- onJune 19, 2018
- Vol.40 Summer 2018
- byKim Ae-ran
- Run, Dad!
Mom’s a taxi driver. At first I figured she took the job so she could keep an eye on me as she threaded her way through the streets of Seoul. Then one day I surmised that maybe she drove a taxi because she wanted to run faster than dad. I imagined the two of them running side by side, now one in the lead, now the other. Racketing through my mind were images of mom’s face, twenty years of resentment stamped on it as she hit the accelerator, and dad’s face when his whereabouts were discovered. Maybe mom thought that the best revenge wasn’t catching him, but running faster.
Mom found the taxi job tough. The distrust directed at an underpaid woman driver and the ridicule of drunken passengers were hard to take. It didn’t stop me though from asking her regularly for money. Had I plastered politeness on top of my inscrutability, I think mom would have felt even worse. Of course, she never gave me more money because she felt she owed it to me. She gave me what I asked for, but I didn’t forget what she said: “Everything I earn goes up the kid’s hole while I fuck myself trying to make a living.”
It had been a normal run-of-the-mill day for me. I got lectured by mom for eating with the TV on. I had to listen silently to her long-winded account of a fight with a passenger the night before. She got so worked up telling the story that she threw down her spoon and cried, “Fuck it, was I so wrong?” She was looking for solidarity from me, so I had to give a good answer. And as I slipped into my runners, I had to explain to her how I proposed to use the 10,000 won I had asked her for. Half-slumped over my desk at school, I watched the trainee teacher struggling to swallow his nonexistent saliva. For a fatherless child, there was nothing particularly bad or different about this very ordinary day. At least not until I got home.
Mom was sitting glum-faced in the middle of the room. She had a one-page letter in her hand. The envelope, torn open roughly, lay on the floor, the same floor she had once stabbed with the scissors. I knew from the address that it had been sent airmail. Mom couldn’t read the letter, but she sat there looking at it, filled with a strange feeling of foreboding. Her face betrayed her unease; she was like a woman from the country who didn’t know what to do.
“How long has she been like this?” I muttered to myself, snatching the letter. “What does it say?” she asked, looking at me intently.
The letter was in English. I began a groping explanation of its contents, aware that it involved some loss of face for me. At first I didn’t understand, but after reading it two or three times, I realized that it held very important news for us.
“What does it say?” she asked again.
I swallowed. “It says dad’s dead.”
She looked at me with the darkest of dark faces.
Mom always reacted with a witty remark when I wore that kind of expression. I wanted to say something witty too, but I couldn’t think of anything appropriate.
In a way, dad had come home—gossamer like—in the mail, twenty years late. Dad had come home—like a statement of good will, motivation unknown—like thunderous applause at the end of an interminable play. A death notice with a strange intonation. In the end, maybe dad’s reason for running to the four corners of the earth was to tell us that he was dead. He had traveled to distant places and had come back now to tell us he was dead. But dad hadn’t really been racing around the world; he’d been living in America.
Dad’s son sent the letter, which I deciphered in bed with the help of a dictionary. This is what it said. Dad married in America. I was a bit surprised by this. I couldn’t understand why he had abandoned mom unless he didn’t want a family. Either he loved the second woman a lot, or it wasn’t as easy to run away in America. A few years later he got divorced. The exact reason for the divorce wasn’t specified, but I guessed it had to do with his basic incompetence. His wife demanded alimony. Dad hadn’t a penny so he offered to cut her grass every weekend. I remember hearing that in America you could get reported to the authorities by your neighbors for not cutting your grass. She promptly married a man with a lawn the size of a football field.