Lee Cheonha poked her finger through the open wire door of the hamster cage. She gently pushed in a small sunflower seed, slowly offering the gift to the small, bewiskered critter inside. Pappa had been through all this before. He knew what it meant to smell the scent of his new owner, and he hauled his pleasantly plump self through the pine bedding to go get his treat. He didn't so much as shudder when one of Cheonha's fingers rubbed his soft little ears.
"Good boy, Pappa," Cheonha giggled. "You are a very good hamster. I will bring you carrots when I get home from work tonight."
"You feed that thing too much, Cheonha. You're going to spoil it. Besides, I thought we were meeting to do our english homework."
Cheonha turned to the friend sitting at her kitchen table. Choi Eunha was correct. After all, english practice was the reason why Cheonha's poor, tiny little table found itself burdened in all manner of books, pencils, and papers. Cheonha blushed and accepted the seat opposite Eunha.
"I don't know how anyone would spoil a hamster." Cheonha pulled out the latest worksheet from her english class a notebook. "They are supposed to be fat. Besides, all Pappa does is run in his wheel, when he is not asleep."
"I guess so." Eunha pointed to the worksheet. "Okay, so what you are supposed to do is read the english question, and then answer in english. Do you know what the first question is?"
Cheonha stared at the page. English was so confusing. It didn't help that english writing wasn't clustered by syllables for easy pronunciation. Daunting as it was, Cheonha wasn't going to give up. Biting her lip and forcefully placing each arm at the sides of the paper, she focused on the words before her.
"Co-oo--ld..." she struggled, murmuring almost inaudibly. "...You.....till mee...TEH. Teh, teh...tell me, where th...the ban-ku. Where.....the bank is?"
Cheonha glanced at the top of the paper, where a little map was located. The imaginary bank in the imaginary part of Seoul was located right across from the imaginary post office.
"Goennoepyon oohcheguk...." Cheonha whispered. "Ah...I have to look it up..."
She reached for her little translation computer, a small handheld device that opened up like a small video game console but instead of playing games allowed her to figure out english words. It was a handy little device, and she reminded herself to take it with her the next time she got zapped on Aldaris' ship, if she had the chance.
The translator wasn't in her immediate reach, and Cheonha had to look up to find it. She only briefly glanced up, but it was long enough to trigger something. Cheonha looked up again. No, she hadn't imagined it. Eunha was staring at her.
Cheonha's entire face narrowed. "Eunha..."
"Sorry, sorry!" Eunha shook herself out of her trance. "I wasn't staring. I was just thinking about things."
Cheonha still frowned. "Thinking about what?"
"Just...what they said at the Bang Bang store."
Was Eunha really still going on about that? It wasn't her fault that the first time she had come to Seoul, it was in North Korean rags, with a North Korean physique, and accompanied only by a soggy, shoe-less American girl. They had to get clothes from somewhere. Cheonha knew she shouldn't have agreed to return with Eunha to the Bang Bang store, even months after first embarrassing visit. It was a mistake to expose Eunha to gossipy workers. The last thing Cheonha needed was her closest friend nagging her about topics she'd rather forget.
"I don't know what they said," she replied, picking up her translator to find the english equivalent of oohcheguk and hoping her friend got the hint. "And I don't care."
Silence reigned for a few moments, and Cheonha made the mistake of looking up. Eunha still stared.
"Leave it alone. I don't want to talk about it."
"That doesn't stop me from thinking about it." Eunha said. "Cheonha, I'm your best friend. You can't keep these secrets inside you forever, and I'm the safest one to talk to about it. I won't tell anyone."
"Eunha...." Cheonha copied the words "post office" onto the blank space underneath the appropriate english question. "I didn't even tell the police about the American. I don't see why I have to tell you."
"You didn't tell the police?" Eunha exclaimed. "What? Was she a criminal?"
Cheonha looked up from her homework. Great, she'd said the wrong thing. Now how was she going to make Eunha shut her face? She rolled her eyes and sat up, still firmly gripping her translator.
"Look, she wasn't a criminal." Cheohna paused for a second. "Okay, I don't think she was. Maybe. Probably not. She was just some person who talked too loud. Her and her loud-talking friends. They helped me get to Seoul, and that's all. There is no mystery story. It's not interesting at all, so stop asking me questions."
"Then why didn't you tell the police? Shouldn't they know about it?"
Cheonha opened her mouth again, then promptly shut it, growing redder by the moment. After a moment, she answered.
"Okay fine," she snapped. "I was rescued from North Korean by an alien from a video game and his American friends. Sometimes I get teleported to his spaceship and we draw pictures together. That is the truth. Happy, now?"
"Stop talking nonsense!" Eunha said. "I'm only trying to help."
"Then please, just listen." Cheonha took a deep breath. "The reason why I don't talk about the Americans is the same reason I don't talk about the North. Talking about it brings up bad memories, things that are too painful to remember. The Americans helped me get out of the North, and they are going to help other people too. I don't want to give away any of their methods for saving people, so I am not going to tell anyone. Not even you."
"But...you know I'm not a blabbermouth."
"Yes, I know." Cheonha tried her very hardest not to roll her eyes. "But I still don't want to talk about it. I just want to think about things getting better."
Eunha tapped her chin, and very thoughtfully stared off at Pappa rather than at Cheonha herself. Then she slowly nodded. "I understand now. I won't bother you any more about it, okay? If you don't want to talk about it, then I will respect that."
The two got back to their english homework, and soon the only sounds in the room were their pencils and Pappa digging in his bedding. But instead of focusing on her task, Cheonha found some of her own words running around her head instead.
...They are going to help other people too... Cheonha started underlining words on her worksheet to make sure Eunha didn't realize anything was up. Wait, yes, why didn't I think of it before? I must speak to Aldaris as soon as possible.
Distracted as she was, it took Cheonha a second to realize that Eunha was looking at her. She scowled, but Eunha simply reached down with her pencil and tapped Cheonha's paper.
"That answer is wrong." she said. "Those words are in the wrong positions."
Cheonha looked down at her paper again. In response to "Could you tell me where the bank is?" she'd written, "Post office across from."
"English is hard." Cheonha blushed.