September 15, 2009
“Uncle, what’s wrong? You’re not feeling well?”
He came to me and reached for my hand, pulled me up.
“Well, just a bit dizzy . . .”
“I guess it’s still too much for you to go out.”
We walked to the restaurant where my sister was waiting. I finally calmed down after sitting in a corner for a while.
After lunch, it was decided that my sister would take me back to the hospital along a different path, over a quiet hill behind the hospital. My nephew, who walked so fast, strode ahead of us for a while, then came back. He looked at his mom, then turned to me.
“I have to go back to work. I’ll see you later tonight.”
“Sure, sure. I know you’re busy. Go ahead.”
We walked through tall trees still holding onto a handful of dry leaves. Once in a while, a car went by slowly. The air was refreshing and cool and clean. A couple of magpies flew up and down, joyfully screaming. My sister opened her mouth.
“You should go to the countryside and relax.”
I had nothing, I owned nothing in this world, other than those random, humble things that I had made in my prison cell.
“I guess you didn’t hear about Professor Han in there.”
At first, I did not know who she was talking about.
“Professor Han . . . who are you talking about?”
“Han Yoon Hee. You’ve forgotten?”
My heart stopped for a second as if it was frozen, and my arms and legs loosened up, as if my body were slowly submerging into warm water. I did not forget. I was afraid. I was afraid of hearing something bad. Where was she now, what was she doing? Her last letter had been confiscated eleven years ago.
“I haven’t heard from her since I was moved to Choong Chung.”
My sister seemed to hesitate for a moment, she was examining my face. She asked softly, “Did you . . . love her?”
I did not answer. I kept walking, with my head down, my feet rummaging through dry brown zelkova tree leaves. When I spoke again, it was not in answer to her question but a mumbled soliloquy.
“I still have her letters.”
“She wrote to you?”
“A long time ago. Maybe three years ago.”
We were standing side by side on top of the hill overlooking the hospital.
“You’ll be discharged tomorrow?
“Yes, after some test results come back in the morning.”
“Your brother-in-law will come and get you. Go, go back in there.”
I went back to the hospital, changed into hospital pajamas, took my pills, and lay down in bed. I felt like smoking. I wanted to lock the door and smoke at least a couple of cigarettes back to back. I turned toward the wall.