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FICTION

The Fault Lies with God as Well

  • onOctober 23, 2015
  • Vol.29 Autumn 2015
  • byCho Se-Hui
The Dwarf
Tr. Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton
2006
224pp.

But at Ŭtngang I couldn’t just “do my job.” My brother, sister, and I worked ourselves to the bone in the factories, but after we paid our room rent and ate our food, nothing was left—as always, all the money we sweated to earn went for subsistence expenses. And we weren’t the only ones. All the workers of Ŭjngang lived the same way. We ate poor food, wore poor clothing, and lived in poor health in a dirty home in a dirty neighborhood in a polluted environment. The neighborhood children dressed in dirty clothes and played in dirty alleys. They were abandoned children. I thought about the symptoms of disease that would appear in the children living near the factories as they grew up. When the Ŭangang industrial zone came under a trough of low pressure, the toxic gases spewed out by the various factories hung over the ground, polluting the air.

After arriving in Ŭngang, Mother had constant headaches. She also had frequent breathing difficulties, coughing, and nausea. Yŏng-hŭ-i had hearing problems. The noise in the Weaving Section and the worksite was torture for her. At the time, I was working as an assistant mechanic in the Maintenance Department. The moment I first saw Yŏng-hŭ-i on the night shift I wanted to die. She couldn’t keep her eyes open. Eyes shut, she was walking backward among the weaving machines. The temperature inside the workplace at night was a hundred and two. The Ŭngang Textile machines never stopped. Yŏng-hŭ-i’s blue work smock was soaked through with sweat. While Yŏng-hŭ-i was dozing several looms came to a complete stop. The foreman came up to Yŏwng-hŭ-i and jabbed her in the arm. She snapped to and revived the looms. A spot of crimson blood appeared on the arm of her smock. It was three in the morning. The hardest time was from two until five in the morning, Yŏng-hŭ-i had said, averting her round, teary eyes. At the far end of her field of vision her oldest brother was working as an assistant mechanic. I oiled the machines that the mechanics serviced and I kept track of the tools. My work uniform was stained with sweat and oil.

I had a desire to effect a revolution—starting in the minds of the people who worked in Ŭhngang. I wanted them to long for the same joys, the peace, the justice, the happiness that other people enjoyed. I wanted them to understand that they were not the ones who ought to feel intimidated. YŏEng-hŭ-i spent many hours observing me. Every day I stood before the office bulletin board. Posted there was the list of those who had retired or been fired or suspended. I would stand in front of the bulletin board feeling smaller than Father. “Look at the midget,” people had said. When Father crossed the street, cars would honk. People laughed at the sight of Father. Yŏng-ho had said he would make a land mine and bury it in the path of those people. “Eldest Brother,” Yŏng-hŭ-i had said, “I want you to kill those devils who call Father a midget.” Her lips quivered with the vast hatred that lay inside her. In my dreams I used to hear the explosions of mines Yŏng-ho had buried. The cars of those people were swept up in flames. Inside the burning cars they screamed. At Ŭ ngang I heard the same screaming I had heard in my dreams. This was when the tempering tank at the aluminum electrode factory blew up. The tank was connected with the blast furnace of the casting factory, and the instant it blew up, pillars of deep-red flame shot far into the sky. Quenching water, metal chunks, bricks, fragments of slate collected and then dropped from the sky. The nearby factories sustained damage, too, their roofs flying off or their walls collapsing. We ran over to find the body parts of workers flung every which way in the vicinity of the factory. It was a small factory, but for one instant it produced the loudest noise in Ŭngang. The workers who had managed to survive slumped onto the shoulders of their co-workers and screamed.

I attended the memorial service for the victims at the workers’ church in the northern part of the factory zone. Yŏng-hŭ-i was packed among the laborers, praying. The minister, severely nearsighted, saw these young people through fish-eye lenses. The minister removed his glasses and closed his eyes. I saw the minister and the young people praying. Saw the tears streaming from their closed eyes. And from Mother’s eyes as well. Mother lifted the hem of her soiled skirt and wiped her tears. A young man who worked at the aluminum electrode factory was living with his young bride in rooms rented from our neighbors. When the tempering tank exploded, his young body flew off without a trace. He worked for thirteen hundred wŏn a day. The young bereaved bride hanged herself. She was pregnant, Mother said. Curled up in her stomach was yet one more life, one that made Mother cry. I suffered because of the love I had inherited from Father. We lived in a loveless world. Educated people made us suffer. They sat at their desks thinking only of ways to make machines operate at low cost. These people would mix sand with our food if they needed to. These were people who drilled holes in the bottom of the wastewater holding tank and let the sludge run into the ocean instead of passing through the filtration plant. Yŏng-hŭ-i said the company people had dragged the steward of her union local off somewhere. On one really bleak day they fired upwards of thirty people en masse.

They acted as if they were in a completely different boat from ours. They made more than ten times as much money as we did. In the evening they returned to their happy families in their clean homes far from the industrial area. They lived in warm houses. They didn’t know. Management didn’t know that the young workers, though they didn’t demonstrate when they were anxious to have something, were sprouting into something utterly new. None of the management people tried to see, so none of them knew of this change. If pressed to explain, I would call it a kind of power—a power that is completely skeptical of authority. 

 

pp. 145-147

*This is a revised version of the excerpt.