Born in Hongcheon, Gangwon Province in 1940, Jeon Sang-Gukgraduated from the Korean Language and Literature Department of Gyeonghee University, Seoul, where he went on to do an M.A. in the Graduate School. He taught for many years in high schools before becoming a professor in Korean literature at Gangwon University. He has published many short stories and a small number of novels since the late 1970s. His first collection of stories, Baramnan maeul (fast-living village) was published in 1977, and his first novel, Neupesoneun barami (Wind from the swamp) followed in 1980. The novel Kil (Road, 1985) has received particular critical acclaim. He received the Literature Prize for Korean Writers in 1979 and the Literature Prize of the Republic of Korea in 1980. Other awards followed: the Dongin Prize also in 1980, the Yun Dong-ju ward in 1988, and the Kim Yu-jeong Award in 1990.
Jeon's work is commonly characterized by the adjective 'masculine'. This may be explained in a variety of ways. His style is tight and austere, and he has sometimes been criticized for his lack of ornamental details. His plots are boldly structured, usually focussing on themes related more or less directly with the division of Korea and the Korean War. His main characters are almost invariably masculine and the stories are frequently set in boys' middle and high schools. The problems inherent in Korean education are often evoked. He is a serious writer, and many of his work deals with the problem of evil. This theme of evil is linked to the way in which his male characters are often shown to suffer from strong, dictatorial father-figures. The challenge facing his characters is to find a way of confronting and overcoming the evil that pervades society.
Two men were trudging along in the ankle-deep snow. The gray sky looked like snow again, casting a pall on the fading day that should have been bright with the full moon. The man in front was short and solid, but his gait was uncertain while the other, following a few paces back, was a tall, rather loose-boned man, but he was more sure-footed.
The tall one was well prepared against the cold weather with a hat and a heavy brown overcoat, but the short one in a thin shirt and a light jacket, looked pitifully inadequate. The jacket was too tight and short for his stocky torso and the pants too wide.
The snow clung frozen to his pants legs and made a chafing noise every time he moved his legs. He had drawn his shoulders up to his ears.
"I am so glad to have a fellow traveller," said the tall man in a precise but comfortable voice. "Yeah. Walking alone at night gives me willies. Especially this kind of country road," answered the short man, in a strangely animated voice as if he were waking up from a secret thought.
"By the way, you said you were coming from Chunchon, didn't you? Then you must have heard about yesterday's murder in Kunwha-dong," the short one asked.
The tall man stopped a moment.
"Mu・ murder? Oh, yes. I heard about it. By pure chance, I happened to go to the site of the murder."Now, the short one stopped and asked hastily.
"Huh? The site? Really? You mean you went to the tavern?" They walked on in silence.
"Er, you know, . . . er, do you think the police will catch the murderer soon? Were there any clues?" the short one asked.
The tall one mumbled he wasn't sure and wondered aloud. "Didn't you say you were coming from Wonju? Then, how did you know about the murder? Such news spreads quickly, I suppose."The short man stopped in mid-step and spoke belligerently.
"Listen, here. What are you up to? When did I say I came from Wonju, huh?"He seemed ready to fight.
"Oh, I must have heard wrong. My mistake."The short one, somewhat appeased, began to resume his walk. The tall one shrugged his shoulders and followed him.
The two men trudged on silently for quite a while before they looked up and saw a wide field, and beyond it the vague outline of a mountain. The short man suddenly came to a standstill and began to urinate. The tall man dusted off snow from his pants and overcoat and asked,"Wayari is behind that mountain, isn't it?"Then he added apologetically, "It's my first visit to this area." But the short one buttoned up his fly without answering.
"Now, lemme see・ if we go this way, it'll be a long detour. Come on, let's try this short cut," the short man said. He didn't bother to hear the other man's response and jumped into the snow-covered field.
"A short-cut across the field? How about the mountain? Don't you think we should take the road, though long?" The tall man stood, hesitating.
"Do as you like. I'm gonna cross the field," the short man answered curtly and walked on. After a moment of hesitation, the tall man hastened after his fellow traveler. "Hey, please wait for me," he called, but the short man didn't even turn. The tall man seemed to make up his mind, shrugged, and carefully traced the other man's foot-steps.
The short man stumbled and fell down. He raised himself and walked on without bothering to dust off the snow on his clothes. Every time the short man lost his balance, the tall man advanced gingerly like a rope-walker while constantly shaking off the snow from his pants.
Near the edge of the field, they found a stream. "We got to cross this," said the short man and began to step onto it. The stream, unseen under ice and snow, made itself known by its noise.
"Do you think the ice is solid enough? The stream doesn't seem deep, though." The tall man said, but there was no response from the other one.
At first, the man felt only some pebbles, then a veneer of ice that crackled under his feet. Overly cautious, the tall man stepped exactly on the short man's foot marks.
"This ain't gonna work. We can't go this way," the short one said when his feet fell through the ice. He splashed across the stream.
"Damn, the water is so cold!" he swore. Ice pieces floated down the water. The snow-covered water slowly turned black as he went on. He got onto the other side of the stream and looked back at the tall man, still hesitating to plunge in.
"Hey, you can't cross here. This here is a rapid," the short one said and began to walk along the stream toward the mountain. The tall man, nervous and fidgeting, began to walk in the same direction, with his eyes fixed on the other man.
After a while, the tall one splashed into the stream and crossed it easily. The short man ignored him as the tall man struggled to catch up, still placing his feet on his footprints. The short man's pants were soaked up to his knees.
"Look, you are soaking wet. Why didn't you cross where I did?" "Oh, shit. My pants are frozen stiff, but my feet feel fine," the short one said. "Shit, it was the same that night, too," he mumbled to himself.
"That night? what do you mean?" the tall man asked but got no answer from the other one.
It was overcast and freezing. The short man's frozen pants-legs clattered as he moved, his eyes set on the bottom of the mountain.
"Damn! We got in the wrong way," he exclaimed and looked around.
"People get bewitched by snow, I've heard. It's really hard to walk in the snow, isn't it?" the tall man said.
"I'm sorry. It's been a long time since I came this way." "So, this is your hometown?" The short man ignored the question.
"Shit. We'll just go on a bit and see," said he, already rattling his stiff pants. They walked on in silence for quite a while. The short man in front suddenly stopped and exhaled a quiet sigh while the tall one stood still and looked around. He pointed to a spot in distance. There was a little hut near the place where the stream diverged away from the mountain. Without a word, they began to walk toward the hut.
The space before the house had been swept clean. They shook off snow from their clothes. The short man, his pants rattling, stepped to the gate made of twigs and straw.
All of a sudden the tall man began to cough, quite violently, and spat something on the ground. It instantly made a bright spot. He rubbed it off by one foot, spat into his handkerchief, and examined the content. Then, he cleaned his lips and chin with his handkerchief.
"It's changed quite a bit. Imagine a house on this damned place!. Yoohoo! Shit, people in the house must be already asleep," the short man said.
"Hey, anybody home? Lemme ask you somethin." There was no sign of stirring inside.
"Shit. Somebody must be inside. Look at the yard," said the short man and began to shake the gate. The empty cans on the gate clanged and echoed through the snow-covered field.
At last, there came a sound of people mumbling.
"Who is it? We must have dozed off," a man said. The short man went on rattling the gate. The door opened a bit.
"Who is it?" This time the voice belonged to a woman. "Lemme ask you a question. Where 'bout is the Kudumchi Pass?" A man's voice answered, "Since you are asking about Kudumchi, you must be going to Wayari. Whoever you are, you are way off. Why didn't you take the wide road? It's so stupid to cross the Pass in this snow." He tutted. As if to counterattack, the short man shook the gate violently and yelled.
"Hey, it ain't none of your business how we're goin' there. Come out a minute, will ya?" He sounded ready to barge in.
"Now, now, be patient, please. My husband cannot come out. He is sick. So, you want to go over the Pass? Just follow the stream a long way." "Okay. Actually, I'm a Wayari man. How long have you lived here? Haven't you heard of a man named Choi Okku, by any chance? I'm the very man." The short man said as he turned on his heels, his pants rattling.
The woman standing before the open door questioned, "Choi Okku? Choi Okku?""What? what? Okku? Is he out of his mind to come here? Huh?" The short man paid no attention to the question and urged the tall man to leave.
"Let's leave this place. My feet are freezin'." "Just a moment. If your feet are freezing, why don't you go in and thaw out a little?" the tall man suggested. But Choi Okku strode ahead, mumbling to himself, "It ain't no matter. Let 'em freeze." The tall man was taken aback, but followed the other man toward the mountain.
"I'm sorry. We should've taken the road. You're havin' a hard time, ain't you?" the short man said politely, suddenly crestfallen.
"Hey, I haven't asked you yet why you wanna go to Wayari, in this snow, all the way from Chunchon," Choi Okku asked, rather nonchalantly. The other one seemed surprised.
"Oh, just on a small matter. I'm sorry I . . . , I can't say anymore. Er . . . it's a private matter," he stammered.
"A private matter?" Choi Okku paused a minute.
"Oh, yeah, for vacation then?"The tall one seemed alarmed.
"Vacation? Oh . . . yes . . . I . . . I am not well.""So I was right. I saw you spitting blood.""You saw it. Yes, I took all kinds of medicine, but in vain. My illness is・. Anyway, I know how sick I am," he tried to suppress another fit of coughing. "Then . . . you are . . . .""By the way, what do you do for a living? You look like a government guy to me," Okku said. "Y . . . es, sort of. Look, the road is really rough." The tall man readjusted his fedora and asked, "If you're from Wayari, you must have many relatives there.""Relatives? relatives . . . . Shit," he stopped, pulled up his pants, and blurted, "Sure. My old man . . . . heh, heh," he laughed emptily.
"Oh, your father is still living. I envy you." "Is he livin'? Envy me?" Okku laughed the same empty laugh.
The night was deathly quiet. Only the stream gurgled and murmured to the crunch of the two men's steps. The heavy sky was about to pour down more snow as the day was rapidly darkening. Okku's pants rattled louder. Okku stopped and looked up at the dense pine trees on the hill. It was the Kudumchi Pass.
The tall man stamped his feet a couple of times and took out a pack of cigarettes. He offered one to Okku who picked it with stiff fingers. The tall man struck a match with gloved hands and offered it to Okku. Okku's jaws shook noticeably when he tried to light his cigarette. The first match fizzled. While holding the second match, the tall man narrowly eyed Okku's square face.
"So, we got to climb over that Pass to go to Wayari. Damn," Okku grumbled anew and his companion apologized, "I'm afraid so. I . . . I have never been here before." Okku turned up his nose and hissed.
"Oh, cut it out. Do you think I don't know my way around here, huh?" He huffed and puffed before he spoke, "Shit. Why do I have to climb over that Pass?" The tall man watched him quietly.
Okku was conscious of his companion watching him closely. He smoked on till the last part of it almost burned his fingertips. He threw it down and began to climb, his pants-legs rattling louder than before.
The tall man, steadily watching the back of Okku, bit his lower lip and nodded to himself. His effort to stifle the onslaught of another coughing fit shook his body. It was near the entrance to the piny slope where Okku spoke.
"Shit. When we were young, there were lots of rabbits around here. When the snow fell, it was real cinchy to catch a coula them. Do you know rabbits are helpless in the snow?"The tall man began slowly to reminisce. "Speaking of rabbits . . . ," the tall man went on.
It was around the year of his eighth grade when the entire class went up a hill to plant trees. Among the bush clovers with light green leaves, some boys found rabbit drops and began to yell in joke, "Here come the rabbits!" There began an instant rabbit hunt. Some upper-class boys began to chase a rabbit, which nimbly escaped through a hole in their scrimmage. All they caught was a small baby rabbit. The biology teacher held it up, saying they would dissect it in the next biology class. One of the students asked him what he would do afterwards. The teacher said rabbit meat was an excellent side-dish to go with 'soju.' "Yeah, rabbit legs for soju," the students shouted.
"Shush, you rascals," the teacher mocked. Then the teacher asked him to keep the rabbit till tomorrow. Thinking about the dissection and cooking of the tiny animal, he felt sick. He put his hand on the rabbit's palpitating chest, that felt warm and soft to his touch.
Suddenly someone yelled, "Here comes the mama rabbit!" True, a brown rabbit was rushing toward them. "Yeah, it's the mama! Hey, you rascals, hold the baby up high, so she could see it!" It was the Korean language teacher. The mother rabbit circled round and round in desperation. Then, she stopped and glared hard at her baby. The children cringed at the mother rabbit's stern glare. Staring at the rabbit's rigidly upright ears, two dark eyes, and the courageous stance, he trembled. The mother's eyes were full of murderous anger. Instantly, she dashed toward him, and the children cried 'wow' in unison. The baby, as if it knew of what was going on, began to wiggle. He saw a flash of light shooting out of the mother's eyes, and stood aside. The mother rabbit dashed through the gap he made and sped away. Everyone was loudly cursing him. Oblivious to the clamor around him, he stared at the retreating animal. Hot sweat gathered in his palms as he clutched the baby.
"Mother's love is equally strong, whether animal or human," said the Korean-language teacher, "but, still she was so large and plump. Ah, well . . . ." The teacher gave him a dirty look.
"I can understand the teacher. You really goofed, didn't you?" Okku said, grinning.
'All the cursing didn't matter to me. I was only thinking about what's going to happen to the baby the next day," the tall one said.
'So, did they dissect him and ate him later?"Okku laughed through the nose.
"But, well . . . . Anyway, I couldn't sleep that night. I had nightmarish images of the mother's glaring eyes, the baby's stomach split-open. Finally, I decided to go to the biology teacher's rabbit coop.""So, you were going to save the baby, right? Sir, you seem like a . . . er . . . I don't know how to say this . . . ." Okku continued to tease.
"Well, it didn't work out exactly that way," the tall man seemed on the edge of entering a long tale. Okku sensed it and cut in.
"I'm ashamed of myself after hearin' your story. Now, will you listen to mine? On a snowy day like this, I feel like tellin' my life story. Before I begin, I'll tell you I was a bad kind from the beginnin'."He was about nine years old. One winter day, he was rolling a small lump of snow. The small lump grew to the size of a baby's head, then as big as a water jug, and . . . . Okku went on rolling. His bare hands ached and his breath became labored. But he gritted his teeth and went on, because there was a girl watching him from behind. As he rolled the huge snowball, the girl clapped and laughed. Magpies were cawing from the chestnut trees. Beside the girl, a puppy was jumping in joy. Okku got more and more excited.
Alas, the snowball ballooned so large that he could no longer roll it. It was too heavy for a 9-year-old boy. Meanwhile the girl urged him to make it big as a haystack, a mountain, and the earth. Okku was on the verge of tears. His hands were frozen numb.
At that moment, the girl pointed to a figure coming towards them. It was Deuksu, pushing a snowball, which soon grew much bigger than Okku's. The girl and the puppy were immediately on Deuksu's side, clapping and jumping.
Okku's eyes filled with tears and his hands became unbearably painful. When Deuksu finally got to where they stood, he pointed with his gloved hands to Okku's snowball and sneered, "How puny!" Deuksu's blue woolen gloves were embroidered with yellow yarn. The girl, also wearing red woolen mittens, piped up. "Deuksu, why don't you make yours bigger and Okku, you, too! Then, we'll see who wins."But Deuksu crashed his ball into Okku's, splitting it into two. The girl clapped happily.
"When I came to myself, I had in my mouth a chunk of Deuksu's glove along with what's inside it. I didn't even spit it out."Deuksu, who had fallen on his back, began to scream when he saw what Okku had done. He stood up and glared at Okku with bloody eyes (actually when I killed him years later, he had the same glare) and snatched his glove from Okku's mouth. Okku spat out a bloody mess, staining in red the white of the snow. Deuksu kept screaming and crying at the bitten-off back of his hand, while Okku spat the blood out.
"But, a piece of yarn that got stuck between my teeth wouldn't come out,"Okku said. As if he still had a woolen piece in his mouth, he spat several times before he continued his story. He stammered as his mouth and cheeks were numb from cold.
"My father was gone, and my step-mother made me stay in the barn for two full days. I sat on a piece of straw and spat and spat. But the damned string from Deuksu's glove wouldn't come out. I went crazy from the cold and darkness of the barn. I knew then what a prison would be like." Okku slowly began to climb the snow-covered hill. He himself was covered with snow and his frozen pants legs made a grating noise as he walked.
As they were passing through a path among pine trees, snow rained down on them from the branches.
"I made up my mind to kill him someday, and years later I did. It was, you know, during the Korean War. People were being killed everywhere. When I killed him, I saw he was wearin' a glove on his left hand. I couldn't brin' myself to take it off, but I felt the old rage again. Anyway, I got to kill him. Do you think that was all? Naw, uhuh, I caused my own dad to be killed too. Oh, yes, I did. I'm that kind of a guy."He went on. He said he was shamelessly used by the Communists, who had came to occupy the village. After discovering the deep resentment of Okku, the most vilified village scoundrel, they made him vice president of some committee or other, which eventually led to his father's death. Under the Communists, ballooned up by their calculated ego-boosting, Okku committed countless atrocities against the people who had ill-treated him.
One night he was sleeping with his father. The step-mother had run away years ago. His father wanted him to marry, but in Wayari, that was all but impossible. Okku lay wide awake, thinking about what his father said upon returning from the outhouse a little while ago.
He said it was snowing hard and next year would bring an abundant harvest. Then he sighed heavily. It was his father's sigh that kept him awake. For Okku's atrocities during the Communist occupation, his father dared not venture into the village. He was cooped up in his room day and night, a dejected old man.
That night his father was murdered by a bamboo spear, but Okku managed to escape.
"Me and my old man were the only ones who didn't know the ROK Army was soon to recapture our town. I think the people decided to kill us both themselves before the army came. Now, you see, I am the kind of guy that deserves death, the most horrible death."The two travellers stopped, showered by the falling snow from the tree branches.
"That night, I escaped to the hill behind our house. I heard my dad's screams and Deuksu's brother's vengeful cry of 'I got him!' 'I got him!' Still I ran on to save my life. On bare feet in the knee-deep snow, I ran."He spat out a dense glob of phlegm.
"So, this is my first visit to Wayari since then. I'm goin' to see my dad after ten years, though he is in his grave."He spat again and began to climb. The tall man was exhausted from continued walking but fascinated by Okku's story. From the downcast sky thick flurries of snow began to fall, blanketing and purifying every thing on earth. Snowflakes danced down as if some far-gone memories were descending upon them. Trees in the woods reverberated in the gushing wind.
"So, you are going to see the Wayari people?" The tall man asked, gasping. Okku who was a few paces ahead, turned around and said, "Am I gonna see the Wayari people, did you ask? See them? Will I see them?" Okku repeated to himself as if in a trance. Then, he began to shout.
"Sir, Why not? Why can't I? I was born and raised in Wayari, my dad died in Wayari, besides, I'm a human bein', too. So, why can't I?"His emotions got the better of him, but in a minute, he quieted down.
"To speak the truth, I saw a Wayari man yesterday in Chunchon. Do you know who? It was the younger brother of Deuksu. Can you imagine? As soon as he saw me, he said, 'I'm glad to see you again.' At first, I was glad, too, so I took him to a bar. We avoided talkin' about the past. But when we got a little tipsy I asked him, 'So, you got my dad, right? Where did you bury him?' He seemed suddenly sober and said meekly, 'I buried him in my family burial plot and have been taking care of it.' I was thankful to him."Okku moaned quietly.
"Oh, so you met Deuksu's brother, Kim Deukchil."Surprised, Okku asked. "Yes, I did yesterday. By the way, how do you know his name?" Okku became wary.
"His name is Kim Deukchil, isn't it? Age 33, a clerk in the town administration office, and he was murdered yesterday in Keunwha-dong," the tall man said.
"I know, I know. He was killed of a blow in the head. Somebody hit him with a soju bottle. You sound like I did it. Now, sir, did I kill him?"Okku squatted on the snow and glared at his companion, who stepped back a couple of steps, with his right hand in his coat pocket. They were almost at the crest of the hill. For a long while, they watched each other without a word. The tall man's right hand remained in his pocket and Okku was covered with snow. Snow flurries were floating down. Finally, the tall man brought his hand out and shook snow from his hat.
"You take me wrong. I told you I happened to be at the murder scene yesterday and heard the police say Kim Deukchil and his job . . . . And the man you said you met sounded like him . . . . That's all. This snow is getting heavier."Okku rose silently and began to move. They were now trudging downward, half sliding, and Okku kept his lead. The sound of wind echoed through the woods. Armfuls of piled-up snow fell upon them from the branches. Okku's frozen pants rattled louder than before. "So, how did you fare yourself after you ran away that night?""Now, you're askin'. What you wanna know is how did a murderer and an indirect killer of his own father live? Did I go to jail? Was I punished? Am I on the run from prison? Am I right?" Okku said with a scornful laugh.
Suddenly, like a flash, Okku dropped on the snow and began sliding down. Startled, the tall man put his right hand in his pocket and slid down after him.
"Please wait for me," he shouted.
Okku, completely buried under the snow, was motionless. The tall man stood by helplessly. Snow poured down. After a while, Okku slowly crawled out.
"You know, at first, I wanted to turn myself in. But I couldn't, because I couldn't forget those two horrible days in the dark barn. In that damned barn, do you know how hard I struggled to get that bloody piece of yarn from between my teeth? My wet hands froze harder and my gums bled as I tugged at the strin'. But I failed. That memory had stayed with me ever since. That damned strin' stuck in my bleedin' teeth in that damned freezin' barn. I couldn't get it out, I couldn't," he ranted on as if drunk. The tall man gingerly helped him up. Ignoring the snow that covered him, Okku only touched his right upper pocket to make sure whatever was inside it was still there, and began to descend the hill.
"Look here, sir, I couldn't free myself from all the horrible crimes I had committed . . . . As long as that damned barn stayed in my memory, I couldn't . . . . Ah, well . . . . Finally I came to fear living. Sir, I may sound odd, but I began to think my fate was too harsh. I am ignorant and stupid, but I knew I wasn't livin' like a human bein'. First of all, I was unable to sleep. Don't you know it's the end if you can't sleep? Anyway, I had no joy in life, none. Nothin' meant anythin' to me and every day became a hurdle. I was thirty six, and though a worthless criminal, I felt I had been treated wrong by life. I was so bitter."Snow continued to fall but a little less. Okku's pants made rattling noise as he made his way down the hill. The wind blew and the snow kept slipping down from the over-laden tree branches.
Suddenly Okku fell and rolled down and the tall man stiffened, and instinctively moved his right hand to his overcoat pocket. Then he relaxed and followed Okku who had resumed walking.
"You know, one day I went to a whore. Maybe I shouldn't say a thin' like this to a respectable man like you, but whenever I happened to have a little money, I did. I had to because life was so unbearable. Once you hold a woman in your arms, you know, you forget everythin' else. To me, to get into somethin' with no other thoughts in my head, was really a big deal. Yeah, it was.""Anyway a girl came to me, but, oh, she was so homely. She seemed happy, smiling widely, 'cause, she said, she had had no patron for three days and the madam begrudged the food she ate. Though she was ugly as sin, once I lay down with her, I began to feel better and we talked, mostly about her hard luck. Her life was the stuff of the sob-sister stories. Then, lo and behold, she began to sniffle and sob. But what was more astonishin' was that she said she was cryin' not because of her hard life but because she was so happy. What! I said. Then she began to say that she wasn't bitter at all. I asked why not. She said because she was goin' to die and would be reborn. She was sure of that. Since she had a miserable life, she was going to have all the more happiness once reborn. Whenever she thought about it, she said she got so full of happiness that she had to cry. In her new life, her father would be the handsomest, the kindest man, a Congressman to boot. She said, 'I could just see him, and when I go to school, I'll ride in his car. I'll be an only daughter, but I'll have a younger brother. He'll be the worst mischief maker, but he will love me. I wish he'd be a movie star.' I sneered at her and told her it was the most ridiculous story I'd ever heard. It was just stupid, I said. But she became so serious, I had to be quiet. Then, she asked, 'Otherwise why is my life so miserable? There has to be a reason,' she said. Shit, I had to meet a crazy gal like that even in a whore house."Okku now looked like a polar bear.
The tall man had not uttered a word during Okku's long monologue. He himself was a white human figure as he struggled to suppress another oncoming coughing fit.
"That whore wished for another life after death, but, me? Naw, uhuh, I wanted to live like a human bein' on this earth. I knew of nobody else who'd tried as hard as I did to climb out of the shitty gutter. But, sir, do you know what I got as a reward?" Okku asked belligerently, then subsided.
"Now, look here, sir. We're on the big road."Okku stopped and urinated again. As he just said, they had climbed over the Pass and down. They began to walk side by side, snow reaching up to their ankles. The wind had calmed down and so did the snow storm. From the pine branches, lumps of snow fell as if the trees couldn't sustain the weight.
"Crack," a pine branch broke.
All of a sudden, Okku blocked the tall man's path and said,"Sir, I killed Deuksu's brother. Yes, I killed Kim Deukchil yesterday. Why should I hide it anymore? You are now facin' a man, a horrible murderer who killed many. Now, what are you gonna do?"Okku stepped closer to the man, who quickly stepped back as he put his right hand in his coat pocket. He stared at the bulge under Okku's coat pocket.
"In that bar yesterday, I began to provoke him. 'So, you got my dad. And you weeded his grave, right? I thank you, I thank you.' But, that night, Deukchil was murdered because I killed him. Why? I don't know. I really don't." Okku's voice was spiritless as never before. The tall man merely watched him.
After a while, Okku turned to point to a slope on a hill.
"I heard my dad's grave is there, right beside my granddad's. I'm going there. Once I get there, I'll clear the snow and offer my dad a cup of rice ale. Then I'll hear his voice, 'it's snowing much this year. Next year, we'll have an abundant harvest.' Then, he'll heave a heavy sigh and I'll lie down beside him. This time, I'm not goin' to run away and leave him behind," Okku said, walking ahead a few paces, and turned around.
"Sir, look over there. When you go around that corner, you'll be in Wayari. Go straight to the town elder's house and thaw yourself out on the warm floor. Well, now, I must go," Okku said.
As Okku slowly walked toward the hill, his stiff pants legs rattled loudly. With his shoulders drawn in, Okku looked like a small white bear as he slowly, trudged toward the hill. The tall man watched him for a long time, standing still on the snowy road.
"Please, wait a minute," the tall man hastened after Okku. There was something decisive in his voice. Okku turned slowly around as the tall man hurried toward him. The tall man had his hand in his pocket. Okku stood and waited for him, but the tall man came and turned his eyes to the sky, saying nothing, his mouth agape. Snow flakes softly landed on them.
！That night I went to my biology teacher's house, but I just walked around the wall, which was shorter than I. I walked round and round. If I climbed over it . . . . but I didn't because it was wrong. Walls were made to keep people out; therefore, climbing over them was wrong. Only robbers and thieves did it. I was afraid because I didn't want to be a bad person. I thought maybe the teacher had a ferocious dog or he might be sitting in the outhouse because he suddenly had diarrhea. Anyway, going over the wall was wrong. I was afraid. Finally, I gave up the idea of saving the baby rabbit and went home.
"Sir, you stopped me, to look up to the sky?" Okku asked.
！I didn't want to be a bad person. Climbing over the wall was . . . .
The tall man stepped back, deep in reverie. In the snowy silence, torrents of snow whooshed down from weak branches, that could not support the piled-up snow.
"Sir, my feet are freezin'. Do you want me to freeze to death? You are one strange man. Well, good-bye," Okku said.
When he turned around, the yellow plastic cap of a small soju bottle peeked out of his coat pocket. The tall man had a glimpse of it and seemed to make up his mind.
"Please, wait a minute."Okku turned his head. The tall man slowly drew his right hand out of his pocket and offered something to Okku.
！I just walked around the wall, because I was afraid.
"Are you giving this to me?" Okku asked.
"Yes, I am. We smoked two, so there are eight left. Since we have had so much snow, we'll have a rich harvest of tobacco this year. But, you must smoke only one cigarette a day. Promise me," the tall man said, smiling gently. While Okku stood with the cigarette box in hand, the tall man walked rather unsteadily toward the big road. He coughed and coughed. Toward his back, Okku shouted,"One cigarette a day, right? Just one cigarette a day!"Then Okku began to laugh, ha ha ha.
Snow flakes whirled down slantingly in the deep silence of the mountain.