Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Take this . . . It’s gone . . . ring . . . forever . . .


"Kum pangi," she answers.

"Kum pangi. Gold ring," I echo, happy to be understood. Taking the paper and china marker from me, the mess hall woman tells me twenty-five dollar too much-ee, you pay five dollar. Deeply appreciating her kindness and good advice, I explain, Me know. Taksan. Too muchee. It’s OK, I pay twenty-five. I want to pay the outrageous reward. I know the annual per capita income for the average Korean is just around twenty-five dollars. The offer is my strategy for what should be a vain hope. In this isolated third-world outpost, things of value leak into "the ville" and never return.

My fingers pull at the devil grass, digging deep into the soft dirt to worry out all the pernicious roots. Foxtails are easier. Grab a handful and yank. The roots hold copious soil that needs to be shaken andpounded back into the garden. My mind wanders to thoughts of my lost and found kum pangi as I work the new vegetable bed. Yank. Dig. Shake. Toss. Kum pangi. Yank. The offer had worked like a charm. Shake, toss. The Head Houseboy had brought my ring to me privately, claimed the reward and skulked away. Slicky boy honcho.

My left thumbcurls under to touch a finger, reaching expectantly to feel the familiar edge of the ring and see its details as always in my mind. The naked finger stuns me. At the instant, I stare vacantly, comprehending not just that I’ve lost my wedding ring, but that I will never see it again. And the bitter irony. In the summer of 1969, thousands of miles from home, the miraculous recovery of what should have been gone forever. Today, with sumner 2005 arriving, I lose my ring in my own backyard. I will never see my ring again.
Kum pangi.

Years from now, a child, grumbling as I once did having to pull weeds and cultivate a parent’s garden, reaches for a clump of foxtail grass, grown dry in early summer’s heat. The clump struggles only a little before tearing loose from the loamy bed. The child thumps the clod onto the dirt to free the soil clinging to the matted roots. The kid recognizes the glint of gold in the clump, threads nimble fingers into the rootball. A ring! Lustrous gold surrounds silver black with age. The child, whose family has lived in this house and worked its earth for generations, runs yelling happily to the house, I found the ring!

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