- The Key
Father Michael arrived at the station with time to spare. None of the others had appeared yet. He checked the directions again—"Berlin Zoo Station, platform 3, Hamburg train" —and lit a cigarette. Father Michael was shorter than average, and unless the day was sweltering he went around in a black pullover and a black jacket. In Graz, Austria, where he was studying, his bold, black eyebrows and heavy eyelids led people to mistake him for an Italian or Greek. Almost a month ago he had come to Berlin as a temporary replacement for Father Pak of the Berlin Korean Church, his mentor in theology school back in Korea who was away on some business or other. This wasn't the first time he had filled in for his mentor. And with Father Pak's return from Korea yesterday, three days remained until Father Michael was to leave for Graz.
He was halfway through his dissertation. If not for the fact that his mentor had specifically asked him to come along on this trip, he would have declined. Such was the pressure he was feeling to complete his thesis. But once he returned to Graz, he wouldn't be able to visit Berlin or Hamburg again until he finished writing—so why not go along on this trip while he had the opportunity? Also, the destination was the home of artist Kang Munja, who was quite well known in the Korean art world. She had come to Germany in 1970 to study and had lived here ever since, marrying a German [End Page 11] man and moving last autumn from Berlin to Travemünde, near Lübeck. She was a cheerful and easygoing type, although in the eyes of some she drank too much. Another consideration was that she was partial to young Father Michael, who was twenty years her junior; he in turn looked up to her like a sister. When the time came for him to return to Graz after visiting her, she liked to give him the train fare, and on her occasional visits to Austria she would treat him to a fancy dinner. The gathering at her house was in large measure for his benefit. But if anyone were to ask if this was the sole reason he was going along on this trip, he probably wouldn't have been able to give a straight answer. He looked out beyond the station platform. The sky was gray and the air felt colder now with the wind blowing.
Her voice was husky but melodious and soothing. His heart lurched. He didn't have to look up. This sinking feeling was what made him both fear and ache for Berlin, a fact he had not admitted to himself. And there she was, the person behind this voice, willowy Mijin, dressed as always in matching colors—in this case a white parka and white corduroy pants—and wearing loosely about her neck a dark blue scarf that reminded him of the Korean sky in winter. She was taller than average, and if you were to see her with Father Michael, it would be difficult to tell who was taller.
It was the beginning of Advent last year and he was sitting across from Mijin in the parsonage on the second floor of the Berlin Korean Church. Christmas was coming, and she wanted to make a confession—a face-to-face confession—and he had honored her request. As he lit the ritual candle, Mijin rummaged through her leather backpack and found a tissue. The water dripping from her hair told him how long she had been walking in the rain. He was struck by her forehead, so nice and fair. For two years, he had been filling in when Father Pak took a vacation or went on a pilgrimage with the faithful. But something was happening now [End Page 12] and he did not know what to do about it. Every day he would tell himself that this was his last visit to Berlin until he finished his dissertation, and every night his resolve would melt.