I cannot forget the day I first saw Botticelli's The Birth of Venus. A late spring snow was fluttering down. As I followed my father into the carpeted Italian restaurant, I realized it was a world apart from any place I had ever known. Small flower vases and candlesticks were set on the tables, and the air in the room was quietly stirred by the subdued conversations of affluent, refined looking people skilfully handling Western-style silverware. Father and I were shown to a reserved table beside a window. A waiter took my father's elegant overcoat and my old, clumpy parka and hung them on a coat stand.
From the moment I sat facing him, I directed my gaze at a large painting dimly lit by a spotlight on the wall behind him. I couldn't look him in the face. The air inside was warm and sweat soon began to ooze along the folds on my neck. Now that you're a middle school student, you must do more for your mother. I nodded almost imperceptibly in response to Father's words. And you can call me whenever you want. That sounded a bit like a lie. As soon as the food arrived, I lowered my eyes and pretended to be absorbed in eating. Transferring a shrimp to my plate after dipping it in sauce, Father spoke again. You have a healthy appetite. Don't worry. When [End Page 201] you grow up, the fat will melt off on its own. Why, when I was your age, my nickname was Pork Bun. I thought that sounded like a lie too.
Once all the food was eaten and the plates cleared away, I had nowhere to focus my eyes, so I looked up at the painting again. Following my gaze, Father turned to see where I was looking. A superior smile rose to his lips. That's Venus. The scene where she's born out of the sea foam. Why did I feel so sad the moment I heard those words? Was it because of the smooth, beautiful face like that of a porcelain doll, milky-hued with a touch of green? Or the long, blond hair wrapped around her slender, naked body and fluttering in the breeze, or the defenseless-looking, bare, white feet poised on a great gaping shell? Or was it because of the mysterious sorrow deep in her eyes that were gazing up into the empty air? I'm sorry, Father said mournfully, sighing deeply, when he saw that my eyes were brimming with tears.
Looking back, as I followed my father around that day, I was constantly tormented by the question of why I was born. Every time my footsteps lagged behind, he would stop and stand waiting for me, probably thinking, just as other people did, that it was on account of my size. I was already used to that kind of misunderstanding. Having been a fat kid, I always looked crabby or unhappy, when in fact I was merely shy. On the days I met Father, I always went home feeling sad because I was convinced I could never please him. He seemed especially displeased with the fact that I was fat. Had he been with a bright, innocent child, he could have been the tragic hero, but a fat kid who looks stupid or crabby could never amount to any more than someone who reminded him of his own mistake, his one moment of folly.
Once I was old enough to be able to buy things I liked with my own money, I hung a picture of Botticelli's Venus on the wall of my room. Since it had a naked woman in it, my friends thought it was [End Page 202] a different style of pornographic poster. B said that fat people are obsessed with the classics as a form of psychological compensation to try to prove how refined and sensitive they are. But neither the sensuous Venus welcoming her lover Mars into her bed, nor the pure, innocent Venus standing with Eros holding his bow...