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I nt ot heGr ound

ChoMyung-hee Tr ans l at edbyMi -Ry ongShi m


Into the Ground By Cho Myung-hee Translated by Mi-Ryong Shim

Literature Translation Institute of Korea

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Originally published in Korean as Ddang sokeuro in Gaebyeok, 1925 Translation ⓒ 2014 by Mi-Ryong Shim

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and Literature Translation Institute of Korea. The original manuscripts to these translations were provided by Gongumadang of Korea Copyright Commission.

The National Library of Korea Cataloging-in-Publication Data Cho, Myung-hee Into the ground [electronic resource] / by Cho Myung-hee ; translated by Mi-Ryong Shim. -- [Seoul] : Literature Translation Institute of Korea, 2014 p. 원표제: 땅 속으로 Translated from Korean ISBN 978-89-93360-55-4 95810 : Not for sale 813.61-KDC5 895.733-DDC21

CIP2014028982

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About Cho Myung-hee Cho Myung-hee (1894 – 1938) was born in 1894 in Jincheon, North Chungcheong Province, as the son of a poor scholar. His pen name was Poseok. He graduated from Jungang High School in Seoul and studied philosophy at Toyo University in Japan. In 1919 he was arrested and jailed for participating in the March 1st Movement. He first established himself as an author in 1925 with the publication of “Into the Ground” in Gaebyeok magazine, and published his most representative short story “The Nakdong River” (1927) in Joseonjigwang magazine. He went into exile in 1928 in the Maritime Province of Siberia in the Soviet Union in order to escape the Japanese crackdown. In 1934, he served as an executive of the Far East chapter of the Soviet Union of Writers and also published his epic poem, “Goryeo Trampled.” He was arrested by the Soviet military police in 1937 and deported to Tashkent in Uzbekistan. In 1938, he was reportedly executed by firing squad at a Khabarovsk prison. His publications include a collection of poems, On a Spring Lawn, and a collection of stories, Into the Ground. He is considered to be a representative writer of the Japanese colonial period who followed the communist ideologies of KAPF (Korean Federation of Proletarian Art) and fiercely depicted in literature the dark reality of farm life in those days.

About “Into the Ground” Cho Myung-hee’s short story “Into the Ground” recounts the psychological and physical deterioration of the protagonist/narrator as he struggles with extreme poverty and hunger in the colonial capital of Seoul. Upon returning home from his study in Tokyo, the protagonist moves to Seoul with dreams of becoming a writer, but he finds himself trapped by both poverty and a loveless early marriage. In falling into a desperate hand-to-mouth existence, he joins the dispossessed masses of colonial Korea. Written and published during a period of harsh censorship, “Into the Ground” is remarkably frank in its critique of the social, economic, and racial inequalities of Japanese colonialism. It addresses the brutality of the colonial police, the Japanese settler colonialists’ racist attitudes and economic exploitation of the Korean population, and even the draconian measures of the censorship office. In addition to functioning as an exposé about the lives of the underclass, the short story is a study on how intense physical deprivation comes to affect one man’s psyche. Cho Myung-hee experiments with various writing styles to achieve these ends, from juxtaposing violent imageries with interior monologues to having lines of prose burst into sections of verse that seem to speak directly to the readers as both a lament and a call to arms.

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Into the Ground When I returned home from Tokyo this spring (actually, it's not my home, but my older brother’s) I saw that the household had fallen into dire circumstances. Some fifteen or sixteen members of the extended family lived together in that cramped house. Even without the adults, the small children huddled together in the corners of the room looked like grains of rice in a bowl. Among those children were two of my own. And what did this large family subsist on? They had steamed millet for breakfast and millet porridge for dinner. On especially good days, they had steamed rice, while on other days, they ate a porridge of young herbs mixed with a bit of hulled millet. On some days, they went without anything to eat at all. They stretched their meager means by skipping one meal of every three, or one day of every three. Even this arrangement could only be maintained by sharecropping around ten durak1 of someone else’s land and then borrowing rice or money at nearly fifty percent interest. Their faces were sallow and drained of any vitality. Juxtaposed with their faces were the penetrating eyes that held an unusually disagreeable hardness, one born more of cowardly desperation than murderous rage (you can spot these expressions easily on the faces of those who have long-suffered misfortune too great to be suppressed within. It is particularly noticeable in people with nervous temperaments). People say troubles never cease in a poor household, and this was the case for my family back home. Perhaps because misery was the only thing left to them, the family members, whether children or adults, fought with each other at every opportunity. The future seemed bleak for this household that often descended into chaos. Here, the adults did not behave as adults, and the children did not behave as children. After witnessing this for several days (it hadn't been as bad as this the last time I was home, five years ago) I felt like I had entered a living nightmare or hell, full of starving demons. I came to guess what life was really like for the vast majority of Koreans (although one often saw in Korea situations even worse than this). What's worse, this was supposedly an improvement; it seemed that my arrival brought about a general mood of conviviality to the household. The change was partly due to the family’s gladness to see me after a long absence. Mostly, however, it sprang from the hope that my return would somehow miraculously rescue the entire family from poverty. When I returned, I exchanged greetings with people and then, at the urging of my elderly mother, told them about my life abroad. I gave them a rough outline of my experiences, then asked to hear about the state of affairs at home.

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A durak is a measure of farmland that can vary according to region, but measures roughly 500-1000 square meters.

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The stories came from different mouths in bits and pieces. My sister-in-law, known to be the chattiest of the bunch, spoke at great length. She ended her story with, “Aigo, but no more worries for this family now! When you go to Seoul and become a lawyer or something like that, dear brother-in-law, you are going to earn tens of thousands of nyang at least! If not that, then you can easily get a position as a county magistrate or provincial governor. A college graduate like you, you will have your pick! And you (she turned to to my so-called wife), you’ll be sitting pretty from now on. They say there’s light at the end of any tunnel, but you’ve struck gold.” The sheer absurdity of what she was saying almost made me laugh. I shut my lips tight, however, as soon as my mouth began to twitch. Instead of rolling with laughter, I fixed my eyes on the stained straw mat covering the floor. “He’s won't get to do something like that, but maybe…” this from my older brother, piping up only to trail off. He was slightly more worldly than the others, but that trailing “maybe” betrayed the fact that even he had some grand expectations of me. “Now that you’ve finished your studies and with us living like this, I’d say it’s high time you started thinking about how to earn a living,” my elderly mother took her turn. She was a genteel woman whose hair had turned white and her face filled with wrinkles since the last time I saw her. I listened to them without saying a word. When night fell, the rest of the family members crowded into the main room (though the room was large, the family looked like bean sprouts packed into a jar, even when they were all seated). I was sent to a separate detached room of the house. My room was papered with scraps of old newspapers and it gave off a foul odor from the dust and grime that had accumulated over the course of many years. I sat across a flickering oil lamp in one corner of the room. I tried lying down, then soon sat back up again. After telling myself, ‘Even if you can't sleep, at least lie down to think,’ I lay myself down and stared up at the ceiling covered with hanging spiderwebs and speckled with flies. My head was muddled and I could not think clearly. I felt like I had been awakened from a sweet dream to find myself lying on a bed of barbed wire, my thorny reality. The trains that had picked me up at the Tokyo and Busan stations had dropped me off inside a torture chamber. As I lay there thinking, I settled more firmly on a long-held resolution of mine. Clenching my teeth and jerking my head, as if seized with convulsions, I said aloud to myself, “There is no other way. Even if every one starves to death, there is no other way.” As long as my mind was made up, nothing could disturb me. But in the end, my mind could not rest. “Be gone, all of you!” I muttered under my breath, closing my mouth tightly again. I looked around the room quickly. Only then did I realize I was alone in this desolate room (the main room was loud, of course, with all the people in it). I felt guilty 5


using the room all by myself (I'd always had a room to myself before I left too, as I preferred the quiet). I thought that once my elder brother came home, I would ask him to sleep in the same room as me. Until then, I would first go fetch my mother and a few of the younger children to come sleep here, to give some relief to the others who were practically stacked on top of each other in the main room. I had just gotten up to head to the main room when I heard a voice outside my door. “Father!” It was my older daughter, the nine-year old. I did not answer. “Father!” she called again and opened the door. Behind her stood my so-called wife, carrying the five-year old, my second daughter. The three of them entered the room together. ‘So just because they are my immediately family, they're already being unloaded on me,’ I thought, and I was immediately bothered by how the people in the main room had rushed to send them my way. Of course, there were other reasons as well…. “What are you all doing here?” I asked my so-called wife and two daughters. They sat together near the door, the girls flanking their mother. They did not answer me. My so-called wife sat by the lamplight, her profile casting a shadow upon the wall. Her protruding cheekbones looked like mountain peaks cutting through her profile. ‘She’s gotten terribly skinny,’ I thought to myself before I resumed my questions. “Why did you all come here from the main room? I was going to sleep in this room with your grandmother or uncle tonight.” “But it’s been so long since we last saw you….” the old ball and chain said and quickly glanced at me with her large sunken eyes, filled with resentment. She turned her face toward the wall again. “Have we ever slept together so tenderly in the same room?” I snapped, only to immediately regret speaking to her in such a hateful tone again. She sat in silence without a word in retort. Perhaps it was because she had become numb after being treated with such hatred and ill-will from me for such a long time. Or perhaps she was holding back her feelings in order to maintain some sense of dignity toward her so-called husband, whom she had not seen for a long while. Regardless, I couldn't stand the whole thing anymore (trying to endure a meeting with someone you do not want to see is an extraordinary pain indeed). “Just go back, now,” I urged. “Why would we go back? We are going to sleep here.” These were the thickskinned, shameless replies I got in return. “Here? Sleep here? No, don’t do that, but you can leave the children here if you wish since the main room is crowded. You though, why don’t you head back?” I tried cajoling so I could drive out the nuisance. “Why would I go back? I am going to sleep here, and if you leave for Seoul tomorrow, I plan to go with you. It would be better to die than to live the way I’ve been living.” 6


“What? What is this nonsense? I don’t care if someone lives or dies. Just doing what I need to do for myself, it’s too much already, so don’t expect me to rescue anyone else. I don’t want to hear anything or see anything.” “If you don’t care, who will?” she said. I, however, could not bear to hear anymore. Scowling at her, I yelled, “Shut up! Go back now!” She was getting angry now too. “Well hell, there's only so much hatefulness I can take.” The coarse temperament she had occasionally shown before was coming out again. Incensed, I screamed, “If I tell you to go back, just go back! No more of this nagging! I don’t want to see you so just go!” She was fired up with defiance. Directly facing me now, she asked, “What do you expect me to do if you say that you don’t want to see me again now, when it’s already too late?” “That’s why I told you before to leave, go somewhere else!” “Somewhere else? Where should I go?” “Where? I mean, just get yourself hitched to some other man,” I sneered. She seemed dumbfounded that it had come to this. She looked like she didn't know whether to scream, cry, or laugh. The children kept looking at me out of the corners of their eyes, full of fear and as though they were staring at a stranger. The scene unfolding before us was not one between a man and his wife, nor between a father and his children, but rather a bitter struggle between enemies. I had anticipated more shouting, but she spoke instead in a low voice. Perhaps she was too confounded to do otherwise. “A person can take only so much. I've wasted my youth married to you these last ten years, suffering all the while. But now you tell me to…. If I didn’t have these children, I would go off by myself to the mountains, the sea, wherever, but with them...?” she said plaintively. “Hang it all, children or not! Who ever said I wanted children? Who said I wanted to get married in the first place?” I yelled. Then I muttered to myself, “What wretched fate brought us together! What miserable fate.” “Then do you want us to go and kill ourselves?” Her quavering voice was louder now. “To hell with it! I don't care whether you live or die…” I said, my chin starting to quiver. She glared at me, as if to challenge me to really mean what I'd said. “You mean it?” she asked, sounding ready to fight. “Of course I mean it. Why would I joke about that?” “You really mean it?” she pressed again, her voice choked with emotion. “I really mean it,” I answered firmly. That seemed to push her over the edge. She hunched forward like a stone monument teetering over a steep slope, ready to fall over at any moment. Her face was darkened by a terrible and ghastly air and as she stared numbly down at the floor in front of her, tears dripped from her eyes. 7


“Then let’s just go kill ourselves, the three of us!” she choked out, her trembling voice barely escaping her throat tight with emotion. The children, who had been watching their mother intently, grabbed onto her clothing and wept, crying out “Mommy, Mommy!” This only appeared to deepen her sorrow. At that moment, the small eye of the flickering lamplight widened as if in anticipation of how the story would continue. Taking her hand off her knee, my so-called wife pounded on the floor, her body slumping as she began to sob loudly. “Aigo, what ever will we do?” Her cries seemed to come from somewhere deep inside her. The eldest girl followed suit and the younger child, even more startled than before, wept as she cried “Mommy! Mommy!” I bolted upright. “Wretched thing! What’s the point in crying? I have a mind to leave for Seoul tonight just to get away from this. Damn!” I shouted angrily as I rushed out the door. It was pitch dark outside. The clouds had lingered until night fell, turning to an inaudible light rain. I took a few steps out and looked around at the growing darkness. ‘May everything on earth be damned with a fate as dark as the night!’ the thought came unbidden. When I reached the stone steps in front of the main room, I realized that the light was off. Several people were already snoring loudly. I could also hear the wailing from the detached room growing ever louder. Wanting to get away from the sound of their crying, I went around to the corner of the chimney attached to the main room and stood under the low-hanging eaves. I could still hear it though. I worried that they would wake the people in the main room, especially my mother, who did not sleep much, and cause a great commotion for the whole household. Fortunately, everyone seemed to be fast asleep. I walked a short way toward the backyard and stood facing the darkness. Over the fence, I could see the lights of some of the houses in the neighboring village. The lights flickered in and out, perhaps obscured by tree branches moving in the wind. I sighed a deep ragged breath into the darkness. My chest was choking up. I could hear the faint sound of crying fading in and out. I had performed this headache-inducing, pitiful performance many times in the past, and here I was, doing it again immediately upon my return. “It didn’t have to be that way, right after I got back and all.” I felt remorse for how I had behaved, but I also felt repulsed. I was hurting, but I felt disgusted as well. Feeling a renewed surge of frustration, I muttered aloud, “Shit, why don’t I just get away! Get away tonight to anywhere but here!” I walked toward the brushwood gates at the front of the house (I didn't even notice the rain sprinkling down on me). I opened the gates and went outside. The night was dark and quiet, the rain falling silently. The only sounds I could hear were the occasional raindrops dripping from the tree leaves and the water circling through a faraway 8


waterwheel, highlighting the desolation of the spring night. I walked along, passing a neighbor’s house, then a few more houses, and then right past the edge of the village. I arrived in front of the grain mill located halfway between our village and the neighboring one. Surely their weeping wouldn't reach this far, but whenever my thoughts returned to what had just happened, it seemed to echo softly in my ears again. The cries of my young children weighed especially heavy on my mind. After a short pause, I resumed my walk, only to be startled by the dark figure of the old pine tree in front of the grain mill. Underneath that pine tree was the well. I could not see the well in the darkness, but the thought of it sent a shiver down my spine. I quickly changed courses and walked down a narrower path. Memories of that time long ago flashed before my eyes and instantly filled me with both fear and pity. I cried out to myself in a low voice, “the well!” This is the story of the well. Ten years ago, I had managed to drive her out, that woman who is called my wife (the reason I tried to drive her out was that I had become aware of sex the year I turned fifteen. When we were married, she was sixteen years old and I was only twelve. At the time, I had actually been happy to marry and boasted of the news to others. As was the custom, she stayed at her parents’ house for four more years after the wedding. When she came to live with us, however, I immediately shouted at her to go back and pushed her out of the house. She jumped into the well that very same day. The palanquin bearers who had carried her over from her parents’ village were the ones who found her. They had chanced to look into the well as they were walking around the new neighborhood to see how deep it was. When they dragged her body out of the well, they thought she was already dead. Oh, how she looked then! Her hair was disheveled and her body was swollen all over. Water flowed from her nose and mouth at first, then blood). I remembered clearly the sight of her laid out in the detached room (at the time, my family was living in a different house, bigger and nicer than the one now. The old house was a few houses down from the grain mill. The house was in something of a bustling spot for the area, so it was eventually occupied by a Japanese man who ran a general store and a loan-sharking business. I heard that the current house also belonged to that man). When my wife finally came to, she opened her eyes and stared dully at me (I do not know how to describe the look in her eyes at that moment. It was a look of the most profound enmity and desperation one could imagine.) Tears dripped from her black eyes, still bleary from her ordeal. I had secretly wished that she would die or disappear before she jumped into the well, but now I found myself overcome with pity and regret. I flung myself on top of her, taking her in my arms and pressing my cheeks to her breasts. Even a few tears of my own, rare as they were then, fell on her face. We were both deeply moved and made our peace in silence. My elder daughter was the product of this unexpected peace. The matter of affection between man and wife, however, remained a separate problem for years after. 9


As on most spring nights, it grew colder with each passing hour. Chilled by the soft rain, I started to shiver. Once the memories of the well flashed through my mind like a film reel, another thought crossed my mind. What if something like that were to happen again? Or something even worse? The three of them, the wife and two daughters, killed at the same time…. I imagined the three of them hunched over crying in that room at this very moment. The sound seemed to ring in my ears again and I felt something tugging at my heart. I thought about turning around and marching right back home. I stayed, however, and pondered the matter for a moment. ‘Why do I keep giving in to this pathetic compassion? Why do I continue to ruin my own destiny? Why was I not born with an iron will?’ With this thought, I tried to suppress the tugging at my heart, but it was to no avail. I could not stop the sympathy emanating from me. Stomping my feet, I muttered, “I have no other choice! I'm so weak,” as I found myself hurrying back home. I passed through the open gate and closed it behind me. I could see through the paper door that the light had not been turned off in the detached room, so I tiptoed over and pressed my ear to the door. The crying had ceased entirely and I could only hear the soft sounds of breathing, perhaps that of a child, and the occasional hiccup. Even though the room was quiet now, the sound of crying lingered. I carefully opened the door and entered the room. My so-called wife and the children were sprawled out on the floor as if they had been stabbed or shot. In the middle of the room lay the eldest daughter. Next to her was the wife, and then the younger daughter. My so-called wife wore only a thin blouse. Her cotton-lined jacket was covering the eldest daughter, who was sleeping on her side with her cheek touching the floor. With her right arm and the long hem of her skirt the wife covered the younger daughter, who was on the floor closest to the door. “A mother’s love is a wonder after all,” I thought. The wife herself lay there as if her frail body was being sucked into the ground. She had the appearance of a spirit leaving this world. I felt an urge to hold the three of them in my arms, but instead I took the blanket laid out for me on the warmest part of the room and covered them with it. I took off my rain-soaked Western-style jacket and, still wearing my damp shirt, sat down on the warm part of the floor. A great whirlwind had started in my heart, only to quickly die down. It was like seeing dark, threatening clouds straining to drop its torrential rains now simply hovering in the sky. The echoes of their sobs still ringing in my ears (the sound of their breath would become a melody of tears in my mind) and the sight of them lying so pitifully in front of me – made me feel a few of the fat raindrops falling on my darkened mind. There was nothing I could do and no reason to even try to think. Nothing but a dark and uncertain future where I might crumble or explode into pieces existed before me. To the front, behind, and next to me was only darkness. Occasionally, I could hear the 10


desolate whistle echoing through the pitch-black. It was the sound of a lonely breath of life, nay, the sound of a spirit emerging out of pain and misery and finding nowhere to turn. I closed my eyes as my mind sank into bitter contemplation. I stayed this way for some time. The spring night soon ended. A rooster in a distant village crowed, soon followed by other roosters in the neighborhood. Time had made another notch on its belt and eternity welcomed yet another new day. Upon hearing the rooster’s crow, I woke out of my reverie and breathed a long sigh. The room was still dark, save for the flickering light of the lamp. I collapsed on my side and returned to my thoughts. Immersed in my own thoughts, I drifted off. I am not sure how long I was asleep, but when I opened my eyes, the wife had put the younger daughter by my side and the older one under my feet. She'd covered us all with the blanket I had put over them earlier. When I found her lying by herself in a cold spot near the door, I got up and took her in my arms to bring her to the warm part of the room. I spread the blanket to cover her as well and laid her down to sleep next to me. Instead of going off to Seoul immediately, I stayed at home for a little while longer, telling myself to endure a bit more of this pain. My elderly mother also wished for even one more day to see the son she had missed for so long (Mother's love for her children was already well-known in these parts and she especially doted on me as her youngest, born when she was in her fifties.) As I got ready to depart the next day, my brother implored, “Do think about what you can do, don't forget your family.� An article in the newspaper had reported that in Seoul, a city with a population of two hundred thousand, some one hundred and eighty thousand people were destitute and unemployed. I dare you to look at a world map and point out another place like that. It's so easy to imagine the streets of Seoul overflowing with beggars and starving people. Talk about the tail wagging the dog! A population of two hundred thousand where a hundred and eighty thousand of them are beggars! And I was just a newcomer to this enormous band of beggars. With the exception of Namchon, the special zone where foreigners lived, Seoul was filled with decrepit old buildings, crumbling, dirty streets, and the smell of parched dust. This land called Seoul, nay all of Korea itself, was on the road to death and decay. And Koreans, the people of the white clothing, were the ones sluggishly crawling around this land. Everywhere you turned, you saw masses of starving people on the verge of death. They have nothing in their possession. They have neither love, nor food, nor XX. They have neither the will, nor introspection, nor courage, nor power to fight back. They don't even have the self-awareness of the melancholy, nor a firm resolve. They have nothing! Nothing but the parched earth and dried bones in this desert, this burnt land. What will happen to this land?! What will befall this mass of people?! Death! Yes, there is nothing but death. Death! Death! This starving 11


horde looks down into the maw of death itself, like a herd of sheep or dogs that can only await their deaths. Not even a single person among them cries out in protest. Not one screams and vomits blood. No one shouts, ‘Set this land on fire! Why not set this parched land on fire!’ The land they stand on and the bones in these bodies – is it not possible to grind sand into gunpowder? Is it not possible to sharpen the bones into spears? Let us join these starved ghosts and dance in this hold of death. Now, let us roughly sketch out the details of how I lived in Seoul. When I arrived in Seoul, I could not find a single spot to rest my weary head. I started to follow a friend around, scrounging food off him and sleeping in his room. This, however, could not go on for long. I then heeded someone’s advice to go to a boarding house. Here I was at least able to eat on credit, but I was soon kicked out for failing to pay back the accumulating debt. Next, I attached myself to another friend, who himself was wearing out his welcome staying in someone else's guestroom. While staying with him I subsisted on set meals, ox bone soup, or sugar pancakes bought at cheap snack shops. Sometimes when I couldn't even afford those, I went without eating anything at all. That's how I spent my spring and the summer in Seoul. How I managed to live through those five or six months remains hazy in my memory, like a long-ago dream. A life of introspection or artistic creation, or whatever else, remained out of my reach. Considering the life I led, I did not have the wherewithal to think or care about anything else. At first when I faced the occasional bout of starvation, I was able to tolerate the hunger pains with some patience, but as they came with ever increasing frequency, I could not endure anymore. I was reduced to an animal, living only to fill my empty stomach. Even then there were moments when I felt remorse for my weakness, but there was no escape. I fell to the level of dogs and pigs. When the famine did not go on for so long, my thoughts would still turn to poetic inspiration, but past a certain point, there was nothing. Anything and everything on the street started to resemble food in my eyes. Rocks and pieces of wood looked like rice cakes or bread. On those incredibly lucky days when I was able to fill my stomach, I felt a kind of bliss like I was an idiot or a child. Now I fully understood the psychology of a beggar. In sudden moments of self-reflection, however, a cold, sneering laugh would escape me, a laugh mingled with sadness. There was no other way. Up to this point, I had tried to learn from the sages and force myself to act like a man of virtue. I had crudely imagined myself as a humanitarian or an idealist, but now I had to bury my arrogance (even though I had always known it was ugly). After starving for three or four days I sometimes found the thought of being near other people, including friends, so unbearable that I momentarily stopped scheming for the source of my next meal. At times like that I searched for places like Chuiunjeong or Samcheongdong where I could find the cool shadows of trees and a nice patch of grass. Not caring where my next meal would come from, I would spend the day there alone, 12


crouching and blinking dully. I could not, however, continue to sit this way forever. After some time I found myself rushing out into the streets to sniff out food like a dog. If I wanted to assuage my hunger pains, I would have to humiliate myself to bum a single meal off somebody. The only thing one could do to avoid humiliation in my world was to commit suicide or run away. One humiliating deed would earn me one meal. A second humiliation meant another meal. Afterwards I would be filled with disgust and think, ‘I will never do that again, even if I have to starve to death.’ Soon enough, however, another humiliation would follow. Living this way can shake a person's sense of right and wrong. Only then could one know the pain of the have-nots of the world, those who do not have any space left to reflect upon their inner lives after being squeezed by the terrifying pressures of their outer lives. It was around this time that I experienced an ideological shift. Until then I had thought, ‘What do I care what happens to the ignorant masses? They live like dogs and pigs and only care about satisfying their desire for food, sex, and worldly success. Unlike them, I will go alone on the path to higher spirituality!’ But finding the dogs and pigs within myself I began to think, ‘Instead of trying to go up, I shall go deeper down! Delve into the pain of the dogs and the pigs! Down into the pain of all the have-nots of the world! Most of all, into the pain of the Koreans, the people of the white clothing! Several thousands of stories down! Down into the underground caves!’ On this land, there was no love, no friendship, no human warmth. There was no heart, no tears, no affection, no passion. There was nothing to eat. People’s arms and legs were tied. The only beings crawling around on this parched land were “human skeletons”— no, more like just “skeletons.” Let us burn the bones. Let us make the bones rot. And amongst them, let us plant a seed of affection and make it sprout. Let us make new life spring forth. “The people of the white clothing and their pain, The people of the white clothing and their pain. Let us draw a line on the ground and wait!” It was then another big event occurred in my life. After waiting for any good tidings, my so-called wife could not bear it any longer and came up to Seoul with the children to find me. When I saw her at a distant relative’s house in Seoul, I said, “Let’s try living together then.” All this baloney about love. How can a Korean person ever love when he is always on the verge of desperation? I would attempt to live with a wife I do not love. How terrible could it be? Do not beggars also have married lives? I had decided in a moment of defiance that I would test myself against this hardship and had made the bold declaration to try living together.

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Apologetically leaving my so-called wife and children temporarily with the impoverished distant relative, I set out to borrow some money. With a little money, I would be able to get a small room to rent in the next few days and we could set up our new household there. But I could only think of one way to obtain the money we needed. I collected the manuscripts of the poetry anthology I had been working on. ‘I cannot have them published just yet,’ I had thought and kept them hidden out of a sense of propriety. Manuscripts in hand, I walked into a bookstore and displayed them as if shamelessly hawking cheap wares. I was roundly refused. Scratching the back of my head out of embarrassment, I rushed out the door. I then sought out a friend who agreed to accompany me to a bookstore where he knew someone. Fortunately, my manuscripts were accepted there. I sold the rights to my work for a total of sixty won and was given an advance of twenty. I would get the remaining forty won once the bookstore obtained the authorization for publication from the authorities. After running back to my so-called wife and giving her a brief report, I set off to find a room to rent. My current room in Samcheongdong, near the edge of Bukchon, was what I finally managed to find at the time. I handed over ten won as two months of advance rent. The other ten won was spent on some pots, dishes, firewood, and a measure of rice. This would be enough to last a family of four a week. It was the first night of my life together with the wife and children, a scene worth marking down in the pages of my life. A room dimly lit by an oil lamp (I still received so little of the benefits of civilization— even though I made my home in Seoul, I still only had an oil lamp), a floor coated with dirty, pockmarked laminated paper, walls covered with old wallpaper blackened with smoke, a single bundle in the corner that served as the only "furnishings" in the room, a worn-out box, the three others sitting near the door, me sitting on the warmest spot in the room, the despondent atmosphere of the room both inside and out that matched the emotions of the four people in it, a flickering lamplight that seemed to foretell their future, and an army of mosquitoes who attacked with weapons made stronger this late in the season. A mosquito landed on my left shoulder and rammed its needle into my skin. As I smacked it with the fan in my hand, I glanced over at the three people sitting side by side near the door. My mind had shifted as unexpectedly as the weather or the waves when I agreed to live my family. To my so-called wife, it was like finding the warm southern winds blowing in the middle of the winter or welcoming spring at an unseasonably early date. All this was clearly revealed in her expressions and behaviors. Despite the heat, she sat with our youngest daughter in her lap and stroked the girl’s hair with her sweaty hands. Her face was calm and full of a womanly wisdom that she had never shown before. Her eyes were big, but because they were black – in other 14


words, the color of her eyes were of a wintry tone, rather than the warm tone of spring or fall – they did not match her current expression at all. Nonetheless, her lips and the set of her mouth gave off a sense of serenity and wisdom. A more profound version of this expression can also be seen on the face (picture) of Maria as she holds a young Christ. I was quite delighted to see this on my so-called wife's face. Yet a part of me felt as uncomfortable as before. The way she was stroking the child’s head, she looked as though she was stroking an unpleasant creature in order to tame it. I quickly turned my head away. I had never looked at her face so carefully before that moment. I had long developed the habit of dropping my gaze whenever I spoke to her. This time I looked at her for a particularly long time, but I did not have the desire to look at her any longer. Now she made the child stand up and pushed her toward me. “There, go to your father now. Go to your father,” she said. With hesitation, my young daughter slowly walked toward me. Pulling her in my arms, I touched her hand and put my cheek next to hers. It was probably the first time that I had done this. I could not help but find my child adorable. I pressed my cheek against her face again and again. As the child sat in my lap, I admired her blinking eyes looking at the lamplight. Her eyes were as clear as glass marbles. Then, opening her pretty little mouth she said something that seemed to be out of a fairytale: “That mosquito there… is saying something, saying something no one can understand….” I was amazed by what she said. I leaned forward to give her a kiss but quickly stopped myself. Look at this! Could anything be more confounding than this? When one hears something like that from a child’s mouth, it ought to bring you a sense of awe or reverence for the life and the universe. That would normally be the case even if the child wasn't your own, but to think that I could not feel that way even for my own child…. I was moved by it instinctively, but spiritually I rejected it. Oh, fate has played an evil trick, barring the light from reaching my soul! “So the universe and life itself renounces me!” I told myself, and clenched my fists. I felt the twisted urge to kill everything in sight. I should renounce life! Renounce life! There was only emptiness there. Burn everything! There is only emptiness and rebellion against the emptiness. Yet I did not want to commit suicide. I did not want to run away either. I shall endure and go forth some more! I must force myself to live! Like a polar bear floating on an ocean of ice, even if I spill blood on the ice and die in the end…. ‘This too is taken from the people of Korea, nay from me! My child has been renounced by the universe and life itself. But I shall endure it some more,’ I thought. I 15


rolled and closed my eyes. A deep cough vibrated through my chest, sounding more like a moan reverberating through the ground. I suddenly felt another pang of pity for my young daughter. Squeezing her tightly in my arms and pressing my cheek against her face one more time, I set her down from my lap. The child was walking toward her mother when she stepped on a bowl of water that had been set aside. The bowl turned upside down and water spilt all over the floor. At this, my so-called wife’s bad habits quickly returned and she harshly slapped the child, who started to cry. I grimaced and looked away. “Oh you annoying little bitch, you wretched bitch!” she shouted as she hit the child again, the look on her face at once vulgar and obstinate. The child’s cries grew louder. “The start of this household will be the death of me!” I cried out angrily. Jumping out the door, I sat on the ledge of the wooden porch outside. Inside, the wife continued her lament, saying, “Oh you tiresome….” It sounded like she was gnashing her teeth and cursing the child. I couldn't stand it any longer. “Damn!” I screamed, and jumped up to beat her with a shoe, but I stopped myself. I thought about going somewhere far away again, but reminded myself, ‘Patience, patience. Remain patient until water seeps out of the dried bones.’ I sat with my eyes closed until I noticed that the room had quieted down. “Go to sleep now,” I instructed them and closed my eyes again. I wanted to spend the whole night like that with my eyes closed. My habit of closing my eyes was born of pain. The world inside my closed eyes looked just like the dark skies above. A week went by. Then a month and then another month. I had no sense of how much time had passed. I could not remember which days I ate and which days I starved. My life now was a never-ending search to find the next meal. Beyond that, my life seemed to have no other meaning. It was the stagnation of life itself. True stagnation. Those earlier days when I mulled over the pain of self-reflection and sought out any sort of introspection – those days had been a golden time in my life. And the several months when I was living by myself – that period had been a utopia compared to now. The glory of starvation and the paradise of loneliness were not to be found in my present life. The landlord came by last night, demanding payment for the late rent. Unable to tolerate his abuse, I argued with him, but it had only added to my embarrassment. In anger, I rushed to get out of the house without dinner. On my way out, I asked my socalled wife, “Why aren't you cooking dinner? Don't we have any rice?” “We do, we do. I will cook it soon,” she answered. I left the house and met up with a friend. I cadged a meal off him and loitered around with him until late at night, then spent the night at his place. When I got back home, the morning sun was already high in the sky. Inside the room, I found my so-called 16


wife combing our older daughter’s hair in the room. It looked like they had not had any breakfast this morning. “Why haven't you had breakfast yet?” I asked her. She did not answer. “Why haven't you cooked breakfast?” I asked again. Again there was no answer. I guessed that we had run out of rice. “Where is Gyesuk (the younger daughter)?” “I don’t know. She went out a little while ago….” I came out of the room and took a peek over where the landlord’s family lived. The family was busily eating their breakfast. I found Gyesuk crouched down on the ground near their door, staring intently at the way the landlord’s family was eating their meal. She looked like a dog staring at its master (this was the first time I had seen anything like this). The sight of it made me feel something burning in my chest and quivering through my bowels. I hurriedly beckoned her over with my hands, then scooped her up and carried her into our room. Setting her down in my lap, I asked her, “Are you hungry? You're still so hungry after you had dinner last night?” “No I didn’t have dinner,” answered my young daughter, blinking her sunken eyes. “You really didn’t eat anything for dinner yesterday?” “No, I didn’t eat anything,” she said again in her still childish garble. I guessed that my so-called wife had lied last night about having rice for fear of burdening me further. My so-called wife turned her face toward the wall and sighed deeply as our young daughter spoke. My chest ached as if rocks were rolling inside. I felt at that moment as if I could cut off my own flesh to feed to my family. Watching these innocent and weak beings go without one meal was more difficult than going without ten meals myself. No one could know this feeling without having lived an impoverished life with wife and children in tow. To put it another way, one could guess how the vast majority of the powerless people in this world, pressed on by the terrible threads of life, regularly committed sins against their own consciences in their struggle for survival. At this point, I heard the landlord's wife calling from outside our door. “Gyesuk’s mother, are you in?” she asked. Shamefully, I immediately felt hopeful that she might have brought something to feed my children. “Do you still not have the rent ready? I really must have it by today.” Rather than rice, however, she had come with this. “We don’t have it ready yet,” Gyesuk’s mother answered. “What do you mean you don’t have it ready yet? Either leave the room or pay the rent, you have to do one or the other!” the landowner’s wife retorted disagreeably. I stood up with my fists clenched tight. “Confound it all!” I exclaimed and left the room.

17


It was busy outside with the commotion of the late autumn season. Winds blew across the high autumn skies that stretched on without limit. Listen how the autumn winds cry “Awoo!” on top of Bugak Mountain. In the sky just above the top of Mt. Inwang, it cried “Awoo!” The mingled cries of wind howling then reverberating out to the very edges of the sky directly above Seoul, like a person’s cry ringing inside a large jar. The leaves of the trees down at the foot of the mountains heard the painful cries of autumn and tumbled chaotically down onto the ground. Tumbling down! Tumbling down to the ground! Everything shall tumble down to the ground. The people wriggling around on the road seemed on the verge of tumbling down. As I walked along the long wall of the Gyeongbok Palace, I felt the urge to tumble down. Stamping my foot on the ground, I reminded myself, “This is not the time to think about such things. I must get rice, get money.” Hurrying forth, I crossed Sukjugam Bridge, passed Andong Crossing, and walked toward Jongno. On my way there, I thought about getting some money from the bookstore. ‘It would be good if they've already gotten the authorization to publish my manuscripts, but even if they haven’t yet, I should be able to get at least ten won out of them.’ With that in mind, I soon arrived at the bookstore. I hated talking to its owner more than anything, a sly and cold-hearted fellow who looked like the very definition of a petty man. Usually he would dart his rodent-like eyes around the room, trying to find ways to use his shallow knowledge to manipulate decent people. He would also smile obsequiously and offer up cheap jokes. But he did not act this way today. He remained coolly in his seat, and remarked aloofly, “Mr. O, I’m glad you came.” As he said this, he cast a quick sidelong glance in my direction. The look in his eyes was one of disdain. This was the true color of these cunning residents in Seoul. Even the tiniest conflict with their own interests would change their countenance dramatically. Among the Korean people, there were many who resembled cunning foxes and sly mice. These sly "mice" were particularly prevalent among the residents of Seoul, and of the Seoul residents, especially among the merchants. They say that when a dragon spawn fails to become a dragon, it turns into a lowly eel. In the same way, the nation of the learned and the descendants of the Mongols had fallen this far. The bookstore owner spoke again: “Look at this.” He took out a thick piece of paper from his desk drawer. “Says the poetry collection we submitted for censorship got confiscated.” With that, he put the paper down on the dirty desk. “Confiscated?!” My heart sank and my eyes darted to the piece of paper. At the top was a notice of sorts, then lines of something. As my eyes darted down the page, words leapt up at me: ‘Authorization denied.’ And then at the end: ‘So and so bureau of so and so department, clerk of censorship office.’ “Did they give a reason for denying authorization?” I asked. 18


“It's more than that, they even wanted to bring in the writer for some questioning.” The vision of the XXX – the way they sat, those vicious eyes and mouths, their chilled voices – flashed across my mind. Blood rushed to my head and I became agitated. I felt as if they were standing before me and I wanted to strike at them with my fists. “For what reason?” I asked. “For what reason? For being subversive, they said….” “Subversive? What did they find that was subversive? I'd already taken out anything that might cause problems….” “Anyhow, they must have found something somewhere… Or maybe they just found reason to hate you….” These were the owner’s own words. “Hate? Hate me?” I said. My face was burning. “They say if you hate someone, you can find fault in just about anything. So that must be it,” muttered a messenger who was tying up some parcels next to me. “In any case, what are you going to do about the twenty won you already took?” asked the bookstore owner. “If I had the means, I would pay you back right away, but I don’t have the money now. If you just wait a while, I’ll find some translation work or something on the side and bring the money to you,” I explained hurriedly. “And when will you…” “Whenever I have the chance,” I said as I rushed out the door. I was becoming ever more agitated. The sky seemed to be falling to the ground and the ground seemed to be floating up to the sky. On the road, I wanted to strike down everyone in sight. At that moment, I heard the sound of wooden clogs behind me, then sounds that seemed to stab me: “Yobo! Baka!” I jerked my head around to see who it was. It was a man holding a briefcase in one arm and wearing a cloak. With one look, I could tell that he was a Japanese man who had lived in this land for more than a decade operating a loansharking business or a trade of sorts. Next to him stood a Korean man who looked to be an errand boy, and in the streets a few steps in front of him was a shabbily dressed Korean man carrying an A-frame on his back. It seemed that the man with the A-frame, while running to Jongno market to pick up a load, had bumped hard against the Japanese man who was trying to walk across the road. The Japanese man struck the A-frame carrier’s shoulder with his hands and exclaimed, “Yobo! Baka! This terrible man… I was going that way, why did you come here and….” He glared at the man with the A-frame with menace in his eyes. “It’s my own fault,” the man apologized without protest as he meekly ducked away. The eyes and the mouth of the cloaked man betrayed all the cruelty of a small malicious beast. His face also had stamped on it the demeanor of those officials who had sucked on the blood of the naïve wearers of white clothing and abused the people as they 19


pleased. He resembled a poisonous insect, plumped up and covered with bristling hair. I felt the urge to crush him with my foot and kill him. Clenching my fists, I was about to go after him when everything turned hazy before my eyes. I felt the ground spinning beneath me. I felt as if I would collapse. In the mean time, the man and his errand boy had already gone. Trying to collect myself, I stumbled over to the public toilet across the market. I took a piss, barely managing to hold myself steady. I leaned against the wall for some time until I became aware of the stink attacking my nostrils and went back outside. Now the thought of getting some money returned to me. Passing by the bookstore once again, I went to go visit H, who was staying at an inn up the alley behind the road. He had gone to Tokyo to study, and since he had some money, he was staying in Seoul in search of any opportunity to make himself known. As soon as I got to the alley, I ran into him on the street. “It’s really been a while. So, on your way somewhere?” H asked, peering at me through his black celluloid framed glasses with his upturned eyes. They looked at once bleary and filled with greed and treachery. “Yes, it’s been a while. I’ve come to see you actually…” I answered. “Oh me? You’ve come to see me?” came his doubtful reply, a sneering response that told me I had come to the wrong person. In fact, I had not once sought him out since coming to Seoul. The two of us walked side by side on the road. I could not immediately blurt out the thing I had come to say. As we turned the corner of the road, he stopped by a nearby store to buy a pack of cigarettes. Seeing a five-won bill come out of his wallet, I began to feel more hopeful. After hesitating a bit, I asked him rather directly. “Hey, can you please loan me some money. I really need it for something.” He stared at me with wide eyes, momentarily dumbfounded before replying casually, “Sure, how much?” It was certainly an unexpected answer. Perhaps it was because I had never asked him for such a favor before. Or maybe it gave him another story to tell to our mutual friends back home. He could boast that he had come to my rescue. It might also be because I had caught him when he had some money on him. I could easily fathom the mind of this greedy and treacherous man. “However much you can spare….” “You see, I have something that I need to spend this money on… it’s not like I'm not short on cash myself these days, but…,” he said, handing me a single one-won bill, clearly hinting that he could not give me any more than that. “Thank you.” I left him without further ado and walked briskly back home. This was not the first time I had begged in such a way. I had already done it several times before. Nonetheless, I felt just as humiliated and worthless as I had felt before. Life seemed to be one of endless humiliation.

20


‘I cannot do this anymore,’ I told myself. Just then, I felt a chill and my whole body started to shiver, as if someone had poured water down my back. “That's odd,” I muttered as I quickened my steps. With my body like this, my thoughts seemed to rise and turn faster than ever before. ‘But what to do? Shall I kill them all? Should I kill them? Lock them up in the room and set fire to it, like in the tale of Samyeong the warrior monk?’ I was quaking now. ‘Am I capable of doing something like that? No, I am not. I don’t have that kind of incredible strength of will. I am not capable of it. Then what? How about this then? Take the children to an orphanage and send my so-called wife to be a housemaid somewhere… But that would be a horrible tragedy for them too. Such a tragedy….’ I made up my mind, but I put off thinking about when I would actually carry out the plans. After walking for a while, I lost feeling in my feet, and could not even tell how fast or slow my steps were. The flat ground seemed to dip and rise under me. People walking toward me from afar seemed to flicker in and out. I was amazed by how the things around me – the houses, the trees, and the utility poles – managed to stand so straight. My legs were giving way and I could not walk much further. I stopped and leaned with my hand against the wall of Gyeongbok Palace. I closed my eyes and noticed that my ears felt as if they were clogged. All I could hear was a low buzzing sound. I muttered, “Let’s go,” to collect myself. Holding myself up on my wobbly legs, I resumed walking. When I arrived home, I found the youngest child fast asleep and the oldest daughter and my so-called wife squatting together in the room. The two got up to greet me. They seemed much stronger than me, who had already gone through so many starving spells. Although their faces were pale, they still looked fresher than mine. I entered the room on the verge of collapse, sat down, and pulled the single one-won bill from my pocket. “Here, go buy rice and firewood.” I lay down on the warm part of the floor and covered myself with a blanket and a quilt. The chills were getting more intense now. Shivering even more, my body started to twitch. One moment I felt as if my body was being sucked deep into the ground. In the next, it would feel like I was on a boat and the whole universe was moving around me. My forehead and eyes burned hot, like a fully stoked brazier. When I rubbed the tip of my thumb with my other fingertips, it felt like the stiff, rough surface of a stone wall. As I thought of a stone wall, the vision of a towering city wall appeared before my eyes. When the wall suddenly crumbled down to the ground, the scattered rocks and pieces turned into small ripples spreading infinitely on the surface of a large puddle. Now my fingertips felt like they were touching something soft like a bolt of silk or the surface of a 21


gentle wave. When these things disappeared from my eyes, I started seeing flashes of light, like the rays of the sun or lightning. Then I lost consciousness. I was not sure whether I had slept or not when I was eventually awakened by someone shaking me. When I came to, I could make out the children sitting near the door in the dim lamplight. “Did you eat?” I asked them. “Yes.” “I already fed the children.” The older daughter and her mother answered in rapid succession. “Eat up now. I made some rice porridge,” said my so-called wife. I took a few spoons of the porridge, but I could not eat anymore. Still clutching the spoon, I let my hand drop down on the serving table. “Please eat some more. You must have gotten sick with all that straining and going without food. Try to make yourself eat.” After taking a few more spoonfuls, I said, “Ah, I just cannot eat anymore.” I dropped the spoon on the table and collapsed again. I had regained some of my senses, but my nerves were still frail and vulnerable to the slightest agitation. The children were nodding off. It was understandable now that their stomachs were full after being hungry for so long. “If you are tired, lie down and sleep,” said my so-called wife, who was now sitting on the porch outside the door to take her turn at dinner. One after another, the children collapsed to the floor. The way they fell down to sleep reminded me of piglets inside a sty. Before I had looked at the slums with a certain curiosity, but now I was living in one. I suddenly felt pity for the children lying side by side on the floor near the door. Tears streamed from my eyes hot with fever. ‘Ah, when did I become so sentimental? My nerves have become weak,’ I thought and turned my eyes toward the light. While the lamp could only emit a light faint as a firefly, now it suddenly seemed to shoot a long and piercingly sharp ray of light. Pained by that light, I closed my eyes. What happened during the day weighed heavily on my mind. It was humiliating to have begged for money in that way from that man. “Humiliating thing, this business of begging,” I muttered to myself. “Humiliation! Humiliation! It would be better to pick pockets than to beg. It would be less humiliating,” I said under my breath. To pick pockets would be less humiliating than to beg. ‘But that is humiliating too, since I would have to cheat… Compared to picking pockets, robbery would be the more honorable thing… Yes, honorable. There is nothing shameful about robbing given the times. ‘But even then, there is something that troubles me. Even if I succeed in robbing someone, I would still be bothered by the contradiction of truth. This agonizing question 22


of whether it is possible to live without resorting to such means – I would have to live with that question, carrying it like a badge of honor. It is a noble agony, a supreme agony.’ I mused. ‘Then instead of being destitute, should I become a thief?’ I opened my eyes and looked at the children. ‘If I send them to the orphanage where they will have no one to rely on…,’ my heart trembled at the thought. I suddenly recalled the time in Tokyo when I visited an orphanage in the Sugamo neighborhood. I had been bothered by the sight of the orphans with their sallow faces shuffling about listlessly. They were children starved for affection. Growing up without their mothers’ warm embraces, they looked as wilted as plants living in the shadows. Remembering them, I felt an even greater pity for my children. Looking at them again lying so disconsolately on the floor, my eyes welled up with tears. I was also reminded of just how weak and unsightly I was, but there was nothing I could do. I closed my eyes again. ‘Go destitute? Or rob? To rob, yes to rob!’ I shook my clenched fists. ‘Would I be capable of carrying off a robbery? Would I have the courage to climb over someone else’s walls with a knife or something in my hands, and then threaten them and take their money? Courage, that’s the question. I am a coward… Or I bet that I would fail at robbery as well. And if that turns out to be the case, then there would be nothing gained, only more tragedy. In the end, it would turn out to be a foolish gamble on my part.’ At such times, the supposedly wise calculations came to the defense of the cowardice and weakness of my character. ‘Then what to do if I cannot do either? How to continue living? And what of my resolve to dig deeper into the pit of the pain of the times? The things I am thinking of, they are more out of cowardice than any wisdom… I am down right disgusting! Was I always such a coward?’ With the little strength I had left, I balled up my fists. Then I lay unconscious for a while. When I came back to, I picked up where I had left off. ‘To rob is an act of noble rebellion! A deed of rebellion loftier than the peaks of Mt. Everest! A solitary stance that bears the pain of all humanity! An act by an anonymous Christ the Savior!’ This type of thinking lent a romantic glow to the whole matter. I bolted upright with my fists clenched, mouthing, “To rob! To rob!” as if in the middle of a fit. The room seemed to spasm along with me. Spotting the iron stuck in the brazier, I quickly thought, ‘I will take that in my hands and I … No, I will take the knife from the kitchen and then….’ I wanted to run from the room. My so-called wife, who had been sleeping near the doorway, woke with a start. Her eyes startled wide open, she said,

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“Oh heavens! What are you doing? I heard you talking in your sleep when you were feverish, but now you are sitting up and….” “No, no, it’s nothing. I just couldn’t sleep….” “Oh what should we do?” “No, no, just lie down and go back to sleep. I’ll sleep soon enough…” I said and lay back down. But with my fists clenched again, I screamed in silence, ‘To rob! To rob!’ ‘Where should I go with the knife? Oh yes, the house next door with the brick walls around the yard… I will climb over that wall and then go into the study… intimidate them and take their money… then climb back over the wall… escape into the mountains… then return home….’ I fell back into unconsciousness. ‘Ah, I am not in a state to think this now. When I get better… I must first regain my strength.’ The night was dark but the clouds hanging in the eastern skies were beginning to brighten. Perhaps the pale morning moon would soon appear. The road was dark, but the outlines of the tall wall surrounding the house were now dimly visible. The pine trees standing on the other side under the mountain looked like an ink wash painting. ‘Oh if only tonight was a moonless night…,’ as soon as this thought arose in my mind, the moon went dark; perhaps it had been covered by the dark clouds. ‘Good!’ I thought as I tried to climb over the wall, feeling anxious about the moonlight all the while. Nevertheless, I managed to climb over. The knife I was holding in my left hand scratched against the wall and made a sharp noise. My heart sank. Straddling the wall, I looked around inside the yard. I could see the light of the lamp in the study, a few rooms down, but there was no light on by the wall where I was. ‘So that must be where the study is,’ I thought, jumping down carefully. Luckily, I did not not make any noise on my landing, but my heart was pounding. I felt something pull at my clothing and stab my body. When I felt around with my hands, I realized that it was a flowering tree, probably a thorny climbing rose. After pulling off the branches snagging my clothes, I moved the knife from my left had to my right and took a few careful steps forward. I had come to the middle of the yard when suddenly I heard clanging. Startled, I froze. My heart was pounding. As I listened carefully again, I realized that it was the chiming of the clock. It seemed to strike three times. I resumed my movements and arrived around the outside corner of a room. Hiding myself in the shadows and sticking out only my head, I peered inside the house. The room just next to me with the light on was the big study. Half of the outer windows of the room remained closed and the other half were opened. All the other rooms of the house were dark, except for the room at the outer wing of the house. There, the light hung on the outside. I could tell that the light I saw from the wall had been this one. I put one foot inside the house and peeped into the study. Near the warm part of the floor lay an old man who slept wearing a thin layer of clothing. He looked to be the 24


master of the house. Next to him was a chamber pot and an ashtray. An electric lamp fitted with a large shade hung in the middle of the hallway. In a moment of confusion, I entered abruptly and tried to open the door to the room, only to find that the sliding doors were already open. I went into the room and sat down next to the sleeping man, pointing my knife at him. He soon awoke, opened his eyes, then bolted upright, trembling. Without complaint, he opened the closet and took out a small safe. He opened the safe with trembling hands and took out bundle after bundle of ten-won bills. After stuffing them into the pockets of my jacket and even inside my pants, I quickly ran out. Before I knew it, I was already out on the road, well outside the walls I had just climbed over. The road was clearly visible now and there were people walking around. “Oh no! It’s already gotten bright,” I thought. I threw away the knife and, bracing my pounding heart, tried to walk, but found this very difficult. Just then I heard a din in the house behind me just beyond the walls of the yard. Suddenly a policeman came running by. I picked up the knife I had just thrown aside and stabbed the policeman. He fell over and countless more policemen came running after him. As I braced myself to wield the knife, someone struck me from behind. I fell forward and several policemen descended upon me. “Aaahhh!” I woke up with a scream. My body was drenched with sweat. The dim lamplight was still shining over the room. The others were still lying collapsed on the floor, these beings who slept quietly while bearing the weight of an unknown fate. The dark night that enveloped them seemed to caress them like an affectionate mother, or the devil. The dark night seemed to be staring straight at them. What a terrible dream. What an endless night.

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Into the ground  

Cho Myung-hee (1894 – 1938) was born in 1894 in Jincheon, North Chungcheong Province. His pen name was Poseok. He graduated from Jungang Hig...

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