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FICTION

A Day in the Life of a Man Who Worries About Trivial Things as a Profession

  • onOctober 24, 2014
  • Vol.24 Summer 2014
  • byBok Geo-il
A Day in the Life of a Man Who Worries About Trivial Things as a Profession
Tr. Jamie Chang
2014
200pp.

Chapter 5

These Shining Works of Literature

 

The pedestrian path is narrow. A narrow path has been paved along the banks of a brook, and over half of it has been taken over by the bike lane, so one has to be careful not to knock into others out for a walk. It is a nice spring day, and so there’re many people about.

“Hi,” waves and greets a little girl when their eyes meet. She looks to be about three years old walking down the path with her grandmother.

The girl stares at I-rip. It seems she doesn’t know how to react.

“Ji-hye, can you say hello to the gentleman? Bow and say ‘hello.’” The grandmother stops and instructs her granddaughter.

Only then does the little girl remember what she’d learned. Like a female greeter at a department store, she bows with one hand on her stomach.

“Very good!” A satisfied grin appears on her face as he compliments her. Her grandmother smiles.

“Well, pretty lady, bye bye!”

She waves at him as he does.

Her grandmother looks at her proudly and they walk on again hand in hand.

When he says hello to a child and the child does not respond, the parent or grandparent reflexively urges the child to say hello back. There are hardly any exceptions. It’s rather peculiar. Whether it’s the parent or grandparent, the guardian doesn’t have time to think consciously about this matter. So it is unlikely that they believe one must respond in kind when someone offers a friendly greeting, or that a child must learn this behavior to have normal relationships with other people in the future. Perhaps it is simply human nature to be friendly even to people we pass by in the street. Our long history of living in societies must have made us innately friendly. This must be part of a behavior evolutionary biologists call reciprocal altruism.

A bright, warm feeling fills him. He walks on savoring this light and warmth, and when he glances back, he sees the little girl looking back at him as her grandmother drags her away by the hand. He waves, and she waves back enthusiastically.

A bit out of breath, I-rip stops. It feels as though he is in the last stages of a fight with a foe he cannot defeat. He lets out a sigh in spite of himself and suddenly feels dejected. He doesn’t want to die like this. It suddenly occurs to him that he would like to be involved in something important and work hard for it before he dies, while he still has the strength.

A sharp sound comes from the brook. An unusually large male duck is chasing a smaller male duck. I-rip suddenly feels a hot surge flowing through his body. It’s the spring, and everyone’s looking for a mate. Dark schools of fish come from the Han River, ducks fight over mates, and pheasants call at the Nanji Hangang Park. The scenery unfolding along the brook suddenly sweeps him up like a symphony. He tries to look at every element that forms this scenery and feel it with his heart. From the smallest wildflower to the largest tree, from the fish in the murky water to the people strolling down the path, each living thing is an instrument. Each plays the part written in their bodies to form this grand symphony. To use a metaphor more familiar to I-rip, each living thing is a work of literature written in the same language.

The information in our genes is written in the language of DNA. This language is based on four nucleobases: cytosine (C), guanine (G), adenine (A), and thymine (T). Combinations of three form codons that refer to specific amino acids, and the amino acids come together to form protein. In other words, codons are the vocabulary of the DNA language, and since four possibilities fill three slots—4 multiplied by 4 multiplied by 4—they can form a total of 64 possible “words.” Among these “words” are three “stop signs” that signal the termination of translation. It’s a splendid language complete with periods.

All living things are works written in this language. Even the smallest, most insignificant living thing is a work of literature that relates the saga of 4 billion years in a language that we all share. This revelation came only with age, but when it did, it opened his eyes to a completely new way of looking at sceneries. No part of the picture seemed insignificant.

His works are secondary works of literature written by works of literature written in the DNA language called “mankind.” No matter how grand, what mankind refers to as literature, or even the arts or culture in general, are based on countless literary works written in the DNA language. If one loses sight of this background, it becomes tough to see the real meaning.

In awe, he looks around once again. The more he thinks about it, the more he finds it wondrous that such a rich ecosystem has formed around a brook that flows through the heart of the city. The fact that he has cancer cells growing in his body due to faulty data processing always weighs heavy on his heart, but at this moment, the thought of his being a part of this ecosystem soothes him and washes away the grief. He feels he has come close to making peace with the world, and a feeling close to happiness fills his heart. For someone facing death, that’s no small accomplishment.

He starts to walk again. Feeling his strides gain momentum, he whistles a tune. It’s “Colonel Bogey March.” He remembers a scene from the movie The Bridge on the River Kwai, which he saw as a boy. The British prisoners of war were marching along to a whistled tune. The living must live on in this way. In spite of people staring, he walks on, whistling, arms swinging at his sides. 

 

pp. 25-29

translated by Jamie Chang

Author's Profile

Bok Geo-il is widely considered to be a writer who has ushered in a new epoch in the Korean SF genre. Having made a spectacular debut withe the novel In Search of an Epitaph, Bok has continued to expand the horizons of Korean SF by making use of distinctive literary devices such as time reversal or the revers of history.