Chapter 7 Reward
I became determined to surpass my life of being an eternal student.*
(TN: Literally says a person studying for the civil exam.)
The break period is merely 11 days. I don’t know how much more life I have left. Therefore, I can’t waste the precious time I have left in this one room basement. I called the landlady and told her I will be emptying my space immediately. We decided that I would get the security deposit back once she gets a new tenant.
I called the convenience store manager where I had been part-timing. I lied, saying that I was hit by a motorcycle and fractured my leg. The manager argued and begged, but what is he going to do. I’m saying I broke it.
After quitting work, lastly, I give my mom a call. The store opens at 2 pm, so she’s probably still at home?
Of course, mom picks up the phone as soon as it starts to ring.
“Oh. Son. You never call me first.”
It had only just been a day, but mom’s voice was so warm and inviting.
Without being aware, my lips made a smile.
“Mom, I called because I missed you.”
“Ho. Son, have you been day drinking?”
“I see. You need cash, huh?”
“Last week was my paycheck day.”*
(TN: He was being sarcastic here.)
“But you’re in the stage where your paycheck just briefly touches your bank account.”
“This is true. But I still have some wiggle room.”
“Then why did you call? Oh. Is it because of the civil exam? Because you don’t think you’ll get it this time and you want to ask for another chance until next year?”
“…Mom. What do you take me for?”
“I take you for a rock headed son.”
(TN: Meaning you have a rock in your head instead of a brain.)
“Anyway. I’m going to return home”
Mom asked me with surprise in her voice.
“I’m going to quit the civil exam and will be returning immediately tomorrow. Whether I fry chicken or stir it, I’m going to do what you tell me to do.”
“Son, did something happen?”
Yeah. I died once.
I smiled and replied back.
“Just… I felt like my life is too precious to be spent in a wishy washy manner. And I want to hyodo* you too.”
(TN: Kind of like to take care of your parents as a way to pay them back for raising you.)
“Oh my goodness son! I’m so moved I’m about to cry. My goodness!”
“Yuppp. Take it all in. Your son is this filial.”
And through the smart phone, I could hear the conversation.
“Hey Hyun-ji, your oppa* has finally given up and is going to come home!”
(TN: What a younger sister calls an older brother.)
“Really? Jeez, that’s a relief. I was getting worried about him living like that. Being over 30 and all.”
I quench my anger and speak.
“Anyway, I’m coming back tomorrow so clean out my room.”
“Ok of course of course. Mom will make you some delicio…”
“Not fried chicken. I want bossam.”*
(TN: Kimchi filling with boiled pork belly that is wrapped in salted cabbage leaves.)
“Ok. I’ll make you some bossam then.”
‘Perhaps it was because mom was so excited to have me back home, her voice was giddy.
After the phone call, I call the mover’s center and got a moving truck.
Organizing my life only took 30 minutes.
‘I will no longer waste even one minute or one second.’
I firmly promise myself this.
The place my family lives in is an apartment located in the Seobuk province in the city of Cheonan.
Right next to it was the Cheonan bus terminal, so transportation was simple, and being 1800 sq ft with 4 rooms, there was plenty of space for mom and us 3 siblings.
Riding in the mover’s car, I arrived home. With the driver’s help, I unloaded the car. Because I don’t have many things, it didn’t take very long.
“Thank you very much. On the way back, please have a meal on me.”
“Oh. Thank you.”
I gave him a $10 bill and he departed with his car with a smile.
(TN: $10 is more than enough for a meal in Korea. A good sized bowl of noodles at a food stall is around $6.)
I look around at my empty hallway of the house. After spending years cooped up in a basement studio, seeing this wide hallway is like a breath of fresh air.
“Wow. I should’ve come home sooner.”
And I think to myself.
‘Wow, I spent so much time wasted in that tiny dungeon.’
If I had known I was going to die of heart disease at 29, I wouldn’t have spent my life that way.
Organizing my things took less time than I thought.
‘I don’t want to just sit here and waste my time.’
The time that has been given to me is 11 days. Every minute, every second, is precious.
I walk into the kitchen I see that in the sink, dishes have been stacked mountains high. Looking at the site, I smile to myself.
“I knew this is what would happen.”
Mom and my older sister were busy working, and so the household chores fell to my younger sister, Hyun-ji. But Hyun-ji is currently a college senior preparing for a job. On top of it, she isn’t super diligent and the house was a mess.
‘Now that I’m unemployed, I should do it.’
I roll up my sleeves and did the dishes. After finishing quickly, I take out the vacuum cleaner.
‘Hold on. Don’t I have a spirit I can summon?’
Sylph appears and delicately climbs onto my head. I die from cuteness when it shifts its tail back and forth, tap tapping on my head.
“Sylph, can you use your wind power and gather all the dust in the house into one spot?”
Sylph nods her head.
And then, a single gust of wind blows in and out through my house.
Under the sofa, behind the TV, under the bed, on top of all the closets. The wind swept through every nook and cranny and stopped at my feet.
“Yuck. Look at all this dust.”
A dust bunny nearly the size of my head sat in front of me. It was the result of collecting all the dust in the entire house.
As if someone might say it’s not a household with 3 women, the amount of hair was ridiculous. Ick…gross.
Sylph swishes her tail back and forth from atop the dust bunny. She stares up at me with glistening eyes as if to ask if she did a good job.
“Thanks Sylph. You did a really good job.”
Sylph rubs her face against my cheek. Aww man. I can totally see why people raise cats.
Thanks to Sylph’s assistance, the house cleaning ended really quickly. Now what should I do?
‘Maybe I should exercise in preparation for the 2nd exam?’
Of course, there won’t really be a big difference from 11 days of exercising, but it’s better than not doing it at all.
There’s actually a hiking trail on Taejo Mountain and it should be some good exercise. The 1st exam location was a forest in a mountain. I never know if there will be more occasions for fighting in forests or mountains. The time given to me is but 11 days. However, if I hike every day, I’ll become familiar with the environment and my stamina might improve a little.
I put on my sweats and tennis shoes and leave the house. Having arrived at the entrance to Taejo Mountain, I ambitiously choose the longest trail, which takes 1 hour and 50 minutes. I am determined to finish this trail once a day.
Not long after starting the trail, I become short of breath and my footsteps become heavy.
‘Should I have picked an easier trail for the first time?’
After a moment of a weakness, I lift up my head and promise myself.
‘No whining. This is matter of life. Even if it’s hard, I have to go through with it.’
It was an interesting turn of events. After a life full of no ambition and goals, for the first time, there was a clear goal.
Exam, arena, live!
It was a surprising dynamic.
As I steadfastly climbed the Taejo Mountain trail, my breath escapes me and I start panting like the wind, so much so that passing elderly hikers stare at me. Even then, I don’t stop and continue to trek forward.
Even while feeling dizzy and feeling like I might vomit, I stubbornly continue to step forward. I am still in my lively 20s. If I can’t complete this trail without resting, then I fail at being a man.
‘No one will save me. I have to flail about on my own.’
Tired and exhausted, I finally get to the summit of the mountain and I can see the whole expanse of the city of Cheonan. My soul feels lifted and the cold wind refreshingly cools my sweat. My heart and body is tired, but perhaps because of it, I feel even more refreshed. It is because up to now, I have never given my all towards anything before.
I come to regret my past life. I hate myself for having lived a life without concentrating enough to climb one mounting.
“I’ll forgive you this once, but from now on, let’s not live like that Kim Hyun-ho.”
After the firm promise to myself, I return down the path I came and head home.