After the change in management at the Queen Bee, he made
no more prophecies.
On account of the curious rule implemented by the new
It seemed to cause him great pain, not being able to
make his prophecies.
Na U-hyon had a unique hobby that set him apart from
the other regulars at the basement bar known as the Queen Bee. He was able
to predict the future, of people and world events, with remarkable accuracy.
It was a rare hobby and an admirable talent.
"This girl won't last long. Just wait and see. It won't
be long before she moves on..."
He often predicted what the waitresses would do, things
they themselves had never even imagined. It wasn't uncommon for a girl
to disappear without a trace a few days later, although she hadn't seemed
to put the slightest stock in what he had said.
If he said someone would go, that person went; if he
said someone would come, inevitably the individual appeared. If he said
there was going to be an accident at a certain time and place, invariably
that accident occurred, and if he said something good was going to happen
to someone, it always did.
"You shouldn't have sent him out today."
One day, quite out of the blue, he warned the mistress
about sending one of the boys on an errand.
A world title match between two famous local boxers was
to be broadcast live that night. The mistress, afraid they might run short
of beer, had asked the new boy, Yang, who happened to have arrived early
for work that day, to go out for some more.
"Haven't they delivered it yet?"
"Yes, but it looks like we might run short tonight. Why
don't you go over on your bike and pick up two more cases? You know where
"Never should have bought that bike."
Yang didn't seem particularly enthusiastic about the
Na must have heard what Yang had said as he walked down
the stairs into the bar. He stopped at the threshold and repeated the phrase,
as if he was getting a feeling about something.
"Never should have bought that bike..."
He peered into Yang's face as the boy pushed his bicycle
reluctantly out the door.
"That boy's going to have a bad accident if he takes
that bike out today."
The mistress felt an ominous foreboding. During the two
years she had been managing the bar, she had seen that miserable little
man's seemingly frivolous prophecies proved accurate on many occasions.
"Yang, forget it," she called out, but it was already
"That's okay. I'll go. So what if I have an accident!
The worse that can happen is I get killed. I was born under an unlucky
And with that, Yang left on his bicycle.
There was nothing the mistress could do. She glanced
at Na as if to say it wasn't her responsibility. But Na simply shook his
head as he stared off in the direction Yang had disappeared. He looked
concerned, as if he couldn't rid himself of his strange foreboding.
Still, there was nothing the mistress could do. Better
to ignore his prophecy, she thought.
Good Lord! As if everything always turns out the way
he says! Since when is a fortune teller always right?
"Come on in," she said. "Quite hot for early summer,
She guided Na through the door as if nothing had happened.
He followed her in silence. And then, before the sun had set, he began
drinking, all alone, as if awaiting the outcome of his prophecy.
The news reached the Queen Bee before Na had a chance
to begin his second bottle of beer.
"This is Officer Kim from Songsam Station. Can I speak
to Madam O?"
The girl at the cash register handed the receiver to
the mistress immediately.
"Madam O? This is Officer Kim from Songsam Station...
I'm at the intersection by the gas station. I'm calling from a pay phone.
You'd better get over here right away. Your waiter, number 9, Yang Ha-mun.
Right, he was picking up some beer on his bike. Well, he's been run over
by a bus."
It was exactly twelve minutes since Yang had left the
Na's prophecies were so accurate, it was almost as if
people obeyed them in order to make them come true. And because they were
so accurate, everyone dreaded them.
They seemed to think that if Na made a prediction, they
had to obey. What's more, they acted as if his predictions had some kind
of hypnotic power that left them no choice but to bear out what he said.
Na's prophecies differed from those of professional fortune
tellers in a number of ways. Not only did he predict routine affairs, such
as price fluctuations and the results of sporting events, as do the professionals,
but he also covered everything from natural disasters, such as droughts
and floods, to the comings and goings of human beings, even their illnesses
What really set his prophecies apart from those of conventional
fortune tellers was his extraordinary power to predict people's destinies,
their thoughts and actions, the outcomes of their relationships, their
fortunes, good and bad. From that point of view, he was a kind of philosopher
of human destiny. However, there was another difference between Na and
the fortune tellers one finds around town: he offered no prescription to
prepare a person for the fate he predicted. He simply made his prophecies,
but never suggested any way to avert them, unlike ordinary fortune tellers
or face-readers, who prescribe talismans or charms. In that sense, he was
very much an evil magician.
That is why no one welcomed his prophecies.
"Miss Chong, how old are you?... Right, I thought so.
The time has come. If I were you, I'd buy a round of drinks on a day like
this. Your father's going to come up from the country to see you tomorrow.
He wants to marry you off. I can tell from the look on your face."
Na didn't always make prophecies of doom. On occasion
he brought people good fortune and happiness. But they didn't welcome those
predictions either, because they felt as if it was his prophecies that
were responsible for their good fortune and happiness. And because they
were afraid that one day they would have to pay the price for their good
fortune by submitting to his ominous predictions.
Na didn't concern himself with the reactions of those
around him, however.
"You shouldn't have come to work today. You're going
to get into a scuffle with someone," he would say, or "No point in watching
the soccer match tonight. It'll be a breeze. But we're going to lose in
the semifinals day after tomorrow."
Whether in an offhand tone or an anxious voice, Na was
forever demonstrating his inscrutable prophetic powers to the waitresses
and the mistress, or to the regulars with whom he was familiar.
It was nearly three years since he had bought a two-story
slab house less than a bus stop away from the Queen Bee. He had been a
regular ever since, although he never seemed to have a real job.
Actually, hardly anything was known of his private life
or the source of his prophetic abilities. None of the former mistresses
of the Queen Bee or the waitresses, or even the other regulars who had
drunk with him over the years, knew anything about him.
They say he once studied in a Buddhist temple.
No one knew how the rumor had started, but every once
in a while someone would mention something about Na having once been a
monk. No one could say for sure whether it was true or not. They simply
saw some vague connection between the rumor and his prophetic abilities.
Among the other uncorroborated elements of Na's life was the talk that
he had once been a writer. It was said he had decided to give up the monastic
life and return to the secular world because of his desire to write, but
again, this had never been proved.
Na paid no attention to these stories, and so there was
no way of confirming them. What's more, none of the regulars was inclined
to pry into someone else's personal affairs.
One thing was clear, however. Once or twice a month he
went rock-collecting in the countryside. He would dress in work clothes,
put on his backpack and be off, not to return for three or four days, or
sometimes a week.
No one ever saw him leave (probably because he always
left at daybreak), but it was obvious from his appearance upon his return
that the purpose of his trips was rock-collecting. After a few days' absence
from the Queen Bee, Na would invariably be spotted returning, exhausted
from his journey with nothing in his backpack except a couple of curious-looking
rocks at best. On many occasions, he struggled home as if under a massive
burden, but with little more than his own exhausted body. When he had no
rocks, he came straight to the Queen Bee, backpack and all. His fatigue
then was all the more obvious.
From the number of trips he had taken, you might have
thought his house would be buried under a pile of rocks by now. However,
no one at the Queen Bee knew how many rocks he had actually collected or
what he did with them. Na rarely spoke of the rocks, nor had anyone ever
visited his home to find out. As a result, it was only natural that few
people understood why he was so devoted to his rock-collecting. Apart from
that hobby, Na U-hyon's life was shrouded in ambiguity.
It was in that ambiguous state that he had been frequenting
the bar for the past two or three years. He had never seemed particularly
concerned about expenses, although he had no job to speak of. Perhaps someone
in his family was supporting him. Except for his trips, he spent all 365
days of the year at the bar and always seemed to have plenty of cash.
Perhaps you could call it another of his hobbies, but
Na understood the personal lives of the bar staff better than any of the
Miss Lee, you ought to pay more attention to your sick
father! You should go see him at least once a week! or Miss Shin, today's
your birthday, isn't it? Here, I bought a little cake for you.
He never hung on the girls or made indecent advances,
nor did they ever confide in him, and yet he always knew everything about
them. If a waitress quit to return to the countryside, he would give her
money for the trip, and sometimes he even offered to help a younger brother
find work. It didn't matter what they thought of his prophecies.
That was the way Na was, but for all his humanitarianism,
he still made those mysteriously accurate prophecies.
His prophesying formed the core of his existence.
However, after the arrival of Madam Hong, the new owner
of the Queen Bee, he abruptly stopped making predictions. Actually, it
would be more accurate to say he stopped after Madam Hong implemented that
curious rule of hers.
One day last spring.
Madam Hong took over the bar, no doubt because the Queen
Bee's previous management had not been satisfactory. However, it wasn't
a matter of her simply being employed to manage the bar. Rather, she was
the new owner. She seemed to have not only the drive of an independent
businesswoman, but also the insight and determination needed to run the
bar on her own.
"Apparently she attended college for a couple of years.
That's where she fell in love with some guy. They got married right away,
but after a few months he asked her for a divorce. She said 'Fine,' something
about having no use for the likes of him... And that was the end of it."
There was no telling where the customers came up with
their information, but from the first night Madam Hong appeared at the
bar, her past occasioned a great deal of discussion.
"But do you know why she gave in so easily? The answer's
in what she said: 'I have no use for the likes of you.' Apparently she's
really into you-know-what and he simply wasn't up to it. Heh, heh, heh.
I mean, what use would she have for a man who couldn't satisfy her, right?
He was lucky to get out while he was alive and breathing!"
Everyone assumed she had given up on the idea of remarriage
and started working in bars because no one man could satisfy her.
"They say she never stays at one bar more than a few
months. Fortunately she's over thirty now. Otherwise, we'd be burying a
few stiffs around here too, ha, ha, ha..."
Whether it was her educational background or colorful
marital history, the rumors about Madam Hong seemed to enhance her reputation
as a proprietress with a mission.
And after an evening observing business at the bar, she
began to reveal her true determination and insight.
"This won't do. It simply can't go on like this..."
After the doors closed that first evening Madam Hong
gathered the employees together and in the haughty and authoritarian tone
of a mob kingpin she made an announcement.
"Before taking over this establishment, I had heard quite
a bit about the clientele. But after seeing the way things operate here,
I see no reason why business should be so poor. Look at all the customers
we serve, and the kind of people they are. The problem isn't location or
clientele, it's simply a matter of poor management."
In other words, she had decided to change the way things
were run at the bar.
She didn't say why she thought the previous management
had failed, nor did she offer specific plans for changing the way the bar
was managed. All she did was insist upon unconditional trust and obedience
to her new approach.
"I'm not going to talk about my plans for the bar yet.
But I want to make one thing perfectly clear: I won't be sending any of
you away, and I don't plan on hiring anyone new. If some of you choose
to leave, there's nothing I can do about it, but all who wish to stay may
do so-on one condition. You'll have to follow the new rules. To work here,
you must accept and respect my rules-no exceptions. After all, every one
of you is here for the money. I won't do anything to harm you..."
It was clear she hadn't yet decided exactly how she was
going to change things at the Queen Bee.
It didn't take her long to find a way, though. And a
truly amazing way at that.
It was Chang, owner of the Ch'onil Stationery and Toy
Shop, who helped her find it.
The afternoon following her arrival at the Queen Bee,
Madam Hong happened to pass Chang's shop as he was waiting on some children.
He was wearing a goblin mask. An extraordinary thought flashed through
Madam Hong's mind at the sight of the man's face hidden by a child's paper
mask. She stopped and peered at him with a purposeful expression. Inside
the shop hung rows of various masks.
"Mr. Chang," Madam Hong asked as she stepped inside.
"Do you always wear a mask at work?"
The two had met the night before.
"Ah, it's Madam Hong."
Chang pushed the mask onto his forehead, and his smiling
face appeared below the angry goblin's visage.
"Of course! Most of my customers are kids."
"But aren't they afraid?" she asked, as purposefully
"Afraid? Not at all. They think it's fun. It's the only
way I can get to know them."
Madam Hong nodded in silence.
And a moment later she swept up every last one of the
masks and returned to the bar.
She ordered all the employees to wear them, starting
that very night.
"Remember, I'm not doing this for fun. This is part of
the plan I told you about."
She went on to explain the rules and how the masks were
to be worn.
"First, you are each to wear a mask from ten o'clock
on. You may wear it before ten if you like, but after ten, you are forbidden
to serve customers without it. And of course no one is allowed to sit at
a customer's table without a mask. As you can see, they don't cover the
mouth, so you shouldn't have any trouble serving. To put it on, you simply
tie these two strings around the back of your head. Each mask has eyeholes
so there shouldn't be any problems. Just put it on like this."
Madam Hong put on one of the masks.
"Second, you are not to put on or take off your mask
in the bar itself. Never let anyone see you doing this. At ten, you are
all to go into the dressing room and put on your masks. Then you may serve
"Third, at the table you must offer the customer a mask
to wear as well. No customer is to drink without one. If a customer refuses-and
I doubt this will happen-you don't have to serve him alcohol. Also, I would
prefer that you not watch the customers putting on their masks. Once the
customer agrees to wear a mask, simply explain how it goes on. But never
watch him doing it. And once it's on, try to make sure it stays on until
he leaves. And of course you should never watch a customer remove his mask
and return to his normal face. You may wonder about this, and it may not
appeal to you, but as I've said, it's simply part of my new plan. Since
no harm's involved, to you or to me, I want you to follow these rules starting
That was all she said. She allowed no questions and so
there was no way of knowing what she had in mind.
Whatever her intentions, the new strategy was a resounding
success. From that day forward, every last one of the girls' faces was
transformed into a sinister mask at the stroke of ten.
At first, the customers were bewildered by what seemed
an outrageous prank. Apprehension shrouded the bar, as if it had been transformed
into a goblins' den. But they didn't seem put off.
We know nothing. We're just doing what Madam Hong told
I don't mind wearing a mask. I feel much more comfortable
serving you this way.
The masks could not answer their customers' questions.
And the customers found no fault with the masks either.
In fact, they seemed to find them amusing.
I've got it! It's obvious-"undercover" drinking!
That Madam Hong is one hell of a woman! No mask-no liquor.
That's what she's saying, isn't she? She's really something!
The customers enjoyed the masks and pretended to understand
what Madam Hong was up to. It didn't take them long to grow accustomed
to the new rules, and when the girls asked them to wear a mask, they were
happy to oblige.
Why not? If one side hides their faces, so should the
other side-it's only natural. How could a mask and a face sit at the same
A great idea! This ugly mug of mine is always causing
trouble. From now on, none of us are who we were before. From now on, it's
goblins partying with goblins.
Once both sides began wearing masks, everyone grew more
intimate and acted more naturally.
A few customers, new to the bar, complained it was humiliating.
"What is this, some kind of joke? No drinking without
a mask? What are you trying to do, turn your customers into goblins?"
But Madam Hong, who appeared before her guests in a ferocious
mask, didn't seem the least bit embarrassed.
"Oh, sir, you know we have only the best of intentions.
I simply established this rule to help our guests enjoy themselves a bit
"Rule, what rule? A rule that all your customers have
to turn into devils?"
"And what's wrong with that? Wouldn't you like to play
the devil here at the Queen Bee, just for a short time?"
"Ah, you mean have a face like a devil but be a man from
the waist down?"
"Sir! Shame on you," Madam Hong laughed.
She showed no sign of backing down.
Madam Hong, I feel like a completely different man...
I'm so much more at ease when I drink now. Actually, the problem was, we
all live too close together. We know one another too well. I've always
felt kind of funny leaving a tip for the girls here.
No one can blame you for anything you do in a mask. It's
all the mask's fault, not yours.
Some of the regulars teased Madam Hong, but she simply
responded in her ambiguous way, intent on maintaining her rules.
"Thank you for being so understanding... It's really
quite amusing, isn't it? After all, the important thing is pleasing our
And so from that first night on, not a single customer
was forced to leave the Queen Bee for refusing to wear a mask.
Madam Hong's plan was a success. More than that, it was
welcomed with open arms.
From that day on, the bar turned into a masked society
at the stroke of ten. And in time, everyone at the Queen Bee accepted the
rule of the masks after that hour. Nearly all the regular customers were
from the neighborhood. Perhaps that was why they had always felt uneasy
coming to the bar too early in the evening.
This was true not only of pharmacist Kim, who rented
a shop in the same building as the Queen Bee, but also U from the gym across
the street, Han, owner of the electronic store, and even Chang, the stationer.
In fact, if there was an exception, it was Na U-hyon, who had never seemed
to care what anyone thought.
Now their time had been set.
The local regulars had always dominated the bar after
ten anyway, and now that hour had been set as the time for masks. They
all waited for the clock to strike ten, because things were more comfortable
then. At ten o'clock, they went to the Queen Bee and put on their masks.
Soon the bar was filled with regulars, each wearing his mask and secretly
hoping that the masking hour would be pushed up to nine o'clock.
The masks eventually created their own order, and a second
rule was established: everyone came to have his or her own mask. At first
they simply wore what Madam Hong gave them. But after a few days, it was
clear that the waitresses were choosing for themselves, and it wasn't long
before they each had her own.
Madam Hong returned to the stationery shop. Chang had
a new shipment of masks. And not just goblin masks. There were other kinds
"These are authentic traditional masks. The goblin masks
are simply kids' toys."
Madam Hong's eyebrows twitched like ant feelers as Chang
showed her the new shipment.
"This is the Young Bride, and this one is called the
Aristocrat. This nasty fellow with the boils on his face is the Lecherous
Monk, and the one with the sleepy eyes is called Blinkie."
The masks were quite different from the pressed paper
goblin and animal masks Madam Hong had bought before. First of all, it
was obvious they had been made by hand with great care. Some were decorated
with beards of rabbit fur; others were brilliantly painted. Some even had
hats made of dog hide.
"See the sneaky look on this fellow's face. And that
one over there: she has the lecherous air of a whorehouse madam."
A curious smile crossed Madam Hong's lips. Once more
she bought up the entire shipment of masks, and each waitress chose her
Madam Hong ordered still more masks from Chang, and when
they arrived a new rule was established: each waitress was to have her
own mask, and Madam Hong insisted that each regular have his own as well.
Of course, the girls wore female masks and the men male
The Queen Bee became a festival of masks after ten o'clock.
Neither the customers nor the waitresses needed to worry about their real
The Lecherous Monk, the Aristocrat, the Jap Whore, the
Young Singer... Someone had learned the original name for each mask, and
the waitresses and the customers referred to each other by those titles.
It was as if they had chosen to submit to the history of their masks, and
gradually they came to resemble them.
How now, my little bitch, you're looking so pouty and
What's wrong with that? I may not look like much, but
I can light a fire in a man who's limp from a life in a Buddhist monastery.
If you're so good, how about lighting my fire tonight?
My pleasure. I can make a dead tree flower, so I won't
have any trouble with a healthy stud like you, sir. Still plenty of life
left in you, isn't there?
Such was the spicy conversation exchanged at every table
in the bar. The dauntless aristocrat's mask made its owner all the more
risque, and the customer in the good-natured libertine's mask played his
role to the hilt.
The girls were no different. The more voluptuous the
mask, the more voluptuous the girl; the more debauched the mask, the more
debauched its owner.
The customers and waitresses communicated through their
masks and acted as their masks would. They came to know and remember each
other by their masks.
And so another bizarre custom was established in the
A clear distinction was made between the time people
wore the masks and the time they did not. Without their masks, no one spoke
of what had happened while they were on. It was almost as if they didn't
want to leave a trace, either in memories or in words, of what had happened.
They felt comfortable that way. The clearer the distinction, the more pleasurable
and free the night world of the masks became.
Whatever happened at the bar while they wore their masks,
no one ever spoke of it the following morning. When they met on the street,
they were ordinary neighbors, simply passing the time of day. The local
regulars acted that way among themselves and with the waitresses when they
met them on the street.
Madam Hong's masks established a peculiar new order to
the Queen Bee. They soon became the custom, without any further interference
If anyone was displeased, it was Na U-hyon. For some
reason, he didn't welcome the new order as the others had. This was clear
from his face and actions, though he said nothing.
Na, of course, wore a mask when he drank, just like the
others. He didn't openly complain about the girls' masks, nor was he ever
asked to leave for refusing to wear one himself.
However, he didn't grow attached to a particular mask
the way the others had. He didn't have his own mask, couldn't even remember
which one he'd worn the day before.
"They're all the same to me. Just give me whatever's
left. All I care about is drinking."
Na was forever confounding his regular waitress, Miss
Shim. He couldn't even remember her mask. He obviously disliked the whole
idea. And it was just as obvious he felt ill at ease. But he never said
a thing about the masks, even while surrounded by them. In the past, he
would have provoked an argument about something like that. But now, he
didn't say a word. That was all the more disturbing.
That he had stopped making prophecies was the best proof
of how uncomfortable he felt. This didn't necessarily mean he had given
up his predictions altogether, though. Rather, his silence could have been
a sign of an even more frightening prophecy. Or perhaps he was uncomfortable
because he was withholding his prophecies.
Following Madam Hong's arrival, Na stopped going rock-collecting.
Indeed, he came to the Queen Bee more frequently than ever. But he always
seemed ill at ease, like someone anxiously awaiting something.
It was obvious he was holding back a prophecy. This was
what pained him so, what made him so very uncomfortable.
One afternoon Madam Hong summoned the manager to her
office to discuss a new problem.
"Mr. Min, you must know our customers inside and out
"Of course. This is my fourth year at the Queen Bee.
I'm an old-timer around here," Min responded with a modest bow.
"Then why don't you sit down? I have something to ask
She offered Min a cigarette and got straight to the point.
"Tell me, what do you think of the customers from around
"What do I think of them?" Min didn't seem to understand
what she was getting at.
"Well... They really appreciate the way you're changing
things. The customers and the waitresses have always known too much about
each other, since most of them live around here. There's never been any
sense of ceremony between them and so..."
Madam Hong shook her head slowly.
"That's not what I mean. I want to know what you think
about them-what kind of people they are, not what they think of the bar."
Min produced a toothy smile, as if he finally understood.
"Ah, the customers from around here are, as you've probably
already noticed, they're all nice, ordinary people. And none of them are
so hard up that they can't afford a drink."
Madam Hong shook her head once more.
"I realize that. I want to know more about them as individuals."
"Well, of course! It makes perfect sense. If you want
to sell drinks, you've got to know your drinkers. It's obvious who you
should pay attention to. Starting with Kim from the Paekyang Pharmacy."
Min went on to give a detailed description of each of
the neighborhood regulars, beginning with the pharmacist whose drugstore
was located in the same building as the Queen Bee.
Kim had graduated from a private university down in the
Cholla region. He was a sharp fellow who opened his pharmacy about ten
years ago when rumor had it the area would be declared a redevelopment
district. He had grown rich and acquired a five-story building downtown.
His relationship with the girls was good enough, his tips average, but
the previous owners had been concerned that he allowed the girls to buy
medicine on credit.
Next was Director Han, owner of U-il Electronics. Han
was a good-natured young man who referred to himself as the "Director"
of his small shop at the intersection, about a block from the bar. Han
enjoyed drinking and always brought a friend. He was a generous tipper
and easygoing, but after one of the waitresses fell for him and got pregnant
he changed his ways considerably.
Young U Tok-ju was an apprentice at the Tongdo Gymnasium
on the fifth floor of the Sambo Building across the street. He was brusque
and inarticulate for his age. Apparently he made a living sparring with
boxers from the U.S. Eighth Army and squandered his daily earnings drinking
at the Queen Bee. He always drank alone, never leaving a tip or having
a girl by his side. He tended to drink himself senseless, then stare at
the ceiling or wail like a beast as he pounded his head against the table.
Chang, proprietor of the Ch'onil Stationery and Toy Shop,
was the neediest of the neighborhood regulars; without a school nearby,
business was light. He was a sort of neighborhood clown, catering to the
local kids in his paper mask. Not only did he wear and sell masks, he seemed
almost obsessed with traditional masks and knew a great deal about them.
His wife kept him on a short leash, so he couldn't visit the bar as he
pleased. Nevertheless, he seemed to have a knack for charming the waitresses.
The prophet Na U-hyon was an unknown quantity-something
of a good-for-nothing who spent nearly all his time at the Queen Bee when
he wasn't on his monthly rock-collecting expeditions. He was quite generous
with his tips and sometimes treated the waitresses to dinner or provided
them with bus fare. They knew little of him, but he, on the other hand,
could see everything, even their darkest secrets...
Madam Hong was engrossed in Min's descriptions. When
he came to Na U-hyon, she interrupted, as if prompted by a sudden thought.
"You mean that amateur fortune teller who's so good at
telling the future?"
"You already know him, I see. Not surprising, I suppose-he's
the most unusual of the bunch, by far. And then there's-"
Madam Hong appeared to know about Na already, but again
she cut Min short. The mention of Na U-hyon seemed to bother her for some
"Just a minute. The others can wait. Tell me about this
fortune teller... Can he really see into the future?"
"And then some. You'd think he had supernatural powers.
If he says a bird is going to fall from the sky, it folds its wings and
falls. He may not look like much, but he sure seems to know what he's saying."
"Really? Has he made any predictions lately?"
"I haven't heard anything recently. Why? Have you?"
"No, I don't think he's made any since I arrived."
"Really? Maybe not. But if I were you, I wouldn't go
out of my way looking for one. They generally aren't very lucky."
"To be sure..."
Madam Hong was silent a moment, but the silence couldn't
hide her doubts.
"What is it? Is there something about him that bothers
you?" Min asked.
"No, no. Why should there be? Of course not..." Madam
Hong sidestepped Min's question, but still couldn't hide her misgivings.
"Well, that's enough for now. They're all local people
so we shouldn't have to worry about anything. There is one thing I'd like
to ask you, though: Please make sure the girls don't charge anything else
at the pharmacy. I don't want them feeling obliged to Kim because of a
measly medicine bill."
Min remained silent, listening earnestly.
"Very well, you may go back to your work now."
Min left the room.
Madam Hong shook her head.
It's all because of him. It's got to be him.
It was so strange, how well everything seemed to be going
at the bar. The former owners may have mismanaged, but there was nothing
wrong with the Queen Bee as far as clientele, location, or facilities were
Indeed, if there was a problem, it was the lack of ceremony
between the local regulars and the waitresses. However, the mask idea seemed
to have solved that immediately. In fact, the masks had been much more
effective than she had expected.
Perhaps her encounter with the masks in front of the
stationery shop had somehow been predestined by the masks themselves. Everything
had gone smoothly since she brought them to the bar.
The customers and employees cheerfully abided by the
rules for using the masks, and the waitresses went about their work with
fresh enthusiasm now that their tips were better. Liquor sales increased
by the day. The customers were developing a comfortable new order among
their masks, which now had strict control of the bar. People were identified
by their masks, and acted through them. The more they trusted their masks,
the freer the girls felt. They hiked their skirts at the merest whim, whether
asked to or not, and they yielded all too readily to their partners' insulting
demands. But when they removed their masks, they were ordinary neighbors
again. Confusing one's real face with one's mask was strictly taboo. Throughout
the day the regulars eagerly awaited the freedom of the masks-if only to
have more time under their rule. Finally, at the stroke of ten, they were
transformed. That was the unwritten law of the Queen Bee.
Such was the peculiar magic of the masks.
"It's simply a matter of technique," Madam Hong gloated.
"It's strange how submissive people can be."
Now that the Queen Bee was on track, she felt she had
simply to consolidate her rule by improving her technique.
But this incipient satisfaction with her own abilities
and the atmosphere at the bar met with an ominous premonition. Was someone
going to betray her and the new order at the Queen Bee? Was someone trying
to undermine her and destroy the atmosphere there?
It was a strange foreboding of betrayal.
Why this outlandish premonition all of a sudden? No one
had done a thing to bother her. There'd been no indication that the bar's
etiquette was being ignored. On the contrary, everything was just as she
This is what happens when there's nothing else to worry
She tried to convince herself her anxieties were unfounded.
But this thought offered little consolation. Her misgivings, however unfounded,
grew with each passing day. The more compliant the waitresses and customers,
the more they accepted the new etiquette of the Queen Bee, the more anxious
she became. But she just couldn't pinpoint the origins of her premonition.
Vaguely hoping to decipher her misgivings, hoping it
was simply her imagination at work, she had called in Min that afternoon.
But she had hoped in vain. For according to Min, that disquieting fortune
teller Na had suddenly stopped making his prophecies. Now she understood.
It's all because of him.
But why? He had made no prophecies since her arrival.
She had an ominous premonition of betrayal. Were the two related? The moment
she heard Na's name pass from the manager's lips, the moment Min said Na
had stopped making prophecies, her instincts were set in motion. The dismal
image of the prophet wrenched open her soul; she felt his stubborn stare
bearing down on her. The moment she saw him she felt as if an eerie curse
had fallen upon her.
What a terrible face!
Listening to Min, she had cursed the face again and again.
There was no need to look further. Na had put her on edge from the very
start-the way he peered into other people's futures with such presumption,
the way he used his unnatural powers to prevent them from escaping his
unwelcome prophecies, the way he always seemed on guard, face taut with
anxiety. Thinking about it now, she realized that Na was the only regular
who had ignored the rules of the masks. He had never decided on a mask,and
he refused to turn the masks to his advantage the way the other customers
And on top of that, he quits making prophecies as soon
as I show up!
Even his silence seemed ominous. It was as if the anxiety
on his face was caused by his failure to make prophecies.
Maybe he's doing it on purpose. But after holding back
like this, he might come up with a really terrible prophecy...
Madam Hong was at a loss. Na may have been the cause
of her misgivings, but she had no way of knowing how or why he might betray
Nor could she understand why she feared the prophet's
silence. She didn't even know what she was trying to protect.
There was no explaining her irrational hatred for him.
In any event, Madam Hong's premonition was growing firmer.
Her survival instincts told her to act against Na, to protect herself from
that mysterious premonition.
The following day she began to study Na's every move.
Of course, her approach was even more insightful than
before. She never attacked him head-on. She concentrated on bolstering
the order that ruled the Queen Bee; she would hamstring Na within that
order. This seemed the most effective way to deal with a man who revealed
none of the overt signs of betrayal. At times this roundabout approach
was quite effective in dealing with his treachery.
One day, one of the waitresses made the mistake of walking
through the bar without her mask-and it was after ten!
"You're forgetting!" Madam Hong said.
The girl rushed back into the dressing room to get her
An enigmatic smile passed over the lips visible below
Madam Hong's mask.
"Take it off!" commanded Madam Hong's mask. It resembled
a dragon, or the demons carved in traditional roof tiles. The waitress,
Miss Chon, wore a sulky young whore's mask. Every mask in the bar was turned
toward the two women.
"Please forgive me!"
"Take it off!"
The small mask implored, Madam Hong's hardened and cut.
The expressionless masks battled with their voices. The other masks followed
the confrontation in subdued silence.
"Give me another chance!" the waitress's mask pleaded
in a terrified voice.
Madam Hong's tone grew colder still. "Take it off!" She
slowly turned to survey the bar as if she were waiting for the girl to
obey. For an instant, her gaze rested on Na, sitting in the far corner.
At last the waitress removed her mask. Madam Hong thrust
out her hand and took it. Then she picked up a box of matches from the
table in front of her.
"You no longer have a face! If you can't work without
your mask, then leave!" Madam Hong's mask announced in a low voice as she
struck a match and touched it to the mask. She lifted the burning mask
into the air. A dozen masks undulated silently in the dancing light of
Madam Hong searched the masks for Na U-hyon. The eyes
of his mask were fixed on the waitress.
Miss Chon buried her face in her hands and broke into
sobs. Under the ponderous stare of the wordless masks, she turned abruptly
and ran from the bar. The stares followed her into the darkness.
All except Madam Hong's. Her eyes remained on Na. Beneath
her mask, the enigmatic smile played across her lips once more. Of course,
none of the other masks could see it, for her mask did not smile.
Madam Hong's demonstration was a great success.
She never forgave the waitress. Miss Chon returned the
following day to ask forgiveness, but she was not assigned a new mask.
The girl looked miserable serving without one, and the customers seemed
ill at ease around her. After a few painful days without a mask, Miss Chon
gave up and left the Queen Bee for good.
Madam Hong had put fear into the rest of the waitresses.
And at times even the customers seemed afraid they too might lose their
masks to her.
Don't you like the way we run this place? You must tell
me if you don't. We'll do whatever you like. she would taunt. Or:
Oh no, you mustn't do that! If you're not careful, I'll
take your face away!
Sometimes she said such things in passing. The customers
shuddered at the very sound of her voice.
Her warnings were the most appropriate and convenient
means of protecting the customs of the bar. Madam Hong created a perfect
order in the Queen Bee, ruling with a dignity that bordered on arrogance.
Even her expressionless mask had a certain relentless dignity to it. And
the absence of expressions on the other masks seemed proof of their absolute
For some reason, though, Madam Hong still did not feel
Na U-hyon was helpless now, hamstrung by her wiles. He
didn't oppose her openly. The Queen Bee was all hers now. And yet she could
not rid herself of that ominous premonition. She was plagued by a leery
feeling: a traitor was going to disturb her kingdom. The tighter she bound
Na U-hyon and the more the bar surrendered to her rule, the more concerned
she became about Na's presence and the order of the Queen Bee.
Then one day Madam Hong discovered a hidden virtue in
one of her faithful regulars.
U Tok-ju, the boxer from the Tongdo Gym, trudged into
the bar one evening in a particularly bad condition. His lips and eyelids
were hideously swollen; it was obvious he had taken a terrible beating.
Never had he returned from the American base with such serious injuries.
They were clearly not the result of an ordinary practice session. All boxers
get into a scuffle now and again, but U was hardly the type for fistfights.
He was a gentle fellow, docile to the point of appearing oafish. Despite
his massive build and sluggish speech, he seemed to have neither the temper
nor the drive of an athlete. It was difficult to imagine him getting angry
or taking a swing at anyone. What's more, he was supposed to be quite cowardly.
"Those assholes! I could nail those ugly gorillas with
one hand tied behind my back!"
The waitresses felt sorry for him. Every time they had
a free moment or two, they went over to freshen his drink, but boxing was
all he ever spoke of. Apparently he was terrified of the big black soldiers
he had to spar with on the American base.
"Imagine what it's like! Having to stand there like some
lousy punching bag while those niggers come after you snorting like a bunch
of wild boars. It doesn't matter if you have a good punch. You're just
supposed to stand there and take it. Try taking a punch from one of those
gorillas! It's unbelievable! All I can do is pray they don't stick me with
one of the really big suckers!"
"Oh, you're just a big scaredy cat!"
The waitresses teased him. He was too slow to understand
their banter, and besides it was unseemly for a big fellow like that to
make such a fuss.
Madam Hong had to smile each time she saw him. It was
a modern version of The Tale of Hungbo, she thought, the unfortunate Hungbo
hiring himself out to take other people's beatings.
His was a ridiculous occupation.
On that particular day, Madam Hong couldn't hold back
her laughter when she saw the so-called boxer's face.
But there is no telling about people. Suddenly Madam
Hong's attitude toward U changed. Perhaps she was touched by the loyalty
of this man who, despite his injuries, waited until the hour of the masks
before he came to the bar. As soon as she saw him sitting there drinking
alone with that villainous mask on his face, she felt a sudden sympathy
for him, as if he were a small child. When she walked over to offer him
a word of comfort, she was overcome by a truly strange thought.
"I can't go to work anymore..." Madam Hong had asked
him where he had received that terrible beating, but U just stared at the
ceiling and went on with his story.
"I flattened that nigger today. The one named Henderson.
The bastard was trying to kill me..."
Henderson had been particularly rough on him-the gorilla
wouldn't let up. And U simply couldn't put up with it that day.
"No chance to ask for a break-any longer and he would've
killed me-I could tell from the look in his eyes..."
However, it wasn't Henderson who had given U those bruises.
It was the American's nigger buddies who came running at the sound of his
After that halting description, U flailed his fists at
the air, infuriated that he hadn't simply destroyed his antagonist.
Finally he broke down, throwing himself onto the table
and wailing like a beast.
U's broad shoulders trembled like those of a whimpering
child. Madame Hong felt pity and loneliness at the sight of the defeated
"Oh, my big baby."
Madam Hong's hand slid up his trembling back. Almost
imperceptibly her lips approached his ear as he lay across the table.
"Sit up and stop crying. Tonight you can drink from my
breast. A boy has to drink a woman's milk to become a man."
And in fact Madam Hong gave U Tok-ju her breast in a
nearby hotel after the bar had closed. Eyes still damp, hungry like a child
starving for its mother's milk, he craved after her breast. But he was
a docile babe. He nursed with a placid air. He was an infant who knew nothing
"You've had your milk, so now it's time you became a
It was only then that he became a man, although he seemed
a bit frightened. And this time too he was a most docile and obedient man.
Madam Hong ordered him to become many different men,
and he performed most earnestly. To the very end he performed with remarkable
loyalty and restraint.
Madam Hong was moved. His loyal obedience and restraint
were his most valuable qualities, his greatest virtues.
"Starting tomorrow, you needn't worry about a thing.
You don't have to go back to the boxing club."
She had decided to keep him by her side.
"If it's all right with you, I'd like you to work at
the Queen Bee. All you have to do is be there, drinking, like you already
do. And from time to time you can take care of the guys who bother me or
interfere with business..."
"Has someone been bothering you? They lay one hand on
you and I'll beat the shit out of them."
U Tok-ju accepted her offer, just as she had expected.
Eventually Na U-hyon began making his prophecies again.
One night he stole over to the table of Kim the pharmacist,
and pronounced in a pained voice:
"Madam Hong is going to cause a murder."
Kim's glass remained poised in midair. He seemed agitated
by the abrupt prophecy.
"Murder? Why would she do that?"
"Because she has to become the true queen of the Queen
Bee." Na answered in an even more pained tone.
But the pharmacist could not understand what he was driving
"Become the queen bee? What's that supposed to mean?"
His tone spoke of bewilderment, his voice was anxious, but the crimson
smile never left his aristocrat's mask.
"It means we're going to become her slaves. She wants
to be queen so we'll all be her slaves."
Na's true face was hidden behind the leper's mask he
was wearing. The two unchanging masks, one with its lusty smile and the
other with its horrible scars, parried back and forth.
"What are you talking about? She's going to kill somebody
so she can be our queen?"
"She's already started."
"So why does she need to murder anyone?"
"Because the murder means her domination is complete.
There's no better way of ruling. The murder will be her way of proving
herself. Then she'll really be the queen bee."
"So the murder will be a sign that she's our queen?"
"More than a sign. It'll be the proof."
"Who's the victim going to be?"
"One of the masks, naturally."
"So Madam Hong's going to become our queen by murdering
someone-one of her regular customers no less! This is unbelievable!"
Kim remained skeptical.
Na, however, refused to back down from his prophecy.
That same night he met with Han, from the electronic shop, and Chang the
stationer and told them his prediction.
Just look at U and you can see what her dream is-a kingdom
all her own. It scares me. Look how loyal he is. All of a sudden he's her
slave. And she's given him a bear's mask. She's going to turn him into
a real bear! He's becoming exactly what she wants him to be! But it's not
her fault. It's ours. Because from the very beginning, we were all too
happy to bend to her and now she relishes in it. She wants to savor our
obedience. That's what she wants: absolute obedience. That's why there's
going to be a murder in the end...
As always, Na offered no method for preventing what he
had predicted. The regulars at the Queen Bee couldn't help but be afraid.
But then it seemed so far-fetched-Madam Hong wanting to be the queen bee!?
Who was she supposed to be after? Besides, as long as she continued to
please her customers, what difference did it make if she was queen and
they her slaves? They enjoyed the way she operated, so why shouldn't they
The customers didn't fear Madam Hong's intent. Nor did
they fear what Na said about her becoming queen. However, Na's prediction
of murder was a problem. No one would have believed it if someone else
had said it. After all, the supposed motive was hardly convincing, and
there hadn't been the slightest sign that the act would really take place.
Nevertheless, one simply couldn't ignore Na's prophecies.
There was no avoiding them. No wonder the customers at the bar were so
Perhaps it was Madam Hong's magical charm, or maybe it
was Na's predictions and their inevitable power of suggestion, but none
of the regulars dared try to escape the prophecy. They couldn't stop coming
to the bar nor could they deny Madam Hong's masks. Like frogs mesmerized
by a viper's venomous stare, they were frightened, helpless under the hypnotic
powers of Madam Hong and Na.
They awaited the murder, powerless and ill at ease.
Na grew more anxious by the day. After resuming his prophesying,
he attended the Queen Bee with even greater diligence. He was watching
how things progressed. It was almost as if he was trying to make his prophecy
And with time, the actions and words of Madam Hong began
to reveal some rather disconcerting signs. Perhaps things would turn out
as Na had predicted.
The taciturn U never left her side. It was around that
time that Madam Hong began to stroll through the bar with a short leather
whip. She used the whip to order U around. You might have thought she was
a bear trainer.
"Watch out! Careful now!" she cried each time she saw
him. And as she passed, she would snap the whip at his masked face. Those
warnings and the crack of her whip filled the bar with an inexplicable
tension. It wasn't clear what U was supposed to be careful of. In fact,
there was nothing for either of them to be careful of. At times, it seemed
as if she was simply saying it for fun. But her repeated exhortations evoked
a strange ambience in the bar, as if Madam Hong and U were both in some
kind of danger, as if they were both victims. And if they were the victims,
then there had to be an assailant-but who? That they couldn't find one
made the customers all the more anxious. Perhaps they were collectively
the assailant. Perhaps they had no other choice.
"Watch out! Careful now!" To the customers, her warnings
to U sounded like a menacing threat.
And then she would whip U across the face. Watch out!
Careful now! It was clear that the lashings irritated U. But he never showed
the slightest hint of rebellion. Each time she flailed her whip, U almost
instinctively shot a hostile glance around the room.
Naturally Madame Hong's warnings unnerved the other customers
as well. With each warning, a bolt of wariness and hostility flashed between
U and the others. The warnings and lashings stirred an intense anxiety
in U, and in turn a similar anxiety in the customers of the Queen Bee.
Madam Hong continued to act as if it were all a game.
U's anxiety didn't concern her nor did the other customers' apprehension.
She laughed as if it was a silly farce. Sometimes she gave a customer a
playful slap in the face with her whip, like an old whorehouse madam still
desperate to act the flirt.
"Watch out!" she would say with a hearty laugh. "Careful
now! The whip is calling you. It understands people. And once it gets hold
of you, it has no mercy!"
She chattered on in the incoherent gibberish of a shaman,
lashing wildly at the customers around her. Then all of a sudden she produced
that flirtatious laugh, as if it were all a silly farce.
This too provoked fear in the hearts of the customers.
She reigned over them as she laughed.
The customers at the Queen Bee did not know what to do.
They couldn't leave. They couldn't revolt against Madam Hong's seamless
rule nor could they protect themselves from U. And to dispense with the
masks and return to the bar's old ways was inconceivable. For in doing
so they would end up like the waitress so cruelly punished by Madam Hong.
No one dared rise up against the way of the masks. No one dared challenge
the order of Madam Hong's absolute reign. That would have been a contemptuous
act of adventurism.
Impotent and submissive, they waited for the murder.
A few more anxious days passed.
But still no murder.
"Watch out! Careful now!" Madam Hong's warnings increased
with each passing day, and her imposing dignity grew more absolute with
the fear and mood of brutality caused by her playful lashings.
Then one evening:
"Watch out! Careful now!" Madam Hong laughed playfully
as she lashed U's face with her leather whip. Her laughter that evening
held a special cruelness.
Normally she would stop after one or two blows. But now
she lashed U's face over and over. Each time U turned his head to avoid
the whip. Her incessant blows and the curious smile that played on her
lips evoked a strange feeling of bloodthirstiness and terror.
At first, the customers thought she was doing it in fun,
as always, but soon they began to shudder at her cruelty. It was as if
the whip were lashing their own faces as well.
Finally, the whip ripped the mask from U's face. But
Madam Hong kept beating him. Soon the whip was covered with blood. A scream,
like the cry of an animal, began to slip from U's lips, but strangely,
he endured her abuse. He made no attempt to escape, except to turn his
head aside, nor did he show any sign of resistance. It was the same for
the other customers. No one dared interfere with Madam Hong's cruel game.
No one even tried to stand up and leave or avert their eyes.
They were already shackled by fear. They could only tremble
in awe of her laughing eyes, which seemed to be searching for something.
They waited anxiously for something to happen, enveloped in an uneasy premonition
of brutal tragedy. U had to put an end to her abuse sooner or later. He
had to revenge himself. The game had gone beyond the boundaries of common
sense, so it was only natural that its conclusion should be equally cruel.
Through U, the customers sensed the terror of death.
They waited in fear for an explosion of revenge.
But the mysterious thing was U's murderous obedience.
He was an animal on a leash. His face torn and bloody, U showed no inclination
to stop the blows.
Finally, he collapsed at her feet.
It was a horrible, brutal game-a demonstration of complete
and overwhelming domination.
Only when U collapsed did the others breath a sigh of
relief. There had been no murder.
That didn't mean the problem was solved, though. Na U-hyon's
prophecy was still alive.
Later that night, a detective from the local police station
walked in the door of the Queen Bee.
"Let me repeat myself: It's the sort of thing that could
Madam Hong responded in a collected tone to Detective
Kang's persistent questioning.
Kang shook his head. Something fishy's going on here,
"Do you mean murder?" Kang asked.
"I didn't say murder."
"But the informant said that there was going to be a
murder in the bar last night. He said your conduct was brutal enough to
conjure up suspicions of a real murder."
Madam Hong shook her head in silence.
Frustrated, Kang went on:
"All right. Let's say you didn't plan to kill him. Then
what was the motive behind your ruthless behavior? Do you have a grudge
"No motive, and no grudge for that matter. It's simply
an arrangement between the two of us."
"An arrangement? An arrangement where you get to beat
him and he has to lie back and take it? Is that why he didn't try to get
away? But why would anyone make an arrangement like that?"
Madam Hong remained calm.
"I'm afraid you wouldn't understand, even if I explained.
I'm not sure of it myself. As I said before, it's the sort of thing that
could happen there..."
"It could happen... There... So what are the masks for?
Why do all your customers wear masks?"
"That's one of the ways of our establishment."
"How did it get started?"
"It's good for business."
"Are you the one who started it?"
"But how are the masks good for business?"
"They make people feel more comfortable."
"You can't possibly understand if you haven't worn a
"Are you suggesting I try it?"
"If you really want to know what it's like."
"The informant said you're using the masks to become
queen of the Queen Bee."
Madame Hong did not respond to this.
"Do you know who the informant is?" Kang continued.
"It's Na U-hyon, the fortune teller."
"Do you have any idea how he was able to predict what
was going to happen last night?"
"He's a fortune teller."
"Is he always right?"
"Most of the time..."
"And still you did it, even though you knew he'd already
figured it out?"
"He'd made prophecies about me before, and last night
someone told me what he had said."
"What was his prophecy?"
"It was just as you said: that I was going to become
queen of the bar... And that I was going to kill someone."
"Are you saying you wanted to make his prophecy come
"As I told you before, I wasn't thinking of murder."
"What do you mean?"
"I can't explain it now. All I can say is that we have
an arrangement, and that's the sort of thing that could happen there."
"Can you explain the masks?"
"No, not here."
"Because in the bar, the mask becomes one's identity."
"How did you hit upon the idea of the masks in the first
"I saw them as I passed the stationery shop one day."
"The stationery shop sells a lot of stuff."
"Mr. Chang, the owner, was wearing a mask that day."
"Do you hate U Tok-ju?"
"What about the fortune teller, Na U-hyon?"
"I don't think I hate him either."
"Then, what do you think about his predictions? Do you
think there really will be a murder?"
"That's not for me to say. It's his prediction. Besides,
there wasn't any murder last night, was there?"
"So tell me, what do you think about what he said-about
you becoming the real queen of the bar? Is that your true intention?"
Madam Hong did not answer.
"All right. I'll call you back later."
And with that, Kang sent her on her way. Next he called
U Tok-ju. U looked like a monster, his face covered with bandages. Kang
cut straight to the heart of the matter.
"According to our informant, Madam Hong planned to kill
you last night."
U shook his head. His attitude was even more ambiguous
than that of Madam Hong.
"That's impossible. I can't believe she would try to
"She's always playing around with her whip that way,
but she's never hurt me."
"Do you have some kind of arrangement?"
U didn't answer.
"Madam Hong said you two have an arrangement-a kind of
agreement where she hits you and you get hit."
"It's not like we've ever actually talked about it. I
can take her beatings."
"But last night she beat you until you passed out."
"I don't understand how that happened myself."
"It's because I'm not wearing my mask now. This may sound
strange, but at times I don't understand my own actions when I'm wearing
my mask. And afterwards, I can't remember what's happened."
"But it must have hurt when she was beating you?"
"It must have."
"Then why didn't you try to get away?"
"Perhaps I wasn't able to."
"Was that because of the masks too?"
"As I told you before, that may have been why."
"The masks again. It always comes back to the masks,
doesn't it? Well then, do you know Na U-hyon, the prophet?"
"He said Madam Hong was going to become your queen, and
she was the one who made you people wear masks."
"I know. But I don't care if Madam Hong becomes our queen."
"What do you mean?"
"Madam Hong makes us feel comfortable."
"But if she becomes your queen, that means you're her
"It doesn't matter. After all, we believe in her."
"Well then, let me ask you this: Na U-hyon has predicted
that there will soon be a killing in the Queen Bee. Were you aware of this?"
"When did you find out about it?"
"Last night, just before it happened."
"Did you believe that his prophecy would come true?"
"I thought it was possible."
"Isn't it possible that Na meant you and Madam Hong?
He said that once Madam Hong became queen she would commit murder to prove
herself. Maybe she was really trying to kill you last night."
"I wouldn't have worried, even if she did plan to kill
"You mean you'd be willing to die if that's what she
"No, on the contrary-if she had really tried to kill
me, I would have killed her first."
Kang fell silent. He sat engrossed in thought for some
time, then began questioning U about his past.
"You used to work as a sparring partner at the American
army base, didn't you?"
"Why did you quit?"
"Well, I nailed this bastard named Henderson. You see,
a sparring partner isn't supposed to knock down his opponent."
"So why did you do it?"
"The bastard was trying to kill me."
"Were you afraid?"
"I think so."
"Is that why you tried to kill him first?"
"Have you ever thought someone was trying to kill you
"Once in a while... but not really."
"What about last night when Madam Hong was beating you?
What if she had really meant to kill you?"
"I would have killed her first. But I don't think she
wanted to kill me."
"Despite Na's prediction?"
"That had nothing to do with me."
"The others said you looked frightened. They thought
you might turn on her."
"I don't remember."
"You mean, it was still bearable at that point?"
"I don't remember."
"All right. That's enough for now. I'll call you back
Next Kang called in Chang to learn the story behind the
"Were you aware there was to be a murder at the Queen
Kang wanted Chang's thoughts on Na's prophecy, but Chang,
like the two others before him, was extremely vague.
"Yes, I've heard about it. Na predicted it."
"And did you think it was going to come true last night?"
"I guess I thought it might."
"In your opinion, did Madam Hong really plan to kill
"I can't really say. Who she planned to kill, I mean."
"But you just said you expected a murder to take place?"
"But that doesn't necessarily mean that I expected Madam
Hong to kill U. It simply means that the smell of murder was in the air.
Actually, we were more afraid of U."
"You mean you thought he might kill Madam Hong?"
"There's no way of knowing who U might have killed, but
it definitely wasn't Madam Hong."
"But according to Na, Madam Hong was the one who was
going to commit the murder..."
"At any rate, Na's prediction didn't come true last night.
There wasn't any murder."
"What about the future?"
"I don't know. But if last night had anything to do with
Na's prediction, then it backfired."
"Do you mean there won't be a murder?"
"I hope not. And I hope Na turns out to be a liar."
"But what about the prediction that Madam Hong will become
"It doesn't really matter to me. We're not afraid of
her. We're afraid of that business about the murder. Na was using it to
"And you don't mind becoming her slaves?"
"As long as no one's killed. You see, she puts us at
"Because of the masks? Could you explain the masks to
me? Madam Hong said she got the idea when she saw you wearing one at your
"It's not my responsibility."
"Why were you wearing a mask?"
"Because the children like it."
"Did you like masks before all this happened?"
"Like masks? Why should I like masks? That's absurd."
His denial seemed forced. Kang stared at him for a moment,
then resumed his questions.
"If you didn't like them, then you must have disliked
"Disliked them? No, not at all."
"No, you really detested the masks."
"I just told you I didn't."
"Think back very carefully. We could ask Na U-hyon to
make a prophecy about you. He's been very cooperative," Kang said leisurely.
Chang kept a thoughtful silence for a moment, then hesitantly
began to divulge the truth.
"Well actually, I do remember something from a long time
"When I was a child, my mother loved masks."
"She was widowed after just two years of marriage. She
raised me all by herself."
"But what about the masks?"
"Every night after dinner, she would draw strange masks
on pieces of newspaper, then late at night she went out into the village.
I didn't know what she was doing till much later. She went from house to
house frightening people. During the day she was always polite and kept
her distance from others, but at night she played that outrageous game.
She was so well-mannered and reserved the following day, no one could say
anything. She was a puzzle to the villagers but one day I discovered her
"The masks transformed her."
"One autumn night when the moon was especially bright,
I woke up and found her gone. I ran out into the moonlight. Our house was
at the entrance to the village. I ran up the path into the village, and
I heard her coming down the hill. I didn't know what to do, so I hid by
the side of the path and waited. Down the path she came. I thought she'd
skip past me joyfully, but it was strange-she seemed lonely and discouraged.
At the bottom of the hill, she stopped in her tracks and looked up at the
moon. That's when I realized she was crying. As the moonlight fell on her
face, it looked as if her mask was crying. I know, the idea of a mask crying...
But it's true. Anyway, that's when I discovered my mother's secret. I couldn't
express it in so many words, but some things a child understands in his
Chang was perspiring.
"Then your memories of that mask must not be so horrible."
"No, not really. But they aren't particularly pleasant
either. You see, when my mother grew tired of her game with the masks,
she abandoned me and remarried. Good or bad, my memories have nothing to
do with the masks I sell at my shop."
"If your memories were bad, you wouldn't have chosen
to sell masks, much less wear them while you work..."
"I see. Apparently your mother's masks still hold some
power over you. Just as they did over her. Perhaps that's what you want.
Yes, that's obviously what you want."
"There's no law against that, is there? You can think
whatever you like."
"Of course there's no law against it. I simply want to
know the story behind the masks."
"Then I have nothing more to say."
Chang rose and looked at the detective-a silent request
for permission to leave. Kang sent him out, and called Na U-hyon.
"How were you able to predict what was going to happen
Kang was baffled by the whole affair. There was no substance
to it. There hadn't really been a murder, nor had any of the witnesses
revealed anything of importance. If not for Na's complaint, there would
be no reason to bother all these people. He could hardly hang a case on
something as flimsy as a prophecy.
Kang felt ridiculous because he couldn't seem to wash
his hands of the affair. A strange odor hovered around him, invisible and
inexplicable. He felt as if his curiosity had taken over for his sense
Whatever it was, he had to talk to Na one more time.
Kang decided to go over the whole story again, from start
to finish. Na, however, proceeded to confuse him all the more.
"As I told you before, people say I am able to predict
"So I hear. But where did you get that ability? What
did you say you do for a living?"
"At one time I was a writer."
"Why did you give it up?"
"Because every time I wrote a story, it came true."
"You were already making predictions through your stories?"
"They say you often go away on rock collection trips.
Is there any relation between your rock-collecting and your prophecies?"
"There's no basis for such conjecture."
"You just like rocks-is that it? Any special reason?"
"A person who has never liked rocks couldn't possibly
understand. People who like rocks can sense the passage of time in them.
What I mean to say is the time embodied in a stone is unchanging, and that
which does not change is truth. In a way, a rock reflects life's truth."
"So a rock has life?"
"Don't try to understand things you can't understand.
If you can't sense it, you can't understand it."
"I simply want to understand where your predictions come
"You can't understand that either. A prophecy can't be
explained. I don't explain it-that's why it's a prophecy."
"That means you could explain it."
"I'm simply trying to be honest. Honesty cannot be explained."
"You're much too sure of yourself. But last night, you
were mistaken. There was no murder after all."
"We can't be sure of that yet."
It was clear from Na's tone that he didn't want to admit
"But last night you said there was going to be a murder."
"Well, there wasn't-not last night, anyway."
"You said Madam Hong would commit the murder, but last
night the other customers were frightened of U Tok-ju, not her. They said
he was more likely to kill than she was. That's where you were wrong."
"Just because U Tok-ju might kill someone doesn't mean
Madam Hong can't."
"But U could have killed her."
"That's precisely why I warned you about her. I predicted
Madam Hong would cause a murder. That means she could be the victim herself.
The problem is she knows that. That's why she wasn't killed. And U couldn't
kill her either."
"Because he's her slave."
"Are you saying U is going to be her sacrifice?"
"No," Na answered, shaking his head. "A master would
never kill an obedient slave."
"Then who is it? Who's killing who? You don't know either,
"It's hard to say. Madam Hong is obviously after some
kind of proof, but a ruler never gets his own hands bloody."
"Then who's going to be Madam Hong's sacrifice?"
"Don't ask me. Ask her. It's for her to decide."
"What about you? Do you really think there's going to
be a murder?"
"As long as Madam Hong wants to become queen."
"Even if the others don't care? They don't think she's
trying to turn them into slaves. They said they don't mind becoming her
slaves since she puts them at ease."
Na listened in silence.
"It's your prediction of murder they're afraid of. You
said she would commit murder to prove the customers were her slaves. If
that's so, then a murder would be nothing more than the proof of the prophecy,
not its purpose. Right? They're afraid of the proof, not the purpose. But
if they already enjoy being enslaved, they don't need any proof. There's
no need for proof and so no reason for a murder."
"No, Madam Hong needs the proof. That's what she wants."
"But they're not afraid of the murder anymore. Because
your prediction last night was wrong."
"But there will be a murder."
"That's what you hope."
"She's going to be queen in the end."
"If you're so certain, don't you have some way of preventing
it from happening?"
"All I know is, there's going to be a murder."
"It sounds like you really want that murder to take place."
"Whether I want it or not, there's going to be a murder."
"Brother! I feel like I've stumbled into a haunted house!"
Kang stared at Na in disbelief.
"It may feel like a haunted house, but you mustn't take
what happens in the Queen Bee as some kind of joke." Strangely enough,
it was Na who pushed ahead now. "That sort of thing could easily happen
"Do you really believe that?" Kang asked in a pleading
tone. "What's so special about that place? Why do you people blame everything
on that bar? 'It could easily happen down there.' What's so special about
the Queen Bee?"
"The Queen Bee is where Madam Hong wants to be queen.
And where people wear a mask while they drink."
"What do the masks mean? Why is everyone blaming the
"Masks are an expedient in a way, a custom used to standardize
the expression of mans's instinctual desires. In the West they have their
masked balls, and in Korea we have our traditional masked dance... Masks
permit us to express our most hideous instinctual desires. It's a kind
of devious wisdom."
"Is that why the waitresses' skirts have gotten so short,
and they aren't embarrassed to go without underwear?"
"Yes, because the masks hide their faces. They can conceal
their identity that way."
"Well then, let me ask you this: How come no one can
remember what happens when they're wearing a mask? Why won't anyone talk
about what happens?"
"It's not that we can't remember. We simply don't want
to. It makes us feel uncomfortable."
"So, you could remember if you wanted to?"
"You'd understand if you tried wearing a mask. Perhaps
if you had them wear their mask, they would remember what it is you want
"Are you suggesting I wear one too? You want me to wear
one of your goblin's masks?"
"Try it. Maybe it will help you make sense of the goblins'
No longer did Madam Hong worry about Kang. There was
no need to guard against him. Nor did Kang concern himself with the murder.
He had become one of the Queen Bee's model customers.
"I simply can't understand it. I didn't believe that
stupid report from the very beginning, but imagine me a regular customer
here! I'm bewitched! Madam Hong has me under her spell!"
Kang went to the Queen Bee whenever he had a chance,
and like the others he always wore a mask while he drank.
He first wore a mask when he went to interrogate Madam
Hong for the second time. He asked for one and after requesting that Madam
Hong wear hers he began his questioning.
"Perhaps you're right. Maybe I was waiting for U to explode.
But he held out for so long. I thought I'd go crazy."
Finally Madam Hong confessed how she really felt.
Then the detective questioned U Tok-ju and the other
witnesses once more.
"I probably would have killed someone. Before they killed
me... I felt like I was going to die. But I can't really remember... who
was trying to kill me... Still I don't think it was Madam Hong."
U Tok-ju sounded almost as if he were possessed.
After Kang left, Madam Hong regretted what she had said.
It was all because of the power of those damned masks. She would never
have said anything otherwise. It had been the same with U.
But then something surprising happened. The following
evening Kang returned to the Queen Bee.
"Madam Hong, I'd like to try drinking with a mask on."
"Why? Are you finished with your investigation?"
Madam Hong couldn't help but suspect his motives. But
her suspicions were groundless.
"I'm not sure. If you like, I can call you in for more
questioning. But I think I've had enough. I don't have the slightest idea
what's going on. After listening to what you said yesterday it all seemed
so clear, but when I got back to my office everything was a mishmash again.
I mean, here at the bar it all seemed quite plausible. So I want to try
drinking with a mask."
At first he acted as if he was wearing the mask for professional
reasons, but soon he was a regular like all the others. And each time he
saw Madam Hong he would repeat the same harmless complaints.
"I don't understand it. I simply can't. Madam Hong, you've
got me under your spell. But what can I do? I like it this way..."
One night Madam Hong tested her relentless power over
U Tok-ju in front of Kang. Under the somber orange light that played over
the bar, Madam Hong gave U's face a frightening lashing, and U suffered
her heartless blows with horrifying patience.
A strange look of emotion and admiration passed over
Kang's face as he watched the monstrous game.
Madam Hong didn't need to worry about the detective anymore.
"Mr. Kang, there are so many things you don't understand.
It must be very uncomfortable for you to live like that. It's a good thing
you can enjoy a drink or two like this. Don't you agree?" Madam Hong reassured
"Of course, of course. I feel wonderful every time I
see you," Kang answered warmly. He enjoyed the ways of the Queen Bee.
Madam Hong was satisfied.
The change in Detective Kang had quite an influence on
the other customers. It added to the comfort they already felt.
There could be no murder at the Queen Bee.
Kang was the proof of that. He would never tolerate the
slightest hint of conspiracy. His presence at the bar was the best proof
of the failure of Na's prophecy. They knew there had been no murder at
the Queen Bee on the day Na filed his complaint with the police. They weren't
afraid of his prophecies anymore. There was no murder nor were there any
new indications that one would be committed.
The customers were at ease. At ease and comfortable with
Madam Hong's rules and the ways of the masks.
"Watch out! Careful now!"
Business improved at the Queen Bee as Madam Hong strolled
around the bar flailing her whip. The weather was warmer, but she had started
wearing long leather boots and a short, flashy skirt. Beneath the somber
orange light of the bar, the authority of her devil's mask grew all the
Na U-hyon's prophecies were no more than a ridiculous
Still, Madam Hong was uneasy.
She felt nervous every time she encountered Na.
He was powerless now. His prophecies could not deter
the waitresses nor did they put Detective Kang on his guard. There was
no need for Madam Hong to beat U Tok-ju any longer.
And yet she felt as if something wasn't quite right.
Perhaps that was why a trace of uncertainty flashed across
her face from time to time as she strolled around the bar, brandishing
"Watch out! Careful now!" she would cry, absently cocking
her head as she slapped her palm with the whip. Her vacant gaze proved
she was still anxious about something, and as time passed, she seemed to
wear that look more frequently.
One day as she crossed the room, slapping her palm with
the whip as always, a voice from one of the tables near the front of the
bar brought her to a halt:
"What are you thinking about so intently, Madam Hong?"
She snapped to attention. It was U Tok-ju's bear mask.
Perhaps she hadn't been paying enough attention to him.
He had taken to leaving her side more frequently of late, getting drunk
alone at his own table, ignoring what she said.
That night he acted like one of the other regulars.
"Don't tell me something's still bothering you? You can
relax now. You're the queen, and we're your slaves. Don't you agree, ladies
and gentlemen?" U boomed, looking around the bar. The other customers responded
with a boisterous chorus of shouts and applause.
The strange thing was Madam Hong's attitude.
She didn't react to U's words or to the customers' shouts.
She simply glanced cautiously around the bar, then returned to the cash
"They've become such louts!" she hissed.
She was in a foul humor. She felt insulted. It was the
first time they had actually called her the queen, and yet it made her
feel even more uncomfortable. Had she really dreamt of becoming queen?
Now that the customers acknowledged her as such, she felt a strange sense
of failure, like a monarch cruelly driven from her throne. It was as if
they were conspiring to free themselves by calling her queen.
Is it because there was no murder?
That night, for the first time in a long while, Madam
Hong slept with U.
She did it to confirm what she had been thinking.
Once again, however, Madam Hong was astonished.
The change in U surpassed anything she could have imagined.
In the past, Madam Hong had always made U submit to her.
He would patiently transform himself into five or six different men at
her demand. But this time the tables were turned.
"I am serving my queen."
U sounded like he was obeying her as always, and yet
he wanted to command her now.
"Try becoming another woman. The more women you become,
the more pleasure you'll have."
U ordered her to become five or six different women.
He said he was doing it to serve her.
It was only then that Madam Hong thought of her leather
And from the following day, she began lashing U's face
once again, more fiercely, more brutally than ever.
It wasn't long before U was his faithful and submissive
But she didn't stop.
"Watch out! Careful now!"
"You heard what he said, didn't you?"
Madam Hong had a new habit: she reminded U of Na's prophecy
whenever she had the chance. Her tone was blatant, threatening.
"Do you know what they're saying? They're saying I'm
going to kill you. How's that make you feel? Na's never wrong. Do you think
I'll really kill you?"
She tried to irritate him.
"I'm so worried about you. His prophecy is ominous, no
matter how you look at it. Do you think you can beat it? There might really
be a murder. His predictions are always correct. But I'm not going to kill
you... So maybe there's someone else... Maybe it's Na himself. After all
he's the one who made the prophecy."
She tried to wash away her anxiety about U by implicating
U jerked his head from side to side like an enraged animal.
He couldn't hide his uneasiness.
"No, he'd never do that. If he did, I'd get him first."
"I hope you're right. There's something so ominous about
him. His prophecies, I mean. Do you really think you can handle him? I
mean if he really wants to kill you. But I guess there's no need to get
too worried. I'll simply have to help you."
Madam Hong kept focusing U's attention in Na's direction,
and she kept demanding his complete submission with her words and whip.
U was perfectly obedient and her regular customers were
no different from the night before.
Still Madam Hong was uneasy. She flailed her whip all
the more nervously.
She was driven by her anxiety.
And then one night...
Madam Hong finally discovered the cause of her uneasiness.
She was walking through the bar, flailing her whip when
all of a sudden she had the eerie feeling that someone was watching her.
She stopped and looked around, tapping the whip against
the palm of her hand.
She was right.
A pair of round eyes were staring at her from a mask
seated at a dark corner table.
It was Na U-hyon. At first, a shudder of fear ran through
her when she saw the arrogant, challenging look in the snake-like eyes
peering out of the holes in the mask.
Of course, it's him.
Madam Hong collected herself and walked slowly in Na's
His eyes remained fixed on her.
As she drew closer, a frightening venom seemed to pour
from his stare.
His eyes looked as though he couldn't control the pain
of his hatred for her. And yet they were also full of a deep hopelessness,
a kind of appeal.
"I've gone through hell because of you. But now, you're
finished," Madam Hong murmured to herself. Hiding an indecipherable smile
inside her mask, she sat down across from Na, as if drawn by his stare.
But Na did not avert his eyes.
Something like complicity flashed through Madam Hong.
She hadn't expected this.
Aha. He's begging for something. Well, tell me-what is
She began to feel uneasy once more.
"Tell me, do you still believe your prediction will come
Na blinked at the question. But his response was a complete
surprise. All he did was nod silently.
"How? You're finished. There wasn't any murder."
"Not yet, but there will be."
His eyes remained fixed on her. His look made her dizzy.
But she clenched her teeth and pushed on:
"Oh really? Well, I guess you're right. After all, the
world hasn't ended yet, but if a murder is going to take place, you'll
have to change your prophecy."
Why? his fixed eyes seemed to ask.
"Your prophecy is a lie. You said I was going to commit
murder, didn't you? But that's not what you really want. You hope I'll
be the victim of a murder. I know. You wanted to get rid of me by provoking
"Because you're the one who hated the idea of me becoming
queen the most."
"But now it's time you changed your prophecy. Be honest.
Tell me what you want."
"Do you really want me to change my prophecy?" Na asked
"Yes, since I'm not going to kill anyone!"
Madam Hong had lost her composure.
"If I change my prophecy, it'll bother you more than
it'll bother me."
"I know what your prophecy is."
"But you still want to be our queen, don't you?"
"In any case, I'm not going to kill anyone. It won't
turn out as you hope."
"But you have to have proof to be queen. Only then will
people truly serve you. Without proof, they'll betray you again..."
A look of horrendous pain, like that of a man facing
death, flickered across Na's face as he spoke. But when Madam Hong stubbornly
held her ground, Na slowly began to break away from his pain.
A vague smile came to his eyes at last. Madam Hong felt
a shiver run through her body.
"I can change my prophecy. But you wouldn't want me to.
If I don't change it, there will be a murder, and then you will finally
Their eyes locked in silent battle. An anguished hope
and an invisible struggle passed between them. Madam Hong could see a peculiar
complicity in Na's eyes but she did not understand what it meant.
Na U-hyon spent his days in misery. His anguish was all
the worse now that Madam Hong was determined to become queen-she made no
attempt to hide it.
Still, Na did not regret his decision.
Besides there was nothing else he could have done.
His was a curious destiny.
Perhaps his prophecy had been too definite.
No one even thought of believing him now. All they wanted
from him was proof. He had no choice. The prophecy had to be realized somehow.
His conspiracy with Madam Hong was inevitable.
He was grateful that she was willing to comply. Clearly
she had decided not to force Na to change his prophecy, because now she
too needed proof. That's why she had consented to the conspiracy.
It wasn't her fault. They had made her that way. In any
case, she knew what she was supposed to do.
Madam Hong began darting back and forth again. She flailed
her whip like an executioner dancing before he delivers the fatal blow.
Watch out! I said be careful! Remember Na's prediction.
He's still wants to harm someone. He's still predicting a murder. U's the
one he's after, but I won't do anything to hurt him! Watch out for Na's
Madam Hong hovered around U Tok-ju, waving the whip in
his face. Even from afar, one could easily imagine what she was whispering
Her leather boots, the shiny skirt and her long, white
calves were infused with an icy authority.
"Watch out! Careful now!"
The anxious look in her eyes as she passed Na's table
was caused by her determination that he not modify his prophecy.
The customers trusted her as always. They seemed light-hearted
and at ease. Without proof, they had no reason to abandon their pleasure.
They did not believe Na's prophecy. They had completely forgotten about
the predicted murder.
Na U-hyon made no more prophecies. There was no need
for him to make the same one again. All he needed to do was provide proof.
Na had no regrets. His task was simply a bit more painful
And he was frighteningly alone.
Once again he seemed to be learning the loneliness of
the prophet. No one believed his prophecies. No one made them come true.
Perhaps that was lucky. Na finally realized that there
must be many unfortunate prophets who knew the truth but could not speak
it. He was different. He was seeing his prophecy through to the end. He
was able to prove it himself.
His method was the cause of his loneliness.
At times a prophet has to contradict the truth in order
to protect it. This makes the prophet all the more lonely and unhappy for
he cannot prove his ability or wisdom, or even try to prove them. He has
no choice but to submit to his unhappy fate and die a tragic prophet. There
may be many gifted prophets who have died in complete obscurity, victims
of that fatal betrayal.
Na U-hyon was not such a remarkable prophet. He wasn't
particularly skilled nor had he ever contradicted the truth in order to
join the ranks of the wisest prophets. And he wasn't afraid of not being
remembered as a great prophet. He simply tried to be an honest one. There
lay the cause of his loneliness. Ultimately, his loneliness was born of
his inability to contradict his own truth.
He had no choice, however. It wasn't the prophet's task
to realize his own prophecy. That was the job of the person about whom
the prophecy had been made. And so Na's prophecy awaited completion by
the customers at the Queen Bee.
The truth of Na's prophecy had to be revealed through
its completion. All that Na could do was hope his prophecy would be realized
among the customers.
Madam Hong still waited.
Careful now! Watch out!
The knife dance revolved around him. Painful as it was,
Na could only wait.
Meanwhile, one by one he brought his rocks to the bar.
Without the slightest regret, he distributed them among the regulars. He
was gradually ridding himself of his pain.
This red stone is from Tanyang. It doesn't look like
anything in particular, but actually rocks that resemble something tend
to be inferior. Each rock should have its own unique character. If it looks
like something else, then it lacks its own form.
Na offered a short explanation of each rock he handed
out. He gradually overcame his frightening pain, as if he were slicing
away knots of life one by one.
This rock's color is kind of uneven. I left it out in
my garden for three years, but that didn't change it at all. I learned
something from that. It was stupid to think a few years of rain and wind
would change the color of something that's existed for tens of thousands
of years. A rock doesn't get its color from the human eye. Whether we like
it or not, each rock's color is its own.
The customers at the Queen Bee could not understand why
Na was handing out the rocks he had guarded so secretly, indeed, as carefully
as his own life.
"I've decided it's time for me to learn to give," he
explained. "I didn't know how to give before. I simply took. Now it's my
turn to give."
The neighbors from the Queen Bee each received one or
two rocks. If they wanted, they could have had three or four. The waiters
and the waitresses, the pharmacist Kim, and Han from the electronics shop,
the stationer Chang-Na gave rocks to all of them. And each day found him
One day, Na handed a rock to Madam Hong.
"This is my last rock. It's also the rock of my life-the
kind of rock a collector waits his entire life to find. It embodies the
collector's most profound love for life. I discovered it two summers ago
in the T'aebaek Mountains. It took me a week to find it and then I had
to carry it down on my back in the blazing sun. This is my last rock. I'm
giving it to you."
After he finished his speech, Na seemed at peace, as
if he had been released from all of his life's debts.
Madam Hong did not respond. She simply stared remotely
into Na's face. Then she nodded two or three times as if she finally understood
what Na was feeling.
That night Madam Hong called U Tok-ju to her hotel room.
"You must leave me now." Her tone was firm. "Starting
tomorrow, Na U-hyon will be coming to see me."
U said not a word. Perhaps there was nothing he could
do now that Madam Hong had made her decision. On the other hand, he seemed
to be ignoring everything she was saying. In any case, he asked no questions.
Suspicious of his reaction, Madam Hong went on.
"This is to be our last night together. Do you understand?
Starting tomorrow, you're not to come anymore. I'd prefer it if you stopped
coming to the Queen Bee altogether."
Still, U did not react. Madam Hong left it at that.
In a way, it seemed as if they had both made up their
minds in advance.
The following evening U was still at the bar.
Madam Hong said nothing. She acted as if they had planned
it that way. She flailed her whip in his face as always, wandering back
and forth, absorbed in her own thoughts, oblivious to what was around her.
It was obvious she was waiting for something. She paced
back and forth, but her eyes never left the entrance to the bar.
It wasn't long before she called U up to the cash register,
abruptly, as if she could wait no longer. Beating him about the face with
her whip, she ordered him from the bar in an icy tone.
"Get out of here!"
U did not react. He accepted her blows in silence, like
an enormous beast.
Behind her mask, Madam Hong's eyes suddenly flashed with
a ferocious light. She began beating U's face with even more hysterical
"Get out of here! I told you to leave!"
It seemed her blows would never stop.
Gradually, a look of terror began to gather in U's eyes.
As Madam Hong's abuse grew more severe, the look of terror suddenly turned
to a bloodthirsty glint. It was a kind of small flame.
Madam Hong's blows were a billows reviving the flame.
She continued to beat him, her teeth clenched tightly.
U remained still. His teeth clenched too, he endured
her blows. And then the flame blazed up before her eyes, ready to engulf
her at any moment.
Now it was Madam Hong's face that filled with terror.
She was already a slave to the flame. She couldn't stop.
She couldn't let the fire die.
Finally, U's enormous shadow slowly began moving in her
She closed her eyes and waited.
But nothing happened.
She opened her eyes. And then she saw.
Na U-hyon was standing by the entrance to the bar.
His mask was gone.
His face looked calmer, more serene than ever before.
Then she saw something else. The bearlike frame of U
Tok-ju stepping perilously close to the serene Na U-hyon.
Translated by Julie Pickering