Author, poet, translator, and a Doctor of Philosophy in Political Science, Kang Byeong-Cheol was born in Jeju City, South Korea in 1964. He began writing in 1993 and published his first short story, “Song of Shuba,” at the age of twenty-nine. In 2005, he published a collection of short stories. He has won four literature awards and has published more than eight books. From 2009 to 2014, he was a member of The Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) of PEN International. He also served as an editorial writer for NewJejuIlbo, a newspaper in Jeju City, Korea. Currently, he is a Research Executive at The Korean Institute for Peace and Cooperation.
The Secret Forest Where Dust Collects
All past stories are unreliable. Like faded wallpaper, stories that have lost their truth are spreading like grape vine all over the world. Can we trust the words spoken while drinking beer or clinking glasses of wine? As time goes by, people can turn the truth into myth. Each person may have a forest of secrets. Like the leaves of a maple that was green in the summer, it turns red in the autumn. My story must have faded too, but who knows how much it has faded! There was a time when I hunted a tiger. I cannot express in words why I am revealing this story, which I have kept hidden for so long, and the confusion in my heart right now. Only the gods may know why I cannot cover this secret with the dust of time and confess. As far as I know, that’s what it means to be human. I think it is impossible to hide something in one’s heart until the end. Can anyone who sees a phoenix not speak of its splendor and leave it buried in their heart? If anyone has a secret, like a bitter and dark myth, they will never be able to hide it forever and will eventually have to tell someone. That’s why a wise man once said, “Trouble starts from one’s mouth…”
I grew up in a village surrounded by forests during my childhood. A branch of a stream that flowed down from a 2000-meter-high mountain, which always dressed up in different appearances while being wrapped in clouds, ran through our village and flowed towards the sea. My mother told me stories about constellations, and I admired the myths while looking at the stars scattered like silver dust in the night sky, but I was disappointed when I learned in school that they were not true. My father enjoyed hunting while working at home, and I couldn’t understand why he gave up his social life. I loved going hunting with my father. He taught me about various insects and herbs. It was enjoyable to watch flocks of teal ducks soaring into the sky after hitting the reeds near the lakeside at sunset. I learned the pleasure of drying wet clothes by the fire and picking tree fruits and drinking the refreshing morning air after passing through a rocky valley at a young age.
But not all my memories were happy and beautiful. Once I realized that a pheasant, I had picked up had not yet died when my father shot it. When I carefully picked up the pheasant, my father roughly snatched it away from me and twisted its neck. At that time, I couldn’t see my father as scary and cruel. Watching me crying at sunset, my father’s face, soaked in the evening light, looked very disappointed. I kept following him from afar with tears in my eyes. After walking in silence for a while, my father stopped. When I walked up to him, he spoke to me firmly.
“You have to understand that nature can be strict and sometimes cruel. Most of the food you eat is a living organism, except for water.”
I didn’t say anything. That day, I seriously thought about the suffering of other living beings for the first time, living with my cousin Lee Kyu, whom I had never even heard of when I was eleven. From then on, my suffering began. I was very curious because I had never heard anything about my uncle. According to Lee Kyu’s story, there was little information about my uncle. He only told me ridiculous stories that I could not understand. “Father didn’t die. He just went on a trip to the sea.” Then, Lee Kyu stopped talking about my uncle and closed his mouth like a clam.
Lee Kyu quickly became the leader of the mischievous children in the neighborhood. I couldn’t get along with him peacefully. He would make a strange laugh that made people feel strange sympathy, but at the same time, he would make people feel sick. Our parents seemed to pity him, but I hated his smile. One day, my father called me and asked me to be kind to Lee Kyu. “Hyung-seok, you have to be kind to Lee Kyu. He is your cousin and he’s a poor kid who has no mother or father. You are much happier with your mother and me than Lee Kyu. Happy people must take care of unhappy people. Do you understand?” After hearing that, I straightened my chest and said, “Don’t worry. I like Lee Kyu” But that was just something I said without really knowing him. He took other children’s belongings and made them his own. And he secured his position by hitting or threatening me in front of them. Lee Kyu had an innate or acquired skill to secure his territory. I started to hate him and felt a sense of disgust that I had never felt before. But it was a hatred that could not be expressed outwardly. Perhaps my father or mother didn’t know how much I was suffering.
One day, I saw Lee Kyu breaking a branch in the garden. It was the silver maple that my father cherished the most. My father called Lee Kyu and scolded him. It was the first time…
He suddenly made a gloomy expression and ran out. “Poor guy, even his child…Pan-gi, just like him.” The father didn’t say anything more. The mother came over silently and put her hand on his shoulder. “What happened?” “Nothing. Maybe Lee Kyu hates me, just like Pan-gi did…” I murmured my uncle’s strange name in a low voice. “Pan-gi, Pan-gi, Pan-gi.” It was my Cousin Lee Kyu’s father’s name.
As he entered his youth after spending his boyhood, he changed completely. He always dressed neatly, acted sophisticatedly, and spoke in a refined manner. And I never saw his unpleasant smile again. When he practiced smiling in front of the mirror, I used to sneer. Everyone was fooled. Except for me, no one could figure out his true identity. When he went to college, he studied so hard that he was recognized as an outstanding student, even to the point of having bloodshot eyes. He worked hard to gain recognition from everyone, and he did. I, too, acknowledged his exceptional abilities. He was the owner of a sharp mind and an unbeatable patience. I always ended up falling behind him when we studied together. I frequently fell into despair, wondering why I was competing against Lee Kyu. I was his shadow.
I chose to major in Korean literature, while my cousin, Lee Kyu chose the Department of Business Administration. My father once asked me how I felt about studying literature, but he never really objected to it. He was a fan of Alexander Dumas and often read The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers.
My parents tried their best to treat us fairly. They made sure that my younger brother, who was born two months before me, was treated as the older brother and we received the same allowance and care. However, I knew that I was loved more because I was the only child who carried on the family bloodline. After graduating from college, I lived at home with my parents. Like my father, I had no strong desire to go out into society and pursue a career. But my friend was on the fast track to success.
My father and I went hunting together and talked about various things. It was not a routine, mundane life but a continuous stream of new experiences. One day, I hesitated and finally asked my father a long-standing question I had about my uncle.
“Father! I want to know about my uncle,” I said, looking away sheepishly. It felt like breaking a taboo that had been promised until now, and I was bewildered. Father began his long confession. “Your uncle’s name is Pan-gi. Kim Pan-gi! I have lived all this time and I still don’t understand what life is. Our family has been wealthy for generations and will continue to be so. I think I’ve spent quite a bit of money, but money has a habit of expanding on its own and growing over time. Pan-gi was different from me. He had a lot of complaints about the unfairness of the world. I sympathized with him, but I couldn’t act on his words. He insisted on returning all of our property to society and was kicked out of the house. Father had a special fondness for his sharp mind, but he disowned him when he heard someone call him an enemy of the people. Then he said that Pan-gi was not his child. No one knows where he went or what he did to live. He must have been involved in the labor movement. Maybe Lee Kyu knows, but he doesn’t say anything, so we can’t know. I live modestly now, but I used to live the life of the upper class, and I could return to that life if I wanted to. I don’t think I’ll learn anything new by living longer. I think I’ve lived without harming anyone around me, but I couldn’t help those who were struggling. Look at the grass over there. They’re not all the same size. I think it’s inevitable that there’s a hierarchy in nature. I just want to live quietly. Thinking of Pan-gi makes me feel a sense of inferiority for no reason. He was a person who overly emphasized the good side of human nature. In other words, he could be said to have a somewhat deformed personality. Excessive idealism is impossible to achieve and empty. I quit my bureaucratic life because of Pan-gi, but I didn’t resent him. It’s a good thing I found peace.”
I listened to my father’s confession without saying a word. His praise of the repulsive Lee Kyu’s father was beyond belief. Unconsciously, I also felt hatred towards my uncle.
I dreamt every day, and the dreams were always different. Sometimes they were endlessly sweet, and other times they were nightmares that left me covered in sweat. The devil that tormented me in those nightmares was none other than Lee Kyu. I knew that he and I were never meant to coexist. I was grateful to have graduated from university and parted ways with Lee Kyu, the devilish figure, and I enjoyed my life.
I wandered through the forest with a rifle and ended up in a meadow full of swaying reeds, tinted by the sunset, where I played a tune on my whistle. It was probably “Pulonaise de Bach.” I listened to the busy flapping of birds and watched as the clouds formed and dispersed into various shapes in the sky, following the white deer tracks in the snow, as time flowed by.
I thought it would be best to go back home as dark clouds started to gather. My father had passed away after catching pneumonia from getting soaked in the rain. Just before he passed away, he talked a lot. It was as if he was pouring out everything he had gained in this world before leaving…
My father coughed intermittently, but he said a lot, and I just listened. “Hyung-seok! I’m worried that you have too much discernment. People attribute value to many things and live for subjective goodness and justice. But I don’t know. What I feel now is that life is nothing special, but like spending a predetermined time given to everyone. When I think about it, I was living my life without a purpose, just going with the flow. It’s like faithfully fulfilling my role according to a predetermined script and leaving. Before I quarreled with Pan-gi, I argued a lot and criticized and respected others, but now I think it’s all meaningless. I heard that a person who spent his whole life trying to prove that two parallel lines will eventually meet said to his son not to waste his life on such foolishness like me. Now, I want to say the same thing. It’s really empty.”
I just cried tears and a few days later, my father passed away. Lee Kyu didn’t come. After my parents passed away, I moved and lived a life that was like bidding farewell to civilization. So, I couldn’t know whether a typhoon was coming or not. However, I could feel that the storm was coming with the clouds and the rising wind in the sky. My house was located on a hill away from the village, so I felt the stronger force of the wind. When I reached my house and found a car parked in front of it, I had a bad feeling. I bit my lips. He was there.
“Hyung-seok! Long time not seen.”
He shook my hand as if he was glad to see me and hugged me. I sneered coldly. It had been nine years since we broke up, but I couldn’t extinguish my hatred for him. I held the gun tightly and gave him a cruel smile. A nauseating smile I had seen on his face before briefly appeared and disappeared. Then he burst out laughing.
We had lived together for a long time, so we knew each other quite well. He read my mind, and I read his mind. But now, the confusion began. Why was he laughing?
“Because I wasn’t there in your life, you were free!”
He laughed out loud at my response. He took out a bottle of alcohol from his pocket and drank it with a lonely look. He offered it to me, but I shook my head.
“What I despised the most was alcohol. Why make your fuzzy consciousness even more blurry by drinking alcohol when you can do it without it…?”
He threw the bottle of alcohol with force. A sound of it hitting a rock could be heard, breaking it apart. I had never seen him like this before. He was always strong and confident like a wolf, even when he took away my crush Eunmi. In fact, I never had any confidence with Eunmi from the beginning. No woman could resist his charm. When I was hesitating to confess my love to her, he had already captured her heart. He seduced numerous women but ruthlessly abandoned them. Despite his notorious reputation, every woman who met him believed that he truly loved only them without a doubt. It was truly surprising. However, Eunmi seemed to know at least to some extent what kind of person he was. Yet, perhaps her attachment to him was due to her own arrogance. She might have thought that she could save this human named Lee Kyu with her own sacrifice, but that was just a thought from not knowing Lee Kyu well enough.
Cruel Lee Kyu! But he might not have touched my woman Eunmi. I never hated him more than I did then. He walked around arm in arm with her as if showing off to me. Did he want me to kill him out of anger? In my dreams, I would see Lee Kyu and hear Eunmi’s voice. Every time, I woke up drenched in sweat and headed for the sea. I screamed on the beach, contemplating sinking into the water to end my suffering. We were destined not to coexist in the same space. It dawned on me then that my father’s depression and seclusion were caused by my uncle. I never drank, but Lee Kyu occasionally got drunk and ranted at me, usually about once or twice every six months. He never yelled at me or said anything. He would stare into space with an angry expression, then smile at me, frown at himself in the mirror, and go to bed without uttering a word. Every time I saw him sleeping, any animosity I had towards him disappeared. I was the only one who knew how miserable he was. Every day was a continuous struggle for him, scraping by. He had mastered everything he thought was necessary and often quoted John K. Galbraith’s words.
“The only way to move up in capitalism society is through education, but that education doesn’t necessarily provide equal opportunities. I like the myth of the butterfly. Crawling on rough leaves, looking ugly and then shedding its skin to become a beautiful flying creature…
He had wanted wings.
As I was reminiscing about the past, he tapped my shoulder.
“What are you thinking about so deeply?”
He turned his face away looking cool.
“I wonder how she’s doing these days.”
“She’s just living with some guy, getting fat like a pig last time I saw her.”
I tried to imagine her chubby figure, but it didn’t work.
The last time I saw Eunmi, she looked extremely skinny.
At that time, I gave her greeting.
“How are you doing with Lee Kyu?”
I just muttered a passing greeting, feeling a bit bitter.
“It’s difficult. That person…I can’t understand. Can you tell me more about him? Maybe you know him, very well. Lee Kyu needs me. He is a very lonely person, but no matter how hard I try to get closer to him, I can’t. I don’t know what is blocking us…”
“Maybe it’s Lee Kyu’s conscience!”
I replied curtly, and she looked at me with surprised eyes. Her angry expression was cute. Her pupils were clear. When I noticed her thin lips and long, slender fingers, she began to look pitiful, and I even felt sympathy for her.
“You don’t know how cruel Lee Kyu can be. You’re being foolish and deceived.”
I muttered to myself in my heart at that time. I left her with a lonely and frustrated heart, trudging through the snow on my way out of the correctional facility. The snow covered my footprints, just like time covered her face and memories. Her existence was almost erased from my heart. But the Lee Kyu standing in front of me now brushed away the dust of time, bringing her back to my mind.
I looked at Lee Kyu’s unstable eyes and spoke to him, “Is there any conflict going on these days?”
He replied in a low voice.
“There always is.”
I suggested to him that we should go to the living room and have some tea.
“Let’s go inside and have some tea, the wind is picking up,” I said.
He replied curtly, “No, I don’t want to go in.”
As I walked ahead, I turned back to Lee Kyu and asked, “So, why did you come to see me all of a sudden?”
He chuckled and spoke.
“They say a fox returns to its den before it dies. It’s about finding one’s home.”
“But you’re still young and it doesn’t seem like it’s time for you to die yet…”
We fell silent for a moment.
“I always wanted revenge. I trembled with fear at my own insignificance. I always knew that the world would go on even if I wasn’t there. Could you have tolerated that? Sometimes when I walk down the street and catch a glimpse of myself in a window, I hardly recognize the person I see. I used to feel the most compassion for myself.”
“We were the same, you and I. But I’ve never had such thoughts. Why do you think you’re so precious?”
“Hmph! You had parents and all sorts of luxuries. I had nothing except my own body.”
I knew that when Lee Kyu gets drunk, he doesn’t talk much. Time had changed him, and he started babbling uncontrollably.
“My father told me that everyone is responsible for themselves. He said that because the current me is the culmination of myself, I should take responsibility for everything. But is that true? I think that I am the culmination of my genetics, environment, and social influences, as well as physiological or psychological determinism. Hyung-seok! If you had grown up in the same environment as me, you would have ended up like me. Do you understand?”
He was shouting as if he were insane.
“Is that so?”
He took out a bottle of whiskey from the trunk of the car and continued to drink. Several empty bottles were rolling around. He drank like he was breathing in air, and then he smashed the bottles.
“Even alcohol can’t cloud my consciousness! Why is my consciousness so clear?”
I didn’t want to stop his behavior, but I thought he had had too much to drink, so I said a word.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t come when your parents passed away.”
“Not coming was the greatest respect for them.”
“You’re acting strange today,” he said. Instead of responding, he took another sip of his drink. “I’m reminded of something your father once said: he believed that art can only be born after our animalistic desires are fulfilled. But do you not want to see something that surpasses those animalistic desires?”
His eyes glinted with madness. “Look at this.” Lee Kyu opened a black trunk overflowing with crisp bills and checks. “What is this money for?”
“This is the result of my life,” Lee Kyu replied. “It’s my human fault.”
“What will you do with it?”
“I’ll buy a painting.”
It was his uncle’s name, and his father’s name. I was taken aback. Wasn’t it a name they hadn’t mentioned even though they had lived together for ten years?
“Sometimes hated, sometimes revered, the genius who never ceased to amaze!”
“Uncle would have been dead…”
“Of course, the money will be left where the painting was. To me, it’s just a worthless piece of paper anyway.”
“Did uncle paint the painting?”
“Father only painted paintings. He drew the image of a starving tiger every day.”
He walked quickly and sat in the driver’s seat. I tried to stop the drunk driver, but he got into the car with a gun. He started the engine and began driving roughly. The wind picked up, and raindrops began hitting the leaves one by one. Lee Kyu started to speed up, and mud splattered along the road. He finally crashed the car into the woods. Neither Lee Kyu nor I were hurt, and we started walking. Our vision was blurred because of the rain. I held the gun, and Lee Kyu held the money bag. There was a loud sound followed by a sudden spark, and the car was on fire. Lee Kyu took a quick glance and then started walking faster. Tears of rain ran down my hair onto my face, and I quietly followed him as he walked silently.
After a while, we found a withering hut. The surrounding terrain seemed to have preserved the hut for a long time. It seemed like they had built the hut by finding such a terrain from the beginning. However, although it was an old hut that could collapse at any moment, Lee Kyu seemed satisfied.
“Everything is just as it was before.”
He started to light a fire and dry his wet clothes. His lips were parched, and his face was pale and lifeless.
“Where is my uncle’s grave?”
“A grave? What’s the use of that? My father was never a person who would rest peacefully in a coffin. He was always restless and seemed to be on the verge of exploding. But he would calm down when he picked up a brush to paint. That was because he entered the world of the painting from this world.”
“Do you hate your father?”
“Not really. I think my father left behind a work in this world. When I judge it myself, it’s a failure. My father left two things in the world. One is me, and the other is the tiger painting. My father disappeared after finishing that painting.”
“If you walk down the hill for about 10 minutes from here, you’ll reach a cliff. The sea is there. My father disappeared while riding the tide there. Where is he now? He’s probably struggling in the ocean of the world, even though he’s been thoroughly searched.”
I was listening to Lee Kyu’s story as I cleaned my gun and reloaded my ammunition.
“Human beings are truly complex. How can we talk about the system of this complex thinking that is embedded in a body that appears simple and dull? Hey, Hyeong-seok! Do you believe in the soul?” “Soul?! Well, I know that things that exist in the world don’t disappear. My thoughts won’t disappear either. Similarly, they won’t be newly created. “Is that not what we call the soul? Even my hatred seems to have existed since eternity.” I smiled a cruel smile. Lee Kyu shuddered for a brief moment at my gaze. But soon he calmed down and gave a sad smile. “You are a blasphemer of the soul.” He nodded at my words. I asked again. “Then what is it?” He pointed to his chest with his finger and said, “Socrates pointed to his body when he died and said, ‘This is not me.’ I think the same way. This is not me.” I was interested in his words and asked. “Then what is it?” He spoke with a thoughtful look.
“Socrates pointed to his body when he died and said, ‘This is not me.’ I think the same way. This is not me.”
I was interested in his words and asked.
“Then what is it?”
He spoke with a thoughtful look.
“I don’t know. A manifestation of the immortal art. A puppet of the absolute being? A pitiful actor who acted on the stage called the world and no one knows him after he dies, just like Shakespeare said. I wander on the stage for the allotted time, but I have to disappear somewhere when the time passes. We cannot know everything. I don’t know if I played my role properly.”
I looked at him with a bewildered expression. He was someone I could not understand at all. Was there a more secular and corrupted human being like him? Yet he was babbling like an ascetic sage. Our eyes met. His face was pale, but his congested eyes made him look even more insane.
“There was a time when you envied me.”
I did not respond.
“You have too much.”
I did not respond.
“Those are the things you took from me.”
“What exactly did I take from you?”
I exploded in anger.
“My mother left my father when he gave up all his property and status for their marriage. My father said he had given up everything himself and asked me not to blame my mother. He also taught me what makes humans miserable. I made choices that shaped who I am now. In my youth, I thought my choices were right, but now I feel like I failed.”
“My uncle gave up on his own, and that was something that happened in the past generation. Why do you think I took away what belongs to you? Isn’t that forcing it? It had nothing to do with my intention.”
“Well, then can you give it back to me now? Right away?”
I was speechless. Why should I give away what I inherited from my father to him? It was unreasonable.
“I can’t do that. You have no right to claim it from me.”
“You can see me as a successful example. I sent my youth and earned only a few billion won. But you, walking around the streets, clutching hundreds of billions. My father now respects me even more. When I was young, I resented him, but he realized it was unfair, so he tried to give everything up.”
“How many people become rich if you return it to society? How many people can be helped by such a foolish act? You’re talking nonsense.”
A smile spread across my face, as the disgust I felt for him turned into anger. I couldn’t bear the feeling that my whole body was going to burst from the expanding blood vessels. The past never dies. No matter how much dust of time covers it, it survives until it decides the future. I realized that I had to settle the past through revenge. The feeling that I had been living under the weight of defeat rang deep in my heart. The wealth had given me stability, even though I lived a very simple life in nature. It was true. And if I only had the will, I could climb the ladder of high society anywhere. An unknown force had taken hold of me, and I felt like I was finally going to find out the essence of the chain that had been restraining me. I tightened my grip on the gun. Lightning illuminated his face, and I could see the inside of the tent.
“I have an eerie feeling.”
“It must be your heart.”
I silently gazed into his eyes. It felt different from what I had seen before. I couldn’t quite meet his deep and calm gaze. He had an air of dignity about him. He smelled of death, but he calmly waited without any haste. I wanted to see his restless side, but as time passed, it was me who became anxious.
“What are you going to do with the painting?”
“”I’m going to set fire to this hut. When I left here before, I tried to set fire to it but for some reason I hesitated and couldn’t do it. That’s why I came back now.”
“So, will the painting disappear from this world?”
He answered succinctly.
“I want to see it before it disappears from this world.”
He began to sing traditional song “Han O Baek Nyeon” in a melancholy tone, which eventually became calm.
“My uncle gave up on his own and that was a matter of the past generation. Why do you think I took away yours? That’s ridiculous. It had nothing to do with my intentions.”
“Well, can you give it back to me now? Right away?”
I was at a loss for words. Why should I give away the property I inherited from my father? It was absurd.
“I can’t do that. You have no right to receive it.”
“You know, I can be seen as a successful example. I sent my youth away and made only a few billion won. But you’re holding onto hundreds of billions of won even while living a vagabond life. My father respects me even more now. I used to resent it when I was young, but he realized it was unfair. So, he tried to give everything up.”
“That’s such a foolish thing to say. How many people will become wealthy and how many will be helped if you return it to society? You’re talking nonsense.”
A smile crossed my lips as I felt the nausea in him. I couldn’t bear the anger anymore. My veins expanded all over my body and I felt like they were going to burst. The past never dies. No matter how much dust of time covers it, it determines the future until the end. I realized that I had to settle the past with revenge. A feeling of being crushed by a sense of defeat was ringing in my heart. The wealth I had was giving me stability even though I was living a very modest life. That was the truth. And if I only had the heart, I could climb the upper-class society anywhere. I felt like I was being held captive by an unknown thread. I added strength to the hand holding the pistol. At that moment, lightning struck his face. And I was able to see inside the hut.
He began to set fire to piles of money. As the flames grew, he took out a mahjong tile from a wooden box and slowly unfolded it. I felt a pair of eyes emitting a chilling coldness from the tile. Yes, they were the eyes of a tiger. It seemed as though the tiger was alive, starving yet possessing the dignity of a beast, watching over me. At any moment, it could swipe its paw and bite my neck with a fierce sound. I was bewildered. I thought I might be having a hallucination, so I closed my eyes and opened them again. The next moment, the tiger seemed to come to life and walk towards me. Almost reflexively, I aimed my gun at it. I was sweating profusely. The tiger was angry and starving, threatening me. Just as the tiger was about to attack me, lightning struck. In that moment, I pulled the trigger. I didn’t hear the gunshot because it overlapped with the sound of thunder. Or maybe I only heard the gunshot and not the thunder. When I realized that my bullet had pierced the tiger’s forehead, I heard its roar. Before the lifeless body fell to the ground, I turned my back and ran out of the house with my gun. Lightning struck intermittently, as if trying to strike my back. I blindly broke through the bushes and ran madly out of the forest. It was the first time I had seen such a terrifying sight when the lightning illuminated the surroundings. Every time lightning struck, I trembled in fear. I ran through the forest dozens of times, stumbling and falling. When I finally emerged from the forest, I abandoned my gun, which had been with me for a long time. I collapsed in the field and could not get up. I rested, lying there unconscious. When I woke up the next day, the hot sun was pouring down on my face. The sun after the storm was very intense. The grass grew rapidly over my gun, and I thought my memory would disappear as well.
After that, I never hunted again. A few days later, a detective came to see me and asked about Lee Kyu. I naturally replied that I didn’t know. As I had expected, the detective didn’t ask any more questions.
“Cousins, right? You probably heard through the broadcast, but he was a capable person. He disappeared with 2 billion won of public funds. It seems like everyone went crazy for money during the IMF era. We’ve confirmed he went to France. But the more we investigate, the stranger it gets. There was no need for him to do that. We heard he had acute leukemia and didn’t have much time left to live…”
I looked at my hand. I was disgusted with myself.
“I checked his school records. He was an excellent student and a model citizen…”
I didn’t pay much attention to what he was saying. He turned and left, looking confused. The sun was setting. I muttered to myself as I faced the sunset.
“Is it possible to understand others?”
I left the countryside and went to the city, surrendering myself to a sticky desire. I enjoyed drinking, women, and gambling, and had nothing else to do. After a few years, I became weak and was hospitalized. Then I went to France and started a life of abstinence again. I devoted myself to studying, earned a PhD in literature, and returned home. I went back to my alma mater and became a professor. Sometimes I would drink with my students, enjoying myself lightly with a few beers. One day, while drinking, a student began to vomit. I mostly just listened to them talk.
“Kant and Schopenhauer also had no children. Most great individuals, or rather, more exceptional humans, die childless. Inferior creatures have more offspring. Having children is a very foolish thing to do.”
“You’re too pessimistic about life.”
One guy protested.
“Then life is enjoyable?”
“It is enjoyable! Isn’t it enjoyable for you to have a leisurely time and drink a beer like this?”
“You’re a fool.”
They glared at each other.
“Professor, do you consider yourself a winner in this world?” I was taken aback by the sudden question.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“People like us. I have five children. People like us,” I said.
“A person who doesn’t have a strong individuality but adapts well to their surroundings with strong adaptability.”
He clearly showed disappointment in my words. Even a hint of disdain was present in his eyes. He reminded me of Iggy. Who really runs this world? Iggy’s doppelgangers appeared before me constantly. There was no one who looked exactly like Iggy, but there were certainly people who reminded me of him in some way.
“Dongho, make time for me and come see me often. I have enough money for drinks…”
I began to wonder how he would survive. He got up without saying a word and left.
“Professor, please understand. He has a peculiar personality, so he doesn’t get along with other students either. But it seems like he’s particularly interested in you. He likes the atmosphere. Well…”
I smoked my cigarette in silence and asked myself whether living on was becoming scary. Lately, Lee Gyu has been haunting my mind again. None of my rebellions, wanderings, or transformations could even cover the dust of his memory. He was a part of my existence and a part of my disappeared past. I feel that all humans are like a forest that holds secrets.
I decided to confess everything. A cockroach was crawling under the table, and I stamped on it with all my strength.