The Old Garden: The Day I Met Yoon Hee (Part 18/26)

The Old Garden: The Day I Met Yoon Hee (Part 18/26)

October 8, 2009

Previous: Every Fire in the World Goes Out Eventually

The day I met Yoon Hee I was staying in a small inn, a traditional building with a gabled roof among the storefronts in Saha village. When you opened the sliding rice paper door, there was a small porch, and a few steps further, a ravine. It was pretty steep, and the waterfall was quite loud. The first night lying down on my futon, my ears were ringing but I got used to it quickly. It had already been five months since I’d fled. The advantages of Seoul were that it was my original zone of activity and I had many friends there. It was easy for me to find places to hide, but for the same reason it was more dangerous.

Bong Han had just switched his hiding place for the second time. He was at the top of the wanted list, and it was the most dangerous period for him. We were to meet in Miari in a billiard hall with two exits, one leading onto the main street, one into a back alley. It was around three or four in the afternoon, when there were plenty of people coming and going. I got the only empty table and pretended to play by myself, while I continuously watched the two exits. I did not see him come in, but Kwon Hyung was sitting there on a long bench under the scoreboard right behind the billiard table. He smoothly took a cue and hit a red ball as if it was now his turn.

“Bong Han is not coming. I dissuaded him. His pictures are everywhere.”

“He should not meet with anyone from his hometown.”

“Of course not. We’re discussing the situation. He’ll have to leave.”

“Where will he go?”

“Wherever, he can’t stay here.”

We concentrated on our billiard game. I won both games. Perhaps because I was nervous, I played better than usual. As we climbed down the stairs from the billiard hall, Kwon Hyung gave a signal.

“Wanna stop at the restroom?”

I followed him into the restroom silently, we stood next to each other, looking into a mirror, and peed. He handed me a piece of paper.

“Read it over and memorize it. Don’t forget to destroy it later.”

I walked out of the alleyway first. He may have taken another way out; I did not see him. I was able to guess where Bong Han was hiding. Right before the whole thing blew up, around the tail end of martial law, three of us had searched for previously unknown places. After checking out the last one, we walked into a fortune-teller’s place at a corner of a market. The owner was a female shaman. The three of us were totally embarrassed, but we obediently sat around the little table covered with raw rice. I think it was Kwon Hyung, who sometimes reminded me of an ascetic monk, who insisted that we have our fortunes told. The shaman kept mumbling and sucking on her teeth, as if she had been interrupted during her meal. She looked at me first. Out of the blue, she imitated a little child with a high-pitched voice. I forgot most of what she said, but I still vividly remember a few words.

“Mister, you’ll be okay. You’ll wander around in a faraway place, and then you’ll be sick for a while. You’ll stay put and suffer through it, then you’ll be okay.”

Next was Bong Han’s turn.

“Mister, you were in prison, weren’t you? And that’s when your father passed away. Your father is still wandering around, he can’t go to the netherworld. I can see blood right in front of you, sir, blood like a river. If you want to be released from your crimes, you must make a clean suit for your father and burn it in front of his grave.”

It was March or April of 1980. I could never forget her word, blood like a river. I read the piece of paper from Bong Han.

One day, their crimes will be divulged, but it’ll take some time. We have to stay alive in order to be witnesses. Do not hurry, be circumspect. I have sent words regarding your safety. I hope you find peace.

Continued: Nature Does Not Change

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