The Drifters Hyun Kyung-jun Translated by Mi-Ryong Shim
The Drifters By Hyun Kyung-jun Translated by Mi-Ryong Shim
Literature Translation Institute of Korea
Originally published in Korean as Yumaeng in Inmunpyeongron, 1940 Translation ⓒ 2015 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 Hyun, Kyung-jun (The) drifters [electronic resource] / by Hyun Kyung-jun ; translated by Mi-Ryong Shim. -- [Seoul] : Literature Translation Institute of Korea, 2015 p. 원표제: 유맹 Translated from Korean ISBN 978-89-93360-74-5 65810 : Not for sale 813.61-KDC6 895.733-DDC23
About Hyun Kyung-jun Hyun Kyung-jun was born in the town of Myeongchon in North Hamgyeong Province in 1909. In the late 1920s, he traveled to Siberia and then went to Japan for his study. He began his career as a writer in 1934 with the serialization of his work “The Sun of the Heart” in the daily Joseon Ilbo and the selection of his short story “Raging Waves” in the prestigious Annual Spring Literary Contest. In the following years Hyun came to establish himself as a writer who exposed the violent reality of the period through the style and techniques of literary realism and Hyun, along with the writer Kim Jeong-han, continued to write tendency literature after the formal dissolution of KAPF. In his 1937 short story “Star,” he featured as the main character a teacher who wages a lonely fight against the problems of the educational system during the period of Japanese colonial rule. In his 1938 work “A Sketch Album,” he vividly portrayed the exploitation of the Korean migrant farmers in the areas of Northern Gando (Jiandao) in northeast China. Like An Su-gil and Kang Kyung-ae, Hyun is recognized as a writer who wrote realistic accounts of the lives and experiences of ethnic Koreans in the Northern Gando area.
About “The Drifters” The plotline of Hyun Kyung-jun’s “The Drifters” (1940) portrays a state-regulated Manchurian village where opium addicts and smugglers are “rehabilitated” under the watchful guidance of the village training center. One of the occupants of the village is Myeong-u, an artist who became a drug addict from the pain of losing his lover. The director of the training center tries to lead Myeong-u onto the path of redemption with the belief that a piece of his conscience still remains intact. In addition to receiving care from the director, Myeong-u comes to slowly regain his humanity by falling in love with Sunnyeo, an innocent young woman who also resides in the village. Despite its melodramatic storyline, the fictional work can be traced back to the travel writing that the author published in 1939 after visiting a training center called Daeisugu in Manchuria, and the preface of “The Drifters” identifies it as a work in the genre of reportage literature with its emphasis upon providing journalistic depictions of actually observed events.
Writer’s note: This is little more than a written report. It is the first such report, and I intend to follow it with several more on the circumstances of the village’s resuscitation. Lastly, I would like to note that the situations recorded here took place some three years ago.
I. First Escape It was a sweltering midday. The heat was enough to nearly drive a person mad; no matter how often you wiped away the sweat, you’d soon be soaked again. Panting in the heat, the director of the training center was struggling mightily to write a report on the progress made by the occupants of the village. It was the sixth of such reports sent to the provincial office. He had started work on the report yesterday. There was a breeze blowing in from the open window in the rear of the office, but it was as hot as the air from a burning furnace. Water dripped from the towel he was using to wipe off his sweat. Parts of his reddened, burnt face were dark now, as if touched by poison. The clerk from the citizens’ self-defense troop1, who was watching the director from his seat near the door, was so agitated by this that he went outside and came back with a basin overflowing with cold water. “Here sir, to wipe off the sweat.” “Oh? Thanks.” The director took off his shirt and plunged his head in the water. “Ah! That’s nice and cool.” All the sweat glands in his body seemed to close up instantly. “Oh, that’s great! So refreshing.” Watching the director shiver with pleasure, the clerk smiled, satisfied. Just then someone ran into the yard, his unkempt hair flopping in the wind. He stopped in front of the opened door, and managed to blurt out, “Director, big trouble!” but he was too winded to continue. The director stared at the man in surprise. He swiped the water from his face with the back of his hand to stop it from running into his eyes, then turned to the man belligerently. 1
Jawidan, or self-defense troop, was an unofficial military force set up in rural areas of Manchuria (or northeast China) during the period of Japanese domination.
“What trouble?” “Well, um, Seongryong and Munsam ran away.” “What?!” The director said with a start, rushing toward the door. “Seongryong and Munsam did what now?” “That is… they ran away.” “What? When?” “Just now… they climbed over the mountain ridge out back.” “Who… who saw them? Did you see them?” Threatened by the director’s seeming readiness to pounce and grab him by the throat, the man backed away instead of speaking up. “Why aren’t you answering? I asked, did you see them?” “No, no, I didn’t see them, sir. Um, Giho saw them while he was guarding the north gate.” “What? Giho did? So you didn’t see them yourself?” The director took one step closer to the man, clenching his fists. “Well, I did see them.” “Then how did you lose them?” “By the time I spotted them, they were already over the top of the ridge.” “And where did Giho go then?” “He ran up after them.” The director gritted his teeth and stared off into the distance. He snapped back to attention and turned to the clerk from the self-defense troop and said, “Hurry and go alert the captain. Then sound the alarm for an emergency meeting.” He hurried into the room, but then spun back around. “No, sound the bell first, then the captain,” he said, running over to a corner of the room to take down a large cane hanging on the wall. Someone had already sounded the bell; the loud clanging reverberated through the area. The director rushed out the door. It happened to be lunchtime, so the members of the citizens’ self-defense troop assembled in no time. Sejun, the captain of the self-defense troop and also the head of the village, emerged from the clamor of the disorderly crowd and stood rather sheepishly and apologetically in front of the director of the training center. “Director sir, I don’t know what to say.” “You can put away your apologies for now, let’s go after them.” The director snapped impatiently, exasperated with how slowly the captain seemed to be moving. “Yes, sir.” Captain Sejun moved aside as if rebuked, then turned a completely different demeanor to the assembled troops as he shouted, “Squad One and Squad Two, you go over the top of the lower ridge there and keep a lookout along the river. Squad Three and Squad Four, you go over the top of the ridge on the right and make sure they
can’t get over the high peak. Squad Five, you’ll follow me so we can get those runaway bastards.” Upon receiving their orders, the raucous troops ran out of the earthen walls surrounding the village, trailed by the director, his fists tightly clenched.
2. The troops followed the trail and combed the forests until sunset, but the whereabouts of the two runaways remained unknown. The search party had no choice but to trudge back to the village, where they plopped down haphazardly in the front yard of the training center. There they remained in complete silence, every mouth clamped shut. The silence of the director weighed the heaviest of all. He sat wearily down on a stone slab in front of the doorway. He sat there for a while lost in thought, his mouth tightly drawn and an indescribably sad look on his face. The captain took in the director’s visage, an expression of terrible shame on his own face. He tried to read the director for any signs, but the man’s face remained completely blank and not a single muscle twitched. Even the children who usually gathered after sunset to cause a ruckus were now huddled in a corner, wary of the adults’ mood. A considerable amount of time seemed to have passed in heavy silence until finally the director sighed deeply. Darkness had already fallen when he called out, “Captain.” “Yes sir?” The captain, waiting nervously, immediately jumped to the director’s side to receive any orders. “We can dismiss the men now.” “Yes, sir.” “We have a few matters to discuss, captain, so let’s go into the office.” “Yes, sir.” As ordered, the captain dismissed the men on the spot and timidly followed the director into the office. Inside, the director and the captain contemplated each other in silence from across the desk between them. Several moments passed with only an uncomfortable air hanging between the two men; not a single word was exchanged. At last the director slowly raised his head and said in a low voice, “Here is the matter at hand: as this escape is the first such incident in the village since its establishment, we must set up measures to fully tackle this problem. What are your thoughts on this matter, captain?” The director’s tone remained as courteous as before. The captain responded in agreement. “What you say is correct. We should definitely do as you say. If we shrink away from the matter, similar incidents might well follow so we should be sure to correct such attitudes at the first opportunity.”
The director nodded and continued, “If we notify all the police stations and villages and continue to search for the runaways, we should be able to find them in two or three days, but it’s a terrible shame that people outside the village will know about it. Furthermore, when the news reaches the provincial or prefectural levels, how will I be able to face them? No matter how much I think about it, I am at a loss as to how I can complete the report.” He sighed again. “This is all my mistake. I was careless in supervising my men,” the captain apologized earnestly, unable to lift his head. “No need for that. We are all to blame. I am no different. If you were careless, I was also lacking in my efforts and sincerity as the director of the training center. Let’s not speak of such things again. We should work on ways to thoroughly address this so that it will not be repeated in the future.” “I am truly humbled.” The captain’s head sank even lower. “First, let’s hold a meeting with the officers this evening. Instruct them carefully so we can search all the houses tomorrow at daybreak. We will round up the suspicious parties and question them about the whereabouts of the two escapees. Let’s find out if there were any earlier communications between the two. I am fairly certain that someone must have known beforehand and even exchanged news with them. What are your thoughts, captain?” “Hm, yes. I’ve been thinking the same thing. I am sure they must have had some prior communications.” “Yes, I am certain that is the case. Then let’s meet again tonight,” they concluded, a small smile appearing at the corners of both men’s lips.
3. At four in the morning the next day, a village-wide search was initiated. The search, conducted under the captain’s orders, turned up several bits of evidence from the homes of the villagers already under suspicion. Most alarming for the search party was the discovery of illegal drugs, namely opium. Furthermore, the search also led to the revelation of many indecent romantic relations. For the captain, the previous day’s escape was an embarrassment that was a result of his own oversight. Eager to take this opportunity to redeem his name, he made certain to question all suspicious parties thoroughly. Moreover, he had to take this opportunity to find clear evidence of secret communications between this village and the village of Manchurians across the river, something he had already long suspected. He was determined to take care of it. Next to the captain stood the director of the training center. With lips pursed, he carefully observed each movement of the arrested parties and thought about the next
steps to take. But the arrested parties themselves remained unperturbed and apathetic throughout the questioning. They paid no attention to the captain’s words, staring dumbly into the distance. The addicts were even worse. The captain, finally running out of patience, slapped Myeong-u across the face. Myeong-u was one of the younger looking ones in the bunch. “You bastard. You think you’ll survive if you act like you’re deaf? Ignore my questions, do you?” At this unexpected outburst, Myeong-u stared dumbfounded at the captain’s face. Then his lips curled into a sneer. “Hmph!” He snorted contemptuously and turned his head. The captain was enraged now. He jumped out of his chair and slapped Myeong-u over and over. “You idiot! I'll get an answer out of you if it’s the last thing I do.” A bluish tinge of malice spread over Myeong-u’s sallow face. He glared at the captain as he bit down on his lips hard enough to draw blood. He rose slowly, with balled fists. At first the captain hesitated, seemingly stunned by this development, but he soon regained his stance and took a step forward. “Okay boy, I dare you to take your best shot.” Myeong-u’s face was now beyond blue; it was turning pale white. The two men glared at each other in silence, until Myeong-u spoke out. “You bastard, what makes you think you can hit me? Who said it was okay to knock the village people around whenever you feel like it?” The captain could not respond right away, so taken aback was he by this unexpectedly authoritative voice. “If you’re the kind of village chief or captain who shows your incompetence and ignorance through violence, you should just wash your hands of us and step down. We have no obligation to get beaten by the likes of you, nor did we ever give you that right. A village chief should act like a chief and a captain should act like a captain and try to reform the villagers by showing them a model of integrity.” The flood of words did not stop there. “Yes it’s true that we are a group of failures who are not treated as proper human beings in society. Because of this, we act deaf, dumb, and blind to all the abuses and mockery heaped on us by society. We’ve acted like the living dead. But what about you? “You... did you not come here voluntarily as a so-called leader with the goal of reforming this hell-bound group so that we could become members of society once again? Or have you only come here to beat us down? If you have come with the latter goal in mind, I promise you, a bastard like you will not only fail to guide us, but you will make our dispositions even more warped. “What are we to you? “Do you think you can just trample over us because we are opium addicts? 8
“We still have blood, tears, and nerves. “We are not ones to simply lie down at your feet to let you stomp all over us.” The captain, unable to take the abuse any longer, lunged forward at Myeong-u, his arms shaking with rage. But the director was already holding him back, grabbing him firmly by the scruff of his neck. “Captain, please control yourself.” “No, let me go sir. Today I really must teach these bastards a lesson.” Myeong-u watched the fuming captain with an almost pitiful look in his eyes and smiled coldly. “Hmph, the worst they can do to me is the detention ward.”
4. The director's intervention barely saved the situation from exploding, but the tension in the air did not easily dissipate. Besides the captain’s anger, the pent-up rage that the villagers had long held back seemed to have finally been catalyzed by Myeong-u’s act of defiance and it threatened to explode out from this newly formed mass at any moment. But the director was able to quickly defuse the situation with his clever tactics. Having calmed the captain down with some difficulty, he stepped up to the front himself and began delivering the lecture that the villagers had already heard countless times. Many grimaced at the start of this lecture, since they knew that the director’s lecture always went on for a long while once started. “I’ve said this many times, but why is it that our state of Manchukuo established these five special villages across Manchuria? “Is it not abundantly clear that the primary goal was to lead you who have fallen off the proper path of life back to the road? “This is such a magnanimous benefit, unheard of anywhere else but in Manchukuo where we are trying to establish a Paradise of the Kingly Way2, but when I look at you, you who still try to veer off and turn a blind eye to this gift, I am overcome with sadness at the affairs of this world. “Everyone! Every one of you has a painful past. We know this and that is why we try to share in your pain and your happiness, why we try to help erase the painful memories from your minds so that you will step onto the path of light. But you, you do not know this. No, you know this but you pretend not to know.
The “Kingly Way” refers to the Confucian ideal of ruling through benevolence. After the Manchurian Incident of 1931, this term came to be touted as the guiding political principle for the state of Manchukuo and more broadly, for the newly created Pan-Asian regional order led by the expanding wartime Japanese empire.
“We do not do this in order to have you owe us something you must repay later on, nor do we do this to fill our own pockets. If we had such hidden intentions, why would we come to a place like this of all places?” The director’s voice trembled as he began to choke up. But the faces of the crowd listening were unaffected. Some sat with their legs crossed, while some sucked on their pipes. Still others whispered to their neighbors or gazed at a faraway cloud passing over the mountain. It was as if the director’s lectures were completely irrelevant to them. “In your minds, you still dream of striking it rich overnight. In your minds, the effects of opium still linger. “To awaken from this nightmare, this unrealistic dream that eats away at your body and harms the state and society…,” the director continued, his voice rising, when suddenly – “Director! Stop with this bald-faced lie already. We’ve heard it a million times and we are sick and tired of it,” a gruff interjection sounded from amidst the crowd. The director paused and turned toward the source of this outburst. The crowd too immediately ceased its disorderly murmuring and tensed, all eyes turning toward the culprit. The outcry had come from Byeong-cheol, once a renowned smuggler in the border areas. He paid no attention to the stares of the crowd that now befell him. Nor did he stare directly at the director. Rather, he had taken the stance of one prepared to challenge someone to a fight. The director paused for a moment, at a complete loss for words and staring rather pathetically at Byeong-cheol’s dark face. “How… how is it a lie?” He seemed to be groaning in pain rather than asking a question. “If not a lie, then what? How is striking it rich overnight unrealistic or just a wild dream?” Byeong-cheol said, becoming even more belligerent. The director looked down again wordlessly, until he rejoined, full of anger, “Then prove how it’s realistic.” “No problem at all. Right now, out of all those so and so’s strutting around with a small fortune in their pockets – how many can say they got rich honestly, saving one coin at a time? We wouldn’t be wrong to assume they all came into their fortunes overnight.” “But they didn’t earn it illegally, the way you think.” “Those are just pretty words. They were all smugglers or brokers at some point. Why, they were doing it in broad daylight. You don’t even have to look far to see it. That man from Mukden River who visited you, the president of some company of another - do you know what kind of business that man did at first to get his hands on that money? He
got it doing a ton of smuggling right when Tumen city was being established, and I’ll bet he got his current company around that time too.” The director’s face turned pale. His mouth moved as if to say something, but only his lips twitched and no sound came out. While everyone snickered and jeered, Byeong-cheol grinned with self-satisfaction and slowly pulled a pack of cigarettes from his pocket.
II. A Sketch of the Village 1. It was the next afternoon after the daybreak search, two days since the escape. That afternoon the training center sent seven people – Myeong-u the addict, four other men, and two women – to the XXX detention ward for convalescence. Convalescence was another word for detainment. The self-defense troop heightened their vigilence and the villagers were temporarily forbidden from going in and out of the village. The training center office added the escape incident to its sixth report and sent it off to the provincial office. By the numbers, the report looked like this: Δ Number of Households in Village: Addicts 26 households Smugglers 23 households Compulsive Gamblers 9 households Fraud and Embezzlement 6 households Others 7 households Total 71 households (The total above is the number of households settled in the initial stage) Δ Number of Reformed Persons 1. Completely Reformed Persons Addicts 12 Smugglers 7 Compulsive Gamblers 7 Fraud and Embezzlement 6 Others 7 Total 39 2. Incompletely Reformed Persons Addicts 8 11
Smugglers Compulsive Gamblers Fraud and Embezzlement Others Total
10 2 --20
Δ Ongoing Criminal Activity Addicts 6 Smugglers (note) 6 Total 12 (Writer’s Note: Ongoing criminal activity indicates persistent drug trafficking by smugglers to addicts through secret contacts maintained with outside suppliers) Δ Persons Dispatched to Detention Ward 1. Male Addicts 3 Smugglers 2 Total 5 2. Female Addicts 1 Smugglers 1 Total 2 Δ Variations in Number (Transfers) 1. Increase -2. Decrease, Ill or Deceased 5 3. Escapees 2 Total 7 (Kangde XX year XX month XX day3) The director of the training center finally heaved a long sigh of relief and stretched. He yawned, wiping away the tears that had pooled in his eyes with a sweat-soaked towel, then went outside to clear his weary head. It seemed to have cooled down some since the day before. A refreshing breeze passed by, whispering by his sweaty forehead. In the street, shirtless children ran around, too busy with their game of hide and seek to notice the heat. The director took in the scene for a while, until it seemed he’d been struck with an idea. He crossed the main street and went down the alleyway on the other side. 3
Indicates the dating system that lists years by reign. In 1934, Pu Yi was declared as the Kangde Emperor of the puppet state Manchukuo. Dates would therefore be listed as Kangde Year 1, Kangde Year 2, etc.
The narrow, dirty alleyway stank of rot, attacking his nostrils. His nose twitching, the director glanced around before entering a house that looked like a crudely made hut. Upon opening the kitchen door, he could see a middle-aged man lying on the heated clay floor in a small room between the kitchen and the main room.4 The man, his face a sickly yellow, peered at the director through half-closed eyes, but he showed no sign of getting up. Frowning, the director looked down at the man for a moment then left to go over to the hut on the other side of the street. There, he found another middle-aged man with a sallow complexion lying down in a similar manner. This man, too, only squinted dully at him. The director sighed gravely, before moving on. In the next house, a woman was sprawled out on the floor, eyes closed and drool oozing from the corner of her mouth. She was barely covered, her underwear draped across her bottom, leaving one flank exposed. The director turned away quickly from the terrible sight and continued on. The sun was starting to set by the time he finished checking each of the seventy-one households and returned to the office. He plopped down on the shaded ledge of the office porch. After taking his handkerchief to his sweaty forehead, he pulled out a cigarette, and lit it with a match. With the cigarette dangling from his lips, he mulled over the jumbled memories of the past eight months that had so quickly passed by. Although less than a year, it had been a time full of complicated emotions that he would never forget as long as he lived. To live amongst this motley group of people and pour all of his energy into creating a better tomorrow for them â€” these people that had turned their backs on all hope â€” had certainly not been easy. But what did he have to show for all his efforts? he thought. All he could do was sigh.
2. The village was established eight months ago, in the year Showa 12. 5 By the Manchukuo system, it was November XXth of Kangde 4, just after the historic abolition of extraterritoriality. They had brought in the traffickers and addicts through mass arrests, then passed them to the police in the various consulate offices to redistribute them to the five different 4
This room between the kitchen and the main room is called a jeongjugan, and is an architectural feature often found in the colder-climate northern regions of the Korean Peninsula. 5 The 12th year of the Japanese Showa Emperorâ€™s reign, or 1937.
locations throughout Manchuria where the collective villages were then set up. The work of trying to bring light and new hope to these people was not exactly as easy as picking fruit off the tree. These were people who had strayed into the extreme depths of society — damaged people who had hit rock-bottom, traffickers who epitomized absolute self-interest, criminals who had long since buried any sense of conscience or decency to commit fraud, gamble, or embezzle. When the foolhardy plan to rescue these elements from the wretched depths to which they had fallen was proposed, it was met with adamant opposition even from within the government. But in the end, the authorities were able to push the idea through. “Even one national subject would make it worthwhile.” The newly created state jumped at the chance to turn even one person into a proper national subject. These people bereft of light and wandering in the dark abyss, had something that was too valuable to lose, and in order to save this treasure, the authorities had boldly forged ahead with this real-life experiment, all the while acknowledging the near impossibility of their task. To wit, the authorities were saving their people’s knowledge and talent. Although these people were fallen now, they had all been idealists striving for a glorious future at some time. They included engineers, political activists, artists, religious leaders, medical practitioners, educators, and many others. Everyone was educated above the elementary school level, and many had junior high school or higher technical schooling. Many were fluent not only in the national language and Manchu, but also English, Russian, and even German. Therefore, it was no surprise that the authorities would prize such talent. But it was truly a difficult task to put these people who had driven off the road of life back onto the proper path. And the opium addicts, more than any other group, posed great difficulties. Unlike the others, separating the addicts from their drugs was equivalent to a death sentence. Once cut off, they spent most of the day in a state of stupor. Even worse, they found that the chronic pain and illnesses suppressed for many years under the power of the drug would re-surface. The authorities tried numerous measures to combat the problem, but in the end there was nothing to be done. Nonetheless, such sacrifices were to be anticipated and the project continued as planned. Now, after some eight months had passed, they were able to see good progress, and the drug withdrawals no longer appeared to be such a loss. But the power of the drug is nothing if not persistent. The rainbow-colored dreams lingered in the addicts’ minds, impossible to banish. The addicts would fall back into temptation at the first chance they could get, and their cruel environs continued to tempt
them. The addicts’ secret contacts with the outside world were the source of the biggest headaches for the authorities. Yet another thorn in the authorities’ sides was the smugglers’ dreams of striking it rich overnight, which kept them on the lookout for any opportunity to escape and follow their dream. The two escapees the other day were part of this crowd. Because of all this, the troop expanded their watch and maintained a stricter surveillance day and night. The self-defense troop was entirely made up of young people. They had all suffered from their fathers’ or older brothers’ downfalls. Because of this, when their fathers or brothers were caught for their wrongdoings, these troops showed no mercy, even as they swallowed their tears. These were the strange ethical, moral, and organizational circumstances under which the bloody struggle dragged on. “Phew….” the director heaved a great sigh, and like steam erupting from a blocked pipe, he felt relieved, as if a heavy load had been lifted from his chest. He lit another cigarette and stood up to look around the sentry boxes.
3. The guards in the sentry boxes were keeping a strict watch over the areas. They were faithfully carrying out their duties despite the steamy heat of the continental summer. The director doled out encouragement and sincere praise to the guards as he passed through the sentry boxes at the south and east gate. Then he arrived at the sentry box at the north gate. But the sentry who should have been there was nowhere to be found. He peered inside and thought, ‘Maybe he went behind the fort to get out of the sun and find some shade,’ but the guard wasn’t there either. Suspicious, the director continued to look around until he heard rough voices coming from below, near the willow trees lining the bank of the stream. A thought popped into the director’s head. Keeping close to the cornfield, he crept soundlessly toward the bank of the stream. Once he got closer, he could hear the voice more clearly, and it was Sundong’s, the sentry who should have been at the box. The other gruff voice was without a doubt his father Myeongbo. Recognizing at once that the father and son were arguing, the director quietly stepped into the shade of the corn. Completely unaware of the director’s presence, the pair started to raise their voices. “I said I’d be right back, you bastard. What do you mean you can’t?” “I can’t allow it. I have my duties as a sentry and I cannot give villagers permission to go in and out for any reason.” 15
“What the hell are these duties? You think showing off your so-called duties will solve everything? What are you going to do about the plans you’re ruining because of your cursed duties?” “What are these plans that will be ruined? If it’s really that bad, I’ll gladly go myself and take care of it once my shift is over.” “That’s not good enough. It’s not something a rat like you could do.” “Well, then that’s that.” “Are you telling me you’re really not gonna do it?” The father’s voice turned threatening. “I already told you I can’t. Why do you keep begging? You know very well what the village rules are.” “Rules? Following all those damned rules would make me shit my pants.” “I can’t allow it. As a sentry, I can’t go against the village rules. Why do you want to go to the neighboring village anyway? Please go home.” “I will not.” “Suit yourself then, Father, but I will not either.” “What’s this?” Myeongbo suddenly drew close to his son and slapped him across the face. “You scoundrel! I am your father. Who talks like that to his own father, huh? Your father’s your father, whether you are a sentry or not.” Sundong stood speechless, clutching his cheek. Just as the father’s fist was about to let loose again, the son quickly stepped out of the way. “What did you say?” he shouted. “A father is a father? Hmph. Where do you get off saying something like that? How dare you call yourself a father? You say you’re a father when it’s convenient for you, but when have you ever been a father to your children? In all my twenty years, I’ve never once been able to depend on my father. Who took the few coins his child scraped together to go to the opium den and suck it up through a pipe? You call yourself a father, but have you ever clothed your children? Have you ever once fed them something they wanted to eat? And who sold my mother to a doenom Chinaman6 and left us kids out on the streets? Father? Father? You have the nerve to call yourself a father? If I was really a scoundrel, I'd have already kicked you into a ditch a long time ago.” “What? You, you son of a bitch!” Myeongbo had had it. He lunged forward and wrapped his hands around Sundong’s neck. Hesitating for a moment, the director quietly stepped out in front of the two men, and the father-son conflict was cut short. But the tears Sundong had been fighting back won their battle, spilling over and streaming down his face. The director could only quietly turn away. 6
The term doenom is a Korean pejorative term for a Chinese person. Originally the term was a derogatory moniker for the Jurchen tribes that formerly occupied Manchuria.
III. A Map of Paradise 1. It had been drizzling since morning, and the rain was dragging on to midday, with no signs of letting up. Even the stray dogs were hard to spot in the desolate streets of the village, but the quiet scene gave off an air of an extreme fatigue rather than peaceful sleep. At the house, Myeongbo was sprawled out in a dark corner of the room, his eyes fixed dully outside, lost in thought. His daughter Sunnyeo sat in the kitchen, mending the inseam of a worn-out pair of corduroy pants, already covered in patches, that seemed to belong to her brother. Sundong had just come back from the sentry box and was sitting next to his sister, completely engrossed in a book or magazine of sorts that he held open in his hands. Myeongbo looked at them scornfully and spat a wad of phlegm at the wall. He turned his back toward his children and lay back down facing the other side. Sundong, however, who seemed completely indifferent to his father’s mood, got up with the book he was holding and went into the room. “What is this character?” he asked, shoving the book in front of his father. Myeongbo dragged his sluggish gaze up to his son’s face and reluctantly answered. “It’s the character for deok, great virtue.” “Then what does il deok il sim7 mean?” “How should I know? Don’t ask me, why don’t you go ask the director.” Myeongbo snarled, shoving the book away with his elbow. Sundong looked down at his father’s face sadly, then returned to the kitchen without a word. He seemed to have lost the desire to read, however, slowly closing his eyes as he sat back down and leaned against the doorframe. Sunnyeo looked at her brother and quietly placed her sewing in her lap with a quiet sigh. Whenever she thought about how father’s behavior always ate away at Sundong’s heart, she felt like her own heart would tear apart inside her narrow chest How could they lead their father onto the right path and become a happy family? Sunnyeo knew that this was what occupied her brother’s thoughts day and night, but father paid not an ounce of attention to her brother’s wishes. Not only that, father harbored ill will towards her brother, plotting to get away from his son at any chance he got. Sunnyeo knew well that if it weren’t for the judgment of other people and the law, he would gladly get rid of his son for good. And if Sundong wasn’t there, who knows, she probably would have already been sold off to some doenom Chinaman. 7
Il deok il sim (一德一心) or “One Virtue, One Mind,” was a slogan promoted during the 1930s to highlight the close alliance between Japan and Manchukuo.
As she thought about this — and then on top of all that, about what happened to their mother, something she could not forget no matter how hard she tried — she could tear that father apart ten times and still feel no relief. Oh Mother, dear pitiful Mother! Our poor mother, who was sold to a Chinaman by a wicked husband, and hung herself despairing her terrible fate. If only one of her children had been able to sense what was happening. For how long did the brother and sister cry and in the streets after losing their mother? Just thinking about the time they spent lost and trembling with fear in the streets made her feel like her heart would burst. Until young Sundong, barely twelve years old, was able to find work as a choreboy for a laundry, hadn’t they fought their hunger, unable to find even a single spoonful of cold rice to eat and going for whole days without eating? While his children suffered, this father would spend all his time at the opium den, and Sundong, saying a father is still a father, exerted all his efforts to lead Myeongbo to an upright path. When Sunnyeo thought of her brother in this light, she felt like shedding tears of blood. Lightly wiping away the tears welling up in her eyes with the ribbon on her skirt, she smiled most tenderly and said, “Brother, what are you so worried about? Why don’t you eat some lunch? You must be hungry.” “I’m not hungry yet. Why don’t you get lunch ready for Father?” Sundong replied wearily as he picked up his book again. Just then they heard footsteps outside the door and in shuffled Deuksu, who lived over by the east gate. “Myeongbo, you here?”
2. At the sound of Deuksu’s voice, Myeongbo suddenly sprang up expectantly. “What is it? Come on in.” “What are you doing? Taking a nap?” “No, no, just lying here, doing nothing.” “If you’re bored, why not take a walk around the neighborhood? I got my hands on a copy of The Record of Three Kingdoms — let’s go down to Seong-o’s place and you read for us in that good voice of yours,” he said with a knowing wink. Myeongbo scrambled to his feet. “Sounds good. I can’t stay cooped up here anymore.” As they left the yard, Deuksu nudged Myeongbo in the side and smiled mischievously. Myeongbo turned to Deuksu, his eyes flashing with intense curiosity and his breathing rough with breathless anticipation. “Had a smoke lately?” “I haven’t even had a whiff, never mind a smoke.” Myeongbo was instantly salivating, and his legs became wobbly. 18
Deuksu took Myeongbo’s reaction in with immense self-satisfaction. The sly smile had returned. “How about a hit?” “You scored some?” Myeongbo asked. “As if I couldn’t.” “From where?” “From where? More like, where couldn’t I get some.” “Let me see it.” “Hey, are you crazy? Where do you think we are? We can’t just pull it out on the street.” Chastised, Myeongbo had no choice but to gulp down the saliva that had turned to dust in his mouth and walk quietly by Deuksu’s side. They walked on for a while in silence until they could see the training center office. As if on cue, they immediately turned down the nearest alleyway. “Hey, where are we going?” Myeongbo piped up anxiously. “Hmm, where’s a good place...” “If you don’t know where to go, who does?” “I suppose you’re right. We'll have to find somewhere quiet.” “Whose place is quiet?” “How about Seong-o’s place?” “Seong-o’s?” “Yeah, I think it’ll be quiet there.” Myeongbo searched Deuksu’s face suspiciously. “But if we go to Seong-o’s, we’ll have to satisfy him too,” he whined resentfully. “That’s true, but hey, there’s plenty to go around…,” Deuksu mumbled uncertainly. “When you say there’s plenty, how much do you mean?” “Stop with the nagging and just follow me. If there really isn’t enough, I’ll even give you my share.” At that, Myeongbo finally figured out just what the man was up to. Why a man like Deuksu, who wasn’t even an addict, was risking his neck this way and why he was insisting on going to Seong-o’s out of all places – Myeongbo could see it all clearly now. He smiled to himself wryly. Nonetheless, he followed along without a peep, his thoughts racing. ‘As long as I get what I want, what’s the rest of it got to do with me? What do I care if that bastard Deuksu wants to knock Seong-o out with opium so he can have his way with Seong-o’s woman? As long as I can get mine from Deuksu’s pockets, that’s fine. All I have to do is just sit back and enjoy the ride.’ Seong-o’s wife popped her head out the door when she saw the two men step into the yard. As always, she was a pleasant sight to see.
She was slender and willowy, with a mysterious smile that reeled you in and made you want to gobble her up whole. “Is Seong-o in, by any chance?” A lecherous smile was already spreading across Deuksu’s face. “He’s here.” “May I ask what’s he doing?” “I have no idea what he does, lying there day and night.” The Seong-o peering at them hollowly from inside the room looked like some sort of ghoulish skeleton, his disheveled hair sticking straight up and his leathery skin pulled tight across his gaunt face. “What are you up to? Taking a little nap?” Seong-o raised himself halfway off the floor, barely managing to reply, “Not doing much of anything.”
3. The soft misty rain suddenly turned into a downpour, providing the perfect opportunity for a secret scheme. Although it was unlikely that anyone else would visit Seong-o’s penniless household, one never knows how things might turn out. The two visitors had worried that someone might run in unexpectedly, since there were any number of other slugs in the village drooling over Seong-o’s pretty wife. Now that the rain was really coming down, however, they didn’t have any cause for concern. Without a moment’s hesitation, Deuksu pulled out a wrapped bundle he had crammed tightly into the waist of his pants and spread it open in front of Seong-o and Myeongbo. Seong-o sprang up from his prone position, as if just the sight of the thing was enough to bring him back to life. Deuksu’s tightly wrapped handkerchief produced a small black lump about half the size of a matchbox — opium. Deuksu grinned broadly and rolled the lump around in his palm. “How about it? Ain’t it a beauty?” “Aha!“ Seong-o laughed senselessly while Myeongbo fidgeted uncontrollably in his seat, practically choking on the drool collecting in his mouth. Just then — “Excuse me, what’s all that? Do you all want to go back to the detention ward?” Seong-o’s wife interrupted, only then reminding the three men of her existence. The trio looked around at each other. “We’ll just have a taste and go. Who’ll know? It'll only be a problem if someone has to leave without getting a taste,” Deuksu responded deftly. “How about it?” he added, smiling. “Why don’t you take a puff too, Madame?”
“Put that away. Just the sight of it makes me sick,” she retorted sharply, even as an artful smile lit her eyes. Seong-o pulled himself closer in front of Deuksu, too eager to wait much longer. “Hey, let’s cut the chatter. Break me off a piece first,” he begged. “You’re that pressed, huh? Get everything ready then.” “No need. I’ll just eat mine,” he said, grasping at Deuksu’s hand. In an instant, he'd broken off a small piece the size of a bean soaked in water and popped it into his mouth. “Hey man, that’s raw.” “Raw or cooked, I’ve got to have a taste first,” Seong-o said as he smacked his lips, a smile finally shining on his face. Myeongbo stuck out his hand. “I’ll just eat it too. C’mon, give me some.” “Hey, what’s all this? If I give it all away, what’s left for me?” Deuksu complained. Nonetheless, he broke off a bean-sized piece for Myeongbo. The two men’s eyes were already turning glassy and losing focus. “How is it?” Deuksu grinned, at both of them in turn. “Indescribable. I can’t believe they won’t let us have this good stuff.” “Ah, feels like my birthday.” Looking as though they didn’t have a care in the world, the two settled down on their sides with their heads nestled in the crooks of their folded arms. “Me, I’m going to smoke this properly,” said Deuksu, pulling something that looked like a writing brush from his waist. “Ma’am, please hand me a candle if you have one. And if you have something like a matting needle, I’d like to borrow that too.” “What do you mean ‘something like a matting needle’?” “I mean, a matting needle will do.” “Then why would you ask for something like a matting needle?” “My mistake.” “My, how you tease a person!” The banter had quite the tone of familiarity between the two. Deuksu quickly glanced at the other two lying prone on the floor. Smiling to himself, he took off a pea-sized bit of the lump for himself. The woman produced a candle and matting needle in no time, almost as if she had already prepared them. “Excuse me, ma’am,” said Deuksu, and the woman replied with a silent smile. Deuksu hooked the blackish pea to the end of the matting needle and gently held it over the flame of the candle. Oil began to sweat and bubble out of the little lump, emitting a bluish smoke with a toasty aroma that wafted about the room. The woman moved closer to the man until their foreheads were almost touching.
4. A balloon filled with dreams floated higher and higher into the air. Everything Seong-o saw was tinged a deep yellow. The balloon floated up and up. What was happening? Seong-o’s body, on the other hand, sank lower and lower. He lacked the energy to move even a finger. His head was fuzzy and his abdomen felt soft, like taffy melting in the midsummer sun. Even breathing was too much of a bother. Neither wind, nor rain, nor any din of the world existed now. But what’s that? He could see something far off in the haze shrouding the horizon shimmering like heat waves— be it over water or land, he couldn’t tell — but the thing seemed to be moving ever closer. ‘I am going to open my eyes wide and see,’ Seong-o thought. But his heavy eyelids would not open. Nor would they shut closed. The shimmering thing moved closer still, right in front of his darkened eyes peering through the half-closed eyelids. Just then, something flitted past him. Even through his clouded mind, he recognized his wife’s skirt flapping in front of him. Something tall followed it and passed in front of his eyes. Seong-o was also able to make out what that was. As the male and female shadows followed each other into the room by the kitchen, Seong-o tried lifting his head, but it was heavier than a bag of gold and soggier than a clump of wet cotton. He felt faint as he tried to focus. Still, the debauched scene of the woman and the man kept floating in and out of his vision, while the sounds of their laughter rang vividly in his ears. This is outrageous! He wanted to jump up and beat the bitch and that bastard to a pulp, but that would require a fit of passion, and truth be told, he found it exhausting to even entertain the thought. All he wanted was to stare into space. Space was infinite, and it was stretching further and further away. Seong-o’s mind floated higher into space while his body sank further down. Suddenly his head turned hazy and the yellowish air faded to blue. Something started to sparkle in the blue air. One, two, three, four, five… As their numbers increased, the colors became more vivid. What were they? Ah, they were stars! Countless stars sparkling in the dark blue sky. The whitish thing stretched out to the south-west was the Milky Way. Following the Big Dipper, he could see the position of the North Star. His wife’s laughter seemed to be coming from there. 22
He had heard the same sound when he first confessed his love to her… yes, that was it. It was the sound of her laughter when he whispered his love to her in the field of reeds near that stream. But he could not see her anywhere. He could only hear her, she was laughing with great gusto. His reverie of their first love and the sound of her laughter were fleeting, however, before he was completely captivated by the starlight. What a beautiful picture! He might never see something this beautiful again in his life. If he just raised his arm, it seemed he might be able to touch those blue, red, and white stars. Who else on earth could have drawn this? What a joyful man he was to be surrounded by this scene! No, no, he wasn’t a man. It was so beautiful that no mere mortal could ever visualize it. Then, what was he? Perhaps a holy man? A seer? Yes, he was a holy man. And this was a vision of the heavens. ‘What does my wife’s adultery have to do with me? Isn’t it enough that I can see this picture of the heavens?’ Seong-o could hear the music flowing again and he gently closed his eyes like a child drifting off to a lullaby in his mother’s arms.
The Last Fragment of One’s Conscience
1. After a week of convalescence at XXX Detention Ward, Myeong-u and others returned to the village. There, they were greeted with a lengthy lecture from the director of the training center. After this, the group dispersed to return to their own homes. But since Myeong-u lived by himself in a rented room off the side of Deuksu’s house, he had no one to welcome him home even if he did go back. He remained at the training center and sat under the shade of the willow tree in the back yard to turn things over in his mind. As he was thus occupied, Sundong came to the office. It was time for the exchanging of the guards at the north gate sentry box. Sundong caught sight of Myeong-u and came towards the older man, smiling goodnaturedly. “How was it? Did you have a good vacation?” Sundong asked as he plopped down on the ground next to Myeong-u. 23
Myeong-u smiled good-naturedly, but he also looked exhausted. “Thanks to you, I’ve had a nice long convalescence,” he said and playfully tapped Sundong on the shoulder. “Hahaha! For someone who’s been rehabilitated, you look a little gaunt. But you are really stretching it if you say the rehabilitation was thanks to me.” “What am I stretching? Why, you bastards are all alike.” Sundong laughed again boisterously. Then, suddenly turning serious, he asked, “But, what will you do for dinner today?” “What else is there to do? Go home and eat dinner there.” “Probably not good to go home today.” “Why not?” “Mr. Kim has been fighting with his wife all day,” he said, referring to Deuksu. “About what?” “When do they ever have any good reason for all that fighting? They’re a terrible couple so that’s what they do.” Myeong-u briefly pictured Deuksu and the wife, and was overcome by an indescribably unpleasant sensation in his stomach. “Don’t go back there… why don’t you come to our place and have dinner with us? I caught a few fish in the stream today during lunchtime. They’re really good with some young pumpkin and red pepper paste. And I thought you might be coming so I even bought twenty jeon’s worth of Chinese liquor when I went out to town yesterday.” Myeong-u was speechless. He looked at Sundong uncertainly. “Come to our place,” Sundong insisted, and Myeong-u finally nodded. “Then let’s go. But let’s wash off this sweat in the stream before we go,” Sundong said as he got up. Myeong-u followed, still without saying a word. As they washed themselves off in the stream, Sundong chattered on cheerfully, but Myeong-u kept his mouth shut. After washing up, he followed Sundong to the house. Inside, they found Sunnyeo ready with dinner, as if they had been expecting him. Although she greeted them warmly, she could not say much out of embarrassment and she quickly turned her flushed face away. Myeong-u tried to say something, but feeling awkward, he simply stepped to the side before entering the room from the kitchen. There was no one else in the room. “Go on in. Are you sad to see the gang missing?” Sundong joked to the hesitant Myeong-u. Myeong-u finally smiled, as if he had found an opportunity to speak. “You know the wrath of the heavens await little ones who tease their elders.” “Hahaha, you’ve become quite dignified since your rehabilitation.” 24
“You ass, you’re starting with that again?” Myeong-u couldn't help but burst out laughing. “But where is your father?” “Who knows? Maybe he’s sleeping it off somewhere. He’s not home much these days,” Sundong admitted, his face turning dark.
2. Myeong-u had long been separated from any warmth or kindness in the world during his life at the bottom. The touching sincerity he felt from Sundong and his sister was the first kindness he’d experienced in a long time. Could it be that there were still some smoldering ashes left in the burnt out remnants of his emotions? Myeong-u felt his eyes brimming with warm tears. Afraid that Sundong might notice even in the dark room, Myeong-u turned down the two young people’s appeals for him to stay longer and left the house. Once outside, the hot tears he was holding back streamed down his cheeks. Instead of going to his room at Deuksu’s, he turned back toward the training center office and returned to the willow tree in the backyard. He had actually wanted to walk to the stream just outside the north gates, but since the sentry prevented people from leaving the village, he came to this place instead. Fortunately, the yard was quiet too. And though the days here on the continent were boiling hot, the nights were considerably cooler. Myeong-u plopped down under the shadow of the willow tree and wrapped his arms around his drawn knees to cradle his weary head. He felt rather lightheaded thanks to the few capfuls of Chinese liquor Sundong had offered him at dinner. The sound of a flute drifted towards him from somewhere up the street, accompanied by the chirping of crickets. He did not get carried away by these sounds, but they did bring to mind memories of his hometown. His hometown had a lot of folktales — all of them sad. His mother would always tear up as she told him of these tales. He wondered how she was doing now. He was thirty years-old now, so that meant it had been eight years since he left home. How much his mother must have worried and aged in those eight years. He’d heard that she was staying at his uncle’s, so at least she must not be struggling for her livelihood. Even so, how anxious she must be about her only son, a most unfilial son? Myeong-u could see her standing in the shadows away from others’ prying eyes, weeping quietly to herself — the image so clear it seemed she was there just in front of his eyes. It was a truly painful thing to see.
He quickly shut his eyes and shook his head, as if to shake off the terrible visions. He sighed deeply and lit a cigarette, numbly contemplating the smoke as he watched it drift up into the dark night. Just as he was preparing to leave, something lit past his eyes and disappeared just as quickly, like a flash of light. Startled, he tried to focus on it, but everything seemed to go dark around him and a vision of something emerged quite clearly in his mind. It was certainly a vision of that woman, the one he had tried so hard to forget for so many years. He jolted upright with a surge of emotion. Heaving angrily, he stalked out of the yard and onto the main street. But there was nowhere for him to go. He stood in the dark street searching for a destination, but the image of that woman arose again in front of his eyes. The vision was so vivid that he felt he could reach out and touch her. For a long while, he glared angrily at the face hovering before him, then hawked up some phlegm from deep in the back of his throat and spat roughly. He strode off angrily towards nowhere. It was getting late already and the village was as silent as a cemetery. Myeong-u kept going, but he only succeeded in setting the dogs barking and after some time, it was clear that he had no choice but to return to Deuksu’s. Tiptoeing into the yard for fear that he might wake someone, he heard voices whispering. Suspicious, Myeong-u crept toward the front porch and found the voices coming from behind the chimney nearby. They were very quiet, but he could tell right away that it was Deuksu and Myeongbo. Myeong-u quickly pressed himself against the wall. The other two men, oblivious to his presence, continued their whispered conversation. They seemed to be making a firm promise of sorts to each other. “Then, on that day and no mistakes.” This was the sound of Deuksu. “Yes, don’t worry.” Myeong-bo’s voice, for certain. The night deepened and the stars shined ever brightly on them as they went on.
3. The prearranged day arrived and, as expected, Sundong was sent to the prefecture office on a matter from the training center. He would be gone until the evening of the following day, providing a rare opportunity for the two men to carry out their plans. Sundong ate an early breakfast, stopped by the training center office, and left the village. Myeongbo remained at home for some time after his son’s departure, but he could barely contain his restless excitement. Myeongbo’s daughter, in the meantime, had no way of knowing her father’s intentions. She worked diligently as usual, bustling about and taking care of small chores 26
around the house. By lunchtime, Myeongbo could not bear it any longer and he went over to see Deuksu. Deuksu frowned slightly with annoyance at the sight of Myeongbo’s anxious face. “Myeongbo, is that you? Come on in,” he said awkwardly, barely managing this forced greeting for his guest. “You know how impossible it is to wait,” came Myeongbo’s obsequious reply. He grinned nervously as he darted timid glances at Deuksu, trying to gauge the man’s mood. “So what time at night are we carrying out the matter?” he ventured cautiously. “Midnight or one, I should think.” “Okay. Everyone should be asleep by then,” Myeongbo said. He continued to fidget as he took note of Deuksu’s mood. Then — “And hey, I know I’ve already asked, but you’re sure those bastards will come through and are definitely meeting us there, right?” “Argh! You... you really worry too much. I said I’m sure they’re coming. Quit bothering me about it!” Deuksu retorted angrily, turning away in a huff. Myeongbo cowered lower still and smiled awkwardly. Sheepishly scratching at the back of his head, he continued, “I’m sorry. But the three hundred won, you’re sure about the amount, right?” “Why don't you just drop out of it if you’re so suspicious.” “No, it’s not that I don't trust you. You misunderstand me. Maybe it’s because we’re dealing with bunch of Chinamen, but I am sorry.” “Hey, just lay those worries to rest. I’ve been in Manchuria for twenty years now and I’ve had my share of dealing with these Chinese bastards.” Deuksu’s voice softened a bit. Myeongbo seized this opportunity to inquire, “But what are we going to do with three hundred won? I’m only going on your word so we’ve got to stick together to the end, no matter what.” Deuksu laughed in spite of himself. “You really don't leave a single stone unturned, do you?” Myeongbo grinned, but there was no humor in his expression, only utter servility. He resumed his timid watch over the other man, piping up again after a too brief pause. “So, you got any?” “Got any what?” “You know. How bout giving me a tiny bit?” Deuksu stared fixedly at the way that Myeongbo licked his lips and swallowed hard. “How are you going to do anything if you eat it this early?” he chastised. Still, he searched his pockets and pulled out his handkerchief, breaking off a pea-sized bit of the lump and handing it to Myeongbo. “Thanks a lot,” Myeongbo drooled. 27
Just then, Myeong-u came back from his shift at the cooperative farm, a hoe perched on his shoulder. The other two glanced at each other in shock, the color draining from their faces. Myeong-u quickly assessed the situation. “What’s that? Give me some,” he asked. He threw down the hoe by the door and came into the room. Deuksu and Myeongbo had no other choice. They’d been caught red-handed and couldn't turn away one of their own kind. Grudgingly, Deuksu cut off another pea-sized chunk. Myeong-u immediately popped it into his mouth and swallowed. “Where’d you get it?” “Leftover from the last time I got some.” Deuksu admitted reluctantly as he slinked out of the room. Myeong-u smiled mischievously at Myeongbo and went to the kitchen to gulp down a bowl of cold water. He returned in a moment and plopped down on the floor, lying back to rest his head on a wooden pillow. Myeongbo did likewise, lying down on the floor beside him. Each man disappeared into the fog of his own dream world.
4. It was well past midnight now and the whole village was asleep. Even the guards in the sentry boxes surrounding the village were limp, overcome by their fatigue. Myeongbo, who had been tossing and turning on the warm part of the floor, was jolted awake by Deuksu kicking him. In an instant he was on his feet. Deuksu stood up as well. Sunnyeo was fast asleep in the small side room by the kitchen, exhausted from the day’s work. She had no idea of the terrifying evil that the hand of fate had in store for her. She was talking in her asleep, dreaming of something. Deuksu pulled an instrument that looked like a writing brush from his waistband. It was the same tool he’d had with him at Seong-o’s house. Lighting a candle, he went through the same process he had carried out before. Myeongbo looked on without a word. Soon the blackish lump on the matting needle started to cook. It bubbled and hissed, emitting its toasty aroma. Myeongbo’s throat convulsed as his mouth watered. Deuksu, on the other hand, did not appear to be tempted by it. He took the cooked lump and rubbed it against a matchbox, quickly repeating these steps several times until the lump was long and narrow enough to thread through the hole in the middle of the
brush-like instrument. He handed the thing to Myeongbo, instructing him, “It’s ready. Make sure you don’t inhale it yourself.” Myeongbo’s hand shook violently as he grabbed the holder, then his whole body froze. He was pale, seemingly lost in thought. “Hurry up. What’s taking you so long?” At Deuksu’s urging, Myeongbo seemed to have made up his mind. He got right up and went to the side room with a candle in his hand. As he stepped across the threshhold, however, his legs shuddered as if seized by violent spasms. He bit down hard on his lips and took a few more steps before collapsing on the floor near his daughter’s head. But as soon as he saw her face, he jerked his head away, sickened. A low groan escaped from deep inside him. Deuksu, unable to sit and watch any longer, jumped up and went over to the side room. He snatched the holder from Myeongbo’s hand and without hesitating, shoved it into the flame of the candle, sucking in deeply. Myeongbo watched him for a moment then hastily scrambled back to the main room on his hands and knees. The smoke from Deuksu’s puffed up cheeks slickly entered Sunnyeo’s nostrils as she breathed in her sleep. Deuksu repeated the process, sucking in the smoke and exhaling it into Sunnyeo’s face, while Myeongbo crouched in the other room with his hands over his face. He was at a complete loss. Sunnyeo grimaced in her sleep and coughed. Soon enough, she had settled back into a deep slumber, looking as though she was not even breathing. Deuksu smirked and turned to Myeongbo, but Myeongbo’s face was turned away from the light. Deuksu chewed his lip and thought for a moment. He stood up and crossed into the other room. “Hey, what now? Are you just going to sit there?” he demanded. Myeongbo looked up at Deuksu stupidly, his face waxy and pale. He got to his feet, all the while looking like a sad shadow. “Do whatever you want.” With Myeongbo’s consent given, Deuksu blew out the candle and returned to the side room. He hoisted Sunnyeo over his shoulder like a rag doll and led the way out the door. Myeongbo shuffled behind him, stupefied. The pair weaved out of the alleyway, crossed over the mud wall to the right of the east gate, and crawled out under the barbed wire they had cut beforehand. They had cleared the guarded area without notice. Just past the barbed wire was a small ditch. They crossed the ditch and continued on until they reached the foot of the mountain, just in front of the village. Only then did Deuksu finally stop to catch his breath and look back at Myeongbo, who was still following him.
“Hey, we’re half way there,” Deuksu breathed, but Myeongbo didn't even look at the other man, his gaze fixed down on the ground. Deuksu wiped the sweat from his forehead with his sleeve and continued, “Hey, she’s too heavy for me to carry by myself. Help me out.” But Myeongbo still would not speak a word. Deuksu glared at Myeongbo for a moment, then tried again. “Alright, then why don’t you go on ahead. Go over that ridge there and send someone back for me. Wong and his gang should already be there waiting,” he huffed as he sat on the ground with a thud.
5. Myeongbo followed Deuksu’s orders and climbed up the mountain in silence. Since it was not a very high mountain and the ridge was close to where they had stopped, Myeongbo soon disappeared from Deuksu’s sight. Just as Myeongbo was about to climb over the other side of the ridge, Deuksu looked around. A big grin on his face, he stood looking down at Sunnyeo laid out on the ground. Taken as she was in her sleep, she was only dressed in light undergarments. It was dark, but Deuksu could still make out the contours of her body. She looked perfectly ripe, almost ready to burst at the touch. Gawking at her full breasts, Deuksu thought his body might melt on the spot. He stared spellbound for a while until he swallowed hard and plunked himself down on the ground. Just at that moment, Sunnyeo’s body twitched. Deuksu looked around wildly in alarm and threw himself on top of her. Sunnyeo, who had been unconscious until now, suddenly bolted upright with a shudder. “Aaah!” She shrieked as if she’d been stabbed, and Deuksu roughly covered her mouth with the towel that had been hanging around his neck. “Who are you? Aaah!” She yelled as she pushed him away with all her might. Deuksu grabbed her arms with enough force to break them as he struggled to keep her mouth covered. Deuksu felt something sting his right cheek. The pain was as sharp as a flash of lightning and he fell over backwards. But just as quickly, he leaped back up in defiance. “Who’s there?” Deuksu snarled, his guard up. He saw a tall dark shadow looming over him and struggled to force his retreating body to stand its ground. He managed to shout, “Who’s there?” again, but his voice sounded shaky and frantic. “It’s me.” “Who’s ‘me’?” “Myeong-u.” “What? Myeong-u?” “Yes, it’s me, Myeong-u.” 30
Deuksu was completely stunned by this unexpected turn. By this time, Sunnyeo had barely gathered her senses enough to remove the rag stuffed in her mouth. She clambered to her feet. The sight of the girl seemed to remind Deoksu of the business at hand and he snatched hold of her arm. “Brother, Father, help!” Sunnyeo cried out in terror as she frantically pulled her arm away. Deuksu’s tight grip, however, would not let go so easily. He tried grabbing hold of her neck again to cover her mouth with his hand. Then he felt a second flash of lightning on his cheek. “What! You bastard, are you getting in my way?” “Yeah, I’m getting in your way.” The two bodies, Deuksu and Myeong-u’s, immediately clashed like two bulls locking horns as they rolled about in the darkness. Sunnyeo shivered violently, not knowing what was going on. The fight went on and on without a victor. But then, with a single grunt, one of the bodies was rolling down toward the bottom of the slope and the other dark shadow rose up as if it had sprung up from the ground. Sunnyeo tried to scream, but her voice seemed to be trapped in her throat and no sound would come out. “Let’s go,” she heard someone say. It all happened so suddenly. Sunnyeo had even forgotten to breath. “Don’t worry. Let’s go back home.” It was Myeong-u. His voice was quiet and utterly calm, as if nothing had happened. He reached out to place a guiding hand on Sunnyeo’s back, but pulled it back instead and waited for her to start walking. Sunnyeo felt faint. Just as she was about to crumple to the ground, she collapsed into Myeong-u’s arms. At that moment, the alarm bell started to clang, and the village was suddenly roused from its slumber and filled with noise. The lamplights were soon lit in every corner and alleyway. Myeong-u, however, marched on toward the village with perfect composure and a face free of any worry as he supported Sunnyeo on his arm.
6. The entire self-defense troop was mobilized and the search continued until the morning of the following day. Troops were even sent in from the village across the mountain in a show of solidarity. As a result, not only Deuksu and Myeongbo but also Wong and his gang from the Manchurian village8 across the water, were all arrested.
Although all of the villages are located in Manchuria, manjuin burak means “village of Manchurians,” referring to the ways in which such villages were often divided along ethnic lines.
Another session of extensive questioning was held in the yard of the training center office and another village-wide search was conducted. The crowd rounded up in the searches — including men, women, young, and old — were thoroughly interviewed. Myeong-u was also included in this group thanks to Deuksu’s account of his opium usage the day before. Myeong-u remained indifferent to the attention he received from people on the premises, calmly smoking cigarette after cigarette. When it was his turn for questioning, he hid nothing and confessed to his crime. “So how long will the rehabilitation be this time?” he asked coolly. “Wait just a moment. We’ll make our decisions once we’ve finished the investigation,” the director spoke gravely before moving on to the next subject of investigation. When all the interrogations were finished, the director delivered another long lecture. He then handed down the sentenced detention periods for each person in turn. When he got to Myeong-u, however, he did not give out any sentence, passing on to the next person in line instead. When he had finally finished, he called out, “Myeong-u, come into the office please,” and proceeded into the office. With the director gone, the others stood up and broke into a noisy chatter that dissolved after a while after everyone took his or her own leave. But Myeong-u remained seated. He sat there for some time, deep in thought. Only when he heard the director calling him did he finally look around and notice he was alone. He got up without much enthusiasm and went into the office. Inside, the officers of the self-defense troop were lined up across the entire length of the room while the director and captain sat facing each other in the middle. The director was speaking to the captain about something, but when he noticed Myeong-u, he signaled with his eyes for Myeong-u to come closer. Not only that, the director greeted him with warm smile. Myeong-u walked slowly toward the man. The air inside the room was utterly still, as if frozen. Myeong-u felt himself stiffening with nervousness, but he struggled to maintain a calm demeanor. The director looked outside for a moment then quickly turned his gaze back to Myeong-u. “As for you,” he said, “you are given a special pardon,” he smiled benevolently. “What? Why?” Myeong-u asked, not believing his own ears. “No particular reason. Only that you — well, it seems you still have a tiny sliver of conscience left in you.” “What? Conscience?” Myeong-u stared uncomprehendingly at the director, caught off guard by his response. “Conscience? Conscience you say?” Myeong-u repeated the word slowly, in utter disbelief.
The director lowered his voice and said kindly, as if to persuade Myeong-u, “You still possess a sliver of conscience. I sincerely hope that you will be able to nurture this sliver until it is restored to its former greatness. I would gladly sacrifice an arm and a leg if it meant that even one person like yourself could be restored.” Myeong-u felt his mouth stiffen and his breathing become raspier. He felt like he was suffocating. Although the director was still speaking, Myeong-u lurched out of the office with staggering steps. Once outside, he followed wherever his feet took him, like a sleepwalker. “Conscience… a sliver of conscience….” He mechanically parroted the director’s words as he walked. Scenes from his childhood swam before his eyes — the nostalgic days of junior high school, the picturesque scenes of his first love, his mother’s caring face…. Everything seemed to glimmer with hope. “Aaa-aah!” Unable to hold back any longer, Myeong-u covered his face with his hands and fell to the ground, sobbing.
V. Heartstrings 1. A cool breeze whooshed noisily through the ochre-colored field. The ears of corn were already beginning to turn a deep yellow. The weeds thrived in the field, not having been cleared out yet due to the rainy season. Regardless, the millet crops had ripened darkly and were a picture of freshness. Although it had been cultivated for the first time this year, the rice paddy by the stream at the front of the village was a sight that brought a smile to one’s face. All the farmers of the village were outside now tending to the fields. Even the director was out in the communal farm towards the back of the village, standing at the front lines and working hard to directly supervise the workers. But the so-called farmers were made up of people who had no experience with working the land for a long period of time. The work was not proceeding so smoothly, especially for those who had never held a hoe in their hands. Many were willing to go into the rice paddy and splash around a few times, but they did not last long at the back-breaking labor. They would inevitably stand up to straighten their aching backs after a short time, grimacing as though they might perish from the pain. And if any leg became a meal for a leech, the rice paddy would soon overflow with the sounds of loud cursing. Rather than thinking about how to shake the leech off, these amateur farmers would panic and run around like maniacs in the muddy water. And if one of them fell down, he
would roll around and trample the area around him beyond repair. After an experience like that, the person would never entertain the idea of going back into the paddy again. For these and other reasons, the director of the training center tried to oversee the communal farm more closely than the individual farms, and he would often spend half the day in the communal farm. But the people at the communal farm, all of them unmarried, showed no interest in farming. They expected their food to be supplied to them and were dissatisfied with their farm duties. Those who did come every day did so out of a desire to avoid rehabilitation at XXX detention center or to look for opportunities to escape. As a result, the self-defense troop could never relax their watch during working hours on the communal farm. In fact, the troop had to set up extra surveillance to guard the area during these times. Compared to watching over the unmarried population, keeping surveillance over those who lived with their own families was a far easier task. While these people also dreamed of escape and constantly entertained other hidden thoughts, they had their family members attached to them and were effectively tied down by the eyes of their own family members, who observed their every movement. The director experienced some pride and satisfaction in his long-suffering efforts when he saw these people beginning to feel real affection for their families after living in the village for some eight months. It was lunchtime now at the communal farm. The workers scattered to find shade while chattering loudly amongst themselves. Since the incident with Deuksu, Myeong-u had felt an aversion to talking to anyone. He mostly kept to himself and sought out isolated corners even when he was outside for work. When lunchtime came today, he immediately went over to a secluded place under the hill to rest quietly. As he lay there, Gyuseon came over from the individual farm. Myeong-u had shared a room with Gyuseon at the detention center after the first incident of his escape, and the two men had grown quite close. Gyuseon plopped down on the ground next to him. “What are you up to over here all by yourself?” Gyuseon asked, searching Myeongu’s face. Instead of answering the question, Myeong-u changed the subject by asking a question in return. “You having fun working?” “No fun at all, and that’s the problem. Shit, I wonder if this world would ever just turn upside down.” “You got any plans for if it does turn upside down?” Myeong-u continued with his questions. “No plans, but at least it’d feel damn good,” Gyuseon shot back. “Stop with that jibberish. What good feelings are left for rotten-to-the-core bastards like us?” “I’d still die a happier man if I saw something like that,” Gyuseon said. This addict, who had once been the burning zeal at the helm of a political movement, seemed incapable of forgetting that long-ago dream. He gazed up at the faraway skies 34
and muttered to himself, “It doesn’t even need to happen more than once. Just once, even just once, would be enough.”
2. After seeing Gyuseon, Myeong-u was suddenly reminded of his past memories and the brightest shining moments of his life. The day when the portrait he painted of his mother was selected for the prestigious exhibition and he wandered around Ueno 9 the whole day, filled with uncontrollable excitement…. Then, when the woman discovered his existence after seeing his painting and came to see him…. That day in the autumn sunlight of Musashino,10 when they sat with their canvases next to each other and whispered words of love to one another. The flowers were in full bloom that day and they filled the air with their fragrance…. But once he reached the memory of what happened afterwards, he shuddered violently. “Hey, do you have any? If you do, give me some,” he demanded, tugging at Gyuseon’s arm. Gyuseon had been gazing idly at the sky in deep reverie over some lost dream, but he showed no signs of surprise at Myeong-u’s sudden request. Instead he looked over at his friend and fumbled around in his waistband, from which he produced a small item wrapped tightly inside a piece of newspaper. He unwrapped the package and took out the little bean. Splitting the small lump in two, he tossed one piece into his mouth and put the other in Myeong-u’s open palm. Myeong-u snatched it up almost angrily and quickly gulped it down. After that, he glared at the faraway mountain, his mouth firmly closed. Gyuseon turned his gaze back toward the sky and asked Myeong-u teasingly, “So what is it? The past driving you mad?” “Crazy bastard.” “Then why the sudden fit?” “Don’t try any of that garbage with me. You seem like you’re doing a fine job going crazy yourself.” “Me? Ahahaha, actually I’d rather like that. If I could go crazy, I’d be the happiest man in the world.” “Crazy bastard,” Myeong-u fumed, filled with a sudden rage that would not go away. He clenched his fists. “Hey, Myeong-u, the way you get so worked up — it looks like you still got a ways to go.” “Ways to go for what?” 9
A district in Tokyo. Another area of Tokyo.
“Until you’re rusted over, you know?” “Rust? What rust? What the hell are you talking about?” “How can you call yourself an artist and still not know about a thing like that? You know, that song by that poet or something, singing about ‘heartstrings’ and such, and the strings of a zither playing in their heart or something.” Myeong-u remained silent and deep in thought for a good while. Then he spat out, “Crazy bastard, enough with that garbage.” He rolled over to face the other direction. Gyuseon, however, did not seem to mind this one bit and continued jabbering away. “You know, I tried writing poetry at some point too, but maybe I should try warbling that poem about the heartstrings…. Hm, what was it now…. I can’t think of how it begins.” He searched his memory for a bit and then, “Eh, the hell with the beginning. I’ll just say whatever comes to mind.” “How long has it been, The sad tale that lingers on the seven strings now rusted over. I softly close my eyes and reminisce That old tale of first love lingering on the first string. Why is it sadder than the death of my mother? The black mourning band draped around my breast Would not tear no matter how many times I try, And today again my youth Cries, prostrated and clutching a memorial address…. Um, let’s see what follows next.” “I don't want to hear it. Stop yapping and just be quiet.” Myeong-u exploded, unable to take anymore. He covered his face with his hands, but still Gyuseon would not stop. He continued to yammer on. “Where do you fly to, dear blue bird? The cobwebs crisscrossing over the rusted strings — You are a music score devoid of any marks, unable to produce a melody. Lamenting over the discolored old strings, How many times did my sad dream pluck these lines? The rusted strings of my heart! When will you read the score And sing again for my youth?” He recited this much and sighed mournfully. Myeong-u shut his eyes tightly and did not stir for a long while afterwards.
3. Thanks to Gyuseon’s idle nonsense, Myeong-u spent the whole day weighed down by melancholic thoughts. In order to keep the old memories from rising to the surface, he 36
worked harder than the others in the fields, but the visions of yesteryear could not be suppressed once they started to bubble up. As if to throw up his hands in exasperation, he climbed onto the banks between the rice paddies and sprawled himself out on the grass. When the director spotted this, he soon approached Myeong-u. “Anything wrong?” “Yes,” Myeong-u replied curtly, closing his eyes slowly. “Where? Is it your stomach? Your head?” “My head is heavy.” Myeong-u barely managed an answer through his pained grimace, indicating that it was even a chore to speak. The director looked down at Myeong-u with concern and softened his tone. “If it’s very bad, you can go back home.” “I’m okay.” But the director would not stop fretting. “It would be much better for you to go home. It won’t do to lie here in the scorching sun like this. Go on back home now.” Myeong-u made no attempt to hide his annoyance as he jumped up without a reply and walked away on the banks of the rice paddies. When he got past the rice paddies and onto the larger road, he felt better, as if freed from a cage. He took a deep breath and exhaled before turning toward the village. He was thinking about finding some quiet corner and taking a long nap when he heard footsteps behind him. Turning around, Myeong-u saw Sundong and Sunnyeo. Sunneyo was following behind her brother, balancing a bundle on her head. “Why, are you already going home?” Sundong asked, catching up to Myeong-u and wiping his face with the towel hanging around his neck. “What about you? Why are you going home so early?” Myeong-u asked in turn. “Because I finished everything that needed to be done.” “Done? You already weeded all of your rice paddies?” “We’re going to start on the rice paddies tomorrow.” “You finished weeding the radish plot too?” “Finished weeding that. All that’s left for us is the autumn harvest,” Sundong said, a smile spreading across his face. “But what about you, Myeong-u — why are you going home already?” “I have a headache.” When Myeong-u said this, an impish smile lit on Sundong’s face. “Sure, sure. When you hate something, you’d prefer a headache and more.” “You bastard, are you teasing me again?” “Hahaha!” Sundong laughed good naturedly, but his expression quickly changed to concern. “Come to think of it, you don’t look so well these days.” “Go to hell, you bastard. Always with the teasing.” 37
“No, I mean it. You don’t look as well as before.” “Hey, enough with the nonsense. Get out of here. It’s boiling hot.” “No, but the color in your face has truly taken a turn for the worse. Is something troubling you?” Sundong asked, but Myeong-u refused to take his concern seriously. “You bastard, keep it up and I’ll give you a good whooping,” the older man deflected, pretending to glare at the young man before breaking into a smile. Sundong had no choice but to follow and laugh with Myeong-u. Once they returned to the village, Sundong and his sister went on their own way. Myeong-u contemplated where he should go, but decided in the end to return home. When he arrived, he found the place empty. He entered his room and opened the back door to allow the draft to come through. The breeze rustled as it passed. Myeong-u took off his shirt and sprawled out on the floor without bothering to find a pillow for his head. As he lay there, all the sweat on his body seemed to dry up instantly. Enjoying this refreshing feeling, he let his eyes close. He drowsed contentedly on the floor when he suddenly heard someone entering through the front door. Assuming the footsteps belonged to Deuksu’s wife, Myeong-u pretended not to notice, but he soon heard a woman’s voice that was far gentler than the shrill tenor of Deuksu’s wife. “Excuse me, are you asleep?” Myeong-u opened his eyes and saw Sunnyeo standing near the door blushing up to her ears. Myeong-u sat up abruptly like a bent spring on the rebound.
4. Sunnyeo was cradling a cloth bundle at her side. She also seemed very hesitant, and was having trouble raising her head. Myeong-u, not knowing what was going on, looked at her uncomprehendingly. Then he remembered that he was not wearing a shirt and he grabbed the summer jacket he had flung on the floor by the door and hastily put it on. At this, Sunnyeo’s head sank even lower and she turned aside bashfully. Flustered, Myeongu faltered until he got the courage to speak up. “So... what brings you here?” Finally Sunnyeo slowly raised her head, but she still could not look at him directly. “I, I brought this,” she said meekly, her voice quivering like a reed in a pipe. “What’s that?” “I, I washed your underthings.” “What, underthings?” In shock, Myeong-u turned to his wall and realized that the undershirt and short underpants he expected to be hanging there were missing. “When did you take them?”
“Last time, my brother brought them to me and told me to wash them…. I, I didn’t do such a good job washing them though,” said Sunnyeo. She hesitated again before placing the bundle on the doorsill. With that, she rushed out of the yard as if to escape. Even after she was gone, Myeong-u sat stock still in the same spot, a dazed look on his face. He felt like he was dreaming, and his mind was too muddled to think straight. He dropped his gaze to look at the bundle Sunnyeo had left behind. He then dimly recalled the things she had said. His memories were fuzzy, like a dream. He stared blankly outside for a while longer until he remembered to open the bundle. The laundry, starched just the right amount, was still warm, as if it had been ironed just a short while ago. Gazing down at the neatly folded clothing for another moment, he gently opened the clean undershirt. Something dropped from its folds and landed on the floor. He did not have to pick it up to see that it was a handkerchief. Although made of cheaper artificial silk, it was nonetheless carefully embroidered with pretty patterns along the edges. Snapping out of his daze, he hurriedly packed the clothing back into the bundle and pushed it away to the corner. Changing his mind, he picked it up and tossed it at the chest of bedding that stood in the cold corner of the room. That evening, Myeong-u changed into the clean set of clothing and wandered around the dark alleyways until he reached the north gate. Sundong happened to be standing guard at the sentry box. “Hey, where are you off to?” “Going for a walk.” “Ok, I’ll grant you special permission, so don’t run away now.” “You ass.” As Myeong-u passed by Sundong’s smiling face, he felt his face turning crimson at the thought of the clothes he had on. He hurried past Sundong and headed toward the banks of the stream. Once he reached it, the babbling of the running water was indescribably tranquil. His heart ached terribly listening to the sound. Strangely enough, he also found himself wanting to talk to someone and cry all night in their warm embrace. He could not fathom why he was feeling such things. Agitated by these feelings he could not control, he picked up a pebble and threw it into the water. With that splash, the chirping of the insects immediately ceased. At that moment, Myeong-u was suddenly reminded of the poem Gyuseon was reciting earlier in the day. “Heartstrings! The rusted strings of my heart!” He pored over the memories he could only dimly recall for a long while before deciding to seek out Gyuseon to make an inquiry. His mind set, he hurried back to the village.
VI . The Road to Hell 1. July went and August arrived. Soon after, the village was chosen to receive a large ration from the Manchurian Development Company’s11 loan plan. This would be the fifth of these distributions. The head of the village found himself too busy to eat or sleep as he rushed about from the prefecture office and back to the village, only to spend the whole of the following day overseeing the rice rations in the courtyard of the training center. The villagers petulantly hoisted their rations on their shoulders and straggled off to their respective homes. Then came the work of calculating their reserves for the coming months, as this ration had to last until the new crops were ready for harvest. But no matter how many times they counted the remaining days against the weight of the ration on their fingers, there was no way to make the rice last until then. Ticking off their fingers yet again, they would spit at the sack of rice in a huff and curse loudly, “To hell with it! Why even bother?” channeling the rage hat had no other place to go. By this point the addicts would be thinking about how to get their hands on even the tiniest morsel of the black stuff that would be much better than the rationed rice. Their throats worked convulsively as they salivated at the thought. With this goal in mind, the addicts would find ways to sneak by the self-defense troop’s surveillance in the night. They pilfered rations from their meager family stores to trade with connections on the outside for opium they then smuggled into the village. With their de facto leader Deuksu in the detention center, however, the addicts were at a loss for a while until they selected a new leader. This new person was none other than Gyuseon. At first, he turned down their offer, but once the supply dried up completely, Gyuseon found himself feeling the squeeze. He also came to realize that if he was directly involved in the dealing he would be able to more freely satisfy his cravings than if he relied on someone else. For these reasons, he boldly decided to take on the role and the late night deals resumed. But the long tail is bound to get caught, as they say, and one night the men were spotted by the guards. The loud clanging of the alarm bell shattered the silence in the village. Gyuseon and his gang threw down their sacks of rice outside the village walls and ran full speed up the mountain. The search party quickly surrounded the base of the mountain. The three fugitives scrambled up the mountain, only pausing for a moment to catch their breath once they reached the first peak. They then climbed over the top and slipped off toward the right. The search party went straight over the peak and headed down toward the valley on the left, allowing Gyuseon and his gang to relax and slacken their pace considerably. They consulted amongst themselves about their next steps, but failed to come up with any ingenious plans. After thinking it over for a while, Gyuseon seemed to 11
Manchurian Development Company was established by the Japanese empire to facilitate imperial expansion into the continent. The company served to manage migration and settlement in Manchuria.
give up and muttered to himself, “I don’t give a damn. Might as well be sooner than later if I'm going to drop dead anyways.” Hearing this, Seong-o turned to look at Byeongcheol. Byeongchoel’s face remained unchanged. He continued on, putting one foot ahead of another in utter silence. Seong-o suddenly felt afraid. When Seong-o reflected upon Gyuseon’s usual behavior, the man’s words sounded like an ominous premonition of their fate, and he sensed in Byeongcheol a grim determination to take this opportunity to escape to anywhere, no matter the destination. But Seong-o did not possess the courage to either risk death or dream of escape. Filled with anxiety, Seong-o continued to glance over at the other two, but they walked on without any sign of second thoughts. After the trio had climbed over the third peak, Seong-o could not restrain himself any longer and cautiously turned toward Gyuseon. “So hey, just where are we heading now?” Gyuseon walked on without a reply. “Hey Gyuseon, where does this path lead?” Seong-o tried again. “To hell,” Gyuseon replied coolly, without even a hint of laughter. “What?” Seong-o stared at Gyuseon in shock. Looking as if he might burst into tears, Seong-o inquired again, “Wait, why are we following this path if we don't even know where we're going?” This time it was Byeongcheol who shouted at Seong-o in rebuke: “What does it matter? We go wherever our feet lead us.” Seong-o resigned himself to shutting his mouth, but could not contain himself for long. “Wherever our feet lead us? Where can we go if we keep going deeper into the mountain?” But the other two did not respond as they continued to grope through the darkness.
2. It wasn't until dawn that the fugitives dropped to the ground. Overcome with fatigue, they collapsed in the shade of a tree. Although they had only planned on getting a wink of sleep before continuing on their way, when they opened their eyes the mountain was bright. It seemed to be late in the morning, but a strangely dense fog shrouding the area made it difficult for them to get their bearings. The three men smoked their cigarettes in a heavy silence as they waited for the fog to dissipate. But after a long while it still had not cleared, and remained as dense as ever. The men started to feel increasingly anxious. “Hey Gyuseon, are we just going to stay here?” Seong-o was the first to open his mouth. “What else can we do?” 41
“What else? We have to keep going somewhere — anywhere. What will we do if we get hungry just sitting here?” Seong-o was right. Gyuseon and Byeongcheol had already been feeling the pangs of hunger for a while now. Their expressions darkened even more. Seong-o carefully searched their faces as he waited for a response, but after some time it was Seong-o who broke the silence. “Hey Byeongcheol, have you ever been on this side of the mountain before?” “No.” “What about the other directions then? Have you ever gone along any of those paths?” “No, I never have.” Seong-o sighed deeply and turned to Gyuseon. “Do you know which direction we came from yesterday?” “No. I can’t tell.” “I think there was a high point like a peak on our left while we were walking. I wonder which one it was.” “I keep looking for it too, but I can’t tell which one it was.” “No trees where we walked, right?” “Well, I thought it was mostly tall grass, but then why are there so many tall trees around here?” Their brief conversation left them even more disheartened. As Gyuseon turned to survey the area, he could just make out a ridge through the thick fog. “Oh, that’s it! That's the ridge that was on our left while we were walking.” Relieved, he jumped up and pointed down the slope into the fog below. When Seong-o and Byeoncheol saw the mountain ridge coming into focus through the fog, they tightened their belts and stood up too, as if reenergized. “I think you’re right.” “Let’s head out then.” The three men looked down into the mist, which had thinned considerably, and assessed their location. They started walking eastward, wading through the field of grass dripping with dew. No one knew exactly why they were walking toward the east, but no one questioned the decision either. They knew well that to doubt would only invite fear. All three shared the same desire to ignore even temporarily the fear surging through their minds, so they continued on with no real regard for the direction. They had not gone very far when they descended into a deep ravine. There they came upon a clear stream and nameless blushing flowers blooming in their modest hues. The men gulped down the icy water from the stream. With this their empty stomachs felt somewhat full. The fog had lifted considerably in the meantime and now the hot rays of the sun were beating down. The tops of their bare heads were on fire and sweat poured down their backs like water flowing through a 42
ditch. A musty smell wafted up from the thick grass as the dew began to evaporate. As they continued on their way, passing over one ridge after another, they began to feel such pangs of hunger that soon they could not bear to take another step. And no matter how hard they searched, they still could not figure out which path they should follow. None of the mountain peaks looked familiar to them, and the forest grew dark and dense as they walked along. At last, Seong-o flopped down beneath a large basswood. “I can’t walk anymore,” he muttered, looking up at the others. Byeongcheol and Gyuseon slumped down next to him without a word, leaning their backs against each other. The trio felt increasingly light-headed. They let their eyes drift shut as they lay down on their sides, seized by a heavy fatigue that left them immobilized. Completely worn out, the three were soon fast asleep.
3. Time seemed to have raced by while the men dreamt their muddled dreams and when Byeongcheol finally managed to lift his eyelids, it was already well past noon. Gyuseon and Seong-o were still asleep. Their sallow, wilted faces did not look at all like those of living, breathing people. Byeongcheol tried to gently nudge them awake, but only after five or six good shakes did the two manage to open their eyes. They finally lifted their heads and stared at him with the same unknowing eyes. “Get a hold of yourselves! You can’t just keep sleeping here.” Byeongcheol looked about ready to weep as he contemplated the setting sun. He hoisted himself up with some effort, wobbling on his unsteady legs, but Gyuseon and Seong-o remained on the ground. They stared into the air above them without any sign of getting up. “Hey Gyuseon — get a hold of yourself and let’s go, go anywhere. It will be dark soon.” “Where can we go? I'm so hungry, I can’t go another step,” Gyuseon moaned with difficulty. “But we have to go on. What, are you going to just sit there and starve to death? Let’s at least get down to that ravine and see. We might find some water to fill our stomachs. We have to keep going, no matter where. We’re bound to be the next meal for some hungry tiger if we stay here.” At Byeongcheol’s behest, Seong-o and Gyuseon dragged themselves off the ground. They trudged over to where Byeongcheol stood, glancing behind them as if there really was a tiger hiding amongst the trees ready to pounce. Not a word passed between them. Seong-o and Gyuseon barely managed to get down to the nearby ravine, crawling half the way and tumbling down the rest. As Byeongcheol had predicted, they found a clear stream flowing through the ravine. The three drank with abandon, but immediately 43
afterwards a sharp pain pierced their stomachs and they began to shudder violently. Unable to hold down the water any longer, Seong-o and Gyuseon vomited. Byeongchol gritted his teeth as he tried to keep it down. But Seong-o and Gyuseon continued to heave up all that was left in them. “Aigoo! Help me, help!” Seong-o cried as he fell back, utterly spent. Gyuseon collapsed on a large rock next to him. “Dear man, what are we going to do with you like this too?” said Byeongcheol, roughly tugging at Gyuseon’s arm. “Please… please let me lie here for a bit. I feel like my stomach is turning inside out,” Gyuseon pleaded, his voice on the verge of fading out completely. But Byeongcheol would not give up. “No, it’ll be the end of us if you stay here. I know you are in pain, but let’s try to go a little further. Let’s follow along this stream. I really think it will lead us to a house,” Byeoncheol said. He pulled at Gyuseon’s arm to lift him up. Gyuseon was up now, but he resembled a corpse with its arms hanging limply at its sides. Byeongcheol turned to Seong-o and pulled him up too. “Aaah, I’m dying.” Seong-o’s eyes had already gone out of focus and his moans were faint. “Shit,” Byeoncheol grumbled. Nonetheless he draped Seong-o’s arm over his shoulders and wedged his arm underneath Seong-o’s armpit to support the man from one side. “Go on, walk,” Byeongcheol instructed, and the two attempted a few steps. They had not gone far when Gyuseon stumbled on a tree stump and fell backwards. “Aigoo, damn it all!” he cursed, failing to get himself up again. Byeongcheol reluctantly pulled his arm away from Seong-o’s side before collapsing himself where he stood. As the three men fell back into unconsciousness, the sun sank to the west of the mountain and the ravine filled with darkness. The plaintive caws of a murder of crows rang out from the other side of the mountain peak, and the wind hissed ominously from the shoulder of the steep slope behind where the men lay.
4. It was not until lunchtime the following day that the self-defense troop, after many desperate efforts, finally found Byeongcheol and the others. Although the three men had intended to run far away, they had in fact only managed to circle the same crest of the mountain, like ants circling their den. The spot where the three finally collapsed was less than ten ri from the village. On this day too, the troop had dispersed in all directions immediately after breakfast for one last search effort. The troops climbed over the ridge in front of the village and on again to the next. It was here that they took notice of the
crows cawing loudly from the ravine across from where they stood. Suspicious, they followed the sound and spied the escapees collapsed on the ground. The troops rushed forward, their fatigue temporarily forgotten at the overwhelming thrill of their discovery, but they immediately lurched back in utter horror at the chilling scene. The putrid smell of the place was made only slightly less horrific by the presence of a crouched wolf glaring their way with its penetrating eyes. “Look, what’s that?” the captain shouted from the back of the group. “It’s a wolf!” Several of the men stepped back, their faces pale. The captain summoned his courage to come forward. Just as soon as he took aim with the gun he had slung over his shoulder, the beast bolted as fast as lightning through a space between the rocks. One after another, the captain’s shots rang out through the valley, but the animal had already disappeared into the forest. Only then did a few of the men move cautiously toward the three men on the ground. An incomparable stench assaulted their nostrils. They turned to the right toward the swarms of buzzing flies, but just as quickly, had to avert their eyes. Intestines spilled out of a great gaping hole in the side of a man’s body – it was Seong-o. The captain felt faint and he covered his face with both hands. From behind this shield, he croaked, “Check out the other two. Are they like this too?” After much hesitation, the troops reluctantly inched closer to Gyuseon and Byeongcheol. These two showed no sign of injury and seemed only to be asleep, but the troops dared not go close enough to touch the two men. Unable to wait any longer, the captain removed his hands from his eyes and hurried over to them. Peering intently at the two men, he suddenly cried out in alarm: “There is breathing! They are still alive.” “What?” Several troops rushed forward in breathless amazement. The captain threw down the gun he was holding and lunged toward one of the bodies. He tore open the man’s shirt checking for a heartbeat, and bent his ear close to the man’s nostrils. “Look! He is breathing. This one is alive. Check that other one, Gyuseon, over there. How is he? Is he alive?” One of the troops followed the captain’s example and opened the other man’s shirt, feeling for a pulse. When he exclaimed “Oh, there is breath!” the captain hurried over in a daze. He could definitely hear thumping on the left side of the man’s chest. “This bastard is alive too. His heart is beating,” the captain shouted. Beside himself, he jumped up and looked at each of the troops in turn. But his face drained of color again when he turned his gaze back to Seong-o's remains spread out on the ground. The troop returned to the village within the hour, but during this time, another terrible incident had occurred. It was none other than Gyuseon’s wife, who had attempted suicide. After her husband’s flight, she had joined the search party for two whole days,
roaming about the mountains to find him. At last, she had given up all hope and hung herself from a branch of the willow tree by the stream just behind the village. For good or ill, she was found by a villager and taken back home unconscious and without having achieved her goal.
VII. Light and Darkness 1. Once the rusted strings of his heart began to quiver again, Myeong-u began to yearn to hear the old songs he'd forgotten so long ago. As the days passed, he found himself trying to recall the music of his lost past. The blue bird that flew away! Once lost, is it never to be captured again? The bands of mourning for his lost youth had been so cruelly fixed upon him! Is this dark fate the mourning band that can never be torn off? Sunnyeo's presence left Myeong-u, who had lived so long in the darkness, restless and brooding for days. He felt his heartstrings shudder, straining to find a voice again. Could Gyuseon have been right? Were there parts of his heart that had not rusted over entirely? Again and again Myeong-u denounced these idle dreams. He scoffed at his own feelings and began to hate his foolish heart. But he came to realize that his denial was the foolish thing that should be cast away. Finally, he was able to curtail any twinges of pain toward the kindness and goodwill that Sundong and his sister showed to him and even started to cherish a vague hope. Then one day he was called forth by the director of the training center. When he heard this, Myeong-u automatically turned his thoughts to what rule he might have violated, but the only thing that came to mind was sharing that opium with Gyuseon a few days ago in the nearby fields. It was highly unlikely that Gyuseon would have divulged this secret, though. Then why was he being summoned? He could not guess at the reason no matter how hard he puzzled over it. After a while, he resolved himself to go over and see what it was all about. Just as he was about to leave the house, he saw Sundong running up, gasping for air. Sundong ran straight to Myeong-u and abruptly asked, “You heading to the training center?” He grinned strangely, as though he had something else on his mind. “Yes, the director called for me,” Myeong-u replied reluctantly, taking in Sundong’s smiling face with suspicion. “So do you know why?” “How would I know?” “Who else would, other than the person being summoned?” “How could I know what someone else is thinking or why they would want to see me?” 46
“You don’t even know? I already know,” Sundong said, unable to wipe the smile off his face. He was acting terribly suspicious. “If you know, tell me.” “If I do, you’d owe me.” “Okay, I'll owe you,” Myeong-u said, smiling awkwardly as he stared at Sundong’s mouth for the news. “So what would you owe me?” “Anything, whatever you ask.” “Really?” “Of course really. I wouldn’t cheat a child.” “A child?” “An unmarried whelp is still a child, of course. You can’t call a person like that an adult, can you?” “Well, what about you? Aren’t you a bachelor yourself?” “Yes, you fool, I’m a bachelor, but since I’m old, I get to be an adult.” “What nonsense! A bachelor is a bachelor. A rat’s a rat, no matter how big or small.” “Hey, hey! That’s a foul mouth you got there, son!” “Hahaha, I’m sorry bachelor adult, sir.” “You little bastard, stop clowning around and go on with what you were going to say.” “Okay, but don’t forget your promise.” “I won’t, I won’t. Why did he call for me?” Sundong thought for a moment before his face suddenly turned serious. “Well, there’s… from your family in your hometown….” “What?” Myeong-u exclaimed, stunned. His mouth fell open and he gaped at Sundong. “From home? Who, who came?” he ventured timidly, as if afraid. “A letter arrived from your hometown.” Sundong replied at last with a grave expression devoid of any humor. Myeong-u felt groggy, as if he'd been struck on the back of his head with a hammer. He stood motionless in front of Sundong for a long pause.
2. As Myeong-u walked to the director, his legs trembled imperceptibly. His face was drained of color, and he stared intently at the director’s mouth for any words. The director welcomed Myeong-u with a wide, benevolent smile across his face. “Hello, Myeong-u,” he said quietly. Myeong-u, however, stood stiff as a marble statue and failed to muster a response. “Who is Myeongcheol?” the director inquired. 47
Only after some time did Myeong-u manage to open his mouth. “He’s my older cousin.” “Ah, I see. And your uncle, you father’s elder brother is called Junsik – is that right?” “Yes.” “And your mother is still staying with your uncle, I believe.” Myeong-u lowered his head. “May I ask how old your mother is now?” Myeong-u bit down on his lips with enough force to break the skin. He still could not speak up. “She has not yet passed sixty years, correct?” The director continued persistently with his questioning. Myeong-u could not bear it anymore and he abruptly raised his head. “Director sir, why do you keep on asking me this? Please don’t ask me such things anymore.” The director looked at Myeong-u without a word, then let out a quiet sigh as if out of pity. “I’m sorry. I”ll never ask this again so please excuse me,” he said. He opened his desk drawer and pulled out a letter. “Your cousin sent you a letter. Your uncle also sent a letter addressed to me, but you go on ahead and read your letter first. According to regulations here, I am supposed to open your letter, inspect it, then hand it over to you, but since it’s for you, I will just hand it to you. Pull up a chair and take your time with it.” Myeong-u stared down at the letter on the desk for a long time before finally reaching out his trembling hand. He saw his cousin’s familiar handwriting. The envelope looked full and it was affixed with all eight jeon worth of stamps. He hesitated for a bit, then made up his mind and tore open the envelope.
‘Dear Myeong-u.’ Myeong-u already had a huge lump in his throat after reading this.
‘Today is August XXth. Or July XX by the lunar calendar. Do you still remember this date? My dearest Myeong-u, the younger brother I love most dearly. It is your birthday, the day that your mother’s tears flow all day long…. Myeong-u stopped reading and buried his face in the letter. The director rose quietly from his seat and went outside. Once the tears began to stream down Myeong-u’s face, they flowed continously, like water gushing from a burst dam. Myeong-u sobbed. When he eventually managed to choke back his tears, he lifted his face from the pages to continue reading. I am sure that even as you struggle in that foreign land thousands of ri from home, you must also be thinking of your poor mother and your hometown today. Aunty took 48
your painting down from the wall. The one that brought you the honor of being selected for an exhibition – she gazed at it for a long time, then suddenly clutched it to her bosom. She weeps with that painting in her embrace. As I write this letter to you from the next room while I watch this scene, I cannot help but tear up too. Dearest Myeong-u! I have written this dozens of times already, but I do not begrudge or hate you in the least. You of all people should know my feelings. I do not criticize you in any way. Instead, my resentment towards this unkind world grows deeper with every passing day. I know your heart well and sincerely feel your pain, how could I begrudge you anything? But dearest Myeong-u... When I see your poor mother’s tears… Auntie swears that she will not see you unless you return to your proper path, but she always hides away to weep quietly by herself when no one is around… If you could imagine her in this way….’ Myeong-u could not bear to read anymore. He buried his face back in the damp pages of the letter.
3. That night the director prepared a simple meal and called for Myeong-u and Sundong to join him. Myeong-u, still agitated from his cousin’s letter, readily gulped down all the liquor the director offered. The director, flushing red himself, seemed to be in good spirits, unable to suppress a smile. “How is this for a belated birthday meal?” But Myeong-u struggled to hold back his tears. Seeing through him, the director downed another cup and passed one to him. “Actually, I have something to ask of you, Myeong-u. I hope you would allow me.” Myeong-u put down the cup he was holding and looked at the director. “This is something important,” the director announced. “What is it?” “I have three very important requests. Would you grant me these?” “If indeed they are things in my power to grant, I will.” “Of course they are all things you can do. No, I’d say that they are all things no one else but you would be able to do.” “Then I will do as you request. What is it?” “I will have to ask you one question before we begin. I hope you won’t be offended.” “Not at all.” “Then I’ll ask. Well, can you tell me why you started to smoke opium?” Myeong-u’s face darkened at this unexpected question. He looked stricken.
“I know this is a terrible thing to ask, but if you could please be exceptionally understanding and share your story with me.” But Myeong-u's breathing had become ragged and he seemed incapable of turning his face back toward the director. “The file from the consulate stated only that you had come to Manchuria to make money after losing your first love….” “Director, sir, please… please don’t ask about that. You can ask me anything else, but please, not about that.” The director looked at him searchingly. “I see. Well then, as you wish. I will not trouble you about it anymore.” He laughed good-naturedly to relieve the awkward tension in the room and proceeded. “I’ll go into the three requests now. “First, Gyuseon and Byeongcheol seem much recovered, so I plan to send them to the detention center tomorrow morning. I have always thought that you and Gyuseon seemed different from all the others. Thankfully my eyes did not completely deceive me. I have felt some satisfaction over the effort put forth for your case, but Gyuseon has been a difficult one to persuade. After thinking it over, I thought perhaps you might be able to help us. Would you have any ideas for a good plan?” Myeong-u’s already flushed face turned crimson. He kept his eyes down for a long while. With much effort, he finally opened his mouth to confess his sins, practically moaning in pain. “Director, sir, I am too ashamed to face you. I am still a criminal. Just a few days ago, I committed a crime along with Gyuseon.” But the director’s eyes maintained their warmth as he responded, “There is no reason to linger over the past. Isn’t it enough to make up your mind now and never go near it again? How can we live in this busy world if we're always digging up the past? Don't you agree?” Myeong-u could not take his eyes off of the director as he went on. “I did not come here to dig up the villagers’ pasts. I came here waging all my hope on your futures. So I wouldn’t make a fuss even if I learned that you had violated the rules just an hour ago. The most important thing is whether you settle your resolve from now on. In that respect, I am one who firmly believes in your future. What do you think? Am I wrong in this? If I am, do speak up and let me know.” Myeong-u could not reply. He felt a hard lump choking him from the inside. “This is why I am asking for your help with Gyuseon. I am sincerely asking you to go see him, tonight even, and do your very best to help him.” “Yes, I will go see him. I will be sure to do so,” Myeong-u said, not fully aware of his own words.
4. “The second matter is, well… It’s a bit of a delicate matter, but….” The director hesitated for some reason, unable to bring up the next subject. He glanced quickly over at Sundong, who was sitting cautiously next to Myeong-u, then continued. “It’s just that I have an adopted daughter who is grown now, and I have been thinking of loading her off on someone who might be suitable and…,” he paused again. Myeong-u felt his heart thudding violently in his chest, and he hung his head down low. The director filled his cup to the brim and tossed it back, trying to borrow some courage from the liquor. “Myeong-u, my daughter is not so special, but I believe in you. What do you say? Would you become my son-in-law?” he asked, then waited for Myeong-u to respond. But Myeong-u was struggling with how to take all this in, let alone how to respond. The director saw this and smiled mysteriously, this time piping up rather cheekily, “Is it funny to hear me say I have an adopted daughter? Then shall I tell you her name? It is none other than Sunnyeo, sister to Sundong sitting there right next to you.” “What?” Myeong-u stared intently at the director, doubting his own ears. “Don’t you know Sundong’s younger sister? Sunnyeo. I wish to have you as my adopted son-in-law from now on, so how about it? Do you have any objections? If so, do voice them frankly here.” Thanks to the drinks, the director was becoming more garrulous, and after a while he even pushed the table to the side and sat directly in front of Myeong-u. As he looked at the young man, however, the director’s eyes still had in them an indescribable honesty. “The third thing,” he continued, “is related to the second request. If you agree to the second matter, I will send out a telegram as early as tomorrow to send for your mother. Your cousin’s letter said that your mother refuses to see you even on her death bed if you don’t reform, but if you become my son-in-law, I would like to send her a telegram vouching for you.” Myeong-u slowly closed his eyes. He did not know how to express the feelings that were welling up inside him. He repeated the director’s words to himself, but still could not believe his ears. Was it nothing more than drunken rambling? And Sunnyeo, the director’s adopted daughter? When had they formed such bonds with each other? But wasn’t Sundong sitting right here next to him? Had he heard what the director was saying too? If all this about an adopted daughter was just drunk talk or a stupid joke, wasn’t it unlikely that Sundong would sit there quietly listening to all of it? It must have been Sundong’s own request. The director must have gone on in such a longwinded manner on behalf of Sundong. Myeong-u’s eyes filled with tears as he thought of Sundong’s affections and how the youth, too embarrassed to ask himself, must have asked the director to step in for him. Still waiting for a response, the director pressed Myeong-u again. “Do you have any objections? If you do, you must speak up and not remain silent.” 51
Myeong-u opened his eyes again, as slowly as he had closed them, and he attempted to speak. His voice, however, stuck in his throat and no sound came out. His face flushed an even deeper red. “Why, you are old enough to not be embarrassed by such things. If it is really so difficult to answer, you can send a message tomorrow morning with your reply,” the director ventured. Myeong-u suddenly raised his head as if he had finally made up his mind. “No, I will say it here. Director, I would like to ask you to telegram my mother.” “What? Is what you say true?” Overjoyed, the director found himself at a loss for words. He could only manage to animate his face, unable to suppress his happy grins.
5. Early the next morning, yet another village-wide search was conducted. As many as six people were caught as a result, most of them drug addicts. The same pattern of questioning by the captain and a lecture by the director followed, and arrangements were made to send the six, along with Gyuseon and Byeongcheol already detained from the earlier incident, to the XXX detention ward for rehabilitation. Myeong-u had been up all night due to the excitement, and it was not until daybreak that he drifted off. A short while later he was startled awake by a dream. Unable to return to sleep, he thought over the director’s words from the night before. Soon enough, he was up and heading out to see Gyuseon. As he stepped into the courtyard of the man’s house pondering what he might say, he heard Gyuseon’s voice. Gyuseon seemed to be up already as well. Myeong-u hesitated in front of the closed doors, eavesdropping on the conversation. “I am not saying these things out of hate. If you understood this well, I doubt you would still cling to me and put yourself through all this suffering.” Clearly Gyuseon was speaking to his wife. Myeong-u tensed and leaned in closer to hear. There was still no indication of the wife’s voice. “I know well how much you’ve suffered. It was difficult for you when we married because I was so young and then I became a bloody socialist-something or other and went berserk. And now, with me in this state again, you tried to kill yourself – I know well how you feel. That’s why I've spent the last several days agonizing over how I could get back on the right path. But dear, no matter how hard I try, I cannot get right again.” Now the wife’s sobs were audible. Myeong-u hastily pulled open the door. Gyuseon and his wife stared at him, stunned. Seeing that it was Myeong-u, however, Gyuseon quickly collected himself. “Is that you, Myeong-u? Come on in,” he said smiling meekly. Myeong-u entered without a word and sat down in front of Gyuseon. An uncomfortable silence stretched on until Gyuseon spoke. 52
“I was just telling my wife what I have in mind, Myeong-u,” Gyuseon smiled again, sadly this time. Myeong-u let out a little sigh. “I heard from outside,” he said glancing at Gyuseon’s wife. She continued to sob quietly, her eyes downcast. “Is that right? Then it won’t take long to explain. As you well know, if I go to the detention ward now, I might be there for six months or even a year, and the one thing that weighs on my mind is what will happen to my wife.” “That is a problem, but once you reform, you’ll be released and you can put yourself on the right course for the years ahead. Then you will be able to solve that problem easily.” “What? Reform?” Gyuseon laughed bitterly. “That may be true, but Myeong-u, a person’s heart can’t be known, even to himself. People talk about reform this and reform that, but that’s my greatest problem. You, you’ve found that old dream you had lost again and now have some hope for the future, but what do I have? For someone like me who has no hope for the future, what do I have besides the dreams of the past? “With a small piece of that in me, my head goes blurry and I can see my lost dreams as clear as a picture. You know that process well, no?” Myeong-u could not speak. Instead he turned his eyes toward the window. “If even that small piece had been taken away from me, I already would have gotten rid of this corpse, this husk, with my own hands. So Myeong-u, don’t waste your breath like my wife trying to convince me to do otherwise. I beg of you.” --------After breakfast time, Gyuseon, Byeongcheol, and the six others detained during the early morning search were taken to XXX detention center for rehabilitation according to the village regulations. Some two hours after their departure, Gyuseon’s wife finally ended her thirty-nine years of life, hanging from a branch of the willow tree on the banks of the river behind the village.
Hyun Kyung-jun was born in the town of Myeongchon in North Hamgyeong Province in 1909. In the late 1920s, he traveled to Siberia and then w...
Published on Sep 16, 2015
Hyun Kyung-jun was born in the town of Myeongchon in North Hamgyeong Province in 1909. In the late 1920s, he traveled to Siberia and then w...