Geun-won, As Such


by Paik Ga-huim

Translated by Brother Anthony of Taizé

 Published in Koreana: Korean
Culture &  Arts (The Korea Foundation) Vol. 27, No.3 Autumn, 2013. Pages 86 - 99.




His shoes sank ever deeper into the mud and the man’s pace gradually grew slower. He tried walking along the central part of the hill path, where grass was growing, but as he walked on in the dark it suddenly turned into sodden ground. Dew-soaked plants kept catching his ankles and dragging at them. Thinking that he might do better bare-foot, the man looked back at the path he had been following. The lights of the distant village were only dimly visible. He reckoned he had taken a wrong turning but he had come too far to go back. He had been harboring the same anxiety for the past two hours; at the same time he went plunging ever deeper into the hills, into the silence. The man frowned as he stared ahead but he could see nothing. There was no longer any trace of the moon that had previously guided him; there was only the darkness, crouching there staring back at him. The man had lost his way, yet he had no thought of turning back.

It had likewise been May when his father, who was a carpenter, had vanished, so about this same time of year. The man had been ten, his brother Geun-bon was five years old. It had happened twenty-eight years before, yet he could still recall it vividly. That morning his father had left home in blue rubber slippers, wearing just a vest. That was why nobody had thought that he would not come back. On that ordinary holiday morning none of the neighbors said they had seen him. Rumors had been circulating that Geun-bon’s father was a spy.

No-one waited for father or made any attempt to find him, that first day. When he did not return the following day, it provoked complaints rather than concern. Mother, who had just turned thirty, reckoned he was out playing cards somewhere, while Grandmother prayed to God to forgive her wayward son. Grandmother previously frequented temples but she had recently become a Christian and was very fervent. The young boy had watched her blankly as she prayed: Heavenly father, our Yeong-sik, father, disappeared a week ago, heavenly father. May he soon, heavenly father . . . and the boy imitated the sound of his grandmother’s prayer, rolling his tongue around ‘heavenly father.’

After a week had passed since Father disappeared, Mother and Grandmother had grown nervous. A confused report that in one southern city a lot of people had died reached their small township but Mother and Grandmother did not think anything of it. It was too far away for him to have gone wearing just a vest, and even supposing he had gone there, they thought he would not have been able to enter the town. Grandmother prayed with tears to the Heavenly Father to bring Father back, and Mother spent days hovering at the entrance to the village, but there was no sign of Father.

Ten days spent hovering and waiting at the village entrance was the limit. Fearing lest he had indeed gone into that southern city, Mother and Grandmother could not express their worry openly, but simply remained indoors, groaning.

Their well-preserved grandmother went to be with her Heavenly Father the year following Father’s disappearance, and the year after that Mother remarried and moved to another village. The twelve-year-old boy and seven-year-old Geun-bon remained alone in their original home. Relatives took turns bringing the children food. Every time they went away after leaving rice at the house they would be so busy cursing the remarried mother that they had no chance to ask the children how they were or whether they needed anything. The boys had to take care of everything for themselves. It was a time when not having to starve was already ample comfort.

The relatives brought rice and cursed their mother like a kind a ceremony. Was this the result of the cursing? The man was on his way to visit his dying mother. He had stopped walking, taken off the sweat-soaked jacket of his suit, and lain down. It was a long time since he looked at the stars. Panting, eyes closed, he lay there a while.

The man had found a job with an entertainment management agency three years before. It was his twenty-seventh job since moving up to Seoul. It was obvious that the choice of jobs available to someone who had dropped out of high school was very limited, but he did not give up. Instead he always made every effort to obtain a better position than reality might have allowed. It was entirely by good luck that he had become a manager. It was not that his background was in his favor, nor that he had some special talent in that direction. He had been working as a scrubber in a public bathhouse.

It was the boss of the agency who recognized the man’s reliability. He had been a regular customer whose skin the man had scrubbed for a whole year. I need someone sturdy and frank like you.  . . . . . Sturdy and frank? The man was scrubbing the rough skin on the back of his thighs. He could understand frank, but he could not understand what he meant by sturdy. As always in such cases, the man did not ask any questions about what puzzled him. That was one of the rules he lived by.

The man started to move his hand again; he had paused briefly. The boss suffered from terrible piles. Protruding from his behind was a second, huge behind. To avoid touching the projecting piles, the man had inserted a towel between the legs at the groin. The boss, who was lying face-downward, suddenly turned over. Startled, the man took one step back. I’m sorry. I must have touched your painful part. No, I want to talk to you. I haven’t finished all the back part yet. It’s ok, who cares about a bit of dead skin that won’t come off? . . . . It’s just that it feels good and there’s time left, you don’t have to worry. If you say so. The boss held out an arm to the man. He seized it quickly and began to scrub. What’s good about you is that even when the dead skin won’t come off you still use the same force. . . . . The man stole a glance at the boss’s face. Is that what you mean by sturdy? The boss’s eyes were closed. Unable to understand the boss’s good impression of him, the man glanced furtively at his drooping penis. Hey, what about working for me? You can earn good money if you work well. He used to carry on indifferently with what he was doing. Most of the customers lying on his table said that kind of thing. Being naked didn’t stop them being over-confident and boastful. That too was a kind of dirt, he had no problem with casually going on scrubbing.

After his father vanished, his grandmother began to grow sick. She thought it was because he was possessed by an evil spirit. She said an evil spirit that was stuck to his back had carried their father off somewhere and would carry her and the whole family off too. In actual fact, it was not grandmother who had recognized that, it was something she had heard from a preacher who used to pray with laying on of hands. Even though Grandmother was too weak to walk, she would stubbornly go to be prayed over by a woman preacher. She used to be accompanied by her daughter-in-law and her two sons so that the evil spirit sticking to them could be cast out. Whenever his grandmother proposed going out to be prayed over, the boy would quickly hide. The female preacher’s words were frightening enough, but what he could not stand was the pain. Despite his tears and struggles, the preacher’s strong hand would not let go of the child. It was the same with his younger brother, Geun-bon. It was whipping that pretended to be prayer. She claimed it was necessary in order to drive out the spirits. She said that the spirits would leave, their pride hurt by being whipped. Oaths designed to hurt the pride of the spirits were also included in the prayers. The children could not endure the pain of the prayers accompanied by the whipping. The noisily sobbing children were generally diagnosed as being possessed by evil spirits. The more they struggled, the harder the preacher whipped them. They had to clench their teeth and endure it, they could not escape from the preacher’s grasp. Their mother endured the preacher’s praying, silently wiping away her tears. She also used to confess with copious tears that Father’s disappearance had been her fault. The more Grandmother underwent the prayers, the weaker she became. She was not healthy enough to endure the preacher’s praying.

The money paid to the preacher for the prayers was not much, but the grandmother thought that even if they had to sell the house and all, there could be no regrets so long as the spirits infesting the family were driven out and her only son came home. At about that time the man’s mother began working in a restaurant. Someone had to earn some money if they were to eat, and keep on with the prayers, there was no other way.

After a few more months passed, his mother no longer went to visit the female preacher. She also would not allow the boy and his younger brother Geun-bon to be taken there either. Months had gone by yet still there was no news of their father, while life was becoming ever harder on account of the money being given to the preacher.

The bedridden grandmother cursed the mother and children for no longer receiving the prayers. She said that the spirit that had taken away their father would soon carry her off too, and every night she used to wail, asking that the spirit stuck to her back should be removed. Grandmother no longer sought the Heavenly Father. The preacher with her prayers had now become her Heavenly Father.

As the man walked along the hill path, unable to see an inch ahead, he recalled his mother as she had been in his childhood days. The desolate, dark path seemed to lead into the past. He tried hard to remember his mother but nothing much came to mind. If he looked back, rather than the time he had spent with his mother what followed was clearer. Apart from the time when he and his brother had lived alone, everything else felt like a distant dream. It all seemed like tales arising in the imagination, rather than what had really happened. Father, Mother, Grandmother all came to him as beings existing in his imagination. Now, if he looked back, the lights of the village could no longer be seen. The man could not believe that there was such a deep, large mountain. He felt he was being sucked into the mountain, as though somehow possessed, yet he could not stop walking on. He seemed to be thinking that this dangerous path was the only way he could connect with the past.

When he thought that his mother was at the end of the path, his steps quickened. The hours when he had striven not to miss her seemed to be reviving.

He had no intention of asking why she had so readily abandoned him and his brother. Neither did he think of trying to explain awkwardly how difficult his life had been. He persuaded himself that he was simply curious as to how his mother had lived and how she was now dying. He did not think that his life would have been better if his mother had not remarried but gone on living with them. So he felt no resentment. The man was inclined to think that his life had been hard but not bad. He had been walking along with his eyes fixed on the ground but now as he lifted his head, far away he glimpsed a light glimmering very faintly as if in welcome. He stopped suddenly. Using his sleeve to wipe away the sweat that was running from his brow into his eyes, he half closed his eyes and gazed at the light.



The man began to head for the faint light. After pulling out and smoothing the necktie he had put in his pocket, he knotted it. He wanted to show his mother that he had lived well, even without her. Indeed, that was what he reckoned. He prided himself that at least when it came to living he had been sincere but when his thoughts turned to his brother Geun-bon, his confidence faded. That was because he felt that Geun-bon’s life was as much his responsibility as his own. He was going to tell his mother that Geun-bon had gone to America. He was going to tell her that he had done well at school so had gone abroad for further studies. He practiced, speaking aloud. Geun-bon uh even as a kid uh did well at school so he’s uh studying abroad. We were in touch . . . . oddly, the man stammered when he told lies. No-one was listening but he looked around once as he scratched his head.

His younger brother Geun-bon had been fourteen when he was lucky enough to be sent to the reformatory for the first time. Clearly, given the crime he had committed, Geun-bon was a lucky kid.

Of course, the man had been the same, but Geun-bon resembled their vanished father and both had been strongly built even as children. They could barely afford to eat, yet Geun-bon and the man developed bigger bones and put on more weight than their peers. Unlike the man, who was lacking in self-confidence and very shy, Geun-bon had been ruthless since he was a child. The man had earned money for living expenses and school fees by delivering things like newspapers and milk, but Geun-bon had very easily procured money which he used as pocket-money or saved up. Geun-bon had already become known as the neighborhood’s most famous problem kid. Even if he did not so much as frown, the other kids used to pull the money from their pockets if they came face to face with Geun-Bon. As soon as he was in middle school, tired of extorting money on an individual basis, he went into the classroom and wrote on the blackboard, ‘500 won each.’ Putting down the chalk, Geun-bon then opened the class register and called attendance like the form master. There could be no question of keeping someone like Geun-bon in school. Before he had finished the first term he was expelled. Yet even after that, Geun-bon came to school more regularly than any other pupil. Like a bill collector he would every day collect money easily then leave. It was already a lot of money for one middle-school student yet Geun-bon was not satisfied. It was as though Geun-bon was trying to fill up with money the absence that surrounds everyone. Unlike a child, when it was a matter of money Geun-bon was stubbornly tenacious, until at last something really grave happened.

Unheard of in our quiet little neighborhood, a junk merchant was murdered. Geun-bon was boldly stealing junk in secret from the merchant then earning money by selling it back to him, and he could hardly expect the merchant not to notice. Since I gave it to you. Give me back my money, quick. Geun-bon squirmed, his neck firmly held in the merchant’s grasp. A greenhorn like you, what you need is a taste of life inside. Little brat, not even afraid. The merchant had already reported the matter to the police. Give me back my money. Geun-bon, not acting like a child, bellowed and brandished his fists wildly. Not a little resentful at being caught stealing, and furious at not getting the money, Geun-bon was beside himself but his strength was no help to him. Exceptionally strong compared to the other children though he was, he was still only a kid, after all.

It had all happened in a flash and Geun-bon was flustered. He seized a piece of wood that was lying around and started to wave it with all his strength; for some reason, blood suddenly erupted in a fountain from the junk merchant’s throat. Before he could so much as scream, the blood in his body had all poured out and he was dead. A large nail was projecting from the end of the stick Geun-bon was holding and that had pierced his jugular vein. Geun-bon pushed the dying man away, pocketed the money for the junk he had previously stolen, and fled.

At the thought of his brother, the man’s legs seemed to give way. The place from which the light was coming was further off than he had thought. He had simply been following the light and had left the path. He never so much as thought of turning round and going back.

Whenever the man thought of his brother, he was tormented by a sense of guilt. He felt that the faults his brother had committed were all his fault. He had never once scolded or blamed his brother. They were both too young to talk in such a way. After that first incident, Geun-bon was in and out of the reformatory for various bigger or smaller crimes. Then in the year he turned nineteen he once again got into serious trouble. This time the homicide had been planned and he was no longer a juvenile. Geun-bon had been handed down a life sentence and was now in his fourteenth year inside. Since he was fourteen, Geun-bon had spent less than a year in a house that was neither a reformatory nor a jail. The man always had the impression he was living two lives.

The man began to follow a valley downward. There was no other way. He could not find a continuous ridge and there was no way he could get back onto the path, that had vanished in the darkness. Pawing the air with his hands, the man began to make his way downhill. As the darkness deepened his heart grew anxious. There was no telling how much time his dying mother still had left. It was already more than ten days since his mother had phoned. The man pulled out his mobile phone; there was no signal. If he had known this would happen, he regretted having left his phone number.

Where was he going, all dressed up like this? The head of the entertainment agency appeared from somewhere and gave him a blow on the back of his head. . . . . . To, to the toilet. The man always walked very cautiously on tiptoe. He could not endure having his existence receiving attention from anyone, it made him feel uncomfortable. His wish was to exist without trace, to exist without any sense of existing. Yet unlike what he hoped, he always had a weighty sense of existing. That was because, being built like a mountain, he could never hide. So he walked on tiptoe.

The man could never tell when the boss was approaching. Despite the fact that he did not tiptoe around without making a sound as the man did. The man was always curious about that. Although he did not deliberately try to hide, the boss’s existence was imperceptible. The man tried hard to make no noise as he walked. While he made every effort to conceal the fact that he was passing, he could never tell when other people were approaching or looking at him. Scratching the back of his head, the man furtively moved back. We’re not supposed to go to the toilet? What if I am going to the toilet? Smiling pleasantly as he answered back to the boss, he stealthily moved toward the toilet. Once in, he flopped down. He had been working under him for three years now, and he had never once been able to tell him that he needed money.

It’s been a long time. The man got his mother’s phone call during a concert. It came as he was waving a light stick at the entrance to the concert site. His mother’s voice came wafting lightly over a period of more than twenty-six years. He was holding the phone silently but he could absolutely not grasp what his mother was saying. It was partly on account of the fuss and bustle of the people coming for the concert, but he was so disconcerted that not a word entered his ear. Quite honestly, he had never once foreseen or prepared himself for such an eventuality. Even if he had ever expected such a thing, it had been too long ago, when he had first been separated from his mother. I’m dying. Will you come?  . . . . What? That was when he finally grasped the situation. I said I’m dying. His mother repeated what she had said, but the man could find nothing to say in reply.  . . . . . How did you find my number? Like his mother, the man spoke in a voice that simply ignored the time that had passed. Even as he took the call, the man went on selling light sticks and the star’s CDs with the other hand. I’m. . . . a bit busy. Giving a customer change, the man spoke in a low voice. I’m dying. Her voice over the telephone sounded hoarse. I’ll check my schedule and get down there soon. The man was amazingly calm. It was something he had never once looked forward to or expected. You must come before I die. The man was on the point of asking when she was going to die. Where should I go? Just a minute. She passed the phone to a woman who described exactly how to get there. First come down to Jinan. You know Jinan, in North Jeolla Province? In Jinan you take the bus for Mui-ri and get off at Seongsam Village. The man seemed to be only vaguely paying attention but inwardly he kept repeating what the woman had said. With his spare hand he went on handing out CDs and light sticks to customers without a pause.



Geun-won? It’s a good name. Your parents took some trouble over it. The man’s cheeks burned red. Skin-scrubbing aside, have you ever had any other kind of job? His first day at work. The boss questioned him as he trimmed his nails. The man felt uneasy about the way he had quit a hard but steady job. It did not pay much, but in order to a the job as scrubber at that Gangnam bathhouse the man had been prepared to serve another scrubber without pay for six months first in order to learn. The man had trusted the boss’s word and quit working at the bathhouse, but from the very first day at the new job he could not free himself of a feeling that he would end up being abandoned again. The boss did not feel like the same person as the one he had seen naked. He made a slightly colder, firmer impression. Is that all? At least it was clear that a naked body, a bare body, felt a bit more frank and kind. The man had regretted giving up the job at the bathhouse, but he had no choice. That he absolutely had to look good and depend on the boss, was something he already felt from his experience of life.  . . . . Speak up. When I was very small, I used to collect junk. Then I delivered papers, delivered milk, too. Uh, I was a bathhouse scrubber when I was twenty-five, too. Once I turned twenty, I was mainly a waiter. I carried fruit in night-clubs, liquor in room-saloons, or karaoke bars; I folded towels in massage parlors. In places like sushi bars, Italian restaurants, meat buffets, I sometimes used to do dish-washing. Did you know . . . . there was a time when meat buffets were all the rage. The man cast a sidelong glance at the boss. His eyes were shut. You know. Before I was twenty I mainly did deliveries. Chinese restaurants, pizzas, I was in a gas station briefly, delivered flowers a bit, too; when I finished military service I wanted to get a regular job . . . .  I mainly worked in service industry jobs. You only did what could be useful for you.  . . . . To start with wasn’t there something you wanted to achieve? There was no start. It was a matter of earning a living day by day. It looks as though you were never able to do anything for very long. Except I applied to become a noncommissioned officer but got turned down. Military service? Yes. Did you finish high school? I took the equivalency exam. That’s good enough. So at least you know how to read, I suppose? Looking thoughtful, the boss drew an envelope with money from his inside pocket. This is your wages for this month. I’m paying you in advance. First get yourself some things to wear. It doesn’t have to be a suit, but something tidy. The man was at a loss how to respond to the boss’s kindness. Then it’s settled. This is entirely a service job. Service of just one person, that’s what a manager does. There’s one thing to be careful of. The man glanced briefly at the boss. He was embarrassed about looking straight at people. His gaze was always uncertain. You need only perform the service you’re told to do. Don’t do anything on your own. Understand? . . . .  Right. Just do what I tell you and it’ll be fine. You’re not serving the kid you’ll be looking after, mind, you’re serving me. Understand? Clasping tightly his hands where they lay on his knees, the man nodded his head as if making a promise.

 The man had no idea how far down the valley he had come. Small branches snagged his face and arms, leaving scratches. Sweat seeped into the wounds and stung. The man tried to turn and climb back up the path but there was no telling which way he had come or from what direction. The faint gleam of light on the far side of the valley, that he had tried not to lose sight of, was further away. The man seemed suddenly to think of something and he began to search the pockets of the jacket he was clutching. When you get off the bus at Seongsam village, there’s a small store; ask there how to get to the Spiritual Growth Center. The man remembered the words the woman had emphasized. The money he had brought was in the back pocket of his trousers. Mother has a lot of debts. I can’t take care of them all . . . .

As the boss had told him, the man first went to the market and bought a new set of clothes to wear. No matter how hard he tried, he found it impossible to buy several sets of clothes at once. Wearing the newly bought suit, the man visited the bathhouse where he had been working. It was the first time he had ever taken a leisurely bath. Perhaps because the man looked unfamiliar wearing a suit, the barber and the man in the store, with whom he had previously eaten and spent time like members of a single family, simply nodded and went on with their work. Unable to bid them goodbye, the man furtively put down the two pairs of underpants he had brought as gifts and went out.

Once the man had become a manager, before a few days had passed he learned exactly what he had to do. He realized it was an undesirable job but he had no choice. He now understood what the boss had meant when he said he should serve only him. A manager was a kind of watcher. The female singer could neither make a phone call nor go out without the manager’s permission, indeed she could not even eat when she wanted. She had no mobile phone, no purse, no home. The manager received permission from the manager for each and every detail. If the boss said she was not to eat, she could not eat, if he said she was not to sleep, she had to put up with being sleepy. The boss himself arranged her appearances, all the manager had to do was follow her.

Her real name was Ji-yong but she had given up that name and used the stage-name Cash. It was the name the boss had given her, and as the name suggested, fair-haired Cash was more to the boss than just cash. Cash was twenty, but that was not certain. Only the boss knew personal information and Cash said nothing. What was sure was that she looked younger than her age. The other entertainers pretended to be three or four years younger than their real age but it was widely rumored that fair-haired Cash had raised her age.

Fair-haired Cash was a trot singer. At twenty, a trot singer has to age quickly, but success was possible. Therefore Cash matured in order to succeed. Apart from a wish to be a dancer, on the whole she never complained. She did as she was told without a murmur. Cash reckoned that in order to repay the boss who had made her a singer for all his favors, she still had to bring in a lot more cash.

The man followed along behind Cash twenty-four hours a day. You’re such a bumpkin. Such had been the first words the barely awakened Cash had spoken to the man. Shy, the man had been unable to look her straight in the eye. He merely fingered the collar of his newly-bought jacket. You’re not to eat breakfast, he says it’s fattening. The man spoke in a low voice. He was hungry but if Cash fasted he had to fast too.

It they went away from Seoul for a concert, they had to sleep in the same room. The boss could not trust the faithful Cash. He could not rid himself of an anxious feeling that she would suddenly run off to another agency. That was the same kind of fear as the man harbored toward the boss. The man understood the boss. The boss used to talk broodingly to the man about people who had gone off at the first chance, leaving him feeling betrayed. You still look such a bumpkin, Geun-won. You embarrass me, going around dressed like that. That was just before her first TV appearance.

Nobody was interested in Cash and nobody made room for her. The man and Cash barely managed to find a corner to sit in the dressing room. Unlike the other performers, Cash had no separate person in charge of her dresses so the man had his arms full of her stage costumes. If Cash had found a place to sit, it was largely thanks to the man’s bulk and silence. In the dressing-room there were a number of performers he had seen on television but the man was interested in none of them. On account of the boss’s special instructions, the man never lowered his guard. They only have to be on the air once and they think of nothing but running away. You must make sure she doesn’t talk to anyone. The boss gave his orders to the man in resolute tones. He felt that the boss was worried for no reason. Apart from the man there was no sign of anyone showing the least interest in Cash.

The man broke with one habit. Once he became Cash’s manager, he could not stand being left wondering. Am I such a bumpkin? He broke a very long silence to ask her. The man usually refrained from ever speaking to Cash except to transmit the boss’s orders. You were wondering about that? Yes, you’re a bumpkin. Cash fluttered her big eyes as she spoke. Her long eyelashes seemed to tremble. The people working here never use anything but high-class luxury goods, you know. Apart from you. Apart from me, luxury goods? The man had already heard that remark several times. You mean my clothes? Clothes, suitcase, sunglasses, shoes . . . . there’s a lot you have to buy. What did you do before you came here? Before I came? The man knew the meaning of the words but felt ashamed to say he had worked in a bathhouse. It was the first time such a thing had happened. The man turned away lightly and headed for the van.

The man was crawling back up the valley. He was out of breath and panting but he did not stop. An animal was wailing sadly somewhere. Once he stood gasping back on the ridge, in the valley below he again glimpsed the faint light that had guided him. His heart seemed to lose some of its previous impatience. That’s good. As he recovered his breath, the man spoke aloud to himself.



It was truly strange. He was walking briskly in the direction of the faint light, yet he had an odd feeling that he was moving further away from the light. He reckoned it was because it was dark and it was hard to judge distances. The further he walked, the fainter the light became until at last he felt it was fleeing into the distance. After a while he was able to find a track leading away from the ridge. Clear signs of human passage were visible on it. The man took out his mobile to check the time. It was the time when night passed into early dawn. The man put on the jacket he had been clutching and brushed off the earth clinging to it.

The man went to a department store to buy some so-called luxury clothing and nearly fainted. He had expected things to be expensive but had never imagined they would be that expensive. The man rushed out of the store as if he had been scalded.

He felt much relieved to see that everyone was not walking about wearing famous brand names. He soon learned that luxury goods were also being sold outside of department stores. He glimpsed goods identical to those he had seen in the department store in one corner of a market. He bought a Dolce and Gabbana belt with an oval buckle and a Louis Vuitton clutch-bag. All the managers he had seen at the broadcasting stations had just the same ones. He hurried back to their lodgings, intending to show them to Cash. Exhausted from having sung at no less than five clubs the previous night, Cash was still not awake.

In order to show off his white belt, the man wore it with his trousers pulled up above his navel. Cash came out into the living room rubbing her eyes and burst out laughing at the sight of him. Hey man, what’s that ? Embarrassed, the man fingered the bag lying on the table. Where ever did you buy that? Cash could not stop laughing. Who goes around displaying such a big logo? It’s embarrassing, really. The man looked down at the belt he was wearing. He had thought that big would be best, if he was going to do it at all. The buckle was filled with the brand name in huge lettering. He had deliberately chosen white so that it would attract the eyes. . . . .

The man could not believe his eyes. As he came closer to the light he had first seen, it grew hazier.

His mother had vanished unexpectedly, just like his father. He clearly recalled the day his father had disappeared, but he could not remember well the day his mother disappeared. He had come home from school and she was not there, nor did she reappear. That his mother had moved away to remarry was something he heard later from relatives. A few years later he also learned from his cousins that she had had a baby.

The relatives soon grew weary of taking care of the two brothers. Sympathy is a strong initial feeling but it was no easy matter for it to change into a sense of responsibility. To beg for food, the man and his younger brother visited the relatives whose visits were growing ever further apart. There was a great difference between help provided spontaneously and that given on being asked. Relatives that had rivaled one another to bring rice to the boys’ house were dumbfounded when the man with his little brother came to visit them. One and all repeated that they should not come visiting but wait at home.

As a child, the only thing the man owned was the house left to him by his grandmother and father. When he was in high school he went to his uncle and asked him to sell the house. With the money, he meant to take his brother and move up to Seoul. He intended to quit high school and earn money in earnest. What makes you think that house belongs to you? The brat’s got some cheek. His uncle was right, of course. Once their father had disappeared, their grandmother died and their mother remarried, their uncle had immediately registered the house in his own name. The rice they had received to eat over the years was a fair price for it. The man had begged him to give the house back to them. I’m not asking you to move out, you can just go on living there. The kid’s impudent alright. . . . . When the time comes I’ll look after you. The man had taken Geun-bon back home. He regretted having wasted his time. He realized that now it would be hard to get anything to eat from his uncle’s house, too.

That very night, for some unknown reason, fire broke out in their uncle’s house. One cousin, a year younger than Geun-bon, was unable to escape from the house and died in the flames. The rest of the family escaped with their lives but they had been unable to save so much as a spoon, all that was left were black ashes. The man knew that Geun-bon had gone out for a while that night, but he pretended to know nothing.

As he had anticipated, the path led toward the spot where the faint light was coming from. The man almost ran down it. Yet as he came closer, the light began to fade and vanish. Instead, too faint to be called a light, something huge and soft began to loom ahead. It was definitely the spot where the light had been. Cold sweat began to run down the man’s back. He felt that he had spent the night wandering in the forests of a strange land. As he drew near the huge object, strength flowed back into his legs.

The man was standing beneath a cherry tree in full bloom. What he had seen had been the cherry blossom in moonlight. The man flopped down at the foot of the tree, that must be a good hundred years old.

Cash was becoming the boss’s surest source of cash. Touring the clubs was a thing of the past. The more her name and face became known, the fiercer the boss’s vigilance became. The more money he earned, the more anxious he grew that she might run away. The boss was nearly paranoid. Soon it seemed that he did not trust the man either. You’re forgetting  that I told you to serve only me. You’re itching to get away from me too, but never forget that you and Cash are both mine. The man made no reply. Why don’t you answer? Are you two lovers? The man turned to look at the boss but could find nothing to say in reply. How long have you been working here? Is it already three years? Time enough to fall in love. The man had nothing to say. Certainly they were not lovers, but after being together twenty-four hours a day for all that time it could hardly be said that they had no feelings for one another. The man really worried about Cash and loved her. Now Cash was his sole family. You, don’t even think of enticing Cash away somewhere else. I’ve had this problem before.

He was no longer the same man he had been when he left the bathhouse and began this job. Now the man owned a genuine Dolce and Gabbana belt and a Louis Vuitton clutch-bag; he had so often been inside broadcasting station that he knew an awful lot of people. The boss’s suspicions grew worse. Cash and the man had not decided anything different, yet day by day his obsession grew worse. Someone’s made you give up your countrified ways, you arrogant brat. The man always put up with the boss’s hysteria in silence. He simply wanted to be a stupid, sturdy manager for the boss.



In actual fact, nothing about Cash had changed at all. She was no different from before, when she was unknown. She still had neither the mobile nor the purse that everyone else had. Since she had to spend every evening appearing in far more establishments than before, she had no time to spend with friends and apart from the man she knew nobody at all. As for the man, it was not that he was completely without anxieties concerning Cash.  If Cash were to leave the man and the boss, that would be a deadlier blow to the man, who had nothing. The man was as obsessed with Cash as the boss was. Cash was more important to the man as future and as present than to the boss. So it was really the man who stayed close and prevented Cash from budging an inch.

. . . . Boss, I’m not the same Geun-won as I was before, I realize that now, too. It was a little while before, the first time the man had ever answered back to the boss. It came after the request he had made with such difficulty had been refused. The man needed money to take to his mother. Since he was unable to get the money together, he had been putting off going to visit his dying mother day after day until a whole week had passed.

For the first time in ages he was eating a quiet supper with Cash. He had managed with difficulty to find time for Cash, who said she wanted to eat barbecued pork. Just as the meat was ready to eat, the boss appeared in the restaurant, there was no telling how he knew they were there. The man had not realized the boss was approaching.

Hey, dude, I told you not to sit on a chair using only half your butt. He gave the man a clip across the back of the head as he spoke. Startled, the man rose to his feet. Just the two of you so snug together, but if you leave me out I get glum.  . . . . .It’s not like that. The man stammered. Just a joke, kid, stop crouching. The boss was unlike his usual self, more chatty than was necessary. How come you never change even though time passes? You can put on dignified airs now. Look at you, the manager of a top star sitting on a chair using only half your butt. I tell you to be dignified, I took you out of the bathhouse, how come you can’t correct that? Cash burst out laughing as if to say that she had no idea. The kid’s spent his whole life with an eye on other people, that’s why. That hurt the man’s pride. He blurted out that he needed money. He did not say the real reason. That hurt the boss’s pride. . . . . . . . . Boss, I’m not the same Geun-won as I was before, I realize that now, too. He spoke, then stood up. You’re still the old Geun-won, for sure, dude. Still sitting on a chair using only half your butt. Tiptoeing when you walk so as to make no noise. Geun-won with an eye on other people, that’s you. Cash, seeming to find it all a huge joke, put a hand in front of her mouth and bowed her head.

The man had been sitting under the cherry tree for some time. He had a mysterious feeling that the cherry blossom had guided him there. In the dark spring night, cherry blossom petals piled up like snow on the man’s head.

The man soon recovered but was completely at a loss as to where he should go. On looking around he was so surprised that he took one step back. Suddenly, before his eyes, something appeared that he had not noticed till then. Hidden behind the cherry tree rose an empty house.

The man slowly approached the house. Once day broke he intended to ask the way down the mountain. As he passed through the brushwood gate he cleared his throat but there was no sign of life from within the room. The house seemed really to be empty. The household items scattered across the yard indicated that people had been living there until very recently. The man sat on the step and gazed at the scattered cherry blossom in the spring night. Taking off the sweat-soaked jacket of his suit, he tossed it up onto the wooden floor. First, he checked once again that the envelope of money he had pushed into the inner pocket was still there. Fatigue abruptly came flooding over him. Once the tension had eased, drowsiness came too. Seeing the time, there still remained two or three hours before day broke. Clearly, once it was daylight, the path would be visible. Finding the drowsiness hard to resist, the man checked once again in a low voice whether there was anyone at home. As the sweat dried, the cold struck him. It might be spring, high up in the mountains the nights were still chill. The spring breeze passing through the cherry blossom was icy. The man seized the handle of the door leading into the room. The door opened readily, as if it had only been waiting for him. He paused to remove his shoes then entered the room but inside it was so dark that he could distinguish nothing. The wind that had come visiting the cherry tree followed him in. The man flicked his lighter on and looked for the switch. But fumble though he might beside the door, he could not find a switch. As he gave up and turned around something brushed lightly against his head. An old memory struck him and he giggled lightly. He waved his hand around inside the dark room. His hand grasped a familiar round switch. A very ancient fluorescent tube flickered then lit up.

The man was about to sit down on the floor when he suddenly recoiled. Then half-crouching, he began to move backward. Against the inner wall a corpse was lying, that seemed to have died long ago.

It was in the morning of the previous day that fair-haired Cash had vanished, leaving a simple note on the table. Thanks, man. I don’t think fair hair and trot music suit me. I want to be a dancer, so I’m going somewhere else. See you again. Beside the note was an envelope full of money. Ten million won. That was the amount the man had asked the boss for. The man reflected wistfully: they had always been together, twenty-four hours a day, so how had Cash contacted another agency? He finally realized that he knew nothing about Cash. The image of the boss hitting the roof floated into his mind. Obviously the boss would assume that the man had enticed Cash away somewhere else.

He knew she would not come back, yet still the man waited anxiously for her. He longed for her to phone, at least. The man stayed awake all night, reviewing the hours he had spent with Cash over the past three years. He wondered if he would ever again experience such happy times. Then suddenly the thought struck him that Cash did not know his phone number. She had never had to call him, so of course she did not need to know it. Once his last hope had vanished, his longing for Cash calmed down.

As day was breaking, the man packed. The bag was full of luxury goods purchased during the past three years. As he was passing through the door, he hurled the bag into a far corner of the living room. His heart was light as he left the lodgings.

The corpse looked as though it had been dead for several months. It had already completely rotted and dried, until it looked more like a toy mummy than a corpse. Strangely, the hair, gathered in a tidy bun, was quite undisturbed. Only the hollow eye sockets, the shriveled lips, the vanished gums seemed to testify that the woman had once been alive. The fat beneath the skin had risen as it decomposed so that the surface of the corpse glistened as if it had been varnished. It looked like a well chiseled piece of wood. He tried hard to remember his grandmother’s decease but for some reason he could recall nothing of how his grandmother had looked in death. Once he had calmed down, the man looked around the room. The few household items were arranged tidily. On the wall hung a single small frame where several photos overlapped. The man rose and examined the frame. A few ancient photos summed up simply the life of the old woman who had now turned into a mummy. Seeing her in a photo as a young woman holding a baby, it looked as though she had had several children. In what looked to be the most recent photo, she was holding what looked to be a grandchild. The people in the photos seemed to be a harmonious family. Still, he suddenly wondered how it was that the corpse had lain there abandoned for several months after her death.

The man lay down far away from the corpse on the other side of the room. Since he had not slept for two nights running, he could not resist the rising drowsiness any longer. The moment he lay down, the man fell into a deep sleep.

When he awoke, he could not clearly recall who had come and gone in his dreams. He dimly remembered having seen Grandmother, Father and Mother, as well as fair-haired Cash, and the old woman of the house. Good morning, I hope you slept well? The man greeted the old woman to whom he was indebted for the night’s rest. With that he came to his senses and hurriedly rose to his feet.

Dazzlingly bright sunshine enfolded the man’s body. It was so dazzling that he could not look directly at the shining cherry blossom. The man went striding down the path. He suddenly realized that he had no idea whether his mother was already dead or not. A memory of having seen her together with Father and Grandmother in his dreams flashed into his mind. His steps began to grow faster, as if he was trying to free himself of a disagreeable feeling.

He hastened on down the mountain for a while, then turned back toward the cherry-tree house. The man seemed like someone who had once lived in the house as he headed up the hillside carrying a spade that was leaning in one corner of the yard. Selecting a level spot, the man began to dig.

A springtime breeze sent by the shining cherry blossom caressed the man’s chest as it passed.