At first Shin Yon Young was completely disoriented. As his eyes flew open, Shin realized that waking up thanks to a boot in the ribs from sleeping on a dirt floor might have that effect. The first thing his eyes did after opening was to focus on the sharp metal prongs of a pitchfork held a hands breadth from his face.
Shin did the smartest thing he could have done under the circumstances. He lay completely still, and said nothing.
After a few moments, the pitchfork jerked upwards, and was accompanied by a man’s voice.
“Who are you, and what are you doing here?”
Shin was careful not to move. “I am a guard at an important government building in Pyongyang, and am on my way to visit my family at a village near Haeju. I have papers, if you will let me reach for them.”
The man holding the pitchfork nodded, and added, “Slowly.”
Shin pulled out his papers and handed them to the man, who read them and then gave Shin a look that was still anything but friendly.
“I see nothing in these papers that allows you to steal from me.”
Shin stiffened. “I did no such thing!”
The man shook his head. “Do you think I am a fool? I checked the gas can, and it is bone dry. It was full when I put it here yesterday.”
Shin nodded and said, “Yes, I used the gas for my scooter over there, which is how I am getting to my family. Did you lift up the gas can?”
The man cocked his head sideways. “No, I just shook it to see if it was empty.” Still holding the pitchfork on Shin, the man reached sideways with his other hand and lifted up the gas can. Shin heard his intake of breath when he saw the money Shin had left lying there. Shin had estimated it would be about double the value of the gas he used, and he could see the man make the same calculation.
The man lifted the pitchfork away from Shin’s face, and held out his hand to help Shin up. “My mistake,” he said roughly. “Come, you can have some breakfast before you go.”
Shin’s heartbeat slowly settled, as he pushed the scooter behind the farmer. One of the many lessons he had drummed into him by his instructors was always to pay for anything he took, if at all possible.
Shin was glad he had paid attention.
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