- First Love
Dust rose up from the ground, blossoming like a large flower. Trucks poured out of the bread factory as full as moon cakes. When they returned, they would be like rusk biscuits, empty and flat. Young girls in blue school uniforms and white scarves walked by silently. Under the tree arbors old men slept as if already gone over to another world. Every day was the same. Like identical loaves from a bread mold, yesterday was like today and tomorrow would be the same. As usual, you trailed after me. You, countless yous.
I saw Ch'unja's husband singing in front of the market. His raggedy uniform was filthy but his shoes were sparkling. "Have you by any chance seen my Ch'unja, my love Ch'unja? Her last name is Kim, and her first name Ch'unja, oh my love Ch'unja." But the people in this inferno walked by with stony expressions on their hard-boiled faces. Soon he would grab each passing woman with the same question, yelling "Ch'unja!!" at them, and eventually collapse to the ground, rolling in the dirt. Writhing, his eyes rolled up in his head, foaming at the mouth. After coming to he would probably re-shine his shoes and begin singing again. I passed Ch'unja's husband as I jumped over the gutter where gray sewage [End Page 61] water trickled past. It was the same as yesterday. As always, without fail, you trailed after me.
The children kicked a ball under Bus 287. The conductor banged on the door, "All clear, all clear."
The bus would leave the inferno for a big and mysterious other world, a destination unknown, only to return again to this hell. The soccer ball bounced against the tires with a loud pop, and shot way up into the sky.
The ever-present smoke from something burning somewhere rose into the air.
As always, you trailed after me, sometimes like the smoke, sometimes like the playing children, and at other times like the tires. At yet other times, you followed me like the ball.
You were taller than I was by the breadth of a hand. Your face was big, triangular and swarthy. Your body always gave off this strange, mysterious odor. The teachers often remarked that you looked like a bandit but I don't know where they would have seen a bandit, not that one would live in this inferno. Even the teachers didn't live here. The teachers came from another world to lecture, and left again for that faraway other world, their lunch boxes empty. When those from the other world left, darkness, dust, disturbance, and smell, charcoal gas and fat older girls were all that remained. One more thing remained. Something unbearable. Frightful human heads, countless heads, and people's faces. A place with more humans than animals. A world with more people than hairs on my own head. Hell.
The first time we met, classroom 26 in the third grade of the middle school in this hell, like the twenty-five other rooms, had some forty students who'd transferred to Seoul from the countryside. I was one of those students. Those who'd trickled in from the big town to, of all things, this infernal city, this infernal neighborhood, numbered about twenty. You were one of those. In the beginning there had not even been ten students. Those of us with questionable backgrounds had quickly established a pecking [End Page 62] order. From number 1 to 10 all in one day. Those below tenth place fell in line at a slower pace. Soon, after only a few months, all 5,000 students had found their places in the hierarchy. The kid who'd become the boss of everyone boasted, "I hang with the toughest kids in the other school. I have high school friends, and know gangs from the other world."
I could not believe that all these kids feared you or understand why homeless punks with their knives and thugs who'd never bowed to anyone cowered before you. That's because I...