Park Wan-so※ was born in Kaepung, Kyo※nggi Province, in 1931 and studied Korean language and literature at Seoul National University. She made her literary debut in 1971 with the novel Namok (The Naked Tree), which draws on her own experiences around the time of the Korean War (a translation of it was serialized in the first numbers of Korean Literature Today). In 1981 she received the Yi Sang Literature Prize for O※mma u※i malttuk (Mother's Post). She has also received many other literary honors, including the Korean Writers Award (1980), the Literary Award of the Republic of Korea (1990), the Yisan Literature Prize (1991), and the Hyo※ndae Munhak (Modern Literature) Literary Prize (1993).
Her work is too copious to list here. She has published more than twenty novels, and numerous short stories, as well as several volumes of collected essays. Her earlier work was centered on the painful aftermaths of the Korean War; later, she began to adopt a more satiric tone as she mockingly portrayed people alienated by distorted 'middle class' values; in her work as a whole, but especially in recent years, she has been particularly concerned to depict the difficulties women face in Korea's heavily patriarchal society. She is one of Korea's most important women writers of the present time, but very little of her work has so far been translated into English.
The work translated in the following pages, Hwankak u※i nabi (Butterfly Illusion), depicts the wretchedness of the Korean leisure-classes in satiric manner. Amnesia conveniently permits the protagonist to find peace of mind after arduously pursuing wealth and comfort for the past thirty years, the period during which Korea has painfully developed into a modern industrial society.
There was a feeling about that house.
It was different from the usual feeling of a house, which came from the size of the house, the materials from which it was made, or the way the owners took care of it. This feeling had a deeper, hidden source. If the house were a human being, we could say that the feeling was not some temporary impression that depended on culture, character, or clothes, but rather an inherent, unalterable quality at the core of that human being. Because of that feeling, some of the neighbours were attracted to the house and others made a detour to avoid it. Though the house was isolated from its neighbours, it was on the way to the mineral spa and also on the short cut to the subway station. By administrative structure the village to which the house belonged was in one of the satellite cities of Seoul. However, the people in the city called the village an old village. Yet no old thatched houses or houses with Korean style roofs could be found there. The unrepaired and dilapidated flat roof houses which had been in fashion in the sixties coupled with a dirty narrow alley only made the village seem very ugly and older than it actually was.
Perhaps the children in the newly established apartment complex may have accepted the term old village as it was and believed that those flat roof houses were the original Korean mode of habitations, just like those caves or huts of primitive tribes that have been kept without any change from the prehistoric period on an island in the South Pacific or some distant parts of Africa. However, this village was at the most no more than thirty years old. When developers and land owners collaborated to create this new village in the middle of an empty field, the area was occupied by fruit and vegetable farmers. The farmers called the village a western style house village. Since the flat roof houses that looked like strict squares of cut tofu pieces were a novelty to them and in addition, those houses taking pride in their shining tile outside their walls elicited envy from the farmers, they praised the village as highly as they could. It took less than thirty years for the western style house village to degenerate into the old village.
That house was there even before the western-style-house village was born. Just like a trace of blood fallen from the lingering wish of an agricultural village around there that was fast disappearing, the house, in spite of the traces of repeated reconstruction and add-ons, never lost its die-hard rustic air. It was a U-shaped house with a wide main hall, and its beams and pillars were of wood, but the roof was of grey slate. The disharmony of the soiled wood and slate roof was oddly in harmony with the disharmony between the outer paper door with plucked window panes and newly installed main room sliding doors. Someone who had lived in the village for a long time may possibly have remembered that the roof of the house was once corrugated iron. Before then it must have been straw thatched or western style tile roof, but it was almost impossible to find a witness to those roofs in a village where few families had lived for more than five years. The epithet, the old village, was not suitable to this village and the houses there, since the moves of the dwellers in the village were more frequent than those of apartment denizens. According to the statistics of the city, the average residence of the village was shorter than that of apartment occupants by one and a half years. Maybe it was the trick of real estate agents, saying that this area would soon be redeveloped. Despite the rumours of redevelopment, however, once you bought a house there, there was no such sign. It was such a strange village. Those who understood that redevelopment could not be carried out without a strong leader who was dedicated to the business, but did not know the way or did not have the capacity to take a lead, took their houses to the real estate agents to sell, and even those who expected to have some chances and still had some lingering hopes, rented their houses and left the village. When they discovered the only advantage on which they had set their eyes was false, they were disgusted.
If the old village was an island of the city, the house was an island of the village.
The children of the village and those of the apartment complex went to the same school. But to the children of the apartment complex the native village kids looked somehow different. Even though they had not thought of them as different at first, once they found out that the children they knew were from the native village, the apartment kids seemed to doubt the authenticity of the stories of computer games they had talked about together. With this sense of betrayal they became reluctant to play with the native village kids. If there had been a child in that house, the child would have been rejected by the other kids in the village, who would have been as reluctant as the apartment kids. However, there has never been a child in that house. There might have been a child when the house was occupied by a farmer. But nobody could prove it, as it belonged to the prehistoric period of the house.
That there wasn't a parking space at that hour was nothing new, but Yo※ng-ju repeatedly told herself that she was sick and tired. And then she turned the wheel violently toward the children's playground. The children's playground was at the back of the apartment buildings. The paved road surrounding both the playground and the green oval shaped field nearby was reserved for children riding bicycles or roller skating. Originally, parking wasn't permitted there. It was no use at all even after they drew lines for parking there. Just for a while the parking spaces seemed to be enough, but after several days it was all the same. Fortunately enough she found a nice parking space where it was very easy to pull the car out early in the morning. Picking up a load of things from the passenger seat, Yo※ng-ju mouthed again that she was sick and tired. There was nothing special in her load. Her jacket, an age-old handbag, and several books which were like her friends from the period she was a part-time instructor. Today two pumpkins were added to her usual load. After she hesitated a bit she bought them, since those old pumpkins in a pyramid shape heaped along the country road looked very nice. Even though she didn't ask the question, the salesman told her that if she made gruel with them, it would be really sweet, and tried to give her a recipe for gruel, but Yo※ng-ju didn't pay much attention to it. Her mother would surely make pumpkin gruel.
Yo※ng-ju was hoping that her mother would be excited about making pumpkin gruel, but suddenly her mind became blank. And then she asked herself, "Could she still make pumpkin gruel? I should not think of testing my mother with this trifling pumpkin. I have to understand. How can anyone be excited every time she makes vegetable dishes after trimming the vegetables, and a fish dish by boiling fish with soy sauce or salting it, and moreover, when she has repeated it every day for over fifty years? If my mother can, that is rather strange. Even if she was tired of it and so wasn't interested in things, why did I look at her with doubt?" Yo※ng-ju stopped picking up her load and then rested her head on her steering wheel. Her blank fear was toward herself, not her mother. After six years of part-time instructorship and three years after she received her Ph. D., she managed to become a full-time instructor. Though her university wasn't located within metropolitan Seoul, she wasn't in a position to choose. She may have been in a hurry because of her age, even though she didn't have to earn a living by teaching. Though commuting to Taejon was not easy at all, fortunately it was not impossible for her. She wasn't afraid of driving the long distance, because she could drive quite well and instead of the used car she used to have, she bought a brand new one two years ago. However, she was on the verge of fifty. She would speed toward fifty as if she were on a slide. Everyone except those who were not familiar with the university situation ought to have known that she should have been thankful that as a woman she could secure a full-time teaching position at a university at that age. For the first semester Yo※ng-ju was intoxicated with the satisfaction of her achievement, and she didn't find her job painful. Yet, these days her enthusiasm was rather cooled since it seemed to her that she was the only one who hadn't known the fact that the worth of a professor or Ph.D. was too low. Why were her eyes open now ? If I had known it, I wouldn't have gone through that suffering. However, she was disgusted when she thought that it might be the price of women who chose to study as their aim. What she meant by worth was not the salary, which was too low when she took the time and efforts into consideration, but the respectability. Some friends openly belittled her and said, "Did you work your fingers to the bone to get a Ph.D., so that you could have no better position than one at a rural university?" Yo※ng-ju could dismiss them by saying that their idea of the value of knowledge is only to enable them to live in Seoul for their entire lives, enjoying life moderately, and keeping up appearances. But she couldn't do that. The fact that she was hurt to the quick so as to have a grudge was because her sore spot was touched. Teaching, distributing knowledge, was less rewarding than she had expected. She could ascribe this dissatisfaction to the inferiority of her students or her limited knowledge. However, she became melancholy and felt empty by belittling knowledge itself. In a word, she was sickeningly undergoing emotional disturbance.
Yo※ng-ju had chosen for her dissertation topic the poems of Ho※ Nanso※lho※n because she was attracted to them. The reason she became enamoured of them was she was moved greatly by Ho※ Nanso※lho※n's short life. To be moved by Ho※ Nanso※lho※n did not take much knowledge. Yo※ng-ju's knowledge about her family background or the period of time in which she lived was no more than that of the average person. Of course, with Yo※ng-ju's limited command of Chinese it was impossible to understand Ho※ Nanso※lho※n's Chinese poems thoroughly. What fascinated Yo※ng-ju was not the remarkable quality of the poems, but the way her own imagination was sparked by the social factors of the period which had contributed to the premature death of a remarkable woman never recognized properly by her society. However, the thesis had to be written on the basis of facts that could be proven and had clear sources. Imagination was not necessary. Her thesis advisor, who encouraged Yo※ng-ju, a middle school teacher, to enter graduate school to start her research, guarded against Yo※ng-ju's imagination. Yo※ng-ju hated to listen to her professor's often repeated advice that while she was writing a thesis she should not have an illusion of writing a novel. While she did research on Nanso※lho※n and accumulated knowledge befitting a doctoral candidate, the attractiveness and inspiration of Nanso※lho※n disappeared completely and Yo※ng-ju became sick and tired of her. In the end, all Yo※ng-ju had left of her former fascination with Ho※ was a bit of dry knowledge and a Ph. D.-like mere bits of straw from countless effigies she had cruelly destroyed.
Yo※ng-ju did not know how long she had remained like that in her car. She raised her head at the sound of her son knocking on the car window. Chung-u was in a shabby training suit and had on slippers.
"What's the matter ? You came out to take a walk."
"I didn't come out to take a walk. I came out to find my grandmother."
Yo※ng-ju's heart sank, but Chung-u said it as if it were a trivial thing.
"How come you let her out ? I told you so many times to take good care of her."
"She must be around here. Please go in. I will find her and bring her back with me."
He swaggered away. Yo※ng-ju quickly got out of the car with her load of things and was angry at her son who seemed to be walking away so casually. She called her son to stop.
"When did she go out ? Why do you come out so late?"
"Not long ago"
Yo※ng-ju could not put up with his hesitation.
"When exactly was it?"
"If I had known exactly when, I could have made her stay."
Chung-u did not submit but challenged Yo※ng-ju's severe remarks.
"You didn't even see her going out. What were you doing?"
"While I was on the phone, she disappeared."
"Who did you talk to? You were absorbed in talking with a girl, weren't you?"
Her son turned abruptly without responding to her and was gone. Yo※ng-ju took some steps as if she was going after him, and then turned toward her house. Right away she regretted her nasty treatment of her son as if he had not usually behaved well. In fact, the contrary was true. She did not really know why she had done so. She felt panicked, when she looked back at her recent shaky self-control. Reflected in the elevator mirror was a bit of white hair at the top of her head which stood forcefully as if it were stiff reeds. Reflexively she felt that her Ph.D. was an embarrassing thing like shabby clothes. The mirror in the elevator was more severely unkind than the one in the dresser or compact. It was so, especially when you looked into the mirror when you returned from work. When your shoulder, cheek flesh, eye-brows, even your hair which you had made bristled up with a hair dryer in the morning sagged down listlessly, that bloody white hair stood on end. It was the "Elder sister's arrogant doctor attitude," according to the cynical remark made by her sister whenever she had a chance. Though it was common to have white hair in one? late forties without being a doctor, her sister always made fun of her that way, and that never failed to make Yo※ng-ju feel scorned. Though nobody was at home, the door was not locked. Inside the house was chaotic.
'she should come back without much ado like last time' It was not just a day or two ago that she began to feel that her mother's forgetfulness was serious. She had felt so even before she moved to this apartment last year. When her mother went to a shop, she sometimes lost her way, since she couldn't remember the numbers of her apartment. However, because it was a place where they lived for such a long time, somebody recognized her and brought her home, or some apartment guard informed Yo※ng-ju through the interphone. Besides, she was not like that always. She recovered as if nothing had happened, and could not believe herself so forgetful. She was even angry sometimes. However, the incident that had taken place after moving into this apartment even before they could sort things out was very different from that sort of routine. It was after midnight when they found out that her mother had gone out early in the morning when nobody was up. When they found her, they realized that her departure from the house was not an ordinary one, but a calculated running away. To Yo※ng-ju's surprise she had a small bundle and some tired looking pocket money which had been hidden somewhere. She was more stunned by the fact that the place where the highway patrol men found her mother was at the Uiwang Tunnel. The apartment to which Yo※ng-ju moved was at Duncho※n-dong. It was impossible to make her mother remember whether she walked or took some sort of a ride to Uiwang Tunnel. Her mother's talk was incoherent. When they were notified, the whole family was so happy that they rushed to the place right away. Especially, the sweet Kyo※ng-a ran into the arms of her grandmother, who looked at them with empty eyes with her bundle in her arms, and burst into tears. Chung-u embraced his grandmother's shoulders from behind and rubbed her cheeks, and Yo※ng-ju's husband took off his jacket to put it on the shivering old woman's shoulder to protect her from the coldness of the autumn night. He, at the same time thanked the patrol men by bowing his head many times.
Yo※ng-ju stepped aside a bit and did not move. She couldn't help herself when her heart went as cold as ice. With her children entwined with her mother, the expression of her mother's empty face slowly recovered. And she said, "My children, where have you been? Why are you so late ?" She also embraced them. Her mother's face became increasingly brighter. Chung-u and Kyo※ng-a used to embrace their grandmother this way from the time when they were small. It was true that their working mother could not stay home to give them chances to be spoiled, but they had found out all by themselves that their grandmother liked that sort of embrace. Even after they had grown to think such plays awkward, they used to use that embrace as a sign of thanks, when the side dishes their grandmother made were especially delicious, or when their grandmother waited and opened the door for them and offered something delicious they liked when they came back home late at night. That did not mean that it was calculated cleverness on the part of the children. It was no more or no less than happiness of the children and their grandmother that made onlookers smile. It looked like such complete mutual happiness that sometimes Yo※ng-ju was jealous of them. But she was never tempted to imitate them awkwardly. Yo※ng-ju only gave birth to them, and they were actually raised by their grandmother. Her mother had a sort of inviolable imposing attitude, if not a priviledge, of someone who had achieved a very difficult task. Her naturalness with the children was almost animal-like. It was so much so that whenever Yo※ng-ju witnessed their endearment, Yo※ng-ju felt as if her mother's soft red tongue were licking the children, or warm soft fur enclosing the three bodies.
Yet it was different this time. Yo※ng-ju was so sulky that she even thought she had to restrain her feeling of grief. It was because of the Uiwang Tunnel. This different attitude of greeting the old woman between the family members seemed to be rashly interpreted by the highway patrolman as a conflict between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law.
"Why do you run away from a home with such a loyal son and grandchildren ? Even though you were upset about something, it was you who had to be patient. The world has changed. You should know that you are lucky, since your grandchildren ran to pick you up right away. Do you understand? What a terrible world this is! There are many offspring who deliberately desert their parents. Do you think such children will show up when we tell them the whereabouts of their parents ? You may not believe this, but there are some young ones who move away from the place they used to live, so that nobody can reach them."
When Yo※ng-ju's eyes met her husband?, she dropped her head. She had lost face, more so than if she had been a bad daughter-in-law. The highway patrolman seemed to be so happy about having a good outcome that he went on talking pleasantly.
"I thought this old woman was exactly like the others who had been deserted. Though she made a fuss about going to her son's place stubbornly like a willful child, she pretended that she didn't even know the name of her son's neighbourhood, let alone his telephone number. It was exactly what other deserted old people would do. In the meantime, she thought of a telephone number, and so we made a call without much expectation. As we expected, we were told that there was no such person and they had moved in not long ago. It was exactly as we had expected. Nevertheless, with that number as a clue, we found your telephone number with much difficulty. But since we have a very good result, it is really very nice."
It was so. Her mother's destination was as exactly as Yo※ng-ju had figured out. Yo※ng-ju left the place without uttering a word and decided to wait for them in her car. Behaving that way seemed to suit the role of a bad daughter-in-law. She also wanted to avoid her true identity being discovered by the guards. She counted on her husband to play the son's part well. Thinking that perhaps even her mother might wish it to be that way, she smiled bitterly.
Yo※ng-ju and her mother were not in-laws, but mother and daughter. Yo※ng-ju's husband, therefore, was not her mother's son, but her son-in-law. Yo※ng-ju herself was not sure when her mother started thinking that it was disgraceful to live with her daughter. Maybe it started when her brother got married. From that point on her relatives and acquaintances looked at her mother, who was still living with her daughter, with doubtful eyes. Especially, Yo※ng-ju's maternal aunts often hinted at not only their sympathy but their pity for her mother. They used to click their tongues, 'tut, tut" and whisper these words : "Daughters's food is eaten while standing, whereas sons's food can be eaten seated." Whenever they did that, Yo※ng-ju was so hurt that she wanted to spit on their superiority complex. They were not better off than her mother except that they stuck to their sons desperately. When she was a young girl, she was most happy when she dreamed of fantastic success that would enable her to support her mother luxuriously. She couldn't achieve that much, but what made her miserable was that even though she had achieved her success, it had nothing to do with her mother. She knew her mother better than any body else. Having worked with her own hands, not to earn her sons food, but to support her children all her life, her mother acquired a sort of pride in her own dignified manner. She could not forgive anyone who insulted her mother's pride even if they were her mother's own flesh and blood.
Her brother Yo※ng-tak was the youngest and was born after their father had passed away. He was thirteen years younger than Yo※ng-ju. Her mother could not have babies for more than ten years after Yo※ng-ju had been born. And then she gave birth to Yo※ng-suk and within a year she was pregnant again. But before she delivered the baby, she had become a widow. All her father left was the house. It was in a countrylike, peripheral part of the city, but fortunately there was a university nearby and her mother could run a boarding house. From that time on Yo※ng-ju was called the daughter of a boarding house, and as the daughter of the boarding house she did her part superbly as if she were born for it. She was so responsive to her mother's wishes, it was, as the Korean expression goes, as if she were a part of her mother's tongue. She not only ran errands like shopping for groceries, but she also delivered burnt rice tea. Then she could change briquets for each room without their being extinguished. After she became a senior high school student, she recorded house expenditures with her mother till late at night; prepared the menu for the next day's breakfast; estimated monthly budgets; and worried about her siblings' futures. In the season of the college entrance examination, they used to rent all available rooms including the main room, and the family slept curled up like shrimps in the attic. For her mother, Yo※ng-ju was rather a colleague than a daughter. They worked together and worried together. Though her only wish to make her mother's burden of responsibilities light made Yo※ng-ju stern and strict to her siblings just like her mother, she was never jealous of or competitive with them. It was easy to imagine her siblings' complaint that she behaved as if she had been their own father.
Chung-u came back alone. He was listless. Since it was as Yo※ng-ju had expected, she wasn't disappointed. Yet, with some firelike rage in her heart she jumped up.
"I am sorry, mother."
Surprised, her son got hold of her shoulders and apologized.
"I am not angry at you."
Yo※ng-ju's thought that her mother might be at the Uiwang Tunnel again made her very angry. The Uiwang Tunnel was on the way to her brother's place. Her mother visited her son several times a year at the most, and each time Yo※ng-ju gave her a ride, she had to pass the Uiwang Tunnel from Kwachon where they used to live and from Duncho※n-dong where she was living now. The only special characteristc of the road from their place to her brother's that her mother could remember was the Uiwang Tunnel. Some years after Yo※ng-ju had settled in Kwachon, the Kwachon Tunnel and the Uiwang Tunnel were constructed. Her mother adjusted quite well to the first apartment house to which they had moved from the large boarding house. Because they lived on the first floor, her mother had a yard to take care of. That made her less confined to the house. Her mother's area expanded from her yard to Mt. Chonggai and Mt. Kwanak. She drew spring water several times a day and since she was such an expert at gathering mountain vegetables, many old city-born neighbours admired and followed her. She was a member of the Spring Badminton Club, the Kwanak Aerobics Club, and the Chonggai Senior Citizens' Club. Her mother complained a lot about those two tunnels that were to be constructed in her area. Especially the Uiwang Tunnel she abhorred, since the pronunciation of it was not easy. Around that time, a new apartment complex which could be reached through the Uiwang Tunnel was constructed and Yo※ng-tak moved to one of those apartments. Yo※ng-ju used to tell her mother that the tunnel was there only for her mother to go to Yo※ng-tak's easily through a short cut when she wanted to go to him. And then her mother smiled brightly and was comfortable. In fact, the construction of the tunnel coincided with the time when her mother's forgetfulness became so serious that Yo※ng-ju had to repeat her words countlessly.
"Yes, yes. The tunnel was constructed for me to go to chung-u's quickly? Oh my, I wonder who granted my wish so well."
The daughter and the mother might have exchanged this same dialogue more than several hundred times. However, it was not often that Yo※ng-ju's mother had occasion to go to Yo※ng-tak's place. Nobody told her, but she had known that nowadays she couldn't visit without being invited, even if it was her own son's place.
How she had reached the Uiwang Tunnel on that day she never said. Maybe it was not that she didn't, but she couldn't. With the possible exception of the Uiwang Tunnel, nothing was clearly registered in her memory. Yo※ng-ju couldn't believe that she had walked to the Uiwang Tunnel. Perhaps she walked as well as using some sort of a ride. Yo※ng-ju almost ran out and then came back to find the car key.
"Where are you going?"
"To the Uiwang Tunnel."
"Could she go there again?"
"Your uncle's is right beyond the tunnel. It wasn't a coincidence that your grandmother had been found there on that day."
"I know. But it could be because it was near Kwachon."
Chung-u was careful so that he might not offend Yo※ng-ju. For whenever Kwachon was mentioned, Yo※ng-ju was angry. The old woman's persistent obsession with Kwachon made Yo※ng-ju confused. Her sudden expression of the wish to live under the protection of her son was virtually predestined. In fact, it was rather strange that it happened so late, since the wish was an age-old tradition of the mothers of this land. However, Yo※ng-ju could not understand her mother's strange love for Kwachon, which was merely an apartment complex even though they had lived there for over ten years. Because she could not understand or explain her mother's strange obsession, she didn't want to accept it.
"If your grandmother likes Kwachon, that's because your uncle's place is very near to it."
Yo※ng-ju unnecessarily and coldly asserted herself.
"If you were concerned about that uncle so much, why did you take our grandmother to our place?"
"By the way you talk, they would think that you regard her as someone from another family."
"Mother, calm down. It is you who thinks that way. Why do you really behave this way? It is not like you."
"I regret that I brought her here. It would have been better if I hadn'. This time I am not going to budge even if she is there again."
"Anyway it hasn't been an hour since she went out. How can she go there in an hour?"
"It is not likely that she walked to that place the last time."
"Don't you remember grandmother's feet that time?"
Chung-u spoke frowning a bit. Yo※ng-ju remembered having cried after she helped her mother dip her blistered and bruised feet in the warm water. How indignant she was! How awfully far was it to her son's place for her mother? The long distance and the determination that she would get there in spite of that distance were altogether betrayed in those bruised and blistered toes. It was so pitiful and weird that Yo※ng-ju couldn't sleep. After she spent the night with her eyes open, she called Yo※ng-tak to find out whether he could take her mother to his house. It was rather begging than asking. Before he got married, Yo※ng-tak always boasted that he would take care of his mother. Yo※ng-ju did not tell him that he didn't have to do it, but in her heart she was proud of him. It was not because someday he would take care of her mother, but because she was thankful that her mother would not be a poor woman who would be tossed from one of her children to another. Why should she ask in the tone of begging when her mother, as she was, was quite honorable? Yo※ng-ju knew she shouldn't be begging. But she couldn't correct her attitude. Probably it was because Yo※ng-tak's attitude was quite different from her expectation. He did not express how he felt but only listened to what she said. And then after a while he said, "You are not any different from others."It was rather ridiculing. She couldn't understand what he meant. Yet in spite of her uncomfortable feeling, she couldn't contradict him at all. She might have thought that she deserved the unpleasant encounter, for having complied with the ideology that regarded elderly people who couldn't depend on their sons as the most pitiful creatures.
"I will have a talk with my wife and call you back."
She couldn"t help putting in a word for such an attitude.
"What is your idea? I would like to hear it."
"Isn't it my wife who will be taking care of her? I can tell her to, but I don't want to do that."
Yo※ng-tak married a girl whom he had dated for several years. They had children now and were happy. It was certain that her mother would be an unwanted member. On the one hand, she thought that she had to understand the fact that in order for them to receive the unwanted person, they had to be ready psychologically in addition to the real preparation. On the other hand, she was uncomfortable since she was disgusted with her brother, who didn't give any answer regarding that matter. How could he as the eldest son behave like that ? The unforgivableness of her brother's attitude mixed with the self-reproach that she felt regarding her own behavior, made her wonder whom she really had to blame. The change that took place in her mother was even more difficult to put up with. This difficult situation arose from Yo※ng-tak's promise that he would be back soon to take her to his home. Nobody knew whether they were empty words that sounded nice or it was Yo※ng-tak's real intention. Her mother now openly packed her belongings and anxiously awaited her son. She occasionally whispered, "My son promised to come and take me and why is he so late," and she looked out the window nervously as if she were on a train platform, meeting family members with cold and unwelcoming eyes. Yo※ng-ju couldn't stand it and had a talk with her sister-in-law directly so that she could take her mother to her place.
However, in less than three months, her mother who couldn't endure Yo※ng-tak's, returned to Duncho※n-dong. It was not a question of her endurance, because her mother was losing her own will day by day. It was not her mother, but Yo※ng-ju who could not endure.
Yo※ng-ju, who had almost forced her brother to take her mother, couldn't help calling everyday. Whenever she called, her mother only repeated, "I would like to go to Kwachon. Please take me to Kwachon."That could not sound sadder. Because Kwachon was the place where Yo※ng-ju used to live before she moved to Duncho※n-dong, Yo※ng-tak or his wife seemed to interpret her words as her wish to go back to her daughter's place. Yet the couple behaved very well as if they would never ask Yo※ng-ju to take her mother. Because Yo※ng-ju felt uncomfortable about her mother staying at Yo※ng-tak's, she was actually sorry that the couple did not ask her to take her mother. The reason Yo※ng-ju was uncomfortable every single day since her mother had gone to Yo※ng-tak's was that Yo※ng-ju also understood her mother's Kwachon obsession as a sign of her wish to come back to her daughter's. Remembering the long time she spent with her mother as a colleague and eldest daughter, Yo※ng-ju could not possibly ignore her sad appeal. However, Yo※ng-ju put up with it as she would with hunger. The willfulness of Yo※ng-ju that "unless you beg me to take her back again, I wouldn't tell you with my own lips that I would take her to our place," and Yo※ng-tak's stubbornness that unless his sister begged and begged, he would not let his mother leave his house looked contradictory, but in fact they were the same. What they waited upon was not their mother but an ideology that depending on a daughter or living with her until one dies while the son still lives is a glaring disgrace that should never be allowed to happen.
Whether she knew about this hidden contention between her daughter and son or not, her wish to be here while she was there got worse everyday. For their mother, whether it was her son or her daughter did not make much difference. Kwachon for her was a place which was neither here nor there. Though her intellect seemed to be deteriorating, it might be that it was developing. Rather than being moved from her daughter's to her son's as if she had been a parcel, she fancied a buffer zone, Kwachon, and begged to be sent there. At last her running away from home started at Yo※ng-tak's. However, his wife's precautions were so complete that every attempt at escape ended within the limits of that apartment complex. Since Yo※ng-tak's wife was the vice president of a women's committee, she knew many people, and she was intelligent to boot. She dressed her mother-in-law in clothes that were not at all decent to put on when you go out. She said it was necessary to make her stay within a reachable distance. Yo※ng-ju's mother in pajamas or underwear was easily recognized by children and when they saw her the message was to reach the guards of the apartment complex. With that sort of clothes, she could not go beyond the watch of their building guard, let alone the guards of the complex. When, in spite of these precautions, their mother's attempt to escape from home did not stop, one more lock was added to Yo※ng-tak's apartment door. Usual apartment doors could be opened from the inside, even though they were locked from the outside. However, on Yo※ng-tak's door a lock that could only be operated from outside was introduced. When Yo※ng-ju saw that and was unhappy about it, Yo※ng-tak's wife resented it and said with cold glassy eyes, that's what they had to do with her mother when all of them went out. Of course, as long as they did not hire a person to take care of their mother exclusively, such a device would be inevitable. In Yo※ng-ju's view what Yo※ng-tak's wife had done was impeccably perfect. Yo※ng-ju was afraid of her perfection, and she was horrified because in her imagination she could hear her mother scream with a fear many times greater than her own. In Yo※ng-ju's mind, her mother was beccoming smaller and was wasting away. So far she could put up with it, but after several days one more lock was added for the purpose of locking her mother insider her own room. Her sister-in-law explained that she had to do that because her mother made a habit of going around the house whispering, opening all the doors in the house once she had realized that she could not go out of it. It must have seemed to her mother that that house had countless doors because she repeatedly opened the doors of this room and that including those of closets or the bathroom.
"Here is a room, and there, too. What a house to have so many rooms. It is a pity that they are empty. She is a bad woman. She should have rented these rooms."
She whispered these words all day long, wandering around the house. Youngjoo's sister-in-law could not stand it any longer and locked her in her own room at last.
"You can imagine why I did it. I was so nervous that I couldn't live."
Her haggard and lonely appearance showed how terrible her part was in locking up her mother-in-law. However, Yo※ng-ju was suffocating with hatred for her sister-in-law, who expressed this terrible struggle with her mother-in-law, in which they were actually denying each other's personality, casually, as if it were something trivial that merely got on her nerves. Now Yo※ng-ju did not expect their relationship to improve. Rather she wanted and waited for them to give up taking care of her mother sooner or later. But even that was not easy.
It was a day on which Yo※ng-ju went to see her mother. As usual her sister-in-law greeted her with a cold poker face and Yo※ng-ju's face clearly showed that she was very sorry for the burden of her frequent visits. Even after she served Yo※ng-ju a cup of tea, her sister-in-law did not open her mother's room.
"Is my mother taking a nap?"
"If you want to know, why don't you go out through the balcony and look into her room?"
"What are you talking about ? You think it is a bother to open the door? It is much too much."
"I learned it from your mother."
Her sister-in-law for the first time showed tears in her eyes and complained. According to her, her mother-in-law's symptoms had gotten worse these days, and she was coming out through the balcony and looking into her son and daughter-in-law's room during the day as well as at night.
"When she sees me, she asks, 'Who are you?' Can you imagine how I feel then?"She did not explain how she felt any more. However, Yo※ng-ju thoroughly realized how terribly horrified she was. She felt her heart cramp with rage and insult. At last Yo※ng-ju went out through the balcony and looked into her mother's room. Her mother stood in front of the mirror on the wall, stared at the old woman in the mirror, and shouted, "Who are you? Go away at once!" stamping her feet. Just as her mother couldn't recognize the woman in the mirror, so Yo※ng-ju couldn't accept that the woman locked in that room was her own mother. It wasn't that she had become leaner or shabbier. She had on a comfortable dress that was becoming on an old woman. That made her look neater than when she was in her underwear. But Yo※ng-ju had never seen her mother's eyes more defensive than they were now. Her mother was always comfortable, as if she were a house with open doors. It was not only her eyes. Her small body was so tense that all her hair was on end as if she would attack and bite, if someone touched her a little bit. Yo※ng-ju could feel it as if it were her own body. How terrible it must have been for her mother to resist against this world all by herself.
Yo※ng-ju did not ask her sister-in-law to open her mother's door. She went into the room through the door on the balcony. Her mother did not ask "Who are you?" Nor did she attack her. She ran into a corner of the room and stood there. She was afraid as if she had met a giant against whom she could never rebel with only her enmity trained by herself. Yo※ng-ju embraced her mother. She smelled soap which was not bad at all. Everything in the room was simple but clean. On the wall there were two landscape paintings. Since a bathroom was attached to this room, it must have been the master bedroom. Immediately Yo※ng-ju felt more than thankful for her brother's generosity, giving the master bedroom to her mother. Yo※ng-ju imagined that she should maintain that thankfulness. Yo※ng-ju patted her mother who was small enough to be in her arms and began to caress her back. What Yo※ng-ju caressed now might be not her mother's back but her own rage which was likely to rise at any moment. She thought she had better take her mother, but she should explain it in good words to her sister-in-law and never should she speak to her with an angry face. Her brother was not there, but she did not think him rude. She could more than fathom the inward suffering he must have undergone between his mother and his wife. There was an age difference between Yo※ng-ju and her brother, but the reason Yo※ng-ju's feeling toward him was almost maternal, not just one between siblings, was that she had shared with her mother all those years the responsibility of ensuring that this poor posthumous child would be raised as well as other kids. Yo※ng-ju caressed her mother for a long time until her mother seemed to be choking, because Yo※ng-ju was having such a difficult time repressing her rage.
That was how her mother came back to Duncho※n-dong. Her mother recovered her own self unbelievably fast. On the way driving home she had already dropped her defensive eyes, behavior, and unconditional doubt against everybody. Thus, her family could greet her as if she came back from her outing without thinking that her condition had become worse. Even Yo※ng-ju couldn't decide whether she herself was wrong, and whether her own attitude as a sister-in-law, biased against her brother's wife, prevented her from seeing the true state of her mother. She almost blamed herself secretly. Yet the fact that what she had to guard against most was her mother's running away from home did not change at all. It was the same as ever. She tried not to let her mother stay home alone by herself. That was the most difficult part, since Yo※ng-ju was not a full-time housewife. Kyo※ng-a, a sophomore of a senior high school was exempt from the duty of staying with her grandmother. Yo※ng-ju and chung-u took turns between themselves when they did not have classes. But that was far from enough. When Yo※ng-ju or chung-u had something urgent to do, Yo※ng-ju sometimes hired a part-time helper and sometimes her aunts came to help, but when her mother started to help with household chores once in a while, Yo※ng-ju slackened the watch a little bit. Of course, the household chores her mother helped with were trivial. For instance, she trimmed off bean sprouts, split Doraji roots, or distinguished Korean mushrooms or brackens from the imported ones. She was annoyed when she was not allowed to do those chores, and said why should she spare her body that would rot when she died. Yo※ng-ju was very happy to hear her mother saying those words again. Those were the very words her mother said very often, when they had boarders. When Yo※ng-ju heard those words she felt cozy and comfortable. It was like when, as a child, after waiting all day for her mother to return home, she would see her mother approaching the house as dusk was falling. Running to greet her mother, they would embrace and Yo※ng-ju was wrapped in the warmth and safety of her mother's long, flowing skirts. She felt all the more happy when her mother regained her dexterity in folding washed laundry. Her mother took the clothes from a laundry line when they were still a bit wet and folded them so carefully that even underwear seemed to have been pressed with an iron. That was the unique skill of her mother which nobody could dare imitate. Her mother's hands were still strong and beautiful. Oh, Oh, my mother's hands that could fold laundry as if it were ironed! Speaking thus and caressing her mother's hands, she was overcome with a warm impulse to adore and kiss her mother.
Although her mother did not recover her shaky memory that came and went, Yo※ng-ju relaxed her vigilance. When she couldn't help it, sometimes she went out with only her mother in the house. It was partly because she was so sorry to ask her aunts to take care of her mother too often and partly because she was afraid that her aunts might instill the idea into her mother that one should die at one's own son's. Yo※ng-ju didn't believe that that unshakable conception once registered was erased in her mother's mind, so she wanted to refrain at least from reawakening it.
Lotus lanterns were hung from the eaves of that house.
It had been some months since a temple sign and a signboard, "Chongaesa"were put up at the house. Those lanterns encircled the eaves of the house and still there were more of them, so they prepared lines in the front yard to hang those remaining lotus lanterns from. It was the first Buddha's Birthday, the eighth of the fourth moon, after they had put up the temple signboard. Those lanterns, seen from the native village, looked like pink balloons and raised the expectation that at any moment the house might float to the sky on them. Since such an expectation was wild, but filled with pleasure, it brought to the whole village like a warm breeze the atmosphere of a feast. Even before the lanterns were hung, the villagers were happy without much reason that that house had been turned into a temple. Yet, no one in the village worshipped there. More than half of the villagers regarded themselves as Buddhists. Some of them went to fortune tellers to divine their fortune, and others went to offer sacrifices to spirits. But nobody belonged to that temple. And yet, when they saw so many lanterns hung there, they thought that the temple must have many followers and wanted to congratulate the people of the temple on it. It was unlike the villagers. They seldom congratulated others on their success. Maybe they were glad because that house had been a fortuneteller's before it was turned into a temple. The villagers regarded a temple as being a peg above a fortuneteller's, and they also thought a temple would be better for the education of their children. However, even when that house had been a foretuneteller's, they had not objected. They did not have to shun it, because the house was isolated from the village. When a stranger came and asked which was the fortuneteller's, they used to say that it might be that old house over there, pointing out the house far beyond the wide field. There was no banner or a signboard that indicated the existence of a fortuneteller, but everybody in the village knew it was a fortuneteller's. They also guessed that it was a woman who told fortunes there from the questions of people looking for the house. Nobody seemed to know whether the fortuneteller was pretty or ugly and whether she was really good at fortunetelling or not. Most people of the native village often went to fortuneteller since their businesses were not thriving. For some going to a fortuneteller was their only hobby. But nobody seemed to have gone to that house. It seems that it was not only Jesus Christ who was not recognized in his own town.
On Buddha's Birthday only the village children went to the front of the house and looked inside. Just as light things are first to fly on the wind, so the childrens' hearts leapt up with the atmosphere of the feast, but the adults of the village did not budge. Those who celebrated Buddha's Birthday as a holiday might have left for their temples far away by bus or subway train. The gate of the house was wide open and a small golden Buddha with a gentle smile sat on a silk cushion inside the main room behind the sliding door. Many worshippers were busy looking for the lotus lantern which had their family member's name on its tag. The colorful traditional Korean dresses they wore were beautiful to look at.
The monk of that temple was a bhikkuni, a Buddhist nun. The fortuneteller of the house before and the nun now were the same person. Even the Buddha was the same one that the fortuneteller had worshipped. The only difference was that the golden color of the Buddha was brighter since it had been newly painted. The worshippers of the temple were those customers who had patronized the place when the house was a fortuneteller's and some new worshippers attracted by the report of those customers that the Buddha of the house was all-powerful. The customer-worshippers did not think it strange, nor were they reluctant to come because the fortuneteller had turned into a nun. When she was a fortuneteller, she had had a Buddha and they believed that her insight or her faculty to prophesize came from the Buddha all the same. The procedure of bowing to the Buddha before they were told their fortune and bowing once again after the fortunetelling did not change even after the house became a temple. It was all the same now as then. Those who sought her came there hoping to gain some insight related to the advancement of their children or the honor of their husband, from some words carelessly thrown by her. Because they identified her magic power with that of the Buddha, and because they had called her 'Posallim' respectfully, when she actually had been only a fortuneteller, they were not at all reluctant to call her 'Venerable Chayun'when she became a nun.
The only change was that a day was newly established for Buddhist sermons once a month. The Buddhist sermons were given by a monk from Chongaesa. The monk also came down from Chongaesa when there was a Buddhist sacrifice requested by a worshipper or on such holidays as Buddha's Birthday, New Year's Day, the seventh day of the seventh moon, and the forty-ninth day after a person's death. However, the devotees of the temple did not know where that Chongaesa was. They only associated it with a temple in a beautiful mountain far away, on account of Chayun's polite attitude towards him and from her expression, "coming down." But the devotees did not trust the monk from Chongaesa. He had a dignity that became his age, but he never showed any magic power of prophesy. Among devotees there was sometimes a wife of a high standing official who wanted to hide her identity and that he had a superior faculty to see through it was the general opinion of the followers. By such a faculty he did not add anything to his dignity, and it rather harmed the friendship of the devotees. They regarded him as a necessary part of a temple and hoped that Chayun would be soon be good at Buddhist invocations. Chayun never expressed it but it was known among the followers that she was studying to enter a Buddhist university.
Even though the venerable Bo※pmun had not come down from Chongaesa yet, they were busy preparing food in the kitchen in a big bronze pot. All sorts of fruits, traditional Korean cookies, and fancy rice cakes from a rice cake shop were spread richly in the pantry that was attached to the kitchen. Since it was the eighth day of the fourth moon, Buddha's Birthday, they were going to treat the devotees to lunch as well as supper. There were enough hands to make soup and vegetable dishes. The voice of Makum's mother who was in charge of the whole preparation was so oily and passionate that the fact that she was almost seventy was unbelivable. Makum was the secular as well as registered name of the nun Chayun. This might have been the first proud and happy day for Makum's mother since she had given birth to Makum. Makum's mother only gave orders and all the work was done by her daughters-in-law. As Makum's mother wrote a list of things to buy, her son-in-law went to the wholesale market in Seoul to buy them in no time at all. If this business continued to thrive at this rate, they might have to tear this house down and build a bigger one, or find a place for a temple somewhere else within two or three years. Only the thought of that made Makum's mother exultant. Her eyes looking around the house were greedy and profound. There was an uncomfortable element too. She was afraid that when the haunted house, turned into a blessed one, started to bring fortune as if a fire flamed, meddling with the house might chase away that blessing. That's why she was careful. However, surging greed always gets the upper hand of carefulness. There already was a rough agreement between old core followers and priest Bo※bmun that on the occasion of this happy day they should announce make official their plan to build a new Buddhist temple. This agreement seemed to mean that her project was almost half done all the same. Though it hadn't been long since Makum's mother had woken up to this sort of business that gave people comfort and hope, what she had mastered was the fact that in terms of income, there wasn't any other business that was easier or that suited the old saying, "Well begun is half done."
While Makum's mother was sitting in the pantry, giving instructions, she was also busy roughly calculating the amount of money that would be collected as offerings for lanterns and the additional money that would be offered before the Buddhist altar. Her expression changed whimsically, smiling and trifling. On the one hand she was so proud of this business, which was well on its way, that she wondered whether she was dreaming. On the other hand, she was indignant at the thought that this was nothing compared with some other big temple that was said to have so much money on a day like this that they had to push and press the money with feet into a straw bag.
She also did not like the loose and careless look of Chayun. She was disgusted with her and had a hard time putting up with this daughter who didn't seem to realize that in order for this business to thrive, mother-daughter cooperation was essential. This daughter never once gave a glance toward her mother, much less made any physical contact. To whom did she owe what she was? How dare she despise her own mother, now that she had become a dragon from a child of scorn? But there were enough reasons for her daughter to behave like that, and so she watched her daughter out of the corner of her eye while she was not in front of her. However, when she was face to face with her daughter, she flattered her. That was not proper for her to do, and her daughter might be avoiding her for this reason. Thus, that they did not even allow their eyes to meet was a sort of tacit understanding between daughter and mother. Makum's mother only came when there was a Buddhist ceremony or an offering for the dead. On usual days she allowed Chayun to live alone. However, whether she was a fortuneteller or Chayun, the fact that she was the only source of income for her family never changed. Not only the daughter did not meet her mother's eyes, but also she was reluctant to talk to her mother. But she allowed her mother to use her purse. She didn't care about that. She did not know how much she made a day. If she started to calculate the amount, then she might have to tell her family. So to avoid that, she might have trained herself that way. She was the breadwinner of the family and her money was also her mother's.
Makum's mother was an authentic native of the village. She knew about the house from its prehistoric period. But she did not live in the native village now. She lived in an apartment that looked down upon the native village as if it were an eyesore. Makum's mother was born somewhere around that area before the native village was created, about the time when that village was an agricultural neighborhood. She got married there and lived a difficult life. Even then that house stood in the middle of a field. Makum's mother, born in a house that was inferior to that house, married someone from a family poorer than her own. She had nothing to do with the house. She left the village for the first time during the Korean War. When she came back, many changes had taken place. There was much change in population and there were many empty houses. That house still stood there, more dilapidated and empty. They said that because the owner of the house had fiercely taken the side of the communists, all his family members were killed. As they were murdered in that house by people with grudges, people who knew the history regarded the house as a haunted one and avoided passing it. They instead detoured around the house. Sometimes it sheltered beggars. The house became more fearful. So much time elapsed and the population of the village changed so much that there was no one who remembered the affairs that had taken place during the Korean War. However, the legend of the house as a haunted one persisted with exaggeration. Though Makum's mother and her husband, a day labourer of an orchard, had five children and still lived in the village without a house of their own, Makum's mother never dreamed of, or eyed the house even for a night's comfortable rest. That house was only a haunted place, not a house.
A feeble coil of smoke started to rise from the chimney of the house one day. Nobody showed any interest that it might be occupied by some passing beggars. It was even before the village took shape. Though there were some scattered houses in the wide field and orchard, there was every sign that the countryside would be impoverished. Then nobody expected that the price of land in that area would soon be soaring high. When the appearance of the house began to show that it was inhabited by someone, it was Makum's mother who started watching it. There was no one except her who could recognize that the occupant of the house was the brother of the murdered owner. He had been a young man during the civil war. Since he had been so shocked by witnessing the death of his brother's family and did not have any dependents, he had entered the Buddhist priesthood and after having stayed at a temple for almost twenty years, he had returned to the world. Makum's mother did not have any intention of harming him at the beginning, but just to know his identity made her itchy. For she harboured an obscure expectation that someday the information would be very useful. Fuelled by the rising land prices of the neighbourhood around the house, the mental attitude of Makum's mother watching the house became more tense day by day. It seemed that the reason the man, who had spent his youth in a temple, turned his back upon it was not because he found a way of living in this mundane world. A signboard indicating a zen temple decorated the house. He must have made many acquaintances during his priesthood. Intelligent looking men frequented the place steadily, if not very often. When Makum's mother and her husband went to the house to do miscellaneous jobs, she learned that those people visited the house to study Chinese characters or Buddhist chanting. Every month there was a regular meeting with many attendants. Makum's mother offered her daughter, who had barely finished grammar school, to run errands for the house, in order to reduce the burden of supporting her family. It was a time when even securing enough food for the family was not easy. If she could not send her daughter on to a junior high school, she ought to let her acquire a skill. But since Makum, from the time when she was small, used to excite pity and sometimes showed a strange capacity for pinpointing the future of others, Makum's mother thought that if she could learn a bit of Buddhist chanting, it might be useful. That was why she sent her daughter to that house.
In those days people called the village the "western-style house village" People of the village kept that house at a distance and called the strange man of the house, who was not mank or an ordinary man, a master. Of course, no one in the village went to the house to study the Buddhist chanting or cultivate moral sense.
Not long after Makum went to that house as an errand girl, the master raped her. Since Makum did not want to be raped again, she confessed it to her mother. With fierce rage Makum's mother threatened the man, and with future extortion in her mind she helped him to gain possession of the house and the field in front of it legally. At last Makum became the owner of the house and the master procured the empty field. It was good for both of them. Makum became a man-hater from the incident, but her ability to detect other people's thoughts from their expression or their way of speaking grew sharper. Makum's mother made the most of Makum's ability and made her a shaman. However, since Makum was whimsical and not greedy, that business did not thrive as well as Makum's mother had wanted. But the income was good enough for her and her sons who did not work and depended entirely on their shaman sister. The master, who had bought a temple and had gone back into the mountain with the money he had obtained from the sale of the field in front of the house, helped with the transformation of the house from a shaman's to a temple. Makum also complied with the plan without resistance. It was Makum herself who first suggested she should study.
However, she was too old to begin studying and she was not interested in studying as she was not interested in money. She did not believe in anything except intuition. But she wanted to escape by any excuse and go somewhere else. What she vaguely wanted to escape from might not have been the place, but the people with whom she had been connected up until then. The people she had met were those whose only obsession was to take from others wealth or position by hook or by crook, whether they were her own flesh and blood or others. She had divined that fact quite early, and it was the most important source of her fortunetelling. However, it seemed to her that that was not all that human beings were capable of. Though she never gave birth to a child, she used to think a mother was not supposed to be like that, when she saw her own mother. That was really painful. Her honest inner thought told her that a mother should not be like her own mother, and that was what the calm smile of Budhha agreed to when she, awakened from sleep in the middle of the night, faced him.
No matter how much income they had, after Buddha's Birthday the temple was as silent as a temple could be. Those lotus lanterns should have been brought inside to the ceiling of the main room, but as they floated in the wind, it seemed as if one had a pond upside down above one's head. Chayun looked up at the sky and smiled. She went to the backyard to collect some vegetables. There had been so much food, but because the rice cakes had been given to the worshippers and the side dishes had all been taken by her family, nothing was left for her. Makum's mother, who never once saw her daughter really enjoy food, did not try to make something for her to eat. She was only eager to take everything with her, saying that if she didn't, the food would spoil. And as though she thought that her daughter would cook some delicious food for herself, she never forgot to threaten her daughter that if she yearned for meat or fish, she should get over the yearning. Otherwise the followers would leave her. Since Chayun was not interested in cooking and did not learn how to cook properly at an early age, cooking carelessly so as not to starve to death was her settled way, fixed like a habit. It was not she who had planted the seeds in the backyard, and she did not know how to cook those vegetables. She plucked as many as she could grasp with her hand. While she was trimming them, an old woman came in gently. At a glance, Chayun knew that she had not come for a fortunetelling. Though her clothes were out of season, her radiant face was bright without reason. The old woman scolded the priestess, smiling.
"You don't even know how to trim vegetables. How did you grow up like that!"
She sat down quite naturally opposite the nun and started to trim the vegetables. The nun learned for the first time that they should be trimmed by taking off the skin from the soft stem.
"Since you don't know how to trim, you surely wouldn't know how to wash them. You should wash them like this."
Then she carried them to the running water and washed them roughly, crushing them and turning the water green. She said, "I don't suppose you have the water from the first wash of rice. Bring me some rice." She washed the rice a couple of times, crushed it, and obtained the milky washing water. And then she looked around the old-fashioned kitchen and said over and over again how nice it was. She started to cook rice and took some soy sauce from an earthen jar on the terrace to make soup. All her actions were dexterous and without interruption, as if she were doing her old household chores. The nun tried very hard to guess the identity of the strange old woman, but she could not get any clue. She knew from her long years of experience that unless an answer came through intuition at once, she couldn't discover anything by thinking long. But for her the failure was not at all disappointing. She was rather merry as if happiness crawled up her spine. It was the first such feeling she had ever experienced in her life.
At the table set by the old woman, they sat facing each other like close friends. The old woman's soup was so delicious that the nun had a whole bowl of rice with the soup. The old woman insisted on her having some more, telling her how weak she was. She made it very confusing who was the guest. From the time the old woman came into this place, she was as natural as if she had come into her own home. When the nun saw the old woman, who was worried about the next meal, whispering, "For supper I have to prepare something she will like," she secretly wanted to be a child again. This feeling was also new to her. Since nobody had really cared for her before, she was enraptured, without a sense of reality, as if she were dreaming a nice dream. In the evening she even went to get some groceries for the old woman. She went to the shop in the village to buy tofu, bean sprouts, and small dried fish. Then she went into the kitchen and prepared supper with the old woman. She scolded for having poured out too much of the precious sesame oil. She scolded a lot, but she was not afraid of her at all. It was a marvel that a human being, an old woman, could be so straightforward. At night they spread the futons on the floor and lay down side by side. The nun held the old woman's hand softly because she was worried that just as she had come in without hindrance, she might go out without hindrance. Her hands were small, rough and yet soft. "would you like to listen to a fairy tale?" the old woman asked, taking the hand of the nun.
"Once upon a time there lived a widow with a small child. The widow found a lover. Every night she went to bed with her clothes on so that she could go out as soon as her child fell asleep. When her child found out that her mother secretly went out every night, the child went to sleep with her mother's blouse string tied to its wrist tightly. When the child fell into fast sleep, the mother cut the blouse string with a pair of scissors and went out like the wind."
"It is too sad, granny."
Speaking thus, Makum fell asleep. Waking from a sound sleep that gave both mind and body a very good rest, she found it was already morning.
The old woman was not beside her. But she heard signs of someone moring around. The old woman was folding laundry. She said, "When you get old, it is time to die. Didn't I forget to bring in the laundry before I went to sleep?" She caressed the laundry that was moist from the night dew and then folded it neatly. Makum heard her saying, "Later on these should be out in the sun. That would make them dry,"and wondered how such a precious treasure had walked into her house. The more she thought of it, the more wonderful it was. Her underwear and monk's habit, which were hanging twisted like dried whiting as they had been wrung out after being washed, became neat and tidy as if they had been ironed.
Life with the old woman was comfortable and sweet as a dream, but the nun decided not to be curious about where this old woman had come from and where she would go. Nothing regarding her identity was known except the fact that she acted even more freely than the real owner of the place, as if it were her own. In a word, what she said about her past was incoherent. It did not seem that she was doing that on purpose. When she was caught with what she said and asked questions, she tried to think of something with a confused face. But she got tired pretty soon and digressed. Once, while she was staring at the Buddha, she said that the Christians were also good, because when she was almost dying with an illness on the street, she woke up to the prayers of Christians. When the nun wanted to know more about that the following day, she spoke about something very different. While she was looking at a green house far away, she said the reason why her back was aching these days was that she had spent the winter there. That was also incoherent, but it didn't seem to be complete nonsense. What the nun could gather intuitively was only that the memory of the old woman went off and on. However, it was certain that she was satisfied with this way of life. When she said, "just as a fish is comfortable in the water where he used to play, so human beings are comfortable in the place where they used to live," full of satisfaction and in a relaxed attitude, stretching herself and raising her arms, the nun wondered whether the old woman had come back to this house where she had lived a long long time ago. That thought did not make her unhappy at all. Everything was all right, if she only imagined that she herself was the granddaughter of this granny from a long time ago and now she didn't belong to this world, but to a previous existence.
However, at times when she saw the old woman looking far into the mountains with empty eyes and whispering, "my son promised to come to take me soon. Why is he so late ?" Chayun's heart suddenly sank and she felt really bad. It was not because she was worried about her son coming to pick her up but because she thought the old woman might have been deserted by her own son.
Yo※ng-ju's guess that her mother might have gone in the direction of the Uiwang Tunnel again was not correct. She spent the night with eyes open and after enquiring in every possible place she could have gone to, she notified the police. She also notified the division of family and welfare at both the village and district offices. She also learned for the first time that there are telephone numbers that exclusively deal with missing people. Though she enquired everywhere, time passed without any result. She advertised in a newspaper and also advertised on the radio several times during prime time through an acquaintance of her husband. Though she had some information from several places, it turned out to be nothing reliable. How many times did she rush to Suwon station, crying, when she heard that her mother was begging at the station. There was a prank phone call that said, "because I am now buying the granny a bowl of noodle soup, you should come with the money for it," and hung up without telling the place. She asked the prosecution authorities to search among the persons who had met an unnatural death. As a result, she had to undergo the humiliation of viewing the bodies of other old people several times. Such insulting jobs were mainly done by her brother or husband. Even if she had done all she could, she could not sit and wait. Yo※ng-ju couldn't stay home for a moment and couldn't help searching the likely places where her mother had possibly gone. Her house was in terrible shape. But as a result, she learned her mother had shown up a couple of times in Kwachon. Because they had lived there for such a long time, there were many acquaintances at Kwachon. One of them said that he had come across Yo※ng-ju's mother, but thought that she was on her way back home after a visit and so only greeted her. Since she looked tidy and merry as usual, one never guessed she had been lost. If he had known the fact, he would have detained her and gotten in touch with them. Yo※ng-ju was so depressed she felt like stamping. Though it seemed a bit late, she decided to advertise in the fliers that accompany the newspapers. She spent all her time for many days visiting every single newspaper distributor in Pyungcho※n, Sanbon, and Anyang, towns around Kwachon. And then since it dawned on her that the newspaper subscribers would not pay much attention to those advertisement pages, she decided to advertise through posters. Even if Yo※ng-ju's family took the range of her mother's usual activities into account and placed posters around those areas, it was such a big job that her family members could not undertake it alone. However, it was a relief that there was something that she could do, to work her fingers to the bone for her mother.
Since it was a time-consuming job that needed many hands, the manpower was far too short with only the members of Yo※ng-ju's family. To share the job and to exchange ideas of better ways, Yo※ng-ju's sister and brother often met. When they met, there used to be a flood of words and the arrows of blame pointed at Yo※ng-ju. Though Yo※ng-tak often said, "What's a sinner like me to say," his family looked most honourable. His wife never meddled in carrying out things specifically and kept her distance coldly. But Yo※ng-ju used to feel her sister-in-law's cynicism that seemed to show that she had nothing to say since it had now been proven that the best way to keep their mother was having locks on doors and gates. Yo※ng-suk must have perceived it also.
She said to Yo※ng-ju, "you should have put up with it. You put on airs and took mother from Yo※ng-tak's. That only freed them of a burden. Undoubtedly Yo※ng-tak's wife must gloat over this event."
"Is it time to figure out who is to blame? We do not even know whether or not our mother is alive. I tried to figure out what our mother would have wanted. I always thought about that first. I not expected this, but I do not think I had made a mistake."
"Oh, nobody can stop my doctor sister's snobby attitude. Didn't a policeman assure us that if our mother had passed away, we would have been notified right away? By the fingerprints?"
"What does that have to do with a doctor?"
"Is there any one of us who exploited our mother as thoroughly as you did? You had an ambition to be a doctor and so you never let her be free from your housework. And then what a plight you have"
How different her sister was from her mother. To whom did they owe their university education? . . . Her mother was proud of her efforts dedicated to her children's education, but she always gave half of the credit to her eldest daughter, and she was sorry for her eldest daughter's sacrifice. Unless Yo※ng-ju heard her mother's lament that if Yo※ng-ju hadn't been forced to play the part of a boarding house daughter, she could have become a doctor and unless she wanted to satisfy her mother's grudge, she never could have thought of studying for her doctoral degree so late in life. She met her husband among the boarders, as becomes a boarding-house daughter. Because he married her knowing the state of her house so well, even after she, a boarding-house daughter, became a middle-school teacher, he did not mind living with her family at all. About living with one's wife's family, which they say men want to avoid at all costs, her husband never felt uncomfortable and did his best so that other members of the family would not be sorry or uncomfortable. If somebody asked him about his family, his answer that he lived with his mother-in-law was as good as that of those women who live with their mothers-in-law. Yo※ng-ju couldn't be too proud of such a husband. Her mother also liked such a son-in-law. It was her husband who thought of her mother most.
Yo※ng-suk wanted to speak ill of such a brother-in-law. The warm spring days continued. Those were enlivening days, when she didn't have to shiver even when she imagined that her mother might be sleeping outside. Yo※ng-ju's husband said with a sad face that he louged to have the soup that his mother-in-law used to make with sour pickled radishes. Everybody knew that her mother's soup was unparalleled and though Yo※ng-ju's husband spoke with a grave face almost crying, he spoke of it in front of Yo※ng-suk of all persons. Youngsook leapt up suddenly from her seat and was very angry. She said, "Even if his house maid had left, he could have spoken better than that." If what her husband had said was so insulting and despising to her mother, what was the image of her mother that her sister cherished? Because Yo※ng-ju missed her mother ardently when she remembered her folding laundry so very neatly, she could understand her husband well enough.
The time slipped away and it was almost half a year since her mother had left home. Early summer had come. Though countless posters were printed, Yo※ng-ju knew that they were far, far from enough to cover Seoul and all its suburbs. It was a long time since she had had the last offer of information. Visiting institutions for old people scattered here and there and posting fliers at the same time almost became Yo※ng-ju's daily routine. There were many private institutions that were not registered with the Ministry of Health and Welfare. She had to depend on word-of-mouth to find such places. It was on her way back from such a place which she had found with difficulty, in one of the uncharacteristic suburbs of Seoul, that Yo※ng-ju somehow wanted to take a rest. She got off the bus and took a deep breath. The air did not seem to be especially fresh. It was at the dirty entrance of a village. While she was thinking of putting up a poster in this village, she saw a detached house far away. It was a marvel that such an old house still stood in a village around Seoul. Though it was not a cultural treasure but only an old one, Yo※ng-ju, driven by a strange force, went closer and closer to it. While going forward she hesitated, wondering what force drove her toward it. All of a sudden she remembered the boarding house in Chongamdong. The thought of the boarding house dawned on her, despite the fact that there were no similarities.
With a deep breath she saw the signboard, Chongaesa, together with her mother's sweater fluttering on a clothes line. Yo※ng-ju, gasping, went into the house as if swallowed by it. Lotus lanterns hung from the ceiling of the main room and the golden Buddha revealed the house to be a temple. Everything else was exactly like other country houses. In the large main room in front of the Buddha, under the lotus lanterns, two women in monks' habits were peeling roots, talking to each other in affectionate whispers. A perfectly amicable atmosphere rose around the two women like a shimmer of heat. It may have been because the monk's habit was so big on her, that her mother looked like a butterfly taking a rest with its wings folded. No, no, it was not the big monk's habit. It was the freedom of shedding the weight and the scraps of her life. Until now who could ever make her mother so free and happy? How wonderful it was an the old woman over seventy still looked so innocent without any trace of life's sordidness!
This can't possibly be real, I am looking at an illusion, thought Yo※ng-ju. She could not even take a step forward, though her mother was a very short distance away. Because where Yo※ng-ju stood was where reality was. Because however small or transparent it might be, the gap between reality and illusion could never be spanned, since they were two entirely different worlds.