September 22, 2009
After I was discharged from the hospital, I went back to my sister’s high rise apartment building. I hated the place. When every family member went into their own room and closed the door, it was just like a prison, everyone perfectly locked down. There was no trace of the old village left in that neighborhood. All I could see were the interiors of cars, paved roads, and sidewalks overlaid with colorful blocks in various shapes.
One day I remembered a comrade who had finished his sentence seven or eight years ago. I asked around and found his phone number. When I called, at first he could not say a word. I patiently waited for him to calm down.
“Everyone has already heard that you are back. I called Seoul and everywhere else, but they kept saying we should leave you alone, let you rest a bit. We have a place for you here, too, we were just waiting for you to contact us.”
“So how’s everyone?”
“Good. Well-fed, a roof overhead . . . the world has changed so much.” He mumbled, somewhat like an old man. He was in his mid-forties. All my friends would be almost fifty or older. A generation was gone.
Kwangju. The word did not thump my heart anymore. Before, whenever I envisioned that city’s name, my whole body became enflamed as if there was a ring of fire around that word. Now it sounded like a famous tourist attraction. How many years had passed by? I began counting by nodding. One, two . . . seventeen, eighteen, nineteen. Would I recognize anyone? In my mind they were still baby faced and gawky and so young. The dead are forever young.