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  • Robot
  • Kim Young-ha (bio)
    Translated by Russell Burge (bio) and Hajin Jun (bio)

As usual, the subway to work was packed. The air was thick with the pungent odor of damp umbrellas and the stench spewing from passengers’ mouths. The man standing next to Sugyong nodded off to sleep, his hand still gripping the subway handle. He was wholly unaware of the wet umbrella in his other hand brushing against Sugyŏng’s leg with every jerk of the subway car. She contorted her body to avoid it, but it was no use. Sugyŏng shook her head in defeat. And in a small, imperceptible voice she muttered, Life is nothing special. If a wet umbrella sticks to your skin, you just endure it. As she said this, she felt like she really could endure. Sugyŏng repeated the words in her head lest she forget. Life, wet umbrella, skin, endure. Life, wet umbrella, skin, endure.

The subway door opened. She squeezed through the two men she had so patiently tolerated and barely made it onto the platform. She sighed, and settled into a chair with her back to the wall with the station name, Hoehyŏn, printed in large letters. She pulled out a wine-colored notebook from her purse and wrote down the saying that had come to her moments before. Life … Wet umbrella … Endure. Inside the notebook, there were countless maxims written in a scrawl as tiny as sesame seeds. Some were copied from novels, and others, like the one from today, she had come up with herself, but she did not really distinguish between the two. For instance, [End Page 263] “When you have time to love, love. When you don’t have time to love, love all the more.” She did not know if such phrases were her own or copied from elsewhere. Sugyŏng placed the notebook back into her purse, closed the zipper, stood up, and walked purposefully toward the turnstile.

Emptied of passengers, the turnstile was quiet. She retrieved her subway card from her wallet and walked toward the card reader. She sensed someone staring intently at her from the other side. The newly installed turnstile did not clearly indicate a separate entrance or exit. One could just as easily exit or enter through the same place. While this was likely intended to facilitate the flow of traffic, confusion arose when people came face to face with one another at the same turnstile. Sugyŏng motioned to the man staring at her across the turnstile to go ahead, but he made no move to enter. Neither did he go toward a different turnstile. He simply stood there and gazed blankly at her. Sugyŏng froze as a cool sensation passed through her body, like a burst of air-conditioning from a department store entrance. The man appeared to be in his early twenties, and he stared at her with the clearest eyes she had ever seen. He was like a character straight out of a romance manhwa, exceedingly kind and hopelessly in love. Such a character would love the protagonist so much that even if she left for the arms of another, he would forgive her, telling her to return when she grew tired of her new lover, knowing full well that such a day would never come. He would say, “I will be your shadow, always.” But a shadow is just a shadow, and the endearing and beautiful protagonist never returns.

Slipping past the man’s gaze, she went through the adjacent turnstile and left the station. The man stared vacantly at Sugyŏng and began to follow her. Her steps quickened instinctively. These kinds of incidents were uncommon but not unprecedented. In her twenties, she used to have coffee with men who followed her, but none had chased her like this. Men had a tendency to get overly excited by small victories. She ran up the stairs as fast as she could, [End Page 264] away from the gaze that trailed her. The office was just a hundred meters away. He doesn’t seem like a bad person. Besides, we’re in broad daylight, and it’s rush hour...


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pp. 263-279
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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