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Longi ngf orHome

JeongI n-t aek

Tr ans l at edbyJ ami eChang


Longing for Home By Jeong In-taek Translated by Jamie Chang

Literature Translation Institute of Korea 1


Originally published in Korean as Yeosu, 1941 Translation ⓒ 2014 by Jamie Chang

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 Jeong, In-taek Longing for home [electronic resource] / by Jeong In-taek ; translated by Jamie Chang. -- [Seoul] : Literature Translation Institute of Korea, 2014 p. 원표제: 여수 Translated from Korean ISBN 978-89-93360-53-0 95810 : Not for sale 813.61-KDC5 895.733-DDC21

CIP2014028980

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About Jeong In-taek A reporter for Maeil sinbo and Munjang, Jeong In-taek (1909 – 1953) was born in Seoul and was close colleagues with Park Taewon and Yi Sang, prominent writers of Korean modern literature in the 1930s. Their relationship is described in relative detail in Yi Sang’s Hwansigi. Jeong In-taek was in love with Kwon Yeong-hui, who was Yi Sang’s lover. He tried to commit suicide to demonstrate his passion for her, and succeeded in marrying her. After Jeong In-taek, who was in North Korea, died during the Korean War, Kwon Yeong-hui married Park Taewon in 1956. She nursed Park through his final years when he was confined to his sickbed, and finished his posthumous work, Gabo Farmers’ War by taking dictation. Jeong In-taek, who debuted by publishing “Two Wanderers” in Maeil sinbo in 1930, wrote many biographical stories with the first person narrator. The excessive selfawareness of the powerless intellectual we see in “Clock” and “Candlewax” are favorite themes in Jeong In-taek’s stories. Psychologism literature, which hit its zenith in Yi Sang’s novels in the 1930s and became a characteristic of Korean modern literature, also played an important role in Jeong’s works. Toward the end of his career, Jeong was fixated on depicting romantic relationships. His bold description of physical love earned him the reputation for being the master of romantic novels. “Longing for Home,” “Happiness” are the best examples of such works.

About “Longing for Home” An ailing young writer falls in love with the kind, brave Yumie in Tokyo. Yumie moves to Seoul to be with the writer, but refuses to marry him without her family’s approval. Her family in Tokyo, whom she’d been the sole provider for, sends her a long, tearful letter detailing their troubles since her departure. The dutiful Yumie returns to Tokyo to look after her family, but promises the young writer that she would return before the spring of the following year. The young writer’s health quickly worsens as he eagerly awaits Yumie’s return.

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Longing for Home

*Author’s note: Come to think of it, it’s been a year since Kim passed away. That is to say, it’s been a year since Kim’s posthumous manuscript pile of over two feet high was entrusted to me. Let them live on if there’s a way, or burn them or toss them in the garbage – you do what you think best with it. Kim’s surviving family told me this was Kim’s wish as they handed me the manuscripts. It contained all the literary achievements of Kim’s thirty-year life. There were about twenty novels and short stories, four hundred manuscript papers’ worth of poems, and scores of journal entries, essays, and reviews. It was partly my laziness, but I was so overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the manuscripts that I did not dare take on the endeavor of going through them. I put it off until the next day, and then the day after until – my sincerest apologies to Kim – I’d completely forgotten of its existence. About a month ago, I happened upon the stack of manuscripts in my closet and blushed with shame. No one could have ignored the wishes or betrayed the trust of a dead friend as completely as I had. I blushed to myself a hundred times. For ten days after I unearthed the manuscript pile in my closet, I perused every page of every manuscript. Not that this would have spared me Kim’s scoffs from his grave. The most moving thing I found in the stack was a journal that formed the basic frame of this novel. Perhaps it would be a stretch to call it a journal. It was just a notebook filled with entries that weren’t even in chronological order. But the entries seemed to have been inspired by some great shock that he could not handle, for the characteristic restraint and calm of his other writings were nowhere to be found in this journal. It wasn’t clear where entries began and ended, and his handwriting was such a mess that there were more than a few parts that were completely unintelligible. This attracted my curiosity, and before I knew it, I’d read the journal twice in one sitting. To this day, as I sit writing this story, I cannot forget how touched I was by the journal. It was no more than a record of a man’s soul truly in love with a woman, but it was the very existence of love so pure in this depraved world that held me in awe for a long time. Perhaps the entries were a plot of a novel shaped by Kim’s daydreaming. But even if that were true, how delightful for us readers to think of it as a true story! Just the thought of a Fabien or a Werther walking among us floods our cynical hearts with warmth. And the thought that my best friend was that sort of person brings a tear to my eye. So I’ve pared and molded his journal into a story to reveal to the world as Kim’s journal. Perhaps it wasn’t his intention to share this with the world, but he must have been well aware of what a fool I am when he’d decided to entrust his oeuvre to me, so 4


I’m sure he’d be laughing it off instead of being angry with an unsurprising outcome. Besides, he’s in Nirvana now, leaving nothing to claim or repay in this disenchanted world. To turn this into a story, I’ve fill in some gaps here and there and applied my tone in certain areas, but I’ve tried to bring out the original to the best of my ability. The true writer of this story, therefore, is Kim. I suppose it was very impudent of me to add this aside under the guise of “Author’s Note.”

Diary Part 1 She said she’d come back to me in the spring. I think it over ten thousand times, and still think it was my mistake to believe her. One. Two. Three years… Three years went by like an eternity. I only recently realized just how long three years can be. But what saddens me is that sometimes three years ago seems like only yesterday. I can still see her yagasuri (fabric weaved to resemble the wings of a bird) serge coat as clear as day. Her thick hair flowing down over her ears. Her double eyelids. Her small, red lips. Her slender figure… No… No. I’m describing the woman in the picture. I thought it was someone who looked like her. I was stunned by how exactly the same they were. The moment this thought entered my head, my entire body shook like an aspen leaf. It was on a crooked shelf covered in a white film of dust. In a shabby photo studio. What drew my eyes to this wretched display shelf? In one corner of the display case that was a slapdash arrangement of mediocre photographs sat the picture of the woman – no, Yumie – in its shy modesty. No matter how much I studied this photograph, telling myself there was no chance it was her picture, it was unmistakably Yumie. I felt my legs were about to give out, and pressed my burning forehead against the display window and closed my eyes for a moment. The face in the photograph, etched instantly in my heart, did not vanish even when I closed my eyes. Her voice as she said she would come back to me in the spring rang in my ears. As she said this, she’d leaned her upper body out the window and gently touched the tip of my fingers with her cold hand. And at that moment, the express train to Busan began to pull out of the station. Yumie quickly turned away and pressed her handkerchief to her eyes. That face from three years ago, the wary face was now in the display window, looking at me. No matter how I looked at it, it was Yumie’s face. She was wearing that yagasuri serge coat. Her thick hair flowing down over her ears. Her double eyelids. Her small, red lips. The dip of her philtrum. 5


I finally lifted my head and tried to laugh about the fact that there was someone out there who looked like her. But my facial muscles spasmed with the effort. I gripped my cane in spite of myself. I clenched my fist hard, as if to crush something. Unnerved, I fled from the place. I returned to the inn, threw off my clothes, sat in a hot bath, and mulled it over. It was clearly a picture of Yumie. But it had to not be a picture of Yumie. Yumie had only lived in Joseon for three months, all of which she’d spent in Seoul. So how was I to believe that her picture had ended up in the display window of a photo studio in a country village in Hwanghae-do Province? A miracle was the only possible answer. But what were the chances that I’d mistake someone else for Yumie? It had to be a picture of Yumie or a picture of a woman who looked exactly like Yumie, down to the last strand of hair. If this were the case, it also had to be a miracle. If it was a miracle, so be it. If it was Yumie, so be it. What would that inspire besides surprise? I had no complaints or demands. How could I wish for anything more when I could be in the state of euphoria that was being close to the person I love, even if she was only in a photograph. I must get a good night’s sleep tonight. I must wake up early tomorrow morning to go see my beloved. … I am glad for this unexpected calm in my heart. I was in and out of the tub a few times, and was able to manage an hour-long nap. I feel lighter, body and heart. I was able to face the picture of my beloved – no, of Yumie – with a peaceful heart. “Now that I’ve made up my mind that this is unmistakably a picture of Yumie, I will refer to her as ‘my beloved wife Yumie’ as I’d called her before.” Whether it is truly Yumie’s picture or not, I am determined to firmly believe that it is. I have no memory of seeing a similar picture of Yumie in her photo album. So this means that I’ve found a new picture of Yumie for the first time in three years. This brings me uncontrollable joy. With this joy feeding me, I must recover my health soon. I must become strong for Yumie. It seems a bright, wide path has opened up before me. Yumie had always brought me luck. Why should things be any different this time? I can already feel my arms and legs growing stronger and my pale face rosier by the hour. Convalescence was supposed to take a month, but at this rate, I’ll be recovered in a fortnight. I must recover soon. How it would break Yumie’s heart if she returned to find me looking so sickly? 6


Everything is auspicious. I’m happy that the bath is not too hot. I’m happy that the bathhouse is quiet and few patrons visit because it’s in a remote place. I go down to the photo studio and ask for the owner. He left for Seoul yesterday and will be back in ten days. I asked the clerk to sell me the photo of Yumie, and the clerk said he couldn’t do so without the owner’s permission. I was going to ask about the origins of the photo, but held my tongue and went home. It is definitely Yumie, but I’m afraid of the disappointment I’ll feel if I were told otherwise. I’ve decided to visit the photo three times a day until I can buy it. I want to buy the picture not just to possess it, but because it pains me to know that the picture of my wife is sitting in the dusty display window all by her lonesome. And why are all those vulgar pictures cohabiting in the picture frame with her? A picture of three young men who look like no more than village ruffians with their arms around each other’s shoulders, a couple of bar maids in heavy makeup looking coyly at the camera, a woman dressed in men’s clothes wearing a hunting cap and flashing her vulgar gold tooth… I can’t leave Yumie’s photo all alone in that unpleasantness. The day the owner returns, I’ll take her away from that place and keep her on my desk. It’s taken me only three days to warm to this spa village, perhaps owing to Yumie’s presence here. My things finally arrived today. The portrait and the picture finally arrived today. Fetching my things and unpacking took more than half a day. It was the best half a day I’ve had lately. I hung the portrait of Yumie wearing Joseon clothes on the wall immediately facing me when I lie down. I hung a full-body photograph of Yumie to the left of my desk, and a picture of the two of us the day we left Tokyo to the right of my desk, the two side by side like totems. Now I’ll buy that picture from the display window and hang it on the wall facing the portrait. Coziness fills the room. I am not lonely anymore. From today onward, I will sit at this desk and read and write as much as I want, and become as healthy as I want. The maid’s eyes grew wide as she came into the room with my lunch tray. “The room’s suddenly turned into a flowerbed!” “You think so, too?” I chuckled. I laughed for the first time since I came to this house. The maid laughed with me, surprised by my sudden lightheartedness when I’d barely spoken, let alone smiled, since I came here. “Of course. But who’s that in the pictures?” “My wife. What do you think? Isn’t she a beauty?” “Your wife? She is quite the beauty. Such large eyes and pointy nose. Such a pretty face.” “Like her face, she also has the most beautiful heart in the world.” “Why didn’t you bring such a beautiful wife here with you?” “It couldn’t be arranged.” 7


“Why not?” “…” “Why not?” “Do you really want to know? She’s dead.” Watching me nod silently, the maid clicked her tongue uncomfortably and forlornly repeated my words, “She’s dead.” After a brief silence, she asked when she’d died and of what, how old she was, whether we had any children, and every little detail she could think of until I knitted my brows out of irritation. Nevertheless, she showed such emotional reactions to my answers and did not leave the room for a long time after I’d finished my lunch. When she finally picked up the tray to leave, she offered her words of consolation by saying she was not the only woman in the world and that there was no use in pining over a dead person. When the sound of the maid dragging her slippers down the long hallway subsided, the afternoon silence suddenly rushed down from the mountain into my corner room facing the backyard. Stunned by the sudden quiet, I sat transfixed for a while. I thought, She is the only woman in the world to me, and even though the answer came from this thought, it was wrong of me to lie about the only woman in the world for me being dead. I chastised myself and let out a sigh. What if she really is dead? Before I could arrive at this thought, I felt something I’d been leaning on give out under me. Thrown off balance, I pulled out the photo album Yumie put together for me before she left. The day before she left Seoul, Yumie spent the entire day making this album for me. The album included a baby picture of Yumie on her hundredth day celebration, a picture of the two of us together, and nearly fifty photographs in between, all carefully captioned in white ink and arranged in chronological order. I was to look at the album whenever I missed her. This was my most treasured possession, almost like a part of Yumie to me. I looked at her pictures when I suddenly missed her, or even when I was bored. I’d developed a habit of taking in every photograph one by one. I was reading the photo album. The album transported me to a different place where I could forget about my current situation and even the situation that Yumie and I were in, and conjured up only beautiful memories like pretty pictures that intoxicated me, paralyzing my thoughts and desires. *Author’s note: It seems Kim had stopped writing for a few days following this entry. These are some scribbles I found on the margins: Why am I writing this? I’ve discovered that there are things more difficult to write than novels.

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It’s a pity when one forgets something one mustn’t; it’s a greater pity when one cannot forget what one must. When the spring grass turns green, come back instantly. Loving is a greater joy than being loved? Says who? These scribbles provide clues as to his state. There were other unintelligible scribbles written horizontally and vertically, and a colored drawing of a woman I assume is Yumie was found among a pile of five or six manuscript papers. Then, his next entry suddenly appeared again. The original was very out of order. The titles “Diaries from Tokyo” or “Diaries from Seosomun” were added by yours truly for the convenience of the reader. Diary Part 2 Diaries from Tokyo Date: -- / -I ran into Yumie again at Park’s place. By pure coincidence! I guess I can’t say it was coincidence because I know that Yumie takes English lessons from Park’s wife three times a week on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays. I don’t think it’s a good sign that I’m drawn to a certain woman when I am to leave this city before long. Body temperature: 37.5 degrees Celsius Date: -- / -I returned to the boardinghouse after 11 at night. I’m very tired and my fever’s gotten worse because of this. But who cares about these minor complaints when I’ve learned today that Yumie’s interest in me isn’t very insignificant? Yumie and I opened up to each other and talked about a lot of things until Park and his wife drove us out, telling us to go home and go to bed. Now that I try to recall, I have no idea what we’d discussed. I suppose I was that excited. Yumie and I were headed in the same direction, but the thought of walking alongside her made me so nervous that I told her I had business somewhere else, and took a detour by Yoyoki. My body is in pain, but my heart is light. Date: -- / -My heart is still racing. I’m not sure why. Park suddenly dropped by in the afternoon. He got paid and invited me to go out. The following is the conversation I had with Park as we walked down the wide, white pavement in front of Rikkyo University: 9


“What do you think of Yumie?” He referred to her as plain “Yumie” without the honorifics. “What do you mean?” “Well… You see… Don’t you have feelings for her?” “…” “You do, don’t you?” “Well, I don’t know.” “You haven’t been with her long enough to see what kind of woman she is, but…” “…” “Don’t take this the wrong way. I’m just telling you so you’re informed. I think Yumie’s behavior is a little…” Park trailed off for a moment and then quickly changed his tone, as though he was joking, “She’ll treat me that way, too… Maybe some day…” I don’t care to record the exchange beyond this point, for it is too unpleasant. I am not sure at whom this unpleasant feeling is directed. My heart continues to pound. Date: -- / -The doctor has told me to go home and convalesce. I will forget everything and return to my hometown for the sake of my health. I am still young and have a mountain of work to do. Date: -- / -- , the day of the astounding incident worth recording I don’t know why this happened. The cause was something so small that I can’t believe it led to such a fracas. “My house is not a brothel,” said Park in a tone so unpleasant it couldn’t be dismissed as a joke. I had a fever and was not feeling well, so I lost my head and challenged him. “What are you saying?” “This is not a whorehouse. Get out.” All I’d done was lie down in the next room because my head suddenly began to hurt. And then Yumie, who had just finished her English lesson, came in and sat down by my head to check on me. I don’t understand why this sent Park in such a flying rage. “Fine, I’ll leave if you want me to. I’ve already said my goodbyes and I’ve no reason to stay anyway. But that is no way to speak to a friend!” “How dare you? Leave, you filthy bastards!” “What, ‘filthy bastards?’” Things were getting out of hand, but nothing could have prepared me for what Park did next. He bolted into the kitchen and returned with a gleaming kitchen knife.

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“A bastard like you deserves to die! I’ll kill you!” Park shouted. There was no doubt he had lost his mind. I was so shocked I didn’t know what to say, and I felt bad for Park’s wife who had to witness all of this, but I couldn’t just run away either, so I just stood staring at Park. His shouts eliciting no response and not sure what to do with the knife he’d brought from the kitchen, he pretended to lunge at me with it. I did not move an inch because I knew he was bluffing, but Yumie screamed as she threw herself between Park and me, arms wide open. At the same moment, Park’s wife pulled him back by the arm. The knife that was aimed at my face sliced Yumie’s thumb about halfway (I discovered this only later. I was too panicked to see anything at the time). “Out! Get out!” I wasn’t afraid of Park, who was still shouting like a madman, but I could not disobey Yumie’s orders as she pushed me out and told me to leave. I’d only made it a few steps from the door when Yumie followed me out. During the brief moments while I stood on the street corner waiting for Yumie to come to me with her head bowed, it occurred to me what she’d done for me. Rather than feeling indignant on her behalf, I felt profoundly moved and could not help but be overwhelmed with gratitude. “I’m sorry. I don't know what to say.” I bowed my head and apologized, my voice trembling. “No, not at all…” She seemed to want to say something but stopped herself. Instead, she smiled trustingly at me. “I think I hurt my finger.” “You did?” I panicked. She was clutching her hand. “Is it badly hurt?” I grabbed her hand and opened it to look at the wound. I was so surprised by how cold her hand was that I almost let it go, but I made the conscious effort to apply pressure on her wound and stop the bleeding without giving myself away. “You… you’re badly hurt… because of me.” “No, I’m okay.” Yumie’s face seemed pale and her hand in my hand seemed to tremble ever so lightly. For a moment, we silently listened to the beat of each other’s heart. I felt as though my body was on fire. My mouth felt dry. I retrieved my hands, pulled out a handkerchief from my pocket, tore it to strips, and gave it to Yumie for her hand. During the ten minutes it took to get to Shibuya Station, we walked side by side without exchanging a word. “He’s a horrid man,” she said as soon as we came out to a brighter area. Her head was still lowered, but it seemed she’d had to break the heavy silence. “Who?” I asked with my head also lowered, not understanding who she was talking about. “He doesn’t know loyalty or friendship. He’s jealous.” Her voice was unexpectedly calm. I listened solemnly as though I was listening to the prophecies of an oracle. The meaning was still not clear to me, but it was 11


unmistakable that the crux of the incident that transpired earlier was in her words. I kept quiet and waited for her to continue, but she fell silent. The moment we stepped into the waiting room of the station, however, Yumie suddenly cried out, “Mr. Kim!” Her large eyes looking straight at me seemed to reveal a firm determination in her heart. “Are you really leaving tomorrow?” she asked. “Yes, I plan to,” I answered quietly and looked back at Yumie with intensity to match hers. For a long time, we stood there like fossils. “Please. See me tomorrow, Ms. Yumie.” This time, I was the one who suddenly yelled. “I will.” “Noon. Right here.” “Okay.” Like people who were fighting, we parted ways without saying a proper goodbye.

Date: -- / -- , the day after the day of the astounding incident worth recording We had the following conversation: “Until now, you’ve been that afraid of being sick?” “Until now, yes. But I’m confident now that I’ll be cured in a year.” “Confident since when?” “Since now.” And then there was this conversation: “You’re really going to come?” “I really am going to come.” “… then I’ll wait for you.” “Wait for me.” *Author’s Note: According to the dates, it seems Kim returned from Tokyo directly after this incident, and spent a half a year isolated in the countryside giving his recovery his full attention. So, through a great feat of mental strength, he almost completely healed himself. He didn’t seem to have kept a diary during this period. There are a few pages of reviews between the “Diaries from Tokyo” and “Diaries from Seosomun,” but they will not be mentioned for they seem irrelevant to the plot.

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There also seems to be far too little information available on this man called “Park,” but since he isn’t very important to the plot either, I won’t go out of my way to find more details on him. Diaries from Seosomun

Date: -- / -The rain cleared up last night. The sky is high and the weather is warm, as if it is the autumn. Spring must be here. I live in a corner room of an old, rundown brick building Chinese people used to occupy, but it’s a relief that it’s bright and gets a lot of sun like convalescent homes do. The street corner leading to the entrance is a little busy, but the room is quiet. But none of this matters now that I have my beloved wife Yumie with me. I want for nothing. Rather, all this happiness makes me afraid.

Date: -- / -Father came by our humble place around noon today with a blank expression on his face. Hurray. He did not say a word, but this means we have his approval. He was very much against our union in the beginning, but our love won in the end. Now that we had Father’s silent approval, we vowed to strengthen our love for one another. Yesterday, Father reportedly called off the arrangement with the other woman he had in mind as my wife. I do feel sorry for my parents, and I wonder if I’m misbehaving like a petulant child in the safety of my parents’ boundless love, but my parents and I have a different path in mind for my future, so it can’t be helped. Mother came by in the evening and stayed until late at night. It was unfortunate that they could not talk to one another, but it made me smile to nod and laugh together, pretending they understood. “Mother, what do you think of the bride I chose?” Grinning, I asked as I walked her out. Mother laughed, too, and said, “You cheeky boy. You’re not supposed to show off your bride in front of your mother!” But she whispered, “She looks kind and healthy.” She must have thought she was complimenting her too much, for she added, “But her cheeks and chin are a little bony.” She didn’t mean it. I can see right through her. After Mother left, I told Yumie about our exchange. She giggled and posed for me asking, “How do I look?” I quickly stifled her laugh with both hands.

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Date: -- / -She keeps tearing up sheets of paper. Yumie is drafting an endless letter to her family in Tokyo. Now that we have the approval of my family, Yumie’s getting more nervous. She knows very well what sort of answer she’ll get from her family, after she’s abandoned her parents and siblings and came all the way to Seoul for me alone. Yumie’s family is not very well off. Her parents are old and her younger brother is still attending college. Yumie’s very small salary and a bit of pension was all the income her family had. Until she left them. It’s not hard to imagine what her family thinks of the situation. Yumie’s elderly parents were adamantly against our union, as all elderly parents would have been. They weren’t so willing to accept the man their daughter chose on her own and make him their son-in-law. Anticipating a difficult struggle with her family, Yumie decided she wanted to go through this struggle by my side instead of in her hometown. Instead of waiting for my trip to Tokyo in the fall, she ran into my arms with just the clothes on her back. She said in a letter she sent that this drastic measure was the only hope for her. Yumie is now sending her first letter home in a month since she came to Seoul. I can feel the tone of her letter without reading it. My lonely wife Yumie! Her family will surely send a dreaded response. Yumie, draw nearer to me!

Date: -- / -Yumie says she is tired of lounging about and wants to get a job. “Just for six months, no more. Only until our ceremony. Please?” Her parents may no longer see her as their daughter, but Yumie can’t abandon her parents, too. She says she needs money for something, and quickly turns away with glimmers of tears in her eyes that I ignore and nod yes. I tell Yumie that I can manage to find a few dozen won for her parents each month, but Yumie won’t listen. Perhaps the best thing I can do for Yumie is to let her do as she pleases until we get married six months from now. Date: -- / -Yumie’s family is not sending her a response. Not even a dreaded one.

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Date: -- / -It seems Yumie is truly to become a lonely person. It’s been over a month, and yet not even a postcard from Tokyo. But Yumie masks her loneliness well. This breaks my heart even more. “I sent your mother twenty won in your name.” “But what will your family think?” “Don’t worry. Mother already knows. She trusts me in everything, but…” I trail off, but I know I’m happy to be with Yumie, and she will be happy, too, as long as she is with me. Date: -- / -Date: -- / -Date: -- / -*Author’s note: There’re dates but no entries for several pages. Perhaps the life of two young people in love was so filled with happiness that it did not produce much to write about. So the entries continue in the fall. Date: -- / -The wind has been rather cold in the mornings and evenings lately. Summer has gone. Father offered to buy us a new home, but I can’t convince Yumie to move into the new place before the wedding. She says our place may be shabby, but it’s our love nest and that we should stay here until it becomes unbearably cold. It is truly a blessing from heaven that my health, which had been a cause of concern, is improving daily. It must be Yumie’s presence. Today, I saw for the first time the scar Yumie got on her thumb from when Park wielded a kitchen knife at us in Tokyo. I was embarrassed and amazed that I’d never thought about it before. I stroked her scar with infinite gratefulness as she sat by my head. “How did you get up the courage to protect me that day?” I asked, but she only smiled in response.

Date: -- / -I don’t know if it was around midnight or early in the morning. I woke up with a start when I heard the faint sound of Yumie’s sobs as though it was a dream. It was not a dream. Yumie was weeping with her face buried in her pillow. Her shoulders were shaking in her effort to stifle her sobs. 15


“Yumie, what’s wrong?” Yumie had a pluckiness to rival any man and it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that she never shed tears in the presence of others. It was no small matter than she was wailing so openly, and in the middle of the night. “Yumie, Yumie.” Feeling something unspeakable horrible had happened, I got up and tried to get Yumie to get up, but she remained curled up and face down, and refused to move. As I shook Yumie’s shoulder, I was drawn into her sadness in spite of myself, and the two of us wound up weeping in each other’s arms all night.

Date: -- / -- , Date: -- / -- , Date: -- / -The turmoil of three days ago still feels fresh as though it happened moments ago. The fact that I can pick up my pen again is probably proof I’ve calmed down a little. The morning after Yumie and I wept all night, she pushed – nearly threw – a thick envelope at me, unable to lift her face and look at me. It was the dreaded response from her parents we’d been secretly waiting for even after we’d long given up hope. Yumie’s mother went straight to the point from the first line: How difficult it had been to manage the household since Yumie’s departure. How the price of goods suddenly went up and made things even worse. How the family members started to fall ill one by one the day after Yumie left – Yumie’s mother had another stroke and still has trouble using her left arm, Yasuzi (Yumie’s brother) must have injured himself playing sports and has been bedridden for about a month now, but his tuition is a greater problem, and the only person who’s well is Yumie’s father, but he’s an old man of over seventy and it makes Yumie’s mother weep to watch him awkwardly try to cook for them day and night. How it feels like someone in the family died, and when they’re not being irritated with one another, they’re staring silently at each other with dark, heavy hearts. Then she wrote dozens of times that Yumie must return, even if it’s just for a while, that this was more important and that they could discuss the matter of her marriage later. This tearful letter, written with much effort by a woman who had trouble holding a pen or seeing, elicited a greater pity for knowing how difficult it must have been for her. At the end of the letter, she briefly mentioned the money Kin-san (me) sent them and asked Yumie to thank me, as though it pained her so to bring it up that she had to put it off until the very end, and then asked her again to convince Kin-san to let her visit for just a short while. Her entreaty was petty and undignified. When I finished the letter, a dark shadow of groundless fear that our happy days were over flashed through my mind. But the intensity of the letter would not allow me to dwell on such thoughts. All I could do was face the reality before me, but it only reminded me that I was too powerless to solve the problems at hand. All I had was my love for Yumie. 16


After reading the letter, I knew I could not stop Yumie from going to Tokyo, but letting her go to Tokyo seemed even harder. Given that I needed her to survive, I could go as far as to say it was impossible. But I had to make a decision. The letter could not be ignored. I mumbled, as though talking to myself, “So, what are you going to do?” “…” “You do what you think is best.” “…” It’s been three days, and Yumie has still not given me an answer.

Date: -- / -I knew that letting her go to Tokyo was the right thing to do and going was the right decision for her, but when Yumie actually said that she’d be leaving, I was so shocked that all the blood drained from my face. If I’d asked her just once to stay, she would have obeyed. My true wish was for her to stay, and her true wish was to not go away. But I told her to go, and she said she would. We promised to write every three days, and reluctantly carried out our plans.

Date: -- / -She told me that this wasn’t all bad. She said perhaps everything would start to go our way as a result of her visit. She’d be back this year, or next spring at the latest, so couldn’t I get by that long without her? She joked tearfully and told me to focus on getting healthier in the meantime. Next spring at the latest… next spring at the latest… I joked that I would come looking for her if she wasn’t back by then, and turned around to wipe my tears.

*Author’s note: There are a few more entries in “Diaries from Seosomun” but Kim crossed them off by striking through the lines many times with his pencil, so I assume he’d wanted to erase them. I will respect his wishes and refrain from publishing them here. The entries were about the days before and following Yumie’s departure from Seoul and a very detailed account of the lonely Kim alone in their rented room in Seosomun. This is the end of “Diary Part Two.” Looking back, I think Kim and I became friends directly after these entries.

17


At the time, Kim spent most of his time at home ailing. I suppose he in fact could not get by for half a year without Yumie and had begun to wilt. Nevertheless, Yumie must have been tied up in Tokyo, for she did not return in the spring. Kim, who’d said he’d go looking for her, was too sick to travel. And this went on for, in Kim’s words, “a very long three years.” Kim and Yumie must have exchanged countless letters in that time, but I have not been able to unearth a solitary postcard yet. I therefore have no way of finding out why they weren’t able to reunite. But I did not give up. I searched through his manuscript pile for several days and found two letters. We can’t possibly deduce the whole story from this meager evidence, but it can give us some clues to aid our understanding. The two letters are quoted here. An excerpt from a letter from Park’s wife: I did convey your solemn wishes to Yumie, as she happened to drop by today. She sat with her back to me and cried. Maybe you’re right. Maybe Yumie is “the most pitiful person” in this situation. But this is no one’s fault. And it sure isn’t your fault, Mr. Kim. The only sin anyone’s committed would be that we were born at all. But there’s no use regretting that now. For the time being, don’t think about anything and focus on getting better. Yumie getting married to someone else? I don’t know. It sounds like an implausible tale. You know better than I that there is no one else in the world Yumie-san loves more than you. I know that in some cases, love isn’t enough to bring two people together. Tragedy is the human prerogative. An excerpt from a letter from Setsuko, a friend of Yumie: Please forgive me, for even I cannot ask whether this suspicion you harbor is valid or not. I also believe it was for the best that you did not come to Tokyo. As you have said, try to be as magnanimous and gentle as the ocean. Who would dare question your feelings for her? I suppose things were destined to turn out the way they did. If this is destiny, you have no choice but to follow. The power of destiny frightens me. Yumie has given up on happiness. You may be able to live a happy life from here on, but Yumie won’t find happiness for as long as she lives. You could say this is another trick of fate. I want to suggest that Yumie sell her body instead. If she chose such as life, I would not hesitate to ask you to wait until she is free. All I can do is weep to think of what you must be going through.

18


Diary Part 3 She said she’d come back to me in the spring. Spring went by three times without her in sight, and the fourth won’t be long now. The passage of time, which will not allow me the smallest gift of forgetting, means nothing to me now. I do not try to forget. I must not forget. The image of my beloved wife must become bigger and clearer as years go by, much in the same way as experience brings insight. She told me to wait, and I said I would wait. That is all I know. I will keep my promise as Meros did. I might be the only one who truly believes that one day Yumie will come back to me against all odds. At least once. Perhaps even Yumie herself is not aware that this is what fate has in store for her. Even so, I must still prepare a place for her to rest when she returns to me some day. Yumie will close her eyes in my arms as surely as the sun sets in the West. I am suddenly reminded of the last time I heard from Yumie. She’d told me not to come looking for her, and that if I did find her, that it would be her dying day. Respecting her wishes, I did not contact her through several near-death periods in my illness. I won’t try to find her in the future, either. But through all the anguish, I’ve gained a new religion: the faith that my beloved wife Yumie is always with me even though I cannot search for her. Where is my beloved Yumie? She is everywhere. I implored the photoshop owner and nearly got into a fight with him, but was finally able to retrieve Yumie’s picture. I bought a frame and hung it on the wall I had in mind. “Yumie,” I said out loud and looked at the picture. My heart, as turbulent as the currents, soon calmed and a sense of contentment filled the room from floor to ceiling so that I thought I would suffocate. But the vast emptiness followed, widening its frequency little by little… One. Two. Three years. Three years went by like an eternity. I realized only recently just how long three years is. How many times will these long three years repeat themselves and stretch on? And will my sickly body survive the race with these eternities? The sound of the maid laughing and chattering down the hall stabs me in the lungs. An enormous sense of futility instills an unspeakable fear in me as I look at the new photograph of Yumie. I am also so lonely that I don’t know what to do with myself. I threw my windows open and looked down over the street that is quite crowded for a street in a small spa village. People of all shapes and colors busily make their way up and down the short, narrow street. But none of them knows me, and I don’t know any of them. 19


There is no one on this street to call a friend, and no place to plant my affections. How that the visage of Yumie has come to my side, I no longer see the need to be here. The need is gone, and the affection I’d had until now has been inexplicably replaced with a disgust much stronger than the affection. I will return home with Yumie in my arms. I am nothing but a wanderer.

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Longing for home  

A reporter for Maeil sinbo and Munjang, Jeong In-taek (1909 – 1953) debuted by publishing “Two Wanderers” in Maeil sinbo in 1930. The excess...

Longing for home  

A reporter for Maeil sinbo and Munjang, Jeong In-taek (1909 – 1953) debuted by publishing “Two Wanderers” in Maeil sinbo in 1930. The excess...

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