Fumbling, I Knew I'd End Up Like This
- onNovember 11, 2014
- Vol.22 Winter 2013
- byLee Kiho
- Fumbling, I Knew I'd End Up Like This
It hadn’t been two months since Su-young had gone to the abandoned house when something terrible happened in the South. Two nuclear reactors, one in the southeast, one in the southwest, exploded, two hours apart. As with every human catastrophe, this one came without warning, at random. Its cause was not the primary issue of concern. Rather, the real problem was that the damage was so great, it was beyond recovery.
As soon as the incident occurred, the majority of residents within a 40-kilometer radius of the reactors died instantly. The radiation spread more than 400 kilometers in every direction, the fallout covering 70 percent of the country. Taken by fear, people hid in basements. To escape the radioactivity, the flight North, North for refuge, began.
The government was unable to implement emergency measures in the face of the catastrophe. There were only empty statements. Do not fear. We will quickly assemble a special relief task force. Illegal actions will be sternly punished. But the government that once was, had already been completely erased from the people’s minds. By that point the only thing controlling them, the only thing commanding them, was the gray fallout.
One week after the incident the Military Demarcation Line was breeched. With no regard for fences, none for ideologies, people made their ways to Cheorwon, Paju, and Hwajinpo, traversing into the North. Countless people lost their lives when they trod on landmines, but those were the smaller sacrifices. A system of division that had lasted more than 50 years had been brought down all but naturally—nihilistically—by radioactivity. No one, not the government of the South, not the government of the North, could stop those fleeing in their paths.
Countermeasures from the UN came a month after the catastrophe. By that time, both the governments of the South and North had fallen into a state of turmoil and dissolved. First, the United Nations decided to dissolve the government of the South, sort its citizens, and relocate around the globe. Countries around the world made decisions regarding how many and whom to take with great speed China decided to take the largest number of refugees, and Brazil, Saudi Arabia, and Australia followed. The UN immediately dispatched hundreds of examiners to sort the refugees.Those dispatched spent 17 hours a day interviewing examinees in the bunker below the Ministry of National Defense in Yongsan. After nearly nine months, close to 35 million South Koreans had been selected by countries around the globe according to profession, education, and sex to be scattered across the globe.
Each day at Incheon and Gimpo international airports and at Incheon and Pyeongtaek harbors, tens of thousands spat on a homeland to which they didn’t know if they would ever return and loaded themselves onto planes and transport vessels. Those who failed their examinations ran through the dilapidated city screaming, howling.
And then there was Su-young. He was completely unaware of all of this, sitting in an abandoned house halfway up Mt. Taegi. There, there were no people fleeing to be seen, no UN broadcasts to be heard, and no fallout covering the sky like spring pollen. (Although a fact he would only learn later, the reason the fallout did not reach Mt. Taegi was due to the peculiar Föhn phenomenon of the area around Daegwallyeong.)
Su-young would sit in front of his laptop day in and day out, thinking about writing. His plan: Let’s just write one, one novel and we can go back down. I’ll step out of reality for that long—just that long—then we can look for a job… He had no thoughts of earning money by writing. He didn’t think of making a living out of it. Instead, he swore to himself: Just one year, I’ve done so well over the past two, if I can just trudge through and manage for one more … With those thoughts he sat in front of his laptop day in and day out.
“So what is this amazing novel you’ve written?” The clerk spoke with one hand under his chin.
The examiner pulled a cigarette from his desk drawer. After lighting it, he switched on the air purifier atop his desk. The glow of the lighter lit the examiner’s face for a moment. He was a man in his early thirties, with gold-rimmed glasses.
“Ah, yes...” Su-young took an HD diskette from his bag and approached the clerk’s desk.
“Uh, well … it’s the novel I’ve written.”
The clerk looked at him blankly for a moment, then accepted the diskette. He took a good look at the front and back, then handed it back to Su-young. At a loss, Su-young took the disk back with one hand and stood in front of the clerk.
“Have a seat.”
“I said have a seat. We don’t have much time.”
Su-young returned to the steel chair and sat down. Rather than place the diskette back in his bag, he placed it on his knee.
“Good. So we understand your basic situation … Let’s start off by going over some of the other details,” said the clerk, looking at the monitor. “First off, I’d like you to keep in mind that due to your late registration for the examination process your range of options will not be as wide as others’. Also understand that this is according to the details of the international convention.”
Su-young nodded slightly.
“Okay. First: There’s a country looking for people who have a commercial driver’s licenses. It’s Chile. Does this apply to you?”
“No, I don’t have one.”
“Alright. The Republic of garamond-premier-pro is looking for a data processing specialist. Can you do that?”
“No, I can’t.”