- onMarch 22, 2018
- Vol.39 Spring 2018
- byKim Soom
- One Person (Han myeong)
It was around Chuseok. They had no clocks or calendars, but the girls grew sick with longing for home as Chuseok drew near.
When the skies had cleared after four tedious days of rain, an outlying army base sent a truck. Six girls—Bong-ae, Sun-deok, Mi-ok, Yeong-sun, Han-ok, and she—climbed into the cargo bed. It was Bong-ae’s first trip to the base. Hyang-suk was supposed to go, but Bong-ae filled in when she broke her arm.
Hyang-suk’s arm broke when a Japanese soldier shoved her. Takashi had stopped coming one day. Hyang-suk asked around for his whereabouts, but didn’t find out anything. The girls said he must have died in a battle. Hyang-suk’s crying upset a drunk Japanese solider. The damned Josenppi, sniveling away instead of taking soldiers. When that didn’t stop her crying, he twisted and snapped her arm.
The ground was so muddy, clumps of dirt the size of cow pads would kick up and hit the girls in their faces when the wheels spun fast.
After half a day’s trip in the truck, they arrived at a river. A wooden boat the shape of a clog was waiting for them by the riverbank. The water was frighteningly high after four days of ceaseless rain. Looking at the brown water, she felt scared and relieved at the same time.
The girls got off the truck and into the boat. When the girls settled down on the boat floor, a Chinese man, so completely bald he looked like a boiled octopus, picked up the oar and began to row. The man’s unclothed upper body was tan as if he’d painted himself with black ink.
She felt seasick but oddly peaceful as if the end of her life were near. She hoped she’d flow on forever in this boat. That when the boat arrived at the river’s end, she and the other girls would find their faces shriveled with age.
Bong-ae, her pockmarked face jaundiced, sighed, “Look—a village.”
The girl, who had been sitting with her eyes cast down on the water with the winds blowing upstream caressing her face, looked in the direction where Bong-ae was pointing. The village was far away and yet seemed so close she could almost reach out and touch it. It had a red glow and seemed cozy, like something out of a dream.
“I don’t think anyone lives there.”
“I don’t see a single person.”
“They must all be sleeping.”
“A few nights ago, I visited my home in my dream, and no one was there. Father, Mother, my younger siblings. I visited with the dead baby on my back—”
Bong-ae rose to her feet and, as quick as a blink, jumped into the river. She reached out to grab her by the hem, but Bong-ae was already sinking to the bottom of the river. When it dawned on the girls what had just happened before their very eyes, they cried Bong-ae’s name into the river. They yelled so loudly they tasted blood in their throats, but Bong-ae did not resurface. The Chinese man stopped his rowing and shook his head at the girls as if to say it was no use.
The Japanese soldiers aimed their rifles at the panicked girls. The Chinese man resumed rowing as if nothing had happened.
Returning from the base, the girls saw Bong-ae. Groins inflamed and pelvic bones twisted after taking soldiers for five days in a row, they were sprawled uncomfortably in the boat. Their eyes were gaunt.