“Sa-rang, I’m sorry,” Dr. Hong said as he tried to retain his sorrowful expression.
“No, doctor, it’s not your fault. It’s just I’m surprised at the progress.”
“I told you without treatmentㅡ,” doctor Hong sighed, “I regret Sa-rang, I attempted to accept your choice, but I don’t understand why. You are smart. You know how it works. Why give up? You’ve never given up anything in your entire life.”
“Perhaps I’m tired of fighting.”
“You’ve always fought for others’ lives, and you, you just,” Dr.Hong sighed again.
“It’s too late anyway, doctor Hong,” Sa-rang said, grabbing her scans and getting up.
“You know we can operate, you’llㅡ.”
“I don’t want to spend my last weeks in bed.”
Sa-rang thought of Ji-Seong; she knew what she desired; it was something the woman forbid herself to say. She glanced at her watch, “I guess this was the last check-up.”
“From the progression, I have a month. I won’t even finish the school’s semester.”
Director Hong’s mouth dropped open; he expected anything except for the woman to worry for the university year. The hospital director had always been intrigued by his student.
Lee Sa-rang, her whole exterior, was cold, yet she dedicated herself to others.
Sa-rang had everything. Still, she was empty. Lee Sa-rang’s behavior resembled one of a latent sociopath, yet she was anything but that.
Here for the first time, the director saw her lie. If up till now Dr.Hong believed in her will to die, he suspected her of wanting to live by the way her eyes fell when she saw the x-rays, but he also saw the woman accept the fatality.
Professor Lee was one month away from death.
“Thank you for everything, doctor Hong,”
The woman outstretched her hand, and Dr. Hong shook it with both of his hands while holding back his tears. It was difficult to acknowledge the disappearance of the woman who stood before him.
Lee Sa-rang was one of the brightest doctors he had seen in his life. What a pity and waste, he thought, but he had no right on her. Doctor Hong could not force the woman to change her mind.
“What will you do now?
The apparent answer made Doctor Hong smile; this was workaholic Sa-rang’s pride, “Is there anything I can do for you?”
“Yes, please try to convince Sonmi to undergo exams, we are not speaking, and she doesn’t trust my word at all.”
“Is she aware of your condition?”
“No, and I want to keep it that way.”
“How in the world did you think you could convince her when keeping her in the dark?”
“Please, doctor Hong you’re my last hope. I can’t do anything more for her.”
“Alright, I’ll try.”
With these words, Sa-rang left the doctor’s office, and for the fourth time in her career, she called in sick. Though in front of the director of Hong Byeongwon, she acted in total indifference now alone, she shook with fright.
A month was a formality; in reality, she was already a corpse. Her cells had much degenerated, she vomited a great deal of blood, and sometimes she found herself paralyzed, and then she would regain her functions.
That was the disease magic; it never struck people the same way. Cunning, cancer sometimes even gave you high hopes of remission to only kill you off with violence.
In Sa rang’s case, the disease let her play the role she wanted in her macabre screenplay.
The woman was almost thankful; people would remember her in her actual state. No one will have the memory of her being sick; no one would even acknowledge she was a cancer patient.
The thought was selfish and vain, but this was how she wanted to go, yet she was afraid.
How was death?
What happened in the last 30 seconds, and what happened after?
Would she be awake, or would it occur while she was fast asleep?
Would she be alone?
At this instant, how, where, and when she would give her last breath were the only questions that occupied the professor’s mind.
It was in moments like these that the divine reminded humans that they were mere mortals. If people were not equal in life, death was just. Death favors no one; it doesn’t care about wealth, education, race, age, sexuality, or any other vain quim people rave about.
When the time comes, death takes you, and what remains is what you sowed while living.
What did Sa-Rang sow?
And what would remain?
The news of her absence came fast; Ji-Seong didn’t even sit around to wait. He packed his belongings in the middle of class and left.
If Sa rang was not there, then something occurred, Ji-Seong had to find her.
And it was on the floor of her hall that he found the woman still dressed, staring into oblivion.
Driven by fright, the man shook her vigorously, forgetting her state.
“Ah, Ji-Seong, what are you doing here?”
“I tried to call; you wouldn’t answer. I was scared. Why are you in the hallway like this?”
“I was so tired. Why am I tired? I can’t get up.”
Ji-Seong lifted Sa-rang and carried her to her room, ” I’m exhausted, Ji-Seong, I just want to sleep,” the woman whispered in her knight’s ears.
The man shivered. The woman’s breath was cold as her body.
Never had the word sleep seemed so terrifying as Ji-Seong laid Sa rang on her bed. He tried to make abstraction of his angst as he took off her sweater and tucked her under the covers.
“Stay with me,” Sa rang whispered one last time.
“I won’t go anywhere.”
Reassured, the woman closed her eyes. Sleep was the only way to flee the twisted reality.
In the meanwhile, Ji-Seong returned to her hallway, where he picked up Sa rang’s bag. The woman wore a different one every day; Ji-Seong could not recall having seen her with the same handbag twice. Here it was a Mark Cross Benchley smooth leather shoulder bag that Ji-Seong admired before turning to find the scattered X-rays.
Ji-Seong picked them up and went to the living room, where he held them up to the window. A small muffled gasp escaped from him as he saw the naked truth.
No miracle could be expected.
The man regretted having been curious; now, the irrefutable truth slapped him. He crumbled to his knees on the floor, his hands spread in front of him; the tears dripped down on Sa-rang’s living room floor.
How long he remained there, Ji-Seong did not know, but he made sure to wash his face before going to lay beside Sa-rang.
As he watched her sleep, he wondered why fate was so cruel; he had waited all his life to meet her. He did everything in his power to appear as a man before her and not a whining child, only to have her taken away.
No, not this time, he thought. The rational side of him was swept away by his furious desire to keep Sa-rang alive.
Like Orpheus, Ji-Seong was ready to go to the depths of hell to save the woman who slept by his side.
The soundless room made Ji-Seong panic. He slid a finger above the woman’s nose and withdrew it relived to feel the air of her breath.
“I’m not dead yet,” Sa-Rang said.
“Please, don’t joke with that.”
Sa-Rang turned to face him, though Ji-Seong had taken precautions, the little puff and redness of his eyes betrayed him.
“Oh, gosh, I don’t know what happened to me. I just felt so much fatigue.”
The tone was the perkiest Sa-Rang could muster; she had to play the part for his sake, even if they both knew the truth.
“I swear, I’m okay, now,” Sa-rang said as she tried to pull herself up to sit. She gritted her teeth for every movement felt as though she ripped her muscles apart.
“If that’s all your going to answer-.”
“Are you hungry?”
Sa-Rang’s lie was huge, but Ji-Seong followed up, “what do you want to eat?”
“Okay, I’ll make that.”
Ji-Seong got up from the bed and went to her side. Once there, he scooped her up in his arms.
“What are you doing? Ji-Seong put me down. I can walk.”
“I know you can; I just want to hold you in my arms.”
Lies, they were both covering their intentions. The man had a rough idea of how weak Sa-rang felt. Not wanting to embarrass, he imposed certain things.
Sa-rang did not say a word, they were playing the last takes of their story, and she didn’t want them spoilt by petty quarrels, which would leave them bitter.
Though Ji-Seong did his best, the woman barely touched her plate, toying with the noodles till they puffed.
After the meal, Sa-rang took a bath while Ji-Seong sat next to the tube watching her.
“You saw them, didn’t you?” Sa-rang said suddenly.
“What are you going to do?”
“I said I’m not going nowhere, 끝까지 (kkeut gga ji=until the end).”
Sa rang, approached the edge of the tub where Ji-Seong crouched down, “are you scared?”
“And you?” Ji-Seong returned.
Here they both suffered. Their honesty soothed the persistent pain.
Ji-Seong gently rubbed Sa-Rang’s hair, “remember I’m with you, 끝까지.”