TRACKSIDED

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넘사벽

TAEWON

What am I doing?

I don’t know, but I’m doing it.

I’m pulling this woman’s lifeless body with all my might.

What is my intent?

Am I really saving this woman?

I focus on swimming because it’s the only thing to do.

The police are waiting on the riverbank. The paramedics are there too, and they immediately place her on a stretcher.

A perfect déja vu, except this time the woman’s eyes don’t open.

I climb into the ambulance.

“Do you know her?” The paramedic asks.

“Aniyo [no], I don’t know this person.”

I’m not in denial; it’s the truth. I have no clue who the person on the stretcher is, and I never did.

No, I thought I knew and understood, but I was wrong.

The paramedic places a bandage on her head; there’s a weak pulse she needs surgery.

As soon as we arrive, they take Jane to the block.

A doctor checks on my state in the emergency ward and then frees me.

I can leave, but I don’t, my feet walk me to that place, the waiting room where family members sit.

What am I doing here?

I have no clue; I’m lost, and I start to assess the last 48hours.

Forty-eight hours ago, I had a lover, someone I learned to love beyond comparison. A woman whose persistent appearances in my life made me believe our encounter was destiny, a divine plan to grant me happiness.

Forty-eight hours later, I discover that my so-called fate was a Makaveli ploy, in which I don’t know what twisted intent. The woman I loved is now a murderer, the killer of a loving mother, father, and brother.

A nurse stops in front of me, “Peojabun, are you okay? Can someone bring me a bin?”

I vomit again and again.

I want to die. The gun had two bullets, one for the driver and one for me. I should try to find it and kill myself.

I can’t live on with this sin and feeling of having betrayed my family and myself.

It’s her fault.

An hour later, her parents arrive; both of their faces seems grave. The redheaded woman is hysterical; she follows every person coming out of the blocks, whereas the man sits a few rows in front of me.

He doesn’t turn back, and I wonder if he knows if they know what their daughter did.

Of course, they do. How on earth could she get away with something like this? I’m about to stand when I see Mona Austen and Brad Nixon arrive.

They start talking to her parents, and then Brad notices me. He runs and grabs my collar, “WHAT DID YOU DO TO HER?”

Everyone is suddenly aware of my presence, and they rush to me.

“What happened, Mr. Kim?” Mona yells as Brad is still gripping me.

I let out a chuckle at the irony of the situation; I should be the one asking the questions.

“You’re laughing? How dare you laugh,” Brad says as he shakes me.

I don’t react.

Mona and that woman’s father try to hold Brad back as her mother approaches me, “can you please tell me what happened to my baby?

“What happened?” I say, trying to find the answer to the question as I repeat it. “Can you tell me what happened to my parents?”

Her mother’s reaction is what I expect; she steps back to fall on a chair.

And it’s her father who charges at me, “what did you do, what did you do to Ava?” he says as he grabs on to my collar just like Brad did. Two doctors attempt to separate us.

I don’t fight back; I let him drag me.

How dare he treat me like is?

The thought passes like a midnight train in the void of my mind.

I should be the angry and aggressive one, but he is looking down on me; they all are.

People like the Austen’s underestimate the less fortunate. Like chaebols, they stamp and crumple the weak aware that they’re the ones in the wrong.

Narcissistic and self-absorbed, her father carries on gripping my shirt as though I am his property, and he can dispose of me the way he desires.

“Stop it, think of Jane.”

Everyone regains composure as they remember the primary reason for their visit.

At this instant, the surgery doors open, and a group of doctors comes out to meet Jane’s parents. The head starts to speak,” your daughter is alive. We managed to extract the bullet. It’s a good thing she didn’t know how to aim. The shell was light, and its velocity was high, there were no side movements, and it went through none-critical parts of the brain. However, falling in the water caused another shock. To assure a better chance of survival, we have plunged Ms. Austen in a medically induced coma to give time for the swelling to go down.”

The doctor doesn’t add any comforting words letting us imagine the worst scenarios, her mother crumbles to the floor, and Mona breaks down next to her.

I imagine they turn to see where I am, but I leave.

She’s alive.

The next day, it’s the smell of my vomit, the one I left before chasing after her, that revives me from my position at the front of my door where I fell in the early hours this morning. Jane’s scent is everywhere. I would gladly stay where I am, but my apartment is a mess, and I have an appointment at the police station.

My body moves in its own accord. I don’t know how I manage this exploit, but I get up, clean, and throw away the sheets on the mattress, which even washed would remind me of last night.

The naked mattress will always be a crime scene in my memory. A sigh escapes from me as I ponder on whether or not to dispose of it.

Unable to decide the mattress’s future, I go to take a shower.

I’m not thinking; I’m just doing what’s engraved in human DNA.

Surviving.

The question of whether I’ll succeed or not is irrelevant. I go to the police station on my arrival; that woman’s parents are there too. Her mother tries to capture my attention, but I have nothing to say. She looks anxious, and I can only imagine what she wants.

They call me for the interrogation; I’m not a suspect, so they receive me in an open space office where other officers type their reports.

“I’m inspector Gwak; I’m in charge of this investigation. Can you please state your name, age, date of birth, and address, please?

I proceed as I asked.

“Can you explain what happened last night?”

I start to speak while the inspector types. I tell the last 72 hours, sometimes inspector Gwak stops like now to ask for precisions?

“How did you know she was on the bridge?”

“Because that’s where we met.”

“Where did Miss Austen get the gun from?”

“It’s mine.”

“You know that it’s prohibited. Why did you have a gun in your possession?”

I wanted to kill someone.”

“Who?”

“My parents killer.”

He stops typing and picks up another file, “your parents died in a hit and run accident, right?”

“Yes.”

Inspector Gwak leans forward, “did you find the culprit?”

“Yes.”

“Who was it?”

“Jane Austen.”

Inspector Gwak leans back in his chair only to come forward and say, tachi malraeba, cheom bouto [tell it again from the beginning]

With too many dark spots, I walk out free but under surveillance.

I cross her mother as I make my way out.

“What did you say?”

“The truth, exactly like you should,” I reply as I pass.

What happens in the next few days shakes Seoul, but I’m not there to see the turmoil as I go to Pusan.

No words can express what my gran feels when she sees me, and we say nothing. I go and install my things in my mother’s room. Gran has closed the restaurant for a few days since reporters are stalking me.

The silence which reigns lasts a few days. I’m unable to eat everything I swallow finds itself swimming on the floor. I don’t leave the room unless I want to use the toilets; that’s when I cross my gran, dry tears decorate her face, but no sound comes out of her. It’s as though we are mourning again.

It’s only on the fourth day she reopens the restaurant. I remain in my room; a month passes. I stay a hermit in my room, where my mother’s scent is strong and reassuring. I wake at night, screaming.

Lights on.

Lights off.

Lights on.

Lights off.

I can spend the night flicking the lights on and off as though I plucked petals of a rose as I ask a question which I never hope to have the answer to because the answer will destroy what’s left of me.

Days pass, and one morning, gran erupts in my room, “do you want to die? You can’t go on like this speak to me; talk to me,” she yells, banging her fist on my chest.

And there, I can’t control myself. It’s like a flood, no a Tsunami. It has to come out, I burst.

“Yes, I want to die. I want to die for loving that woman. I want to kill myself for being unable to finish my life. I want to burn in the fires of hell because I’ve forsaken my family, and I’m betraying them still because I want her to wake up. I want the woman who killed my parents to live.”

My knees give way, and I collapse on the floor, crying. Tears fall, my nose leaks, and I drool as the blades of my shame and guilt stab me.

“Kill me, grandma. I’m not your grandson; I’m a worthless human being. I deserve the same punishment as her. I loved her; I seduced her, for I desired her passionately.”

My gran comes to stand before me, I lift my head, and she slaps me back and forth. Shocked by her gesture, she leaves the room without turning around.

I remain crying as I roll on the floor.

A week later, I go back to Seoul for the trial of the driver who committed the hit-and-run, but I don’t go there as it’s another masquerade.

Instead, I go to the hospital, to her side.

As expected, the woman is in a vast VIP room; she is sound asleep with a head bandage. All one can hear are the monitors.

Her condition is stable, but no one knows when or if she’ll wake up.

Many thoughts race through my mind. Here I am with the person who killed my family; her life is hanging on these life support machines and the decision I make now.

I approach her, and all the memories we share dance within me. To be honest, I don’t know why I came, but now in front of her, I understand what I want.

“Jane, can you hear me? I just wanted to say I despise you. You are an abomination, but you can’t die; I forbid you. Live for me, live to receive your punishment.”

With these words, I leave.

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