It was around four in the afternoon when my sister and her husband returned to the restaurant to see Wang-sang. The boy was on piggy-back and tugging at his grandmother’s ears. Mom was just about to taste a spoonful of fish stew before delivering it when Wang-sang pulled back her ears hard. She almost fell backward.
My sister and her husband ran over to Mom.
“아는 놔두고 가라니까.
그럼 삼십 만원 받고 새벽부터 와서 애 봐줄 사람이 누가 있다고 그려?
내 몸뚱이 성할 때 니들 돈 벌라니까 왜 그려?
아는 놔두고 가! 큰 애야! 최서방!
내 몸뚱이 성할 때.
내가 이 식당이라도 할 때 니들은 돈 벌라니까 왜들 지랄이여, 지랄이!
내가 시방도 시퍼렇게 멀쩡한디”
“Leave the kid with me. Who would come to babysit him from early morning at 300,000 won? You guys should save money when I’m still walking about. Leave the kid here! You need to make money while I’m still running the restaurant. I’m perfectly fine.”
나는 엄마의 그 혼잣말이 어머니 당신의 남을 세월을 향한 것인지,
저기 저만치 멀어져 가는 큰 딸 내외를 향한 것인지 분간할 수 없었다.
I couldn’t tell if her soliloquy was directed at her remaining years or at her eldest daughter’s family driving off into the distance.
왕상이네 세 식구를 태운 소형 오토바이가 저만치 멀어져갔다.
엄마는 그래도 계속 쫒아갔다.
절룩거리며, 부어오른 오른쪽 무릎을 손바닥으로 꾹꾹 내리 누르면서.
The small motorcycle carrying Wang-sang and his parents disappeared in the distance. Mom still followed it, limping and massaging the inflamed right knee with her palm.
# Interview with literary critic Jeon So-yeong
The swollen knee represents the lives of our mothers and grandmothers who sacrificed themselves for their children and grandchildren. The inflammation and the tears may also have many meanings. The pity she feels for her past life without flexibility and for her remaining life that cannot be lived without other people’s help could have brought those tears. The inflamed knee and the tears speak for the things the protagonist’s mother couldn’t say for a long time.
누구도 엄마가 흘린 눈물의 의미를 정확히 알지 못했다.
그 순간 엄마를 그토록 부끄럽게 만든 것이 무엇이었는지.
가난에 묶여 한 평생을 지내 온 엄마의 융통성 없는 삶이었는지,
이제 당신의 남은 생을 자식에게 의탁해야 될 때가 얼마 남지 않았음을 들키게 되어서인지.
Nobody knew the exact meaning of her tears. What made her feel so ashamed? Was it her poverty or her life made miserable by poverty? Or was it because her children realized that it wasn’t that long before she had to rely on her children for the remainder of her days?
어쩌면 엄마는 그저 세월에 뭉개진 무르팍이 문득 서러웠는지도 모른다.
Perhaps she was saddened by her knee crushed by time.
Lee Myeong-rang (Born in Seoul, 1973~ )
Debuted with short story “I Want to Throw a Flower” in 1998