IAL Special (3)
I woke up the next day when I felt something cool against my cheek. My eyes stirred open to see a nurse beside me. She wasn't Mo Yeon, though. She looked a little bit mature than Kang Mo Yeon, with a bigger, plumper built. She seemed more experienced in dealing with patients too. More motherly in most of her ways.
"No way..." I squinted my eyes and I immediately felt my stomach twitch at the sight of her.
It was my mother. There was no mistaking it; the way she lovingly stared at me with those eyes made me recall how she did the same back then in my childhood years. She appeared healthier now, and quite chubbier if I may say, but her face and her soul was as exact as it was before. I missed her, and I badly wanted to tell her I have written her countless journals, but it seemed like she didn't recognize me. It didn’t even come cross to my thoughts that she would know I was her son even if she remembers everything; she only lived long enough to see me as a toddler anyway.
"Hi," The nurse smiled at me. I blinked at her, still dumbfounded at the sight of her, "Your fever has subsided. Feeling better?"
"A little bit. When am I discharged?"
"The doctors are currently settling your base transfer for discharge and then you may leave. Currently, all of you soldiers are given a directive to report back to Gyeongsong before even thinking about leaving the army," She took the washcloth back to the basin before she continued, "I heard you're an OSS soldier,"
"Yeah,” I wasn’t really proud that I was working as one of the elite soldiers, but it was great having this different level of respect from people when they know about me being affiliated with the strategic services. “Apparently, with the war finally over, I don't think we'd go on further as a department,"
"Oh please yes, don't go on further. Not now. It's about time you fine young lads start soul-searching rather than soul-risking. Get me?" She patted my head gently before she hastily gathered up all of the things on my table that were no longer of use: the empty pitcher and the glass of water which came along with it, and also the washcloth and the medium-sided metal basin, "Anyway, I'll go. Just wanted to see the soldier who helped those Hashima victims out, so I had to steal a morning shift from one of the nurses,"
"Oh, it's Yeonnie,"
"Yeon...nie?" I wondered if she just came up with that nickname for Mo Yeon alone, and I thought it sounded cool. My mom having this special connection with the woman I loved felt comforting. I waved at the nurse before she finally closed the door and left. In just a matter of seconds, the room was silent again.
I tilted my head to the right and saw that the bed right next to me was already empty. The patient was gone. No wonder the room was eerily silent with only the sound of crashing waves filling the hollow space in. It also allowed me to get a clearer view of what was beyond the window: the open seas that spread beyond the Busan Port.
It was visible from the tall glass windows of the hospital, and it was a calming sight to stare at that it was quite bothering to know that somewhere in those calm waves sweeping in the shore, there was a little taste of hell in a form of an island of concrete and coal and people being tortured to work at such harsh conditions.
I closed my eyes instead, and remembered what had happened last night instead of my days in Hashima. Right after I confessed about me being the man in the journals, Mo Yeon asked me if I could talk more in the morning. She was afraid she’d be disturbing me when I was about to sleep, and so I agreed to continuing whatever we had discussed on the next day. She took the book with her and left the room afterwards.
I was unaware I dozed off just right after waking up. When I opened my eyes again, I was with a nurse. This time, I was relieved it was her standing just right beside my bed.
“Hi,” I made a little wave. She tilted her head and gave me a cute smile.
"How are you feeling?" Mo Yeon was as gentle as she was centuries ago, but the wary carved in her face was evident now. I must have frightened her after what had taken place last night.
"I'm always grand whenever you're around," I grinned.
"I'm being serious, Park Mu Young-ssi,"
"I'm okay," I told her, while I studied the linear scar at the crook of her neck. "How long have you been a nurse?" I asked her simple questions, wanting to keep everything less-threatening this time.
She motioned to the edge of my bed and hopped on it—the same place where she sat last night. "I've been here since the Americans came in. While they were gearing up Korea as their allies, they needed men to be frontline fodders, which meant they also needed auxiliary medics for backup and recovery. I had to spend a few years in the battlefield before becoming a regular at the hospital,"
"No way. You were sent to war?"
Mo Yeon nodded, "Those were fun times, soldier. I felt like a hero in movies,"
She laughed, "Ani. Just the right amount of drama you'd see at the base infirmaries,"
"Last night was pretty much of a drama," I pointed out as I repositioned myself to be sitting, my back resting against the metal headboard, "You suddenly cried,"
"I'm sorry about that," She looked down, clearly shy about what had taken place.
"Do you believe me now?" I asked her once everything got quiet again, "About everything that I said?"
Mo Yeon fidgeted with her fingers resting on her lap. Her eyes were looking past the window, as though staring there gave her all the answers, "I don't know,"
"Do you think I'm crazy?"
"Of course not, soldier," She told me, "Perhaps it was the penicillin—"
"It was not the penicillin, nor was it the anesthetics. I've been looking for those journals ever since I began to remember the past, and more importantly, I started looking for you too." I replied, and then I remembered about the red-skinned copy she let me borrow last night, "That copy you gave me...did you have more of those?"
"Well...," She hesitated, "I have a few I brought along from home,"
"A few? So there's more?"
"I told you my grandfather preserved them in time for the museum opening," Mo Yeon had her foot in between the door of putting doubts past and believing me, "Geundae, you said you only began searching for them when you started remembering the past?"
I blinked, "Y-Yes,"
"When did it all begin?"
"When I turned 25,"
"When did you turn 25?"
"About five years ago. More or less," I told her.
"Does it happen when someone turns 25?" She asked as she crossed her legs as she sat that the hem of her dress revealed the little scar on her fair skin. Mo Yeon must have noticed I had been staring at it intently that she pulled my blanket down to block it. When I looked up to see her, she was blushing.
“Were you staring?”
"Yes. I mean, no. I mean, I-I'm sorry," I frowned. "I wasn't being lewd or uncouth. I just remembered something from the past,"
"You expect me to believe you?" She chided, "What if I told you I had a scar on my chest, would your eyes glare at my s and just tell me you remembered something as an excuse?"
"N-No, but you...don't have one. I'm pretty sure of it," I averted my gaze, because my face was entirely heating up that it would have been obvious if I didn’t turn away too quickly, "But that's not the point, Mo Yeon,"
"So what happened?" She straightened up, still unconvinced. "Since you happen to know about this scar, perhaps you've got something to do with it?"
I shook my head, "I wasn't there when it happened, but I knew about it. An arrow struck you while you were escaping,"
She fell silent as she crossed her arms, my response totally gluing her eyes at me. "Then?"
I tried to recall, "They were traitors to Sejong. You were about to be captured but my father was quick to send you to the royal prison. It was the only place you could be safe from those people,"
"But why did they want to get me? Because I was some 'princess'?"
"Partly, but it was more of a political issue. The previous military magistrate wanted to overthrow the kingdom, so he left his post and sieged the place. You were kidnapped then,"
"But I was dead," She told me, "The writer said I died,"
"That was what I've thought till I met you at the infirmary. You forgot about the most important things that could have preserved your identity, and you've worked as an errand lady and a gisaeng before I took you in to be a witness for the siege."
"You're really creeping me out," She rubbed her hands against her arms, but her face had that impressed smile that I didn't know if she was really afraid or amazed.
"Why, is it because you think it all makes sense?"
"I hate to admit it, but yes,"
I spent the whole afternoon with So Hee, since Mo Yeon suddenly disappeared and never came back after checking on me. I’d like to believe she just snuck herself in my room when she wasn’t supposed to and ask me a bunch of questions because she didn’t bring any medicine or food for me to consume. While I was mindlessly waiting for Mo Yeon to sneak in again, So Hee suddenly showed up and asked me if I could join her in the little playground by the hospital garden.
She took me to the little botanical garden behind the hospital, since there was a mini sandbox where some of her ward-mates were hanging out. It was a surprising sight though; albeit most of the kid patients were Koreans, there were also other children of different nationalities. Their fathers were probably US soldiers who've found wives in this land.
So Hee took a break from the sandbox playground and sat beside me on one of the benches I occupied. "Ahjussi, when are we going home?"
"I still don't know. Probably soon," I totally forgot that I still had 'home' to worry about. I had no clue if the OSS would still be needing my assistance, so if they happen to pull me back in, then that would mean leaving So Hee for awhile. "Ya. I told you not to call me ahjussi,"
"Where do you live?"
I didn't know where I lived now. My current family is in Daegu, I lived alone in Gyeongsong, trained for years at base in China, lived for months at Hashima, and my heart lives with Mo Yeon. It was all or none. "As a spy, I practically live anywhere," I gave So Hee the safest, most neutral answer I could think of.
"So where do I live, then? Do I tag along with you when you’re undercover or something?"
"Don't worry. That won’t happen, and I definitely won’t let it happen. I don't think I'll be a soldier for long, since the war has ended. Maybe it's about time I settle down. Why are you asking me these questions, anyway?"
Her feet shuffled against the ground before giving me one of the sheepiest smiles she could ever make with her face. "I was just making sure you would treat me to buckwheat noodles," I was relieved she was trying to pull herself together despite what she had been through. Who knew noodles could do the trick in to getting her hopes up?
"I'll treat you. I promised, didn't I?" I was about to tell her to scoot and play with her friends when Mo Yeon suddenly appeared at the playground. Just as she stepped out from the tree's shade, her skin met the sun's rays that it appeared like the light emanated from her. She was radiant and beautiful that her face could either stop a thousand wars. All I could think about when I’d stare at her was peace.
"Mu Young-samchon, your mouth." So Hee suddenly cupped my jaw and pushed it up. Did I just stare at Mo Yeon with my jaw down? From a distance, I saw her giggle.
Damn, was I embarrassed.
I was busy trying to snap out of my dazed state and I was relieved I made myself ready as soon as she finally made it to our bench. I almost didn't notice she had a few books with her. "Park Mu Young-ssi, it's a surprise I see you outside your room," Her voice was teasy.
"The afternoon sun's perfect, isn't it? Too hard to miss," I pointed towards the sky. So Hee was cupping with both hands, as though she suppressed a smile. When I glared at her, she immediately got on her shoes and stood up. What are you looking at, little girl?
"I'll just go back and play. Have fun!" She sharply tilted her head to bow before skipping towards the sandbox, leaving me and Mo Yeon alone at the park bench. When she sat down beside me, I felt my whole body tense up that I pushed myself back to the edge of the seat.
“Nothing at all. What’s that?" I gestured towards the books she stacked on her lap.
Mo Yeon smiled and flipped one book open. "They're some of the transcribed copies my grandfather made from the originals," She said proudly, "I've read them. So let's do a guessing game,"
"A guessing game?"
"I want to check whether you really are him. Whether you’re telling the truth or not. Whether whatever you said last night would be parallel and similar to what you will be telling right now. The whole reincarnation thing is just too much to handle at this time."
"Kang Mo Yeon—I mean, Park Mo Yeon-ssi, you have to believe me when I say I am the man in those journals,"
"Look, if you want me to believe in you, we gotta do things my way," She clasped on my hand, like it was a natural thing to do. I didn't want her to let go, so I gently wrapped my fingers around her wrist.
"Okay, I'll abide. How does it work?"
"What was your job?" She suddenly shot a question, quickly letting go of my grasp. This was how she wanted to make things clear? A quiz bowl?
"I was a war minister,"
"Okay. What age did you die?"
"31 or 32. I lost count,"
"Who were you betrothed to?"
“Nope. You were betrothed to Jeonghyeon,”
I laughed, still finding her innocence really charming. “You are Jeonghyeon,”
“I thought I was Kang Mo Yeon,”
“You only bore that name because of a certain heirloom your mother gave you. For the next two decades, you’ve lived as Kang Mo Yeon without really bothering to know where your roots were. Anyway, how long are we going to keep this up? Is this your way of knowing whether I am telling the truth—“
"I told you, we'd do things my way," She shot me a confident smile. "But so far, it's impressive,"
I shrugged, "You still don't believe me,"
"Perhaps I still don’t. Who knows you’ve had a copy all along. A spy could do so much, learn so much and have so much information." She rested her back against the bench as her eyes gazed up at the golden sky. I did the same thing and tilted my head upwards to see whatever she was staring at. Sometimes, I would steal a glimpse of her beside me, but her eyes still dwelt in whatever the sky had for her to see.
“You always loved looking up. Past the sky and beyond day. But instead of the sunset, we would share a wish as we would stare at the moon," Words suddenly flowed right out of my mouth. I was reminiscing while trying to make her remember an impossible memory.
"Because it granted wishes. It was written in the books,”
I tilted my head to look over to her side, "Do you do that?"
"Sometimes," She said with a soft smile, "Yoo Si Jin was an influential person, and he doesn’t even realize he is to me."
I was an influential person to her? That was one of the most reassuring things I've heard ever in this life. I began to wonder how it felt like reading your own story that you never were aware of. Looking at how Mo Yeon treasured these books made me proud and a tad bit self-conscious of what I've written—even the dirtiest secrets I thought I would never know she'd read about. She could have read things that was plainly embarrassing. "Have you finished reading them?" I asked her.
"Not everything. Some of the texts are either difficult to translate of have faded through time, that my grandfather was having difficulty. His vision’s getting poor, and the handwritten texts were losing its strength. Not a good match.” She sighed as she lifted her the red-skinned books she had on her hands, “These are some of the few good transcriptions. But there’s just one thing that bothers me,”
“I hope it’s not me though,”
“It’s about Mo Yeon, the girl in the book,” She wanted to know about herself—her unknown self—and so I told her. Not everything, but many things.
When I spoke, she would listen to me with so much intensity of supreme feeling that it appeared as though she was remembering it herself. That was how I thought she did. I began talking about my first memory with her, back then when I first knew her as Princess Jeonghyeon, and when she suddenly disappeared at the siege until we met two decades later. That was when she flipped one of her books open, as though she went looking for a reference to what I said.
Moments later, she went flipping on pages with a confused look in her face. She skimmed through pages as though she had not found what she had been searching. “If you’re looking for an account of our first meeting twenty years after disappearing, you won’t find it,”
Mo Yeon looked at me with confusion, “Why?”
“I didn’t explain it in detail. The only thing I wrote about us for the first time was that I liked it weird,”
Mo Yeon didn’t pay that much attention and focused her attention back at the book, flipping a few pages backwards.
Eomeoni, she’s weird.
Remember when I told you I like weird?
“I was about to continue writing when Seo Dae Young came in my office,” I further mentioned, since it seemed like she had already founded the only page of the book with a few words written in it. I also thought her grandfather did a good job following the contents of the original journals; the pages which contained one line in the original also was the same in the translated copy.
“Daebak,” She gasped with her hands above . I chuckled and took the book away from her grasp.
“Kang Mo Yeon-ssi,” I addressed her the way I used to back in our time, “Why would you rely on the journals when you already have me to tell you about everything?”
“Cross-references,” She took the book back from my hand, “The only thing that isn’t fleeting here are the accounts of Yoo Si Jin and Kang Mo Yeon,”
Moments later, a siren rang from the hospital. It wasn’t the kind of siren that signified danger or anything disastrous, since it sounded more limit