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“Tongyeong” by Ban Su-yeon

#Books on Demand l 2023-02-14

Books on Demand

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I was deep asleep when the phone rang. I had emptied two bottles of soju two hours ago and my head was throbbing from a lingering hangover. Then I suddenly remembered mother. 



“It’s me, your sister. Mom passed away just now.”

I shook my head. I had meant to go to Korea after taking care of a few things in the morning. But Mom passed away in those few hours. Because I had hesitated even after getting the news that she didn’t have many days left, I wasn’t able to stay by her side when she passed.

일이 안 풀릴 때는 고달파서 와서 드러눕고 싶었다.

일이 잘 풀릴 때는 제일 먼저 자랑하고 싶어서 어깨가 들썩 거렸다.

하지만 나는 돌아오지 않았다.

동굴 속에서 나를 키운 어머니가 있어서도,

한 번도 내 이름을 불러주지 않았던 아버지가 있어서도 아니었다.

그 모든 것은 목격하고 무수히 해석하고 기억하며,

망각을 허락하지 않는 이 곳에서 나는 나로 살 수 없을 것 같았다.

그들의 머리 속에서 이미 규정 지어진 내 팔자를 

견딜 수가 없을 것 같았다. 

When things didn’t go well, I was so tired that I wanted to just curl up there. When things went well, my mouth itched because I wanted to brag about it to them first. But I did not come back. Not because my mother who had raised me in a cave was here, not because my father who had never called my name was here. I thought I couldn’t live here as myself, this town that had witnessed everything, had interpreted and remembered numerous things, and had not allowed oblivion. I believed that I couldn’t accept my fate already predetermined in their minds. 

# Interview with literary critic Jeon So-yeong

At the end of the story, the old resentment in Hyeon-taek’s heart seems to have disappeared a little. Hyeon-taek felt someone touching his clenched hand lovingly, perhaps predicting a time when he would finally open his fist. The story’s conclusion seems to emphasize the power one’s hometown has over a person’s psyche. Not only those who left their homes due to inevitable circumstances but also those who left home because they hated the place reminisce about it at least once in their lifetime. That’s because a hometown is where their roots are. 

“니 이민 가고, 저거 엄마 돌아가시고 찾아왔더라.

 어무이처럼 모시고 싶다꼬.

 현택이를 이 땅에 못 살게 만든 건 지 탓도 있을 끼라꼬.

 지를 현택이처럼 생각하라꼬.

 처음에는 펄펄 뛰던 엄마도 나중에는 제법 잘 지냈다.

 어무이, 어무이 하면서, 명절 때나 어버이날이나 계절 바뀔 때마다

 생선이고 뭐고 표 안 나게 많이 챙깄다...”

“He came to see me after you moved to Canada and his mother’s death. He said he would like to care for your mother as if she was his own. He said he was to blame for making you want to leave this country. He told her to think of him as you. Mom was furious at first, but they got along well later on. He would call her ‘Mother’ and send her fish and things on holidays or when the seasons changed.”

누나의 소곤거리는 목소리가 자장가같이 달콤했다.

Her whispers were sweet like a lullaby. 

“택아, 주먹 좀 펴고 자라.

 자면서도 주먹을 쥐고 자노” 

“Hyeon-taek, unclasp your hand. Don’t sleep with your hand in a fist.” 

누군가가 손을 만지작거린다고 생각했지만

그것이 어머니인지 누나인지, 꿈인지, 생시인지,

나는 도무지 알 수 없었다.

I thought someone was caressing my hand, but I couldn’t figure out whether it was my mother or my sister, whether it was in a dream or in real life.

Ban Su-yeon (Born in Tongyeong, Gyeongsangnam-do Prov., 1966~ )

Debuted with short story “Memorial Garden” in 2005

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