- Rhapsody in Berlin
Tr. Kim Ji Yeun 2010484pp.
“You know, Johann Sebastian Bach . . .” she said.
I nodded. I was about to pop a potato dumpling in my mouth.
“Would you believe it if I said he was from . . . Joseon?”
I raised my head and looked at her. Dry spit went down my empty throat.
G.Z.S.B. Restaurant next to Weimar City Hall. Tuesday, 1 p.m.
I wasn’t there for the potato dumplings or for the house beer. I wouldn’t have taken the train from Frankfurt to Weimar for something like that. I was there as an interpreter.
“The pay’s quite good,” P from the travel agency had told me on the phone the day before. “Just take the job, and don’t ask questions.”
I was a wanderer in Germany.
No way?! Bach was from Joseon? I’d sooner believe in the end-of-the-world prophecies of Nostradamus.
But I couldn’t treat the client like a friend. We had just met. I said in a small voice: “No way . . .?”
“Is that too farfetched?” she said.
“Yes, that’s a bit much.” I swallowed the dumpling.
“Then what about Johann Hintermeyer?”
“Johann Hintermeyer . . .?”
“So, not even someone who’s lived in Germany for six years knows who Hintermeyer is?”
P. He must have blabbed about me. It was natural for a client to be curious about their interpreter. But even so, when she said six years, I somehow felt like my secret had been exposed.
“Johann, Hintermeyer . . . They’re both common first and last names,” I said.
“I suppose. Like Ichiro, or Tanaka,” she said.
“But doesn’t everyone know the Major League Baseball player Ichiro?”
“This Johann Hintermeyer . . . is he also that famous?”
What was this? If my girlfriend back in Frankfurt had said something like that, I’d have yelled, What the hell, Annika!
“I told you, my name is Hanako,” she said.
“You can just call me by my name. Hanako. A common name, isn’t it?”
The square in front of City Hall was brimming with the lights of June. When I walked into the restaurant, it took me some time to get used to the darkness.
An Asian woman sitting by the window held up a hand. The sleeves of her white jacket swayed like a metronome. Slender arms, white hair, small frame.
That was when I learned that my new client was an old lady.
I approached her. I wasn’t what you might call a professional interpreter. P had always been strangely inattentive to me, and I had a habit of never asking for even the most basic information about the client. And this was the result.
“Hello. My name is Ninigawa Hanako.”
Jeez. What a low, husky voice. Only after I got over my initial shock did I realize that she was speaking in Japanese.
I often spent my vacations in Japan. P knew that. It must have been why he’d given me the job.
“I’m . . . Lee Geunho.”
Why had this old lady requested an interpreter from P’s travel agency instead of looking for a Japanese interpreter?
“What’s this about?” I called and asked P.
“I just accepted the client’s request. I don’t know the rest.”
“Why did you do this to me . . .?”
“Just do the job well. You don’t need to know more, do you? Client’s privacy. I’m hanging up.”
He hung up.
“He was a musician in Weimar in the 1770s. Left about 160 works of music. He was the secretary to the Weimar palace organist Andreas Aiblinger, and also a communal servant at Himmelburg, the palace church . . .” She stopped speaking.
A flower market had opened in the square in front of City Hall.
“This is about Johann Hintermeyer, right?” I said.
“So he was a communal servant at Himmelburg . . . And?”
“Mmm, I heard he was just an organ pumper at first, pumping air into organs. It’s astonishing that he then went on to play in the court orchestra and make a name for himself as a composer.”
“And . . .?”
“Well, that’s about all I know.”
“Should I know about him?”
A little rainbow hung over every flower sprayed with water.
“I was just asking if you knew him.”