What You Never Know
- onNovember 11, 2014
- Vol.16 Summer 2012
- byJeong Yi Hyun
- What You Never Know
The body was discovered on the last Sunday in May. It was the time of day choir members, cloaked in pigeon-gray sack-like gowns, sit in rows in the back yard of the church under the glare of the sun and practice hymns they would sing during second service; the time of day men and women, who met for the first time the previous night, have another round of hot, awkward sex, ignoring throbbing temples caused by their hangovers; the time of day egocentric husbands and fathers, wearing their neighborhood soccer league uniforms, run across middle school playfields, the muscles of their thighs and calves tensing and relaxing.
It was a typical day in early summer, with mostly sunny and clear skies above the Korean peninsula. Feathery clouds drifted by and a gentle wind was blowing from the northeast. The temperature in the greater Seoul area was 24.3 degrees Celsius, with the humidity at 57 percent—a markedly higher temperature than the month’s average. Most people in the world accepted that the temperature of the Earth’s surface was rising at a precipitous speed. Although the forecast for rain over the weekend turned out to be inaccurate, the Korea Meteorological Administration didn’t receive many calls of complaint, perhaps because it was Sunday, when office workers didn’t have to wonder whether to put their folding umbrellas in their work bags.
At ten in the morning on a Sunday, people sleep in and the religious pray and lovers whisper their mutual adoration and some kick around a soccer ball. It wasn’t too surprising that several boys, at an age when they’d just begun having wet dreams, were hanging around the riverbank for no reason, or that a corpse that had been at the bottom of the river, pushed along by the current, happened to float up to the surface.
One of those boys was the first person to discover the drifting body—he stated that, at first, he didn’t realize it was a person. When the police arrived at the scene, the boy and his two friends, all in the sixth grade, were in a very excited state. The boys, who lived in a nearby apartment complex from which they could see Y Bridge, often hung out under the bridge.
“Something big was floating over there, far away. I have really good eyesight—almost 20/20. But these guys said it was just a garbage bag somebody must have dumped. They said it was nothing. But I kept thinking it was weird. So I went home and came back ‘cause I’m not the kind that gets scared easily, you know.”
His family owned a small set of eight-power binoculars. It took him a little over fifteen minutes on his bike to return. He stood in the same place as before, but he didn’t need to bring the binoculars to his eyes, as that suspicious object had been pushed closer to land while he had been gone. With his excellent eyesight, he could clearly discern with his naked eye what the object was. The boy unconsciously straightened his shoulders and raised himself up on tiptoes. He was a brave boy, but at that moment he didn’t have the presence of mind to remember that he had the binoculars in his hands. He stood there as though he was fixed to the ground until his friends came back a short while later and called his name.
“We biked all the way to the end of the bridge and came back, and he was just standing here like that. I looked to see what he was staring at and it—it—that person’s body—”
Only one of them had a cell phone. His parents had bought him the phone when he was about to start the sixth grade. At the time, everyone was worried because an elementary school student had gone missing in Anyang. The boys had a small argument over whether they should call 119, the emergency response number, or 112, to reach the police. The owner of the cell phone suggested that he call his parents first but his friends shot down that idea. The officers from the local division arrived about ten minutes after they called 112. The team of detectives on duty at Y Police Station also mobilized, and the crime scene technicians with their black identification kits appeared last.
The corpse in the water was that of a man. He was completely naked. As are most corpses discovered in water, his death mark wasn’t visible and his skin was quite distended because of hydrogen sulfide and osmosis. The skin, undergoing saponification, had turned pearly gray, and felt slippery, as if it had been lathered with soap. His palms and the bottoms of his feet were wrinkled, like mulberry paper drenched in rain, and red bloody fluid drooled out of his nose and mouth. All of this hinted at the long time the man had spent underwater. His eyes were firmly closed and his expression was inscrutable.