- The Visitor
The sun had shriveled up in the early winter cold, leaving the afternoon gray. Over the sea, seagulls were screeching and seagulls were flying away.
On the hill where the ridge ended abruptly and the ocean appeared again a boy stood. He was looking down on the crests of the waves coming at him like a herd of white horses abreast in a line. To the boy, born and raised on the shore, this view of the ocean and its waves seemed ordinary.
The boy had a yellow-green ankle band, daenim, hooked on his fingers. Blown by the wind, it kept clinging to his sleeve. His pant legs, still wrinkled from having been fastened with ankle bands, also fluttered in the wind at the tops of his feet.
The boy turned around and blew his nose. His eyes were red, but he didn’t appear to be crying.
Taking a few steps back, he hurled the ankle band toward the ocean with all his might. But the band’s lightness prevented it from prevailing against the headwind. Far from falling to the sea, the band kept getting blown back and tangled in the young bushy pine trees clustered behind the boy. [End Page 51]
He picked up the band again, took a flat stone, and tied it to one end. His hands must have gone numb with the cold, because he didn’t get up right away, but sat for a while with his hands stuck between his legs.
Soon after, he picked up the band again and spun it above his head like a sling, like a long panache on a musician’s hat. In his hand, the boy felt the pleasant tug of centrifugal force and brightened, but only for a moment.
Then, he let go of the band which was spinning like a sling, like a musician’s hat with a long panache. The flat stone flew toward the ocean trailing the yellow-green daenim. The boy’s eyes followed the daenim tail on the stone.
The ocean soon left no trace of the swallowed daenim.
The boy turned around and started downhill. As he walked, he kept his eyes on the path, searching.
He had been searching all afternoon.
Just that morning, his sixteen-year-old sister, who had recently learned to sew, had given him a pair of ankle bands she had made.
There was a reason why she had made him those ankle bands. It was the anniversary of their mother’s passing.
The boy acted so happy his sister suspected he was exaggerating. He even touched the bands to his cheek as if her yet imperfect ironing skills were warmly imprinted on them. It was the first gift he had ever received.
But when he learned the meaning of this first gift, his face changed color. It was the anniversary of their mother’s passing. There was going to be a jesa, a ritual to honor the dead that night.
The boy pouted and said, “I’ll come right home after school.”
Then he deftly folded his pant legs, tied the bands around his ankles, and went to school.
The girls at school kept teasing him: “Getting married, bridegroom?” The boy retorted, deservedly, “My sister made these [End Page 52] for me because today’s the day my mom died.” When he said this, the girls no longer teased him.
The problem was that on his way home from school, feeling quite carefree thanks to his neatly folded up pant legs, he had a bit too much fun with his friends.
When the boy entered the house, his sister’s eyes riveted on his pant leg and wouldn’t budge.
“My pants felt so light. Don’t they look good on me?”
“Why, they look absolutely fantastic.”
His sister’s response prompted the boy to look down at his ankles. The left band was missing. Without it, the loose and wrinkled pant leg was resting on top of his foot.
“Were you roughhousing again? You’re supposed to behave like a new bridegroom when you’re wearing daenims.”
“Stop calling me...