- To Bury a Treasure Map at the U-turn
Father said he smoked his way through a whole pack of cigarettes outside the delivery room. The TV was showing a street scene as the year neared its end. Snowflakes were scattering in the wind. Mother was in labor for eight hours. Father mumbled, "Wait, wait a little," looking at his watch. He wanted his child to be the first newborn of the year. He thought all the luck in the world would rush toward him if that happened. His store had been in the red for several months. Winter was far from over, but there were only a few charcoal briquettes left. The hospital announced that they would offer free pediatric care to the country's first newborn if it were born in their obstetric clinic. My sister was born on December 31st at 11:34 P.M. "Would've been great if she'd been born thirty minutes later . . . ," father told the nurse. "Don't worry. There's one more to come," she replied. Upon hearing this, father shouted "A little quicker!" checking his watch. I was born on January 1st at 0:31 A.M. "Would've been great if it had been born thirty minutes earlier, wouldn't it?" This time it was the nurse who said this to father.
Mother was transferred to the intensive care unit immediately. Father sat beside her while she was wearing an oxygen mask and told her about his childhood. Grandfather was the owner of a rather [End Page 81] popular nightclub in the city of D. He pushed only one virtue in raising his children: mental fortitude! He was also once a judo athlete who had made city D proud. Father learned judo, taekwondo, and kendo, according to his father's wishes. For father, who was born premature at eight months and grew up sickly, sports were really beyond his ability. As they became more intense, father's stammering got worse. "It's strange. I can't talk when I see my father's face. But I said these last words just fine: 'I'm leaving home. I won't come back.' I didn't stutter at all." Father continued stroking mother's hair.
Mother was never able to hold in her arms the two daughters she delivered. After the funeral, father returned to his hometown with my sister on his back and me on his chest. Ten years had passed since he left. Grandfather still owned the nightclub. "I will work hard," father said without stammering. Grandfather held his young granddaughters, one on each knee. My sister and I immediately pooped and started crying at the same time. Grandfather, who especially hated the sound of babies crying, handed over the keys to an apartment he had bought for a bar owner he was dating, and said, "Go live on your own with your babies." Grandfather never could tell my sister and me apart until the day he died.
Father was always busy. He had to report the previous day's profits to grandfather, and every time, his father railed at him: "Bastard!" His half-brothers each had their cut and so business at the nightclub did not fare well. Father had seven half-brothers, each from a different mother. One of them manufactured fake foreign booze and sold it at the club. Another cooked up cheap snacks and sold them there for a fivefold profit. Yet another got commissions for recruiting singers for the nightclub. Whenever someone said anything bad about his brothers, father would never forget that he was the responsible one, the eldest of all the sons. But his brothers didn't care. Each was the eldest son of his mother.
It was Nurungji Granny who raised us. She had lived next [End Page 82] door and she loved the scorched and dried rice from the bottom of the pot-nurungji-so my sister named her Nurungji Granny. Nurungji Granny's eldest son ran off in the middle of the night to avoid paying a debt of several billion won ($1 million). Granny was away seeing...