YiI k-sang Tr ans l at edbyMi -Ry ongShi m
The Banished By Yi Ik-sang Translated by Mi-Ryong Shim
Literature Translation Institute of Korea
Originally published in Korean as Jjotgieo ganeun ideul in Gaebyeok, 1926 Translation ⓒ 2014 by Mi-Ryong Shim
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and Literature Translation Institute of Korea. The original manuscripts to these translations were provided by Gongumadang of Korea Copyright Commission.
The National Library of Korea Cataloging-in-Publication Data Yi, Ik-sang (The) banished [electronic resource] / [written by] Yi Ik-sang ; translated by Mi-Ryong Shim. -- [Seoul] : Literature Translation Institute of Korea, 2014 p. 원표제: 쫓기어가는 이들 Translated from Korean ISBN 978-89-93360-49-3 95810 : Not for sale 813.61-KDC5 895.733-DDC21
About Yi Ik-sang
A novelist as well as a journalist, Yi Ik-sang (1895 – 1935) worked as a reporter for newspapers such as The Chosun Ilbo, The Dong-A Ilbo, and Korea Daily News. He was born in Jeonju, North Jeolla Province, in 1895, completed his schooling at Boseong High School, and then graduated from the journalism department of Nihon University in Japan. As a university student he was exposed to socialist thought, which was popular at the time, and he threw himself into the progressive literature movement. He made his debut as a novelist with a publication in The Light of Learning in 1921, and in 1923 he became a member of PASKYULA, the first proletarian literary organization in Korea; when PASKYULA merged with the Society of the Blazing Throng (Yeomgunsa) to form the Korea Artista Proleta Federacio, or KAPF, Yi Ik-sang was one of its initial members. His most prominent works include short stories such as “Frenzy” (Gwangnan), “Baptism of Soil” (Heulgui serye), and “The Banished” (Jjotgieo ganeun ideul). In 1926 he published an anthology of short stories entitled Baptism of Soil through the Literary Movement Society. In both his life and his writing he exhibited socialist tendencies, but not only did he not engage in any specific activities as a socialist, he also did not take the extreme resistance of the individual as subject matter for his works, unlike the fiction of writers like Choi Seohae or Bak Yeonghui, which prominently featured motifs such as murder or arson. In that respect, it could be said that, although Yi Ik-sang belonged to the generation of the Anti-Conventional School, he maintained a certain distance from his writing. He is regarded as an intellectual writer who aspired to an ideal form of socialism.
About “The Banished” Yi Ik-sang’s “The Banished” tells the sad tale of how the tenant farmer Deukchun and his wife come to experience ever-increasing displacement and degradation in their search for a better life. Although poor, Deukchun prides himself on his intelligence and his wife’s beauty. The couple’s desire to escape from their dire poverty leads them away from their small country hometown, to another farming village, then finally to a bustling town. The couple finds, however, that a series of hardships await them instead. Depicting in detail the experiences of dispossession, “The Banished” serves as an example of the literature coming out of the early stages of the proletarian literature movement in colonial Korea.
It was almost time for the first rooster's crow. This late at night it was unlikely to find anyone moving about in this lonely village in the middle of a large field. Even so, Deukchun cautiously peered out into the darkness often, listening for any signs of stirring. The outside, however, remained quiet. The only thing disturbing the calm were the faint sounds of a dog barking in the neighboring village. Deukchun slouched in his room, his arms wrapped around one knee drawn up to his chest. He sat pondering over something for a while then, perhaps stirred by a particular thought, stretched his leg and took a cigarette from his vest pocket. The cigarette was then stuffed into a bamboo pipe and held up to the flame of the ceramic oil lamp. As he started to inhale in great puffs, the tiny light of the lamp seemed to get sucked into his mouth through the cigarette and the bamboo pipe, and the dim room grew even darker. Moments later, a red light brighter than the lamplight flickered at the tip of the cigarette as it emitted a whitish smoke. Then the waning lamplight reappeared to light the room as before. Deukchun puffed on the cigarette for some time before rubbing it out on the base of the oil lamp. He turned to his wife, who was lying on the warm part of the floor with her face toward the wall, and said, “Hey! Are you asleep?” His wife turned toward him. Of course, she had not been sleeping. Deukcheun's face looked blurred in the lamplight as he crouched in the far corner of the room enveloped in cigarette smoke, like a mountain covered in the shimmering heat of spring. “Asleep? Who can sleep?” came her sharp reply. Deukchun relighted the cigarette he had just stubbed out. “No time to sleep now. Why don’t you pack up the clothing or something?” he pressed on in a low cautious voice. At this, his wife got up off the floor. She covered herself with a tattered skirt and shuffled over to the other side of the room, muttering, “I would if there was anything worth packing,” as she pulled her hair back into a chignon. --Deukchun’s wife was only twenty-one years old, but she would easily pass for twenty-four or twenty-five. Some might even say she looked almost thirty. She married Deukchun the year she turned seventeen. He was twenty-two at the time. While there were several problems standing in the way of their marriage, her parents had been reassured by one thing: Deukchun's intelligence. But even that in which they had trusted so much failed to bring any happiness to the young couple. On the contrary, his intelligence often brought hardship into their lives. Deukchun was not liked by the wealthy or the landowners in his village. He also failed to get into the good graces of others who wielded power, like the managers who oversaw the tenant farmlands or the tax-collectors in the county and subcounty
offices. Even worse, Deukchun came to be shunned by people of his own kind. Consequently, he was mistreated by many in his community. Two years after they married, Deukchun and his wife left their hometown in D fishing village on the western coast to move to C, a lonely village located in the open fields of North Jeolla Province, a region known for some of the most fertile lands in Korea. They had not taken this decision lightly. Every time he was treated unfairly by the village people, Deukchun entertained the thought of leaving the area immediately, but his mother, who had passed away three years ago, would not permit it. “Isn't it best to stay where you grew up? All this talk about moving is nonsense.” Because of this, Deukchun had endured the mistreatment and remained in his old village. But his mother passed away the year after he married, and shortly after, Deukchun and his wife packed up their meager belongings and left the old hometown where they had lived all their lives. His wife, young as she was, tried to persuade him to stay put for a few years, at least long enough to observe the customary three-year mourning period for his mother. Her husband, however, would not hear of it. Deukchun's choice to move to C village, was primarily due to the fact that one of his distant cousins had become the manager of the land near the village owned by an aristocrat well-known in Seoul. Nevertheless, Deukchun found good farmland hard to come by in the first year of his move. Even if he had been able to get a good piece of land, though, he would have found it almost impossible to get the help he needed from his neighbors as an outsider. To the nearby village people, this newly arrived stranger was a source of considerable unease. They were jealous and wary of him because he was related to the manager, and they feared that their rented farmland might suddenly be passed over to the newcomer. Thus, Deukchun had to cultivate his land almost singlehandedly during his first year at C village. Deukchun was aware of how the villagers felt, but he did not make an extra effort himself to get closer to them. For the most part, they treated each other coolly, as if to say, “What’s yours is yours and what’s mine is mine.” But while many kept their distance from him, there were a few who tried to befriend him. Most of these were people who had failed to secure tenancy with Deukchun’s cousin. They gravitated toward Deukchun, each hoping to get a patch of land to farm. In reality, however, Deukchun had neither enough land nor enough authority for others to fear or benefit from him. His sole possession was the distant relation to the manager of the tenant farms. Deukchun passed three years in C village this way. --Deukchun had managed to eke out a living until about a month ago when a terrible thing befell his household. His cousin lost the position as the property manager, and soon all the land under the cousin’s care was transferred to a new manager. The tenant farmers, who had cultivated those lands for many years under Deukchun’s distant cousin, were in an uproar. To them, the situation was several times worse than when Deukchun had first moved into the village, and those who had kept especially close relations with the former manager were the most alarmed. 5
Upon hearing this news, Deukchun realized that he would have to leave the village again, and with this realization, he immediately began the necessary preparations. Even when Deukchun was the object of envy amongst the village people, they could not directly harm him while his cousin was the manager. On the other hand, there were also others who reached out to him during this time. His relationship with the manager had indirectly aided him after all, allowing him to survive in C village for three years without any real mishaps. When Deukchun first moved here, he had no money to start farming, but he was able to use his relationship with the manager to borrow ten won from others and get seasonal crop loans from others. (In this region, the landowner or relatively well-to-do tenant farmers set aside some of their crops to lend to impoverished tenant farmers in the spring or the summer. The lenders then receive interest owed on the loan in the autumn, with a half sack or one whole sack of grains as interest for each sack of crops loaned.) Furthermore, when Deukchun was late with his repayments in the harvesting season, he was able to ask for some extra time. But now he had lost even that wiggle room. Plus, the long-standing debts he had delayed for the last two or three years were coming up due in the autumn. The money he had borrowed to start his livelihood in this new place was more than the sum total of his crops for the entire year. He was at a loss to think of any way to continue living in C village without paying off these debts. For the past few years, he had made repayments on some of his debts by borrowing from other sources. Now he was without a single remaining source to borrow from, but still many debts to repay. After mulling it over for many days, he came to the conclusion that his only choice was to secretly flee the village with his wife. He thought and thought but could not find another way. And even if he survived this time, he had no way of dealing with the hardships that would surely follow. Thinking over his various calculations and his decision to run away, Deukchun sold off all his crops to the old mill and passed on his hut to someone else. After selling off nearly all his earthly possessions, he was able to put two hundred won into his shabby pocket. Very little remained in the house, save for a few crockpots, earthen jars for pickled foods, and some odd porcelain dishes. These were the only things left for the creditors to fight over after Deukchun and his wife left the village. At first, Deukchun frequently wavered in his resolve. If he and his wife fled, people would surely call them ill-bred thieves. He was shaken by the idea that what he was about to do would come back to haunt him, but not a shred of hope or confidence remained for him to stay in C village. Another factor that helped Deukchun go through with his decision was the fact that many had already done the same in this region of North Jeolla Province. Unable to pay the rent on their borrowed land and also failing to repay their outstanding debts, people found themselves driven out of their houses. Many such people bundled up the dregs of their crops and fled to faraway regions. Others were forced to split up their families and wander separately in all directions to beg on the streets. These were some the options that remained for them in this world. They took their lives of aimless wandering as their fate. 6
Deukchun had sneered and despised such people before, but now he found himself following in their footsteps. While pitying himself for falling into this ruinous state, he also felt ashamed of how he often had scornfully glared at these wandering families. But this shame was not enough to stop him. Rather, knowing that his situation was not so unique gave him the courage to go through with his plans. Tonight he had been waiting for the darkness of the night to descend. Deukchun's wife did as he asked and moved to the far corner of the room. She opened a small wicker box white with dust and pulled out clothing to wrap into a bundle, her hands trembling as her eyes filled with tears. Deukchun stared dully at her for a moment, then burst out impatiently. “How can you be so slow?” “There isn't a single thing here worth wearing. They're all rags….” she said, taking out a tattered skirt and spreading it out in front of her husband. “What’s the use looking at those now? Leave them here,” Deukchun shot back, but he also felt a renewed sense of shame. In all their years together, he had never bought his wife a single decent outfit. When they were first married, the couple had enough clothing to store inside a large chest. Even if none of it was expensive, they both had enough clothing for all four seasons stored in this large chest. Now, on the day they were about to flee C village, all their clothing was contained in one box that they were packing up again, this time into a bundle. The more they thought about it, the more it seemed that they would never have it better than they did now. Thinking about how much worse their future might look, they felt a sense of fear bordering on morbid curiosity. “What would happen to us if it gets any worse than this?” his wife wondered as she turned to Deukchun with tears in her eyes. “Who knows? What’s the use in saying something like that? Stop nagging and get the bundle ready to go,” Deukchun said somewhat apologetically. “Where can we go after this?” his wife asked again. “Enough with the nagging!” Deukchun retorted, “It's done with anyway.... You think we can just sit in this hovel and starve to death? You think anyone will spare us a single grain of rice when we're starving? Will anyone put clothes on our backs when we're freezing to death in tattered rags? Quit your carping and let’s get on with it! You already agreed we should go so what’s the point in all these questions now?” Deukchun's wife grabbed a few articles of clothing from the wicker basket and moved to the back of the room to change where it was still warm. She took off the tattered apron and blouse soiled with oil stains and changed into a pink silk blouse and a jade silk skirt. These were usually kept in the bottom of the box, the one dress she had for special outings. She made sure to wear this precious dress for neighborhood weddings or those rare trips into town. Afraid that traveling at night wearing their warm coats might arouse suspicion, she dressed herself in the one fine outfit she treasured so much.
Outfitted thus, Deukchun’s wife appeared to be a completely different person. Deukchun thought that such a beautiful woman could not possibly be his own wife. Although they had been married for four or five years, he could count on his hands the number of times he had seen her look so beautiful. And these times came around only once or twice a year because she hardly ever dressed up. In the dim lamplight, Deukchun stared entranced at his wife’s beautiful figure. Her cleanly parted hair and her pale face seemed to be in perfect harmony with the pink blouse and the jade-colored skirt. ‘My old lady can be a beauty too when she's all dress up,’ Deukchun thought, briefly forgetting what they were about to do. He felt happy in this moment, as if he had been rescued from his misfortune. Memories of their wedding day swept through his mind like a dream. Back then, she was even more beautiful than she was now. The moment was fleeting, however, and he was left with a heavy sigh of despair. ‘What bad luck you have to have met such a terrible husband, and to be reduced to slinking away in the dead of night,’ he thought. In his wife’s otherwise delicate face, Deukchun could also see the scars of their battle with poverty over the last four or five years. Only the fine curve of her face and the perfect symmetry of her eyes, nose, mouth, and ears, bore testament to her former beauty. Nonetheless, there was still something so captivating about her face. Gazing at her for a while, Deukchun moved towards her. “You shouldn't wear that silk skirt on a misty night like tonight,” he said. “I have to have something else to wear!” she replied, hesitating for a moment before taking the silk skirt off and changing into a cotton skirt. Soon not even the whispers between husband and wife could be heard; only the flame of the dim lamp swayed gently back and forth in the room. --The long, faint crow of a rooster in the neighboring village reverberated through C, and all the other roosters joined in. Deukchun ushered his wife ahead as they quietly stepped out through the brush gates. He had a wrapped parcel strapped to his back, as his wife balanced a bundle on her head. The husband and wife cautiously set off on the main road in front the village. Just then, a neighbor's dog began to bark, hearing the sounds of strange footsteps. When it spotted the shadows of the suspicious couple, the barking became even more vicious. Deukchun's heart sank. His wife was similarly startled. Not knowing what else to do, he flailed his arms trying to shush the dog. Perhaps recognizing Deukchun’s voice, the dog stopped barking and returned to its house. Indeed, the dog was already familiar with Deukchun. The couple stood on the main road and looked back at their house once more. The cold dew of the late autumn night soaked their thin clothing. The cold seemed to pierce through their rags, making their bodies hunch forward. Above them, the cloudless night sky was filled with twinkling stars. Deukchun and his wife stopped yet again to look back at their house. Only the silhouette of the roof, looking like some dark monster, was visible now. The poplar 8
trees that lined the village shook in the cold wind. To Deukchun and his wife, the rustling of the leaves resembled the voice of a monster pleading with the couple and haranguing them for abandoning their home. The wife looked back once again with tears flowing down her face. Her steps were heavy, as if she was dragging a large weight behind her. Deukchun and his wife felt tremendously sad to leave this place. It was a sadness greater than they had ever expected, and the memory of all the hardship they endured here seemed to evaporate into thin air. In their tense state, they imagined even their household stuffs wailing in grief behind them. Deukchun and his wife shivered in the cold. Their hearts, however, still shook more violently than their bodies. Their eyes were filled with tears, but the eyes in their hearts were filled with tears of blood. Deukchun’s wife was tempted more than once to go back to their hut, but they had already made the awful decision and she knew that they could not stay here forever. They forced themselves to walk on. Their feelings now were different from what they had felt upon leaving D fishing village some three years ago. Although they had grown up in D and their parents' remains were still buried there, they had not felt much sadness when they left it to come to this village. Today, however, their tears flowed freely. When they were moving out of D village, they had felt as if they were going on a short outing and would soon return. But tonight, they sensed that they might be setting off on a road of no return. Whereas before they had felt as if they were leaving on their own, tonight they felt like they were being banished, driven out by someone else. As they walked on, even the monstrous silhouette of the roof was now buried under the darkness of the night. Stars started to thin out in the sky and the poplar trees swaying in the cold wind also disappeared with the starlight. A realization suddenly hit the husband and wife with renewed force. There was no turning back now and they would be branded as people who had abandoned their own home. “We can’t see the house anymore now… Seems you suffer through some terrible things when you are born under the wrong star…” Deukchun said to his wife. She remained silent. The two walked on without a word, only looking down at the ground they were stepping on. With each step they took, the intense sadness they felt at leaving their home seemed to dissipate gradually. Instead their hearts became heavier with the worry that their strange appearance would attract attention. They took shortcuts and hurriedly walked with their heads held down. It was still dark, but the outlines of the new main road were slowly becoming visible. Still Deukchun and his wife were startled every time one of them tripped over the rut made by passing carts or stepped on the occasional stone sticking out from the ground on the road. For a long while more, they walked on in silence. Deukchun led, steadying his stumbling wife by holding her by the wrist. As he held up her straightened arm, she simply followed where he led her. Letting herself be led this way, she saw that her whole life was caught in his grasp. All sorts of worries about the future floated up in her mind. She wanted to ask him what would happen, but she dared not speak out 9
of fear that someone might be following them. As she walked, she stopped frequently to look back behind her. After walking east for several hours, they finally saw the sky start to brighten. At first, it looked as if they were looking through dark blue glasses, lit as it was by the dawn's glow. The pale mountains surrounding the fields slowly turned navy. From the east, the dark blue skies became the red of a ripening watermelon. Soon, husband and wife could see the tracks of the Honam Rail Line stretched out before them. A bit farther off, the signal in the railroad station yard twinkled along with the last lingering stars. Deukchun finally breathed a sigh of relief. The long hours of walking in the dark seemed like the memory of a dream. And now, the fog was enveloping the western plains as if to signal clear weather for the day. When the morning sun was high in the sky, the northbound train arrived at K station. After accepting on board the exhausted couple, the train continued ever northward. --Deukchun and his wife arrived at T Station, where the Gyeongbu Rail Line and the Honam Rail Line intersected. They hoped that here they would finally make a lot of money and spend their days living well, reminiscing about their hardships, now long past. This was their only goal in this life. Hardly a day went by without Deukchun dreaming about making it big. Back in his hometown, a well-traveled friend had once told him that the best way in the world to earn money was to sell food, and that the best place to do that was near a busy railroad station. The friend had also mentioned that T Station would be one of the most desirable of such spots. This was why Deukchun had come. After lodging at a nearby inn for several days, Deukchun started to inquire with the innkeeper about various affairs in the area. The innkeeper was at first deeply suspicious of how this couple from the countryside had come to stay at such a place, but the man and woman did not seem to be involved in some illicit affair after all and the innkeeper let down his guard, kindly filling Deukchun in with all details. Deukchun soon realized that making money would not be so simple as he had thought back in C, but since he had come all the way out here, he asked the innkeeper to help him rent a small storefront. The store was slightly removed from the train station, but it also directly faced a large, busy road that cut across the Honam region. An endless stream of automobiles, freight wagons, rickshaws, horses, and cows passed by every day. Deukchun thought it an ideal place to open an eatery of sorts. With very little equipment and a just a handful of things, Deukchun was able to open a tavern there right away. He spent a few days obtaining a business license and such, but he was able to get the license issued without much problem and to get the equipment he needed with relative ease. The business was soon up and running. At first, they saw few visitors, but as the days went by, the number of customers steadily increased. Some came to try out the wine at the new place, but most came after hearing about the pretty wench who ran the tavern. It was true that neither the drinks nor the food at Deukchunâ€™s tavern were extraordinary. As they were still waiting for a license to distill their own liquor, Deukchun and his wife were 10
selling liquor they bought from other taverns. And Deukchun’s wife, having grown up in a remote countryside village like D, did not have the skills to make any special dishes. Her face, however, was exceptionally pretty for a place like this. Deukchun was uneasy letting his wife sell wine here, and he wavered several times over the decision. First, she herself was not happy to work here; in fact, she felt terribly humiliated. While her unwillingness actually reassured Deukchun of his wife’s faithfulness, the fact remained that the place was teeming with depraved drunkards and he felt anxious and fearful of the future ahead. Sometimes he wondered if it might not be better to shut down the business and head back home before something terrible happened. But the couple was too ashamed to go back to C village or their hometown. Plus, they lacked the courage to pretend like nothing had happened. They considered taking up another trade, but there were no jobs that suited them well. Deukchun felt like he would lose his mind with the burden of these thoughts. He could hardly keep himself from screaming out loud. They had come this far, though, so they would have to bite their tongues and stick it out for a few more years. Other times, he built castles in the air. He daydreamed about how he would buy up several hectares of good land back home and build a tidy house not far from his land. He would hire a few hardworking farmhands to help with his land and spend the rest of his days enjoying life with his wife. With his head full of these happy thoughts, he was overjoyed. His days were filled alternately with dreams and nightmares. It was late in the night now and the drunks had all gone home. At night, the couple could face each other like man and wife, so they waited impatiently for the day to end. They had never before longed for the night as they did these days, but the business of selling liquor made them truly miss the night. The pair only seemed to reclaim their own worlds at night, and it was only at night that Deukchun could feel that his wife was his alone. But the night also brought greater loneliness. It was then that they would both realize anew that they were in a foreign land far from any friendly faces. --It had been more than ten days since Deukchun and his wife opened the tavern, and the weather was much colder now than when they left C village. The wind blew through the cracks in the door frame and poked painfully at the skin like needles. Deukchun was lying down on the warm spot on the floor in the room attached to the tavern with his head propped up on a pillow. He was deep in thought. ‘And to think, you never once thought that you could end up such a sad lot….’ ‘And back home everyone thought you were so intelligent…,’ the jeering voices echoed in his head. He got up abruptly and paced around the room. Now and then, he could hear the gruff voices of the drunks out in the tavern. Peals of boisterous laughter would occasionally erupt. Once in a while, Deukchun could also hear his wife's voice responding to something. He felt his heart pound. He lay back down again, propping his head up on the pillow, and lit a cigarette. 11
He could hear the customers going home some time later. His wife came into the room looking fatigued. She sat directly in front of Deukchun, her face filled with resentment. “Oh! It would be better to beg out on the streets than go on like this!” she cried, her eyes filled to the brim with tears. Deukchun looked at her for a long time without speaking. Finally he opened his mouth: “Who says anyone wants to do this? It’s shameful, I know.” “So now you realize it’s shameful … And when you had the bright idea to drag me here and turn me into a tavern wench, you had no idea of all the disgraceful things that could happen…?” she said, wiping away her tears. Deukchun sensed that something serious must have occurred this evening. “Wait, what happened? Cry or do whatever you must, but first tell me what happened!” His wife did not answer. He tried then to calm her down. “So what do you want us to do? Stick it out for a little longer. If you really can’t go on, then we'll find something else. What’s the use of getting so upset? Don’t worry.” “Stop saying that!” she retorted. “Do you expect us to get rich peddling liquor? Even if we do, what good is money like that? I try and try to have a thick skin and keep on with the business, but I just can’t! With each passing day, I feel like I'm closer to death….” “Just stop and let’s get some sleep. I would do more than peddle liquor if it meant we could make money. What other choice do we have? Money is money, no matter where it comes from, liquor or not. Let’s pretend we are blind and deaf and stick it out for a year. When we have enough to buy a rice paddy or a patch of land to farm, we can shut this all down and move back to C or somewhere close to home. Think about how we had to escape in the middle of the night from that village. I don’t know how else…” Deukchun tried to comfort his wife, but he felt a searing pain inside his heart. “Fine, I will try to bear it for one year. There is nothing we can do now. It’s shameful but all we can do is try to get through it….” His wife spoke softly, as if she was comforting him. She closed her eyes. They were both silent for a long time, all the while avoiding each other’s eyes, until Deukchun’s wife suddenly fell into his lap. She sobbed, choking on her tears. Deukchun sensed that something had gone very wrong tonight. He gently patted his wife’s back as she cried, her head buried in his lap. “Hey! What’s wrong? Say something!” he urged, but his wife said nothing and continued sobbing. “Speak, speak! What can I do if you won’t tell me what happened?” He was now thumping her back with greater force. Still she did not speak. Deukchun waited, looking down at his wife slumped in his lap. He tried again. “Did something very bad happened to you tonight? Did those louts say something to you? Say something!” Finally, his wife lifted her head from his lap and wiped away her tears. The tears, however, continued to flow. At first, she did not know whether she should tell her husband what had happened. For the moment, it seemed that she would at least 12
feel some relief if she told him rather than bury it deep in her heart. She opened her mouth to speak, but still the words wouldn't come. Her tongue felt rigid. “Come on, spit it out! Then you can cry or do whatever the hell you want!” Strangely, his scolding tone actually gave her the strength to speak up. “I will die of shame!” she finally said. Deukchun felt his heart sink. It suddenly occurred to him that he might not want to hear what would follow. But he did not have the courage to stop her. He could only stare. Then with feigned ignorance, he said, “Of course everyone already knows that selling liquor is not such a respectable business. Why make a fuss over it now?” he said as he cautiously tried to read his wife’s expression. She hesitated. Although she had said she was too embarrassed to speak about it, he was incapable of even imagining anything. So what would be the point in telling him? she wondered. If she stopped now, she would not upset him anymore. Also in order to maintain the affection between husband and wife, it would be better to not tell. So in this way, she decided not to tell him the reason for her terrible shame. Deukchun inquired again, “Just what is making you feel this way?” His wife faltered again. Perhaps not telling him the whole truth would plant the seed for even greater doubt in her husband. Summoning up her courage, she spoke. “The tall one with the dark face, the one who has been coming everyday to our place since the second day we opened— who is that bastard?” In fact, Deukchun had already been suspicious of this man who came so frequently to their tavern. He had asked the kitchen help about the stranger and learned that the man was the son of a rich family from a nearby village. His attire was certainly not that of a poor household. He seemed much better-heeled than the others who frequented a tavern like Deukchun’s. His shirt and trousers were made of silk. He also wore a headband made of real human hair secured with an amber fastener. In short, he was someone who arrogantly paraded around the village. Deukchun was disgusted whenever he saw the man walking around dragging his heels and puffing on a long pipe. Deukchun knew immediately which man his wife was talking about. “What happened? Did he curse at you?” Deukchun secretly wished that the source of his wife’s shame would be nothing more than foul language. “If only that was all! He grabbed my hands… and my mouth….” With that, Deukchun's wife fell back into his lap. Deukchun was stunned silent. His wife barely managed to lift her head up again. “And then he took a handful of money from his pocket and said, ‘Look at this! Tonight you and I will….’” Unable to continue, she collapsed, sobbing. Deukchun felt a dreadful pain in his chest. “And to think, back home you were known for being intelligent. If you are such a smart bastard, then why make your woman suffer so! The hell with it all! We'd be better off begging in the streets than continue with this business. Why, you were about to sell your own wife.” The rebukes echoed in his ears. 13
In a pleading voice, his wife piped up again, “Let’s quit this business. Let’s go back home, even if we have to beg for food.” Deukchun agreed. But the fact was that neither knew where to go or what to do. “It’s all my fault,” Deukchun muttered to himself. They looked at each other in silence. Deukchun looked down at his wife’s hand resting on her knee. It was the same hand that the dark-faced topknot had grabbed a short while ago. Deukchun then looked at his wife’s pursed lips. That man’s whiskers, reeking of wine, must have grazed those lips. Deukchun’s fists clenched and his heart began to pound. He was overcome with pity for his poor wife, and he pulled her into his arms. Outside the room, it was perfectly still. Deep sighs, sighs of anger, gratitude, and pity came from inside the room. It was now far into the night. Deukchun and his wife were almost asleep when they were jolted awake by a loud banging on their front door. At first Deukchun did not bother to get up, thinking that the sound could be coming from one of the neighboring houses. But soon he heard voices calling from outside the door. “Anyone here? I am here to drink! Damn it!” a voice shouted. Deukchun was going to wait for them to leave, but instead of leaving, they started kicking at the door. Deukchun reluctantly got dressed and went outside. When he opened the front door, he found the tall, dark-faced man standing there, an accomplice by his side. “What, you don’t sell wine anymore? Already too rich or something?” the man sneered as he came through the door. Deukchun felt something hot inside himself and felt his fists clench. He did not know what to do. Meanwhile, his wife had come out of their room. She stood there shivering, anxious about what might happen. The rich man staggered into the tavern. Deukchun tried to hold himself back. If they quit this business tomorrow, they would not have to put up with scenes like this anymore. It was pointless trying to argue with a drunk man. Deukchun said gently, “I'm sorry, but we can’t sell any alcohol now. It’s too late at night.” “Can’t sell? Can’t sell? Why not, huh? What’s this jibberish about, this ‘we can’t sell’?” Slurring his words, the man tried to pick a fight. Deukchun felt his anger boiling up. “I said it’s too late! What don’t you understand?” “You little bastard! Pesky for a tavern keeper, aren’t you!” the drunken man said. He staggered toward Deukchun, seized him by the collar, and slapped him roundly across the cheeks. Lightning flashed in front of Deukchun’s eyes. Without a moment’s hesitation, he kicked the rich man’s chest. The drunk went sprawling backward and his companion rushed at Deukchun. A full brawl was breaking out in the front yard of Deukchun and his wife’s tavern. Extricating himself from the other man, Deukchun ran into the kitchen and came back out with a piece of split firewood in his hands. With this, he lashed out at anything and anyone in sight. The drunk man and his friend were soon slumped over on the ground. Deukchun stood tall, his chest bare and panting from the exertion. He began to holler. 14
“You dirty bastards! You think you can help yourself to another man’s wife just because we scratch out a living for ourselves with this tavern?! Ask anyone from my hometown if they’ve ever heard of Im Deukchun! You think because you have money, you can do whatever you want! Well I’ll show you! I can quit this business tomorrow, and have nothing to fear from the likes of you!” The men got back up and came after Deukchun again, but he beat them down, brandishing his piece of timber. Meanwhile the neighbors had heard the commotion and started to gather out front. The drunk men were eventually taken out of the tavern by the neighbors. Deukchun let out a deep breath. His wife, shivering with fear, stood by his side. She tugged at his sleeve, urging him to go back to their room. At that moment, however, Deukchun was overcome with shame over how he had struggled and submitted to others in order to survive.
A novelist as well as a journalist, Yi Ik-sang (1895 – 1935) worked as a reporter for newspapers such as The Chosun Ilbo, The Dong-A Ilbo, a...
Published on Sep 16, 2015
A novelist as well as a journalist, Yi Ik-sang (1895 – 1935) worked as a reporter for newspapers such as The Chosun Ilbo, The Dong-A Ilbo, a...