September 23, 2009
I decided to take a trip and first unpacked my bags from the prison, spreading the contents all over the room. There was shabby underwear, a couple of winter sweaters, thick woolen socks, a muffler and knitted mittens, a few books, an unfinished tube of toothpaste and a new toothbrush with its bristle still stiff, a hand exerciser, and a golden turtle made by nonviolent criminals. The hand exerciser, along with the Buddhist prayer beads, were made by those who worked at the wood shop during their spare moments. A Chinese juniper stick was carved into an oval shape, then cut wooden pins were densely wedged in. On chilly mornings when my hands were frozen, they said, I should put it in one hand and roll it around inside my palm. It would be like getting an acupuncture, which would prevent frostbite and help blood circulation. I put the well-worn thing in my hand, then opened and closed it. The golden turtle was a large piece of laundry soap skillfully carved and painted glistening gold. It had a place of honor on top of the shelf next to the toilet, for good fortune. As soon as I had come outside, these things turned into shabby and pathetic junk.
“Why don’t you throw it away, all of it.”
My sister was looking in from behind.
“I will . . . later.”
“Are you going somewhere?”
“Yeah, I want to see some old friends.”
“Yes, I think it’ll be good for you to change your environment. We’ll look for a place for you while you’re gone.”
“My own place?”
“You know, you have to start preparing for a real life, get married, all that. Mother made me promise again and again before she passed away. There’s something she left for you, too.”
“Do you happen to know . . . Professor Han’s address?”
“I told you, didn’t I? I have her letters. I guess it’ll be okay . . .”
She came closer and sat down.
“I wasn’t going to tell you until later, but . . . she’s dead.”
I took a deep breath, broken in two, then slowly exhaled.
“At first, I just put them away, but we didn’t know when you’d be out, so I opened and read them.”
My head down, I just stared at the floor. My sister silently left the room then, a little later, opened the door and passed me a handful of letters.
“I’m not sure this is the right thing to do. I thought I’d give them to you much later.”
The door was closed. There was the familiar circular handwriting of Yoon Hee.