Hub