The Old Garden: One Shot of Sake and One Cigarette (Part 27/28)

The Old Garden: One Shot of Sake and One Cigarette (Part 27/28)

October 29, 2009

Previous: The Fuel Hole

After dinner I walked down to Todam, the Traditional Tea Salon, run by the youngest son of the Soonchun lady. I became reacquainted with the Bunny Boy, who was now in his thirties. Yoon Hee and I had adored the youngest boy at the main house. We frequently sent him on errands to the village in order to give him pocket money. Yoon Hee nicknamed him the Bunny Boy because his two front teeth protruded and his eyes were so round. It is inevitably disappointing to see someone you knew as a child all grown up. A child has a future full of possibilities, yet there is no shadow of greed. All too soon, however, the childish ingenuity and innocence are gone without a trace. As the face matures, layers of tired guile are added. The Bunny Boy was not shy at all. Instead, he seemed to be guarded or sneering at me, this old man who had returned. When I said how sorry I was to see Kalmae changed so much, he said, quite firmly, that I did not know the reality, that the village needed to be developed further. His wife, the youngest daughter-in-law of the Soonchun lady, only went to village schools and had never lived in a big city, but she still looked like a woman who enjoyed more urban surroundings like Kwangju. They called me Uncle, a small gesture they offered to acknowledge my connection to his parents in the past. As I left, I bought a pack of cigarettes for the first time.

I opened the packet, pulled out a cigarette, and held it up to my mouth. In prison, on snowy days when the cement wall was covered with water droplets as frost melted and the chill from the bare floor penetrated my knees, I would think of warm sake. I imagined the guard on duty having a psychotic episode and secretly pushing a cup of it through the little slot they put the meals through. I walked into the bathroom and looked at the sky, the heavy snow falling through the tiny window cross-cut with bars. My breath dissipated into the air like cigarette smoke. If only I could have had one shot of sake and one cigarette on nights like that.

Concluded: What Time Means for a Lifer

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