Like every year I’m heading there, I don’t plan, and it isn’t a ritual. It’s just the way it is; I have to be there.
The night seems darker, and the air is thicker. Breathing doesn’t come easy; it’s no surprise since the area is a dead zone.
If there’s one thing I don’t contest about the accident, there’s no one in the area. It’s a place where people pass; there isn’t a reason to hang around.
I don’t have any particular emotion; I just try to picture what my family was doing at that last moment. When the scene plays in my mind, I pray Min Ho was asleep, and it was painless for him. I hope smoke killed them, and they didn’t die screaming in flames. That’s the thought that haunts me the most, imagining them crying for help, knowing no one will come.
As always, I also have a thought for the driver; I can’t believe a human being can cause such an accident and not attempt to rescue even one person. This behavior is beyond me; they can’t be qualified as human; even some wild animals have more dignity than that.
The police didn’t disclose a lot of information about the accident; my constant harassment finally got them to reveal the exact place where it happened.
So here I am, standing on the other side of where the crash occurred. I’m about to cross, and there I see a shadow, someone posing flowers. In five years, I’ve never seen anyone except myself deposit anything. Neither my uncle nor my aunt comes here, and I can’t bring my grandmother; she would die of grieve on the spot.
And this person is here before other thoughts barge into my head. I run. The hooded figure sees me and starts running away; he doesn’t get far; I grab him by the collar and turn him around.
My heart stops; it’s too much, I want to let go, but I can’t. My grip keeps getting tighter around his arms. The pressure of my grip makes the person squeal with pain.
“NEO NUGU NYA?”
The hood drops down in the struggle and attempt to break free, revealing the nocturnal visitor’s face. Tears stream down her face as she persists in fighting me off. Wait, it’s a woman, and the eyes are too big for them to be Korean.
“Who are you?” I yell in English.
“Stop it, Tae Won; you’re hurting me.”
Even in the dark, her eyes shimmer, and I see it; the void in her eyes seems to swallow me.
“Jane, what are you doing here?”
My mind gets gritty; I glitch like a TV channel with no reception.
Frightened, Jane doesn’t reply and carries on trying to shuffle free while I reel her back like a yo-yo. Jane works to liberate herself again this time, leaning back as though she’s waterskiing. I pull her back once more before letting go. The pressure makes Jane stumble a few steps backward.
I regain composure as I begin to comprehend the potential of this encounter, and I try to soften my desperate voice and repeat my question.
“Jane, why are you here?”
“IㅡI came to leave flowers, flowers just there,” Jane says, pointing at the flowers.
Jane is a witness.
“For the people,ㅡthe family who died, here.”
JANE IS A WITNESS.
What is happening in my head can’t be explained with words, I’m here, I’m listening, I’m absent but reactive.
“Did you see Jane, did you observe the accident? The police said there was no witness.”
Jane remains silent, but my mind is racing. I have an attestor, Jane saw. I finally understand why Jane appeared in my life; she’s the answer. Instinctively, I grab her by the arm and start pulling; Jane drags along.
“What are you doing, Tae won? Please, let me go, let go, please.”
Jane’s cries don’t get to me; I just keep tugging till I feel a dead weight and strain on my arm. Only then, I turn to find Jane on the ground. I don’t have a clue of how many meters I towed her along.
“Tae Won, please, let me go; where are you taking me?”
“You’re coming with me to the police; you are going to tell them everything you saw and tell them what my family’s murderer looks like and what car they drove.”
I tug on her arm and start to haul, but Jane resists.
“Family, whose, yours?”
Without turning back to look at her, I reply,” yes, my father, mother, and brother were killed in this hit and run accident.”
“Hit and run?”
“Yes, hit and run, and I’ve waited five years to find evidence, and now you are here you are going to tell the police everything you know.”
Jane manages to yank herself free; she shakes her head vigorously from side to side in refusal.
“Jane, what’s the matter?”
We are now facing each other, Jane standing under a lamppost and I can see her face she’s afraid, no, she’s terrified.
I walk up to her; she backs away. Her fear seems to transfer on to me, making me shiver. Suddenly, I wonder why Jane is only showing up now.
What happened to her? A weird idea creeps into my mind.
“Jane, what’s the problem? Is it the driver? Did he do something to you? Did someone threaten you, and that’s why you can’t speak? Do you know the driver personally?-
Jane lifts her head and looks at me; her stare appears sharp as though she has found something or made a big decision.
“Who?” I say, gripping her shoulders.
“The driㅡdriㅡver, heㅡhe, burnt.”
Jane’s words feel like a bullet; at this moment, I’m shot dead.
My body crumbles to the ground. All is soundless except the drumbeat of my heart, which thumps in my ears.
I bring my hands to my face. It takes a few seconds, and instantly I’m hit with a flood of emotion, which comes out as a stream of tears. I sob like a child before crying like a bear—snot leaks from my nose and then explosion.
Jane backs away as I scream and howl like a wounded wolf. The pain is tremendous; it’s as though I’m taken back to that night when the police announced my family’s death. I roll on the ground, in the dirt, not caring about the sight of myself.
“Tae Won, I’m sorry.”
I almost forgot Jane is here; she approaches, lifting her hand like a lion tamer attempting to pat the beast.
“I’m so sorry, Tae Won.”
The dried tears on her face shimmer like crystals as fresh tears layer them, and I remember that I’m the one who made her cry.
I don’t know why but I’m taken by momentary euphoria; I start to laugh like a jackal. Jane seems lost and fearful; she doesn’t know what to do in front of my breakdown.
“I wanted to kill him; how dare he die? How dare he?” I say as I beat my fist on the ground.
The cold, the pain, I don’t feel the small pavement stones that grit my fist, making it bleed. Jane doesn’t say a word, she just watches, and it’s the best thing to do, and so she stays there a witness of human tragedy.
After a good 15 minutes, we sit silently on the pavement, and we observe the passing cars. Jane pulls her knees towards her and cradles herself. My mind is blank. My thoughts have moved out to rent elsewhere, and I’m vacant. I’m not relieved; I just feel like unclogged toilets. I’m functioning, but I’m still shitty.
“Did they suffer?”
It’s a stupid question, but I want to hear her answer even if it’s a lie; I need Jane to lie to me right now.
I don’t question any further. I don’t have the strength, and Jane seems to be at the end of herself too.
My gaze shifts to the sky; there are no stars at all, and the moon has never appeared so majestic, “you know, I made my decision, even though I wanted to kill myself, I vowed to kill the driver first. Now, know he’s dead. I have the impression I have no goal left. What will I do now?”
I don’t expect an answer, but I get one—an unexpected response from someone who I didn’t consider until this very moment.
It’s all Jane says, but it’s more than enough.