Beauty Despises Me

By Eun Hui-Gyeong

1.  Springtime snow

The day I first saw Botticelli's 'The Birth of Venus' is one that I cannot forget. That day, belated spring snow was fluttering down. As I followed my father into the carpeted Italian restaurant, I realized that it was a world apart from any place I had experienced before. Little vases of flowers and candlesticks were disposed on the tables; affluent, refined-looking people were skillfully handling western-style tableware, and their conversations lent a quiet vibration to the air. Father and I were shown to a reserved table beside a window. A waiter took my father’s elegant overcoat and my old parka with the cotton wadding clumped together in places, and hung them on a coat stand.

From the moment I sat down facing him, I directed my gaze uniquely at the large painting on the wall behind him, parts of which were dimly lit. I was incapable of looking him directly in the face. The air inside was warm and soon sweat began to ooze along the multiple folds of my neck. Now you’re a middle-school student you must do more for your mother. In response to Father’s words, I nodded almost imperceptibly. And you can phone me whenever you want. That sounded a bit like a lie. As soon as the food arrived I lowered my eyes and pretended to be absorbed in eating. Transfering a prawn to my plate after spreading it with sauce, Father spoke again: You have a healthy appetite. Don’t worry. Once you’re grown up, your flesh will melt away of its own accord. Why, when I was your age, my nickname was Steamed Bun. I reckoned that was probably a lie too.

Once all the food had been eaten and the plates had been cleared away, having nothing left to look at, I began to look up at that painting again. Following my gaze, Father finally turned and looked behind him. A superior smile rose to his lips. That’s Venus. The scene where she’s born out of the foam of the ocean. Why did I feel so sad, the moment I heard those words? Was it on account of the smooth, beautiful face, like that of a porcelain doll, milky-hued, verging on green? Or the long, blond tresses wrapped around her slender naked body and flying in the breeze; and the defenseless-looking, bare, white feet poised on a great gaping shell? Or was it because of the mysterious sorrow deep in eyes that were gazing up into the empty air? I’m sorry, Father said mournfully, sighing deeply, on seeing that my eyes were brimming with tears.

If I wrack my memories, as I followed my father around that day I was all the time tormented in my mind by the question, Why was I born? Every time my footsteps lagged behind, he would stop and stand waiting for me, probably thinking, like other people did, that it was on account of my clumsy build. I was already used to that kind of misunderstanding. Fat boy that I was, I always looked disgruntled or crabby, whereas in fact it was simply that I was timid. On days when I met my father, I always used to return home feeling sad, because I was convinced I could never please him. It was as if the way I was a fat kid was the thing that especially left him dissatisfied. If he had been with a cute, bright child, he might have been a tragic hero; but a crabby or dull-looking fat kid could never be anything but someone who reminded him of his own mistake, his one moment of folly.

2. Venus

Once I reached an age where I could buy things I liked with my money, I hung a picture of Venus on the wall of my room. Because of the nude female figure, my adolescent friends took it for a variant taste in pornographic posters.  It was B who said fat people tended to get obsessed with the classic genres as a kind of psychological compensation proving their delicacy and sensitivity. But neither the sensuous Venus welcoming her lover, Mars, into her bed, nor the pure, innocent Venus standing with Eros holding the bow, was the focus of my attention. To my eyes, even the Venus de Milo with her elegant symmetry, seeming to boast that nothing superior in the way of curves could even be imagined, merely looked like an object for an art class to draw.  The only Venus in my book was  Botticelli’s Venus.

That day, my friends and I went to B’s house to pilfer some whisky his parents had bought on a trip to Europe. Throughout B’s house there were bottles of ginseng wine and other kinds of liquor that we had previously topped off with water. But that day, we could only lower the level in the new bottle by very little, as B warned us several times that it was expensive stuff. We decided to drink just a drop more of the whisky that B’s father kept in his study, and I went to get the bottle. His father’s study was a place I liked—the dust-covered books, the secret solitude, and the faint, familiar scent. Of all that B had, it was perhaps the thing I liked the most. I took the bottle from the bookcase, and, on my way out. stole a glance at the book on the desk. I was always curious as to what book B’s father was reading. A museum catalogue, apparently bought at his latest travel destination, was lying open on top of the desk.

It was a statue of an immensely obese woman. The sagging roll of flesh all round her middle made her look as if she was carrying a baby on her back, wrapped tightly round with a thick cotton quilt. Her upper body, leaned forward to buttress breasts like stone mortars, was firmly sustained by a pot-like belly and short legs thick as pillars. There could be no distinguishing legs and arms, or neck and waist; naturally there was nothing that might be termed features on her face. It was like attaching elephant’s legs to a haphazardly rolled snowman. The woman’s name was ‘the Venus of Willendorf.’ The caption said it was a stone Venus made about 20,000 years ago during the ice age, preserved in a museum in Vienna, Austria.

I gazed at her for a while, almost like someone possessed.  I laid the bottle down on one side of the desk, and finally began carefully tearing the page out of the catalog.  When I had folded it a couple of times, it fit right into my trouser pocket.  Even now, I don’t understand exactly why I did such a thing.  Was it because for the first time I had some kind of feeling, however insignificant it might be, about a twenty thousand years’ span of time?  You might say, tritely, that I sensed in my own body primitive time, but in truth, feelings of mockery or derision were not entirely absent. These feelings, though, were immediately overwhelmed by my friends joyfully shouting at the bottle in my hands.  Only when I was changing my trousers after returning home did I recall the woman’s photo in my pocket. Feeling drowsy under the influence of the alcohol, I carelessly slipped the picture between the pages of the first book that came into my hands, then I went straight to bed.  As I threw myself onto the bed, it uttered a groan as if it was being twisted.

Around this time my weight was perhaps at its peak.  Even nowadays the painful physical education classes appear in my dreams occasionally.  I almost forgot about the woman whose picture I stole for the first time in my life.  But from time to time she came into my memory when I stood in front of a scale at a public bath early in the morning on Sundays when no one was around.  On such occasions, I would get down from the scales muttering: Venus, for goodness’ sake, don’t bless me. Take away from me your abundance and fertility. She did not come to my mind as often as I felt an urge to ransack all the books in my bookcase looking for that photo, inserted between the pages of some book or other. Then, when I became a college student, I don’t know why, but I sold off almost all the books that I had read to a secondhand bookstore, tying them together in the order they were arranged in my bookcase.  And the ever more faded picture of Botticelli’s Venus also disappeared after I had moved.

When I became a high school student, Father took me out to another smart restaurant, but I heard no more news of him once I was in college. Mother had a habit of telling me that I resembled Father more and more as I grew older. Of course, she used to say that when she was not pleased with me. After I became a college student, she no longer spoke to me about him. It was as though she had come to terms with the fact Father had left, now I was an adult. Though she appeared much freer than before, that could not promise her immediate happiness. It had taken too long for her to reach that point. Now you are a college student, you must do more for your mother. Had I met Father then, that’s what he would have said, for certain. It was really all that he could have done for her.

3. Phone call on a Sunday

My thirty-fifth birthday fell on a Sunday. Upon returning from church Mother prepared the traditional soup with dried seaweed, that she had put to soak in water the night before. After she’d washed the dishes, as we sat watching the television I declared that to commemorate my birthday, I would go on a diet. My mother stared at me with a doubtful look, almost as if she had just heard words spoken by a bear preparing to hibernate. I had lived as a fat person since infancy, and that was no short period of time. It’s true that it had been uncomfortable, but human narcissism can adapt to any condition, no matter how bad, and find ways to rationalize it. Seeing that Mother had thought for the past thirty years that I accepted my obesity quite naturally, her long searching stare wasn’t at all unreasonable. But she didn’t seem to have picked up on the reason why I had suddenly decided to go on some kind of a diet. She replied briefly in a reluctant tone: It’ll be nice to have some space on my drying rack. My mother had always complained that she lacked space to hang clothes, even though we were only two, because my clothes were all of the largest size. It never occurred to her that the reason might be because she didn’t do laundry often enough. Let’s see...will we have more room around the house once you shrink? A tired, emotionless expression hardened by many years of life came to my mother’s face as she turned her head to survey the interior of our house.

A talk show was rerunning on cable television. As the faces of the guests for the show appeared on the screen, Mother sat closer to the TV set. Two good-looking young men, identically dressed in white clothing like twins, appeared, shaking their long, feathered hair and harboring fresh smiles as if they hoped to fill the screen with sweetness. Mother had never even heard the songs of their group. Yet they had recently become her favorite celebrities. Each time the two appeared, Mother would invariably ask me: Look, which one is Hyeonjung, which is Hyeongjun? Mother might not be able to distinguish if I was right or wrong, but she unfailingly spotted an uncertain reply. It was not that she ever expected any sincere response from me. She had long ago got into the habit of talking to herself as if we were having a conversation, having realized that despite her complaints, there would be no change in my taciturn character. If they were three, it would be much easier to tell one from another, but it’s harder because they are two. It’s just like distinguishing between a left turn and a right turn. That spring Mother had given up trying to get a driver’s license after she had failed the written test for the eighth time. She must have been thinking that if once she gave up trying to tell Hyeonjung from Hyeongjun, from then on she might have to give up more and more things in the later years of her life.

After attending a two-hour lecture to the effect that old age was a matter of learning the composure needed to accept and resign oneself to one’s own senility, Mother stopped going out to the Old People’s Welfare Center. Although she had been obliged to give up so many things in the course of her life, what Mother hated most of all was resignation and any pressure in that direction. In actual fact, call it resignation if you like, Mother had almost never made any choices for herself. It had been just the same when she held me to her breast as a new-born babe.

As soon as their program ended, Mother sat back from the TV. How many kilograms are you going to lose? she asked. When I responded that I would lose twenty kilograms, she cocked her head and nodded again. Are you planning on meeting someone? she muttered behind my back as I was going into my room. Contrary to Mother’s complaints that I was impossible to figure out, I sometimes thought there was nothing she didn’t know about me; this was one of those times.

Of course, it wasn’t that I had had absolutely no interest in diets until now. You can’t ignore what’s going on in the world. Nowadays, fat people aren’t simply looked at insensitively and apathetically. They are treated like lazy good-for-nothings who lack self-control and don’t take care of themselves. I know that the many potential brides I’ve been introduced to, and undoubtedly my own mother as well, probably thought at some point that my sexual ability would leave a lot to be desired. B joked that if my weight went over a hundred kilograms, I would have to start counting it in tons. 0.1 has more potential to it and looks better than 100. To be honest, if it weren’t for your considerable weight, you would have been far too ordinary in every way. However, whether B’s comment about my weight was true and I therefore didn’t move that easily, or whether it wasn’t true that I was so ordinary, I especially hated to be manipulated by conformist values. What could change me was not the general majority but certain people who were important to me.

That afternoon, I took the bus and went to a large bookstore in Gwanghwamun. After carefully looking through dozens of books for about two hours, I bought three diet books that I thought were theoretically more persuasive than the others. B’s company, , which took Saturdays off and worked Sundays instead, was ten minutes away. B answered his phone immediately. I told him I’d come out to buy some books, and he assured me he would be there in the bookstore before I’d even read two pages. However, it was two hours before he showed up. A newspaper reporter is like a husband who drinks heavily; he always offers an excessively logical excuse for being late, and never forgets to add that he’s going to have to quit. Meanwhile, he reads the titles of the books beside me and, at the same time, even thinks about the day’s lead stories in his head.

According to B, it would be as if I was living a new life. I would never again suffer the indignity of having someone in a crowded elevator that was on the point of leaving hit the “close” button as I came rushing up gasping and was about to set one foot inside. And I would be liberated from getting flushed whenever I tied my shoes, worrying that I might unknowingly let go of a fart from straining too much, as if I were sitting on the toilet. I would leave behind the anguish of having to conceal my wounded pride whenever a waitress brought a meal I’d ordered to some incredibly ugly and messy fat guy, since all fat people look alike, and I had to call her over in a loud voice. That’s the way to think. All of us, including you, are finally going to get a look at the real you, the you that’s been wrapped up inside those rolls of flesh. B considered it entirely my fault that his old car had lost its muffler. Surely you realize that the bottom of the car is so low when you’re in it, it can hardly get over the speed bumps?  From now on you won’t have to worry when you get on an airplane, an excursion boat, or a playground ride, or whatever, as to whether the person next to you is wondering if it’s going to tip to your side. Ordering one last bottle of soju, B asked: What made you think of losing weight all of a sudden, anyway? Trying to sleep with a girl?

That had been during a gathering of high-school friends whom I hadn’t seen for a long time. There was one who told how, using his company’s corporate card, he’d been enjoying unlimited one-night stands, hitting the hottest spots in Gangnam. Married friends responded nonchalantly to his bragging, but the unmarried ones little by little leaned closer toward him. When his entertaining tales of adventures with women at company expense ended, someone in a corner sighed deeply. You know, I haven’t slept with a woman for 11 months, 3 weeks, and 2 days. What? Impossible! An exaggerated chorus of sighs arose all around, as if they were a paid audience filling the studio seats for a television talk show. I confided to B alone, on our way home, that for me it had been two years more than for that friend. 11 months, 3 weeks, and 2 days!  I had initiated the conversation for fun, meaning to suggest that the way he had remembered even the days meant he must have been counting on a daily basis, but B seemed to interpret my words differently. Honestly, I don’t think it’s a problem that will be solved by dieting, B advised me, a serious expression on his face. It’s a matter of how positive you are. Have you ever even approached a woman and started a conversation? Despite having spent a long time together, there were a lot of things B didn’t know about me. It was simply that I had lived under conditions in which I always had to consider first, before I ardently wanted something, whether it was ok for me to want it; it was not that I was passive about wanting things. Besides, even without B spelling it out plainly, I was not so dull-witted that I didn’t know that, when it came to sleeping with women, there were many simple solutions without going on a diet.

By the time we came out of the bar, night had already fallen and was waiting for us. How’s your mother’s health? B walked with me to the bus stop after he’d phoned for a substitute driver to drive him home. Hasn’t she been complaining of boredom since she gave up the restaurant? Relieved, more like it. I think she still goes there sometimes for a meal of rice and soup. She taught the new owner so that it tastes ok. Actually that was a pretext. She was surely bored to death after twenty years of rice and soup, always in the same place, but apart from there, Mother had nowhere else to go. Is she still going to the same church? No, she’s switched to the Full Gospel Church. I explained the reason to B. Mother couldn’t stand the sight of the rich ladies from Gangnam singing hymns so affectedly, their mouths moving like those of gold-fish; she said she wanted to bawl out hymns at the top of her voice, so she had switched churches. Your mother always looks so energetic. B laughed loudly, as if he found it funny.

It being Sunday evening, there were not many people in the bus. As I placed my books on the empty seat next to me, B’s words came to mind. It was true that every time I took a seat on a bus, I was always careful not to touch the person sitting next to me. Several times I had got off a bus midway, unable to bear the suspicions of some young woman. I smiled wryly. B was different from me in every way; I was unnecessarily complicated and sensitive. He was simple and cheerful, quite devoid of malice, as befits a son lovingly brought up in a good environment. I never saw him when he was a child, but he must have been a bright, sincere looking boy.

I slowly turned my face towards the window. The road outside was a bit darker than usual. Perhaps because there were not many cars, the streetlights created patterns here and there on the dark, deserted road. Mother had always led a dull life, and though she desired change, there was nothing she could do about it. The only thing she could change was the church she attended. She could never be at all energetic. If Mother had answered that phone call, she might well have replied flatly that it was the wrong number, that  the person being asked for didn’t live there. But then not only would she have been unable to prepare lunch, because her hands were shaking, she would not have been able to look me in the face when I inquired about the call; she would have ended up wrapping herself in her quilt and rolling over onto one side.

I’d received that phone call a week before, in the morning, while Mother was at church. It was a young man’s voice. He said he’d obtained the number from the rice and soup place, and asked whether he was right in assuming that I was the son? Then he mentioned Father’s name and indicated the name of a hospital and the ward number. It was a short conversation. It was thanks to a kindly nurse on duty at the hospital that I learned the name of his disease and the operation date. Are you family? Yes, I am. I answered in a dry tone, like the young man who had phoned. After that day, one week passed and the only thing I can be said to have done was to call up the rice and soup place, telling them that if they gave out our number to strangers, Mother would be put in a tight spot, and requesting them not even to tell her that someone had asked for our number. I tried to remember what Father looked like, but my mind was a blank. Instead, what rose to mind was a fat boy, lost in gloomy thoughts then hurrying after his father, afraid of losing him.

4. Our daily bread
Dr. Robert Atkins, a cardiologist, discovered an interesting fact while performing autopsies on deceased soldiers during the Vietnam War. There were masses of thick fat attached to their internal organs. How could accumulated fat, a common tendency among older people who enjoy eating meat but exercise less, be found in young soldiers on the battlefront? It was due to carbohydrates, the staple of their diet. The human body is a large chemical factory. The excess carbohydrates in the body turn to fat; but fat, no matter how much is consumed, can’t be stored without carbohydrates. That’s where the theory of the Atkins Diet came all the fat you want but no carbohydrates.

Mother, who had run an eatery serving boiled rice in soup for over twenty years, naturally held the opposite theory. When I told her that I would lose weight by eating fat pork, she pretended to be puzzled, asking where all that grease would go. I tried telling her that once food enters the body, it turns into totally different substances, but it was no use. She especially adopted a firm attitude when I said that I would completely cut out carbohydrates like rice, bread, noodles or rice cakes. She was unyielding in her argument that rice is healthy food, home-grown produce that generations of ancestors have eaten, and that noodles have only half the calories of rice, while buckwheat noodles are widely known as a diet food. Mother had been watching morning TV programs almost without fail. When it came to the rule that fruit or juice should be avoided, she retorted: Even sugar-free juice? But fruit itself contains a lot of sugar. And don’t buy potatoes, either. Starch breaks down into carbohydrate at once. Mother’s eyebrows rose high, full of confidence. Can you tell me one kind of food that is as nutritious as potatoes? I know. I hurriedly replied as if to keep her from speaking, since I was not accustomed to explaining things to Mother. Everyone knows how much sugar and potatoes have contributed to human history. The problem is that today is not a time of nutritional deficiency when people need to generate energy at low cost. On the contrary, in the U.S. alone they pour billions of dollars a year into keeping in good shape and on dieting.

The scale I had ordered through the Internet arrived the following day. People imagine the difficulties of fat people to be simply a matter of having a hard time going up stairs, or spending a lot on food, but it’s not so. What is far more uncomfortable is the way we can do nothing without attracting people’s attention. One of the major advantages of Internet shopping is that, just as a bachelor can quietly purchase a ‘real doll,’ a fat person can choose things like large-size clothes or a set of scales without feeling that everyone’s staring at them. Standing on the very first set of scales I had ever owned in my life, I gazed down at the needle as it sped blithely over the figures.

At the stationer’s shop beside the bus-stop on my way home I bought a little spring-bound note-book, the pages ruled in blue. The note-book was kept shut by a textile-covered rubber band and contained fifty pages. Leaving 42 pages, I tore out the rest, then wrote one day’s date on each of the pages with a thick pen. Preparations were pretty much complete.

5. The second week

As soon as I opened my eyes, I started the day by recording my weight.

For breakfast I ate vegetables with eggs or tofu. I had to change my whole cooking method to be able to eat without getting fed up. For vegetables, I alternated between things like tomatoes, cucumbers, and bell pepper. Dinner was meat and fish. I ate slices of grilled pork one day and sushi the next, followed by grilled fish, fried bacon, boiled chicken, grilled sirloin, and so on. From anyone’s point of view, they were decent meals to be sure, but it took more patience than I thought to eat the same food every day. It was a particular struggle to eat all of these things without rice. Until now, I had chosen my meals based on the main items and thought of rice as something that automatically came with them. Now it was completely different. My appetite demanded only rice, and my body went crazy with excitement at just the thought of warm, glossy rice. That wasn’t just because of taste. Fat can only be stored if it is consumed with carbohydrates. Thus, my body’s instinct was to plead and clamor for carbohydrates.

Lunch was the most difficult. I offended the restaurant owner by only eating side dishes and not even touching the rice. On the plate of dumplings I had finished eating, only the peeled dumpling skins were left untouched with the stuffing taken out. When I ate bibimbap, I first skimmed off the hot pepper sauce made using glutinous rice, that was mixed with sugar, then carefully removed and ate the vegetables that were spread on top of the rice.

When I went to restaurants with my co-workers, they would talk until the meal was over about the fact that I had started dieting, the incomprehensible aspects of the diet I had chosen, and common knowledge regarding the terrible things that might happen if someone as fat as me did not go on a diet. A friend who joined the company the same year as me made the most scathing comments regarding the side effects of dieting and the yoyo syndrome, using our friendship as an excuse. The only one among them who didn’t speak was the new female employee, but I could sense that she was using her chopsticks quietly so she wouldn't miss a word of the conversation. It was all outward encouragement. However, since other people’s problems are a matter of common curiosity anyway, I didn’t enjoy being made its subject. Eventually, I began going out to eat alone. I postponed all my dinner appointments and such like for six weeks.

Changes began in my body after three days. I felt dizzy as if suffering from anemia and began to lose my concentration. Whenever I saw a chair, I sank into it even if only for a short while. I lost enthusiasm for everything, and even my daily routine at the office started to be beyond my strength. When the new female employee overtook me walking slowly up the stairs holding onto the handrail, she couldn’t stand it, to the point where she carried my files for me. Are you O.K? You look pale. Though I hated the fact that I was drawing attention, I pointed my finger at my head and smiled wryly. My brain is angry at me. What? What about your brain? Since I didn’t have the energy to explain further, her wide, innocent-looking eyes began to get on my nerves. The brain, the most sophisticated part of our body, doesn’t bother with tedious tasks. Instead of producing energy for its own use, it gets its supply of glucose from carbohydrates; but now it has been getting nothing. Dr. Atkins said you should not satisfy your brain’s demands. Over time, the brain cannot help but adapt to the new system. However, you clearly risk a certain degree of danger by not feeding your brain, even for a short time.

Mother could not help noticing. On the fifth day, chicken stewed with ginseng was on the table for supper. Chicken meat’s ok, isn’t it? Mother sounded quite natural, as if to suggest that she couldn’t possibly be expected to know anything about the mass of glutinous rice hidden inside the breast. I remained speechless; all I could do was stare down blankly at the chicken that was giving off a cloud of hot steam with a savory odor of rice. The explanation that meat was alright but that the moment I ate cold noodles or bean-paste stew with rice after the meat I would start to put on weight was so obvious that it refused to leave my lips. Instead, saliva quickly began to accumulate in my mouth. As I hesitated, my selfish, greedy body had already tucked in the napkin, and was sitting there holding knife and fork, looking at me with an expression that said: Come on, hurry up.

Everyone has to eat cereals in order to keep vigorous. Gazing fixedly at me, Mother spoke intensely tempting words. There was nothing wrong with what she said. You only needed to think of a farmworker’s rice-bowl heaped high with rice like a grave-mound to realize it: next to sugar, cereals are most easily turned into energy. But in my state, obliged to use up all my surplus reserves, I absolutely had to avoid absorbing any new food.

After a light meal of canned tuna and tofu for dinner, as I had an unpleasant taste in my mouth, Mother brought me fragrant honeyed water in a clear glass, with ice cubes floating in it. All other things are useless. To follow the dictates of your body is the key to health. Her words, as sweet as the honeyed water, were also true. The body, like a baseball trainer, sends us all kinds of signals to control the game called “survival.” The problem is that when it comes to fat, there is a complete difference between the satisfaction my body wants and the health I desire. As for my brain, it was increasingly not on my side. It was the brain that was ordering the viscera to stock up on glucose in order to secure energy for itself, regardless of what the other organs might suffer. Crazy to go on storing up more, the brain is always three minutes late in telling the body that the stomach is full. Even as I reluctantly waved away the honeyed water, I could feel at the same time that someone in my body was struggling desperately to rush out barefoot and grab the glass.

Dishes of grilled mackerel and pan-fried tofu, as I had asked, were served for dinner on the next day. But there were also a bowl of shiny rice and a squid casserole with noodles on top, which I had not ordered. All of them were in small quantities. Mother declared that an unbalanced diet is a bad habit, as everybody knows, and ordered me to eat a variety of foods, as the morning program on TV advised, but reduce my intake by half. As I did not listen to her at all, she changed tactics again on the next day. She used a sweet flavored sauce together with pepper and salt for marinating beef; or added sugar, pure carbohydrate, when she cooked a peppery chicken soup or made a squid casserole. I became more and more discontented with her as I was less and less able to overcome temptation. Eventually I started to make scenes at the table.

It began with me shouting that she had to get rid of her old and out-dated beliefs about food and things. I grumbled that she should let me handle my problems in my own way, especially those related with my own body. But the grumbling grew to temperamental reproaches. I even told her bluntly that I would never be able to get married as she so much wanted if I failed this diet, so would certainly not produce any fat children. I implied that her current life without any hope was the inevitable revenge of fate for her one immoral act. I knew exactly how to hurt her. But Mother’s dignity was quite sufficient for her to depise those who hurt her. If ever she could not do as she wished with me, she would remind me of her absolute authority and self-sacrifice on my behalf at the time when I had been a helpless, wretchedly abandoned foetus, doing so with sufficient vigor to stuff me back into her womb like a boa constrictor swallowing an elephant. Why did you give birth to me? Why did I have a son like you! We would have growled at each other like this, if we had been a chicken and an egg.

The diet was difficult because I had to fight with the millions-of-years-old survival instinct system installed in my body. The human body comes programmed with a system, dating back to the age of stone axes, that stores up fat intensively. But today’s standards of beauty and health involve burning off body fat entirely. Dieting is bound to involve a dilemma between our primitive body and modern culture. Dilemmas came into every aspect of my life each day, through different ordeals. One day on coming back from the archives, I found a paper plate with a slice of mousse cake, with a sweet fresh cream topping and a red strawberry on top, waiting for me. A cup of cola stood beside it. A colleague, who had joined the company at the same time as me, with cream stuck to the corners of his mouth already, was waving a fork as he told me that it was the birthday of the new female employee. I felt all my co-workers observing the plate and me, as if they had a wager on.

Eat mine too. I moved the plate with the cake to the desk of my colleague. The colleague, who was looking at me with intrigued eyes as I handed him the glass of cola too, questioned me as if playing a quiz game. Why is cola bad for the body? When you eat concentrated sugar along with fat, the body displays a tendency to store up fat, you see. I continued talking in a slow, cool voice. If you ask me why bad things exactly suit our taste, that’s because it’s the body of a primitive man from millions of years ago who goes mad at the least mention of fat.

I named the Other who was living in my body Primitive Man. Gradually I began to feel hostility toward the animal instinct for survival and the systems of my body attached to it. Humans do not have sex anymore just for preservation of the species. My having been born is enough to prove that. And yet the systems of my body persist in asserting that I am still an animal no different from the humans of the ice age. Why do pleasure-seeking humans, having resisted the instinct to preserve the species, still submit to the pleasurable instinct of storing fat? Is it because achieving pleasure is the dominant human gene?

I lost weight little by little each day. There were days I weighed the same as before, but my body definitely felt lighter even on those days. My watch became loose on my wrist, and I had to tighten my belt by three holes. As I fastened the collar-button on my shirt, I realized my weight loss had begun primarily from the neck. When I looked at myself reflected in the mirror while taking a shower, it seemed as though there was more space in the mirror, and when I met someone in a narrow hallway, I only had to turn slightly to get past without touching the wall. It was easier to get a cab, too, presumably because there were less cab-drivers who disliked taking me. There were more and more instances in which the new female employee, who had previously been so hesitant to respond whenever I pointed out something, smiled and replied promptly. Once I had lost eight kilograms, I grew convinced that this diet was proof that modern humanity represented a new stage of existence, having abandoned the natural choices made by animals for the choices of enlightened civilization. But more importantly, I found satisfaction in the thought that I was resisting the genetic transmission system. In the meanwhile, three weeks had passed.

6. What can and cannot be chosen

B paid a visit to my workplace during one lunch hour. Anything goes, so long as you just stay away from the carbohydrates? That won’t be too difficult, surely? But B and I had to keep passing so many restaurants. Ox bone soup or haejang-guk, sushi, fried rice, and curry with rice are all dishes that can’t be thought of without rice. Even the light lunch menu items such as cold buckwheat noodles and udon are packed full of carbohydrates. Pastas are the same. B stopped in front of a Chinese restaurant. Meat’s okay? Yes, but most Chinese dishes contain starch. Standing on the pavement and looking at the signboards of restaurants around him, his gaze settled without much hope on a sandwich shop across the street. No good, of course? Bread is already bread, then they go and put sugar in the mayonnaise. I don’t care if you eat or not, I need to have lunch. Complaining he’d lost his appetite, B finally hauled me into the nearest fast food place.

B ordered fried chicken, a cola and biscuits, and I ordered a hamburger without sauce. Won’t it cause a nutritional imbalance if you keep not eating rice like that? After all, isn’t it the principle of a diet that you should eat constantly just one sort of food and lose weight through malnutrition? Since every person talking to me over the past few weeks had questioned me about diet methods, I was rather sick of it, but I tried explaining that dieting is more a matter of metabolism than calories. Though lions only eat meat, they don’t have problems with their nutritional balance because carbohydrates are synthesized in their bodies. On the contrary, even though cows only eat grass, they have a lot of fat in their bodies. Though camels hold fat in their humps, they are able to cross the desert because fat converts into water when it burns. And so on. B snickered. Wow, nearly automatic! Your channel’s stuck.

A boy, appearing to be waiting for his mother who had gone to order, was sitting by himself across from me and was staring at me with a piercing gaze. I don’t like fast food places, and it’s not just because whenever someone fat appears, people immediately think of the McDonalds lawsuit. It’s also because they can see up-close what others are eating, and the places are usually full of children. Young children, being candid, stare openly whenever something strikes them; most parents only recognize their children’s right to be natural, and fail to teach them about the self-respect of people who do not want to be stared at like that. If they see me eating just a salad, parents will whisper to their child: They have to eat just a little like that because they’re fat. But he’s still fat even though he eats little; don’t you feel sorry for him? But suppose a fat person is eating French fries, a double-size hamburger and a coke, they don’t ignore him because that corresponds to his size. They’re fat because they eat like that, is often communicated with their eyes while they hold in their laughter, and they are likely to look away quickly once they sense my gaze. It is not because fat people have large bodies that they are so readily noticed. People fix their eyes on fat people because they feel that there’s something different about them. I saw the boy attentively observing me eating only the insides of the burger and tossing the buns onto a tray.

B pointed at the chicken. Try a piece? You said you can eat greasy food. Naked chicken’s okay, but that looks like it dove into the oil wearing a cheap coat. B raised his eyebrows, a bitter look on his face. You’re really having a hard time of it. Yeah, I envy bears the most, because they lose all their weight just by sleeping through the winter. They lose weight by sleeping? That’s the first I’ve heard of bears getting liposuction. No kidding, they’re loaded, too. But B didn’t look like he was enjoying joking around as usual. I could hear the ice rattling around as B absentmindedly shook his soda cup. I changed the topic. Do you know why human beings overeat?

During the ice age, our ancestors starved on a regular basis. Many died because they couldn’t make it through the times when there were no plants to gather or animals to hunt. Therefore, if they found something to eat after a long period of waiting, they would always throw a big feast and overeat. The purpose of the feast was to store fat, and the purpose of storing fat was to be able to survive the next cold spell, drought, or other time of need. If children don’t eat properly for even a week, their limbs stop growing. According to scholars who study the bones and teeth of prehistoric humans, there is a clear difference in density between the parts that stopped developing due to starvation and the parts that developed actively after a round of heavy eating. The ability to survive didn’t depend simply on eating but on overeating. Therefore, even fat people, whose bodies have ample fat stored up for emergencies, get hungry regularly and enjoy the taste of food. Overeating is a genetic flaw built into the human body.

So all you have to do is blame the ancestors for everything. B interrupted me. Strangely, his look, scrutinizing my face, was just like that of the kid sitting opposite. It was the first time B gazed (or: had ever looked) at me like he was looking at a fat person. It was as if he was telling me that while I’m conscious of the inner fat guy and struggle against him, he becomes my identity. B added, still wearing the expression of a stranger. What you’re saying is, because you were born the wrong way it isn’t your fault. Am I right?

I put the empty coke cup and dirty napkins on my plate without saying anything. He went on: You seem to really hate the guy you call ‘primitive man’, but aren’t you the guy inside, crying for the fat? You think you’re a highly rational self that command the being called you, while he is a primitive person like a free loader living upon you? No way. He existed before you got the current shell called your ‘body’. He is you. Isn’t that true? I picked up the tray and stood up, not responding. Clever, innocent children do not know. The reason why fat children who look grouchy and dim-witted don’t play balls with other children and stay in the classroom watching them out of the window whilst greedily licking the chocolate in their hands. The stimulating hostility and pleasure of that sweet taste which stains the mouth. Shit. Who cares whose genes are inside my body?

7. At the meal table

That evening, I returned home and ate grilled pork with half a bottle of soju. According to Dr. Atkins’ suggestions, I chose soju instead of the beer I usually drank. Mother had the remaining half. The TV was on behind the chair where I was sitting. Her eyes glued to Hyeon-jung and Hyeong-Jun, Mother spoke. Tell me honestly. Why are you so crazy about losing weight? What’s going on? I looked down at the sliced pork sizzling on the electric frying pan. The fatty piece left on the pan, which Mother had removed from the meat, was frizzling especially loudly. Holding the last glass of soju, I stared blankly at the wall behind Mother as usual. There was nothing hanging on the wall.

As two weeks had passed since the date of the operation, I thought he might have been discharged from the hospital. However, the patient was still in his hospital room, waiting for a second operation. I wanted to ask how he was doing but just hung up the phone. I didn’t want to let even the nurse know that I was wondering about his condition. Since I was determined to suppress my desire to know if the patient wanted to see me, everything happened like that. It was the same in regards to the pain his body must be undergoing. It wasn’t that I was unconcerned, but too much relentless time had built up between us, like fatty dregs that thicken the blood, for me to naturally feel pity for him.

As I was checking the dates on my notebook that was on a corner of a dining table, all of a sudden Mother spoke in a high-pitched voice. “Why, your body’s not completely covering  the TV screen any more.” “It’s only Hyeonjoong on the TV today, isn’t it?” I moved my body aside so that she could see the rest of the screen. Mother joked around when she got tipsy. On the TV screen, the good-looking youths were grimacing as they ate rice cake stuffed with hot peppers as a penalty for losing a game.  Nice-looking people look nice even when they’re eating. Mother began to talk to herself. They say when you’re old, you look disgusting as you eat. Who wants to keep looking at something disgusting? That’s when it’s time to take their food away. It’s time for them to die. That’s what they say happens when someone breaks off a relationship. Once affection has cooled, there’s nothing worse that seeing that person eating. If you feel the urge to take away food from someone, doesn’t it mean you want them to die? And there’s nothing more shameful than eating. It’s said that liking starts with eating together and affection grows at the table. If you look pretty when you eat, you’ll become a pig soon, I remarked cynically.

Mother stopped wiping the grease from the frying pan and heaved a deep sigh. Why don’t you go out and buy one more bottle of soju. You say you’re losing weight but you take no exercise.  And don’t treat rice like some deadly enemy.  All of a sudden, Mother roughly flung down the oily paper towel and started nagging at me. The more Mother drank, the more her jokes turned into lectures and nitpickings, that would then be followed by sob stories about her unhappy life. You shouldn’t do that.  It wasn’t that long ago that people went hungry because they didn’t have anything to eat.  Don’t forget the spring famine. After all, back in those days, people would really do anything to avoid starvation. Do you know how many families in our neighborhood sent their daughters to work in bars? Anyway, it’s not like that anymore, I interrupted. People don’t starve to death anymore, so you too . . .  I gulped down what I wanted to say next because she was glaring at me. Even after I shut up, Mother kept staring hard at me. She looked both mystified and doubtful. What’s wrong?  I asked bluntly, and Mother replied: Nothing, you just reminded me of someone, and laughed feebly.

8. The final week

My body seemed to have completely shifted from synthesizing fat to burning fat. I regained the usual rhythm of my life and the change in my body was clearly shown by the astonished looks of all the people who knew me. If a client I had not seen for a while dropped by and commented in flattering tones that he could hardly recognize me, the new female employee would chime in, remarking how remarkable I was. Then she would add, turning her head toward me: Your double eyelids are so distinctive and stylish. I could definitely feel my butt had grown smaller whenever I took a few steps. I felt my footsteps rang far more lightly. And it became easy for me to nod as the fat on my chin was gone. So, this is how you become a positive person, I murmured in front of a mirror.

The colleague who had joined the company the same year as me congratulated me on the change in my belly. He even asked me whether the fact that when he went up a mountain he tried to grab at trees and rocks somehow, trying not to strain his stomach, had any relation to the fat around his middle. I explained that since the stomach is the fat storehouse that the body defends to the end, the fat around the belly was the last to go. The new female employee asked me why sweet foods were fattening. The easiest way that the body obtains energy is from a glucose injection. Next come sweet foods. Since it turns into glucose on passing through a single stage, the body naturally seeks sweet food when it’s tired. Thanks to being endowed with a fondness for sweet tastes, an infant seeks its mother’s milk, which contains sugar, and thus manages to survive. A child, who needs quite a lot of calories in order to grow, is bound to like sweet things. The reason for old people being addicted to sweet things is a little different. Mother, who could finish off a bowl of sweet-and-sour pork by herself, used to rationalize her gluttony by saying, as if it were a wise proverb, that growing old was like going back to being a child. But, unlike a child, it is not because a lot of calories are required. It is a tactic to obtain energy easily, as the aged body, which has grown weak, hates working.

The change of my body was not just that. Fat people’s big frames tend to make their feet look disproportionately small and wretched; and now, well, I had a feeling that my silhouette had come alive. My suit jackets that used to tightly wrap my arms and back to the point of ripping had also become much looser. It happened that department stores had sales just then. I bought two suits and a gaudily colored spring shirt. My heart was light as if I had finished preparing for a long-awaited outing.

This was the third time that I made a phone call to the hospital. My hand was in quite a hurry to dial the number. The second operation had ended in failure. The nurse, speaking in the same kindly voice, told me I should contact the hospital’s funeral parlor. I dialed again with a trembling hand. The funeral was the next day.

I returned home and hung the new suits in the closet. They were certainly different from the other clothes that had been in the closet for a long time. Their shoulders were bowed forward slightly, like people entering someone else’s house, in a polite and dignified manner. Emanating all the luster and sense of vigor that new things should, like newly-appointed replacements with innovative plans, the suits were expelling the air of gloom that had settled in the long unchanging wardrobe. My gaze stopped at the sight of the old jacket hanging in the inmost corner. Unlike the new suits, it lacked elasticity; its arms were hanging down like the flabby skin I had before, while the large space created by the back and chest looked desolate, as if nothing could ever fill it. I took it out and slowly removed the dust with a clothes brush. It was the only black suit I had. I could hear Mother mumbling to herself in the kitchen as she set the table for dinner. She was probably grumbling about the menu I had requested. As I listened, I felt an excruciating sadness, a feeling I had for the first time in my life.

9. Children born by mistake

In his adolescence, B always used to joke that he had been born by mistake. If my father either hadn’t had 5,000 Won for an inn or else had had 50,000 Won for the operation, one of the two, I wouldn’t have been born. But B’s story changed every time he talked about it. Actually my father did give my mother the money for the operation. But as my mother was passing through a shopping mall on her way to the hospital, she saw a beaded handbag that she really liked displayed in a window. On the spot, my mother bought the handbag with the money for the operation. Let’s not worry now over what’s going to happen later. . . That’s how my mother thinks. If not, I would never have been made. Anyway, as a result, I was born. I competed against a beaded handbag and lost and that’s how my life began. On certain days B artfully changed his story from a beaded handbag to a pleated skirt or to a pearl ring. The way he joked about how he was born was something that I had envied in B.

We were about thirty when I heard the true story from B. Actually, I had an elder sister. Since B’s parents had one son and one daughter, there was no way I couldn’t know about his sister, three years older than B. I don’t mean that sister; I mean the one who was born a year before me. After all, even if she died four months after she was born, she’s still my older sister. B’s father had been the only son born in his family for the second generation, and he was therefore responsible for continuing the family line. As soon as the first daughter arrived, from that day on, the elders in the family started to put pressure on him to have a son. When his wife got pregnant again after two years, B’s grandfather, who did not even think of the other possibility, prepared five possible names for boys based on the family’s traditional set of generation names. But the baby was a girl once again. Whenever B’s father returned home from work, his wife was always crying under the bedclothes, embracing her baby. When the hundredth day had passed and her postpartum recovery was nearing its end, she went to visit her next-door neighbor with her eldest daughter walking beside her, after putting the baby to bed. When she returned home, the baby was dead, lying on her stomach with her little nose and mouth buried in the cotton-stuffed quilt. B’s father fell into utter despair because he had had a vasectomy secretly the day before. Since he didn’t want to impose the family’s irrational value system, which was unacceptable even to himself, on his wife when she was so depressed after her second childbirth, he thought that would be the best solution. But his decision had been to raise two daughters, he had not intended to raise only one child insecurely. When he revisited the hospital, the doctor told him that there might be some living sperms remaining in his body so that fertilization might still occur, though the possibility was low. As soon as they had buried the dead baby, the couple jumped into bed. Surprisingly, she conceived again and gave birth to a baby the following year. This time it was a son.

B said he would never forget the shock he received when he heard that story from his grandfather, who loved him exclusively, thought that girls had no souls, and said that they had narrowly escaped disaster. One thing that only struck him much later was amazement at the remarkably determined spermatozoon bearing his name, that had remained alive in his father’s scrotum for four days before emerging into the world and succeeding in its task. The way his baby sister had made the entire family happy by breathing her last feeble breath just a hundred days after her birth, the selfish, merciless human family instinct that, in the end, whether they had intended it or not, had conspired to commit murder, the bargain to quickly exchange death for life—all of that had made him sick. His parents had been like chimpanzees, the female swaying around lewdly dilating her scarlet genitalia while the male runs grunting after her, his nose quivering. Had his mother really lingered so long in their neighbor’s home with no ulterior motive? He felt misgivings about all these things, yet what most troubled B in his adolescence had been disillusion about his father’s ambition. How had his father been capable of shuddering in sexual pleasure on the very bedding where the new-born baby’s dead body had lain? The only way B could endure it was by cracking jokes about his birth. I still clearly remembered B’s last words that day. But I think I’ve come to terms with it now. Life goes on mean and dirty like that, and we learn about the world from within our fathers’ hypocrisy. Maybe, I replied coolly. You and I are different. Your father went behind a curtain briefly in order to have you, but my father never wanted me at all.

10. Venus

I didn’t have the courage to go in and pay my respects before my father’s photo. I formally presented my condolence money at the entrance then took a step back behind other funeral guests who were arriving just then before retreating to the hallway. A young man dressed in black came up to me with a friendly look on his face. I reluctantly let him lead me into the crowded room where people were eating. No one took any notice of me. Of course, it wasn’t the sort of place where people show curiosity toward others, but then I realized that I was no longer so fat as to be conspicuous. I thought I would just sit near the entrance briefly and leave right away, but the young man in charge of the funeral arrangements politely asked me to sit further inside. There was an empty seat in the corner. I sat and stared blankly for a moment at the liquor bottles and food that were set on the table.

A middle-aged woman with a little white mourning bow in her hair came to me carrying a bowl of rice and soup on a tray. She set the bowl in front of me and gave me a friendly look; the whites of her eyes were bloodshot. She seemed to be a relative of the departed. Have a bowl of rice and soup. It’ll warm you up. The spicy smell pricked at my nose, while the white grains of rice floating in the oily red broth already had me excited. However, instead of picking up a spoon, I quickly opened a soju bottle so that the grief-stricken woman with her kindly air wouldn’t feel embarrassed. Other guests kept coming in, which made it hard to get up, so I just went on drinking soju. The rice and soup quickly cooled off. Almost all of the seats were filled, except for the one in front of me. As luck would have it, it seemed to be a table reserved for relatives. All my life, I had had almost no relatives. Ever since I was young, my mother didn’t like outings with her family, where they got together and attacked each other with unwanted advice. My father’s relatives greeted each other warmly, remarking on how long it had been, and after briefly shedding tears, set about sharing food and drink while talking loudly about all kinds of different things. I had always imagined the people of my father’s world. All the adults would be dignified and warm-hearted, and the children would be innocent and clever. But these people who were gathered to mourn Father were the same as those I had always seen. Their wrinkles expressed both joys and sorrows, and while they seemed wearied by life, apparently they led ordinary lives, comforted by small things or putting on a brave front. There were quite a few fat people. It seemed that was one more reason I hadn’t thought of as to why no one looked my way. It didn’t matter. They didn’t know me, and I didn’t know them.

Oh, why didn’t you eat? It’s all cold now. The same woman returned and brought me new rice and soup even though I told her it was okay. Judging from the way relatives were addressing her, she must have been a sister of the departed. A young man sitting next to me offered me a drink. Excuse me, but I’m not sure who you are . . . Instead of giving an answer, I quickly emptied the glass and returned it to him, thinking that I would have to get out of there. The man didn’t ask me any more questions. Instead, he pointed to the steaming hot bowl of rice and soup. It’s okay. Please, go ahead and eat. The reason he kept stubbornly pressuring me to eat was probably because it’s a given that an unknown person drinking alone in a place like a funeral hall, where friends and family gather together, has some kind of problem, and to anyone looking, I was drinking too fast. As I didn’t have the heart to shake off the blameless demands of the man, who even went so far as to put a spoon in my hand, I finally began eating the rice and soup.

Once I had chewed the grains of rice, they slid smoothly down my throat. I could feel my body cheering madly. My stomach squirmed as if it was dancing while my insides grew warm with pleasure. Here are those carbohydrates you’ve been desiring so much. The spoon’s movements grew ever quicker. I was shoveling in the rice and soup with a strange feeling. More than the affection of a father feeding his starving children, I felt like a messiah saving a suffering body. Feelings of despair, and a self-destructive, impulsive spite, accelerated my arm’s movements. In a flash I had entirely emptied the bowl at a voracious speed, even dribbling some of the soup from the sides of my mouth, as befitted an uninvited guest at a feast. The moment I had drunk the last drop of the soup and set down the bowl, the woman wearing a white mourning dress approached me and asked, as if she had been watching me: Would you like another bowl? You had so much to drink. Her kindness might have sprung from a wish to avoid having an unknown drunkard make trouble at the wake, but I happily replied, ‘Yes,’ to Father’s sister, like a child eager for praise. I started gulping down the second serving at an excessive speed, making an exaggerated slurping sound.

Human beings in the age of stone axes were always hungry. So they diligently stored up fat whenever they got the chance. The human body has been unable to adjust to a situation like today’s when there is superfluous fat. But it will eventually evolve. After all, isn’t it typical of humans to keep pushing a rock up a hill even though they know that it’s bound to roll back down again the moment they reach the top? That’s right. There’s no hurry. It took tens of thousands of years to discover a way of sharpening stone axes. That’s one way of looking at it. Surely it happens in life that people suffer shipwreck, or city-wide power outages, or are forced to starve, cut off by blizzards; how are they going to cope with such disasters if they have no fat stored in their bodies? So, it’s still an effective system. Truly, there is no machine as honest and obedient as the body. I nodded deeply. After all, since I had eaten no carbohydrates for a whole month, hadn’t I lost twelve kilograms? The body had kicked and struggled, determined not to submit to my will, but in the end it was bound to yield results according to the way I managed it. It turned out that my body really belonged to me. Okay, then. Now, the primitive man inside my body is having a party on hearing that rice is coming in. If I eat rice and soup like this, my body will straightway start to accumulate fat again. Then Mother and I will sit together again at a peaceful, loving meal-table.

As I raised my head from the bowl of rice and soup that I was devouring, someone addressed me in a loud voice. Hey, you must be the third son? He had half risen to his feet, while I sat bewildered. When did you get back from the States? You’re growing to be more like my uncle as time goes on. No, you’re wrong. Dribbling soup, I put down the spoon noisily and staggered to my feet. At that moment the thought suddenly came to me that everyone there knew about me. I was gasping and my face became red. I felt queasy, as if I was about to vomit. Pushing my way through the crowd I came out into the hallway and collapsed into one of the plastic chairs which were neatly lined up side by side. Through an open door I glimpsed the room where the photo of the departed was enshrined; it was completely empty. Neither the chief mourner nor any other family members were to be seen; perhaps they were eating. Far off I could dimly see Father’s picture. Staggering slightly, I began to move forward to see what Father had looked like once he was really old.

Perhaps I kept looking at Botticelli’s Venus to avoid looking at something else. Whenever things I didn’t want to see rose time after time before my eyes, Venus intercepted them and took me to another door. Then she told me the story of her birth. The youngest son of Uranus, the god of the sky, hid in his mother’s privates, cut off half his father’s penis when it entered, and threw it into the sea. White froth gathered around the father’s penis as it drifted in the sea, and soon after a beautiful maiden was born in the foam – a goddess who would bring abundance and beauty to the world. Finally the sight of my back, as I stood in front of a door that was always closed, remained. In front of the door that wouldn’t admit him, the fat boy took the parka with the cotton clumped together, that looked even more shabby for being the only one left on the coat stand, while outside the snow fluttered down.

Ever since some time in my adolescence, another figure has been appearing then vanishing behind that picture: a naked woman standing in a dignified manner on elephant-like legs, her whole body wrapped in fat like a furry pelt. She was another goddess: the Venus of the ice age.  Anthropologists say that such a fat woman couldn’t have existed in those days. Such a woman existed only in the head of the artist who made the Venus. The artist of the ice age had imagined the most beautiful and voluptuous woman in the world, and she was the very picture of holy rice.

I saw Father’s eldest son walking into the room, preceded by two children in black. When our eyes met, he bowed his head slightly to greet me as if I were someone he had been waiting for. And with his hands on his two fat sons’ shoulders, he looked at me with a dignified air, similar to the one my father had when he was younger. Father’s portrait hung behind him. Glaring at him, I walked resolutely towards the portrait. As I had seen a world different from my own at that Italian restaurant, Father ought to have seen a son unknown to him. But he left with the memory of a fat boy. I had thought, as I looked at Venus, that all the beautiful things of the world despised me. I slowly bowed down to Father’s portrait, rose, and turned my face to spit out a grain of rice from my mouth. The nauseous feeling came rising up once again, to just below my chin. That’s when the eldest son took a large picture frame that had been leaning against the wall from behind the floral tributes and handed it to me. The frame was carefully covered in newspaper, as if it had been wrapped at home. It was a long time ago, but the size of the frame looked familiar. I did not ask what it was.