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“Shuttlecock in the Air” by Cho Hae-jin


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Hye-eun, I’m writing to you with the help from your cousin, Ho-su. I’m David Baker and my Korean name is Shin Yeong-mok. When I was ten months old, I was adopted by Mr. and Mrs. Baker of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and came to America in August 1997. 

Frankly, as I was growing up, I wasn’t all that curious about my origin and didn’t want to find out. It was my belief that a mother who had given up a 20-pound baby didn’t deserve to be understood no matter what her situation was. Through some turn of events, I ended up moving to Atlanta and that was when I decided to look for my biological parents, especially my birthmother. 

한참을 걸으니 탕, 탕, 하는 소리가 들려왔다.
소리를 따라가자 젊은 커플이 공터에서 배드민턴을 치고 있는 모습이 보였다.
After walking for some time, she heard whacking sounds. She followed the sound to find a young couple playing badminton in an empty lot. 

내 스무 살 생일이었던 그 날, 
연신 소주를 들이켜서 발그레하게 취기가 오른 얼굴로 엄마는 말했다.
점심시간이면 동료들과 함께 공장 마당에서 배드민턴을 쳤는데,
그 사람과 자주 짝이 되었다고.
어느 날 셔틀콕이 이마에 세게 부딪혔을 때,
그가 가장 먼저 달려와 괜찮냐고 물은 뒤 손바닥으로 이마를 쓸어주었다고,
그러니까 그게 다였다. 엄마와 그가 한 데이트는...
On my twentieth birthday, my mother told me, her face flushed from shots of soju, that she had played badminton at the factory with her coworkers during lunch and she had often paired with him. One day, when she was struck in the forehead by the shuttlecock, he was the first one to run over to her and ask her if she was okay before stroking her forehead with his palm. That was all. That was the only date she had with him.

# Interview with SNU Korean literature professor Bang Min-ho
A shuttlecock travels between two sides over the net. It comes to rest only when it lands on one side of the court. That side could represent America and the other side Korea. The shuttlecock in this story is described as moving forever like a pendulum in the air. It isn’t important if David is American or Korean. What the author is trying to say is that David is like the shuttlecock that hangs in the air and so is Hye-eun.

셔틀콕을 허공에 던진 뒤 라켓으로 탕 칠 때 엄마의 몸짓은 암사슴처럼 날렵했다.
아마 그랬을 것이다.
본 적은 없지만 본 것 같은 그 장면을  이제 나는 영원히 잊지 못한 터였다.  
When she threw the shuttlecock in the air and hit it with her racket, my mother moved nimbly like a doe. She probably did. I wouldn’t be able to forget that sight although I had never seen it.   

커플은 곧 라켓을 챙겨 공터를 떠났지만 둥근 선을 그리며 반복해서 오가는 셔틀콕이,
신의 뜻도 아니고 죄의 결정체도 아닌,
그저 그 중간쯤의 어딘가에서 흔들리며 머무는 삶의 한 덩어리 은유가 내게는 계속 보였다.
The couple packed up their rackets and left the court, but I kept seeing the shuttlecock going back and forth in an arc. It was not god’s will or the result of a sin, but rather a metaphor for a piece of life that hung wavering somewhere in between.

나는 아주 오랫동안 그 곳에 혼자 서 있었고,
언젠가 데이비드에게 다시 메일을 쓰게 된다면
그 때까지 그 공터에서 진자처럼 움직이고 있을 셔틀콕에 대해 이야기해주리 생각했다.
허공의 셔틀콕, 영원한 그 풍경에 대해...
I stood there all alone for a long time and decided that if I ever wrote David another email, I’d tell him about the shuttlecock that was moving like a pendulum. About the shuttlecock in the air, that eternal scene.

Cho Hae-jin (Born in Seoul, 1976~ )
Debuted with “Asking a Woman for Direction” in 2004

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