Pacific Stars and Stripes, April 25, 1953
 

ALL SO SMALL

 
Written and Illustrated by A/1C Skip Troelstrup, Stars and Stripes Korea Bureau
 
HE WAS A SHOESHINE BOY. I didn't pay much attention to him. They're all so small...like little brothers. I didn't want a shine but when I wanted a book in a street side stall he called the proprietor out to get it for me. They wanted 12 hwan (20 cents) for it...I gave the man 15 hwan. Now I remember the boy's look. He tagged along pleading for a shine...he wanted six hwan. More came along but he didn't fight off the competition. I don't remember where he gave up.
 
The PX area is filled with shine boys. They stuck by and fought but they got no sale. Some daubed off-color polish on my shoes in hopes I would then submit. It made my refusal positive.
 
I took a side street back toward the Capitol building. It was quite awhile since being bothered.
 
I didn't notice the boy. He noticed my multi-colored shoes...asked if I liked my book...said he had helped me many blocks away. He didn't heed my continued refusal...wanted to apologize for the rudeness of his compatriots.
 
"Bet you near PX when that happen," he smiled. "Please let me do number one job...I not like PX boy."
 
I stopped and he put his little box down and I put my foot on it. He smiled again. It was infectious. I asked how many shoes he did in a day. He showed me the equivalent of a nickel. He didn't say much.
 
I asked if his family lived in Seoul. He applied one coat and smiled sadly. "Father dead."
 
"Killed in the war?"
 
"He killed in 1949. He try to come to South Korea but police stop him...my home is North Korea...Pyongyang."
 
The boy paused long enough to draw a crude map on the cement with the polish lid.
 
"The ask him why he want to go...then shoot him. Cousin have friends in police. They let mother, sister, me go. Keep working father's rice factory in Pyongyang."
 
"How did you get here?"
 
"American planes destroy factory after war starts. We happy when GI come but when he leave we come with him to Seoul and never see home again...not want to go back."
 
He put on a second coat of polish...not much left. He fingered his clothes. Worn shoes...rag pants...sack shirt and coat. Apologized for appearance... "No have change."
 
"I don't like this job...want to be in school again. Family very number one but now have nothing. Mother cries every night for father. I tell mother don't worry, I make much money for you. She know I can't."
 
He watched three boys walk by laughing and hopping as school boys do. The black school suits were trim and military. He pointed to his side.
 
"Mother sick...there."
 
I'd heard that many times but not seen eyes water in telling it. He looked twelve. "Sixteen."
 
"What are you going to do when you don't shine shoes?"
 
"Three more year I join South Korea Army."
 
His bearing sharpened. He took out a metal strand and soft cloth and the shoe surface glistened. He was proud. His father would be proud. He stood up and smiled...asked for his six hwan. I handed him 60.
 
"Oh, no!"
 
I looked at him but couldn't say anything.
 
"Six hwan," he said.
 
I told him to give it to his mother for me.
 
"I not tell you story for money...you ask questions."
 
I told him I believed him...his eyes glazed and fixed on my face.
 
He took my hand...his was very small...and shook it very hard. He picked up his box and two nearly empty polish tins. I walked away...turned for a last glance.
 
He stood alone...gazing after me.
 
I walk on...saw another kid...he was a shoeshine boy. I didn't notice him much. They're all so small...like little brothers.
 
PSS-190