TheDownf al lof J iHyeong-geun
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The Downfall of Ji Hyeong-geun By Na Do-hyang Translated by Inyoung Choi
Literature Translation Institute of Korea
Originally published in Korean as Ji Hyeong-geun in Joseon Mundan, 1926 Translation ⓒ 2014 by Inyoung Choi
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 Na, Do-hyang (The) downfall of Ji Hyeong-geun [electronic resource] / authored by Na Do-hyang ; translated by Inyoung Choi. - [Seoul] : Literature Translation Institute of Korea, 2 014 p. 원표제: 지형근 Translated from Korean ISBN 978-89-93360-66-0 05810 : Not for sale 813.61-KDC5 895.733-DDC21
About Na Do-hyang
Na Do-hyang (1902 - 1927)’s real name is Kyung-son and his pen name is Bin. He was born in 1902. After graduating from Baejae Normal High School, he was admitted to Kyeongseong Medical School but dropped out and went to Tokyo, Japan, to study literature, returning in 1919 to teach at an elementary school in Andong for one year. He began his literary career in 1921, publishing “Leaving Home” in the Baejae School Newspaper and later on, his short story “Memory” in the People’s Opinion. In 1922, as a member of the literary coterie magazine The Swan, he published his work “The Seasons of a Young Person” in its first edition. In 1925, with the publication of his artistically mature pieces like “The Water Mill”, “Mulberry”, and “Mute Sam-ryong”, he received much attention as a writer. He died on August 26, 1927. His full-length novel, Mother (1939) was published posthumously. In his early years, his writings reflected an emotional and artistic world, but his later works like “The Water Mill” were much more realistic and used short story elements. He is considered to be a representative author of the Colonial Period, for he clearly depicted the dark realities of that time.
About “The Downfall of Ji Hyeong-geun” “Ji Hyeong-geun” was written two months before Na Do-hyang’s death from acute pneumonia on August 26, 1927. In the story, the twenty-year old married Ji Hyeong-geun, whose father has recently died, leaves home for Gangwon-do to seek work as a laborer in order to raise the standard of living for his fallen family. Ji is away from his hamlet and separated from his wife for the first time, yet, he still carries with him the Neo-Confucian aristocratic norms, such as patriarchy and loyalty, as well as pride in his family pedigree. But his Christian values of charity, equality, and salvation are sometimes in conflict with his traditional Korean ones. This tension, between the traditional and the modern, helps drive the narrative, as well as provide a kind of social commentary. Once Ji arrives in Cheorwon, an important city where a rail center is being built, he lives with the laborers and is exposed to the stark conditions of Korea, which is undergoing a radical transformation under the whip of the Japanese colonizers. By chance, he meets Yi-hwa, a “fallen woman” who used to live next door to his family during his childhood. His complex and contradictory Neo-Confucian and Christian derived emotions about Yi-hwa leads him to inadvertently commit a crime, resulting in theft and the betrayal of his hometown friend; thus culminating in Ji’s downfall.
The Downfall of Ji Hyeong-geun
Chapter 1 Ji Hyeong-geun tightened his bindle by his house and looked at his mother and wife. With a tear dropping down her face, all wrinkly like a dried up leaf stuck to a dish, his mother tells him in a choking voice, “I want you to stay healthy but how difficult that will be for a delicate and fragile person, far away from home. Be sure to keep warm and eat wisely and take care not to get sick! And write home!” She then starts sobbing. Hyeong-geun’s young wife turned around to wipe her tears in the burlap apron, swallowing her snot and crying at the same time, then turning around to take one last look at her husband, her eyes flushed red like a half-ripe cherry. “Yes, yes!” Hyeong-geun replies but his face shows much sorrow from parting and his nose, mouth, and eyelashes are twitching as he tries to suppress the tears. The people from the village have also come together in front his house. His childhood friends give greetings in an awkward manner like they have never done it. There were some people who just walked away to the other side after saying one short phrase, for the sake of formalities. But one elderly man stroked Hyeong-geun’s head, patted his cheek and said, “Well, I wish you luck. Come back with a lot of money. I cannot believe this is happening—that a man of your noble birth has to leave home to work as a laborer. Your father would have been grieved to see this.” Tears, like droplets of pearls welling up in his eyes, soaked his whitish eyebrows when he closed his double-eyelid eyes with their refined snowy eyelashes. Because of the old man’s tears, the wailing of his mother and his wife became more profuse, the older women of the village, too, had to wipe their tears, and the young people were blinking their eyes and sniffing in their snot to fight back the tears in spite of themselves, like when the mourner starts wailing at a funeral. Hyeong-geun, too, wiped his tears, bowed to his mother and bid farewell to the village people. As though looking at his wife would weaken his will and that weakness wasn’t what a man ought to show, he turned away, without looking and headed toward the village entrance. The village elders and his cherished friends followed him, while some children went ahead and some behind him, like an army before a general who was going off to war.
Hyeong-geun frequently halted his step to turn his head and look. After some distance, all the children were gone, and the followers had scattered and he was alone on the summit of a pass. When he looked back, he saw the hamlet he was from, with about twenty some households interspersed among the chestnut and the zelkova trees. In front of his house, the people had dispersed and only his mother and his wife were still gazing in the direction of where he went. Tears, which he had not shed until then, poured down like a waterfall. Although the morning sun joyfully shone brilliant colors on the dew of grass and the grasshopper welcomed him by hopping on his foot wrapping, Hyeong-geun was unaware of it. When he pictured his wife with a pewter binyeo1 and an ersatz coral ring on her finger, wearing a pink top with blue patched sleeves and a burlap apron over an indigo skirt, the young man, only twenty, felt like his heart was going to be torn. He took one step back then turned around again on the second step. His house, faraway now, could not be seen, veiled by the mountainside where the shadow of the morning sun was cast.
Chapter 2 He resigned himself after walking for five li.2 â€œHow could I be so weak-willed on account of a female!â€? His fists shook like thunder, and he set off trampling the red clay on the path. He raised his head. He opened up his heart. The sky was infinitely high and clear and as he walked through the wide field to the main road, his chest seemed to fill up with great hope. I have to march on. If I just keep marching, then I can go back home with a load of money. He wished he could get to his destination in a day instead of ten. At this time, people from all eight Korean provinces gathered in Cheorwon, Gangwon-do. The type of people who came there were mostly peasants from the country, who had been deprived of their tenant rights, or greedy people who dreamt of making a fortune overnight. It was because of the establishment of an irrigation association and the need for the laborers for the reclamation construction in Cheorwon; but also because of the terrifying speed with which Cheorwon grew in relation to the construction of the electric railway, Geumgangsan, so the flow of money circulated more freely, which spurred the hearts of poor people to all rush to Cheorwon, if not Pyeonggang. Where there were laborers, pubs and prostitutes increased in number. 1 2
A traditional Korean ornamental hairpin. A traditional Korean measure of distance, equal to about 0.4 km.
Those with the capital squeezed more and more juice out of the many laborers by lowering wages. And then they were squeezed some more by the pubs and prostitutes. In the end they were always empty-handed. With the construction of a monster called the electric railroad in the peaceful district of Cheorwon, morals and the regulations got out of control. That is why the poor peasants from Gyeongsang-do and Gyeonggi-do, who lost everything, came to Cheorwon and Pyeongang in the hope of a windfall. Hyeong-geun, too, was headed toward this monstrous crucible, where men sucked each other’s blood, stomped on and took a bite out of each other, while cultivating an ideal dream in his heart, when in reality he was being lured by a mirage and to take one step then another toward the edge of the cliff. His feet got swollen before he had walked fifty li. If he had walked ten li in an hour, he could now walk not even half of that. Gingerly pressing his swollen feet by the roadside, he thought, “Drat! When I go home I am taking the train. Since it’s only five li from the train station, I can walk then…” But he was reminded of how much he had in his pocket. Even if he didn’t injure his feet and he was able to walk non-stop, it would take five days for him to get there. How much travel expenses did he have in his pocket? Even if he scrimped, he still might not have any left. The sun was setting. He couldn’t help being scared. What if his feet got worse, and he couldn’t go on? His courage shrank and his hopes sank. Staggering listlessly, he tried to come up with a plan. He tried to think of any people he knew on the way. There wasn’t a single house but if he were to take a side road for about ten li, there was a big village. There is no need to identify this village by its name, but a man, who used to be his father’s tenant farmer when his father was wealthy, lived there in a neighboring district. Hyeong-geun had caught a glimpse of this man sitting most humbly before his father in their sarangbang,3 but he had never visited his house. “That’s right…” Hyeong-geun clapped his knee. “Kim could loan me some money. I am not asking it for free. I’ll pay him back when I return.” He viewed himself as Kim’s master. Hyeong-geun thought it was only right that this man, who was indebted to his father from the past, should grant his son a favor. In short, since that is how he thought, thus that’s how others should also think. He made a laborious effort to find Kim’s house. There was a rice paddy and field that spread out in front of his house, and the house had a very big main gate. 3
A reception room for entertaining male guests in a Korean traditional house.
He asked for the owner of the house and Kim actually came out. He was glad to see Hyeong-geun but he also seemed astonished. “Goodness, it’s you!” Kim neither spoke up nor talked down to him but used muddled speech. This was unexpected for Hyeong-geun. Even if the world as they knew it had ended, and Hyeonggeun had come to seek a favor, he should not talk to him in such a manner. “Enter.” This time, Kim spoke down to him. Hyeong-geun’s face turned white and then crimson. He did not respond. He stood in the yard, and just kept looking at the sun. The sun was half resting on the mountain yonder. But he resigned himself. More than anything, it was important that he had money in an era when he was forced to leave home to go work as a laborer. If you have money, anything is possible. You can become nobility and hire servants; therefore he was going to earn money to reclaim his past pedigree and have men serve him again. That is why he had to endure this moment. Because destiny had made him this way, he had no choice but to resign himself to the situation. In the past, the pedigree of aristocracy permitted one to get away even with murder and, similarly, it was now money that had replaced the aristocratic convention that it was all right to do anything. Therefore Hyeong-geun wanted to get to his destination and quickly make a fortune. He suppressed his rage and slept at Kim’s house. Kim treated his former young master well. Offering him a meal, he smiled, laying out the bedding, he smiled and seeing Hyeong-geun off, he smiled and asked him to come by often. Kim could not feel more gratified and pleased than now. It wasn’t anything special but that he became aware of that which he hadn’t given much thought. In short, he was happy he had become wealthy enough for his former master’s son to come begging to him for money and lodging at his house. Hyeong-geun was undecided. He had mulled it over since last night, abandoned the idea in rage, then again he decided to muster the courage to ask for money, which was the most important task at hand. Resolutely he spoke out, “Look here!” His voice trembling, Hyeong-geun could not help but feel utterly self-degraded. As though Kim had already sensed it, he smiled and in a patronizing manner gave him two-thirds the amount Hyeong-geun requested. Pocketing the money, he was enraged and cursed the man, but once again it dawned on him how important money was as he continued his journey.
Chapter 3 Hyeong-geun felt as though it wasn’t his legs that carried him on, but rather his head and arms. He arrived in Cheorwon three days later than he had planned. As he crossed the final bridge, he was relieved and glad. Hyeong-geun unslung his bindle; he looked forward to being rid of all his suffering and distress once he saw his hometown friend who invited him to come work here. But relieving his load was not to lighten his shoulder, but rather to put an even weightier burden on him. He felt an enormous disdain when he saw his friend. First of all, what he called his abode was more like an animal hut where a large group of men were huddled like pigs. Their home consisted of a place where the ground was dug up, rafters laid, covered with soil, and then with a bit of hay. In the room, the foot coverings and all worn-out socks with clay were strewn about and the room was filled with a suffocating smell one would encounter in a public bathhouse. Of course, there was no sunlight. It was very dark and where you couldn’t see anything, but men just rolling their eyes. Groping with his hands, he went inside. His foot tripped over someone’s buttocks and someone else’s lower back. Each time, they bellowed savagely like a starved beast. He sat where his friend suggested. His friend introduced him to the group. Everyone enthusiastically welcomed Hyeong-geun, the new person. From the far corner, even the man who was infected with malaria got up to greet him. The person just arriving was but bait to them, not a welcomed newcomer. They were out to swindle the new person out of his remaining travel money, hence they were showering him with all kinds of flattery and kindness in order to extract some rice wine if not a raw beef dish. A man tried to get friendly by saying he was from the same hometown. Another person kindly informed him that they had the same family name and the same family origin. And then another person told Hyeong-geun that their fathers had been close for generations and lamented over their belated meeting. That is how, by and by, the contempt, which Hyeong-geun had initially felt when he first entered the hut, turned into full faith in them and his heart was gradually filled with hope and joy. While taking a drink of rice wine at a nearby stand-up bar that evening with several men, he asked his friend who had written him, “Have you saved some money?” “Not yet. But I am sure I’ll be able to real soon.”
His friend spoke as though he were going to come into great wealth right away. He, for one, did not doubt that not too far in the future, a lump of gold was going to fall on his lap. “You don’t think I’d go back home, empty-handed, traveling thousands of li from home? It’s a bit of hard work but if I try and stick it out, then several hundred won would be a given.” Once more, Hyeong-geun felt a surge of confidence and instead of raw rice wine, he ordered a round of light and refreshing clear wine. “In any event, I ask all of you, who are much more experienced, to help me and guide me along,” Hyeong-geun requested with bleary eyes. “Don’t you worry. We are both in it for some hard work, and I think of you as my brother if not relative,” a laborer, who had his legs wrapped with puttees and wearing jika-tabi, replied. “Then I am going to put all my faith in you.” “I told you not to worry.” That evening, Hyeong-geun saw many amazing things. He saw a boisterous town and pretty girls who sold booze. He also learned the slang and the customs of the area. In a state of bewilderment, yet he managed to sleep in the hut that night, relaxed and content. Even thought a stinky foot landed on his nose and he was kicked on the side by log-like legs, he did not get angry but instead felt sympathy and pity for these men. He thought they were in for some hardship, for now, but once they made their money and returned to their hometowns, they would all live comfortable lives. Five o’clock, the next morning, Hyeong-geun saw a number of men who slept in the same room get up, and leave for somewhere, rubbing their eyes. They were men he had not seen when he arrived here yesterday and was not aware when they had come in at all. As he was leaving, no one gave a greeting or cast even a glance at him. The bustling, as the men went out, awakened the people next to them. After they had left, someone complained, “Son of a bitch, can’t they walk out quietly!” his eyes looking menacing, as though he had retaliation in store. Afraid of meeting his eyes, Hyeong-geun quickly closed his, yet doubting that the man would actually do something. The men, who had been so kind to him, could not possibly commit any violent act. Because he did not perceive the jealousy of the laborer, he did not understand how anyone who was in this kind of an environment could turn savage. When he narrowly opened his eyes again and cryptically looked around the room, he saw the crimson rays of the morning sun shining through the open bush clover twig door, and dust stirring up from the snoring of the indecent laborer, of whom he met earlier, sleeping on the floor, his nose flat against the mat. When morning came, the man with the jika-tabi, who greeted him yesterday, awoke Hyeong-geun.
“Wash your face.” He had got ready a small washbowl outside the hut. Hyeonggeun sincerely thanked him and did as told. Then he asked him where to get breakfast. “Just come with me.” Hyeong-geun wanted to look for his friend who wrote him but was more or less coerced to go with the man. They went to a pub and ordered hangover drink and soup. It was something he had never had in his hometown and he was told it was cheap. It was Hyeong-geun who paid, of course. All he had left in his pocket now was a twenty jeon4 silver piece and a few coins. But he believed he was sure to find work the next day. On the way back, the man asked him what Hyeong-geun had in his possession. He gave an answer: two unlined Korean cotton shirts, two Korean overcoats, and one pair of hemp socks. These were the things his father had procured and stashed them away when his family was absconding and his wife had included them in his pack before he left; they were Hyeong-geun’s precious items of pride and adornment of joy. When he heard it, the man snickered and mocked Hyeong-geun. “What’s the use of them, my fellow?” Hyeong-geun was rather embarrassed at being derided for something that he talked of with much pride but at the same time, he found it strange and surprising. At the thought of these things having no value whatsoever here at this place, he was ashamed of what he had said, yet he felt joy at the prospect of living a luxurious and illustrious life from now on. That evening, he was dragged out by the man wearing the jika-tabi. Inviting him to eat, the man added, “I will pay.” Hyeong-geun felt tipsy after a few cups of rice wine. The two men left the pub and as they were walking past the houses, he tapped Hyeong-geun, “Look here, I found you work.” Hyeong-geun’s eyes lit up. “Where at?” “Hee hee, I can’t just let you know for nothing. Take me out for a drink.” Hyeong-geun was happy but he remained mute to his demand that he buy him a drink. Like a half-dumb person, he just let out a throaty lament as an answer. After sounding him out a couple of times, the man, who viewed Hyeong-geun as a simpleton, let him in on a clever solution. They walked around in circles for no reason. “Let’s do this. They are useless once they’re sweat-ridden. Why don’t you get yourself a modest suit when you come into a little money. You can wear it for a long time
Formerly, in Korean currency, one won was divided into 100 jeon.
because it doesn’t get dirty and you’ll be treated nicer. People who dress in Korean attire here have no choice, but a young man like you can do anything. So why don’t you?” Hyeong-geun was unable to do right away what the man asked of him. It was too difficult a matter for him to think straight and make a decision. He was quite hesitant to decide and said, “Well, well…” and just kept walking behind him. “Look, it’s not good to be so indecisive. Do you know what kind of place this is, eh? It’s up to you. Do what you want.” The man told him angrily and was about to stalk off. But Hyeong-geun, who was soft-hearted, beckoned him, “There’s no need for you to get angry. I’ll do as you like.” “Who said I was angry? It’s just that you’re so slow in deciding.” Hyeong-geun sold his clothes.
Chapter 4 Dragged by his friend, Hyeong-geun entered a pub. He thought his friend was going to hand over the money to him from selling his clothes, but instead he walked briskly toward a place where a woman by the name of Yi-hwa served wine. “Just follow me. I’ll show you a very pretty dame!” Walking behind the man who boastfully led the way, Hyeong-geun was naturally drawn to seeing a pretty dame, but his heart was palpitating for he had never been near a woman of easy virtue, not to mention how he was thoroughly intimidated by this kind of women. “You have to learn to handle girls in a place like this.” Sensing his reluctance, the man snickered, thinking how Hyeong-geun was not yet a man. Hyeong-geun was a proud person and was ashamed and angry at being scorned by him, but then he lacked the confidence to fend him off. He just walked behind the man in uncertainty. Although he was following him, he was cautious and anxious, and worried about whether there was anything embarrassing about his body. The man walked up to the pub maru5 without any reservation. “Here, bring us some wine!” He yelled out for the proprietress with aplomb and gave a false cough. In the main room, a number of drunken people were talking out loud, like the merchants from the market, but ceased talking at the sound. What broke up the clamor, of the men’s thick and rough voices, was the soft voice coming from the proprietress. “Yes, I am coming.”
A traditional Korean wooden floor, which is raised above the ground for ventilation purposes.
The man blinked at the woman’s voice. He turned to look at Hyeong-geun once and, yelled even louder as though he hadn’t heard her. “The guests are here…is there no one here?” “I’m coming,” the woman raised her voice. The door opened and the woman’s dress brushed against it as she walked out. “Welcome to my place. Please come to the other room.” In Hyeong-geun’s eye, the woman called Yi-hwa—who had brushed her hair all back, applying some kind of oil to make it look shiny, her face powdered white, wearing cheap lipstick, and chewing gum noisily—did not only appear beautiful but also her dainty Korean socks were sufficient to titillate him. “It’s been a long time!” The man said, grabbing her hand. It was an act on his part to brag and show to Hyeong-geun how he had the means and was in a position to flirt and grab the hand of a beautiful woman like Yi-hwa. “Not quite.” Mending her hairdo in a carefree manner, Yi-hwa replied with indifference, as though she meant to say, don’t be too forward. “Well, I came by to share a drink with a friend of mine here.” Trying to appeal to her, the man looked at her eagerly. “Please go to the other room.” The two men went in. With a sly look, the man asked, “What do you think? She’s all right? Wait till I make her do a vocal performance.” Yi-hwa entered, carrying a table of food and drinks. Hyeong-geun had no idea that one could have a banquet in an indoor pub for just forty or fifty jeon. Even when his family had considerable wealth, he, as a child, never had this kind of food prepared for him. Instead of an urge to eat, his heart sank. How was he going to pay for this expensive course? He was worried and anxious but then he decided to put his faith in the man he came with. It was more like shirking it, and he did not feel comfortable. The drink was offered to him first. As though the woman was someone else’s wife, Hyeong-geun did not look at her until he accepted her cup of wine. It was not a lie to say that he now saw her clearly for the very first time. When he did see her, he was astonished to see the face of a woman he had least expected. It could have been a joyous encounter if he had viewed it that way or as a rather peculiar coincidence. The woman was from the same hometown as Hyeong-geun. She was from a reputable family and thus spent her childhood in the lady’s quarters, reading and learning, as someone of her background would. But unfortunately, when she turned thirteen her father passed away and her single mother had to raise her daughter by herself. Her family had always been modestly poor, yet noble; therefore even though they had relatives,
people had become less and less generous and no one really helped them. Hence, her mother went to her brother with her fourteen-year-old daughter, Yi-hwa. Since they lived in the same neighborhood, although they never talked, they knew each other. Therefore, when Hyeong-geun saw her again, he noticed how Yi-hwa had aged; yet she still had the same look from childhood. He wanted to scrutinize her but as it was an awkward thing for both of them, he instead stole furtive glances; the more he observed the more he espied her old face. But then, if she indeed was the maiden from the Lee family, then she should have recognized him or at least shown some indication. He was wrought with emotion but at the same time he couldn’t believe it and just sat at the corner of the table in deep reflection. “My fella, what are you thinking so hard?” The man asked him. Hyeong-geun raised his head, looked at Yi-hwa and said, “Nothing…” “Hmm, then why do you have your head down? Why don’t you introduce yourself to the lady?” Hyeong-geun had never been in a situation like this and therefore he was determined not to make a mistake and put himself in an embarrassing position. In order to feel calm, he coughed once uneasily. After Yi-hwa’s smooth self-introduction followed by Hyeong-geun’s awkward greeting, he asked her, “Where is your hometown?” “I am from the provinces.” “Did you not live in such-and-such district?” “Yes.” “Then do you know the Ji Family?” “Of course. They lived right next door. Do they still live there? I left so long ago.” “Yes. But your father, did he pass away when you were little?” “Yes, but how do you know that?” “I just do. Do you perhaps recognize me?” Yi-hwa took a long, careful look at him but shook her head as though she did not know who he was. “I’m not sure. You have a very familiar face but I can’t remember seeing you. Did you also live in such-and-such district?” “Hmm, it’s not too big a surprise that you don’t recognize your neighbor since it’s been a very long time. I am the son from the Ji Family.” “What?” Yi-hwa’s eyes widened and she was speechless. Hyeong-geun remained mute, like he was ashamed of his present status. Amazed that the two knew each other, the man clapped, and said with jealousy in his voice, “Ah, so you know each other. My, it’s like in a novel.”
“But how did you come here? Come to think of it, you did look familiar but I couldn’t have known even in my dream that it was you.” “I also thought likewise but I wasn’t certain. That is why I didn’t say anything although I was glad to see you.” Hyeong-geun was ignorant about the world. Although he was terribly glad to meet a maiden, who was now a fallen woman he knew from his hometown, upon reflection he felt irked and contemptuous toward her. He was incapable of observing, analyzing, and assessing the social and economic factors that enveloped the prostitute named Yi-hwa and how they influenced one another to result in her present condition. He would only rely on his simple sentiment and feeble speculation to reach a hasty conclusion and to cast judgment on the woman. Without giving a moment thought to the reason why Yi-hwa ended up here, that there might a bigger social cause, Hyeong-geun could only think that Yi-hwa must have committed a great sin or crime to descend to her present state. With that thought, he could only view Yi-hwa as a wicked woman he’d read about in old tales. All of a sudden, his gladness at seeing her vanished and finding her revolting, he wanted to get up and leave. All his hesitation, attempt at dignity, and awkwardness disappeared, and a sense of superiority and gallantry took over, as though he was standing before a repentant sinner. He even felt a kind, but senseless urge to admonish her so that she would change her ways. Hyeong-geun’s downfall, if not depravity, was nothing new to a woman like Yihwa; it could be seen as somewhat of a natural course of events in that the only son of a landowner, who was wealthy with much land, a lot to wear and eat, ended up as a laborer in Cheorwon, hanging out with a cheat among others to come for a drink that was forty, fifty jeon per round. It wasn’t like she did not feel shame over what she had become, but her embarrassment did not exceed her curiosity in wanting to find out about the son of the landowner Ji family. The man, who wanted to brag to Hyeong-geun by showing off his womanizing ways, found himself left out by two people who were rapt in a strangely emotional and tragic sentiment after discovering they were from the same hometown. Realizing either he had to partake in the mood or change it by disrupting them, he said jocularly, “Look here, it’s nice to meet your hometown friend, but can I have my drink?” Yi-hwa put on a forced smile so as not to upset her customer, and said, “Haven’t you heard of saying, how joyous it is to meet an old friend far away from home? I know you’re just saying that. Besides, you are an experienced drinker and you know the affairs of the world, so why are you being such a pighead?”
Yi-hwa then offered a smile. Her smile worked wonders and Jo Jusa’s6 heart was placated. “Hee hee, I’m not a pighead. I just wanted your attention.” “A subtle word is dearer. What do you want me to say in front of our guest here?” “Then when?” “Why do you have to ask? You know already….” She answers with a twinkle in her eye. “Right, right.” “Now be quiet. It’s only right that you be silent for a bit. Let me talk with our guest here.” She was about to turn to Hyeong-geun when she noticed Jo Jusa’s cup was empty. She offered him a drink, “Here, have a drink.” She then took the empty cup back from him and gave it to Hyeong-geun. “But how did you come here? It is a great joy to see you. It has already been seven or eight years since we went to live with my mother’s side of the family.” “It seems like it,” he said, heaving a sigh. “There is no need to say why I am here. But how did you end up here?” Hyeong-geun asked with pity in his voice. Jo Jusa heard him and said, “Why what’s wrong with this place? She’s going to be my lady before long.” He seemed to like what he said, and began laughing with glee. Hyeong-geun and Yi-hwa remained unresponsive. “What is the point of telling the story of how I’ve been all these while? It’s best not to hear it.” Her face is shadowed by consternation and her voice becomes sorrowful. “You will hear about it, by and by,” she said, lowering her head. “But I won’t get many chances like this. Since I am here, why not just talk about it? Pray tell, when did you come here?” Shoving his face, which looked like half-cooked horseflesh near Yi-hwa, Jo Jusa interrupted, “Has it been about six months? Maybe, right?” “Yes, it’s been about half a year,” Yi-hwa replied, distancing herself from him. Glaring at Yi-hwa, who turned away, Jo Jusa, who was tipsy from drinking six or more cups of wine, slapped his own face with his hand, and squawked like a heron, “Why, what’s the matter? Am I not a man? Do I have something on my face? Why do you avoid me?” He then joked, “Ha ha, what’s the use? There are all types of men. I am sorry. I’ll just stop.” “What’re you sorry about? Didn’t I tell you earlier, that you shouldn’t talk too much? Just be quiet.” “How?” “Like a maiden.”
Jusa is an honorific used in that bygone era.
Smiling with amusement, Hyeong-geun turned to Yi-hwa and asked, “How long did you stay at your uncle’s?” “About two years.” “After that?” Jo Jusa then started yelling, holding up his cup, “Pour me some wine! I’ve come here to drink, not to talk!” He spat into a small bowl on the side. “Look Mister, I beg your pardon. But you should at least drink if you want to talk. How about me who’s not talking? Have some manners.” “You’re right. Let us drink then. I am the one who should apologize.” “That’s not true. If I am getting in the way of your talk, then I shall leave.” This time, Yi-hwa turned acrid. “Have you gone out of your mind Jo Jusa? How unmanly of you to say something like that. You came together and now you want to leave by yourself? Go ahead. You are a fool, if you can’t,” Yi-hwa pouted. Jo Jusa got up to leave, without even taking his hat, when Yi-hwa stood up and gently clutched his clothes from behind him and said, “Are you really leaving? That’s too much. I am sorry. Please come back in.” Hyeong-geun, who was naïve and simple-minded, also felt anxious and got up to follow him. “Are you really angry? I’ll leave with you then.” “Let me just go. It isn’t fair.” “Be a good man. Please, come back in.” Jo Jusa pretended to give in, reentering the room. He sat down and took the cup of wine. “Where do you think I was going? Without my hat?” he chortled. Hyeong-geun found Jo Jusa displeasing and was chagrinned at being deceived by him, but at any rate, he was relieved. “You thought I was really stopping you from going? I was just fooling.” Yi-hwa said and another round of drinks was shared. Jo Jusa offered wine to Yi-hwa several times. She did not turn him down and drank them all. In Hyeong-geun’s mind, the whore called Yi-hwa was a sinner, who came from heaven and was exiled to this world as a black snake; he could only construe her life as similar to one of the three heavenly deities of long ago who ended up with the same fate as a result of his own fault. He believed that the precious, pristine, and beautiful things of long ago perished because of her own deed and what was left was evil and lecherous. In short, Yi-hwa was an embodiment of a sin that a heavenly daughter committed a long time ago. The kind-hearted will always be kind-hearted and the wicked will forever remain wicked. It is one’s destiny or fate. That was Hyeong-geun’s philosophy of life.
Thus Yi-hwa was born to be a fallen woman and therefore she cannot but be a whore. In her blood or heart, no other path for her was possible. As Hyeong-geun got more drunk, his feelings, which were pent up, got more intensified and began to take on the shape of burgeoning mushrooms in the rainy season. He wanted to pass on to Yi-hwa the lessons of his father that he himself had received. As an adult to a child, or as a friend to a friend, or as an older brother to his younger sister, he wanted to admonish and give advice to Yi-hwa. In other words, he was viewing her like an infidel maiden whom he would like to straighten out. “How could you be doing this?” Hyeong-geun tapped the table with the chopstick, and then spoke in a solemn and earnest voice, “You must think of your father and your family.” His words were not organized but they were guileless, sincere, and carried weight. “Seeing you in this place is more shameful than seeing my own sister.” Yi-hwa must have had much to say in her heart. But she remained silent. She just sat, listening to him. It became suddenly somber in the room. At first, Jo Jusa’s eyes widened in surprise but a little later, he snorted. “How much longer are you going to be like this? Can you change your ways in any way?” Yi-hwa looked at Hyeong-geun as though she couldn’t believe her ears. Then her eyes welled up with sorrowful tears. Seeing her in tears, Jo Jusa chided with feigned dignity, “When a guest speaks to you, you should heed his words instead of crying.” “You are dishonoring not only your father’s name…” Hyeong-geun stopped when he saw tears streaming down Yi-hwa’s cheek. He was too moved to figure out whether or not his emotions were hot or cold. But then he continued, “Shouldn’t you think of your mother?” “My mother is dead,” she said, and then burst into tears, crumbling to the floor. As Hyeong-geun watched Yi-hwa cry, rather than being astonished it felt more like he was witnessing a miracle. No tears would be forthcoming from him. Except for shedding uncontainable tears when his father passed away, Hyeong-geun had never sincerely cried from his heart. For him, his own father’s death was the most somber and mournful, if not the most tragic event of his life, and he had never cried that much before and would ever again. It will always be the most meaningful experience that he can remember. And sometimes this memory gave him an experience of a powerful and deeply felt passion from which he received a strange emotional baptism. Yi-hwa is crying. Like spring water that splashes more when one impedes it, her tears are seeping through his heart. Tears are a prelude to a tragedy and Hyeong-geun thought he was a witness to a great truth as he is observing this grief-stricken scene. It was not unlike the grief-stricken and solemn feeling he felt when his father died. 17
He found himself almost ready to cry. He felt his nose twitching and tears collecting in his eyes, but he restrained himself. However, he did not understand why Yi-hwa was crying. Jo Jusa, who was sitting next to Yi-hwa, shook her shoulders and spoke with a twisted tongue, “Come on, stop crying. I understand. I understand how you feel. So, stop crying and sit up. What’s the use of crying?” Hyeong-geun was thinking to himself, what do you know? Although he was curious to know whether or not there was indeed a deeper meaning, he sat back and said nothing. Then like Jo Jusa, he shook Yi-hwa by her shoulder and said, “Look, don’t cry. Stop it. Stop crying.” But Yi-hwa was heedless and kept on crying. Feeling awkward, Hyeong-geun remained quiet when Jo Jusa, who was annoyed at having his merry time wrecked, mumbled to himself, “Tears, tears, why tears, wrecking all the fun. Tsk, tsk.” Shortly, Yi-hwa rose and quietly went out of the room. “Let’s go,” Jo Jusa gave a sign to Hyeong-geun, clucking his tongue. He probably thought there was no more enjoyment to be had, and their money situation also mattered. Hyeong-geun, who was sitting vacantly like he had banged his head against a column, nodded his head. “Yes,” he said. But he just could not fathom why Yi-hwa was crying. A little later, she came back, having washed her hands and touched up her hair. Jo Jusa got up and paid. “Must you go now? Is it because of my bad manners?” Yi-hwa apologized. Jo Jusa feigned politeness, “Not at all. We’ll come again.” His curiosity not satiated, Hyeong-geun followed him. Jo Jusa had gone out the door. As Hyeong-geun was about to exit, she told him quietly, “Please visit again some other time.” Hyeong-geun left without responding. “I did not enjoy it.” Jo Jusa said, smirking at Hyeong-geun who didn’t care about that but was more keen about Yi-hwa’s incomprehensible tears. “Why on earth did Yi-hwa cry so?” he asked. Shaking his finger and clucking his tongue, Jo Jusa replied, “It’s useless. Women are all the same. She probably thinks you are still well-off like you had been in the past.” “You mean, she covets my money?” “Of course. She wants you to rescue her from that place.” “Rescue?” “She was sold to that place.”
Chapter 5 “I’ll be back shortly,” said Jo Jusa and slipped to the roadside. “All right. I’ll be waiting,” said Hyeong-geun and he straddled the main road, still inebriated. The dry goods and the general merchandise stores, lit with brilliant lights, lined the streets and Hyeong-geun saw something that he wanted to have all his life—a bicycle, tens of them, which were side by side. With great curiosity, he went closer and took a look before turning around, thinking, “Once I make much money, I’ll be sure to get one.” He made an oath and was reminded of the district official, of whom he had envied, on his bicycle in his hometown. Daydreaming about the bicycle, Hyeong-geun found himself fantasizing about himself as the district official in suit, and then again he became a wealthy provincial gentleman; but tripping over a rock, he returned to being Ji Hyeong-geun who had come to Cheorwon to work as a laborer. He left the main street to turn into an alley where an uncomfortably warm wind embraced him. He saw a country maiden go past him and suddenly thought of Yi-hwa. Amidst tormented fervor, triggered in his young blood by the effect of alcohol, he was reminded of Yi-hwa. “If what Jo Jusa said was true then there must be some conscience left in Yi-hwa. But then there’s nothing I can do, even for an old acquaintance from my hometown, as fate is against us,” bemoaned Hyeong-geun. “Although who can take the tears of a whore sincerely? You can’t trust anyone.” As though he was a man of much worldly experience, Hyeong-geun made up his mind in a dignified manner and shook his head and hands like there was someone before him. He arrived at the hut. The smell, of the outgrown bushes outside and the clay that covered the hut, suffocated him. The laborers had their tops and trousers off and were lying on the straw mat, snoring, lamenting about money, some were sitting up with their legs together, and one man was playing a Korean flute. In one corner, some grass was burning as mosquito repellant, so potent, like burning pepper, that one had a hard time opening his eyes. Hyeong-geun walked past several men but there was hardly anyone who greeted him. Then a man who was tall with a thick beard, a dark complexion and big eyes sneered at him, “Great time, you’re having, going out drinking everyday. Jo Jusa is your only friend and people like us cannot be your friends, shunning us… A young man, getting hooked on such a place…tsk.”
Hyeong-geun was at a loss for words and said hesitantly, “I am sorry.” But at the same time, he thought the man was transgressing the boundary by calling him a young man and admonishing him. He was going to take note of this man. For a second, he thought he would like to stay outside the hut and chat with the laborers but he felt slighted by the man’s words and decided to go in. Inside the hut, the smell of men, the stench from the foot wrappings mingled with heat, gave off an indescribably foul reek. Just like there is a stinking smell of the fox in its lair, there is also the particular smell of a laborer in some men. Hyeong-geun was just amazed how it could be a completely different world between Yi-hwa’s place, which was only several li away, and the hut where he was at now. Yi-hwa was only a whore. And he was someone from a reputable family who was here to earn a living in a hard way. He could not help being wary of the great disparity between them. He was groping his way into the hut when someone said, “Where have you been? I was looking for you.” It was his hometown friend. “I got very worried, thinking you might’ve lost your way. So I was looking for you all over. Have you had dinner yet?” For some reason, Hyeong-geun was ashamed to tell him that he had been at Yihwa’s place. He was certain that his friend would reproach him if he were to tell him. Hyeong-geun also felt he had gone beyond his means to have sold his clothes so he could go to her place of business. Therefore, he lied instead, “I looked for you, too.” Then he continued in a mumble, “Jo Jusa offered to buy me a drink… So I had some wine. I am very sorry you couldn’t come with me but you were nowhere to be found…” His friend from hometown did not doubt Hyeong-geun’s words in the least and said, “Well, stop going out from now on. You’ve no idea what kind of place this is. Don’t go around with that guy, Jo Jusa. Here, it is a difficult place to make friends.” Hyeong-geun, peeved, didn’t say anything. For the most part, he agreed with his friend but he disagreed with his friend’s advice not to be on close terms with a person like Jo Jusa, thinking his friend was jealous about him, but he did not express his feelings. In silence, he went to one corner and lay down. He forced himself to sleep by closing his eyes but the sultry air filled his nose, chasing sleep away and he wanted to get out of this nauseating place. Amidst the beasts lying in a row, craving after money, his thoughts were only on Yi-hwa. From the edge of darkness, a Korean flute, which sounded like it was imploring and weeping in a tantalizing tune, seeped through the hut and swept over Hyeong-geun’s body and soul, and his heart was set hopelessly ablaze. He felt as though he was taking a leisurely stroll, like in a tranquil dream putting him in a languid state; then again, his 20
heart was in turbulence, like a small boat against the perilous waves, and he was not sure how he could appease the terrifying passion in him. Hyeong-geun got up, and went outside. He walked to the field, then climbed up the rear hill and down again. He repeated sitting down and standing up. The stars were twinkling and there was a cluster of dew on the grass.
Chapter 6 Next day, the sun rose on the east hill, the sun that was life itself. The sun that was about absolute warmth and a bright future. Where the sun is absent, there is no life. The copper sunlight illuminated the warm room and the light of life also shone on the laborers, en masse, like maggots. Hyeong-geun washed up after he awoke. After cleaning himself, he stood before the field with the morning fog and breathed in the boundless energy. In the vast field where the rice plants were coming into ear, where the sunlight was reflected radiantly, Hyeong-geun lifted his arms up and down for he felt as though he was being recharged with unknowable energy. Hyeong-geun waited with a group of men for their meal. It was cooked rice mixed with millet in a porcelain bowl with a piece of pickle, if not two slices of turnip on top. If you were late, you could miss your chance or not get enough; hence, it was Hyeonggeun’s creed to be thankful for the food, work diligently and put up with a little bit of hardship—that is how he consoled himself. Hyeong-geun waited for his food, like the others. Next to him, there were two or three men he went out drinking with yesterday and the day before yesterday. They gave Hyeong-geun a suspicious glance two or three times and then one of them spoke to him courteously, “Hello, there.” “Yes?” he answered. Everyone seemed gentle and kind, like himself. “I am very sorry but if you have any money on you, could I possibly borrow twenty jeon?” Hyeong-geun felt more apologetic than the man who asked him and his face flushed red. He thought the man must feel as awkward as he would if he himself had to borrow money from someone. He rummaged through his pockets. Remembering he had twenty jeon left from the pub last night, he offered it to him without a moment’s hesitation. “Yes, I happen to have twenty jeon on me. Here it is,” he loaned it to the man with delight and a smile. He thought the man would pay him back later. “Thanks very much. I’ll pay you back tonight,” the man said, and whispering to the others, he walked away.
As he had been waiting for some time, Hyeong-geun became hungry. When he looked around, he saw they were also waiting around with leisure, not like the people who were going to work. On one side, there was a man arguing about a five jeon Danpoong brand cigarette with another man who refused to give it to him. Shortly, his hometown friend showed up. “Food is ready. Let’s go eat,” he said, and then asked Hyeong-geun, “Do you have money for the food?” “Money for the food?” Hyeong-geun asked in surprise. “Why, did you think it was free food? It costs fifteen jeon.” Hyeong-geun was dumbstruck. From the day he arrived, he thought that he simply had to depend on others and they had also told him not to worry; therefore, he had just not been thinking, not to mention the twenty jeon he gave away this morning. “Do you have to pay for every meal?” “Who else would pay for it? There’s no way.” Thinking that Hyeong-geun must at least have some money, his friend said, “Come on. Let’s pay.” Hyeong-geun got anxious and confessed to his friend that he had no money on him. His friend from hometown was someone who was indebted to Hyeong-geun. Belonging to the same gentry class, his friend’s father owed Hyeong-geun’s family, who was then well off, and knowing his friend’s father’s distress, Hyeong-geun’s father wrote off his debt in a chivalrous manner. The two sons have now met again and still harboring the memory of Hyeonggeun’s father’s benevolent deed, his hometown friend did not scorn Hyeong-geun. “Let’s go eat.” Hyeong-geun ate with his friend. But he felt quite apologetic to him and felt he owed his friend. After breakfast, giving Hyeong-geun lunch money, his friend said, before he went away, “Don’t go anywhere with anyone and don’t listen to anyone who says there’s work for you.” Bored, Hyeong-geun walked back and forth. He waited for Jo Jusa, of whom he was sure would come today. It was already two o’clock in the afternoon but Jo Jusa did not come. On one hand, he was worried about not having work, and then, on the other hand, he thought he would discuss everything with Jo Jusa when he arrived. He was also reminded of Yi-hwa crying and how she had quietly asked him to come by. After one night and day, he could not bear it, for his heart was yearning to see her again. He went up the hill to see if he could spot Yi-hwa’s house. But he was unfamiliar with the place and couldn’t figure out the directions of the crowded streets; hence, he just
looked from the east to west where the sun rose and set, and then later he fixed his gaze on the south, in the direction where his hometown was, only to fall asleep on the grass. When he awoke, the sun was already setting in the west. Like a person startled by something, he suddenly got up on his feet and hurried to the hut. He was not only late for the mealtime but he was also worried that Jo Jusa might have come by with a job for him, yet left without seeing him. Five days, then ten days passed like that. He ran into Jo Jusa in the marketplace once or twice but he just snorted, avoided Hyeong-geun, and was not the same as before. His hometown friend, who was reticent, did not say anything but he didn’t seem too pleased. Moreover, he had to wear the same clothes in a filthy place, in the hot weather, making his body reek of sweat, sticky and unpleasant. Hyeong-geun finally learned how ungenerous men could be where there were many people. He realized that there was no one willing to help him and everybody was out to devour each other. Not only that, in his province he had belonged to the landed gentry and even though he had not much to eat, at least people recognized him for who he was, but here a man by the name of Ji Hyeong-geun lacked an identity. It would not have mattered much if that was all, but here he had to beg from others, not having anything to wear or anything to eat, which made him afraid. He had mocked Yi-hwa for being a whore, but reflecting on how he was now a beggar, he could not help feeling shame. It had been over ten days since he came here, but he had not got close to getting a job. It wasn’t just him, but there were more than ten men who slept in the same hut in the same condition. Thinking it strange, he asked one day, “You’re not doing anything because there’s no work?” They looked at each other and one of them replied, “That’s right. Because of the war conditions, the Japanese are not doing any work in the summer. That’s why jobs are scarce. But come fall, it’ll get better.” “Why, will the Japanese spend money in the fall?” “Of course. A huge sum was spent last fall. People used to say, it was a downpour of money.” “Is that right?” was all Hyeong-geun could say. “Just wait till fall. Things will be better. Look over there,” the man pointed at the railroad, “A mountain of money went into building that. It was appalling.” Hyeong-geun’s mood was uplifted. He thought, come fall, he would come into perhaps not a mountain of gold but at least a small mound. At the thought of making money, he couldn’t help thinking of Yi-hwa. When he thought of her, he wanted to go to her place. The young heart was vainly trying to possess a shadow. 23
Every night, he loitered around Yi-hwa’s house. He went there, hoping to catch a glimpse of her shadow but no such a coincidence took place. He goes and returns hopelessly, and vows not to go back again. He does not just make an oath but he contemns, curses, and spits at her. But the next day he finds himself automatically turning in the direction of her house, and knowing it is all in vain, he cannot help himself. One day, he made his usual trip to her house and took a peek into her place. It was a very bold gesture. As though someone was going to come after him, he turned around, feeling panicky. As he went around the corner, he took a look back and saw the man coming out of the house. It was undoubtedly Jo Jusa. Suddenly, Hyeong-geun felt an intense surge of jealousy from within and his eyes flashed like lightning. If he had a sharp knife on him, he would have killed Jo Jusa right there, if not, he thought he would have died. He could not sleep a wink that night. He was overcome with excess energy and courage, along with shapeless resolution, besieged him. He was determined to see Yi-hwa the next day, even if it meant death. But he had no means of seeing her. Reflecting on his present circumstances, he was embarrassed and he had no money yet in his pocket. With his eyes closed, he began to think. “My heart has decided.” But just as one would have a hard time knowing whether he is on air or not unless he is actually on an airplane, Hyeong-geun was not quite sure whether his heart was indeed set or not. He tried to look into himself in a cool-headed way, yet when he thought of Jo Jusa, he was able to see them clearly but not himself. There is no one who will disagree that poverty leads to sin. Hyeong-geun had come to a point where he was willing to try anything. He thought of his hometown friend. He did not know how much his friend had saved up till now, but Hyeong-geun had seen him take out his leather wallet on a chain to look for something. At first he thought, “But how could I possibly ask him to lend me money?” Then he thought, “What would I tell him I needed the money for?” “But he has to loan me at least some money,” he thought again, but he could not bring himself to ask him. “Ah, I should just give it up. Here’s where my heart is starting to lead me astray,” and he thought it best to give up sooner than later and walked around in circles. That evening, his hometown friend was looking for Hyeong-geun. “My friend, there’s work for you,” he said. It was very unexpected for Hyeonggeun, who became so excited that his fingers began shaking. 24
“Where at?” “Be quiet. If others hear about it, they’ll take it.” “Let us go to Gimhwa the day after tomorrow. I have also asked the foreman there about a job for you. The pay is good and the work is not too hard.” Hyeong-geun was glad with the news but his heart ached to some extent. “Gimhwa?” he asked, with his eyes open wide. “It’s quite a distance from here, isn’t it?” “Not so. Just half a day trip.” The two men agreed to leave two days later. While being grateful, yet Hyeonggeun was agitated and couldn’t sit still. After dinner, he sat by the hut again. He let out a sigh, thinking he was not going to get to see Yi-hwa once more. Recalling how she had asked him to come by again, he felt obliged to visit her at least once out of courtesy—then what came to his mind was the paper bills that were in the pocket of his hometown friend. “I couldn’t ask him. No, I will never do that.” Just thinking about it made him shudder. “Since there is work in store for me, I don’t have to worry about paying him back later,” Feeling smug Hyeong-geun became reassured and it no longer felt all that humiliating to visit Yi-hwa. “Men must abide by certain principles, but I can’t live like this…” When the sun went down and it got dark, Hyeong-geun felt forlorn and lonely. He went for a walk, smoking a cigarette, and thinking he had only tonight or tomorrow evening. When he returned, he saw his hometown friend, who was not much of a drinker, heavily drunk and all alone on the straw mat. “What’s going on?” Hyeong-geun went over to his friend who was sound asleep. His heart began to thump, like there was a pretty woman lying all by herself in front of him, and he felt like he was being given a special message, like lightning that flashed through his head. Similarly, Hyeong-geun saw a man with money in his pocket, lying unconscious with no one around him, and he, who had a desperate need for money, felt a terrifying impulse to commit a crime. But at the moment of realizing how he had felt a sinful impulse, he clenched his teeth, shook his head in anguish, and deeply repented in his heart. Hyeong-geun felt apologetic to his old friend for feeling this way toward him. “My friend, the chilly dew will do you harm. Let’s go in.” He shook him awake, his voice trembling with fondness. “Yes, yes, I know.” But his friend turned the other way, breathing heavily, and snoring loudly. “I better get him up.” As Hyeong-geun tried again to lift him, he could not help looking for his friend’s wallet. 25
He raised him by holding him up from under his friend’s armpits. Opening his eyes to see Hyeong-geun, his friend went back to sleep. His hometown friend was naïve about people. Hyeong-geun’s hand reached for his friend’s wallet. But feeling no strength in his legs, he almost dropped his friend instead of stealing the wallet. He made an attempt to drag his friend into the hut. A group of men, who were witness to this scene, were talking to themselves but no one offered to help. Inside the hut, there was no one. In the darkness, Hyeong-geun stood there, carrying his friend. Not putting him down or laying him, he was at the crossroads of a terrifying struggle. He closed his eyes, and then opened them and as he lay his friend down, he snatched the wallet. He felt a strange kind of pleasure and release by his action. He lay his friend down and fled. Letting out a long sigh, he couldn’t bring himself to look at the wallet. In the midst of feeling relief and fear, he just could not open the wallet and kept on walking. Grappling the wallet in his hand, after some hesitation, he began walking toward Yi-hwa’s place. On his way, he opened the wallet in a dark and obscure place. He froze like a person overcome by a potent force when he saw how much was in the wallet. “Ay,” he gasped. In his hand was three ten won pieces. “I’ve made a grave mistake.” Hyeong-geun could not move. He had wanted to borrow but a fraction of this money. The amount he had in his hand was scary even to look at. But he could not return it to him or do nothing. For quite a long time, he could not calm his shaking hands, and then he made up his mind. “I will bring it back to him before he becomes sober. I’ll let him know how much I spent.” Hyeong-geun forced himself to calm down and finally arrived at Yi-hwa’s place. With a timid but palpitating heart not much different from his last visit, he entered. He ordered a drink. He was, in effect, requesting Yi-hwa’s company. But even though he was sure of hearing her voice in the smaller quiet room, another woman, instead of Yi-hwa, greeted him. He was taken to the same room as before. The straw curtain was rolled up so he was able to see inside. He was disappointed that his request did not get heeded but he ordered wine anyway. Carrying the drink, the new woman looked at Hyeong-geun from top to bottom. “Did you come alone?” she asked. “Do you see anyone else here?” The woman laughed, covering her mouth. “Here, have a drink.” “I would like to drink but I am here to see Yi-hwa.” 26
“What?” the woman asked and laughed again. “You don’t find me pretty? How long have you known Yi-hwa?” Hyeong-geun was annoyed with the woman, who kept talking in a trite manner, even though he was trying to keep his dignity. “Is Yi-hwa not here? Tell her there is someone who wants to see her.” The wench walked out and hollered so that everyone could hear. “Yi-hwa, Yi-hwa, your najimi7 is here. Please show yourself.” She then burst into laughter. Yi-hwa, who was having an intimate chat with a guest, opened the door and peeked. “What is it? What’s the matter with her? Has she lost her mind?” she said, then saw Hyeong-geun in the other room. “I see who’s here,” she said, nonchalantly to herself and turned around. The young man, a district official, who was in the same room, peeked outside and sneered, “That is your najimi?” “How could you say that, Yi Jusa…” “He says he must see you. So please!” the wench was insistent. “Why does he want to see me so?” Yi-hwa said, and then considered Yi Jusa’s mood. She felt slightly uneasy. “Do a good deed for yourself and go see him. Are you uncomfortable on account of me? There’s no need.” “Goodness, how can you speak that way? I am not a caged animal. I do as I wish. Life is short.” “Who is he anyway?” “A neighbor from my hometown.” In the interim, Hyeong-geun was alone in the room, getting bored and antsy and being in an intractable mood, he didn’t feel like staying or leaving. What made it worse, the bitch, Yi-hwa, was sitting in the other room with another man and looking over at him like a caged monkey belonging to a man from Qing China, and making him furious and disgusted. “What can she do about her inherent character? She’s a born whore,” he was grumbling to himself when the wench, who first greeted him, came back. “You weren’t too bored? Yi-hwa is coming now,” she said, pouring him a drink. “Would you like fruit? I’ll bring you some. We can have it with Yi-hwa.” She brought the fruit and starts gorging on it. No matter how much he waited, Yi-hwa did not come. She must still be with the man in the other room. Hyeong-geun did not feel like drinking alone. He therefore shared the drink with the wench, who sensed he was naïve and inexperienced, and she tried to hustle him as much as she could. But going by his appearance, she hadn’t resorted to the most drastic means. 7
This means a “regular customer” in Japanese.
An hour went by. Hyeong-geun again asked the wench to fetch Yi-hwa. Being a little drunk, she wouldn’t listen to him and gave him this and that excuse. Being drunk himself, Hyeong-geun, too, was emboldened. “Go get her,” he shouted. “No.” “Why not?” Realizing the ruckus taking place in the other room was on account of her, Yihwa came out of her room. “Where’re you going?” the district official, who was very drunk, grabbed her skirt. “It’ll just be a moment.” “No!” Knowing he was quick-tempered but harmless, she brushed past him. “Why not? It will just be a few minutes. I’m not running away.” The district official was enraged. He got up. Yi-hwa did not go to Hyeong-geun’s room but to another room. The drunken district official threw the bamboo curtain in Hyeong-geun’s room on the ground, then cursed him, “You bastard! If you’re here for a drink, behave yourself. What do you want to do with Yi-hwa? A bum like you knows what a woman tastes like? Indeed, you look like scum who would be after a woman’s ass.” Hyeong-geun glared at him in disbelief. “You dare look at me? Is there something on my face? Haack, pthu.” Then angrily spitting on the floor he hollered, “Where the hell is Yi-hwa? Eh, where did she go?” Everyone, including those who were in the other rooms, came out. She heard him and ran out to placate the district official, giving a signal to Hyeong-geun. “C’mon Honorable Yi Jusa, what is the matter with you? Have you had too much to drink? Let us go into the room,” She calmed him down, and then said, “I am very sorry. He is usually not like this but he’s a little inebriated. Please have sympathy. Have a drink.” The district official was still taunting Hyeong-geun. “You scum, how dare you, a mere laborer, behave this way before someone like me?” The young blood in Hyeong-geun, who was attached to social convention, was seething. He did not by any means consider himself a laborer. He was the son of the local landed gentry and was from an influential family. Even though his body was close to being inert, his heart and energy were still pulsating. “What? Me, a laborer?” For Hyeong-geun, there was no greater insult than this. He turned his fierce gaze at the district official. “You bastard, then what else are you?” “Please stop it. Go into the other room.” Yi-hwa intervened. Hyeong-geun shook her off. As he rejected her, he did not say it out loud but his whole body seemed to be 28
telling her, “Filthy woman. Nothing but a whore!” With the hand he had brushed off Yi-hwa, Hyeong-geun smacked Yi Jusa who fell, rolling on the ground. “Look at this scum. He struck me,” the district official said, taking off his top attire and was about to attack Hyeong-geun. “See if you can hit me again!” Men rushed out from other rooms and those entering through the door, and looked at him with rage, then asked Yi Jusa, the district official, “You’re not injured, are you? What on earth is going on? Tell us.” Yi-hwa, who was standing by Hyeong-geun did not say anything—neither did the wench. “Who started it?” asked someone. Then one of them, who was very tall with a scraggly beard, stepped forward and said, “Look here, my friend, a young man like yourself should drink quietly and not strike someone. You want a taste of it yourself?” With a hand that was as big as a large shovel, the man slapped Hyeong-geun who groaned with intense pain. Unable to say anything, he could only cover his cheek. Hyeong-geun was repeatedly punched and kicked, making him delirious and his eyes blurry. Groaning, he pleaded, “I didn’t do anything wrong.” “You scum, shut up. You’d better get to know the world a little,” the man punched Hyeong-geun one more time, ripping his clothes, and blood was running down his face. Yi-hwa got on the maru and said, “Please go get the police, Mr. Park. This is terrible. I said, stop it!” Hearing the word police, Hyeong-geun came to his senses like he was awakened from a dream. “Yi-hwa wants to turn me over to the police…” He gathered all his strength in the midst of being beat up. The superhuman energy in him enabled Hyeong-geun to run to the door, past a crowd and out of the place. He ran unflinchingly. But it was too late. There was a man entering the house as he ran out. But Hyeong-geun failed to see him. The man saw Hyeong-geun and swiftly ran after him. Hyeong-geun’s legs were about to give out, like when one is rapidly going downhill and losing control. He did not see anything. The houses and people flashed by him like shooting stars. The man was still pursuing him. “A thief?” was what Hyeong-geun heard as he ran away. “Thief? Then it can’t be me.” He knew instinctively why he was fleeing but he must not have been fully conscious. Thinking he was not a thief, he kept running. At last he arrived at the hut. 29
After calling out his friend’s name, he collapsed with exhaustion. The policeman and the detective searched his body and found the wallet that belonged to his hometown friend. “Is this what you’ve been looking for? Are you sure?” His friend’s eyes became wide open. “Hyeong-geun would not have stolen it.” “Stop the nonsense. All that matters is if it’s yours. Is it?” the policeman pressed him. “Yes,” his friend barely answered. “If I had known, I wouldn’t have notified the police...Hyeong-geun, wake up. Please get up so that we can talk frankly. I cannot believe what happened.” He began crying. Hyeong-geun lay still.
Chapter 7 The same day, Hyeong-geun spent the night in police detention. After a difficult interrogation, he was handed over to the prosecutor’s office. The next day, the following article appeared in a newspaper. Ji Hyeong-geun, born in such-and-such a place, working as a laborer in such-andsuch district in Cheorwon, stole thirty won from his hometown friend while he was drunk and asleep. He spent the money extravagantly in a pub called Yi-hwa in such-and-such neighborhood and was arrested by a Cheorwon police detective. He was interrogated and turned over to the prosecutor’s office.
Published on Sep 16, 2015
Na Do-hyang (1902 - 1927)’s real name is Kyung-son and his pen name is Bin. He was born in 1902. After graduating from Baejae Normal High S...