“A Day in the Life of Kubo the Novelist” by Pak Taewon

After a While

 

Kubo decided to walk on. The scorching midsummer sun on his bare head makes him dizzy. He can’t stand here like this. Neurasthenia. Of course, it’s not just his nerves. With this head, with this body, what will I ever accomplish? Kubo feels somewhat threatened by the energetic body and resilient gait of a virile man just passing. Suddenly he regrets having read The Tale of Chunhyang1 at the age of ninehe had to hide from the watchful eyes of the adults in the family. After a visit with his mother to one of their relatives, Kubo thought, he, too, like them, wanted to read storybooks. But it was forbidden at home. Kubo consulted a housemaid. She told him about a rental agency that had all kinds of books and lent them for one wŏn a volume, no more. But you’ll get a scolding.... And then, she muttered to herself, “For sheer fun nothing beats The Tale of Chunhyang.” A coin and the lid of a copper bowl were the price of his first storybook seventeen years ago, which was perhaps the beginning of everything that followed, as well as all that is to come. The storybooks he read! The novels he spent his nights with! Kubo’s health must have suffered irreparable damage in his boyhood. . . .

     Constipation. Irregular urination. Fatigue. Ennui. Headache. Heavy-headedness. Syncope. Dr. Morida Masao’s training therapy. . . . Whatever his illness is, T’aep’yŏngt’ong street, humble, no. . . but barren and cluttered, darkens Kubo’s mind. While thinking of how to drive those dirty junkmen off the streets, he suddenly remembers how Sŏhae2 papered his ceiling to hide its loud patterns. Another unmistakable case of nervous exhaustion. A grin forms on Kubo’s lips. He recalls Sŏhae’s horselaugh. Come to think of it, that, too, was a hollow, lonely sound.

     Kubo remembers he hasn’t read a single page of Scarlet Flame, a book his late friend gave him, and he feels pangs of regret. It’s not just Sŏhae’s work that he has not read. Already he’s three years behind in his reading. When Kubo became aware of the dearth of his knowledge, he was dumbfounded.

     A young man passed suddenly into Kubo’s line of sight. He came from the direction in which Kubo is walking. He seems familiar. Someone Kubo should definitely recognize. Finally, the distance between the two is reduced to less than six feet. Kubo sees in the man’s face one of his old childhood buddies. The good old days. A good old friend. They haven’t seen each other since elementary school. Kubo even manages to extract the name of his friend from memory.

     His old friend has had a hard life. He looks so shabby in his ramie overcoat, white rubber shoes, and straw hatthe hat is the only new thing on him. Kubo hesitates. Should I pass without noticing hi...