Early in the morning, you wake up, get out of bed, and
leave the warm cuddle of the quilt. This is the beginning of your
After breakfast, dressed for the office, you say goodbye to
your family and leave for work. Maybe, you live alone. Then,
you kiss the tame kitty and tell it, “Be good and stay home. I’ll
be back soon.”
Between your home and your workplace, you will continue
to greet and chat with many, and bid farewell. . . . Things like
these described here in a running account fashion take place in
your life every day, so that you might have become accustomed
to bidding farewell.
Your first experience of saying goodbye was with Smokey, your family’s ten-some year old dog. He was older than you, so
you couldn’t have known his actual age. In any case, you could
only lie in bed, and through the interstices of the overhead cotton
mosquito net you saw a pinkish belt-like tongue that was
soaking wet and fluttering, accompanied by the noise of him
panting. Later, you could crawl on the floor, and he would follow
closely behind you. Those who didn’t know better would
see the intimidating bulk and worry for the safety of the toddler.
But those who knew better believed that Smokey would protect
you should there be any danger.
Smokey was always there, dutifully playing his role of a
loyal dog. You never thought there would be a day when he
would slack. Innocently, you would grab his tail, and if you
weren’t so chubby, his tail could’ve been used as a swing set.
When you got older and more entertaining things occupied you
completely, you wouldn’t even take a look at him, as if he who
fawningly wagged his tail like mad was merely a piece of moving
One day, you found him acting strange. All of a sudden,
that brawny dog whose tail one could swing on was too weak
even to walk, his staggering steps slower than those of grandpa’s.
You asked the grownups what happened to him, but even
before they had time to answer, your attention was already lured
away by things around you, and you simply missed the answer
that said, “He’s old.”
Even if you had heard it, you wouldn’t have understood
what “He’s old” meant. Not until you saw him walking out of
his retreat in the storage room, a discarded ballpoint pen dangling
on one side. The pen pierced his skin as if the skin and
flesh were separated. You were horrified at the sight. Keenly
sympathetic as you were, it felt as if the pain of the pierced skin was occurring to you. You cried out, “Smokey is dying!” So
filled with pain and horror was your voice that it sounded as
though death was taking place right before your eyes. The
adults heard you and came over; they pulled out the pen, but no
blood or wound was visible on Smokey’s body. They threw a
glance at you, as if saying you were making a fuss over nothing,
you foolish little girl.
When you first saw Smokey lying still by the red brick
wall, you observed him for quite a while before you could tell
that it wasn’t that he was so comfortably bathing under the sun
and didn’t want to move. You knew he had died. Quietly, you
walked away, undisturbed. The grownups didn’t find out until
quite a while later; they removed Smokey’s body from there.
Smokey would end up in the bottom of a muddy river or a
remote ravine. And so you relaxed, thinking that facing death
was rather easy.
When your mother left you, you were actually old enough
to feel grief. However, your indifference surprised everyone.
They remembered that when you were a little younger you
sulked when a few kittens were given away. They also remembered
that you were a kind and sensitive child who had nightmares
every time you saw someone kill a chicken. Passively,
you sweated out the interminable funeral service. When your
family threw themselves onto the coffin and wailed, you followed
suit but did not cry. As the service drew to its end,
though the eight-tone suona horns continued to wail, the people
stopped moving, no longer following the funeral streamer. You
buried your face behind the mourning cloth but turned your eyes
around. And you discovered that, left or right, there was that
same reddish-brown world of the mourning cloth. Suddenly, a sense of the absurdity of it all surged up in you. But you knew
that this feeling could not be made public and strained to conceal
it. You covered your mouth with one hand, and held your belly
with another, though this did not stop you from bursting into a
Your sister, who was standing beside you and was worried
for you all along because of your unusual response, felt a vibration
coming through the mourning cloth. She thought you were
sobbing inconsolably and put her hand on your shoulder to comfort
you. Perhaps because the motion of your shoulders registered
a different frequency, your sister stuck her head into your
world of mourning cloth to look and found that you were laughing
instead of crying. She faintly chopped the air with her hand
as a gesture of reproach. After being exposed, you of course
adjusted your attitude immediately. Yet, even to this day you
still don’t understand what you were laughing at. Was it just the
funeral? Or was it the nonexistence of the affection between a
mother and her daughter that should’ve been there?
You did not cry, not even at your mother’s burial. Oh, it
was one’s nearest and dearest kin. The belly in which you were
cherished for ten months, the first face you saw after you arrived
at this world, the first scent of a person you smelled, and the first
bosom into which you were embraced: they were all hers. Yet
you grew up in an environment where there was very little loving
care. You had no right to complain about anything. Neither
did you complain when you were prematurely taken away from
your mother’s arms.
The grownups were busy earning a living, working hard to
support the big family. Older kids needed to go to school and
prepare for the entrance exams, and younger children like you
had to fill up their own bowls with food at the dining table when it’s mealtime and find clothes to put on when it’s cold; go to
school when it’s school time, and do your homework and play
after school. This was how you caught up with the way of the
older children, year in, year out.
You couldn’t have predicted death, yet unlike other children
of your age, you did not cling to your mother but learned to find
among brothers and sisters something to take the place of motherly
love. This can be regarded as an indication that you knew
sooner or later all would be lost, and so you began early on to
learn to be independent.
Henceforth,. . .