Ki m Nam-cheon
Tr ans l at edbyJ ennyWangMedi na
Management By Kim Nam-cheon Translated by Jenny Wang Medina
Originally published in Korean as Gyeongyeong in Munjang, 1940 Translation ⓒ 2013 by Jenny Wang Medina
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 Kim, Nam-cheon Management [electronic resource] = 경영 / [written by] Kim Nam-cheon ; translated by Jenny Wang Medina. -- Seoul : Literature Translation Institute of Korea, 2013 p. ISBN 978-89-93360-20-2 05810 : No price 813.61-KDC5 895.733-DDC21
About Kim Nam-cheon Kim Nam-cheon (1911-1953) was a prominent colonial period author and critic born in Seongcheon, Pyeongnam Province in 1911. His given name was Hyo-sik, but he is better known by his literary name, Nam-cheon. After graduating from Pyongyang High School in 1929, he attended Hosei University in Tokyo where he became a member of the socialist writers group KAPF (Korea Artista Proleta Federatio). In 1930, Kim began his writing career with a critical piece titled “A Reexamination of the Beginnings of the Film Movement.” Together with Korean writer Im Hwa, he advocated a Bolshevik Literary Movement and wrote the social issue novels Factory Newspaper (1931) and Factory Workers Association (1932), even participating in a strike at a rubber factory in Pyongyang. Some of his most representative works include the historical novel Great Currents (1939) and the short stories “After Beating Your Wife…” (1937), “Management” (1940), and “Barley” (1941). Many of Kim’s early works reflect his Marxist perspective and progressive writing style, but his works from the later years of the colonial period are marked by the anguish many intellectuals felt about the experience of forced political conversion under Japanese Imperialism. Immediately after liberation, Kim Nam-cheon worked with Im Hwa for the “Joseon Writers Alliance.” Kim, Im Hwa, and Park Heon-yeong are thought to have been executed in North Korea during a purge of intellectuals in 1953. “Management,” published in January 1940 in the literary magazine Munjang, is often used as an example of the “conversion novel.” It takes place in the late 1930s during the period of Japanese military rule, and expresses the deep sense of oppression felt by intellectuals who were forced to recant their political beliefs to the colonial government. The story depicts the everyday lives of Oh Si-hyeong, a former Marxist in the process of conversion, and his girlfriend Choi Mu-gyeong as she works to get him released from prison. When Si-hyeong is released, the couple must deal with their changed realities and the circumstances of the time.
1. She had called several days earlier to request that the car be in front of the Sashik Bail Office in Hyeonjeo-dong between nine and nine thirty, but worried that they might get busy and forget, so she called the dispatcher one more time before leaving the office for the day. The line was busy. She tried the other number, but it was busy too. Putting the receiver down and taking a seat, she glanced first at the clock on the wall, then over at the calendar, and was about to pick up the phone again when a call came in, the bell ringing loudly from under the desk where it hung. “Yamato Apartment Office,” she answered automatically. “Yes, this is she. I am Choi Mu-gyeong. How are you? Yes, I was just about to leave. Yes? Tomorrow, then.” After that she couldn’t respond, she could only listen to the voice coming from the other end of the line. After a while, she picked the phone up from the desk as if to take control of the situation and put her mouth right up to the receiver. “You delayed it until tomorrow, but you’re not going to cancel or anything, are you?” she asked querulously. And then after another pause, she said, “Well, if you put it that way, I don’t know. But it’s not that things have gotten complicated because of something you’ve done? Then that’s what I’ll go by. Goodbye.” She hung up the phone and leaned back in her chair, exhausted. She felt like all the air had emptied from her lungs, like a film that was suddenly cut off in mid-frame just before the climactic scene. After being so busy these last few days, these final twenty-four hours suddenly seemed like a huge empty space, a time she hadn’t even anticipated. She kicked the leg of her desk with her foot and swiveled around, automatically turning to face old Mr. Kang. Mr. Kang was bent over, pouring tea into the bento his granddaughter had brought over, slurping and clicking his chopsticks as he ate. Then, as if guessing the situation from the phone call, he looked at the young woman and said, “Isn’t dealing with the courthouse always like that? Damn them.” He boxed up his bento with a clatter. “What did they say this time?” he asked, his wrinkled face showing his concern. “They say that we can find out which judge it is. The lawyer said that the trial judge hasn’t gotten approval from the prosecutor yet. Sometimes it can be difficult to get approval from the prosecutor, and it might take some doing. The lawyer said you’re not out until you’re out, but you have to be able to believe that there’s some discretion, don’t you? But then they can’t be poring over each and every case that goes through there…” “In any case, there’s probably some kind of law about that. One side is busy, but what’s there to be busy about on our side? They’ll take care of their business and then take a look at this 4
if they remember. But then there’s nothing to be discouraged about. You’ve waited this long already, another day or so will only make meeting again that much more fun,” he laughed, air hissing out of the holes where he was missing teeth. Mu-gyeong always felt affectionate and a little lonely when she looked at the kind old man’s face, so she smiled warmly at him. That smile had become a habit of hers in the time she’d spent with Mr. Kang, though, and inside she was thinking about other things. What should she do now? Go home and do the same thing as the night before? When she left this morning she’d said she was going to have dinner out, show the apartments to whomever stopped by, and that she would be home at eleven or midnight at the earliest… maybe she’d just grab a quick bite and go home, she thought. Mu-gyeong called the taxi dispatcher again, then left the office and headed to the cafeteria. Just as there was a Mr. Kang in the office, there was a young boy called San-chan in the cafeteria who always greeted her happily every time she went in. The young boy, clad in newly washed and pressed white clothes called out, “My my, what brings you here Miss Choi? Having dinner at the restaurant tonight, too?” he smiled as he trotted along behind her. Mu-gyeong sat at a table in the corner and exchanged greetings with other customers. She looked up at San-chan standing next to her table tapping the cement floor with his wooden shoes and staring intently at her. “So you’re going to the pictures. Do you know where they’ll be?” he asked, his round eyes blinking. “You’d think it was San-chan who was going to see them,” she smiled as she put her bag on the table. Since she looked amused, he went on, “Ooh, that’s right, the town hall…I completely forgot about the concert.” He glanced up at the electric clock going around and said, “It’s getting late. You should hurry. What are you having? We only have the rice-mono curry and the hayashi-beef rice left. The fastest thing would be the kake-udon.” Amused by his chatter, Mu-gyeong replied, “Well, I’ll have the kake-udon then,” as though she were really going to the concert. The concert – she remembered now that she really had bought tickets in advance and had been holding on to them. She’d completely forgotten about it. And since they were for the opening day, the time for refund had already passed. She produced the tickets from somewhere in her bag after some digging. They were for a night with the symphony orchestra that only came around once a year. Right about now, they’d be starting Tchaikovsky’s “Pathétique.” She was reminded again of how she hadn’t been in her right mind for the last few days, but she was still happy. The satisfaction of giving her all to such a noble cause made her feel carefree and relaxed. Even if she’d had ten or twenty unused concert tickets, she wouldn’t feel like they were going to waste. This concert was as unimportant as missing a student performance…
The udon arrived. The little bowl of udon was all broth after two mouthfuls, but it had never suited her as well as it did that day. She finished the hot broth and left the restaurant, on her way up to the third floor. Turning into the hallway, she stopped in front of one of the doors. Every time she stood in front of this door, her heart pounded and she felt invigorated. Almost two years had passed, but the trial still wasn't finished. Having bail set before the trial was concluded hadn't been that difficult. At first, she hadn't known how to get a hearing. After she got a lawyer and gradually learned how things were done, pestered them, exerted herself, dreamed up different schemes, and put in all her effort, hearings became easier to schedule. And since about two months ago, she'd almost gotten her hands on all the bail money. That’s the kind of devotion that had gotten her this far. She pulled the keys out of her handbag and unlocked the door, pausing in the doorway to drink in the vibrant scent of flowers that enveloped her body. Through the westerly window the sun setting over the hill glinted off the bluish window frame, casting a dim ray of light on the low bookshelf with the flower vase on top. Two of the shelves were empty, but a collection of the current month’s general interest magazines and a few new release books were neatly arranged on the middle shelf. In between them were some economic annual reports. A watercolor picture in a white frame hung on the white wall. Against the northern wall was the bed, covered with a white quilt, and beside it, an electric lamp on a table with a steel pen and an inkwell. A wardrobe and a galley kitchen were installed side by side next to where Mu-gyeong stood, but there was nothing in them yet. Next to the glass window on the southern side of the room was a simple drawing room set and a desk. And on top of the drawing room table was a flowerpot. Mu-gyeong took off her shoes and opened the shoe closet. She put on the new slippers she'd placed in there and went into the room. It was not the best or the biggest room in the building, but it was a clean south-facing apartment suitable for a bachelor. Pushing the bundle of clothes on the bed aside and plunking herself down, her thoughts wandered back to the same scenario, as they had several times a day for the past week or so. Was anything missing? She took a good look around the room. The bundle of clothes contained three new pairs of pajamas, and a bed like this was the best kind for a weak body to lay flat on comfortably. The furnishings and appliances in the room were not completely to her satisfaction, but they were as simple and earnest as could be. Since he’d been starved of new information for so long, she’d stocked the shelf with books that could predict contemporary trends in society, including the two volumes of economic annual reports (since he’d studied economics). Finally, she’d purchased several general interest magazines so that he could get a peek at the general atmosphere of the world these days. She’d filled a vase with flowers and arranged an ornate flowerpot for the table… All of that was enough to begin with for someone about to be married, she repeated to herself, a satisfied smile playing at the corner of her lips. A sudden thought occurred to her and she grabbed her handbag, pulling out a man’s pocket watch. The Waltham watch its big chrome case opened with a snap, trailed by its long metal chain. The weight of the watch in her hand was reassuring.
This was the watch that Oh Si-hyeong had carried around since his student days. After the inquiry was finished and he was sent to the department of inspection he spent ten days in detention before he was finally sent along to trial and then to prison, and the watch was one of the only items to be sent back together with the clothes he was wearing when he went in. Almost two years has passed since it had left its owner’s breast, and now it counted the passing time from inside Mu-gyeong handbag. How many thousands of times had these hands gone around that shiny white surface? Listening to the sound of the second hand chewing up time, second by second, she gently rubbed the watch against her cheek. It was cold, but the emotions she’d been patiently suppressing rose up into her face, warming the chrome casing. Mu-gyeong lay face down on the bed, trying to calm the throbbing in her chest. How hard have I tried to get mother to approve of our relationship? Mu-gyeong had nearly cut ties with her family in order to support Si-hyeong while he was in prison. She'd worn out her feet running around collecting money for his bail, and had worked herself to the bone. He was the reason she'd gotten a job as well. From the courthouse to the attorney to the prison, she'd run that maze like a crazed person for the last two years. Her heart filled with pure happiness, she lifted her face from the bed, returned the watch to her bag, and left the apartment. Tomorrow—tomorrow night I'll get my reward for all this hard work... Outside, the darkness was gathering. It hadn't cooled down yet and the wind on the hill was moving the warm air around, but it felt cool to Mu-gyeong’s sweaty complexion. She paused briefly to gaze at the blue houses in North Ahyeonjeong, but as usual, she quickened her pace once she reached the top of the street. It felt natural to rush around like she was very busy, even as she switched streetcars at her regular stops: the government office, Jongno, and Angukdong, but tonight she felt a thrill she hadn't experienced for a long time. She swung her arms freely to hear the swishing of her skirt as she walked up to Hwadong alley. I'll ask Mother if she wants to come with me tomorrow. Mother had scolded her at first, saying that he couldn't be trusted, but how could she not welcome him back after two years away? Wasn't he her future son-in-law now, no matter what anyone said? As soon as they set the date for the wedding, she'd have a son, and then wouldn't he be her only son-in-law? Mother had been patiently waiting these days as well. It would make her happy if I asked her to go with me. Not to mention how happy the person getting out would be... By the time she got home, she was even humming. “Mommy, are you here?” Mu-gyeong called out towards her mother's room from where she stood, next to the tiered shelf haphazardly decorated with a flower vase. There was no answer. The maid, who had been with the family for barely a month now, came running from her room out on to the porch. “Oh goodness, I didn't know you we're coming, Miss,” she said, straightening her clothes and looking like she'd just been applying cream to her face.
“Madame went out with a friend but she said she'd be back shortly... What happened, Miss?” “It was pushed back to tomorrow evening,” Mu-gyeong responded tersely, and went immediately into her room. “Put some water in the basin for me! And is there anything to eat?” The maid slid into a pair of worn rubber shoes and stepped down into the courtyard. “Yes, there's rice, but not much else... But Miss, I thought you said you were going to eat out...” The maid fetched the water and carried the brass basin over to the main room, placing a bar of soap and towels next to it before going into the kitchen. Mu-gyeong washed her face and went back to her room to put cream on her cheeks. “Should I bring your meal in here?” the maid asked, peeking in from the threshold of the door. The maid, who knew that they usually took their meals together in her mother’s room, seemed to think that eating there was a rule. “Yes, I’ll go over there now. Put it in mother’s room.” “What should I serve with the rice? We only have a little dried croaker and some pickled vegetables...” the maid fretted. “That’s fine. If I mix it with water one scoop of rice will be enough, I'm sure.” Mu-gyeong patted her cheeks with a powder puff and crossed the courtyard to Mother’s room where she settled herself in front of the table. As she was grabbing her spoon, she noticed a fan she'd never seen before beneath the chest of drawers. She stared at it for a moment. “Oh no, Madame’s friend left that fan behind.” The maid, who’d followed Mu-gyeong’s line of sight and gotten down on the floor, looked back up at her mistress’s face with this explanation. She popped back up with the fan and hurried back out to the courtyard after placing it on the desk. Mu-gyeong couldn’t manage to get her spoon to the rice bowl. She set it down and stood up, taking the fan that the maid had just put away and spreading it out in front of her. There was no mistaking that it was a man's accessory. It was adorned with a richly colored landscape painting and under the inscription, “For Hagok to enjoy and be refreshed,” was the artist’s signature, “Cheongsan.” From this, she could deduce that the fan had been a gift from the artist Cheongsan to someone with the pen name Hagok. And Mother had gone somewhere with this Hagok person – she was able to figure out that much, but she didn’t know anyone called Hagok. “Hagok? Hagok?” she muttered to herself, but no image appeared to match the name. “Who knows, I could know the person well, but just not know their pen name,” she thought as she returned the fan to the desk and sat back down at the eating table. “Even with those few side dishes I forgot the fish roe,” the maid said as though making excuses for herself as Mu-gyeong silently took the dish from her hand, still feeling somewhat unsettled. She was about to ask what Mother’s friend looked like, but stopped herself. She sat dumbly at the table for a moment, but worried that the maid might suspect what she was thinking, she finally opened the pot of rice and scooped some into her water bowl.
“I’ll eat alone, so you can leave,” she said sending the maid out. After a couple of spoonfuls, she couldn’t help but peer around the room again. The armoire and wardrobe, stationery chest, desk, and the bible on top of the desk were all in their proper places. But when she looked under the desk, Mu-gyeong felt a pang in her heart. In the brass ashtray normally placed there only for form’s sake, was a half-smoked cigarette butt. From this, she knew that the guest was a smoker, which did not seem like an insignificant discovery. Mu-gyeong couldn’t remember anyone her mother knew who smoked cigarettes. Her mother, who’d been steeped in Christian traditions for over twenty years and was a devout young widow on top of that, would never be visited by a male guest who smoked. “I’ve finished eating so you can clear the table,” Mu-gyeong nearly shouted as she went back to her room. Fan, Hagok, cigarettes – they tumbled around each other in her mind. Her suspicions called to mind something else that had happened to recently. It was about a month ago. One bright early summer holiday, Mu-gyeong was at home reading on a long-awaited day off, as had become her habit over the last few years, when her mother left the house saying she was going to church. Mother usually made a point of getting back from church a little after noon, and then they would have lunch together. Mu-gyeong had waited for her mother to get back that day even though she was planning to go to Bonjeong, but to her surprise, her mother hadn't come back even by one o’clock. She waited a bit longer, thinking that church had gone late because the sermon was long that day, but she still hadn’t returned by two. Mu-gyeong ate by herself and left the house. She’d almost gotten to the Angukdong intersection when she met the missionary’s wife in the street. “Hello, it's been such a long time,” she said. As a “lost sheep,” she usually felt awkward when she saw the minister or his wife and tried to keep their encounters brief. Quick-witted urbanites as they were, the minister and his wife recognized Mu-gyeong's attitude and didn’t try to engage her in long conversations anymore, but after they exchanged their brief greetings that day, the minister's wife stopped her and said, “Your mother wasn’t at church today so I thought she must be unwell. I was planning to stop by later this evening…” “No, she’s fine, but she wasn’t back from church yet when I left,” she replied, and not wanting to continue the conversation, she added, “Oh, she must have run into someone on the way and couldn’t go to church because something came up.” “Yes, that must be what happened,” the missionary’s wife said as they parted ways. The early summer sun was bright and pleasant, so she didn’t get on the streetcar and instead walked to Bonjeong, not thinking deeply about it. But when she returned home a couple of hours later after finishing her errands, her mother still hadn’t gotten back. Mu-gyeong started to wonder whether something had happened to her, but her mother hurried in just as the sun was setting, her face flushed as though she'd been burned. “I went along on the family visits, but I got tired of it,” she explained before Mu-gyeong even had a chance to ask. Mu-gyeong started and looked up at her mother’s face. Family visits? Was she trying to say that she’d gone on family visits with the minister when she hadn't even
gone to church? Luckily, her mother was undressing and hanging up her clothes so she couldn’t see the expression on her face, but Mu-gyeong stood there frozen. “I had dinner at Elder Kim’s house, so you should go ahead and eat. Oh, and can you please get me some water?” her mother continued as she came back out to the veranda. Mugyeong looked away quickly, purposely avoiding her mother’s face. She knew her mother was lying, but she turned away to hide her embarrassment, too sheepish to interrogate her mother to her face. Where were you that you’re trying to hide it from me now, Mother? It seemed like it wouldn’t be a big deal if she thought about it. As the child of a widow, she believed her mother and relied on her completely, and given how much her mother had coddled her, she felt that much more lonely and sad that her mother had lied to her. Of course, she hadn’t thought much about it afterwards, and it was only now, a month later, when she was confronted with the fact that her mother was out with a man she'd never even heard of, that her woman’s intuition started spreading its tentacles toward ideas about a situation she couldn’t even fathom before. Even after she’d gone back to her room, Mu-gyeong wasn’t able to regain her composure, so she lowered her head to her desk and sat there for a while. Unlike last night, even the pleasure she felt thinking about Oh Si-hyeong's release couldn’t calm her mind. She tried stretching her daydreams as far as her imagination would go, but her tangled thoughts kept plunging her heart back into the depths of sadness. Every time this happened, she shook her head like she was warding them off. Could Mother… no, that’s impossible. Wasn't this the mother who had banished all worldly thoughts from her life? Who, in order to avoid all temptation, to completely rip out and bury all her youthful emotions, and to keep herself out of poverty, had chosen a job where she treated sick patients? Could her mother, who’d already overcome such difficulties at twenty-five, at thirty, at thirty-five, and who was already over the hill of forty now really be in that kind of a relationship? Obsessing over these thoughts and feeling insulted, Mu-gyeong waited for her mother to come home, but when she finally heard her mother’s footsteps outside the gate it was almost eleven, and she quickly turned off the electric lamp and hid in the dark, wanting to avoid having to confront her. As she overheard the maid telling her mother that she’d come home early, Mugyeong turned over on her stomach to cover her ears and held her breath, her thin shoulders heaving.
2. The high brick wall that seemed to stretch on and on forever loomed over her as she stood in front of the sunlit gate she’d been pacing in front of already for over an hour. She was too early. But she couldn't just wait somewhere else until the time came, so she’d gone and had a light supper at a restaurant near the apartment when the sun started to darken, then boarded a Yeongcheong-bound streetcar to come here, waiting by herself for the door to open. Traffic on this hilltop was rare, but in the hour or so that she’d waited there, today’s group of suspects
who’d been interrogated at the Public Prosecutor’s Office and were about to enter the prison arrived, two or three cars that took the accused out for their court hearings came and went from the big gate, and the guards who would be there all day and wouldn’t get home until late came and went into the small door dressed in Western-style suits and bent at the waist. Every sound of the gate opening and closing struck Mu-gyeong’s nerves, making her heart pound. For almost two years she’d frequented the prison, bringing food and things for Oh Si-hyeong to use on the inside, and though there were guards who were vaguely familiar, whenever she ran into them outside the gate, they passed by her as though seeing her for the first time. Now that they were finished with the people from the outside going in, it was time for the people who'd been released to come out. Oh Si-hyeong’s release papers and verification from the examining judge had to be in the large bag the captain of the guards carried in with him when he returned from the courthouse a short while ago, didn't they? And he must have just gotten the verification notice in his room in the now familiar detention house and was busy getting ready to leave – intoxicated by these daydreams, she would be startled by the clank of the gate and would run over to see who’d come out, feeling cheated by every guard and every errand boy from the prison food delivery place who emerged from the gate. It was well past nine o’clock now, and the car she had reserved arrived. Feeling apologetic about keeping the car waiting for so long at a busy time like this, she went to talk to the driver, who asked, “Is it still going to be a long while?” “It should be any minute now. Please keep the meter running and keep track of the time. I’m sorry I’m asking for so much when you must be very busy. But, well, since they don’t really give us an exact time we have to be reasonable, don’t we? They said he would be out more or less around nine o’clock, so we won’t have long to wait now,” she said, making excuses to the driver as she shined a light on her watch. The apartment office had a special contract with the car company so the driver made no response and climbed back into the driver’s seat. He scribbled something onto a card with a pencil. The ticking of the meter’s clock was punctuated by a click every time ten cents more rolled over, punctuating the silence that grated Mu-gyeong’s already frayed nerves. Ten minutes passed, and then twenty, but there was still no news. Today isn’t going to be a useless mirage too, is it? Once the thoughts began, she couldn’t stop them or calm her racing heart; there was no one she could ask, and she had to restrain herself from running down to the main street to call the lawyer again. Just then, a gentleman in a Western suit came weaving up the hill. He’d taken off his straw hat and was fanning himself with it. As he passed by the car, he saw Mu-gyeong dressed in her lightweight Western clothes and approached her. “Who are you?” he asked brusquely. He stood there waiting for a response, but got none. “I said, what’s your name?” the gentleman asked again. “My name is Choi Mu-gyeong.” “Choi Mu-gyeong? Are you waiting for someone to get out?” “Yes, they said that a man named Oh Si-hyeong would be released on bail so I came to meet him.”
The gentleman pulled out a notebook and told Mu-gyeong to come and stand under the light. “I’m an official at Seodaemun Station – what did you say the name was?” he said, jotting down what Mu-gyeong said in his notebook. "My address is in Hwadong-jeong, number X15." He mumbled to himself in a low voice, then said: “Who is Oh Si-hyeong to you?” Mu-gyeong seemed taken aback at the abrupt question, but after a moment she answered. “He is the person I’m engaged to.” Hearing that, the detective silently chewed on his pen. “Then it’s different than a “Naien no tsuma”1 situation, correct?” he asked, then without waiting long for a response he wrote something in his notebook. “And your age?” he volleyed another question at her. “I'm twenty-four.” “Well, then, will Oh Si-hyeong be staying at this address when he is released?” he searched her face, his mouth ajar. “No, sir. He'll be living at the Yamato Apartments in Jukcheomjeong. It's just across from the police station...” The officer, however, paused with his pencil in hand and cocked his head, regarding Mugyeong. It was a look that said he was having difficulty accepting Oh would actually be staying there. “We haven't set a date for the wedding yet and, following Korean tradition, we got an apartment until that time,” Mu-gyeong added. “Then no one is staying with him in that apartment?” “No.” “That makes it a bit difficult for me. If that’s the situation it will be hard for you to be the personal reference responsible for him. Of course, since his confession for the criminal event has come to light, I think that the courthouse will allow him to be released on bail, but when he gets out of prison, he becomes the responsibility of the police. And if he's not completely independent by then, don't you think it will be a big problem? Without a good personal guarantor, then the police station will have to be responsible for his person as well. Won’t it be difficult to release him into your charge when you have a different address from him? Even if it is for the sake of form...” “I work in the office there during the day,” Mu-gyeong said, putting forth a valiant effort to overcome this new hurdle. “And what kind of qualification would that be?” he said with a smile and a shrug as he tilted his head in thought. “He'll be coming out into the world after a long detention with the approval of the court, and since his condition and character have been deemed suitable by the judge and the prosecutor for release, it wouldn’t be pleasant for either side if he had the misfortune of having to sleep in a 1
Japanese: Common-law wife
detention house again on the very day of his release, would it? I recommend that, although this is technically illegal, you pick someone like the person responsible for the apartment or someone who lives at the same address to act as his guarantor by tomorrow and let us know. If you do that, we will trust in you, Miss Choi, and we'll put him in your custody tonight. Since I have to complete the report tomorrow morning and give it to the chief tomorrow, please let me know before then.” “Oh, thank you! I will do exactly as you say tomorrow morning,” she said, thanking the officer as though he had the power to release Si-hyeong. “Then wait here for just a moment. The inmate is probably getting ready so I'll go in now and bring him out,” the officer said. Mu-gyeong respectfully bowed her head as he closed his notebook and walked towards the gate. The investigator conferred with the guard at the gate and disappeared inside. “He'll be out soon now. It's this late because they hadn't come from the police station yet. I'm sorry to have made you wait for so long,” Mu-gyeong explained, returning to the driver. After another ten minutes the investigator appeared with Si-hyeong, wobbling with a bag in each hand. He had so many bundles that the guard on the inside of the gate had to make several trips with Si-hyeong bent at the waist, receiving the bundles and placing them outside. Mu-gyeong and the driver hurried over to help. The driver lifted heavy bundles of books in each hand and raced back to the car, but Mu-gyeong, who couldn't even think to help with the bags, only stared mutely at Si-hyeong, who was there now in front of her. Si-hyeong approached Mugyeong, standing under the hazy light, but then turned and went over to the investigator. “Well, then, that's how we'll do it,” he said. “Miss Choi, be sure to take care of that situation we talked about. I'll be taking my leave now," the detective said, looking only at Mu-gyeong and lifting his hat for a moment before disappearing down the hill. After getting all the bags in the car, the couple got in and sat side by side. Si-hyeong, quietly hiding his excitement, said calmly, “Ah, look at those lights!” The car started to move. Mu-gyeong, who had been silent not knowing what to say responded, “Are those lights really that exciting?” as she smiled over at him. The man looked down at his fiancée sitting next to him and stared closely into her face for the first time in a long time. “Of course,” he replied. He immediately turned away, then shifted in his seat to turn towards the window and gaze out at the passing scenery. Mu-gyeong took a deep breath and stared straight ahead. The books she had seen inside the gate were piled up to her shoulder on the left. The smell of a storage house seemed to emanate from the bundles of clothes, books, and even from Si-hyeong’s body itself. Her excitement settled in her chest and the assurance and satisfaction that had welled up felt to her like great pleasure. Before long, the car stopped in front of the large apartment building. Old Mr. Kang had stayed up waiting for them, and he came out when he heard the car to help unload it. But trying to take all of the baggage up to the third floor at this hour when
everyone was asleep and there was no elevator was much more burdensome than it would normally be, so at Mr. Kang's suggestion, they left the bags in the office in order to be taken up the next day. After the car had left, Mu-gyeong introduced Si-hyeong to Mr. Kang and showed him up to the third-floor apartment. Saying that he hadn't walked in a long time, that he didn't seem as weak as she thought he would be but that he was still wobbly, Mu-gyeong lent Si-hyeong her arm as they climbed up the steep steps to the third floor. As they turned on to the last flight of stairs up, Mu-gyeong smiled and said, “It's like going up to seventh heaven.” Si-hyeong smiled back with great affection, but as they turned the corner of the hallway and stopped in front of the room, for a moment the long line of doors stretching down the hallway reminded him of the prison he had just left. “Wait, I'll open the door.” Mu-gyeong slipped out from under his shoulder and opened the door. “You got a room this nice ready for me,” he said, holding onto the door handle with one hand as if to steady himself. “I'll turn on the light now.” Mu-gyeong ran lightly into the room and flipped the switch on the wall. The light in the ceiling and the lamp on the table by the bed turned on at the same time, and Si-hyeong could see every corner of the small room. Si-hyeong looked around the room and its furnishings for a time, then looked down at his feet and pulled them out of his twisted shoes. “I put on these shoes that I haven't worn for two years and now there’s mold on my feet.” “Stay there for a moment. I'll get you a towel.” Mu-gyeong, who had gone into the apartment first and flung open the door waiting for Si-hyeong to come in, went into the kitchen and brought back a damp towel with which she wiped Si-hyeong’s feet. After she was finished, she went to the shoe closet to get the slippers and said, “You can wear these...” She led him in his unlined ramie summer jacket and summer trousers over to the bed to sit down. “How is it? It's not right to bring you back to a room as small as a pigeon coop, but this is all Mu-gyeong could arrange in a week,” she said babyishly, putting her hands on his knees. Oh Si-hyeong grabbed her hands and said with great feeling, “I've caused you so much pain and made you suffer so much, what can I do?” “Nonsense,” she said, clasping his hands with as much force as he had hers, then pulling her hands away with an exaggerated gesture and backing away from him. “Why, as if I'd asked to hear such words,” she said, deliberately looking sulky. However, the satisfied pride in her face at the praise felt very much like coquettishness to the young man sitting and staring at her with his hands left as though he'd dropped something. Si-hyeong couldn't say a word as he became aware of an intense thirst in his heart; he could only stare into
Mu-gyeong’s eyes. When his gaze moved from her eyes to her lips, then down to her chin and to her chest, Mu-gyeong suddenly jumped up and went back to the table in the middle of the room as though she had just snagged the man's heart like a fish on a line. “You know what kind of flowers these are, don't you? They're the ones I've been growing since the spring." She buried her nose in the flowers as if to smell their fragrance deeply as Sihyeong took a deep breath. “They're hydrangeas, aren't they?” he answered, as she lifted her face again. “Ah, I see you know all about hydrangeas. That's fitting.” He chuckled and replied, “As if I wouldn't know that? The flower that turns red if you pour red ink into the water, and blue if you add blue dye…” he said from his perch on the bed as he listened to her... “Oh, I guess they teach you botany when you study economics too!” Mu-gyeong retorted, going to stand next to the desk, her whole body brimming with happiness. “You can sit at this table to write letters and study, wash up and brush your teeth over there, and you can put all your books in there…” She went over to the wardrobe, took out a pair of pajamas and laid them out on the bed. “Where did you get the money to set me up in the lap of luxury like this?” Si-hyeong scolded gently, wanting to express the happiness of a heart filled with gratitude for Mu-gyeong’s love with some gentle scolding. Whether that was more to Mu-gyeong’s liking… “Psh,” she said as she went and sat on the bed. “You're acting like quite the master of the house. But you are the man of the house now, I suppose. And Mother gave us her blessing this year. Now we just have to get permission from your family in Pyongyang…” She became peevish again, but as Si-hyeong’s left arm was touching her shoulder, she said, “If we explain it very well to the house in Pyongyang, they’ll approve of us, won’t they?” She lifted her head to look into his face. “Well, while I was in prison, I never once received a letter from my father's own hand, and since I'd been talking to him about the engagement beforehand… but what use is any of that anyway? You're the one who kept me alive physically and emotionally while I was in there, Mugyeong, and you're the one who got me out…,” Si-hyeong said with great feeling. And he clasped the hand he was holding in his tightly, breathing hot air into Mu-gyeong’s face. Even though he was lost in the emotions she had been waiting for so long, Mu-gyeong only briefly gave him her lips then freed herself from his tight embrace. He, starved of affection and emotions, said thickly, “Why? Why do you run away? Is it because I’m not trustworthy?” He got up from the bed to follow her. Mu-gyeong was alarmed at Si-hyeong’s feelings and state of mind, but with a very serious expression on her face she shouted in a commanding voice, “Don’t get up. If you get up, I’m going to leave. Please sit back down.” Stunned by her forcefulness, he wavered and after a moment, he looked like a youth who'd had a change of heart. He sat back down on the bed. He turned and hid his face, burning with the excitement in his chest.
Mu-gyeong saw the shame in Si-hyeong’s face and, unable to look at him any longer, moved towards the window to avoid him. His heart was pounding so hard she could hear it in her ears. Lights twinkled from the houses on the dark hill outside the window like the stars sprinkled in the sky above the black horizon. She could see the little streetcar headed for Mapo cleaving the rail as it climbed and weaved up the hill. The crisp night air stung her face as she tried to calm her throbbing heart. Perhaps it was an appropriate thing to do. Health is health, and no matter what happened before the wedding, the strength of the bond between them was not going to slacken. At some point she’d started to perspire, and her back felt cold as the wind went through the gap inside her blouse. Just as she always did when she had to carry out a difficult task, she wanted to wrap herself up and stand forever and ever in front of a high window like this one and look out at the sky and the street and the hills. But from behind her, she heard Si-hyeong say slowly, “What time do you think it is? I’ve lived for the last two years not knowing the time, but now that I’m out, I find myself wanting to know about every minute.” Startled, Mu-gyeong collected herself and turned around to catch Sihyeong’s warm smile. Mu-gyeong paused, blinking her eyes for a moment, then hurried over to the table where she'd left her handbag. Bag in hand, she went and stood in front of him. “Do you know what I wanted to give you?” she said, trying hard to suppress the smile on her lips and in her eyes. “How could I know that?” he returned, slyly. “Psh, you don’t even know?” She opened her handbag, pulled out the chrome-plated pocket watch, and dangled it in front of his face by its chain. “This! I've been carrying this around for two years.” She peeked at the watch and exclaimed, “Wow, it’s eleven thirty! How did it get so late?!” But Si-hyeong, who had kept the watch on his person at all times from when he was a student until he graduated, then until he had gotten a job at the filing department in the stock broker's office, said as he always had every time he pulled it out, “Wow, it's so light!” Then, thinking that Mu-gyeong might be surprised, he laughed joyfully. Mu-gyeong stood as if at attention, and said, “During that time, I was never late and became a good and reliable person thanks to this watch. And now, from the guardian to the owner.” She proffered the watch with two hands and bowed respectfully. Si-hyeong accepted it with a smile and she added, “And now you must pay an exorbitant storage fee.” She laughed again as she accepted his assurances, gathered up her handbag, and got ready to leave. “I’ll come by early tomorrow morning. But now that I don’t have the watch anymore, I don’t know if I’ll be late… Turn out the lights soon and sleep well.” But Si-hyeong put down the watch and rose to follow her. He had a rash expression on his face like he meant to finish something he’d forgotten. When he reached her where she stood with her shoes already on, Mu-gyeong deliberately ignored him, quickly opened the door and
escaped out into the hallway, only blowing him a kiss from her fingers, so as not to reignite their passions now that they'd cooled. She left the quiet apartment building, walked down to the streetcar stop, and stood at the top of the platform. As she waited, she looked up at the third floor room and saw that the light was off. It seemed that Mu-gyeong would be able to go home with an easy heart. She had to go early in the morning to take up his baggage and tidy up, call the doctor and order a medical examination, and arrange an opportunity to have him formally meet Mother, oh and that’s right, she had to convince the apartment owner to act as his guarantor, then go to the police station to inform them.... She was going to be extremely busy… She jumped off the streetcar at Anguk-dong and walked home, lost in her thoughts. Foot traffic on the street was very sparse. It wasn’t until she knew she was close to home that she realized it was much later than would be safe for a young woman to be walking alone at night and she quickened her pace in alarm as she turned into the mouth of the alley. Just then she nearly ran into an older gentleman who jumped out of the way, startled. He was a fat man wearing an open-collared shirt with a grey suit and a panama hat – he briefly touched the brim of his hat apologetically, then went around her and walked out onto the main street. But Mu-gyeong couldn’t move and stood for a while in the place where the gentleman had been, holding on to his specter and trying hard to recover from the shock she'd received. Of course, her house wasn’t the only house in the alley. There were more than twenty houses or nameplates hanging along the alleyway. There was no way of knowing which gate the gentleman had come out of, or if he had gone into the alley looking for a house by mistake and had come back out. These were things Mu-gyeong had no way of knowing, but at first glance, she got the sense that he might have come out of her front gate, and the thought that that gentleman could be Hagok, the owner of the fan, raced through her head. Mu-gyeong’s heart started to feel an unpleasant and heavy pressure again. She could see a bit of their front gate. The gate was closed, and the lantern hung like a little chamber pot… This front gate from which she had always happily come and gone gave her an unsettled feeling that she couldn't bear. Nevertheless, she couldn't help walking toward it. She pushed at the gate to the jangling sound of the bell and it opened as always. The maid came out. Her eyes were heavy with sleep. “You’re just getting home now, Miss?” Mu-gyeong didn’t respond, and went up into the main hall towards her mother’s room. She was in bed but was getting up. She looked in every corner but there was no trace of anyone having been there, so her suspicious heart settled somewhat. But there's nothing I can do about this rotten and hateful heart that jumps to pointless conclusions. “Did you just get in?” her mother asked, turning off the blue lamp and lighting the room with the electric lamp. “Yes,” Mu-gyeong replied meekly. Standing in the center of the main hall with a burning anger she didn’t enjoy, she couldn't move. “Well, did he get out today?”
“Yes.” “Well, that's good. And he didn't look too worse for wear?” Mother sat up in bed. She wasn’t even wearing pajamas, only very thin underwear. Mu-gyeong turned her eyes away and ran off to her own dark room as though was seeing her disheveled mother's flesh for the first time. She could hear her mother asking something else, but the female scent that emanated from the fat in Mother's neck, belly, and her thighs, Mother's flesh, filling the darkened room made Mu-gyeong feel like someone who'd just eaten a very large meal sitting down before a table of fatty foods. Mu-gyeong couldn't stand the feeling of the greasy saliva rolling around in her mouth and her stomach suddenly leapt into her throat.
3. Even though she'd promised herself that she would leave early, somehow she endedup leaving the house at nine, as always. She wrapped up Si-hyeong’s summer suit and underwear that she had laundered, slipped some shoe polish in next to them and got to the apartment a little over a half hour later. After stopping in at the office she went up to Si-hyeong’s room to find him in his pajamas with Mr. Kang and the errand boy busily putting the books they had brought up into the bookcase. "There's a lot more than what I had sent in to you," Mu-gyeong said as she walked up behind him. “Mother would sometimes send me things that I could use to buy other things on the inside...” he replied, untying a bundle of books and shaking the dust off one volume that he showed to her. "Of all the books I read in there, this is the one that affected me most," he said, standing up straight. Mu-gyeong said nothing but took the book. "You should eat breakfast. I brought your underwear and suit, so you can change into those, and now we can call the doctor and get a medical exam, and later we can go to see mother..." she continued. "I had breakfast at a restaurant Mr. Kang recommended, and I should really go and meet your mother on my own..." "I see, so now that you're out…" Placing her bundle on the table, Mu-gyeong grasped the chair and stood up to take a look at Si-hyeong’s book. It was a book by Plato: Socrates’s Apology and Crito. Mu-gyeong had only heard of Plato and Socrates; she had no idea what the books were about, and as she stood looking at the cover and the introduction, Si-hyeong sat down on the bed in his pajamas and started talking, as if to himself. “I suppose you could say it's because Socrates’s situation was similar to my circumstances, but on the contrary, the impressions I got from the book were very different. Rather, I felt like it made me forget where I was. When I would come back to where I was after
reading it, Socrates’s noble attitude didn’t seem to connect directly to my situation, which made me feel bad about myself…” Naturally, Mu-gyeong didn’t understand this monologue. Not knowing what to say, she stayed silent, standing up and pulling over the bundle of clothes instead. “Well, well, look, it’s a fancy suit that we haven't seen in a long time,” she said, tenderly laying out the suit that smelled of mothballs. She sat looking at it for a moment then said she would go notify the police station about Si-hyeong’s guarantor and went downstairs. As the owner of the apartment didn’t live in the building, she was planning to ask Mr. Kang, who slept here almost every night. After reporting this to the police station, she went back up to Sihyeong’s room. Si-hyeong had put on the shirt and suit pants and was pacing around the bookshelf again. Mu-gyeong told him what she had decided to do about the guarantor, then picked up the shoe polish and the stiff black shoes and began polishing them. “So, you read all of those books in there?” Mu-gyeong asked as she brushed the shoes. “Of course not! Just about half. Most of them were prohibited…” “Prohibited?” she asked, so alarmed that she paused with her hand in mid-air as she looked over at Si-hyeong. “All books related to the economy were banned, of course,” he replied getting up again and going to sit on the bed. “But if you think about it it makes sense. If I had read books about economics there might have been no way for me to change my way of thinking. In that sense, I don’t know if perhaps economics was a subject that made me more obstinate and inflexible. Being able to see your cheerful face on a summer morning is all thanks to philosophy, you see.” Si-hyeong spoke like he was giving a speech or a lecture somewhere, rather than having a conversation. “You say there’s a big difference between economics and philosophy, but I thought they’d be alike since they're both academic subjects…” Mu-gyeong said, tentatively putting forth her opinion, but Si-hyeong paid her no mind and went on expounding his thoughts. “It’s not just my world historical view, you could say that the perspective that lumped together all of the European world historians as a stepping stone is a world monism, and in this case, it’s not the philosophy of the Eastern and Western worlds that differ, but it’s the fact that the Eastern world, for the most part, has been given the status of the pre-history of the Western world. It's not just the religious or spiritual perspective, either. The materialist perspective departs from this premise as well. Therefore, it wasn’t even the historical world of the inferior ‘East,’ as it was called, it was nothing more than a conveniently named geographical concept. But if we are going to go beyond this monistic perspective, if we’re going to try to join a pluralist stance on world history, doesn’t the world have to be able to know that is has each distinct world history, and don’t they have to be able to prove it? If modern world history is going to be understood from this kind of perspective, we have to have a significant self-reexamination of the world historical view we have now…”
Of course she couldn’t continue polishing the shoes while he was talking, so Mu-gyeong listened, but she didn't know what to think about what Si-hyeong was saying. She could only stare at him, mouth open. Si-hyeong looked out the window as he continued feverishly, talking as though he were trying to persuade himself as he laid out his own ideology. “Regardless of whether you're discussing Eastern or Western ideas, they were all established in the Roman world, and since that is understood as antiquity, in modern times the distinct periods of time were established by European history. Doesn’t East Asia need to escape from this concept of time and reconsider the Eastern World from the perspective of a plural concept of history? This is the philosophical mission of East Asian people, and a duty that East Asian scholars must undertake.” He stopped talking abruptly and stood up, going over to the window to try to calm the excitement he hadn’t experienced in so long. Mu-gyeong put away the shoes, polish and brush, then washed her hands in the sink. “We should call the doctor. It can't be good for you to get so excited…” she said. Si-hyeong turned towards the sound of her voice but made no attempt to respond to her suggestion. Finally, with a face that had gone very pale, he said, “It is no small thing that Germany has defeated Poland, Norway, and Denmark, conquered the Netherlands and Belgium, and forced France to surrender. In this kind of altered world history, East Asians need to form an alliance and have an East Asian self-realization.” With that, he went and lay down on the bed. Mu-gyeong didn’t know what to say. From the beginning of their relationship, she had thought that she wasn't equipped to interfere with his ideas. For her part, she thought that one's only duty was to be healthy and try to present the best person within you every day. Therefore, even though she heard Oh Si-hyeong’s passionate soliloquy, she had no intention of expressing an opinion about it. Just then there was a knock at the door and Mother walked into the room. Si-hyeong got up from the bed, straightened his jacket, and bowed ceremoniously to her. “Please, you can stop. You must be exhausted so there's no need for that, right? My, how difficult it must have been for you in there. You’re not badly hurt anywhere, are you?” “No, it seems that my health hasn't suffered at all. Only that I must have caused so much trouble and worry for those outside…” “Nonsense. No matter what we went through, it can’t possibly be as difficult as what you must suffered inside.” Mu-gyeong smiled brightly as she stood between her mother and Si-hyeong. “Mother, what's that?” she asked, looking down at the package her mother was carrying. “What, this? I just stopped by the herbalist to bring you some medicine. It wouldn’t do to neglect his health even if he says he’s fine. One must take care of one’s body. We’re too late for breakfast now, but you should come to the house later for dinner. For the medicine. I heard you have a gas range here, but that won’t do, will it? Your legs will probably be tired at first, but starting tomorrow, you should come up to the house and take the medicine there. We may not have much, but you should also dine with us… We can’t all live in one house yet because it
wouldn’t be seemly, but you can take your meals at the house…You can look at it as exercise, isn’t that right, my Mu-gyeong?” Si-hyeong tried to decline graciously, but Mu-gyeong quickly intercepted and said, “Oh yes, of course. I’ll have breakfast early in the morning as usual, but Mr. Oh should have breakfast with you a bit later. Then he can stay there and read or relax, have lunch, take his medicine, have dinner, and then at night he can come back here to sleep… Let's do it that way. His legs will probably hurt for several days and it will be difficult for him to walk a lot, so for today perhaps he can just walk around here for a little bit…” Mother had always been unhappy that their relationship had developed on their own, and then she was reluctant that he was a “non-believer,” and she questioned Mu-gyeong’s judgment more and more when he ran afoul of the law. But Mu-gyeong, who had never tested her mother’s temper in any other respect, had refused to listen to her about this. Her mother was shocked when she first went out and got a job in order to be able to send food and provisions to Si-hyeong while he was in prison, and the relation between mother and daughter had soured a bit. Mugyeong had had no intention of listening to her, however. She took her meals and got her clothes from home as always, but her salary went to sending books and food in to Si-hyeong in prison. She did that for two years until finally, her mother had to admire her devotion. In any case, Mu-gyeong was touched by her mother’s attitude today. She’d known this day would come eventually, but after all she had endured, she felt an electric current of happiness run through her when she watched it happen before her very own eyes. “If you can come out at noon, let’s have lunch together. Isn’t there a restaurant or something nearby?” Mother said as she turned to leave. “Do you think there’s anything good in this neighborhood? We have to go out to Jongno or Bonjeong. We’ll come meet you with the car or by streetcar, so you can just make an reservation somewhere,” Mu-gyeong replied, still standing in the doorway. In the end, they agreed to meet at a Western restaurant at the entrance to the Bonjeong district. As they were leaving, Si-hyeong handed her a scrap of paper with a message on it. “Please have the errand boy send a telegram. I should let my family know I've gotten out,” he told her. Mu-gyeong took the note and followed her mother down the stairs. “Should I ask Dr. Park to come when I get a chance? Otherwise, I can take him there myself,” she asked, since she’d already asked her mother about the medical exam. “He knows the situation so if you ask him to come he will,” came her mother’s response. * Mu-gyeong was behind on work so she couldn’t be distracted by anything until the clock struck five, but that was a good thing. After lunch, Mu-gyeong took Si-hyeong back up to the third floor and raced back to the office, but every time she finished one thing and moved on to the next, her appointment with her mother kept popping into her head and she couldn’t get rid of it. Since she was so busy with work, she was able to clear her mind and bury it in balancing the ledger and calculating numbers, but as soon as the clock struck five, she closed the ledger, lifted her head, and her mother’s words flooded back into her head.
They’d had a pleasant and agreeable lunch, but after setting Si-hyeong’s place at the table, Mother whispered in Mu-gyeong’s ear, “What time can you get off work today?” “I usually get off at four, but I’m a little behind so I probably won’t leave until five today.” “Then come and meet me at the Gyeongseong Hotel at five-thirty. There’s something I want to talk to you about…” Mother said. “Alone?” “Yes, you come by yourself.” That’s all she said. And now, hearing the clock strike five, she put away the ledger, but she couldn’t begin to imagine what Mother was going to say. Why would she tell me to come out to a hotel? Mu-gyeong had guessed that she wanted to talk over dinner, but since they had eaten lunch out, it seemed strange that she would buy her dinner too. Plus, they could have a quiet conversation at home, so she couldn’t figure out why she would choose another public place to meet. Was there something off-colored she wanted to say or discuss about her marriage to Sihyeong? It was like Chinese or English to her. She couldn’t even begin to imagine. “I have something I need to take care of this evening, so why don't you have dinner at the cafeteria here just for tonight? Their Chinese dinner set is better than the Western option, so why don't you have Chinese for dinner? I’ll stop by around seven or eight…” She told Si-hyeong as she left the apartment and caught a streetcar. When she arrived at the hotel, Mother was sitting in the lobby alone. Mu-gyeong went over to her and said nothing, but cast a sidelong glace at her mother’s expression as she sat down in a chair. “Have you been waiting long?” she asked, taking another peek at her mother’s face, then looking at the clock, “Oh, I’m a bit late.” Mother didn’t start talking or say they should go into the restaurant; she just sat with her face turned away, looking silently out the window. It was an unsettled expression, one that people always get before they start talking about something difficult. Her face was carefully arranged to look neutral, but it was clear that inside, her thoughts were anxiously fluttering about like paper strips in the wind. The oppressive silence stretched on and Mu-gyeong regretted coming out to meet her mother. No matter what kind of difficult and shocking thing was going to come out, waiting in that position for so long was much more draining. It felt like something was digging into her temples. She finally lifted her head resolutely and said, "Whatever it is you want to say, please say it.” “Hmm...?” Mother murmured, turning towards her. “Yes, it'll be any minute now…” she said, turning away again to avoid Mu-gyeong’s piercing stare. But then she seemed to change her mind and she turned back to Mu-gyeong with a determined expression on her pale face. “There’s really nothing to discuss, but there is something I need to inform you of... There's someone I wanted to introduce to you today,” she began haltingly. After she’d finished her face was flushed, either from anger or embarrassment, Mu-gyeong couldn't tell. She wouldn't have been able to recount the details of their conversation, and they didn't have much time to get
into it, but Mu-gyeong could easily sense from her mother's expression and demeanor the gist of the situation. What that was, however, was something she didn't really want to recognize in her own head, and when a certain gentleman appeared on the steps outside the window, Mu-gyeong could see her mother clouding with embarrassment and sensed her beginning to lose her composure. She didn't know if he'd left his hat and cane in the cloakroom downstairs, but the gentleman in the white suit, bare-headed and holding a fan slightly aloft in his right hand like it was a cane was approaching them. His elegantly parted, close-cropped hair and mustache were sprinkled here and there with white. Mu-gyeong glanced quickly at his fan. When Mother stood up, the man, who appeared to be in his fifties said, “I’m sorry to have kept you waiting for so long.” He smiled at Mother and after a proper greeting, he began again. “Ah, and this must be Miss Mu-gyeong. I’ve heard so much about you but I’ve never had the pleasure. I am Jeong Il-su. Thank you for coming out when I know you must be very busy…” He said, looking at Mu-gyeong. Mu-gyeong, unconsciously grasping the situation she was experiencing, stiffened, and only bowed her head slightly in return. Jeong Il-su turned to the porter who’d come up next to him. “I assume everything is ready?” he asked. “Well, then let’s go inside,” he said, ushering Mu-gyeong and her mother towards the garden. They ate Cantonese cuisine in a private dining room. Was work difficult? Newly built apartments were a new form of management, but since the housing and lodging shortage was severe, it might be an important new innovation… How many rooms were in the Yamato apartments and were they fully occupied? Speaking at a steady speed, he moved on to a dearth of construction projects and the housing shortage, and then dinner was finished. As Jeong Il-su spoke, only Mother responded once in a while, but Mu-gyeong only grudgingly answered direct questions when she had no choice but to break her silence. Once dinner was over, Jeong Il-su said that he had an appointment and left mother and daughter alone in the room. Mu-gyeong hadn’t eaten much, and even though it was just the two of them now each was thinking to herself and not much inclined to speak to the other. Of course, he wasn't the gentleman she’d run into last night in front of the house, but it was an indisputable fact that Jeong Il-su was Hagok, the owner of the painted fan. This was the first time that Mu-gyeong had ever felt so uneasy about the face of a respectable, well-dressed, and dignified gentleman, and she was absently turning this over in her mind. Mother began to speak carefully, almost as if to herself. “I didn't know how awkward it would be for you because it probably all seemed to happen so abruptly. But this is something that has already existed for a long time. For as long as I’ve been at Severance Hospital, so for about ten years now. From then until now, I’ve told him to wait, and I steadfastly refused to let him meet you face to face for ten years. He himself and his family are spotless, but how could I leave you behind to get married and start over? Now I
don’t know what the situation is. But ever since I gave you my approval for your relationship I’ve felt very relieved… We both have children but you’re all grown now, so we’ll marry you off when it's time, and he's already helped his son set up his own household. I’m over forty now so all that’s left for me is to take care of this body and live out my life. Don’t think anything absurd, and just laugh at what your mother is doing and forget about it. You worry about your own wedding and take your time with the preparations…” Mother spoke briefly, studying her daughter’s reaction carefully like someone who’d committed a crime. Meanwhile, Mu-gyeong was experiencing the feeling of her thoughts welling up inside her into different emotions. Her eyes burned with tears so she dabbed at them with a handkerchief. Forty-two! Mother was still so young. Why hadn’t I thought about Mother’s happiness a little more? As her only daughter, how much effort have I put into making her mother happy? Now that I’m about to leave her, how could I have not even given a single thought to her happiness? Isn’t this the mother who was widowed at twenty, then threw away her youth and squashed all her dreams for my sake? What kind of honor do I have to be cross and complain about her? Mother should be happy for the rest of her life. Mu-gyeong looked up at her mother, not bothering to hide her tears. The beautiful skin of mother’s face, like in the pictures from when she was young, shimmered and glistened in her teary eyes. “Mom!” Mu-gyeong cried, burying her face in her mother's lap. * Si-hyeong said that his feet ached and his legs hurt from walking too much the previous day and ate breakfast at a restaurant near the apartment. Soon after he was lying in bed again, flipping through the magazines and books Mu-gyeong had bought for him. He’d start going up to the house in Hwadong to take his medicine and have his meals tomorrow, he said. As she arranged the pay stubs at the office, Mu-gyeong contemplated when she could tell Si-hyeong about Mother and Jeong Il-su's wedding, her pen hovering motionless above the papers. If she looked at it rationally and thought about Mother’s life up to now, there was no mistaking that it all centered on Mu-gyeong’s own happiness. A day later, and away from her mother, her thoughts wandered and she could feel her heart thudding, agitating her, and the meanness she couldn’t suppress came back into her eyes. “Why am I being like this? Wasn’t I the one who destroyed the happy, peaceful life we led together? According to Mother's confession, she resisted Jeong Il-su for ten years in order to preserve our happiness. What have I ever done for her? Aren’t I the one who’s making her sad and upset, this mother of mine who’s tried to follow a quiet life in the Christian faith? Mother trusted in Christianity and sacrificed her youthful ardor, segregating herself from earthly happiness, and after that, she tried to lead the devout life she had planned out, only to have her only daughter defy the teachings of the church – how sad and hurtful that must have been. If Mother’s wedding isn’t a happy occasion, won’t I be the only reason for that? ”
Mu-gyeong went on blaming herself, thinking that if she could only let him hear these thoughts intact, Si-hyeong might be shocked and doubtful at first, but in the end she thought he would really understand everything. Now that she was done rationalizing, she was immediately able to return to thinking pleasant thoughts. After our wedding, there’s probably going to be another ceremony for another bride and groom – do you know who? It’s my mother, she would say and Oh Si-hyeong would probably be shocked. It was funny when she thought about it that way, she chuckled quietly to herself and went back to the ledger. “The more you think about it, the better it seems, huh?” said Mr. Kang, wanting to tease Mu-gyeong about her daydreaming since he’d been helping with Si-hyeong’s release. The clock struck eleven thirty. As he waited for the clock to stop ringing, Mu-gyeong turned her back to him. “You can tease me when you know why I’m laughing,” she said, but someone was getting out of a car in front of the office and coming inside, so Mr. Kang and Mu-gyeong both stopped talking and turned expectantly towards the door. The gentleman came through the apartment’s entryway and seemed to be peering up the stairs, but then he turned towards the office. “Is there an Oh Si-hyeong in this apartment building?” he asked Mr. Kang, who was sitting outside. “Yes, he lives upstairs in Room 323. You may go up to the third floor and look for #23,” Mu-gyeong answered formally, getting up from her chair. The gentleman turned to look at her, then immediately turned away, seeming to consciously avoid her stare, and after tapping the tip of his hat in the general direction of the office door as if expressing gratitude, he gathered himself in a dignified manner, gripped the floor with the end of a white cane, and moved his large body up the stairs. Seeing the appearance and bearing of this gentleman in his fifties, Mugyeong was able to see right through to Oh Si-hyeong’s father, an assemblyman in Pyongyang and a public official in the Chamber of Commerce. Looking at him, she couldn’t shake off the feeling that he felt a sense of contempt toward her. Mu-gyeong thought his coming to find Sihyeong here was much to soon, and the high-handedness and disdain apparent in his bearing were so much a part of his body that she couldn't sit down and could only stand there foolishly. “Could that be Mr. Oh’s esteemed father?” Mr. Kang asked. Mu-gyeong didn’t know how to respond. “It seems that way,” she barely managed in a low voice, turning pale. Although he knew about their situation, Mr. Kang didn’t know all the details of their family circumstances. The fact that Si-hyeong’s father in Pyongyang had not intended to recognize their relationship, and that he had been arranging his son’s engagement with the daughter of a distinguished former governor – Mr. Kang didn’t know these details. So of course he wouldn’t think anything about the father’s sudden visit and his shocking behavior. Mu-gyeong calmly returned to her seat and picked up her pen, but she couldn’t bury her head in her work.
* This father, who hadn’t written a single letter in his own hand to his son for two years, had come for his son after receiving one telegram. Of course, it was no doubt a natural thing for a father to do for his son, but wouldn’t this father and son, whose thoughts and opinions about family had differed so drastically, repeat the same conflicts that they couldn’t resolve upon meeting after two years? During that time the father would have gone on the way the father would, and the son as the son would, each reflecting and conceding to some aspects of his thoughts and attitudes and stubbornness. Would the father have come ready to give his blessing to his son’s marriage? Uneasiness, curiosity and anxiety, fear and misgivings were all mixed and jumbled together, and Mu-gyeong lowered her head, staring down at the office work that no longer made any sense. After about thirty minutes, Si-hyeong’s father came back down the stairs. But he'd left his cane and hat behind and only seemed to be going out for a moment. She hurried to catch a glimpse of him out the window, but she wasn’t able to get any clues from his bearing or his expressionless face. She got the feeling that it seemed like the conversation between the two people was going smoothly. But where would he be going without a hat on? He returned about ten minutes later, seeming to glance towards the office but acting like he hadn’t, a dignified air the only change to his expressionless face as he went back upstairs. Mu-gyeong couldn’t get a foothold on her train of thought. But after another twenty minutes or so, a man in a suit rode up on a bicycle with a bundle of samples, entered the apartment building, and with a quick nod, started heading up the stairs. “Where are you going, sir?” Mr. Kang called after him. The shop clerk paused with one foot on the stairs and looked over in this direction. “Third floor, number twenty-three,” he said. There wasn’t much of a response from this side, so he continued on his way up the stairs. The twelve o’clock siren wailed. The suited man passed by the office again with an affable grin on his face, as though he had taken an order, and went back outside. At that moment, a man from the shoemaker came by, as though they were trading places. The clerk from the shoe store, who had come with two large trunks on the back of his bicycle, took off his hat and respectfully asked for directions from the office. Mr. Kang answered, excited by all the activity. He watched the shoemaker’s clerk going up the stairs and turned to Mu-gyeong. “Looks like he’s getting a new suit and shoes now that his father’s come,” he said, smiling congenially. “Seems that way,” Mu-gyeong answered, holding her pen. She was trying to make heads or tails of the not insignificant uncertainty of the situation, analyzing it fold by fold. When Si-hyeong’s father had gone outside earlier without his hat on it was, without a doubt, in order to fetch the suit maker and the shoemaker. In order to call those two stores that were not close to the building, he would have had to call them on the telephone. So he had gone outside to make the telephone call. Now why would he have deliberately gone all the way
outside to use the telephone? Why would he go outside instead of using the telephone in the office? Now that she’d gone this far, Mu-gyeong paused to reflect. It was in order to avoid me so that he wouldn’t have to use the phone in the office where I am. He didn’t want to have to meet me, so he must have gone outside to find another telephone! There were several things that made her hesitate about this conclusion. She simply couldn’t bear the thought. What could it mean? It amounted to Oh Si-hyeong’s father directly insulting her. This was proof that he wasn’t going to recognize their relationship. Mu-gyeong tried to turn her thoughts elsewhere. But if there was one thing that Si-hyeong’s father going outside explained, wasn't it his opinion of her? She didn’t know if he was reluctant to meet his future daughter-in-law at a dwelling place like this before meeting formally, though. Was it that the job was beneath him, or was it that, according to their traditions, coming face-to-face with your future daughter-in-law at a dwelling place like this was a less than beautiful thing. For that reason he could have deliberately acted like he couldn’t see the office, and perhaps that was why he was ignoring Mu-gyeong’s existence. After some time the shoe store clerk left and then after that, Oh Si-hyeong’s father, this time with his hat and cane, came down from Si-hyeong’s room and left. It wasn’t until about ten minutes later that Si-hyeong came downstairs and showed his face in the office. “My father came!” he said. “And I got this pair of shoes from him! They said these were fifty-five won!” he lifted his sparkling feet to show her. “He must have received the telegram yesterday and come,” Mu-gyeong responded with a straight face as she got up from her chair. “He told me he took the morning train down.” “Then where will he be staying?” she asked “The ‘Hidden Past’ Guest House or something.” Mu-gyeong led him out of the office and in to the cafeteria. She ordered lunch, and the two of them stared at each other in silence. There were more than a few things she wanted to ask, but Mu-gyeong was afraid to bring it up. “Father must have finally given in, don’t you see? He asked if I wasn't hurt anywhere without so much as a word about anything else...” he said, smiling, so Mu-gyeong smiled too. But Mu-gyeong squashed her own questions and waited for Si-hyeong to speak. “The feelings of a father for his son must be a funny thing,” Si-hyeong prattled on, mostly to himself. “Especially if you look at how someone who didn’t send so much as a single letter for two years rushed here the day he found out I was released.” Mu-gyeong didn’t have much of a response to that either. Their lunch arrived, so the two of them quietly began eating. After they had finished and were having a cup of tea, Si-hyeong started again.
“Father wants me to go out to the country with him,” he said, eyeing Mu-gyeong. It was then that her heart sank and she felt a shock that turned her to jelly. Her teacup froze at her lips as she tried to keep her face from betraying her emotions. “My body is weak — how will I get better staying in Seoul? I should go home and rest, or at least go to a hot spring to recuperate. And on top of that, as far as the court is concerned this isn’t really a permanent address and my old friends are still coming and going, so wouldn't it become a hindrance to the resolution of my case…?” he said, as though transferring the words directly from his father’s mouth to her ears. He gulped at his tea, obscuring his eyes behind his cup. Mu-gyeong felt her heart settle down a bit, but she couldn’t muster the energy to even begin to know how to respond. They left the restaurant. As she went around the table to leave, Mu-gyeong felt a bit dizzy and had to grasp the edge of the table to steady herself for a moment, then barely mustering the strength to send the commands to her brain, she followed Si-hyeong out to the hallway. They entered the hallway and headed directly to the stairwell. Mu-gyeong was lost in thought as they plodded up the stairs to “Seventh Heaven” in silence. Once inside, she sat on the chair and looked at Si-hyeong, who had immediately gone to sit down on the bed. “The air in the city is bad, and if you have someplace to go, you should go somewhere quiet. And as far as the court is concerned, they would probably prefer it if you went to stay where your family is, rather than loitering around Seoul,” she finally said in a cheerful voice. Si-hyeong glanced over at Mu-gyeong’s smiling face, still not so insensitive that he didn't know her heart. He lay back on the bed and delivered this soliloquy in a weak voice: “It seems like everything is different from before. A friend inside was saying that now that political offenders are rare, it seems like the psychological pleasure of being a hero living in prison is gone… One night when the moon was hanging white in the steel-barred window, I couldn’t sleep and as I listened to the sound of the wind and the insects in the grass, it felt like the loneliness and desolation would pierce my bones…” Mu-gyeong turned and pretended to look out the window as she quietly wiped her eyes with a towel. * Four days had passed. After a month of dry weather it had become humid and started to reek before the rainy season finally began. One afternoon as the rain fell then stopped then stopped only to listlessly start again, Oh Si-hyeong left for Pyongyang with his father. In the end, they never formally told Mu-gyeong or tried to introduce her to Si-hyeong's father, but she didn’t concern herself about that and went out to the station with him to see him off. Leaving the station, she knew in her heart that she had just sent someone off who would never be coming back, and with that mind she boarded a rainy streetcar. It was soggy and wet, so without stopping in at the office in her dripping wet raincoat, she went straight up to Si-hyeong’s empty room. The old suit that she had so carefully laundered had been carelessly discarded when he changed into his new suit and was lying in a heap on the bed. She opened the shoe closet to find
the hardened old shoes that she had polished by hand thrown hastily inside. The potted hydrangeas were drying out, having had no water for several days. They had withered so much that it didn’t seem like they would turn red or blue ever again even if she gave them water. This is the room she had gotten for Si-hyeong. She’d emptied her savings account so that she could decorate and outfit it for his sake. And now he was gone. Her long struggle to find a job had been for Si-hyeong. She had chosen it in order to be able to send him food and books while he was in prison. Now that he was gone, she’d lost the purpose for her work as well. Mu-gyeong stared numbly at the streaks of rain sliding down the windowpane. The hazy grey light of the sky looked like stripes through the window. Mother had Jeong Il-su now, and I’ve become the daughter that Mother doesn’t need. She didn’t even think about wanting to cry. Instead, she contemplated being an empty shell, devoid of the viscera and entrails that had fallen out of her body. There was a knock as the errand boy opened the door. “The owner has come and says he’d like to take a look at the ledger,” he said. At that, Mu-gyeong regained her composure and stood up. She locked the door and went down the stairs. As she descended, she could feel the strength gradually returning to her legs. “I have my own room, my own job, and now I’ll be able to work for my own sake!” By the time she got down to the office, that thought had reached her heart.
Kim Nam-cheon was a prominent colonial Korea's author and critic. “Management" is often used as an example of the “conversion novel.” It tak...
Published on Sep 16, 2015
Kim Nam-cheon was a prominent colonial Korea's author and critic. “Management" is often used as an example of the “conversion novel.” It tak...