Mountains rising over mountain式and more mountains beyond式a
chain of mountains running unbroken and a succession of valleys winding
in and out式a stillness of eternity.
Seen from the distance, the valley yonder rolling down
from north to south took on soft tints as if it were covered with a green
blanket. But hidden by the growth of shrubs covering the valley there was
a rugged rock lying like a beast. Underneath the rock there flowed a cold
stream式so cold that it could numb a dipped hand. On the ridge of Mt. Pu-ong,
lying westward and commanding the valley, there was a cave, and Ko Hyon
sat by the mouth of that cave. The rock he was sitting against was cold.
As the sun went down beyond the mountain ridge, the shadow that had been
cast over this side of the valley gradually tinged the opposing hillside
shadowy black. There, within the grove of dark-green pines, was seen the
tomb of Hyon's great-grandfather. Casting a glance northward beyond that
grave, one could discern an invisible "knife-edge of disgrace" chopping
down the far-reaching mountain range. In fact, there was now a mere vestige
of the cut, for the "knife-edge of disgrace" had moved down southward at
the roaring of guns and with the shedding of blood. Disgrace式a shame deliberately
chosen by men for this earth and for themselves!
Hyon rubbed his chin with his hand. The long hours during
which he had been chased like a beast, avoiding detection, were visible
streaming down his chin and the back of his neck式beard on the chin grown
coarse like a brush, hair grown down over the nape, and over his breast
hundreds of scratches from thorns.
It is two hours since he climbed up to this cave. He
has just finished mending his rifle. Over two months it had lain wrapped
in rags on a rock inside the cave, turning all but rusty except the trajectory
of the barrel, into which bushclover stems had been stopped.
A Russian-made CCCP infantry rifle式 three bullets as
rusty as the rifle. Hyon felt a penetrating chill as the bullets touched
He passed his fingers gently over the shoulder belt of
the rifle across his lap. With a crack, the belt ring hit against the wooden
butt of the rifle. Suddenly he felt a stillness, unbearable and death-like,
blanket his body from head to foot.
A gentle breeze rose and kissed the quivering leaves
of the grass grown among the rocks. In a while there was heard the singing
of insects from the bush. Suddenly Hyon felt a pang of loneliness gnawing
at his heart. He covered his chest with both arms as if to weigh down the
pain of loneliness. Hearing a drop of water trickle from the dome of the
cave, he gently turned his head and looked back into the cave.
It was in this very cave thirty-one years ago that his
father ended his short, twenty-four-year life.
Early in March 1919. The afternoon of one weekday. P town
located some one hundred lis1 north of Seoul. In a small church in this
town a private meeting was being held by about thirty parishioners, both
men and women.
An old member stood up and lowered his head, clenching
both fists. The other fellow Christians followed suit and closed their
eyes as they remained seated. The church resounded to the ceiling with
the old man's prayer. Every once in a while amens were heard from the lips
of the others.
When the prayer was over, the old man unwrapped a parcel
beside him. Picking up the pieces of cloth neatly folded in the parcel,
he handed them out one by one. Each Christian at the meeting unfolded the
piece of cloth without a word. It was the national flag of T'aeguk, dyed
in three colors. Soon a young man brought in a bundle of sticks carved
out of bush-clover twigs. Everyone attached the flag silently to the stick.
Apparently moved to tenderness, some waved their flags gently to and fro
and a young woman once clutched her flag in her hand.
The party went out of the church silently. The pious-looking
face of each member suddenly became tense. As the party went into the street,
a young man came up to the front式the same man who had handed out the flag
sticks. With a determined look on his face, the young man shouted hurrahs
lifting both arms at once. Some thirty of his people did the same.
Hurrah for an independent Korea! The demonstrators now
walked with increasingly quick steps, and the shouts of hurrah coming from
a hundred throats grew louder and louder. After every few shouts, there
followed an exulting version of the hymn, "Onward, Christian soldiers,
marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before."
At these sudden shouts of hurrah, townspeople looked
out of their windows with wide-open eyes. Some, alarmed, shut their windows
hurriedly, while others ran from their houses before they knew it to join
the demonstrators in raising frantic cries. Their pale faces式their wide-open
mouths式scores of their legs reeling about the street式so many of their
eyes filled with emotion and terror!
By the time the mob crowded in front of the rice shop
near the police station, the demonstrators' shrill cries now sounded like
mournful wails. Upon the railing of the police station were cold gun muzzles
glittering in the sun, lying in wait for the storming mob.
The rice dealer, a man with a tumor, shrieked in alarm
when he saw from his shop the tall young man leading the demonstrators.
Jerk, went the tumor hanging on his throat. Shuddering all over, he thought
for a moment that his vision was suddenly blinded by a mantle of darkness.
"That brat! That brat!" he exclaimed, but in fact the
voice kept hanging back in his throat. For a moment, feeling as though
some heavy lump were weighing down his head, the rice dealer sank to the
floor in a daze.
A moment later he heard loud, cracking gunshots among
the solemn shouts.
"My poor family式doomed!"
The rice dealer tore at his chest in agony. As he struggled
so, the tie of his shirt came off in his trembling hand.
Again gunshots cracked. The shouts of hurrah now began
to die out, but amidst the piercing shrieks there came uncertain running
sounds. The rioters were apparently being routed from the street.
The rice dealer saw some rioters, shot and stained with
blood, running into shops and alleys on the other side of the street. Bullets
hissed close behind. The rice dealer suddenly pulled himself together.
He started to his feet and rushed out of the shop in his stocking feet.
Swiftly reaching for the nearest shutter of the shop, he began to tear
off the other shutters frantically and fling them away one by one. When
the last shutter was gone, he hastened to open the door leading to the
parlor. At that instant he saw several rioters, apparently driven by the
gunfire, dashing into his shop.
His eyes wide open in surprise, the rice dealer took
the grain measuring rod and sprang toward the intruders, raising an all-but-animal
scream: "Get out! Get out quick!"
The scream, after clogging in his throat for a moment,
slipped off his tongue weakly, but his furious look was enough to drive
away the rioters. As soon as they stepped out, one of them was shot and
plumped into the sewer.
The rice dealer now briskly tucked up his trousers in
the middle of the shop and sat down cross-legged in haste. With his trembling
hand he drew out his tobacco pipe and lit it. Then he closed his eyes,
puffing at his pipe. Soon the police were in front of the rice shop, shooting
at the retreating mob. After glancing into the shop with a fierce, fiery
look, they quickly moved on. Only then did the rice dealer, with one eye
partly open, heave a sigh of relief.
An hour later a number of rioters, all chained in a row
like wretched hounds, trailed down the street, which was already littered
with blood-stained bodies. The police flogged the limping legs of the wounded
with their rifle butts.
For days the shadow of terror and death hung heavily
over the town. Eight people were reported killed and some twenty wounded.
Another eighty-some were confined in the detention rooms and corridors
of the police station. Still they needed more space, and so stables were
packed with new captives. And every night out of these stables were heard
dull groans all through the night.
The young man who had been shouting at the head of the
demonstrators had his leg wounded by a bullet. Supported by two of his
friends, he walked away, dragging each foot, and found refuge in the cave
lying on the hillside of Mt. Pu-ong, forty lis away from the town. The
long journey caused the wound to inflame. His consciousness failing fast,
the young man put up with the pain; but his face began to take on signs
of death. He groaned throughout that night, and at dawn he died after drinking
the icy-cold water that his friend had carried from the gorge.
Next day it rained. The two survivors were captured by
the police who had extended their search as far as the cave. The body of
the young man was delivered to his father. The rice dealer, who was in
fact the young man's father, shed no tears and had his son buried in the
community cemetery. He hated his dead son more than he pitied him.
"This is not my son," he declared almost cruelly.
It was not merely because he was in the presence of the
Japanese police when he made such a disavowal. A boy who dies before his
father, he said, is not a decent son but a mischievous devil.
His daughter-in-law, who had been visiting at her father's
home, fainted repeatedly at the news of her husband's death. But in the
end she managed to speed home, and she stayed over one night in front of
her husband's grave. In the morning, when her folks came up to the grave,
she seemed like a sick woman式in a dead faint, covered with mud.
Widowed at twenty, she returned to her father's home.
Nine months later she gave birth to a boy. She named him Hyon.
A month later she made her visit, with her now son, to
her father-in-law. She was obliged to bow politely to a young woman whom
her father-in-law had married three months before.
With his daughter-in-law on the way back from his son's
grave, the rice dealer remained silent, though he was frequently moved
to tears. Having less control of his body than his daughter-in-law, the
old man walked with faltering steps. By the time he reached the gate of
his house, the daughter-in-law had to hold him as, vomiting blood, he nearly
Three days passed before the rice dealer came to his
senses. He urged his daughter-in-law to go back to her father's home, leaving
the child to his care, and to be married again as soon as possible. Yet
she had already decided to stay in the same place where she had lived with
her husband, and where he had died. So, in a low but plain speech, she
declined to obey her father-in-law's order. Thus began the life of self-surrender,
a life shot through with sorrowful pains, of Hyon's mother for some thirty
Over the last year rice dealer's face was suddenly but
deeply engraved by wrinkles. His hair and beard rapidly turned grey. People
now called him "Old Mr. Ko."
To a casual observer Old Mr. Ko seemed to treat young
Hyon with a cold heart, yet he cherished deep in his heart a secret affection
for his grandson. It was because Hyon was a boy rather than a girl. Old
Mr. Ko saw in him the ties of blood issuing from himself, and yet often
he could not help but perceive a dark shadow hanging over the boy. It was
hard to believe that his own son would die so young. And here was this
grandson of his who came so oddly into the world as a link to his own son's
In fall one year after his son's death, Old Mr. Ko had
the ashes of his own father excavated from the tomb located about two hundred
lis from P town. He removed the ashes to a sunny place on the hillside
lying across the valley from Mt. Pu-ong. Convinced by an old geomancer's
verdict that the wrong positioning of his father's grave had been responsible
for the wrong done to his own, Old Mr. Ko set his teeth hard as if he had
now become reassured.
In the winter of the next year, Old Mr. Ko begot his
son Yong-son, and before another winter approached he removed the ashes
of his elder son to the foot of the mountain where his ancestral graveyard
was located. He condescended to do all this because his son had left behind
the blood bond in the person of Hyon and because he had seen in Hyon a
youth of great promise.
On the other hand, he was very stern with his daughter-in-law.
First, he thought that half of the blame for his son's death should be
laid on the hard lot for which his daughter-in-law was destined. Secondly,
a young widow like his daughter-in-law is so unreliable that she may leave
his home at any moment, he said. From the start Old Mr. Ko had thought
that woman was not worth a song.
Old Mr. Ko also condescended to give out to Hyon several
thousand square yards of farmland lying across the river. But the land
only helped to make the hands of Hyon's mother look like twisted crooks.
She tilled the land with few helping hands. While she worked, young Hyon
was left to play, tied with a cord under the tree standing at the head
of the fields. As she returned home over the dusky road after sunset to
the four-square-yard room of a straw-thatched house, her wearied limbs
seemed to ache all the more because of the pangs of loneliness gnawing
at her heart. Soon after dinner she would lie down and groan under the
burden of fatigue. The groan often turned into a wail.
Old Mr. Ko went on running his rice shop as usual and
from time to time he came, as if on a sudden impulse, to see Hyon all the
way from across the river. Hyon grew up fast and soon he became old enough
to appreciate the coins that his grandfather would secretly fasten into
the breast-tie of his shirt.
From her wretched life Hyon's mother could afford to
derive the joy of observing how Hyon grew to maturity and the pleasure
of listening to the gospel at church every Sunday, always avoiding Old
Mr. Ko's eye.
She never went into the church without sensing the physical
presence of her husband there. The profound melody of the organ echoed
from the lofty ceiling of the chapel; hymns were sung, prayers said, praising
God. It was in this particular place of worship, rather than in the paradise
anticipated in the other world, that she could meet with her husband.
In every tune of the hymns she could feel the touch of
his voice and in every word of the prayers she could imagine his looks.
Illusion as it was, it was something that, lying very close to her, helped
to relieve the pain in her troubled heart as well as in her wearied limbs.
Once every week she spoke with her husband in this way:
"It pains me so much to live on, my dear."
"I know how hard it is to you."
"Look, Hyon has grown up this big."
"It's because you have done so much for him."
"How soon could I be with you again?"
"Hyon is me. So I am always with you, darling."
"Please help me. There are so many hardships I can hardly
"The Lord shall deliver you, for He looks down on all
Her love for Hyon and her adoration for her husband式underlying
this sentiment was God's profound grace.
It was one autumn day when Hyon was four years old. Old
Mr. Ko gave notice that he would not leave Hyon to the care of his mother
if she insisted on taking the boy to church with her. From then on Hyon
used to play at his grandfather's rice shop every Sunday. In the mind of
young Hyon the image of father was very dimly impressed, for all his mother
said was that his father was way up in the kingdom of heaven. The blue
sky式the flowing clouds式the Milky Way.
Thus Hyon felt a greater shock when he heard any derisive
remark about his grandfather's tumor than when he was held in unbearable
contempt by being called a fatherless boy.
One Sunday Hyon fought furiously a bunch of kids who
were jeering at his grandfather's tumor, by the rice shop. In the lone
challenge he bled from the face and had his clothes torn into shreds. Taking
great pride in his fight for the honor of his grandfather, Hyon gave a
full account of the incident in a dignified manner. In doing so, he had
secretly hoped for a kind, sympathetic response from the old man; but,
to his disappointment, the old man pitched into him with a smart rebuke.
"What? Of my tumor? So式even so, you should fight to
make such a sight of yourself! Who you fought with? What? With the son
of Secretary Kim? Good heavens! You brat, what a troublemaker you are!
Please don't be like your dad!"
Gazing from behind at his grandfather, who was now walking
hurriedly out of the shop, young Hyon was suddenly seized by an acute disturbance.
The contempt that was thrown at the figure of his grandfather式the impulse
that motivated his furious challenge式the fight that was waged so courageously式then
the grandfather's puzzling distress and fury. Hyon was left with doubt
and disillusionment. His frustration could only be comparable to that of
a dog, which is whipped and is obliged to put down his tail in reward for
a good fight against his master's adversary.
From then on Hyon was obliged to turn away silently from
all similar circumstances. At first it meant an unbearable pain he had
to suffer, but in a while he experienced even a sort of gratification at
As he grew into his teens, Hyon asked his mother once
in a while to tell him the story of his deceased father. She would then
turn her eyes aside aimlessly and speak in a voice quivering with admiration
"He was a most respectable man," she said. "He was very
concerned for others, and he had nothing to fear when he thought he did
right things. He opened a night school and taught children in the neighborhood.
He never let a poor passer-by go without doing something for him. And he
was one of the noblest gentlemen in town."
She gazed at Hyon's face attentively and saw about his
eyes and mouth the very likeness of her departed husband.
"Go and look into the mirror if you want to see how your
father looked," said she, tapping her son on the head with her fingers.
My poor lovely boy式my one and only source of life!
Such a high regard she paid her deceased husband that
her heart bled at every word of the scathing criticism that Old Mr. Ko
would level at his son.
It was one summer day when Hyon turned seventeen. The
sun was blazing in the open.
Old Mr. Ko stood at a distance from his son's grave and
looked on with folded arms at Hyon making a low bow to the deceased. Soon
he came near and arranged the offering foods on the mat. First drinking
a cup of wine himself, he poured the wine into another cup and offered
it to Hyon.
Seeing this, Hyon mother quickly turned her eyes aside.
Hyon, surprised at the offer, hesitated; but Old Mr. Ko pressed on, waving
"You've grown old enough to drink," he said.
Hyon was still hesitant awhile, the cup in his hand,
until he managed to gulp down the cupful. As he did so, the wine caught
his breath and he coughed.
"You ought to learn drinking in the presence of your
superior. That's the only way to cultivate decent drinking manners," the
old man said.
"Youngsters of today are ill-mannered," he went on. "All
who were taught the New Learning are ill-mannered. That's the trouble."
Hyon made no answer.
"They make a fuss about the so-called New Learning or
whatever you call it," Old Mr. Ko resumed. "But the ability to write one's
name should be enough for being a literate man, and the single volume of
'Thesaurus of Lucid Mind' should take care of one's good manners."
"But Grandpa, would you tell me something about my father?"
"Sure. He was a bright fellow all right. He was so eminently
intelligent that I hung all my hopes on him as my heir. Things went wrong
when he insisted on believing in Christianity."
Old Mr. Ko made a wry face as he looked down on the chapel
standing high on the opposite hillside in the glittering sun. Hyon's mother
dropped her head.
"From then on," the old man continued, "your father refused
to drink the offering wine on his visit to the ancestral graveyard, though
he made a low bow very reluctantly. Even if he bowed down, no one knows
who he was bowing to. Being too stubborn to keep up the beautiful old custom
of paying respect to one's ancestors, he only found himself in such a wretched
condition. A demon called 'Jesus' who came in from nowhere式that's the
Hyon stole a glance at his mother and saw her picking
the grass silently. Feeling a recurring sensation of drunkenness, he again
gave out a question.
"But even my teacher said the other day that my father
risked his life to do honorable deeds."
Old Mr. Ko shrieked in a violent rage, his grizzled beard
trembling: "Whoever spoke such nonsense? He did 'honorable deeds'? Was
it honorable for him to die leaving his own father behind and be an unfilial
son? Was it honorable for him to leave your mother in widowhood at that
"But wasn't it all an effort to restore his own country?"
Hyon said. At this, his mother pulled him by the sleeve, giving him a knowing
"His own country, you say?" said the old man. "Now, what
the hell did your 'own country' do in your interest? All it did was to
let the arrogant officeholders extort resources from the people and punish
disobedient citizens with lashing. Why should one miss a country owned
by those pigs, and why should one be busy making desperate efforts to restore
its independence? After all, it was those pigs themselves who had sold
out this country. Suppose that was not the case, why in the world should
your father be the first man to get into that matter of restoring the independence
of his country?"
"Of course, the living conditions are better now than
before and people are a lot more civilized. My heart aches at the thought
of your father's death式such a fool! He had challenged empty-handed those
killers armed with guns and bayonets. But what use did he think there was?
He was out of his mind, I'm sure, and madness drove him to death."
Hyon remained silent.
"If your father had stayed alive, would your mother be
left to suffer so much as she does? I never see your mother's wretched
condition without realizing what a rascal your father played," the old
man spoke in a voice increasingly tearful. "If your father had stayed alive,
wouldn't I live in decent comfort? I can't stir an inch these days because
of that 'damp disease' I have."
The old man kept silent for a moment, wiping the sweat
off his forehead. But soon he resumed, shouting in anger:
"You say that your father did 'honorable deeds,' but
why in the world should those creatures who survived him often speak such
nonsense to you? Look at those fellows in our town. Has any one of those
creatures offered a helping hand to us since your father was killed? Such
is the way of the world. You must know that the man who shot your father
was not even a Japanese but an informant of our own race. And you know
why you had to go to a private high school after being denied public schools,
From behind his back Hyon heard his mother's subdued
sobs, apparently bursting forth in spite of her effort to overcome her
"One has to behave according to reason," said the old
man. "To be left stateless is not a pleasurable experience, but you must
admit that ours is an abominable, worthless race. And after all was it
ever your country that delivered your from misery? All you can do, then,
is adust yourself to the present state of things and work your way out
with bare hands. Rely on yourself式and yourself only. You need not stir
an inch for the sake of other fellows, nor should you expect a bit of help
from others. You should get your living on your own."
Old Mr. Ko stopped speaking and looked over at Hyon's
mother. Silence reigned for a while.
"Perhaps I have spoken too long-windedly," said the old
man. "I have just tried to present my personal views式that's all."
The old man put his pipe in his mouth and emitted several
"Let's get going home," he said. Getting up first of
the three, he stalked down the hill without looking back.
Back at home Hyon's mother cried her eyes out. She pleaded
with Hyon not to bring up the subject of his father again in front of his
grandfather. But Hyon did not consider his grandfather's views as harsh
as his mother did, even though he could not agree with the old man on the
matter of his father's death.
Something in his father's mind that had apparently driven
him to an irresistible cause式something that had apparently emboldened
him to face up to death empty-handed and to burn out his life! Lurching
violently in Hyon's young heart was a search as well as a dread for that
In high school Hyon was once on the swimming team. It
was not so much because he had an unusual interest in sports as because
he thought swimming was more congenial to his nature than any other sport.
Swimming, unlike other troublesome sports, had allowed him to get under
water, all alone and naked, and move through water as freely as he could.
One day late in the evening Hyon was swimming in the pool
all by himself. Observing his swimming skill by chance, the swimming coach
at once picked him for the school team. It meant a small training expense
to be paid by the team member, but Old Mr. Ko was displeased with this
"At school your job is to study," said the old man. "What
nonsense it is to swim at your own expense! Perhaps you haven't heard of
the obvious truth that the better swimmer you are, the more chances there
are that you get drowned."
Soon Hyon became tired of swimming. It was not his grandfather's
displeasure that made him so. Rather it was the kind of life that tended
to regiment him, or the spirit of competition he had to work with in matters
of seconds or minutes. These seemed to convert swimming as an art of free
play into an unbearable punishment. So within less than a year Hyon put
an end to his athletic activity when his strong plea for withdrawal was
After that Hyon turned his attention to the work of plant
collection. Roving over hills and fields in search of floras of all kinds
was an unusual excitement to him. Sometimes he would go along with his
stooping teacher of botany and spend long hours over the fields all day.
The two would make nothing of the long day's work scarcely interrupted
by talk. As he lay down exhausted on the ground, Hyon was moved to tears
at the clouds floating in the high blue sky. He could hear life itself
stirring in the silent flowers and the stems of the plants.
It was early summer when Hyon was a senior. As Mr. M,
Hyon's teacher, was about to leave after the class, he was taken by Japanese
intelligence agents who were lying in wait for him. The next day two of
Hyon's classmates were arrested and another five, including R who came
from P town like Hyon, were found to be missing.
Mr. M, who was a young, energetic teacher, had often
brought up topics full of radical innuendoes. He had always spoken in a
tone mixed with cynicism.
According to rumors about Mr. M's case, a few students
had held radical reading club sponsored by Mr. M and had even attempted
a kind of practical action. Hyon recalled that he himself had once been
approached by R, but had declined the offer, thinking that the assignments
and tests he had to work out at once were already more than enough to keep
Mr. M who was taken by the police soon became an idol
within the secret society of students. Rumor had it that he had given encouragement
to students by sending out a note from the prison, and all the students
went wild with excitement.
A few days later Hyon was told that R's father died of
cerebral hemorrhage, probably frightened by the news of his only son's
disappearance and by the pressing questions of the police. As far as Hyon
was concerned, this kind of melting pot was the last place that he would
choose as a desirable community.
式What in the world did Mr. M attempt to do? Was it a
task so overwhelming that he could not possibly accomplish by himself?
The stocky arms and legs of those agents who had taken him to the police式the
pale, sickly look he wore at the time, his glasses unusually glistening式the
note he smuggled out of the prison式his idolized image式the crucible-like
atmosphere heated with excitement式tales of adventure appearing in juvenile
magazines式the head of the eight-member juvenile expedition式the fate of
R式his father's death式the familiar routine that mechanically goes on and
on式the examinations scheduled close at hand.
The next spring Hyon graduated from high school. While
his classmates were busy talking about prep schools and colleges, Hyon
thought of nothing but his ideas of going home and getting settled there.
Even the class teacher who knew Hyon so well was surprised at Hyon's unusual
"I have had enough education," said Hyon to the teacher.
"I do not intend to overreach myself. I wish to go home and live in peace
with my mother."
"Don't you have any motive for your own life? None of
the ambitions many other young men have?"
"No, sir. To live not at the expense of others but on
my own式that is all I want."
As he looked out the window of the home-bound train and
saw the familiar rural scenes unfolding before his eyes, Hyon was absorbed
式Is my idea of living on my own very much like my grandfather's?
No, mine is still different from his. Even if mine is the same as his,
what difference does it make? Motive for your life? Ambition? Aspiration?
To him these terms sounded merely ambiguous and meaningless.
式No matter what others do, why should I get involved?
The sprawling fields unfolded themselves at the foot
of the dark-green Mt. Pu-ong, and with a gust of wind the smell of earth
came in through the open window of the train. Hyon felt a pleasing pain
ripping through his heart along with an electrifying thrill whirling throughout
his blood vessels.
The beloved earth of his country! To him, that seemed
to be the only unmistakable fact.
It was a pleasure to Hyon to help his mother with her
work. After breakfast the mother and son went out to the field to till
the soil and sow seeds. While Hyon dug ditches, his mother helped him by
pulling the rope tied to the shovel. Toward evening the mother went home
first to get dinner ready and waited for her son, singing hymns as if they
were ballads. The dishes consisted mainly of garden vegetables, but they
were in season and gave a fresh flavor.
In the midst of the busy routine of her work, Hyon's
mother never failed to attend Sunday services at church. As she stepped
out of the bush-clover gate in her cotton dress with Bible in hand, Hyon
gazed on her from behind and pictured to himself her youthful image in
the earlier days. As soon as he managed in his imagination to clear her
facial look from the shadow of sorrow and toil, her youthful face came
back to life from the visage whose old beauty had almost begun to die out.
And occasionally at the thought of how his mother had dedicated many years
of her youth to him only, Hyon was thrown into a helpless, gloomy despair.
Though she was not susceptible to ordinary diseases,
Hyon's mother sometimes moaned, stroking her upper leg. But as soon as
she noticed concern in Hyon's look, she flushed mysteriously. Once she
fell into lethargy with such a high fever that the doctor was called from
town. Even while her consciousness grew hazy, however, she strangely refused
to be seen by the doctor, pressing her thigh with both hands. Hyon pulled
away her hands from the covered area to see what was there. There was severe
infection developed over her upper leg and some red filaments were creeping
upward. On both sides of the red filaments Hyon saw clearly a great many
scars. Apparently the scars were made from puncturing by some sharp, pointed
tool. It was not until after five years from then that Hyon learned of
what those scars stood for.
A year elapsed. On Ch'usok Day, Hyon was trimming the
flower garden after paying homage to the ancestral graveyard. The flower
garden at Hyon's home was so fertile that a garden of that beauty was rarely
seen, not only in this hamlet but also in any home in P town across the
river. From early spring till late fall a dozen varieties of flowers bloomed,
adorning the garden in sequence.
For some time Hyon's mother was sitting on the veranda
and gazing at her son's broad-looking shoulders, until she said as if she
were speaking to herself: "I hear that Yong-son is going to college next
year. Am I right?"
"Yes, so I heard."
It was the kind of topic Hyon did not feel any interest
in at all.
"Will you be content with working on the farm?"
Hyon quickly looked back at his mother and saw that her
eyes were already cast down to the ground. Shaking the dust off his hands,
he got up, came over to his mother and sat down.
"I am quite satisfied with the way I live now with you,"
Hyon's mother, who had been gazing toward Mt. Pu-ong
for a while, began to speak:
"I could manage farming if I hire a field hand. So you'd
better talk to your grandfather and go to college now."
Hyon remained silent for a while, struck dumb by her
remark. He realized at once that he was wrong in his self-comforting illusion
that he had been of some help to his mother over one year or so. Gazing
at the white cosmos and the red dahlias waving in the breeze, he was given
awhile to troubled thought.
式After all I spent the last one year for nothing. My
mother's inflexible determination now surging up in her tender heart式it
is an intimation of love.
But the more he thought of the fated course of his mother's
life, the more did he dread the inevitable, predestined shadow of loneliness
and hurt that seemed to hover near her life. At this troubled thought Hyon
became terribly depressed.
Old Mr. Ko, who had once held that one is lettered enough
if he can write his own name, now did not apply his long-cherished rule
of conduct to his own son Yong-son. He had apparently given a certain pledge
to himself since the son of Secretary Kim, his own rival since childhood,
was appointed Supervisor of Yonjun County. When Hyon was allowed to receive
his high school education, such tolerance on Old Mr. Ko's part resulted
probably as a by-product of his parental enthusiasm over Yong-son's education
Hyon wished his grandfather would rather give him a flat
denial. Yet Old Mr. Ko, with a sense of propriety, accepted Hyon's offer
as a minimal sacrifice he was to make.
The next spring Hyon went across the sea to Japan, carrying
an old suitcase with him. Japan seemed to him a beautiful country. The
people there were more kind-hearted and frugal than he had expected, but
he was disgusted with some mysterious sense of rigidity prevailing throughout
The self-tormenting attitude taken by the Japanese when
they worked toward spiritual concentration, each man sitting with one big
toe folded on the other! The cult of physical strength was so strong that
even swordsmanship was regarded as a Way, and corporeal power was overly
exercised under roofs known to be potentially impious. The Japanese armed
forces were then already sweeping over China, but Hyon was struck not so
much with alarm as with some mysteriously weird impressions: the sharply-whetted
edge of the Nippon sword式human heads dropping instantly at the flourish
of the sword式the crack units of the Japanese Royal Armed Forces fighting
against the poor, ill-trained Chinese troops式the proprietor of a Chinese
baker's shop and his looks that Hyon had seen when a mere child in P town.
The day Hyon moved into the undergraduate course after
the three-year prep program, the grey-haired president of the university
said in a gentle voice that one of the great achievements in one's college
years would be to discover good friends. For Hyon, however, a Japanese
student named Aoyagi was the only one who deserved to be called a "friend."
Born in Nagasaki, Aoyagi was an only son brought up by his mother, widowed
during the Manchuria Incident and now running a grocery store. Pale-faced,
he was so short that, standing in the high platform clogs, he barely reached
the height of Hyon's earlobes. A similar pattern of experiences during
their isolated childhood years could very well have helped to draw the
two men together. Aoyagi took to reciting Takuboku's verse, and these lines
he always sang with a tune set to them:
On the white beach sands
Of a little isle in the Eastern Sea,
Alone in tears I find myself
Sporting with a crab.
During his university days Hyon acquired knowledge more
from reading than from class work. He was specially drawn to books about
the idealistic philosophy deriving from the Oxford School in England, which
was then exerting a considerable educational influence upon the majority
of students in Japan. In those philosophical principles Hyon saw a deep
respect for the individual and a modest but ardent passion for ideals.
A few groups of students dismissed the English philosophy
merely as a desperate, dying agony of the capitalistic system. In turn,
they displayed an unusual interest in Marxism, whose dying embers were
still smouldering in some obscure corners of Japanese society at that time.
In the Marxist system of thought one could indeed discern the precise development
of a do-gooder's innovative logic, which distinguished it from any other
conventional system of thought. Yet Marxism seemed to embrace a savage
cruelty and a breath-taking hysteria. Heavily effected by these qualities,
the Marxist was eager to adjudge history itself by using his schematized
ideology and cast man in a prearranged mould by employing the force for
regimentation. Hyon felt an instinctive distaste toward Marxism because
it seemed to share the flavor of a new totalitarianism that was growing
prevalent among Japanese students at that time.
Hyon felt no immediate need to meet the actual demand
of his nation, nor did he have a task to accomplish at once. Free from
moral, social restraint, he could afford to choose an argument that seemed
congenial to him, although such an argument was after all a mere human
dream written on paper, with little power to affect his behavior.
All that preoccupied him now was this: the visionary
scene of P town that he saw as often as several times a month式the azaleas
that bloomed in spring on Mt. Pu-ong式the green valley that lay far down,
below the mountain式the raspberries that grew in summertime among the shrubbery
there式the stream water that often tasted so cold in his dry mouth式the
lawn that covered the ancestral graveyard式the people of the hamlet式his
grandfather who would be running the rice shop式his mother who would be
leading a dreary life.
"We've knocked them down! At last we've knocked them down!"
One of chilly winter day Aoyagi cried as he ran into
Hyon's boarding-house, a newspaper extra clutched in his hand. The surprise
attack on Pearl Harbor式the fall of Singapore soon after式the landing on
the Philippines式the capture of Java式parades celebrating victories. Wild
excitement and frenzy went up in the air and streets were flooded with
olive-green uniforms. Hyon could not help but feel that a misdirected stage
play was moving hurriedly toward an awful denouement that could be predicted
by neither the performers nor the spectators.
Takada, professor of Oriental Ethics, suddenly put on
a solemn countenance. Foreseeing the decline or the despairing condition
of Western civilization, he now began to stress the significance of the
moral influence of Eastern civilization in world history.
The same day professor Takada harangued buoyantly as
if he were speaking to one billion of the Asian people en bloc before him:
"Each one should be placed in the proper position...,
" he began. "This is the truth that holds good for ever and ever. The social
system of the West, with its respect for the individual as an absolute
unit and with its call for unprincipled equality and unlimited liberty
as man's goal, has fostered confusion of the worst kind. Western civilization
is about to go downhil... hem!"
"That is why men like Nietzsche and Spengler were once
candid enough to predict the downfall of Western civilization..."
"Conflicts inhering in Western systems of thought resulted
in an inevitable deformity known as dialectical materialism, which in turn
provoked class struggle... the materialistic civilization of the West now
faces a total collapse... now is the time the light emanates from the East...
the time has come for us, the divinely inspired people, to be up and doing.
"The 'each one' dictum gives an insight into the harmonious
principle of human existence, and it is a courageous pronouncement concerning
the worth of the humble human spirit."
Up to this point his argument was tolerable to Hyon.
"Our grand historical mission式say, 'Bringing the eight
corners of the world under one roof,' " he went on. "What a magnificent
proclamation it is! Underlying that play is the very spirit advocating
the establishment of The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. We shall
free the yellow race form their thralldom under Anglo-American colonists,
and by doing so we shall establish a new order in Asia. Japan is entrusted
with a mission of leading that alliance. What a heroic, magnificent mission
"Therefore, every citizen of the country ought to devote
himself selflessly to this great cause in order to deliver all the peoples
of Asia with honor and furthermore to propagate that noble spirit. That
is Divine Providence. And what a shining glory it is, too!"
"Behold, even beasts roaming about the fields prove their
worth by letting themselves be sacrificed. Do they not gladly give themselves
up to the last piece of their bones? Such is the miracle of creation and
such is the feat of Providence."
"Even if beasts act so, still more is it the case with
men. In order to have all the peoples of Asia placed in their proper positions,
we ought to sacrifice ourselves at the altar of our first cause. Sad but
beautiful式such is the fundamental principle of human existence."
Throughout this argument Hyon noted obvious attempts
not only to justify the shooting by Japanese police of such peaceful demonstrators
as his own father, but also to impose upon men like his grandfather unprincipled
obedience throughout their lives. The divinely inspired people of Japan
and the other people of Asia式man and beast式cat and mouse式brotherliness
Hyon felt all the more furious when he found in the professor's
profound look and unacademic speech the superior attitude of the chosen
people式who presumptuously interfere with others and consequently afflict
them, the emotional pattern that employs cheap, sentimental heroics, and
the logic of self-deception. Hyon raised his hand before he knew it. His
devotion to what he considered a fluent lecture disrupted, the professor
stopped speaking with an offended look.
"I have a question, sir," said Hyon. "I know what you
mean by devoting oneself selflessly to a great cause. But then you said
that beasts like cattle and swine gladly give themselves up for the benefit
of men. Of course, men are obliged to eat their meat. But you see式I went
down to a slaughter-house when I was a child式I saw there one of the beef
cattle hold out to the last as it was pulled in for slaughter. Especially
animals like swine, I saw, were never slaughtered without shrieking with
much ado. I never felt that they were gladly giving themselves up. I would
like to have your comment on this point."
The professor gave a bitter smile and then all the class
burst into laughter. For a while they were seized with laughter in spite
of themselves. As the roar of laughter was hushed, however, the students
seemed to perceive something ominous in the room.
As soon as he resumed his seat, Hyon found himself already
regretting his behavior. That he might have roused the professor to anger
was not Hyon's concern. It was rather his own stylized attitude taken in
a fit of passion that made him sick. He loathed the way he made the protest
as if he had been mandated by one billion of the Asian people. What did
I mean to do by raising a protest like that? he asked himself.
"Metaphor is often liable to error," the professor mumbled.
"But in this case... the intuition of the Asian man is..."
The professor's mumblings fell on Hyon's deafened ears.
Hyon knew that he was now plunged into a deepening emotion of self-hatred式like
a trumpet shell that fearfully dips its once exposed flesh into its hard
Hidaka, a young assistant professor who taught the history
of philosophy, offered a striking contrast to Professor Takada. Hidaka
was a man of high intelligence and fine sentiment. When he was about to
leave after being drafted for service in the army he spoke to Hyon, who
happened to call on him.
"They are dead wrong式they are all crazy. Since it jumped
into the flow of world history quite belatedly, Japan has gone astray in
every action. Maybe it is because of the impossible race Japan has attempted
to run over the last seventy years. A combination of Victorian ideals and
totalitarianism式an absurd anachronism! It's like contesting a deer hunt
right in the middle of a plain. This is no time for that sort of thing.
It seems that they can't even work out a successful pacification program
for the Chinese people. Maybe that's why things like the Field Service
Code had to be set up. The Chinese are rather broad-minded, but it is the
Japanese who first turn wicked and act frivolously. That is the tragic
consequence of our undeliverable insularism. We may win a battle but not
a victory, because we lack the powerful backing of culture. The liberation
of the Asian peoples式that's a beautiful motto. if we mean it, the sine
qua non should be, among others, the autonomy or independence of Korea.
But all we did was to have Koreans change their names to ours. What's the
use of changing their names? Ridiculous, nonsensical! Of course, I shall
obey the draft order. Being a Japanese, however, I go to war only to reap
the seeds my country has already sown."
The assistant professor left for the central part of
China: in less than a year he was reported killed in action.
Another year passed.
The war now turned to the worse for the Japanese. With
the growing need of junior officers as its military strength was increased,
the Japanese military command devised plans to send out young students
to the battle line as soon as they underwent a short-term training.
Returning from student training for active service, Aoyagi
called on Hyon. With an excited look he talked a lot about dying.
"I don't think all the people going to the front line
will be killed," he said. "In fact, once you are resolved to die, that
seems rather to lead you to a state of mind as clear as a mirror."
It was obvious to Hyon that Aoyagi was taking pains to
collect his disordered mind.
"Now there is nothing to set my affections on," Aoyagi
said with a gloomy expression. "My mother is my only concern, but even
she will be taken care of by people behind the battle line, I hope."
Hyon kept on listening without a word.
"You may keep Thomas Green's work and the Student series,"
Aoyagi went on. "Hagakure and Manyoshu are the two volumes I could enjoy
myself with fully enough. To be honest with you, I am not free from personal
problems; but the cause of the liberation of the Asian peoples is somehow
a saving grace to me."
Hyon was strongly moved with pity for Aoyagi. Here is
a cogwheel left amiss, he thought. That desperate offer to work unsolicited
for deliverance was indeed a thankless interference.
As the pattering sound of Aoyagi's clogs faded away into
the deep of the night, Hyon let his thought roam to his native town. Safe
from reach of the whirlwind that had caught Japanese students, Hyon felt
all the more isolated.
Instantly he wrote a long, loving letter to his mother.
Then, in no time, he received a reply, saying that everyone at home was
fine and that Yong-son, who had been back at home due to ill health, was
now working at the local administration office. At the outset the grandfather
was not happy about Yong-son's post, the letter went on, but by now he
is quite satisfied with that office work because it kept his son from being
drafted. As always, the letter ended with a reminder that she never ceased
praying to God for her son.
What was once pitiful about Aoyagi soon turned out to
be true of Hyon. If there was any difference between the circumstances
of the two, it was that for Hyon there was no slogan such as "the liberation
of Asia," nor were there books at hand comparable to Hagakure and Manyoshu.
Even the memoir of a German student who died in battle was irrelevant.
Hyon saw no meaning whatsoever in his participation in the war.
As soon as he returned home, Hyon was provided with some
funds by his mother and took refuge in the home of his maternal grandfather,
who was director of a local fishery guild near Haeju.
In a few days Hyon was seized with an unaccountable sense
式This uneasy feeling that keeps coming on me so suddenly式what
could this mean? It means a wall. I am confined within walls. I have to
live with the jailor's taboo within these walls which have already turned
into a huge prison-house. Weighing on me is the prisoner's anxiety that
he is constantly violating that taboo式that the jailor's whip will crack
over his head any moment. I am in a self-imposed prison within a prison.
Indeed, there was one way out, yet the surrounding walls
were too high for Hyon to get over. After all he had no choice but to remain
a prisoner in hiding.
Two weeks later Hyon received the surprise visit of a
detective with glaring eyes. He was obliged to file a draft application,
which was already overdue.
Relief from anxiety! It was a sense of relief a slave
would appreciate, or a submission prisoner would offer.
Passing through Haeju, Hyon was soaked in drink one evening
in a spirit of abandon, and he had casual sex with the girl he encountered
in the wineshop. Impelled by carnal lust and anger, he had embraced a woman
for the first time in his life. As he left the establishment the next day
in an agitated mood, he was seized repeatedly by guilt.
At home he learned that it was not the efficiency of
the Japanese police that explained his arrest. Rather it was his own grandfather,
who feared that Hyon's flight might affect the eligibility of his second
son Yong-ch'ol to enter junior high school the following year. Hyon had
no resentment against his grandfather, however, because he was the last
man to want his youthful uncle Yong-ch'ol to meet with a misfortune on
his own account. He felt even light-hearted about his grandfather's action.
The day before he was to depart for the battlefront along
with several compatriots from P town, Hyon stayed all day quietly with
his mother. She made an apology to Hyon for her earlier suggestion that
he should go to college. She was especially terrified at her ominous discovery
that Hyon was now exactly the same age as his father was when he died.
As for Hyon, he did everything he could to relieve his mother of her grief.
Lying in bed wide awake and gazing at the wall, she kept on with her prayer
in the dark room:
"The Lord and the Holy Spirit, forgive my sin... and
may your grace descend on me... since that is the only wish this sinful
woman can make..."
Helplessly obsessed with both the idea of original sin
and a vision of her dark, sad fate, and consequently seized with terrible
anguish, she implored God to exonerate her son from the divine justice
to be administered to herself.
"Sinful as I am," she went on, "I feel through my affection
for this son a greater love for my husband who was called away by the Lord.
Sinful and impious as I am, I feel more deeply the grace of God through
my affection for the only son. My Lord! Forgive my deadly sin and save
my son's life."
Hyon was shaking with rising anger at something he himself
could hardly define.
式Though I am not a devout believer in God, I have admitted
His existence only because God gave peace of mind to my mother even under
her sufferings. But it puzzles me that my mother should now admit her deadly
sin, shuddering with awe before God. All the rest of mankind can be sinful
but my mother. God is as punitive as a warden; original sin is groundless!
Mother, how can you hold yourself accountable for what
had happened before you came into this world?
During the farewell ceremony held in front of the railroad
station the next day, the county supervisor made a speech cheering the
departing draftees, and the police chief led the audience in giving three
cheers. B, who was to leave with Hyon, drank himself down and made a fuss
with cynical remarks. Regarding that such behavior will result in nothing
but increasing futility, Hyon conducted himself in an impassive, slavish
While he heard a number of war songs chanted harshly
and at random, Hyon saw among the crowd his grandfather, standing erect
and apparently receiving the greetings from the county supervisor and the
police chief. Once in a while his grandfather turned back to comfort his
mother, who stood behind the old man, covering her eyes with a handkerchief.
式My grandfather will attribute my fateful departure
to the irresistible divine providence and the positioning of the ancestral
graves. He will also blame Uncle Yong-son's dismissal from school due to
ill health and his employment as a clerk at the local administration office
on the ominous position of the ancestral graves. And he must be attributing
every other circumstance to the positioning of the appropriate grave, reiterating
all the geomantic principles including the Blue Dragon and the White Tiger.
Chaos of time immemorial式gas created in high temperature式lava flowing
out of volcanoes式weathering and erosion式geomancy式bones buried in graves.
式He will be gratified with the greater honor he is to
win after my departure and with the lesser amount of crop he is to contribute
to the state because of Yong-son. But Grandpa, please don't feel displeased
about my mother who is weeping behind you.
Aboard the train Hyon resumed to indulge in reverie,
looking up at the dark-green summit of Mt. Pu-ong which was now receding
every minute from his view.
式Should my grandfather feel angry at my mother, that's
too cruel of him indeed. Anyway, I don't want to die.
Hyon, now christened Takayama as a result of the forced
adoption of a Japanese name, joined an outfit stationing in Nagoya, Japan.
He was assigned to the Transportation Corps, his duties including the cleaning
of stables. Often he had to scrape up the stable manure with his own hand.
One moonlight night he was as usual scraping up the manure
underneath a horse, when he looked up at the moon shining unusually bright
upon him. As if hooked up to the huge phallus of the horse dangling from
his belly, the full moon looked like a big brass scoop with a black handle.
Hyon could not help but guffaw at it. Then it gave him a weird feeling
to hear his laughter resound throughout the desolate stable. Suddenly he
felt that he had been insulted by the horse. That he should be mocked by
this brute! In a fit of rage he took up the shovel and dealt a solid blow
at the horse. The frightened horse leaped out, throwing Hyon over backward.
One Sunday Hyon chanced to go out with a Japanese comrade
and ate a hearty meal. He ate so mush that he could hardly breathe or move
about freely. The same evening, then, he disposed of another serving at
dinner, and throughout that night he was busy going to the toilet.
The next morning Hyon learned that several of his G.I.
items had been stolen. Receiving the report, the squad leader clenched
his fist and struck Hyon a sharp blow on the face, saying: "You fool! If
you lost something, don't make an ass of yourself but steal it back from
For all the stomach trouble he had, Hyon came by some
cakes of scorched rice in the kitchen the next day and ate them in the
latrine where he had crouched the night before. Biting off the cakes of
scorched rice, in a mood of disheartenment, he gathered his thoughts to
see what Green's discussion termed "Of Various Significations of Will and
Freedom Employed for the Moral Improvement of Man" was like.
What was most painful to Hyon in army life was to be
forced to stand in a double row face-to-face with one another and participate
in the game of hitting. It was an excruciating experience to Hyon to see
people inflict bodily pain on one another when they deserved in no way
resentment as individual human beings. A blow was answered with a similar
blow, like an eye for an eye. As the exchange of blows was repeated, one
felt a groundless sense of animosity slowly rising against the other partner.
What a sad, vain effort for men to make!
The next spring Hyon was dispatched to northern China
along with a group of veteran soldiers. Treading Chinese soil, vast and
desolate, Hyon was determined to make his escape at the first opportunity.
式A jumble of assault, persecution, brutality, arrogance,
servility and deceit! Army life is not for a man of decency! Even so, I
could still put up with this life if only I had a cause to serve; but then
nothing in my life seems to advance a worthy cause. Why in the world should
I kill Chinese people?
With the springtime coming on, a thaw now set in over
the frozen earth. Yet the piercing cold still lingered during nightfall.
One dimly moonlit night, Hyon seized a chance of escape while he was on
He started with a hazy plan to keep running westward
recklessly. Putting under his arms the secretly stored goods式two bags
of biscuit, a tin can of meat and two packs of caramels式he kept on walking
all night through the waist-deep growth of dried weeds. He tumbled over
several times, getting scratches on the back of his hands and face. As
the pitch-black darkness settled over the boundless earth, Hyon shuddered
with hair-raising terror. He felt as though he had been thrown off the
edge of the globe into the dark space式or it appeared as though he had
been walking toward the doorway to hell.
With the first signs of the dawn on the eastern horizon,
Hyon discovered that the rifle was missing from his hand. The eastern sky
now began to glow with a blushing red and soon the big crimson ball arose.
His body nailed fast to the earth, Hyon looked in wonder at the magnificent
scene before him. Oh! This mighty existence! And how wretched do I look
in front of that being! Suddenly he snarled like a beast. Ya-wp! Qu-ack!
Qu-ack! As he belched the scummy feelings out of his heart, the sun seemed
to instill a new beam of life into his clean breast.
The next day he reached a hill overlooking a small distant
hamlet. Wearied with cold, hunger, terror and exhaustion, he flopped down
to sleep on the hill. When he awoke to the glaring sun overhead, Hyon saw
several villagers moving about the neighborhood of half a dozen houses.
Then he saw a narrow path running down below, along the foot of the hill,
and leading to the village itself.
He had no idea of how he would explain his circumstances
to the Chinese he would come across. I know I have got to get down to the
village, he thought. But he hated even to stir for the moment. He wished
to stay forever the way he was now lying. Snuggling down listlessly in
an opening between the boulders on the hill and munching the last few pieces
of biscuit, Hyon cast his eyes down to the village. On the edge of the
village he saw the figure of a little man moving toward him. The figure,
approaching in measured steps to the foot of the hill, turned out to be
a little Chinese girl with bobbed hair. At the sight of the girl, an indescribable
sense of yearning stirred in Hyon's heart. The girl came down the path
and soon passed by the boulders below Hyon. Hyon clearly saw her black
eyes and shiny red lips. Then he fixed his gaze on her swelling breast
and her enticing loins whose lines streamed from waist down to thighs as
she walked out of his view. He swallowed his desire without knowing it.
Totally oblivious of the terror of the two nights past,
he felt as though the lower part of his body were intoxicated. The legendary
bird, known as haltan, that is said to inhabit the Himalayas式a bird that
is said to make up his mind to weave his nest the first thing in the morning
while shuddering with cold during nightfall but completely forget about
his decision once the sun is up.
Hyon stared around. Not a creature was astir in the spacious
field spreading around him. He felt numb all over. The same queer sensation
he had once felt during his brief intercourse with the nameless girl now
surged back again. The disillusionment that had overcome him with such
sickly feelings was no longer in his memory. All he could perceive now
was the warmth her body had given.
He gulped to kill the thirst. As he did so, a strange
trickling sound came in his gullet. Alarmed that he was helplessly out
of all reason, Hyon suddenly rose to his feet. Before he knew it, he took
the bayonet out of the sheath hanging on his waist. In a moment he clearly
saw his own shadow cast over the ground as he stood in the way of the sunlight.
Standing still, he stared down at the despicable figure of the shadow.
It had the semblance of Tarzan whom he had seen on movie screens. Tarzan
posing to attack a fierce animal式the fierce animal and the little girl式Tarzan,
the fierce animal, the little girl, and I. For a moment his head swirled,
but within a flash he felt he was himself again, his heart burning as if
warped. He fell on the ground with a thud. The little girl was now seen
walking on in the distance. Hyon remained stupefied for a while. Then wiping
the sweat off his forehead, he was about to put the bayonet back into the
sheath. The frenzied sensation was still inflaming through the lower part
of his body! "This damned lump of flesh," he cursed to himself, and the
next moment he thrusted the blade into his own thigh. Ugh! Red blood streamed
down inside the uniform trousers he had on, and the flames of his sexual
desire were quenched throughout his body. Tearing his underwear, he bound
up his thigh with the strap. Then he reclined on the opening between the
boulders, his eyes vacantly cast down on the bandage that was saturated
with fresh blood. All of a sudden, an old memory flashed across his mind.
The scars that he had noticed on his mother's thighs式the scars that were
As tormenting yearnings surged wildly in his heart, Hyon
perceived the image of his mother looming before his eyes. It revealed
the face of a young woman, beautifully blooming but pathetic-looking, defying
the irresistibly sorrowful condition of man.
Side by side with this revelation, he seemed to hear
a singing voice at its high pitch. In his illusion the tune echoed all
over the field, returned to swirl over his head, and faded away into eternity.
It was a song in praise of his mother! Following upon that festive song,
an agonizing sorrow of man whirled into Hyon's heart, which was already
suffering from hunger and cold. Nevertheless, the sorrow was turned into
merely a few teardrops, only to be sprinkled over the boundless earth.
In the evening Hyon went down to the Chinese village.
Using Chinese ideographs, he succeeded in describing to the villagers his
own circumstances. Soon he was provided with a bowl of warm corn porridge.
While eating the porridge, he recognized the same little girl staring at
his bandaged thigh. Her lucid eyes made him feel extremely pleasant and
It happened that the hamlet was under the substantial
control of Chinese Communist guerrillas, and so Hyon was immediately sent
to Yenan. The moment he got there, he was appalled at the Yenanese way
of life. The people lived in cave-like houses, yet their true provisions
were not the boiled millet on which they practically lived but rather their
conviction that they would have their day sometime in the future. First
introduced to an old man named Kim so-and-so and dressed like a shabby-looking
Chinese beggar, Hyon was struck at his appearance. Under the guise of prediction
that the people's liberation would soon come, old Mr. Kim was in fact looking
for chances to wreak his vengeance upon an undefinable object. The argumentation
of communist theory sounded just as prophetic as the Book of Chongkam.
The difference between the two, if any, was that the former is a Book of
Prophecy written in the name of Science. Old Mr. Kim was dreaming into
that Book of Prophecy a bonanza with which he was hence to make up for
many losses he had suffered during the first half of his life. Or he was
probably seized with a desire glaring like oily excrement over the skin式a
desire to be looked upon in the framed portrait on the wall, or to be canonized
with glory in the history of the Party.
Attaching a categorical meaning to the formula of the
people's liberation and grinding their teeth with vexation, these revolutionaries
were acting as entrepreneurs, so to speak, to whom no work had been entrusted
式Why in the world do they expend trouble day and night
on other's affairs when they should rather make their best effort to get
rid of lice swarming in their own padded clothes? When they have their
day, they will probably ask for compensations that would make amends a
hundred times over for the poverty and suffering they had already undergone.
In less than a month Hyon managed to escape from this
place, and by the middle of July 1945, he was in hiding somewhere in southern
Manchuria. The great earth of China, vast as it was, lay in utter confusion.
After days of wandering in Manchuria, Hyon returned home
to P town late in September. In Manchuria, where the Soviet occupation
forces had moved in, Hyon learned firsthand that men could debase their
status lower than ours by committing plunder, rape, vandalism and murder.
He could never go along with a view that all these evils may be attributed
to war. The point at issue was that man has within himself bestial instincts,
with which he is capable of dong all those evils. In fact, man seemed worse
than a cur, for he rationalized his evil acts. At any rate the Russians,
the new entrepreneurs replacing the Japanese and calling themselves the
liberators of the people, had behaved themselves with pomp and glory from
Disenchanted by mankind, Hyon said to himself disdainfully
with a bitter smile: "Isn't every entrepreneur running a paying business?"
Hyon went in tattered clothes inside the familiar bush-clover
gate and saw his mother sitting on the veranda in front of the parlor.
For a moment she fixed her blank gaze on her son. Then she ran down to
him in stocking feet, gave him a wild hug, and burst into tears. Soon people
in the neighborhood were drawn to the scene. Hyon's mother, now lying flat
on the veranda, kept on saying a prayer loudly. August 15 had never sounded
real to her, but now she was overwhelmed with an unusual sense of liberation.
In her mind she had conceived a deep-rooted sense of fate associated with
primitive religions, and that wall of fatalism in her was now breaking
up thunderously, like a volcanic eruption. Through the opening made by
the explosion, she thought she saw the grace of God descending like a plenteous
As far as Old Mr. Ko was concerned, August 15 meant freedom
from the forced contribution of rice crop to the state. Of course his son
Yong-son had been of some help in getting as small a contribution quota
as possible, yet the influence exercised by the pliable young man was after
all next to nothing. Old Mr. Ko now heaped much abuse upon the performance
of the imperial Japanese authorities toward the end of the war. It was
small wonder, he complained noisily, that a nation can perform mean deeds
When the 38th parallel marked out the North and the South,
P town narrowly escaped the fate of becoming part of the North. Soon there
was introduced in P town a show of material affluence through the American
occupation forces. Old Mr. Ko was so much impressed by American-made goods
that he urged his second son to study English properly. Moreover, he thought
that the removal of his father's grave had helped to bring about Yong-son's
good health as well as Hyon's safe return to home. Now he believed more
strongly than ever in the principles of geomancy.
On the other hand, Hyon was alarmed by a new scene of
confusion, now factions torn apart, now people getting angry with one another.
All the tumult developing before him, it seemed, was not to the point of
式The liberty we are now enjoying was something granted
to us while we were sitting at ease; therefore, there was no reason for
one to come out and roar at others. No one was entitled to cast a stone
at others. All we needed to have, after all, was a humility with which
we could become ashamed of our conduct, and a low-keyed speech with which
we could prudently exchange opinions. But, behold, the numerous stones
being cast against each other among us, and roars deafening our ears!
式To carry the argument further, liberty was something
not unexpected式something that should have been part of our life, though
it had ceased to be so until recently. Why, then, should one demean himself
and flatter the would-be benefactor, saying "Thanks to the Red Army!" or
such childish words of surprise as "Wonderful C Ration!"?
What else could you expect of this kind of social climate?
Hyon wondered. In the depth of despair, he found that for every step he
took forward he fell back, and stayed fixed on the same old position. Once
again Hyon enclosed himself in his own chosen shell.
On March 1 Hyon and his mother were invited, as the surviving
family of a deceased patriot, to attend the exercise commemorating the
Independence Movement. As they were led to special seats, Hyon's grandfather
was there sitting, dignified, in a nearby seat. There followed the national
anthem sung by all式rather out of tune, a series of orations that sounded
almost like a patriotic outcry, cheers, and their echoes.
Carrying a brass tablet they had received as a memento,
they walked homeward. As they came to the crossroads, Hyon saw at a glance
something gleaming in his grandfather's eyes: tears were welling up to
the edge of his eyelids, now wrinkled and hanging. To Hyon this was something
new in his grandfather.
式Sharp-tongued as he is, Grandpa might be secretly and
sincerely mourning over my father's death. The death of my father式the
suffering of my mother式this poverty-stricken society of ours式the special
seats and the brass tablet given as a memento.
The next year Hyon was talked by the principal of a local
girl's high school into teaching at his school. Asked for advice, his mother
said briefly in a low voice: "Just do as you wish, son."
Society became even more chaotic, rivalry among factions
growing tenser. The school campus had been for some time beyond the reach
of outside influence, yet it could not remain forever a sacred haven.
The disordor in society was reflected in the growing
student disturbances as a certain number of teachers helped encourage the
youth's rising emotions. Some students, solemn-looking like martyrs, were
hauled away by the police for passing out propaganda leaflets on campuses.
Hyon could not help but pity these young students who appeared to be confounded
with excitement. Excitement over what? Martyrdom for whom?
Some teachers were intent on arousing passion among students;
they were interested not in teaching classes but in confusing the minds
of their students with irresponsible opinions. To Hyon this was a crime.
If one were more confident of his success in social action, he had better
leave the campus behind for more direct participation, he thought. The
teacher's platform and the speaker's rostrum. There is a difference between
being a teacher and being a stage performer式therefore, he thought, the
students should be left alone. But he knew at the same time that such a
notion, irrelevant to all but himself, applied only within his private
Meanwhile, swarms of people continued to march down from
the North southward, their numbers growing more and more. Some of them
stopped over at P town a day or two, but they left the town with heavy
steps. They were the people who had refused to take up the bid of the overbearing
entrepreneurs. Hyon thought of Kim so-and-so, the old man he had met in
Yenan, China, who had now reportedly assumed a high-ranking office in the
government of the North. He imagined that the old man could now afford
to take as many baths as he wished each day, and regale himself with a
dish of dazzlingly white rice.
式What, in fact, was the bidder's inducement that drove
those people from their native land?
For Hyon, however, this series of events seemed very
like a sequence of movie scenes played before him. He could only watch
them with the kind of sympathy shared by people who watch a sentimental
Hyon was more interested in growing many different kinds
of flowers in the garden that he had cultivated over the last two years.
With genial warmth he enjoyed the flower garden, for it showed a variety
of flowers from spring through fall式marigold, touch-me-not, cascarilla,
china pink, morning glory, carnation, moonflower, butterfly weed...
Under the vast expanse of sky he stretched out his wearied
legs at ease after a long day of work, inhaling the savory smell of broiled
fish coming from the kitchen. He knew he had a voracious appetite. He pressed
his mother for a quick dinner and was treated to the rebuke that he was
behaving like a child. The splendid flower garden out there式cicadas chirrupping
and a variety of birds singing. Was this not what the good life was all
about? It was a small right that any human soul in this world was entitled
Hyon resisted a good many chances to marry during these
days. Under those muddled, chaotic circumstances of living, the very idea
of getting married seemed despicable to him.
式All those people streaming down southward from the
North, their faces sun-tanned and weary-looking, their eyes fully expressive
of their distress and anger. Millions of those eyes式are the people with
those eyes so half-hearted that they will readily settle down as soon as
their relocation is arranged?
The solemn-looking, upstart entrepreneurs who are responsible
for the fury glaring in those millions of eyes式will those undertakers
prove their temperance and quietly sit back once their first project is
How atrocious they are in seeking profit! The curses
they habitually call down on the established entrepreneurs式are they not
the very evil they inherited from their adversaries?
We should not be foolishly tempted to build a new house,
merely alarmed at the signs of a wild storm, Hyon thought.
If you are uncertain of your future, it is unjust to
attempt to lure another individual into that uncertainty. If you cannot
be sure about your own life, how in the world could you be sure about anyone
The more Hyon thought about these things, the more he
was inclined to look back on the distressing years of his mother's life.
For thirty years she had lived in the dimness of this straw-thatched house.
Isolation and suffering. It roused some apprehension in him that his marriage
could create another "poor mother."
Old Mr. Ko had repeatedly urged Hyon to marry, but he
finally gave up the effort. Yet Hyon's mother neither urged nor obliged
him to do anything, she just let him go his own way: she had taken to heart
the bitter lesson of the time he was drafted into the army. Even so, she
had a strong, secret desire to feel one day the weight of a grandchild
in her arms.
Setting all these uncertainties aside, Hyon tried his
best to be conscientious in his duties. As a teacher he was not very popular
among his students because he conducted his classes with such rigor.
In fall that year the construction of some new school
buildings was under way. An unpleasant story circulated that the principal
himself was implicated in a construction fund fraud. Some militant teachers
lost no time in turning this evidence to polemical use, and their threat
to impeach the principal caused a feeling of desquiet all over the campus.
Hyon did not take the matter seriously, even refuting the necessity of
seeing any sort of evidence amidst such flimsy allegations. But those teachers
involved in the expose' attempt worked with an ulterior motive: using this
affair to take their revenge on the principal, who had long humiliated
them because of their political beliefs.
On the other hand, the principal noticed that a small-scale
political riot recently staged by a group of students called for his expulsion
in a slogan. Taking advantage of this event, he threw all the blame for
the disturbance upon the dissident teachers. Three teachers were instantly
arrested and taken away by the police for investigation.
From every possible viewpoint it was obviously unjust
to impute cause of the student riot to those teachers. But no members of
the faculty dared to speak out to the principal's face, even though his
act was clearly deceitful.
At the faculty meeting the principal spoke in a dignified
way, expressing his deep regret over the arrest of the three teachers.
Hyon was amazed at his statement. Gazing for a while at the principal's
face that seemed to mirror his cunning and vileness, he rose abruptly before
he knew it.
"Mr. Principal," he said, "I believe that something should
be done about this."
The principal was alarmed to find that Hyon, who was
considered a moderate member of the faculty, should now unexpectedly stare
hard at him, quite flushed with tension.
"You speak of doing something, but there is no way of
"No way of taking action, sir? You know better than any
of us that the three teachers have nothing to do with the recent riot."
"Mr. Ko, how would I know such a thing?"
"Mr. Pai has been on leave because of his father's death,
and so he was not on campus at the time of the incident. Two Messrs. Kim
had not returned from their one-week study tour until just before the riot."
"You can't tell式because one's absence does not always
guarantee his non-involvement."
"But the circumstantial evidence and common sense are
enough to clarify it."
"I would like to know, Mr. Ko, why you feel so obliged
to to shield such people."
"It is not the question of shielding, sir. No matter
what they did in the past, I believe that we would not be doing justice
to those three teachers if we now elect not to help them."
"The police will give them justice," said the principal,
feigning stubborn indifference.
Hyon grew so furious at this that he seemed to feel his
blood pulsing in his heart.
"If you, as principal of this school, should be so indifferent
to the personal circumstances of the faculty," he said, "how could we rest
assured of our professional security?"
"Mr. Ko," the principal called out, "what do you suggest
by that? The police claim that these three have questionable political
ideas, and what do you expect me to do about it?"
式You shameless dog!
"If that is how you would view the whole affair," said
Hyon, "then people will treat you with harsh criticism, saying that you
have deliberately charged the three teachers with a crime to cover up your
own misdemeanor connected with the scandal."
The principal's color came and went.
"Mr. Ko, please watch your language, I don't know what
you are talking about. Are you, then, suggesting that I am implicated in
式Move a step!... forward!... final charge! But...
"I have not passed judgment in that direction, sir,"
said Hyon. "What I am saying is that people might regard the whole affair
Hyon did not go further, thinking that passing any judgment
on this matter would be doing injustice to the principal.
式What a pity it is! The old principal, who came from
the North, now ironically attempts to work out all disagreeable problems
by linking them with ideology.
Another disturbing thing was the behavior of the three
teachers taken by the police. They would make a clamor about every rumor
in the air without verifying it. They were, of course, the ones who delighted
to flaunt their extremist politics before their young students.
式Anyway, shame on them!
Hyon was walking past the school gate with heavy steps,
when he heard someone stepping close behind him. It was Miss Cho, a colleague
of his who, it was said, had dropped out of a woman's college. She wore
a neatly creased white shirt and a black skirt. Her eyes were large and
"Mr. Ko," she said, "what you did today was startling
and just admirable. The principal was beaten all hollow, or he was completely
depeated式to use your favorite expression."
Hyon gave a bitter smile. Uttering no word, he walked
on and soon felt that a thaw was gradually setting into his heart.
式As long as Miss Cho is with me, I feel warm at heart.
I feel I am drawn to her in spite of myself. I feel no desire toward her,
though. Possibly this is sexual love in the bud. Depeated?式Oh, that episode,
I remember now.
Hyon's knowledge of Korean spelling, based on a fleeting
review of a text, was meagre by comparison with Miss Cho's. She had been
a Korean major at college. So whenever Hyon mispronounced words like altogether
and defeat as altogather and depeat, Miss Cho would gently correct the
Embarrassed at his own ineptitude, Hyon had said: "Still
I don't seem to pronounce right without saying altogather or depeat. Altogether,
defeat式it seems something is amiss."
"You have bad habits because of your training in Japanese,"
Miss Cho had said.
Though slender in figure, Miss Cho had a forceful personality.
One day some faculty members, both men and women, were
walking down the street and went past a woman coming along side by side
with an American serviceman. By the time the woman was out of hearing,
one male teacher reproved her scornfully.
"That disgusting slut!" he said. "How despicable it is
that she should walk down here shamelessly with her chin struck out!"
At this point the man was interrupted by Miss Cho, who
said, "I don't know why such a pitiful girl should be blamed."
"Pitiful, you say," the male teacher said. "It was her
own choice to behave in that ridiculous way."
"You shouldn't put it that way," said Miss Cho. "Who
could have made such a choice willingly? Isn't our patriarchal society
responsible for the miserable condition of women?"
"Our patriarchal society did what, did you say?"
"You'd better be ever watchful, I say. Shame on you men
of this country who are incapable of protecting even a helpless woman in
式And there was another episode.
One day, troubled by Hyon's refusal to commit himself
to any creed under any circumstances, Miss Cho raised these questions :
"Nothing in this world seems to capture your interest.
Am I right, Mr. Ko?"
"Why don't you hold any opinion about anything?"
"I am sure there are some other people who would," said
Hyon. "I am not in a position to meddle in the lives of others."
"I think you are a negativist."
"Maybe you are right. Not only am I disinterested in
the lives of others, but also I am totally incurious to step into their
"How could one feel that way I wonder?"
"Sometimes your effort to stop a quarrel could lead to
a bigger fight. I often find that keeping even myself under control is
not easy, and under those circumstances it is absurd to think of meddling
in the lives of others."
"You don't mind what condition your neighbors might fall
"No matter what happens to them, there is very little
I can do about it."
"What you say betrays my sense of your real self."
"I have seen many instances in which unsolicited meddling
brings more trouble on others. Too often have I seen that our intention
to help others results in harm to them."
"But式should't there be many other times when the results
"Of course, there should be. But I think those are the
circumstances that work for those rare persons who are saintly and super-intelligent."
"Don't you consider yourself to be superior, Mr. Ko?"
"Not at all. I know myself too well式a mere characterless
member of the common crowd. So all I need to do is to protect my own individuality
and keep on living."
"Suppose you were in my situation, then式that is, suppose
you were to impose a new way of life on yourself, would you still be able
to protect your own individuality and keep on living?"
Miss Cho and her family had come down from the North
in the fall of 1946, a year after the Liberation of August 15.
"Well, I couldn't tell unless I lived in that kind of
condition," said Hyon.
"I once lived in that kind of condition. It was my father
who had the bitterest experiences there."
"Did he suffer any harm?"
"At the outset he was exalted to eminence式far from suffering
harm. My father once joined a socialist movement in early youth, and they
say that he was in prison for some years for that. Then he had tended an
orchard until the Liberation came. Soon he was elected, almost against
his will, chairman of the District People's Committee. After the Soviet
troops moved in, however, my father was in a very ugly mood. Once he was
forced to contribute his rice crop to the state, and it was disagreeable
to him. After a while he resigned from the chairmanship.
What I had tried to achieve as a young man was
not at all like this,' he said. Then he grew moody. Since then they kept
harrassing him in one way or another, until one day he was taken to the
People's Police on charge of a certain crime. In two weeks he was free.
After his release he did not say a word, until all of a sudden he proposed
to seek refuge in the South. It is just impossible to keep up your individuality
in that kind of system there."
"Of course, if I were denied what I wish to do式if I
were denied even the time I enjoy tending my flower garden, or time to
take it easy, lying on the veranda and looking up the sky, well, then I
might hold a different view."
"That is not the whole story. What if you were told to
join a certain organization, not to miss meetings, to hate so-and-so, to
follow so-and-so's doctrine, to destroy so-and-so, to give big applause
in favor of certain speeches, to raise and wave your arms high with clenched
"Of course, if I were told to do so, I would..."
"What would you do?"
"In that case式in that case, I would desert the place
as you did."
Amused by his own statement, Hyon gave a bitter smile,
Miss Cho joined him in smiling and said:
"You are every inch a negativist."
By the time they came near the crossroads, Hyon began
to speak, now coming back to realities from reminiscences.
"To be honest with you, Miss Cho," said Hyon, "I felt
terribly sorry for what I said to the principal."
"Because I thought I cut a ridiculous figure when I cried
out like that. All I have gained from it is a nasty feeling."
"I should never act like one of those entrepreneurs."
"I beg your pardon?"
"No, never mind!"
Later the teachers in question were dismissed, as soon
as they were out of police custody.
Hyon was dejected. Now he never went to work without
feeling ill at ease; at school he had to bear the pain of being face-to-face
with the principal. In less than a month he resigned.
When he went to the classroom upstairs to say good-bye
to Miss Cho, she cast a sharp look at him, saying:
"Why did you resign? What is it that weighs on your mind?"
"I am sick and tired of everything," said Hyon, turning
his face away from Miss Cho's glance.
"I doubt it. I know how awkward you feel about working
face-to-face with the principal. Am I right?"
"That's true, too."
"After all, you are a timid man."
Hyon remained silent.
"Indeed, you were completely depeated," said Miss Cho.
After a short silence, Hyon said: "This is no time to
make puns with depeat and defeat. Now matter what you think of me, I wish
to say good-bye to you, Miss Cho. That's the only reason why I am here."
At once Hyon turned and left the classroom. He could
not bear seeing tears gather first in Miss Cho's eyes like gauzy mist and
then fall in drops on the floor.
Hyon's mother said not a word about the resignation;
but his grandfather said,
"Tut-tut! Fortune doesn't smile on your official career.
Perhaps that's the way your fate would have it."
Before winter approached that year Hyon went to town,
where he heard of the riots in Yosu and Sunch'on.
式Why are they trying to kill people?
Hyon now began to raise a calf. He was busy chopping
the fodder, disposing of the manure and spreading the fresh straw. Fed
with the mixed bean straw, rice straw and beans, the calf grew fast式so
fast that it seemed as if the animal were swelling like a balloon. It was
never like when he fed horses in the Japanese army, for here he felt nothing
pressing him. Even an ox, well raised, became a welcome member of his family.
When he drudged plowing the field, the ox often had his
back scraped until it bled. Hyon felt sorry for him all the more because
he gave no expression whatsoever. All this reminded Hyon of Professor Takada,
who had said that an ox cheerfully devotes every bone and muscle to humanity.
式Should he be alive yet, how will things be going with
him? I wish I could see him picking up grilled beef with his chopsticks
from the sukiyaki pan and feasting on the meat, to put off yet longer his
own obliteration. He must be quite old now.
It was a great, boundless stretch of field. There Hyon
found himself fretting over a lost rifle, unable to move because his legs
nailed him down in the soil. Troops of both sides, all mixed together,
ran this way and that, raising a war-cry. Among them were Aoyaki and Assistant
Professor Hidaka. Chinese troops, Japanese troops式all seemed to be Hyon's
enemy. Shells burst. No rifle式there was no rifle! The rifle! The rifle
was there! Oh, no, it was now the bayonet and bullets that were missing.
The enemy troops were closing in. Boom went a gun. Yawp, yawp!
Hyon was awakened from sleep. A gun thundered. It was
not yet dawn.
Throughout that day guns never ceased booming, and evacuation
coaches packed with wounded soldiers sped past P town railroad station
Another sleepless night went by. The next morning, amidst
the loud roaring of tanks, a formation of north Korean troops marched down
the streets of P town. Dead bodies covered the ground, and red flags paraded
through the streets.
式What's this all about anyway? But let it happen if
that's what they choose to have. Whatever it may be, I know nothing about
it. I have nothing to do with it. Those people and I have two different
Distrust式and boundless disgust in him!
To him everything visible式the sky, the mountains, the
fields, even the flowers式looked grey.
Yon-ho, who had reportedly fled to the North, came back
with long hair to P town several days later. Hyon was the first person
he wanted to see.
"Well, you've suffered a lot, haven't you?"Yon-ho said.
"I know you've suffered greatly; but now that the extortionists
are driven away..."
Hyon remained silent.
"But why are you living like this?" Yon-ho went on.
"I mean, you should come forward and work."
"Come on, Hyon! You've put up with it all, biding your
time until now, haven't you?"
"Biding my time?" Hyon said, wearing a doubtful look.
"Of course, this was something unexpected! But you don't
have to feel puzzled."
"Indeed, this was a shocking development to me. But I
am merely a plain, ordinary man."
"So this is how you intend to live?"
"I am satisfied with the way I am now."
"You mean you are content to be one of the watchers of
an exorcism show, sitting on the fence and counting on the refreshments
after the show?"
"I am not even interested in watching the show, much
less in counting on the refreshments afterwards."
"What's the matter with you, anyway?" said Yon-ho, throwing
him a puzzled look of amazement.
"Nothing is the matter with me. You know that this is
the way I am. Please, leave me alone, will you?"
"Leave you alone? Isn't it precisely someone like you
who should now work with devotion?"
"Speaking of people who would get to work, there are
too many such people available. So there is no need for someone like me
to get in line. The whole world makes me weary. A few minutes before you
came in, I saw on my way to the field a young soldier lying dead. He had
thick eyebrows, black hair, and a youthful look. He seemed younger than
I by ten years. As lately as a few days ago he was probably writing to
his folks and secretly thinking of a girlfriend in the neighborhood, I
thought. Then I could not help but wonder why this boy should lie dead
on the road there. A man who should have lived on was found dead, destroyed
under man-made circumstances. Why? Who was to blame?"
"Of course, it is not pleasant to see men being killed,"
said Yon-ho. "But how could you expect to achieve revolutionary goals without
"Whose blood are you talking about式blood to be shed
"It is the blood of all the enemy who obstruct the revolution.
It also includes the costly blood of the people's fighting men, all to
be dedicated to the cause of the revolution. But we claim more and more
blood from our enemy."
"Have you ever considered the circumstances of a dying
man?" said Hyon. Have you ever thought of men struggling, in the hour of
their death, just to survive? Their agony and fright? Have you ever thought
that for a dying man all he has式the whole world式is lost when he dies?"
"But the new, promising proletariat should keep on marching
over the corpses."
"Marching? Toward where? To a casual hearer it sounds
impressive indeed. Impressive式that is the rub."
"All that happens inches toward the ultimate revolution."
"What in the world is the goal of the revolution for
which we go over so many corpses?"
"To build up a classless society free of exploitation,"
replied Yon-ho, looking as if he were amused by such a childish question.
"I join in wishing earnestly for such a society," said
Hyon. "But consider the process through which we are to reach that goal.
What sort of process is it? And just where does that process end? Are we
men not obliged to keep living even in the course of that process; in fact,
do we men not go on living and end up within that process? The purpose
of man's life is for man to live. Isn't the living in itself an end? There
cannot be such a thing as the final goal,' although you might set up a
small interim objective if you will."
"Then you don't approve of this revolution at all!"
"No, because I believe that any fruit coming from the
revolution would be still less valuable than a man's life."
"Are you, then, denying history itself?"
"The word 'revolution' indeed sounds attractive. Even
most historians say that a revolution serves as an important, necessary
momentum for changing the course of history."
"I see you admit as much as that."
"No, I don't admit that. All I say is that revolution
is a favorite subject matter with historians. Men who are lucky enough
to hold the dominoes of life in their hands would frivolously speak of
the small number of lives sacrificed for...,' proudly sitting on their
comfortable sofas. Yet I believe that the world would be hardly worse than
now even without all the many instances of revolution."
"This is appalling!"
"At any rate, I have no intention to look at the innocent
with a hateful gaze, nor do I have courage to sacrifice my life for a cause
that seems doubtful to me."
"That is how you take the struggle the people are engaged
"Struggle, you say? Why are you people so fond of strife?
If fighting is your urge, why not organize a club among bellicose members
and play the fighting game? The trouble is that for real games of fighting
they drag in people who are't even given to fighting. It is these people
who are forced to shed their blood in doubtful cause. Let me take the case
"Ik-su式he is a tremendous fighter."
"Do you think he is sound in mind? It is beyond all question
that a man in poor circumstances like Ik-su should shake himself loose
from poverty and lead as decent a life as humanly possible, but the condition
in which Ik-su is now... "
"What about his condition now?"
"Let's talk about his eyes. I can understand the zeal
with which one gives himself up to some cause, but his eyes look poisoned
with acrimony. All he shows now in his small eyes, which had looked so
charming and innocent, is hate and ferocity. At the sight of him I wondered
why a man should have such a look in his eyes. I felt pity for him. I know
you would in turn have pity on a man like me."
"Do you realize at all what situation we are now in?"
Yon-ho asked, looking as if he were irritated at Hyon's nonchalance.
"I think this is a time when the world is contaminated
by groundless hate."
"What do you mean by 'groundless hate'?"
"Tell me, then, this. Whoever did you come to have such
deep-rooted rancor against? Who on earth are you heaping curses on? And
how are you expressing your hate?" Hyon said, his limpid eyes casting an
intent look at Yon-ho.
"How dare you start asking such questions at this stage?"
"The people you hate are capitalists, landholders, Japanophiles,
reactionaries and the like, are they not?"
"And opportunists," Yon-ho snapped.
"I am not an opportunist. What we should condemn is not
someone we can point our finger at. Human habits of hating one another
will bring about nothing but a vicious cycle of hate."
"What we should condemn are the absurd conditions affecting
all humanity. To cite some of those conditions, the poisonous element hidden
in everyone's heart, including yours and mine: the atrocity by which you
attempt to suppress others; the cruelty with which you are apt to exploit
others; the contemptible historionics with which you imagine you are capable
of destroying or sparing the lives of others."
"Since when have you learned preachifying like this?"
"I am nor even a Christian, but let me say this. It is
two thousand years less fifty since Jesus Christ said that men should love
their neighbors, and that if anyone slapped you on the right cheek, you
should let him slap your left cheek too. And yet, behold, what trivial
progress man has made! No doubt you are not uncivil enough to slap me on
the right cheek, but I am not generous enough to let you slap my left cheek,
"I detest the very idea of hostility, and so I will probably
run away before I let you slap my left cheek. The very fact that I was
born into the world as a human being now puts me to shame. I am disgusted
with myself and with every other human being in this world. But that does
not mean that I will give up my life forthwith in sheer despair. I will
stay alive as long as I can and see how things go."
Yon-ho gazed at Hyon with a mixed attitude of scorn and
pity. Regarding Hyon as a degenerate petit bourgeois floundering in the
confusion of a capitalistic society, Yon-ho made up his mind to preach
to Hyon the heroic sufferings and self-sacrifice of revolutionaries.
"Think about the self-sacrifice of revolutionaries,"
"Why do you name it 'self-sacrifice'?" Hyon demanded.
"Whoever has asked for such self-sacrifice? How in the world is the price
paid for one's self-intoxication and vanity termed 'self-sacrifice' however
costly the sacrifice might have been? On the other hand, behold the miserable
condition of the common people. It is a calamity brought about by injustice;
it is insult at its worst."
"Insult, you say?"
"Yes, it is an insult. Can you think of an insult more
gross than that? What do you say the common people were given式and by whom?
In truth, it was none but the unwanted entrepreneurs who kept the common
people from getting what they deserved to have for so long."
"Headstrong and erratic by nature, the entrepreneurs
get excited or furious; sometimes they burst into laughter, sometimes they
are moved to tears. Amidst their fury, laughter and tears, we see the innocent
people being sacrificed. What sort of reverence and applause do you expect
of the common people? Every human individual is born with a right to enjoy
his own little world, however poor it may look. No one is entitled to violate
that sanctity, for the common people are not extra hands hired to serve
the performance of the entrepreneurs.
"Let me say this. I think of a man who loses no time
in joining a party in anticipation of a certain world to come式such a man
is no less than a jobber who runs up to a sale of waste articles and becomes
a successful bidder there. The man would assert shamelessly that this society
will never be saved but for his participation. Yet such impudence sounds
like the ordinary jobber's nonsense that his successful bidding on the
sale of waste articles is the only way to relieve the consumer's burden.
"I would rather say that the former is even worse; for
while the ordinary jobber's sole desire is for profit, the man of impudence
I have referred to expects to be greeted with reverence and bows, to boot.
He may be compared to a successful bidder whose service is wanted by none;
he is nothing but a public nuisance."
"Do you think that an opinion like yours will hold good
"I just took the opportunity to state my views while
we were on this topic. Under the Japanese rule I lived in my own way until
I was drafted into the army. During the post-Liberation years I continued
to live in my own way. From now on I still wish to live the same way. Whether
you make a fuss about it or not, life will remain what it is, exciting
none of your wonder. So all I say is that I shall live in my own way式and
"I doubt if that will work, because no revolution approves
of men living in idleness. Through revolution we must awaken men from their
dull sleep and instil into people's minds a new sense of humanity."
After Yon-ho left, Hyon remained sitting on the veranda
alone, lost in troubled thought. There was nothing of which he could now
repent. He knew he had an undefinable urge deep in his heart which had
prompted him to the inevitable revelation of his views.
Hyon cast blank eyes onto the flower garden. There he
saw some peculiar qualities of the flowers that he had never perceived
over the last few days.
式Men give a number of meanings to flowers, such as passion,
anxiety, sorrow, nobility, sin, fury, obscurity, meekness, frenzy. On the
other hand, all that flowers do is to remain beautiful. When the season
comes they bloom, and with the season's end, off they fall. But to these
flowers men attach different meanings according to their own fancy. What
is more, men divide themselves by color, make up opposing parties, and
level swords at the hearts of their adversaries.
To this day Hyon had adhered to an inversion of the golden
rule, a creed that one must not trouble others as he would not want to
be troubled by them. But now Hyon began to sense that such a creed was
threatened with imminent danger.
To Hyon, the entrepreneurs of today seemed quite different
in kind from those of earlier times. Determined to leave no man in society
unturned, the new entrepreneurs emerged as efficient and rigorous enterprisers.
They were also persistent and cautious calculators who were fully prepared
to probe every nook and corner. It appeared that even the private shell,
in which Hyon now crouched in hiding, would never be able to escape their
On his way back from Hyon's, Yon-ho exclaimed with annoyance:
"What an abominable creature he is!"
That he had been recently sent to his own hometown with
political assignments was payment enough for the three years of hardships
he had gone through. He felt quite gratified by the gaze of his fellow
townspeople. He knew that the public gaze reflected the popular sense of
esteem, wonder, awe and envy toward a victor. Or they could be eyes expressing
perversity, fury, and hatred. No matter what sentiments were revealed,
there was invariably an expression of certain reaction in every glance
he received. Of Hyon's gaze, however, this was not true. In it there was
no reaction to be found. Giving no expression of alarm, Hyon's eyes wore
a confused look of indifference, boredom and repugnance. They even revealed,
though vaguely, a touch of compassion and sympathy toward Yon-ho.
Yon-ho recalled with impatience how Hyon overlooked the
credentials for which he had long labored assiduously even in the reign
of terror, or under strict surveillance within the organization. Then he
remembered how Hyon developed his own views by using false, haphazard reasoning.
式Entrepreneurs式that's the term he used!
He thought it was more stupid than benevolent of him
that he should have listened to Hyon with a victor's gesture of composure
and tolerance. In one corner of his heart he felt a void created in the
shape of cotton candy and slowly he filled that void with a rising flare
Another ten days elapsed. Then it was another day of
July under the sweltering sky when the entrepreneurs were about to hold
a banquet. The blazing sun in the sky seemed too bright an illumination
for the gruesome banquet to be held below. Restless and vacillating, the
"people" were still in the process of making their definite commitment.
A living human creature had to be butchered as a scapegoat in the presence
of the people, so that their hands might be soaked in human blood and the
seeds of terror and hate securely planted in the heart of every witness
present. The crime had to be shared.
The banquet was a "people's court" trial opened at the
central square of P town. Yon-ho invited Hyon to attend this trial as an
observer. By exposing Hyon to the bloodshed, Yon-ho had wished to see how
his old friend would react.
The planned impeachment began, followed by shouts of
disapproval from the crowd. As the crowd was thrown into a state of animal-like
excitement, Yon-ho's gaze was turned and fixed onto the face of Hyon, who
was asked to stand near him.
式I am sure some kind of change will take place in him.
Though standing aloof in solitary supremacy, he will lose his presence
of mind if he is a sentient being at all. Terror, consternation, fear,
supplication式let him go through these steps, and he will easily fall into
my hands. It means surrender. His lecture was after all a playful game
The first victim to stand before the trial was chairman
of the local branch of the Nationalist Society. As soon as he received
a sentence, an unaccountable shout burst from the crowd. Then it was followed
by a hail of big clubs hurled by the executioners at the head of the victim.
His face, surrounded by grey hair, now grew pale as ashes. His bones were
heard breaking; pieces of his flesh fell off.
式How is that?
Yon-ho fixed Hyon with a wild stare, but he saw in Hyon's
face not a hint of fear. Only the sweat kept rolling down his hardened
But Yon-ho's reading proved mistaken. The sweat rolling
down Hyon's face was not from the heat of the summer; rather, it was from
the flames of wrath rising in Hyon's heart.
When the second victim was brought before the congregation,
the sweat standing in beads on Hyon's face was no longer ordinary sweat
but rather drops of blood exuding from all the vessels in his body. The
second victim was none other than Miss Cho's father! A helpless old man,
he had attempted no resistance, except for renouncing the incompatible
way of life in the North and seeking refuge in the South. Momentarily Hyon
saw the image of Miss Cho passing through his mind.
His face still covered with sweat, Hyon turned his eyes
to fix them on Yon-ho. He saw a strange look in Yon-ho's eyes and a mysterious
smile about his lips. Is this the face of my childhood buddy式nay, of a
human creature? Hyon wondered.
For a moment Hyon was under the illusion that his friend's
face bulged enormously, and the next instant he gave out a sharp cry: "Murder!"
Returning to realities from hours of reminiscence, Hyon
opened his eyes widely and looked up into the night sky strewn with numerous
stars. Drip! It was a drop of water trickling from the dome of the cave.
The wind had now died away and with it had gone the singing of insects.
It was beyond his power clearly to repossess what happened
after that except as a discontinuous bunch of occurrences. Yon-ho was knocked
down, Hyon recalled, by the sudden thrust of his fist; then he snatched
up a rifle from the policeman standing firm in front of him and edged his
way through the pack of spectators. The square was turned into a shambles.
The shouting voices of the executioners came mixed with the screams of
the crowd. A series of gunshots was heard. There was a yellowish-brown
veil, obstructing Hyon's vision. Looking through that veil and tramping
on the ground that seemed to run into his eyes every minute, he ran on
aimlessly and desperately. Then he remembered reaching the lower stream
of the X River at the end and plunging into the water. The rifle was still
in his hand.
式The impulse which dominated me at that time式the impulse
on which I could not help but act as I did式What could that be? The fact
of murder I witnessed with my own eyes. Witnessing was in a sense an act
of connivance. Something in me refused to permit me to stay there, contented
among the conniving crowd. Then came the sensation of pain. The pain, which
was being inflicted on the victim's head, shoulders and waist, was felt
as if it gripped my own head, shoulders and waist. How could that be so?
There were no physical ties whatsoever between him, me and the other people
in the square. But I suffered pain, and from that pain I tried to remove
myself. And the result was my escape.
Hyon went on to recall the several occasions on which
he had resisted impulsively earlier in his life.
式I had felt a repulsion toward the Japanese professor.
Seized with self-hatred, however, I ducked my body to safety, I had made
a protest to the school principal. Feeling ashamed of myself, however,
I had resigned and suffered defeat式depeat, rather. I had deserted from
the Japanese outfit, and again from Yenan. Then a succession of escapes
式Did I ever fight like a man? Only once, I think式when
I was very young. After fighting over Grandpa's tumor, my face was covered
with gore and my clothes were in tatters. To my disappointment, Grandpa
was angry at me. Unknowingly but slowly there grew upon my heart the habit
of turning my back on all disagreeable things.
After all, the thirty years of my life in the closed
shell had established a single fact: the record of escapes.
式Why have I then come back to P town again, my ears
dropping slouchily? Because I could not flee to the end of the world? Because
of the rifle I had left in the cave? Or because I was lonely? I was indeed
lonely, and even now I am indescribably lonely. Day after day I longed
for my mother, living all alone in the woods and dark valleys. Mother式my
dear mother who suffered hardships thirty years in nourishing me式I left
her behind and ran away alone without hesitation.
Loneliness式 it was not the kind of loneliness he felt
because he was isolated at the moment from his fellow men. It was rather
the kind of loneliness he felt with an awareness that he had never been
at one with his fellow men. Living among men, Hyon had always felt that
he was somehow cut off from them by an invisible wall. The isolation had
式A sense of solitude unbearably weighing upon me! In
that solitude, surging within me all the more violently is a yearning for
companionship. How is it that I fear and yearn for men all at once? The
yearning seizes me at successive intervals. Gripped by that desire, I see
a face springing up in a vivid glow.
It all happened right before he climbed up to this cave,
at S village yonder, now lying in the darkness of night.
By the stream running through the fields before the village,
he had caught sight of Miss Cho's face. Miss Cho was in dirty hemp clothes
and shapeless straw sandals. Her hair, tied up in the back slovenly, was
covered with dust. Her face was tanned, and she looked at him with wide-open
eyes of astonishment.
To Hyon her appearance seemed an affront upon a human
being. Her eyes clouded with despair and sorrow, she looked blankly at
him. That a living person should have such a gaze! Suddenly a stream of
joyous tears gathered in her eyes, until they flowed式rather as tears of
Miss Cho will surely come to this cave as soon as the
day breaks, Hyon thought. Even under these circumstances there is still
available a gleam of hope; so until then I need to get some sleep.
Hyon lay on a cushion he had made by gathering various
leaves of grass scattered nearby. Loading the rifle with bullets, he used
it as the pillow. He smelled the rusted steel. As he looked up into the
sky, thousands of stars twinkled glamorously. He wondered how those stars式every
one attracting, and being attracted by, every other planet式could still
give light of their own.
Suddenly Hyon was overcome with misgiving. Leaving Miss
Cho behind at the outskirts of the village, he had caught sight of a young
man casting a fixed gaze at him under the roof edge of the mill.
The misgiving troubled him for a short while, but it
soon died away as fatigue overcame him. His eyelids drooped and closed;
and in a moment he was snoring gently.
Breaking through the gauzy mist hovering over the valley,
the sun rose in its crimson splendor. The dispelled mist gently rose toward
Two dark figures came out of the clammy valley woods
and walked on through the mist toward the cave. They were Old Mr. Ko, walking
with drooping head in front, and Yon-ho following closely. A small Russian-made
pistol was thrust aslant in Yon-ho's belt.
Boom! A cannon roared from the distance down in the south.
That rumbling gets on my nerves, Yon-ho thought. And
what a mountain path covered with so many sharp rocks! Yon-ho kept on walking
with impatience. At the "people's court" trial he had instantly recovered
himself from his collapse after the blow from Hyon's fist, but there was
no doubt that the credentials for which he had long labored assiduously
came to nothing in that instant. Any attempt to satisfy his ego by confronting
Hyon seemed to be out of the question now.
Soon after the incident, Yon-ho had received a directive
from the Party Central Committee that Hyon should be apprehended and sent
over to the headquarters on charge of desertion from Yenan long ago. From
dual motives of revenge and mission, then, Yon-ho had strained every nerve
to search for Hyon. Informed that Hyon was detected in the area last night,
he had called out Old Mr. Ko as a decoy.
式That bastard had been to Yenan! With such a rare background,
that dummy should betray the revolutionary cause and ruin my own monument
built with blood and sweat!
Old Mr. Ko was in such an emotional state that his pace
was not so much walking as merely placing the lifted foot on the ground
with extreme reluctance. Since the North Korean troops moved into P town,
Old Mr. Ko had reached a hopeless conclusion that now, unlike many a crisis
he had barely scraped through in his eighty-year life, there were no counters
left for him to move. Yong-son, his oldest son who had worked for the Nationalist
Society, had escaped to nowhere, and his second son was drafted into the
Volunteers Corps. Once he had clung to Hyon as the last forlorn hope, but
because of this he was only thrown into greater despair. Then a new gleam
of hope began to shine through the veil of darkness that had blocked his
vision. In search of that hope, Old Mr. Ko was now walking along the path
strewn with sharp rocks instead of the thorny path.
Old Mr. Ko stopped walking as he saw through the fleeting
mist the dark-blue boulder sitting in front of the cave. At the same time
he turned and looked down at his father's grave lying amidst the green
pine grove yonder, to which the fleeting mist was now heading.
Old Mr. Ko heard from behind his back Yon-ho's gruff
voice and the cocking of the pistol.
Advancing toward the cave, he called with reluctance:
"Hyon!" His voice, weather-beaten and weighty, echoed mournfully through
the hills. "Hyon!"
His head with flowing hair and his eyes, limpid and piercing,
were cautiously directed toward the top of the boulder.
Old Mr. Ko suddenly felt a surge of indescribable yearning
in his heart. The yearning was then turned into an intolerable pain.
"Go ahead and speak!" Yon-ho said.
Old Mr. Ko began hesitantly: "Hyon, listen to me式if
you would only come down from there式people down here will all式pardon
you they say式Hyon式you may be assured, so please come down!"
Old Mr. Ko ceased speaking to listen for Hyon's response.
The brief moment of silence was intolerable. With no word in reply, Hyon
merely raised his head above the boulder and again withdrew behind it.
Old Mr. Ko moved one step forward.
Then another step forward.
Without knowing it he moved closer to the cave, calling
Hyon all the while.
"Hyon, Hyon, even your mother..." he said, suddenly thinking
of Hyon's mother whom he had called upon on his way to here.
"My son, my son," she had called in a low voice while
reciting words from her bulky Bible. In his ears Old Mr. Ko could still
hear her voice, so poignant and full of anxiety. With what inviolate nobility
"... God put Abraham to the test. 'Abraham,' he called,...
God said, 'Take your son Isaac, your only son, whom you love, and go to
the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him as a sacrifice on one of
the hills which I will show you.' So Abraham rose early in the morning
and saddled his ass, and he took with him two of his men and his son Issac;
and he split the fire wood for the sacrifice, and set out for the place
of which God had spoken. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the
place in the distance... So Abraham took the wood for the sacrifice and
laid it on his son Isaac's shoulder; he himself carried the fire and the
knife, and two of them went went on together. Isaac said to Abraham, 'Father,'
and he answered, 'What is it, my son?' Isaac said, 'Here are the fire and
the wood, but where is the young beast for the sacrifice?'... And two of
them went on together and came to the place of which God had spoken. There
Abraham built an altar and arranged the wood. He bound his son Isaac...
Then he stretched out his hand and took the knife to kill his son; but
the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, 'Abraham, Abraham,'...
The angel of the Lord said, 'Do not raise your hand against the boy: do
not touch him. Now I know that your are a God-fearing man. You have not
withheld from me your son, your only son.' Abraham looked up, and there
he saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. So he went and took the
ram and offered it as a sacrifice instead of his son..."
"Halt there!" Yon-ho cried in a shrill voice from behind.
Old Mr. Ko stopped short. He sensed that his life had now come to an end.
The fact seemed as hard as a fresh chestnut in his palm.
Boom! Another roaring of cannon came from the distance.
The sound, heard at one moment so near, died away the next moment; and
then it came back again. I wish that sound had passed away once and for
all, so that I might have tried hard to survive even the hellish depths
of misery, Old Mr. Ko thought. Even when his second son was drafted into
the Volunteers Corps, Old Mr. Ko had managed to seek out the small means
for his own survival, though it was an intolerable pain to part with his
But the roaring of cannon kept coming back.
式Maybe that sound signals the return of my oldest son.
The old man was seized by an agony which tore his heart
to pieces, tangled it, and wrung it violently.
He turned to look down on his father's grave across the
valley. He gently closed his eyes as if he were trying to bear the pain
rising in him. At that moment he caught a glimpse of the eighty years of
his life. Such a long, weary life it was! How many times the world had
suffered changes during his lifetime! How hard he had tried to keep ties
of blood in order, bearing all the hardship and disgrace! His father who
begot him was anticipated by generations of his ancestors reaching far
into ancient times.
Old Mr. Ko was no longer harried under Yon-ho's pressure.
He only pitied himself for having been constantly cowed by pressing demands
from others during the long years of his life. The next moment he comforted
himself by recalling how busily he plodded away to be worthy of his given
lifetime of eighty years.
Another booming sound. If it were not for that roaring
of cannon, I would have made another try to lure Hyon out, Old Mr. Ko thought.
But the booming sound was now heard nearer and nearer, pressing the old
man to make one single choice: life or death.
Old Mr. Ko looked up the cave again. In that same cave
my son died, and now my grandson is facing the same danger of death, Old
Mr. Ko thought. And now, seeing that danger with my eyes, I myself stand
on the brink of death. What a strange coincidence of evil fate! Old Mr.
Ko again turned his eyes to his father's grave. Suddenly he was moved to
vindicate himself and say that he would not have expended so much care
in laying the body of his father to rest, only to be rewarded with this
relentless fate which now puts him in chains. After all, is it that all
the principles that had prevailed in the past will be cast into shade before
this colossal disaster, which is war? Lost was the value on which men would
base ties of blood. All in vain was his effort made years ago to transport
the bones of his father according to the geomantic principles, which he
had so rigorously believed.
Old Mr. Ko felt that a new frame of mind was slowly taking
over his rapidly declining personality: a notion filled with a sense of
liberation that nothing in this world would ever follow the predestined
course, and a certain impression that no one in this world can figure out
what destiny will be forged for him the very next moment. Moved by these
stirring sentiments, Old Mr. Ko made up his mind, truly his own and deterred
by nothing, for the first in his eighty-year-long life.
式Up to this moment I have borne all hardships so admirably.
I am very proud of my eighty-year-long life. I have managed to live eighty
long years not so much through the otherworldy influence of my father in
the grave, or of the tumor on my neck, though often called an emblem of
good luck, as through the hardgotten fruit of my own toll with empty hands.
There's nothing to complain about in my life. Now is the time to put an
end to it. Hyon, it's your turn now to live a life.
A tumbling torrent of sentiments rushed through the entire
body of Old Mr. Ko. His hair and beard shone like polished silver in the
morning sun. The old man heaved his breast and spoke out:
"Hyon! You've got to survive. Listen to that roaring
of cannon. Get out of this place by all means and..."
The old man was silenced the moment he felt that his
back was shot through by something like a fireball. Losing his balance,
he fell down into the bush. In the echo of the gunshot he seemed to hear
Hyon shouting式in that beloved voice: "Grandpa!"
Click! Letting the blind shell out of his rifle and reloading
it, Hyon exchanged fire with Yon-ho's pistol.
In a moment Hyon felt something like a hot spear ripping
through his left shoulder and saw at the same time Yon-ho collapse into
the brushwood, slowly twisting his body to the left.
"Grandpa!" Hyon shouted. He rose to run down, over the
boulder to the old man. But then something made his head swim and he sank
onto the boulder. Red blood gushed from between the fingers on his shoulder.
He felt as if he were being pulled down deep into the earth. A pain in
the shoulder式I think I'm going to die here now, having lived exactly thirty
years. I'd better collect my scattering wits. Let me see if I can collect
my wits式my wits式before I breathe my last. Is this a man's life after
all? Thirty years! What sort of life have I lived? Aversion, escape, making
escape day and night, aversion, escape. I can think of nothing but these
as far as my history is concerned. Like my first bullet, the thirty-year-long
history ended without going off. It was nothing. It was a living corpse.
If so, is it not that I have never lived in this world?
My second bullet went through Yon-ho's chest. I killed
a man. I, who would never poke my nose into others' lives, killed a man.
Poor Yon-ho! I had no resentment against him. Man often commits murder
in spite of himself. Is that why they say that man is sinful? Is man destined
to live with evil? Could that be "original sin"?
While I was putting away the self-defined innocence in
myself to sleep within the wall of the luxuriant flower garden, dark clouds,
gathering storms, and shrieks of men in death agony had been in store for
us on the other side of the wall.
Perhaps it is I who should have given such a shriek first.
Perhaps it is I who should have lain dead on the road instead of the dead
young soldier I once saw. In reality, however, unworthy men like me have
outlived those who should have lived on in this world. How could this be
tolerated? My father ended his life in the cave there. After living a strenuous
life, he was only too glad to burn up his life in a moment. He died for
the sake of those who were to survive him, and his death might have added
a certain meaning to the life of his fellow men.
My grandfather now lies fallen in the bush. He represents
not a dead body but a testimony of his lived life式the bloodied history
of a man who fought with bare hands against all the absurdities, and who
ironically advocated an absurd mode of living in tiding over the world
of absurdity. He was destroyed like a titan.
My mother. A woman of slender build, she bore up well
under human affliction. Beyond that affliction she showed love to me and
to her departed husband, and finally she sublimated it as her love of God,
to whom her soul was to be committed at the end.
Have I ever kept up my spirits under any affliction?
Settled in my private shell, have I not refused to face calamity like an
impudent, cowardly man?
What a shabby scum I was! Too shy to embrace the naked
body of a living woman, I often indulged in masturbation and thereby played
a mean trick on my own body式so unworthy was I! Fearful of a married man's
responsibilities, I cooked up a clumsy excuse for putting off my marriage式so
cowardly was I!
Couched in my own shell like a mole underground, I was
turning away from sunbeams all my life. I did not live; I only existed.
After all, like an inanimate stone, I had no chance to live a life. If
I had no chance to live a life, how could I possibly end my life? To die
without having lived...
A realization that he could not possibly escape death
annoyed Hyon, and the vexation struck overwhelming terror into his heart.
Summoning up the strength of a life already waning fast, Hyon recoiled
against the sense of terror.
式I've got to live a life. I shall first produce testimony
of my lived life before I close my life.
In his spirited effort of revulsion, Hyon found in himself
a new, unexpected spring of energy surging up. The force slowly bore down
on his mind until it gave him a certain kind of gratification throughout
his body. It was at this time that Hyon heard the sudden crack of the shell
surrounding his heart. The shell cracked into pieces, and with that breaking
noise innumerable sparks of life seemed to emanate from the fragments.
Doubtless the sparks promised new growth toward transcendence.
Innumerable sparks they were, shining out with great brilliance. Hyon fumed
with a thirst for life, torrents of life energy rushing throughout his
body. An acute sense of freedom!
Hyon was carried away by such an exhilarated feeling
that it was as if the boundless blue sky were left open to him.
式I have a single bullet left. Suppose I outlive others
like that bullet, what shall become of me? No one knows. First, I will
make my own choice. Then式but as to what will follow, everyone is quite
in the dark. One thing is clear, though, is that I will neither turn away
nor escape. I shall face up to life式not avoiding it.
In fact, things have come to such a pinch that I could
not possibly escape from it. At last the existing conditions are drawn
so near to me that I cannot help but face up to them.
The ear of the flower garden has gone.
I shall live on and resist those entrepreneurs first.
I shall make them realize keenly that the more dust they raise in the world
the less meaning life will yield. Merely avoiding or deriding them would
not be enough, and so I shall face up to and resist them with bare hands.
There are a countless number of people who are in my
circumstances, or people who are even better off. Those people who would
never cast an inattentive eye at their neighbors, and who would never make
themselves a nuisance in every word they speak to others. A vast number
of faces of boys and girls, of the young, and of the old式are not those
beloved faces always with me? I cannot be lonely. I should begin to recover
my lost identity in this company. Together with them I shall build a new
community in our given land, far removed from the entrepreneurs.
To that community I shall dedicate the bonus years of
my life. The "quiet" men and women who unwearyingly bore up under affliction式who
attribute the entrepreneurs' arrogance and savagery to the shameful frailties
of humanity at large, including themselves. The maddened entrepreneurs
must go, and a new world must come for the "quiet" men and women.
The world of the quiet men and women!
At this thought Hyon could not help but feel something
warm blossoming within his heart. The pain in his shoulder came back.
式The earth is full of pain hundreds of times severer
than mine. I must gladly accept this pain and endure it readily. I must
live on and tell my story quietly first to people around me.
In his failing consciousness Hyon heard a voice calling
to him. It was a cry heard nearer than the roaring sound of cannon coming
from the distance.
"Listen, that voice式that beloved voice already approaching."
The cry which almost resembled weeping slowly drew nearer
and nearer to the cave, echoing through the mountains and the valleys again
and again, until it died away.
Mountains rising over mountains式a chain of mountains
running unbroken as if to the end of the world式a succession of valleys
winding in and out. The stillness of eternity has been broken, and a new
form of life has begun to flutter its wings.
Translated by Kim Yong-chol, who is Professor Emeritus
of English at Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul