A personal re-reading of Stendhal's Vanina Vanini
By Lee Oyoung
Translated by Brother Anthony of Taizé
Translator's Note: The portions of Stendhal's Vanina Vanini included in this work have been translated from the original French by the translator)
Sa-Mi laid her nineteenth-century French literature textbook on the desk, with the thought that this was going to be the last test of her final examinations. The cover had faded to a dull yellow, and the title, Vanina Vanini in capital letters, could barely be read through the inkblots and scribbles that filled the empty space around it. Only faint traces remained of the long subtitle printed in small letters, Particularités sur la dernière vente de carbonari découverte dans les Etats du Pape, it was virtually illegible.
Sa-Mi had the impression that the picture of her sitting here studying for her last exam was already something that belonged to the past. She even ventured to wonder, rather unfairly, whether M. Stendhal, Henri Beyle, dead and buried these hundred years and more, could ever have imagined that one day far to the east, beyond countless lofty mountain ranges and prairies vast as oceans, a young woman would be spending a sleepless night on his account, preparing an examination.
It was a December night, one of those nights when people rub their hands and think of home, no matter how much work there is to be done. They cross snow-covered squares to drink a cup of piping hot black coffee in a café to the sound of steam rattling in the pipes. They dream of taking a train, a winter train, its roof all covered with snow as it rolls into the station in a flurry of swirling clouds of white steam; they dream of escaping from home, from the streets, from all that composes their inevitable destiny. Yes, it was the kind of winter night that somehow suggests such thoughts. Yet in the first lines of her copy of Vanina Vanini it was late one spring evening in nineteenth century Rome. A spring evening where the sound of carriages speeding, their lanterns swinging, down stone-paved streets towards nocturnal revelries, set peoples hearts racing. Sa-Mi began to read the words of her text in a subdued murmur.
C'était un soir du printemps de 182*. It was one evening in the spring of 182*. All Rome was on the move, for His Lordship, the Duke of B****, the celebrated banker, was giving a ball in his new palace on the Piazza Venezia. All the greatest magnificence that could be produced by the arts of Italy, all the luxury of Paris and London, had been brought together to adorn this palace. A great crowd was flocking in. All the modest fair-haired beauties of noble England had sought the honour of being present at this ball; they arrived in droves. The loveliest women in Rome rivalled with them as to who was most beautiful. A young woman, whose flashing eyes and ebony hair proclaimed her to be a Roman, entered on her father's arm; all eyes followed her. A singular degree of pride shone in her every movement.
One could see foreign visitors entering, astounded by the magnificence of the ball. "There is not one of the kings of Europe," they said, "whose festivities come near to equalling this."
Kings do not have a palace in the Roman style. They are obliged to invite the great ladies of their court while HIs Lordship, the Duke of B**** only summons beautiful women. On that evening he had been particularly fortunate in his invitations; the menfolk seemed dazzled. Amidst so many exceptional women some tried to determine which was the most beautiful. For a while the choice was unsure but at last the princess Vanina Vanini, that same young woman with the black hair and blazing eyes, was declared the queen of the ball. Immediately the foreigners and the young Romans, deserting all the other rooms, crowded into the salon where she was to be found.
"Why, there are still students incapable of reading figures in French!" Professor K exclaimed in tones of exaggerated surprise, as if he had just discovered something astonishing. "What in the world have you been doing these last four years? Of course, with all those demonstrations, there was no time left for you to study, but still... And this is your final semester, votre dernière classe; surely you learned that in intermediate French? Your last class, votre dernière classe. You really only have to make a modicum of effort. 182* indicates an unspecified year, so when you read it in French you have to say mil huit cent vingt et quelques... the asterisk has to be read as et quelques."
"Right! Next, tout Rome... all Rome was on the move. Here tout signifies the whole... all the citizenry... all the citizens of Rome... Rome may be a feminine noun, you must be careful to say, not toute but simply tout. All Rome was on the move, in uproar...." Seoul, all Seoul was in uproar. Spring 1960, a springtime evening in 182*... Rome, Seoul... April 1960. It was April. The cherry-trees were in blossom. Yet I did not need to use any skill to gain the honour of attending the masquerade. The citizens of nineteenth-century Rome were flocking towards the newly-built palace of the Duke of B*** on the Piazza Venezia to attend a masquerade given by the brilliant aristocrat. "Concours... signifies that the whole crowd was surging towards a single point. Later the sense changed and as it often came to be used to designate a large gathering, it acquired the sense of a 'competition'." Only this was in Seoul. The demonstrators were surging towards the City Hall Plaza, not the Piazza Venezia. Concours... demonstration... The party was the Last Supper for the men in power, the masquerade belonged to the demonstrators who were charging forward in a tight scrum.
The demonstrators were surging towards the presidential mansion, not towards a ballroom in the newly-built palace of the Duke of B***. Les beautés blondes, the fair-haired beauties, women in evening gowns, were passing like shadows down corridors of shining marble. That looks like a painting by Botticelli on that wall... and ah, the music! What music would it have been? In Rome one evening in springtime, melodies that went spreading endlessly, on and on through the gentle humid air. Towards peoples' hearts, and clothes, and windows, and then onwards to the trees and fountains whispering out there in the darkness beyond... but our ball, Seoul's April 1960 springtime ball, was nothing like that. There was a sound of gunfire. The windows along the roadside were firmly shut, the broad asphalt streets were deserted although it was broad daylight. There were no long marble corridors. There was no ballroom adorned with paintings by Botticelli. There were mounted troops blocking the way ahead. There was asphalt, and the pale green leaves just beginning to sprout on the roadside plane trees. Bathed in sweat, the students were bunched in a tight scrum, as they shouted and ran, running with hoarse cries... This was our first ball. Someone was waving a flag. Students on a jeep were making signs, waving blood-stained, tattered shirts. They were shouting: we were to gather somewhere. They were shouting: we were to start something again. There was a crackling sound. Tear-gas canisters showered down like fireworks. "All the modest fair-haired beauties of noble England had sought (avaient brigué) the honour of being present at this ball... as you see, since they did their seeking (briguer) on the day preceding the ball, the verb is in the past perfect tense"... Only I had not at all sought to be present at this ball, it was simply because I had tamely obeyed my mother. I played the role of a spectator at the ball, sitting quietly upstairs at home like a potted plant on a terrace bright with begonias. At the sound of gunfire, mother had told me to close the windows but then I simply stayed sitting there gazing out at the crowd as it fell and rose, fell and rose, surging backwards and forwards like foam-crested waves. It was my first ball and my youth was growing to maturity in that ballroom.
Sa-Mi opened the window to refresh her addled thoughts. It was a night without light or sounds. On the screen during some movie white-gowned doctors had been excising the vocal chords of dogs in an experiment. Gobs of blood welling up... deprived of their voices, the dogs had nothing left but movements of pain. Without a voice, there is no way of indicating pain.
The night was writhing soundlessly, like those dogs deprived of their vocal chords. The still silence and darkness were devoid of all expression. The December night was drooping away like one of those dogs with its vocal chords excised. It had not been false to say, as Hyon-Su had done, that when there is neither light nor sound all things are suddenly deprived of existence. The darkness was gradually engulfing all the lights and sounds.
Her father, the prince don Asdrubale Vanini, desired her first to dance with two or three German rulers. After that she accepted the invitations of some very handsome and very noble Englishmen; their stiffness bored her. She seemed to find more pleasure in tormenting the young Livio Savelli who appeared to be deeply in love. He was the most brilliant youth in Rome, and a prince into the bargain; but if you were to give him a novel to read he would be sure to throw it aside after twenty pages, saying it gave him a headache. In the eyes of Vanina, that was a disadvantage.
Around midnight a report spread through the assembled dancers that made a considerable impression. A young carbonaro, imprisoned in the Castello Sant'Angelo, had just escaped, that very evening, thanks to a disguise; and by a surfeit of romantic daring, arriving at the prison's last guard-post he had attacked the soldiers with a dagger. Only he too had been wounded, the constables were pursuing him through the streets by the traces of blood he had left, and it was hoped he would be recaptured.
"There are men like Livio Savelli all over the world; call them by an Italian name or by an English name, by a Mongolian or an African or some barbaric name, it makes no difference. They are people who never love truly, they are satisfied if they are able to charm women. They only make love because they are eager to test their own charm. People like Livio Savelli." For no apparent reason, Professor K seemed to be growing excited; as he went rattling on he began to introduce French-style nasal sounds into his Korean. "Saying of this fellow that 'if you were to give him a novel he would throw it aside after reading twenty pages' is as much as to say that he was lacking in imagination. Yet as a general rule such fellows go up in the world, don't they? Why, they have only to earn money, get a pretty girl, and sit in a swivel chair signing things, and happiness comes pouring in like interest on a bank account."
The Professor paused briefly and observed the reaction, with an expression that suggested he was expecting them to laugh. Students usually pretend to laugh at things they do not really feel like laughing at. Otherwise the person trying to be funny will feel put down. Prince Livio Savelli, now. That brilliant, in all of Rome le plus the superlative, the most outstandingly dazzling youth: supposing he had been sitting in that classroom, he would surely have laughed. Else the Professor might feel put down. "We seem to have slipped into gossip; si on lui eût donné à lire un roman if you were to give him a novel to read: this is the second form of the past conditional. Now surely, after a conditional si it is more normal to use the imperfect or the past perfect, is it not? Yet in cases such as this..."
Don Livio Savelli; the second form of the past conditional; the dark prison cells of Sant'Angelo; and did things like Don Livio Savelli and the second form of the past conditional exist in the prison of Sant'Angelo? Livio Savelli only shone with that superlative le plus. There could be no darkness for him. But between the dark towering mass of Sant'Angelo, and the starlight, and the ever tawny waters of the Tiber there is always the sorrowful sound of some aria echoing.
People were still telling one another this anecdote when, dazzled by the grace and the success of Vanina, with whom he had just been dancing, don Livio Savelli asked as he escorted her to her place, almost maddened by love:
"Tell me, I beg of you, who might hope to please you?"
"That young carbonaro who has just escaped," replied Vanina, "for at least he has done something more than merely bother to be born."
"I wanted to listen to some music..."
It was Sok-Hun who had rung at the door. Livio Savelli. I really don't understand why Father keeps wanting me to marry someone like him. I suppose it's because he's the youth in Seoul with le plus the superlative. Livio Savelli Kim Sok-Hun. Yet I've always thought that the only thing he had to show was the oil plastered on his hair. I don't know how many pages he would be able to read, if you gave him a novel. In any case, a week or so later there he would be, ringing at the door again holding the book, the novel he'd borrowed, making it his excuse. One short ring, one long, ever so casually. Then he'd say:
"These novels are nothing much. I read them all to the end but the conclusion's always the same. After regrets, and hesitations, and people going astray, what do you get? some kind of conclusion. Or rather the pretence of getting one, surely? What's the point of undergoing all those sufferings in order to arrive at such an meagre conclusion? I really cannot endure these so-called authors, they're so pathetic. I mean to say, they're as stupid as mountaineers who sweat buckets climbing mountains they're going to have to come back down again. Why on earth climb a mountain in the first place when you're going to come down again?"
Sok-Hun was the kind of fellow to make remarks like that.
"I wanted to listen to some music..."
"You take our house for a public music room?"
"With the streets as they are, there's not even a tea room open with music worth listening to."
"What about taking part in the demonstrations, then?"
I've always wanted to embarrass him.
"I have no respect for such things. If I had that degree of ardour, I'd write you letters. The world gets not the least bit better because people bellow. It simply gets noisier. I know what people's courage is worth. Maybe you'll take me for a coward. Those others wave placards, then covered in blood and sweat they attack police cars that go careering about with sirens wailing, they get beaten with cudgels, dragged away like dogs... So you wonder what sort of a person I am. Ringing doorbells and asking to listen to some music just in order to meet a girl. But that's all there is to it. It's just a matter of different kinds of courage. It doesn't matter which direction people run in, the earth keeps turning in the same direction. We might as well stay sitting down. Because whether we run or sit, the earth is still going to complete one revolution in exactly twenty-four hours. Do you realize how far around I've had to walk to get here? All the streets were blocked and the tear-gas was so thick I couldn't keep my eyes open. It wasn't all that easy for me to come here, either. It took courage, too. But let me tell you a secret. Observing the demonstrators I noticed that the farther back in the throng they were, the braver they were. And girl students holed up in their rooms like you are the bravest of all. Those who call people like me cowards are the ones hiding in a corner of their rooms. The demonstrators in the front row were terrified. You could see they were longing to turn and run; only their comrades behind were watching them and that's why they kept marching forwards. Once you pass twenty, you live your life on the basis of what people will think. What people will think... The demonstrators in the middle of the press, not those directly confronting the riot police, were wavering, hesitating whether to advance, but those at the very back were shouting at them to hurry up and charge. There weren't brave people, and cowardly people, and hesitant people in that crowd. It was purely a matter of where each one stood."
"While you weren't part of the crowd at all."
Professor K wrote Mais on the blackboard as he spoke.
"In cases such as this, Mais does not signify a direct contradiction or exclusion, it simply serves to link what follows with the preceding sentence. That is to say that "Mais, de grâce, qui donc pourrait vous plaire?" should be translated as "Tell me, I beg of you, who might hope to please you?" To which Vanina replies "That young carbonaro who has just escaped," and finally explains that it is because "at least he has done something more than merely bother to be born."
Sok-Hun spoke out:
"You mean that by joining the demonstration I might win your love? It would be a futile act. But even if every one makes those same futile gestures, even if every one takes the road leading to Hyoja-dong, rather than demonstrate in front of the presidential mansion I would always, always choose to be in front of your house, in front of your firmly closed front door, ringing the bell."
"Ce jeune carbonaro! I explained before, did I not, about carbonaro? Carbonari in the plural, carbonaro in the singular, is the name that was given to the members of a celebrated secret society in Italy that opposed the tyranny of Austria. They stood for liberal ideas and Italian unity. Just to make a digression."
Professor K gained in popularity by such digressions. He put on an expression as if to say, "I can't stop myself chattering away like this," but in actual fact he seemed to take a great deal of trouble to display his own culture and wit by those interruptions.
"Just a digression; but it makes one aware of an inconsistency ironique, very ironique. The carbonaro, who took the highest interest in things political and concrete, lived on the contrary highly sequestered lives, removed in the farthest degree from politics and concrete realities, as charcoal-burners, earning their living making charcoal deep in the mountains. Every form of disguise is similarly ironique. You remember how in one of Aesop's fables the lion is disguised as a fox? He's not mistaken. Is the fox going to disguise himself as a fox? So, is it not the same when our hero, this young charcoal-burner who has escaped from the prison of Sant'Angelo, disguises himself in female clothing? This brave fellow, brave enough to have stabbed a sentry with his dagger, dressed as a woman that trembles at the mere sight of a spider, is the lion disguised as a fox, isn't he? I know all this is only a digression but, how shall I put it? surely, life is a kind of endless struggle where one is striving to put on a disguise and one is striving to remove a disguise; only the person wearing the mask and the person intent on removing the mask are not two distinct persons; each one of us is wearing a mask and at the same time striving to remove every one else's mask; generally speaking that's the kind of fight it is."
Sa-Mi addressed Sok-Hun:
"I still think that it's far more worthwhile for a person to be out shouting in the streets, even if it's pointless, than to be peeping into a girl's room. Because for them it's not enough to have been born in this world, they're after something more."
"Well of course. Obviously they're after something more. Like love, I mean. And money and getting ahead. Only here they are, already twenty, and they don't feel so sure about it any more. They're not upset about other people but about themselves.
That's what I think. It was April, lovely April, and they had nowhere to go. Isn't this a time when it's hard to be satisfied with quietly watching the flowers bloom? Perhaps what they were after was actually something completely different. Something utterly different, something calmer and deeper, a room with a record player, with green curtains that are invariably gorgeous, a sofa to rest on, and some slightly difficult books to satisfy their vanity, a room like yours, so deep and calm. Perhaps that was what they really wanted."
Prince don Asdrubale came towards his daughter. He is a rich man who for the last twenty years has taken no heed of his steward, who lends him his own income at a very high rate of interest. If you meet him in the street, you would take him for an old comic actor; you would not notice that his hands are loaded with five or six heavy rings set with immense diamonds. His two sons entered the Jesuits and later died insane. He has forgotten them; but he is vexed that his only daughter, Vanina, refuses to marry. She is already nineteen and has rejected the most brilliant matches. For what reason? The same as that given by Sylla for abdicating: 'scorn for the people of Rome'.
Vanina refused the most brilliant matches out of "scorn for the people of Rome" but what can be the reason why I have so obstinately refused to marry Sok-Hun? "Scorn for doctors," perhaps? It's true he's a student in medicine. Oh yes. He's exactly the kind of man my father's looking for. After all, what he's after is not a husband for his daughter but a successor he can bequeath his hospital to. Someone to inherit it just as it is, right down to the signboard. Father has always insisted that even after he's dead the hospital must continue to be known as the Choi Ho-Un Surgery. Kim Sok-Hun would make a quite admirable head of the Choi Ho-Un Surgery. He's the kind of man who believes that the world goes on turning in its daily rotation even when he's quietly sitting down. Kim Sok-Hun would think it very natural to become another Choi Ho-Un. A tadpole feels no pain when it looses its tail. Father is hunting for a tadpole like that, poking away in messy, muddy water. He's no comic actor like Vanini's father don Asdrubale, getting into ever deeper debt with his servants and walking about with five or six great diamond rings on his fingers. He calculates and calculates, more precisely than if he were going to operate on a patient's leg. He intends to record even his affection for his only daughter in his cash book. Supposing I had two, or even three or four, brothers, they would all have died insane before ever entering the Jesuits.
Sa-Mi had no desire to go on thinking about Sok-Hun or her father. She turned to the next page of her text, suddenly brushing it with her fingers as if a strand of Sok-Hun's or her father's scruffy hair might be adhering to it.
On the day after the ball, Vanina noticed that her father, who was the most carefree of men and who had never in his life ever bothered to lock a door, was very carefully locking the door of a little stairway that led to an apartment on the third floor of the palace. That apartment had windows on a terrace adorned with orange trees. Vanina set out to make visits in Rome. On her return, the coach entered through the courtyards to the rear, the main gate being blocked with preparations for an evening illumination. Vanina looked upwards and was astonished to see that one of the windows of the apartment that her father had so carefully locked, was standing open. Having rid herself of her lady-in-waiting, she climbed to the attics of the palace and after some searching succeeded in finding a little barred window looking out onto the terrace adorned with orange trees. The open window that she had noted was only two steps away. Someone must be living in that room. But who? On the next day, Vanina managed to gain possession of the key of a small door opening on to the terrace adorned with orange trees.
Windows looking out onto a terrace adorned with orange trees... Chancing to look up, an open window, someone must undoubtedly be living in that empty room. But who can be living there?
Sa-Mi suddenly felt hot tears scalding her eyes. The type-written words on the page were rising and falling like waves, blurred by the tears: des fenêtres sur une terrace garnie d'orangers.
Sa-Mi read on, repeating several times the words "windows" "room" "someone" and "mais par qui?" Strictly speaking, this passage in which Vanina happened to notice that one of the windows on the terrace adorned with orange trees was open could not be considered a poetic scene at all. It was a section that could only be read with the mixture of suspense, anxiety and dread foreshadowing some crucial incident often found in detective stories, or if not that, at least it awakened a strong curiosity. Yet Sa-Mi's eyes were moist and her voice trembled as if she were reading a sad romance.
An empty room covered in dust: I clearly saw that the window of a room in which no one had been living was suddenly open. I have never seen a terrace adorned with orange trees, yet I feel sure that those were orange trees. My heart, yes, my heart was a petite fenêtre grillée, was one of those empty rooms you enter with a shrinking sense of desolation, a room devoid of human warmth. Yet now those windows were open towards the terrace with its orange trees... towards those things resembling orange trees golden in the sunlight. At some point a stranger had come in, opened the window, and was lying there. Undoubtedly this room was inhabited by someone. But who on earth could it be? Mais par qui?
Sa-Mi had been thinking of Chon Hyon-Su. She had been thinking of fateful symbolic incidents like the moment when Vanina looked up in astonishment at that open window. Sa-Mi adopted the attitude of a student obliged to study for an exam, as if she sensed someone watching her, clasping a dictionary in one hand and straining to read the phrases that followed.
Vanina parvint à se procurer la clef d'une petite porte qui ouvrait sur la terrasse garnie d'orangers.
"La clef... the key... and Vanina." Professor K was talking about keys. "The fact that Vanina managed to gain possession of the key can be explained in a number of ways. It can be taken as simply suggesting the possibility that Vanina can now enter the room with the open window; if we view it a little more deeply, a little more symbolically, it can mean that she has grasped the clue that will open the doors of love. Interesting, is it not? This talk of opening signifies the opening of the doors of love, that world of love that Vanina at present has absolutely no awareness of. Speaking in simple terms, the key that she gains possession of obviously means the key to her first experience of love. But you must be careful of the grammar in this phrase."
What I had to be careful of was not grammar. It was that word, key. How my heart used to beat as I stood in front of the storeroom in our family home down in the countryside, closed by a rusty padlock. I suppose it was because I was a child, I was curious about everything, in particular if something was locked, firmly locked with a padlock, be it a storeroom, a chest, or a cupboard, I was overwhelmed with a desire to see inside. Only I had nothing in the way of a key that might serve to open the padlock. Even now, when I think of it I am certain that the pattern engraved on the brass padlock firmly locking the storeroom represented the face of a demon.
Every time I glimpsed that padlock, I was filled with a dread quite equal to my curiosity. With its horns, its two projecting fangs, and its bulging eyes, that savage face bore an expression forbidding anyone to approach. I tried shaking the door. The dull clunk of the rings against the padlock was like the sound of a stone sinking into a deep pond. After I had pulled at the door several times, the ring to which the padlock was fastened would yield and a crack big enough for my little wrist would appear between the two panels of the door. A gap in the storeroom door.
I used to stand for hours on end peeping through that crack into the dark storeroom. It was dark inside the storeroom, but where a ray of light penetrated through the gap the partial form of strange objects dimly appeared. Things glimmered as if deep under sea in the depths of that darkness, like the red coral I had seen in my colouring books. I could make out one corner of a strange painting on a hanging scroll, and a lengthy string threaded with beads. Perhaps because everything in that space closed to me by the padlock seemed strange and mysterious, I came to think of the objects lying concealed in the darkness inside the storeroom as possessing a host of secrets, so that they were like things belonging to the world beyond, not proper for human possession. Ah, then Vanina Vanini, and everyone, should never open locked doors with their keys. That locked door, all locked doors, ought always to remain firmly closed.
I suppose it was a day for a family memorial rite. It was the first time I had ever seen anyone open that mysterious storeroom. Rattling her bundle of keys, grandmother undid the rusty padlock in a very down-to-earth manner. To grandmother with her keys, something like a demon's face glowering with a fearful expression did not seem to be a problem. As she threw open the storeroom door, my mysteries in the dark evaporated completely. Shabby tables for offerings, covered with cobwebs and dust, and some common-or-garden candlesticks... What I had taken for coral was a broken vase, while the bright string of beads was in fact the string of an old felt hat like those worn by rural folk-music performers. There was nothing there at all. Only things like the droppings of the mice that skittered through there all night long. Rusty, crumbling, mouldy things from long, long ago. Nothing but things of that kind, and the darkness. Keys destroy all sense of mystery. While they trouble the silence, banish darkness and everything like it, keys can only confirm the emptiness. As Professor K said, neither Vanina nor I should ever have obtained the key that opened the doors of love.
She stole cautiously towards the still open window. She was concealed by one of the shutters. There was a bed at the far end of the room, with some one in it. Her first reaction was to withdraw; but then she noticed a woman's dress thrown over a chair. Examining more attentively the person lying in the bed, she perceived that it was someone with fair hair, and seemingly very young. She no longer doubted: it was a woman. The dress thrown over the chair was stained with blood; there was likewise blood on the woman's shoes that lay on a table. The stranger stirred; Vanina realized that she was wounded. Her breast was covered with a large blood-stained cloth, held in place by nothing but ribbons. Surely no surgeon's hand had set it there.
Vanina soon noticed that each day at about four o'clock her father shut himself up in his apartments, then made his way to the stranger; he soon came down again, and took the coach to visit the countess Vitteleschi. As soon as he was gone, Vanina would climb up to the little terrace, from where she could observe the stranger. She felt her affections deeply moved in favour of this unfortunate young woman, and tried to guess what might have happened to her. The blood-stained dress thrown over a chair looked as if it had been slashed with a dagger. Vanina could even count the number of holes. One day she saw the stranger more clearly: her blue eyes were gazing heavenwards, she seemed to be praying. Soon her lovely eyes were filled with tears; the young princess had to make a great effort not to go and speak to her. The next day, Vanina ventured to conceal herself on the little terrace before her father arrived. She saw don Asdrubale go into the stranger's room, carrying a basket of provisions. The prince looked anxious and said little. He spoke in a voice so low that, although the French window was open, Vanina was unable to hear his words. He left at once.
"That poor woman must have terrible enemies," Vanina thought to herself, "for my father not to dare confide in anyone, despite his carefree character, and be obliged to climb one hundred and twenty steps every day."
A blood-stained book, a blood-stained cloth, blood-stained shoes. As soon as she heard the word "blood" Sa-Mi recalled vividly the face of Chon Hyon-Su as he lay on the bed in his sick-room. She had not visited the room in secret out of curiosity like Vanina. It was April 18, and she had been looking down from the upstairs balcony when one of the demonstrating students, covered in blood, was carried into the clinic that formed part of the house. She had simply gone down to the clinic at the sound of her father's call, as she frequently did when there was an emergency and there was not enough nursing staff. It was not a bullet wound. Judging from the blood flowing thickly from his head he had probably been beaten with a club or the butt of a rifle, or perhaps he had been trampled underfoot. The students who brought him claimed vocally that a band of the thugs backing up the police had set about them with pitchforks and chains as if they were a pack of dogs. Sa-Mi was completely accustomed to the sight of blood. Whether it was the blood flowing from a human body or the mercurochrome poured out of a bottle, there was no difference, they were both equally red. Bloodstained bandages and dressings had been part of daily life since her infancy. Yet now, for the first and only time, blood, human blood flowing from lacerated human flesh, took on a completely new meaning and struck to the depths of her heart.
"Il y avait aussi du sang..." Professor K's French accent was always somewhat overdone. Especially the nasal sound when he pronounced sang was full of an elasticity suggestive of the lightness of a ballerina's crimson shoes rather than the stickiness of blood.
"You note how the partitive article precedes the word for blood. It indicates a particular quantity, that is, it serves to denote the limited amount of blood spread over the shoes lying on the table. Of course, as you will learn on reading further, this unknown wounded woman is none other than the carbonaro, soon to become Vanina's lover, Missirilli, who had escaped from Sant'Angelo prison.
Professor K was busy wiping away the word blood without the least emotion, grammatically (a word he often employed) and chattily, just like father wiping away the clotted blood from his scalpel with a scrap of sterile gauze without the least emotion. Whereas I felt that sensation for the very first time. The pain associated with blood, more, the pain accompanying the blood flowing from a particular individual... and while blood is always blood, the sight of the blood flowing from those lips was an intolerably sadder thing. People are probably able to kill insects, grasshoppers and such, without a qualm because their blood is not red. I wonder if we human beings would be able to feel for human life if people did not have red blood? Perhaps we would be able to kill people as easily as we kill grasshoppers.
One evening, as Vanina was cautiously bending her head towards the stranger's window, their eyes met and all was discovered. Vanina threw herself to her knees and exclaimed:
"I love you; I am devoted to you."
The stranger beckoned to her.
"I owe you so many apologies," Vanina cried, "my stupid curiosity must seem so insulting to you! I swear to keep your secret and, if you demand it, will never come here again."
"Who would not be happy to see you?" the stranger replied. "Do you live in this palace?"
"Surely," Vanina responded, "yet I see that you do not know me: I am Vanina, don Asdrubale's daughter."
The stranger looked at her in amazement, blushed deeply, then continued:
"I beg you to permit me to hope that you will come to visit me every day; at the same time, I would prefer it if the prince remained unaware of your visits."
Vanina's heart was beating madly; the stranger's manners seemed full of marks of distinction. (...) The unknown woman told her she had received a wound in the shoulder that had penetrated as far as the lung and was causing her much pain. She frequently found her mouth full of blood.
Hyon-Su had opened his eyes, lying on the bed. His eyes were inflamed and red, something like tears shone in them. First his gaze strayed over the room's grey walls, then staring at me as I sat at the corner table he spoke for the first time.
"Are you a nurse?"
"No, I'm the doctor's daughter."
"Then why are you all the time looking after me like this? You were here yesterday, and the day before as well."
"Please forgive me. Your eyes were always closed, I thought you were asleep. You mean to say that you've known I'm not a nurse for several days?"
Why did Hyon-Su feel obliged to view even me with eyes full of hatred? Perhaps because he had lost so much blood. People who lack blood view the world with an icy gaze, while those with too much blood view everything with a fiery glare. There has to be just the right amount of blood flowing through the veins.
"If it embarrasses you, I won't come again. I hope you won't misunderstand. Would it be alright to use the word friend? To see you as a friend of the same sex as myself, wearing a skirt and high heels, with her hair in a scarf?"
"Think as you please. Think of me as a boy, it's alright. Will you stay where you are? How shall I...."
Hyon-Su looked uncertain how to go on; he did not know what to call me. It was exactly the same expression as the stoic grimace of pain that he put on when they changed the dressings on his wounds.
It seemed to be an expression that had been habitual with him even before he was wounded.
"How shall I... what shall I call you?"
"Call me Sa-Mi, Choi Sa-Mi."
"Sa-Mi? It sounds like a stage name. The Mi must be the Chinese character for beauty, and is Sa the Sa for silk?"
"No, it's one of the characters for sand; not the one written with "stone" as the radical, but the one that combines "small" with the "water" radical. I think it designates the fine sand at the water's edge.
"Sa for sand, sand at the water's edge, it's the first time I've come across that character; I asked your name and got that reply, well, I don't know if you'll like me saying it, but... well, really..."
"No, it's not because someone asked me about my name, I simply spoke first."
"Whichever it was, it doesn't matter. Let me just go on chattering to myself. It's quite alright for you to think of me as a girl and for me to think of you as one of those boys that I was in a mob with, shouting slogans together only a few days ago. And hey, you just called me "someone"; well, my name...."
"I know it already. I saw it on your medical record. And you're in your third year at S... University, that too. But you said, 'I don't know if you'll like me saying it...' What were you going to tell me?"
"Sand at the water's edge.... I was thinking of that Chinese character. Hyon-Su suddenly tried to raise himself in the bed, like someone startled by something. Seeing that the needle of his blood transfusion was about to pull out, Sa-Mi instinctively seized his shoulder and gently made him lie back on the pillow. It was as if a woman, no matter how young, was maternal by nature, even before she married and had children of her own. Sa-Mi herself was surprised by her professional skill as she seized the almost unknown boy's shoulder and without any sense of embarrassment helped his lie back on the pillow. Hyon-Su had shut his eyes. Is it on account of the blood? That blood flowing from his pale forehead? Is that why I feel so close to this stranger? No, it must rather be because of the gunfire. Because of the noise of pounding running feet. And also..."
Spring flowers had been falling. Was it because they had been crushed by those muddy boots?
Hyon-Su spoke, his eyes still shut:
"Sand at the water's edge, that was what you told me, wasn't it? I first saw the sea when I was five. Standing on the white sand at the water's edge, I saw the blue sea, the vast, deep blue sea off the southern coast. Then when I was ten, I saw barley fields. I was walking between barley fields, clasping my starving belly. There I was, ten years old, obliged to walk along that rural path pressing my empty stomach and longing to see the fields ablaze with gold, urging the barley shoots to grow quickly, ripen quickly. When we ran out of reserves of grain in early spring, even the rats used to leave our house for somewhere else. People used to say I had an odd way of thinking; I always used to think about life with my empty guts. I was ten when I saw those green barley fields. Standing on a hillside of bare red clay studded with scrubby bushes, chewing a mouthful of pine needles, I saw those green fields of barley rocking just like the waves of the sea. It's alright. Stay sitting as you are. Let me just go on chattering. What I wanted to shout, out there in the crowd, may not really have been the great, impressive slogans people in such mobs tend to cry. Now I'm twenty, twenty years old, and there was nothing at all I could see. I could see nothing but something like the sky on a cloudy day. I haven't seen that many girls. I haven't seen the books in the library. Can't you keep coming to see me here every day? Your father won't like it, though."
Sa-Mi felt an urge to cry out stir within her. Not in a soft voice, though; she longed to roar like the people in a huge crowd, even meaningless things. The windows were always closed. The room was empty. If she shouted, she felt as if the window panes would fly in splinters and a cool breeze come wafting in. She had the impression she would see a terrace adorned with orange trees. That she would be able to see something like green plants alive with golden sunlight and beetles. The breath issuing from Sa-Mi's lips was warm like alcohol.
"I want to chatter away, too. Why, we're friends."
Hyon-Su opened his eyes and stared Sa-Mi in the face. But Sa-Mi was looking up at the black blood as it flowed down the tube into Hyon-Su's body. It might be blood, but how was it that the black bags of blood she took from the fridge or that they bought at the blood bank were that dreadful colour? The blood they contained was like dead blood.
"What makes you think of me as your friend? Were you out demonstrating like us? I hate hearing girls calling boys their comrades."
Sa-Mi exclaimed. It was so loud that she held her breath for a moment and deliberately stayed sitting still.
"Why, every time you speak, you begin with 'No'!"
"No! That's not what..."
"You said 'No' again!"
For the first time, Hyon-Su was laughing. Yet even as he laughed, a hint of pain still lurked about his lips, like when they removed the dressings that had stuck to his wounds. Was it because traces of blood still remained on his lips?
"Not that. I want to talk about the blood."
"Did I loose a lot of blood? As a rule I'm very careful about my blood; selling blood is my occupation."
Gazing up at the black blood in the transfusion bottle, Hyon-Su spoke in tones of self-derision.
"I suppose that blood too belonged to someone who received a number at a hospital door, joined a queue, then waited and waited before finally exchanging it for a few banknotes. It may even be my own blood, the bottle that I sold to the blood bank a few days ago. Now I've bled a lot and not got a penny for it, when it should have been sold to a hospital. This blood staining my dressings too."
"That wasn't the kind of blood I meant. When you were lying in the emergency ward with your face all covered in blood, while father (he's Dr. Choi) and the nurses were busily mopping up the blood and trying to staunch the bleeding, I glimpsed what blood meant for the very first time. I didn't see the sea when I was five. I didn't see barley fields clutching my hungry stomach when I was ten. But now I'm eighteen, it's just a few days since I was eighteen, and aged eighteen I saw blood. That's all. So I came to think of Hyon-Su, who was lying there bleeding, as my friend. That swollen face? Once the swelling goes down, when your black eyes fade, after they remove the stitches from your wounds, like the face you had in times gone by: those are faces I do not know. Those faces are unknown to me. If I thought of you as a friend, it was because I realized that human blood needs no kind of expression. There is no reason why blood should have eyes, or a nose, or a mouth. After all, there are cases, it all depends, when we are more vividly struck, more deeply impressed by things without shape than by those with. Indifferent people normally find blood revolting. Although there are others, like my father, who don't even feel revolted by it. It's merely someone else's blood. But there are times when you see someone's blood flowing and experience pity. When you experience feelings towards another person that are human yet detached, you no longer feel their blood to be revolting, instead you feel pity."
"You mean that you saw my blood and felt pity? And so you felt comradeship, you wanted to call me your friend? Otherwise you would have found it revolting..."
Sa-Mi once again said, "No!"
"No. It was sorrow. And pain. That was the first time I had ever felt sorrow and pain at the sight of someone bleeding. I can't explain why it should have happened. Yet one thing is clear. When you see someone's blood with feelings of sorrow and pain, you cannot simply think of that person as just anybody. We had already become friends in that moment."
"What a genius Stendhal is! To pretend that a man of letters can have no skill in mathematics is a patent lie. Um, how shall I put it? Yes, we may say that a novel is a kind of linguistic mathematics or geometry."
Professor K spoke in tones of admiration, fingering the knot of his frivolously red tie with chalky fingers.
"Only think. Vanina is an aristocrat's daughter. Moreover, she is the kind of girl whose only thought is to make a fool of any man she sets eyes on. With her black hair, blazing eyes, Vanina knows fell well how beautiful she is. To make a digression, many women are not arrogant for all their learning while there is not one who is beautiful without being stuck up. Beauty is a woman's main talent. What I am saying may seem to be insulting, but a girl who has only a minimum of education will tend to despise men even more than you university graduates, once she is sure of her looks. That as an aside; now let us examine for a moment Stendhal's precise calculations."
It was autumn. In the garden visible beyond the windows of the classroom, salvias were blooming. Those scarlet salvias were not so much autumn flowers, they were more like the leftovers of summer, the ashes remaining after summer had gone up in flames. Their every petal seemed to be saturated with memories of torrid summer days.
"First, at the point where the text says that one carbonaro has escaped from Sant'Angelo prison, it merely says that he had disguised himself. If it had been explicit from the beginning that he had disguised himself as a woman, Vanina would surely have guessed that he was the carbonaro on discovering Missirilli in her house wearing women's clothing. Second, it is a very fine calculation to have disguised Missirilli the escaped convict as a woman. Without that, how on earth could the proud Vanina ever have had a chance of coming in contact with the man, himself proud as we were saying previously? Taking him for a woman, Vanina feels safe and associates with him. As a result, the process by which Vanina falls in love with the carbonaro follows quite naturally, does it not? The escaped prisoner's disguising himself as a woman seems quite natural; as a consequence, the haughty Vanina's frequentation of his room from the very start feels equally natural. It's all a matter of double play. Third, Stendhal is thereby killing three birds with one stone. Vanina really takes Missirilli for a woman. Now an ugly man will never be taken for a woman, no matter how pretty the women's clothes he puts on. It is not just a matter of saying that he disguised himself as a woman; the disguise suited him so well it suggests automatically that he was sufficiently handsome for Vanina to fall for. Vanina was completely taken in by Missirilli dressed as a woman. The fact that she could be taken in like that is at the same time the guarantee that he was sufficiently good looking for her to fall in love with. Such admirable skill. Now, I must make a modification in what I said. Stendhal's novel is not linguistic mathematics, it's linguistic economics, economics. What skill, to dress a man in some women's clothing and make that serve such multiple functions; if you employ that degree of skill in your housekeeping after you are married, you will find yourselves able to wear diamond rings even larger than those worn by don Asdrubale with what you get from your husbands' meagre pay packets."
Once again, Professor K looked as if he was waiting for his students to laugh. But Sa-Mi had not laughed. Gazing at the red salvias, she thought to herself how blood has the power to transform a man into a girl's closest friend without any need for him to dress up in women's clothing. That was how it must have been for Vanina. A blood-stained book, blood-stained shoes, a blood-stained cloth, a blood-stained cloth covering the breast: that was the reason why Vanina had found herself able to fall in love with that unknown woman, or rather that dangerous carbonaro.
At last Sa-Mi's eyes reached the passage where Missirilli reveals his true identity.
While she read the passage--it had been the same during the lecture--for some reason the soft and lustreless voice of Hyon-Su rang in her ears. His voice seemed to issue less from his throat than from the very bottom of his lungs. That voice emerged from the letters of her text. Perhaps because Hyon-Su too had kept repeating almost mechanically, "It would be unworthy of me to deceive you".
"Why, it would be unworthy of me to deceive you. I am called Pietro Missirilli, I am nineteen years old; (...) I'm a carbonaro. Our secret assembly was raided; I was brought in chains from Romagna to Rome. Thrown into a cell where a lamp burned day and night, I spent thirteen months there. One charitable soul had a mind to help me escape. They dressed me as a woman. Just as I left the prison and was passing the guards at the last gate, one of them cursed the carbonari. I slapped his face. I assure you it was no act of bravado but quite simply a thoughtless moment. Pursued by night through the streets of Rome, wounded by their bayonets, already weakening, I made my way up into a house where the door was open; I heard the soldiers coming in after me so I jumped down into a garden. I fell just a few steps away from a woman who was walking there. (...)
I feel very ill. These last few days the bayonet wound in my shoulder has been hindering my breathing. I am going to die and I am in despair since I shall no longer see you."
Vanina had listened impatiently, then rapidly left the room. Missirilli found no trace of pity in those eyes, lovely though they were, but only the expression of a haughty character that has just been offended.
With her chin posed on the French dictionary, Sa-Mi closed her eyes in order to retain Hyon-Su's voice; it had rung out in her memory and was vanishing again. The voice was agitating her heart, like the sound of a window being rattled by the passing wind on a winter's evening. Like a doctor wielding alcohol-soaked cotton-wool swabs in his forceps, Hyon-Su wielded a variety of words, thrusting them down onto Sa-Mi's young heart. Her breast tingled.
"Why, you're a bit late today.... If I go down one corridor and cross the garden, I'll find Sa-Mi's room: all day long that's all I've been thinking, lying here. I've been waiting for you, because I wanted to express more of what I've got stored up inside. First, I wanted to tell you frankly that I don't like girls and things like that. Although even if I say it like that, I don't suppose you will feel it concerns you.... Did I tell you last time how I've reached a point now I'm twenty when I'm incapable of seeing anything.... But speaking bluntly, who ever heard of a twenty year old boy that didn't think of girls? There have been many times when I've spent the whole night thinking of girls. You told me that seeing me bleeding you experienced a deep sense of friendship, but I've come to realize that I'm someone who has absolutely no wish to receive even that kind of friendship from either girls or boys. I tell you, I'm someone who detests flowers because flowers are beautiful, and who detests snow because it's white and pure.
"Suppose we talk about flowers. Flowers blossom anywhere. It must have been about two weeks ago. I had been taken to the police station, on suspicion of organizing a demonstration at the university. I'll not tell you what happened there. If I started to tell you that, I'd have to describe in just how cowardly a way I behaved. Anyway, not being able to take much pain and contempt, I decided to sign an undertaking not to do such things again on a sheet of grey paper they gave me. I had no seal with me, so I was obliged to press my thumb on the red ink pad and sign the undertaking with that. Just as I was pressing my thumb on the paper underneath my name, what do you think I saw? Flowers blossoming out in the back yard of the police station. I could see springtime flowers out in that yard through gaps in the paper covering the windows.... if you ask me their names, I'll tell you.... I saw red and yellow spring flowers blooming. My cheeks were swollen and red. My hands were shaking, I could scarcely move my legs, but the point is that those flowers blooming out there were quite indifferent to my sufferings. To see flowers like that in such a place is the last thing you would expect, surely. In a place where there's nothing but criminals and people busy dealing with criminals; a place full of tense nerves and grim shadows like an iron cage; there they were, those spring flowers blossoming, completely indifferent to the squeaking chairs and the dark corridors, the screams and the papers and everything else. When I first glimpsed those flowers with their serenity, I nearly burst into tears. Then I felt a kind of fury rising in my throat, a feeling of rejection, of resentment, of betrayal before those indifferent flowers. To think that flowers blossom everywhere and anywhere, quite indifferent to human sufferings, inconsistencies, hardships.... I even felt a sense of unfairness. To say something forms relationships with nothing is as much as to say it forms relationships with anything. The girls I met in my adolescence were just the same. Girls are pretty, they're as warm as your own home, and serenely fragrant too. There's no doubt about it. But they are quite unrelated to the tragedy of our history. It occurred to me that girls are a kind of paradoxical flower: capable of loving any and every one because they love no one. The more pretty girls I see, the more girls pretty as Sa-Mi I see, the more I feel disgruntled and overwhelmed with chagrin. Don't think I'm saying it's because girls aren't pure. It's because they are pure that girls get corrupted. I can't begin to tell you how much I used to love snow when I was a kid. I have an impression the snow-flakes I saw as a child were a lot bigger and softer and whiter than those I saw as a teenager. I could not help feeling regret when I saw how that snow got trodden by muddy boots and turned into a dirty slush. No, not just regret, it was a kind of rage. The snow was so clean and pure, it was unable to offer any resistance. Because it was so chaste it got trodden underfoot, melted in a flash, became soiled and turned into muddy sludge. Generally speaking, that's what happens to chaste women too.
"Today I'm going to have to limit myself to talking about the things I dislike. It would be unworthy of me to deceive you. The fact that I don't like doctors; that I don't like places like clinics and hospitals; not even this clinic where you live.... I have the feeling that I must tell you all these things. Sa-Mi, you must understand all that. Why are doctors' waiting rooms so empty? They're always empty, aren't they, no matter whether there are people in them or not? And the fuller they are of patients, the deeper and vaster their emptiness becomes. A few magazines and newspapers are laid out without fail on the table for people to read, but the patients don't touch them, they just sit there vacantly, as if they're dazed, staring at the ceiling or the walls, waiting for hours on end. The sound of children crying, the sound of people coughing, trying to clear their throat of something.... Sa-Mi, you must have seen a lot of faces: the gaunt faces of undernourished patients, the wretched faces of patients sitting anxiously waiting for their turn. While the doctors, or at least the one that I know, rake up a lot in that emptiness. Sick people, even adults, go back to being like children in the presence of a doctor. They make a fuss, they exaggerate their symptoms in hope of gaining sympathy, or they try to behave in a dignified way like children eager for praise. Yet doctors show no feelings, at least not the one I know. He used to exploit his patients' pain and innocence to the maximum extent. He seemed to have his stethoscopes in his ears not in order to heal diseases but to tame them.
"You'd best not listen to what I'm saying. A lot of the time so-called confessions are meant for yourself to hear, rather than other people. You often have to listen to yourself. You said that you felt friendship on seeing me bleeding, but now you have to listen to what I say. You have to listen to my words, not my blood. Now maybe even that friendship will fade away too. Yet for some reason I feel that I want to strip away all my disguises in your presence.
"That clinic: the doctor that I know is someone who hired me as his children's private tutor as soon as I was accepted at S University. My mother died in poverty, I should by rights have done the same, but I have the impression I went to work in the family at that clinic because I had decided to cling to life for a long time in order to take my revenge on poverty. If that doctor had not been an unlicensed quack, or if the patients coming there had not looked so shabby and sad, I might not have had this intense prejudice against hospitals, yours included. Here you're in Hyoja-dong, this clinic's in a high class area, you may not be able to understand what I'm talking about. That clinic was at the foot of a hillside covered by a slum. Prostitutes, day-labourers, people who had tried to kill themselves by swallowing poison, undernourished children, people suffering from ringworm and boils, whose wrists, when they rolled up their sleeves for an injection, were invariably marked by protruding purple veins. The chests touched by his stethoscope bore the dark shadow of the rib cage. No matter what patient came, that quack earned his money by giving them a jab of penicillin, making them take an aspirin, a digestive powder, and ground-up vitamin pills he bought at the pharmacy. And that's not the full reason why I have this hatred and prejudice against hospitals and doctors. Whenever some hometown friend paid a visit to the clinic to flatter that quack on his success, I invariably had to be displayed before the guests as a token of it. I still remember the order of events. When guests arrived at the clinic, first the quack would show them his two-story clinic, so spick and span it didn't fit in with the shacks in the slum though it was illegal, like them. After that he would call out, "White!" White was the name of the household dog. He claimed that its pedigree was more precisely recorded than any human being's. That dog was a pure-bred French poodle; it would never eat anything but fat meat and caught a cold if it slept outdoors. Didn't he use to say that there were less than ten dogs like his in the whole of Seoul? And one of them belonged to him. That White was a sort of badge testifying to his success. He would tell how the dogs belonging to the speaker of the National Assembly and to the head of some big corporation, as well as those of a minister and of a certain ambassador, were all related to his White. And those visitors would cast envious looks at that quack as if he himself were directly related to the speaker of the National Assembly, or a minister, or the head of some corporation. But that was not what I found so wretched. That's not the reason why I spoke of hatred. I soon got used to all that. What I could not endure was knowing full well that after White it would be my turn next. I was going to have to stand on the very spot where the dog had been obediently squatting at his feet, its tail wagging and its tongue lolling out, witnessing to the quack's glory and success. When I heard the call "White... White!" from downstairs, I knew it would be my turn next; I would soon be obliged to get up from the study table where I was giving the children their lesson. Once the calls for White had died away, I would soon be hearing the call for "Mister Chon" ah, "Mister Chon". Then for absolutely no reason I would be obliged to go and stand in front of the visitors and make my pointless bow like some kind of criminal. The quack doctor would introduce me: "This is our children's private tutor, he is a freshman at S University and he was most specially recommended, most specially, by the dean, with his future prospects in mind, to be in charge of our children's education". Then those poor visitors would open their eyes wide, just as they had nodded their heads in amazement, as if exclaiming in loud tones at the sight of White's thick, smart, oily fur; nodding their heads as if signing a certificate attesting to how greatly that quack doctor had succeeded.... Before I finally left that clinic and its family, I stroked White's head as a sign of farewell, and thinking: Who knows? If I had been unconscious of suffering, of insults, of shame like a dog, like a purebred poodle, perhaps at least I might have been able to live the same kind of elegant life, refusing to eat anything except fatty meat and catching a cold if I ever slept outside... and I could have become your lifelong friend. But when I ran away from that clinic, do you think I could really escape from those patients' faces, and White with his wagging tail, and the stares of those rural visitors with their lack of imagination who arrived with their exclamations prepared in advance? While I had left that place behind me, I soon came to realize that the whole world was just like that quack doctor's clinic, that healthy people were all like him while the sick were all like that clinic's patients. There was no escape. Yet I was quite unable to get rid of the idea that I ought to set up new hospitals in a new land. That's why I found myself obliged to go charging forward in the midst of all the tear-gas. I was obliged to shout until I was hoarse, running towards those clubs and heavy boots and horses' hoofs, until I shed that blood that you saw flowing. But Sa-Mi, I have to make a confession, just one: I was never in the least bit brave. No one brave would ever go chattering words idle as tears to some girl while all the time saying he hated it, lying rigid as a corpse with legs and arms in plaster like this. People like that have already left the world. They're the ones who died. It was uniquely because I would have felt ashamed in their sight that I couldn't run away. I was the one who stirred up the demonstration. Yet here I am, still alive and speaking, while all those others are dead instead. And Sa-Mi, the worst of it is that I'm forced just to lie here, in the thing I hate most of all, a hospital, saying how grateful I am. Suppose I can't pay for my treatment? I never once saw any of those prostitutes or day-labourers come to that quack for treatment empty-handed. Even after the plaster is off and the stitches are removed from my cuts, I'll not be able to move about freely. I'm someone who ought to have died. In future you'd better not call me your friend."
Yet the expression in Hyon-Su's eyes showed not the slightest trace of wanting any sympathy. Proudly, as if in scorn, as if to say that he scorned even the daughter of this clinic's owner, he gazed at Sa-Mi. She rose, shuddering to think that he had been bleeding, that his face had been battered, long before she had ever seen him, long before he was carried into their clinic, long long before.
One evening, although by now Missirilli was much improved and Vanina no longer had the pretext of fearing for his life, she ventured to come alone. At the sight of her, Missirilli was filled with happiness, but he took care to hide his love; his prime intention was not to loose the dignity becoming of a man. Vanina, who had come in with a blushing countenance and fearing tenders of affection, was taken aback at the expressions of friendship, noble and devoted, it was true, but far from tender, with which he had received her. When she left, he made no effort to retain her. (...)
Far from being obliged to impose limitations on the young carbonaro's ardours, Vanina found herself wondering if she loved alone (...), but was quite unable to take upon herself the decision to stop seeing him.
Even after that, even after hearing those words, which could be considered insulting to her if taken as such, whether it be his dislike of girls or his dislike of hospitals, Sa-Mi continued to frequent Hyon-Su's sick-room whenever the nurses were absent. Indeed, that explains why her original friendship was rapidly turning into feelings of love. When he was asleep, she would sit at his bedside knitting, examining his face from which the bruises were slowly fading. She felt that underneath the sticking-plasters he had a very open forehead. His eyebrows were thick and black, while his brow bore a slightly melancholy frown which made his nose look considerably higher than it was. His lips were still swollen. Remarkably small lips, they seemed likely to suit him if he ever disguised himself as a woman like Missirilli. He had no need of any further treatment. Her father had a good head for business. Journalists had come, contributions had been made, April's revolution was already over, so there was no sign of interest from the government or the police. The longer such a patient stayed confined in the hospital, the bigger the figures in the account books. If it would make the figures bigger, Sa-Mi's father was the kind of man who would have been quite content to have even his daughter as a patient. At least, Sa-Mi thought so.
"Ah well!" she finally told herself, "If I see him, it's for myself, for my own pleasure; I will never confess to him all the attraction he inspires within me." She duly paid long visits to Missirilli, who addressed her in the same way he might have done with twenty other people present. One evening, after having spent the whole day detesting him and swearing to herself to be colder and severer with him than normal, she told him that she loved him. Soon she had nothing left to refuse him.
"Will you read me a book?"
When Hyon-Su said that, I would deliberately choose a book on philosophy or sociology, something having nothing to do with love, to read to him. But he pretended not to notice. If he had been like Sok-Hun, he would probably have asked me to read Eveline or Annabel Lee or, worse still, Lady Chatterley's Lover. I would have hated it if he had asked for books like that, but the indifference with which he pretended not to notice my perversity in reading him books dry as dust about nineteenth century conceptual philosophy was loathsome in the extreme.
When he felt like talking, he would go rattling on for hours on end, with no concern for what I might be feeling and then, while I was adjusting the flowers at his bedside or straightening his sheets, he would shut his eyes without a word of thanks and fall asleep. It was the last evening of April. My father had gone on a distant home call, the nurse was outside washing bedspreads, while the two of us were gazing through the sick-room window. The April night air felt soft and slippery, like the foam rising from washing soap. Hyon-Su's arms and legs had been freed from their plaster, and I was holding his wrists, helping him to practice walking as if he were a little child just learning to toddle. His hands were cold. That only me made me more aware of the feverish heat of my own scorching palms.
"Open your hands. Move your arms."
An old-fashioned tram was passing merrily, bluish sparks flying from its arm into the darkness.
"There's nothing wrong with me now. Just look."
Hyon-Su was gradually raising his arms, freed at last of their burden of plaster, towards my shoulders. At each movement, I felt his muscles grow tense with compact energy then relax, until I sensed their full power bearing down on my shoulders. Then his lips, I felt the touch of his lips like flowing blood... I had closed my eyes and was recalling how his face had looked with blood flowing from between his lips. I was recalling my very first glimpse of that face, as he lay prostrate on the bed in that same sickroom. This physical body of ours, what is there about it that makes it capable of stirring up a person's feelings as it does, stirring them up like a mush of stewed beans? Hyon-Su had spoken of seeing the sea off the south coast when he was six, the sunlight breaking on its blue waves, and the sea breathing the wind away into the endless distance; now, like some ship slowly sinking below that sea, I was rolling and foundering body and soul. I was wrapped in undulating fronds of green seaweed. Hyon-Su's hands and breast and lips and all had wrapped themselves about me like seaweed, like some mysterious kind of seaweed that no one can ever escape from once they are caught. It was just the same sweetish taste as kelp. It was an ocean, a world, a beach of white sand that I had never trodden before.
"Sa-Mi, is this possible?"
"I don't know. This is the warm sea that you saw in the south such a long, long time ago, when your were only six years old. The wind is blowing. My hair is floating in the breeze."
Missirilli no longer had any thought of the duty he owed to his manly dignity. He loved as one loves for the very first time at nineteen and in Italy. (...) One day, Missirilli began to wonder: What am I going to do? Stay hidden in this way in the home of one of the most lovely beings in Rome? Then the foul tyrants who kept me for thirteen months in a prison without once letting me see daylight will think that they have discouraged me! Woe to you, Italy, if your sons abandon you for so little!"
The revolution was over and people looked just a little happier than they had done before. Sa-Mi realized full well that it was not simply on account of the fresh young leaves of May. The schools had opened again, too. On examination, absolutely nothing had really changed; indeed, in some respects things had grown even more confused than before. Yet just as life is preparing for springtime inside a bulb that seems outwardly as hard as stone, it was evident that some unforeseeable change was burgeoning within people. On her way home from school, Sa-Mi saw students standing in the streets collecting donations.
For the victims of the events of April 19, those who had survived seemed to be ready to make almost any reparation in an attempt to draw a veil over their guilt-stricken hearts. Sa-Mi too, though she felt slightly ridiculous, opened her purse, drew out whatever banknotes her hand happened to grasp, and thrust them into the collection box. Covered with white paper, the square collection boxes looked exactly like the caskets that had received the ashes of the dead.
"How ever can doing that make for up their lost youth? How could I think I'm going to make even one thousandth part, one ten-thousandth part of their destiny mine with these few banknotes?" The thought struck her that she had to go home, home to where Hyon-Su was waiting for her. As she stood there wavering, she was suddenly shocked to feel a hand touch her breast: a filthy, muddy hand. It was a beggar. Beggars always loom up from nowhere. The beggar, his face a mass of boils, seemed to be a kind of mute; he was waving his hand at Sa-Mi and roaring like an animal. He was probably asking for money. She found some change and was about to offer him a few small coins, when the beggar thrust her hand aside and pushed past her. Only then did Sa-Mi understand why he had been acting in that fashion. She was standing in front of the box for donations, blocking his access, and he was telling her to get out of the way. The beggar stood trembling for a moment in front of the box, then fumbled at the waist-band of his tattered trousers as if he was trying to catch lice. Crumpled banknotes emerged. It must have been his whole day's take from his begging. The beggar set about forcing the hand clasping the money down into the wooden casket of a collecting box, that recalled a kind of piggy bank. Astonished, Sa-Mi was on the brink of exclaiming out loud. That this beggar, who had spent his whole lifetime begging from people, should contribute even one penny to help others, was a pure miracle. That wretched beggar, who normally lay prostrate at the roadside, grasping at one person's ankles after another, entirely dependant on the alms they deigned to spit at him, was giving away his money for people who had never seen his face, who had not the slightest idea of his name or where he came from. What power possessed him? Here was a man who had only ever received, giving like that.
"Hyon-Su, I nearly wept. While that poor beggar was stuffing his precious money into the collection box, all he had got by begging and being spat at in return, his mournful eyes were turned aside so as not to see the money, not to see that money passing through the slot in the collection box, and they suddenly met mine. I nearly wept, really I did. It was so amazing, so pitiful. I feel like calling it the April Miracle."
Hyon-Su leaped roughly forward as if intent on taking me in his arms, and cried out:
"Sa-Mi! I've just realized: I'm young, we're young! Until now I've lived completely unaware of being young, I never once thought about it. Now, it's May... If only this month of May could last a whole lifetime. Is it really not possible for these budding leaves not to open any further, for the green of the grass not to get any darker, for the air to go on for ever vibrating like this? How old did you say you were?"
"Eighteen! Why, there's that popular song: "In her eighteen year old breast, the flowers are in bloom". Whenever I used to think of it, I thought it was so silly it gave me the creeps. I used to laugh at it. But now I come to think about it, there's nothing funny about it after all, is there? What other words could I possibly use to express the things I'm feeling at present?"
"And I'm twenty, I'm twenty. That's not just my official age, either...."
Hyon-Su crushed me in his arms as he repeated, "Twenty, twenty!" over and over again. For the first time in my life I paid no heed to the sound of slippered steps in the corridor, or to my father's cough, not even to the stare of the nurse when with weasel-like stealth she opened the sick-room window and without any warning stuck her head in. Even if we had been standing out in the middle of the road, we would have embraced in the same way, unrestrainedly, regardless of who was looking.
"Let's go for a walk. I'm really perfectly alright now. I ought to have left already. If I'm still confined to this sick-room, it's because I need to be treated for another wound, the one I got because of you. Of course, it's going to take much longer to heal than any outside wound; and as for the plaster--if you break an arm or a leg, you only have to put a cast on the broken limb and that's enough, but I was thinking how people wounded by love need to be put in plaster from head to foot. Yet... but what was I going to say? That's right, I wasn't meaning to go on like that about plaster, I was saying that I wanted to go out. To see those streets again. I must walk again down those streets where my friends fell and where I shed my blood. The barricades have been cleared away, this youth with his twenty years, this youth just beginning to learn about love, wants to walk along those wide pavements. But no running. We must tread cautiously on the land of new days to come, one step at a time, as if we're walking over fields where the grass was just beginning to grow. Otherwise God might feel jealous. The mounted troops, the clubs, the tear gas, the emergency decrees and all those things have been overcome, the long dark night of youth and love is over, and at least we have the right to experience this new morning."
"I was like a phantom until now. It's as if a woman can only start to find out who she really is when she falls in love with a man. Because it's only now that I start to feel that I have a physical body. Out we go, the two of us together, anywhere. There is no one following us, no one listening to our conversations, no matter where we go. Out we go, now, quickly. I'm praying that this Maytime breeze will stay beside us for ever. As for the past, that can be spat out like chewing gum after you've finished chewing it."
"If you spit out gum carelessly, it'll most likely stick to someone's clothing; so let's bury it for good. First bury it deep underground, like dead bones, then let's go out...."
It was very quiet among the trees. I suddenly glimpsed a little squirrel. They always look like toy animals. Hyon-Su was lying with his head on my knees, gazing up at the May sky as it flickered between the leaves. We stayed there like that in complete silence for a good hour. Even now I can still vividly feel the weight of his body hard against mine. I was murmuring to myself as I gently stroked the fresh scars on his brow: "My goodness! Is it possible to love even a scar, then? Which part of this man do I love? Is it these scars? Or is it the unscarred skin, so perfectly smooth, not like a man's at all?" I watched the squirrel climb a tree trunk and thought the sun would never set in that Maytime woodland.
Vanina had no doubt that Pietro's greatest happiness must be to remain for ever attached to her; he seemed far too happy.
It must already be after midnight. Sleep was weighing on her eyes. But as soon as her eyes encountered the passage where Missirilli prepares to leave Vanina, she felt herself grow tense again. Her eyes began to glisten as she peered at the French text. Besides, Professor K had been suffering from a bad cold when he had taught that portion of the text and there were many phrases she had not been able to grasp. As a result, she had to keep referring to the dictionary and every time she opened the dictionary, she would drop into memories of Hyon-Su.
"In this conversation with Missirilli, there is the phrase dès que la nuit sera venue which needs to be explained grammatically; sera venu(e) is the future perfect tense of the verb venir while sera alone is le futur simple the simple future tense of the verb être... so as you learned previously, the future perfect signifies something that must happen before some other future event. As a result, you need to remember that normally the future perfect is used in contrast to a simple future tense. Koreans have no concept of such tenses, and that constitutes a large handicap in learning French. For us, past, present, and future are all ambiguous and vague. Especially the future, it seems.... Just to see Korean grammar, you get the impression that our people have always lived without any awareness of time or future. We have native Korean words to designate "yesterday" and "today" but the word for "tomorrow" comes from the Chinese, doesn't it? That alone seems to be closely connected to the fact that we have few ways of expressing the future."
As I listened to Professor K's grammatical explanations, I remember saying inwardly to myself, "Yes, what you say is surely right. We Koreans definitely seem to live without any awareness of the future. Sudden as autumn showers, suddenly the future changes. With no simple future, and no future perfect, in one way or another the future is always a dreadful mess."
Missirilli looked rather embarrassed as he addressed Vanina.
"As soon as night falls, I must go out."
"Take care to return to the palace before daybreak; I will be waiting for you."
"By daybreak I'll be several miles from Rome."
"Very good," said Vanina coldly, "and where do you intend to go?"
"To Romagna, to take my revenge."
"Since I am rich," she continued, perfectly calmly, "I hope that you will accept weapons and money from me."
Missirilli looked at her for a few moments without blinking; then he threw himself into her arms, exclaiming:
"Life of my life, you make me forget everything, even my duty. But the nobler your heart, the more fully you must understand me."
Vanina wept bitterly and it was agreed that he would only leave Rome on the following day.
"Hyon-Su left like that, too. Left suddenly, like the future perfect. Professor, do you know how it happened? It had been cloudy since early morning; I was setting off to go to school, about to pass the main gate when there was Hyon-Su waiting for me in the corridor outside his room. To tell me he was leaving the hospital! Or more precisely, that he was leaving me. Immediately, too. Of course, you know about the future tense, so you know that it's impossible for a patient to stay in hospital one or two months after making a full recovery. A hospital is not a hotel. I knew that. It's a matter of the simple future. That was not what made me sad. It was the way he replied, when I asked why he was suddenly leaving so quickly. He had decided to leave today a long time before, he was simply telling me now. He had all the time been there at my side, talking, walking, reading together; but he had drawn a mental circle round today's date in his calendar all on his own. That was what made me so sad. Can you imagine what I felt? What it's like to be someone who does not know about the future? Can you imagine what I felt, when I found myself confronting that moment as it came barging in so abruptly, slapping me in the face, barging in without the slightest warning, so that I couldn't decide if it was future or present? So of course I said what I did. Let's wait a few more days. If you leave here immediately, you have no boarding-house room, no rent money, nothing for your food and clothing, do you? Until now we've only thought of each present day, haven't we? We've never once sat down together and thought about tomorrow, have we? At which, Hyon-Su admitted that he had been intending to leave secretly.... that he should have left secretly, so that my face did not get in the way of the tasks he had ahead of him. Yet still he insisted that he loved me. At which I echoed that dès que la nuit sera venue, murmuring that we should talk that evening, and rushed out into the street.
So please, Professor K, grammatically speaking, what form of the future tense corresponds to Hyon-Su's and my future? Can I ask you that?
Sa-Mi found the passage where Vanina asks Missirilli to marry her.
"You certainly have a noble heart; all you lack is a correspondingly high position; I have come to offer you my hand and an income of two hundred thousand pounds. I will undertake to gain my father's consent."
Pietro threw himself down at her feet; Vanina was radiant with joy.
"I love you passionately," he said, "but I am a poor servant of my country; the more my country is unhappy, the more important it is for me to remain faithful to it. In order to obtain don Asdrubale's consent, think what a sorry role I would be obliged to play for years to come. Vanina, I must refuse you."
Missirilli hastened to commit himself. His courage was on the point of failing him.
"My great misfortune," he cried, "is that I love you more than life itself, that to leave Rome is the cruellest of all tortures. Ah! If only Italy were delivered from the barbarians! How gladly I would set out with you across the seas to go and live in America."
Vanina was paralysed. His rejection of her hand had shocked her pride; yet a moment later she threw herself into Missirilli's arms.
Their next meeting was in a tea room, a gloomy place with no frills, in an outlying suburb. The air struck chill although it was May and the other customers were sitting alone, waiting for people. It seemed that every one there was lonely. Sa-Mi's face grew red at the thought of what had happened there. What had made her speak so bluntly?
"Why did I suggest marriage so shamelessly? It still makes me blush just to think of it."
"We can get married. For years mother has lived in disgrace, treated as if she were almost not there; I sure she'll stand up for me just this once. She's never had the right to lift her voice, all the time washing and washing the clinic's bloodstained sheets until she's grown old, all because she only had one girl, and no boy to inherit the hospital, but I'm sure she'll stand up for me this time."
"Don't you think we're still too young for that?"
"Now we're young, of course. But think how long it's going to take before we've got a new house built; we'll be older by then."
"That's right, it'll be our house. With a garden where it'll always be May. And a bedroom where we can talk on and on in the evenings, on and on with no one to interrupt us. Where no one will be allowed to open the front gate without our permission."
"Ah, like in a monastery? A monastery where you only have to say your prayers and tomorrow comes tripping along?"
"Listen and don't laugh. You sleep late in the mornings, don't you? I've had to warm the coffee several times already. Here you are at last, you've not even washed your face, saying, 'Sugar please, only one spoon...' like a child. You're such a lazybones, the only solution is for me to give you your breakfast in bed. Through the open window sunlight is shining softly, and a bracing morning breeze to wake you up... what music do you want? We sense that we're alive, that we're in love, that our warm bodies have not started to fade, we clearly see time and music whirling round us, always remaining in one place."
"Where's my study, then?"
The gramophone was not of the highest quality, music vaguely resembling Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony was emerging sweetly from it. The café was now completely empty and the woman in charge was adding up the day's takings under a feeble lamp.
"Where's my study, then?"
Hyon-Su seemed really curious.
"Upstairs. If you open the windows you can see the river.... You have this terrible habit of leaving your books lying about. So I always have a hard time tidying up your study. Then you look at the neatly arranged books and for some reason get angry. 'You've put the books in any old order, I can't find where any particular book is put. It takes me longer to find a book than it does to read it.' Instead of thanking me, you complain."
"That's how it is. You women, so long as things look neat and tidy, you think that's all that's needed. But you don't realize that the books are arranged in complete disorder. You don't realize that there's order in seeming disorder. It's because men see the world in terms of concepts, while women see everything in terms of emotion. It's funny. All that you're talking about is what people call life."
"Our babies are too playful for words. If there's any noise at all in the house, it's only the sound of the babies crying."
"Ah, family, wife, children, home."
As he spoke the words, Hyon-Su suddenly assumed a strange expression composed of a mixture of melancholy and hope. That expression was just like weather when the sun is half covered with clouds.
"When I was small, I used to think that I wanted to live in a western-style house, with a red-tiled roof in Dutch fashion. In the village where I lived, there was a picture of a house like that hanging framed in the barber's shop. In front of the house ther was a lake and on the lake a white yacht was gliding along. But you know what I used to think? That there couldn't really be a house like that anywhere in the world. That it was nothing more than a fantasy painted by people as they dreamed, like baby angels sprouting wings, or the bodhisattva Kuan-yin standing on a cloud, or a flying carpet in the sky. There couldn't be houses like that, not anywhere in the world, because the only houses I knew were thatched huts stinking of fermenting soy malt. And when the summer rains came, centipedes would crawl into the rooms."
"Well, it's bad to be stubborn like that. Come on, shake off those kinds of prejudice and let's be going home. Father will be angry, he'll be upset simply because you're not a doctor, but we've already built our house. And father's too old to knock it down."
"Did Hyon-Su really turn down my suggestion of marriage with a heart like Missirilli's and leave me?" Sa-Mi wondered. It was already a long time ago, everything had faded and grown dim like the photos in an old album. There was surely a great difference between what had happened then, and the memories of their conversations or of his gestures that came to her as she read Vanina Vanini now. What ever must he have been thinking?
"What is one's country?" he wondered, "it's not like someone to whom we owe a debt of gratitude for some act of kindness, who might be unhappy and curse us if we fail to repay it. One's country and liberty, they're like my overcoat, something useful that I have to buy, true, if I have not inherited one from my father; in the end, I love my country and freedom because they are useful to me. If I don't need them, if they're like an overcoat in August, what's the point of buying them, and at such a high price? Vanina is so beautiful! She has such a singular genius! People will try to please her; she'll soon forget me. What woman ever had only one lover? These Roman princes, that I despise as citizens, have so many advantages over me! They must be very pleasant company! Ah! If I leave, she'll forget me, I'll have lost her for ever."
In the deep of night, Vanina came to see him; he told her of the uncertainty he suddenly found himself plunged in, and the discussion to which, since he loved her, he had submitted the great word 'country'. Vanina was delighted.
"If he had to choose absolutely between his country and me," she thought, "I would win."
The clock of the nearby church struck three; it was time for their last farewells. Pietro tore himself from her. He was already on his way down the narrow stairs, when Vanina, holding back her tears, asked him with a smile:
"If you had been cared for by some poor country woman, would you do nothing to show your gratitude? Would you not try to repay her? The future is unsure, you are going out among your enemies: so give me three days in gratitude, as if I were a poor woman, to repay me for my pains."
"Let's stop talking of all that. I don't reckon I'll ever be someone happy to live like other men, someone with a family, raising children, let alone be the son-in-law destined to inherit a clinic and continue the name of the Choi Ho-Un Surgery. I'm someone who's chosen unhappiness. There has to be a new clinic built in a new land, with a new name for our sick babies with their masses of boils, their twisted limbs. For that, I've chosen hard, sad, lonely unhappiness. Maybe if I'd never seen that quack doctor, if I hadn't seen the sea when I was five, if I hadn't seen that barley field at ten, if I hadn't seen those spring flowers through the window of the interrogation room in the police station, maybe then I could have spent long evenings talking with you about happiness. I could have slipped a ring on your finger and we could have gone strolling in the palace parks on Sundays holding our kids by the hand and unwrapping caramels like ordinary people do. If ever days of health come when everyone's been treated for the diseases of history and been discharged healed, then I might hope to live like the coloured silk threads in your sewing-box, those threads that contain a dream slowly becoming the pretty picture in an embroidery."
It was impossible to say whether either she or Hyon-Su had ever spoken such works. She rather suspected that the entire exchange was nothing but a fantasy, something that she had just concocted on the spur of the moment in a day-dream. What is certain is that he rejected her proposal of marriage, and that for almost a month after parting they heard nothing from one another, yet she remained firmly convinced that one day, sooner or later, Hyon-Su would live with her in his Dutch house.
Missirilli arrived at his destination still very sad, there learned that the leader of the band had been arrested, and that he, a young man still scarcely twenty-eight years old, was about to be elected the leader of a band that included men of over fifty who had been involved in conspiracies ever since Murat's expedition in 1815. On receiving this unlooked-for honour, Pietro felt his heart begin to beat strongly. Once he was alone, he resolved never again to think of the young Roman woman, who had forgotten him, and to devote all his thoughts to his duty to 'deliver Italy from the barbarians'
What makes men act as they do? They are determined to strut about not just with a tie round their necks, but with power too. In primary school they want to be head boy of the class; then, once they enter middle school, they want to become sports stars and be applauded by everyone. There's no imagining how disappointed I felt on discovering that Hyon-Su was just another man like that. No, it was not disappointment. I felt sad. It must have been August. It was during the holidays. I was preparing to go off to the seaside. I urgently needed sunshine and ozone. My health was in a desperate state. Father had no need of patients of my kind. All he could deal with were patients with visible wounds.... I clearly recall it: I had gone to buy a swimming costume. There were broad brimmed straw hats, trailing blue and red ribbons. And beach robes striped in zebra patterns, as well as plastic beach-buoys in primary colours, inflated like baloons. And bikinis stretched over the breasts of mannequins. How brightly all those things shone in my heart! With luck, I'd be able to find pretty shells and perhaps, burying myself in the hot sand under a beach-umbrella, I would be fortunate enough to find that the sun, with its razor-sharp rays, made me forget everything. Then Hyon-Su came and shattered that illusion too. How could I have expected to meet him in that big store? There was Hyon-Su, waving casually as if we had met the day before; his gestures had become so elegant... waving and calling, "Sa-Mi". True, I had heard somewhere that the wounds he had received during the events in April had won him a high position in some student organization; but to hear him speaking the names of politicians as if they were his friends, putting on airs while affecting nothing of the sort, explaining that he had come shopping here because he was going to the beach, I found myself thinking that the boy aged ten who had seen a barley field clasping a hungry stomach had vanished from his life for ever.
"I'm off to the seaside for a week or so; won't you come along with me? Of course, we're going in a group, there'll be six of us. You must know M, he's the party's public relations man. There's a lot of fuss about him in the papers every day, but he's not such a bad kind of fellow, really. And there'll be the head of the youth section too, but all the rest are student representatives, you'll get on alright with them. Nothing to feel embarrassed about. We'll just say we're engaged."
I hated the way the word 'engaged' emerged quite unashamedly from his lips, yet I had no choice but to accompany him to a restaurant as he suggested. As soon as they saw Hyon-Su, the white-coated waiters began to bow and scrape. He was obviously a regular customer. His present healthy face bore absolutely no resemblance to the bruised and swollen face with bloody lips I had seen in the hospital sick-room. I tried not to cry but I felt something warm sliding down my cheeks. "I cannot hate this person. I cannot hate this person. So long as the wounds remain on his brow, so long as his bruised face remains in some corner of the sick-room, so long as the sound of him learning to walk again like a baby, walking up and down the corridor banging his crutches on the floor, continues to echo in some corner of a darkened room, I cannot hate this person". Hyon-Su's face had lost its previous appearance, it suddenly looked far sadder than before. What can this person be seeing now? Is he really discovering a new land and founding a new hospital on it? Is he going to hang up a sign indicating "The Chon Hyon-Su Surgery"? Won't there be a pedigree French poodle called White in that hospital?
"Hyon-Su, don't waste your youth. And don't think what I'm saying is pretentious. If ever you find yourself wounded again, don't fail to come back to the Choi Ho-Un Surgery, to that same sick-room. I'll be washing the sheets so that your bed is clean. Until my hands are swollen, until the skin peels, I'll wash those sheets for your bed until they're whiter than white."
"What do you mean, wounded? Why should I get wounded? Are you wishing me bad luck? It's because you bear me a grudge! I feel just the same. Why didn't you come to visit me? Is the future son-in-law always obliged to come and visit his future wife's house? I've taken the tram for Hyoja-dong many times. There was one evening, it was raining. The July rains seemed to be never going to end and the humidity in the air was making my old wounds ache. Late one evening I boarded the tram for Hyoja-dong, without even taking an umbrella. Squeezed between people like a sodden hound, shivering on account of the rain that had soaked me to the skin. Yet I had the impression that if I only met you I would feel warm. I was thinking of May, how May would still be there in your garden. Only I didn't get out. By the time we reached the terminus, the only people left with me in the tram were an old woman in rags and some girls who looked like students from an evening school. I wiped the window with my palm, then stared out into the dark, pressing my face against the glass with raindrops running down it. For a brief moment I saw the letters in the green neon sign "Choi Ho-Un Surgery" and your upstairs window with the light on go sliding past in the pouring rain. It was only visibly raining where the tram's headlight beams shone out. The raindrops sparkled as they fell like flakes of snow. But I didn't get out of the tram. If I meet you, if I'd met you then, I'd have been done for."
As I listened to Hyon-Su I clenched my teeth in an effort to control my tears. I was cursing myself for destroying my love by my pride. Trying to hide my feelings, I busily hacked at my steak and tried to get the resulting lumps of meat down my aching throat; as I did so, I experienced what salty tears are like. They taste better than meat, tears are much tastier: I deliberately tried to think humorous thoughts. I tried to cheer myself up, and as a result the tears soaked uncontrollably into the tablecloth! Hyon-Su! I longed for that day to be the last. After all, I was only eighteen.
She hastened to the home of one of her former chamber-maids, who had left her service to get married and open a small shop in Forli. Once there, she hurriedly wrote in the margin of a book of hours that she found in her room, the precise indication of the place where the band of carbonari was to meet that very night. She concluded her denunciation with the following words: "This band is composed of nineteen members; here are their names and addresses." After having written out the list, very accurate except that the name of Missirilli was missing from it, she said to the woman, of whom she was sure:
"Take this book to the cardinal-legate; he is to read what is written here and then return the book to you. Here are ten sequins. If ever the legate should pronounce your name, your death is certain. But if you enable the legate to read the page I have just written, you save my life."
Everything went perfectly.
I foolishly thought that I simply had to save him like Vanina. History was something that utterly falsified everything, like waves moving across the surface of the sea. Hyon-Su must surely realize that, but I longed to make him feel it directly. When they left for the coast, I stupidly went along with Hyon-Su's group. I was longing to provoke Hyon-Su. Looking back now, I can see more clearly what was in my mind at that time. It was blowing a gale. The sand came battering at the door of the villa all night long. Listening to the howling storm, I grasped Hyon-Su's hand and begged him not to get involved in politics and such. Tomorrow morning look, go and look at the sea. Go and look at what has become of the foam on the waves, no matter how fierce and strong it is now. History was nothing more than a storm like this, that briefly shook the surface of the sea then vanished without trace; we needed to go down into the depths. I begged him: let's vanish for ever in the ravines below the sea; they're calm and dark, but they're very precisely real. I suppose he didn't care for what I was saying; he abruptly called his companions into his room, claiming that he hated storms.
"When all's said and done, it's the way people feel that's the problem. Trying to have a serious conversation with these people who go about in overcoats in midsummer is just like telling a statue of Buddha in a temple to go and weed the fields."
The speaker was K, spiteful and shortsighted, who looked as though he had several pairs of eyes on account of the lenses of his glasses; he spoke angrily but in eloquently turned phrases. Surprisingly, Hyon-Su chimed in:
"After all, it would be alright if they were just ordinary overcoats. The main problem is that they're old-fashioned overcoats, like the one Napoleon wore when he set off for Moscow. It would be alright for people to wear overcoats even in summer, so long as they were modern-style ones."
"Still, at the moment we're being duped. Why are we all the time splitting up? What we have to be afraid of is not overcoats in summer or swimming costumes in winter, it's older people's beards. For a beard, summer and winter are all alike. Their lips are smothered in their beards, there's no knowing their true character. Anyway, we're still just learners, there's no call for us to go thinking about the problems of real politics for the moment."
Hearing the words of that flat-faced student spoken in a strong rural accent, I took courage and butted in. The outcome turned out to be unfortunate but at that moment I felt I simply had to speak up.
"It's not my place to speak, I know, but we can see that the students really are restless. An impatient gardener rubs off the buds while pruning the branches. We have to realize that the person who stays silent when all the others are in uproar is the one who shouts with the loudest voice. When the April Revolution was over, I saw people running through the streets dragging along with ropes the statue of a politician that they had knocked off its pedestal in a park. I reflected that it would be wrong if people went on and on dragging fallen statues through the streets. I'm convinced that the people who erected the statues and the people who pulled them down and dragged them around are all the same. The April Revolution as I conceive of it was not like that. The Revolution was the work of people knowing nothing of politics. That's why it was so pure. It was a Revolution without people dreaming of taking power. Now the students don't know what to do with their purity so they go selling it for next to nothing. I think what he says is right. When the heat of the earth is buried deep underground, it functions well but when it comes breaking through to the surface it becomes a terrible volcano burning up people and forests and crops. Youth is not just a matter of being out on the streets; it's in the libraries, and on beaches like this, in rural woodlands and on river banks. Like he just said, I reckon that it's better not to get too close to real politics. I believe I have the right to speak like this as one individual student."
Outside the sandstorm was still blowing against the villa's wooden door. To hear the sound of the stormy sea, it seemed that the world was ending. Hyon-Su bounded to his feet.
"Look, here's another one wearing an overcoat. We're not stone Buddhas waiting to be dug up a thousand years later. Our bodies rot easily, time passes all too fast. Our people, who have to suffer from poverty, from life's wear and tear, and the abuses of power, don't have unlimited resources, they can't afford casual conversation. Telling them to wait is the same as telling them to shut up and give in. Purity is the same as compromise. Saying "but you're still a student, but you're still young," why, it's just like saying 'grow up first then eat; after you're old wear clothes; found a family first and then sleep'. If we put everything off till tomorrow, we end up caught in tomorrow's snare. And for a girl to be talking politics--because after all, logically speaking, telling people not to get involved in politics is a way of talking politics--for a girl to talk politics, well, I find it ridiculous. Women make a mess of things, then men sort them out. It's as if women know how to produce kids but have no idea how to raise them as human beings. Politics is not a matter of giving birth but of raising, not a matter of making a mess of things but of putting them right, that's what I think. Women should stay out of these problems. If ever I need some knitting done, then I'll ask for your advice. We're not knitting socks at present. You think we've gone to the trouble of getting together, the six of us, and coming all this way, just to knit a pair of socks? You'd best get some sleep. We'll go to another room and talk a bit more."
The air had become icy, and the flat-faced student who looked like a farmer tried to lighten the atmosphere with some humour.
"Hyon-Su's right there. We certainly didn't come here to knit socks. We came to swim."
But the student representatives did not laugh.
An hour later, she was on her way back to Rome. Her father had long been urging her to return. During her absence, he had arranged her marriage with prince Livio Savelli. Vanina had scarcely arrived before he spoke of it with her, trembling as he did so. To his great amazement, she consented from the very start. That same evening, in the residence of the countess Vitteleschi, her father presented don Livio to her more or less officially; she spoke with him at length. He was the most elegant youth, with the finest head of hair; at the same time, while he was admitted to have a deal of wit his character was considered so light that he was suspected of nothing by the government authorities. Vanina thought that by first turning his head, she could make of him a very useful agent. Since he was the nephew of Mgr Savelli-Catanzara, governor of Rome and minister in charge of the police, she supposed that spies would never dare to follow him.
After having for several days treated very kindly the amiable don Livio, Vanina informed him that he would never be her husband; in her opinion, he was too light headed.
On the following day, Sa-Mi returned to Seoul. She was no sooner back than her father began to make a fuss about the question of her marriage. The fact that his daughter had gone to the seaside on her own had provoked him. Sa-Mi's father no longer went poking about in filthy swamps, returning with a catch of tadpoles; he had given that up and was now concentrating all his attention on one single tadpole.
He was less than enchanted at the fact that his major field was not surgery but parasitology, yet there was no one apart from Kim Sok-Hun capable of becoming his son-in-law, fit to inherit that sign-board. It was three days after Sa-Mi's return from the coast that Sok-Hun came ringing at the front door, ever so casually, one long and one short ring. Beyond the shadow of a doubt, Dr. Choi had summoned him.
"Your face is nicely sunburned. You were getting so pale, I thought you must have worms. Lots of people are reluctant to get rid of them. All those fellows who raise parasites in their insides, I mean. So how's Hyon-Su getting on?"
I nearly slapped his face. I had the impression that with his lesson about parasites he was suggesting that Hyon-Su was like a filthy roundworm, sucking my blood inside me.
"Sunburned? Do people get suntanned even in storms then?"
"Oh, of course, there was a storm, wasn't there? Now I look, you're not tanned, after all. Though I know a way of making you get tanned even in a storm. Medically, I mean. Suppose we change the subject?"
"To you, I assume?"
"Not at all; I was thinking about your father. Have you watched him lately while he was operating? You have to have some sense of duty towards your parents, even if you don't love them. Your father's hands have begun to shake; it's what's commonly known as palsy, a fatal symptom for a surgeon: your father can no longer perform major operations. A lot of people think that Choi Ho-Un Surgery is a synonym for what a surgery is but now the famous doctor can no longer perform operations. You're the loveliest of parasites, Sa-Mi. Do you think that Dr Choi would be so upset at being afflicted with palsy if he wasn't all the time thinking of you? Not at all. It was for you alone that your father sliced and sliced all these years, until now his time is up. It's not so much that he may be going to become my father-in-law; he's my teacher. I can't measure up to a daughter's concern for her father, of course, but I feel a sense of duty, all the same. Marry me. Even if you don't love me. Just do your duty towards your father."
"You may be able to get your hands on the hospital, you'll never be able to own me. I'll tell you bluntly: I may sometimes have felt sorry for father, I've never once felt any respect or obligation toward him. A long time ago he amputated my two legs with that great skill of his. I don't have the kind of legs that would allow me to rise and stand on my own, walk on my own. Since that's how helpless I am, I suppose I may end up being married to you. But it'll be like gaining possession of an empty room."
"Gently, there's nothing to get excited about. Surgeons anesthetize patients before they amputate their legs on the operating table. But there's one odd thing. When the patients wake up from the anesthetic, they have absolutely no awareness that their legs have been cut off. Their two legs are still vividly there in their sensation. Even though the legs have been cut off, the sensation of them is still there. In that sensation, the legs are as alive as they were before. It's what Merleau-Ponty christened "phantom legs". Everyone's the same. You must think me vulgar. That's how I see myself and is there any reason why you should think any differently? Wait till you're a bit older, then you'll see. When you're that little bit older, you'll see why clowns can always frolic about on the stage so cheerfully, even when they've nothing to feel happy about. It's all a matter of phantom legs. You're not the only one to have lost your legs. I have too, Dr Choi has too, even Hyon-Su has.... Humans are what you call legless from birth. Only because in our sensation they're still alive, we take our phantom legs for real ones and try to walk and run and move about without a moment's respite. That world of pure love you keep dreaming of, that's nothing more than phantom legs too. If your legs can't run, at least you can hobble with a crutch. It's because I can serve as your crutch that I'm here asking you to marry me. You really are lovely. You must marry me. I have no ideals, so I don't get things wrong. After all, a crutch is just a block of wood."
Sa-Mi kept slowly turning the pages of her text book vacantly. What a shame, the devotion of Vanina for Missirilli. Missirilli was truly detestable. Vanina was truly pitiful. The more pitiful Vanina was and the more she strove to save Missirilli, the more she detested the carbonaro. He looked to her like some kind of buffoon propping himself up with vanity, not like a gallant patriot. As she reached the passage where, in order to have Missirilli back in her arms, Vanina denounces his companions then employs a strategy to remove him from the scene of the arrest, she suddenly began to tremble.
Vanina only emerged from her distraction to say to Pietro:
"Will you spend twenty-four hours with me at the castle of San Nicolo? Your assembly this evening has no need of your presence. Tomorrow morning at San Nicolo, we can walk; that will calm your spirits and give you all the sang-froid you need in such great circumstances."
She went to pay an indispensable visit to the priest in the village of San Nicolo, he was perhaps a spy for the Jesuits. Returning in time for dinner at seven, she found that the little room in which her lover had been hiding was empty. Beside herself, she went running all over the house in search of him; he was nowhere to be found. Desperate, she went back to the little room; only then did she see a note. She read:
"I am going to surrender to the legate; I despair of our cause, the heavens are against us. Who can have betrayed us? Apparently the wretch who threw himself into the well. Since my life is of no use to poor Italy, I would not wish my companions, on seeing that I alone was not arrested, to think that perhaps I had sold them. Farewell. If you love me, take steps to avenge me. Destroy, annihilate the villain who betrayed us, even if it were my own father."
In May the next year, the army staged its revolutionary coup and as martial law was being proclaimed Sa-Mi went to see Hyon-Su for the last time. That was no wind whispering. The May streets were loud with the sound of decrees being broadcast from radio loudspeakers. Whether it be the government buildings guarded by fully-armed soldiers, or the roads from which traffic had been banned, the posters, the leaflets, or the newspapers with their fine print... the sound was echoing from everything in excited tones an octave higher than usual. If only there had not been that sound, it would have been May as usual, too lovely to be true... As she emerged from her home, Sa-Mi suddenly found herself wondering what "our motherland" meant. The nation, corruption, starvation, revolution, freedom, public commitments, fulfilling duties, each of these slogans came with a walnut-like shell too hard for her to break with her bare hands. Plane, ailanthus, willow... the names of the Maytime roadside trees now budding, or Shirley MacLaine, Pascale Petit, Orson Wells, Alain Delon, Nathalie Wood, she invoked inwardly the names of various movie actors, each with their own expressions and gestures. Those names did not evoke the same feelings now as a few days before. Sa-Mi could not deny that something was changing. Suddenly a jeep roared past in front of her, sporting a flag. A bundle of pamphlets was scattered from one window. Children were enthusiastically picking up the flying pamphlets. One leaflet, borne on the wind like a leaf, stuck to Sa-Mi's high heel. A child that had come running hoping to pick it up stood now staring up at her face with a disappointed expression. It was still only May yet the child was wearing a mere singlet.
His face and neck were covered in coal-black dirt, and he had a scratch in his brow clearly inflicted by a finger nail, perhaps in a fight with the other kids. The child seemed convinced that Sa-Mi was about to pick up the leaflet. She picked it up and held it out to him, at which he looked embarrassed, hesitated for a moment before suddenly taking the pamphlet, snatching it from her and pursuing the other urchins as they ran into an alley. Sa-Mi had glimpsed his eyes. Unlike his torn singlet or his dirty face, they were bright and pure. As she met the urchin's gaze, Sa-Mi felt as if she were seeing Hyon-Su. Hyon-Su? Sa-Mi felt that she absolutely had to go and see him in his boarding-house. She had to go and meet Hyon-Su once more; it would be the last time, she promised herself. She reflected that she seemed destined to become Sok-Hun's wife, after all. But still, she wanted to try one last time, just once.
Hyon-Su was staring blankly down at the floor in the dark room, his boarding-house room. Once again, a strange feeling of affection, of familiarity spread through my heart. For the first time I sensed that I was captivated by him, drawn down as if caught in fronds of seaweed. Until that moment I had never once so much as dreamed that he had that power over me.
"What are you doing?"
"Just waiting. They're coming to get me. This is the first time I've ever waited for someone whose name and face I don't know. Of course, they may not come at all."
I had already guessed what was going on. Still I asked, feigning ignorance,
"What on earth are you talking about?"
"They've been arrested. It's no great loss if they get caught. They went charging in like kids to pick the summer grapes, draped in old coats like bolsheviks. The new land I'd been dreaming of was not like the land of the past at all, it was a land of abundance lying far far away in the future, a splendid land that no one had ever reached before. But now I think I'm slowly seeing that it was all nothing but hallucinations in a fever."
How happy I was! We embraced again: we must try to find that new land within our little breasts. You were wrong to go looking for it in the outside world. And I comforted him, saying that being young meant being like a child that keeps scraping its knees as it learns to walk, or like a patient, an impetuous patient who keeps falling down when his plaster is removed, finds himself back in plaster again, then falls on his face once more on being released from the plaster.
"But why are you waiting for someone to come? You're safe!"
Then I saw his eyes start to glint again. I told him it was May, that the breeze that had lingered in the gardens before had come back again; it was May, and squirrels were climbing the trunks of trees in the woodlands again, until he made as if to kick the door open and go rushing outside.
"They'll call me a traitor. I can't stand the fact that I alone am breathing the fresh breeze in the Maytime sunlight. I simply watched from the sidelines while they went on with their wrong ideas. It was the end of their youth. I stood there watching with my hands behind my back, watching their youth fixed and wasting in plaster. But someone is sure to come for me as they came for the rest."
"Perhaps no one will come. Why should they? What crime can they accuse you of? Why, you're no criminal, not in the least! When they carried you into the clinic, even with your eyelids all swollen up like that, I looked you straight in the eyes. Your gaze was more pure than the sky of May devoid of the slightest trace of dust. Nobody seeing your eyes could ever believe that you might commit a crime."
"Not so; I was the one who first started the group. I was the one who talked to them about a new land, a new hospital. If I hadn't talked to them like that, they would have stayed the kind of fellows able to marry someone like you and go for outings in old palace gardens on Sundays unwrapping toffees for their kids. Of course I saw that they were deviating and ended up leaving the group a month ago, but I was responsible for it all. I can't go telling the investigators that my name on the list of members ought to have been crossed out a month ago. Of course, if I speak like that, I may be safe. But people will say I betrayed my friends in order to save my skin. But it's not misunderstandings I'm afraid of. It's only if I suffer together with them, that I'll really have the chance to help them see that they were on the wrong path, that the new land doesn't lie in that direction. First they have to trust me, then I'll have a chance to tell them the truth!"
"You mean you're going to lie? Why are you determined to destroy yourself by making a false deposition? You want to escape from me, to run away from the flowers and the purity of white snowdrifts you love, by lying. Why are you determined to turn your back on happiness? Are you some kind of Jesus, taking other people's sins upon yourself?"
"Old dirty clothes are more comfortable to wear than new ones, and unhappiness suits me better. I can't not be with them! I must choose the direction of duty: I must love all those sick people who were drawn after that quack doctor, rather than one person's love. Affection is sweet as a spring evening but it's very brief, while duty is wretchedly cold and long, going on and on though your hands are frozen. I have no other choice than to let my youth burn like a bonfire for the sake of that long night. A fire lit in the fields, that anyone can approach and enjoy. Let all the cold people come. That fire will continue to blaze so long as any fuel remains. You can come too. You mustn't complain if you're just one among many."
I was no longer listening to him. In my heart I was screaming: "It's a phantom leg. What you call your duty is just one phantom leg. Don't try to run. Don't run. You can't run. We haven't had that leg since the day we were born. Don't try to run with a phantom leg across those rugged plains."
"A phantom leg, you say?"
Professor K stopped on his way down the stairs and looked back.
"Aha, I see you know your Merleau-Ponty!"
Professor K's face was suffused with an expression of pure amazement. As if to say that he alone ought to know such things. It was as if he considered it to be some kind of magic spell that nobody except people erudite like himself should ever know or speak. Or was he putting on an amazed expression deliberately, just to give that impression?
"A phantom leg... yes, that is a term Merleau-Ponty employed in a book named Phénoménologie de la perception published in 1945... but it will take some time to explain. So finally, the main point of your question. By the way, what was your name again? Miss Choi Yon-Mi? Miss Choi... Choi... Yon-Hee, isn't it? The professor with his wonderful memory, who needed only to hear the words "phantom leg" to recall the name of Merleau-Ponty, that foreigner with the name so difficult to spell, recalling precisely that the book in question had been published, not in 1944, not in 1946, but in 1945, yet who could not recall my name in the time it took him to go down five steps, told me to come to his office. All that was a blessing for me. Because so long as he did not know my name, there would be no encroachment on my ignorance, my shame, to say nothing of all my secrets, and no need for me to be in his power, he would be someone quite unrelated to me, nothing but an object, a mere encyclopedia....
"Come down to my office. It's an interesting question. To think that there are people with intellectual curiosity even among the girl students. Well..."
So it was that one student, equipped with intellectual curiosity, found herself obliged, all the while regretting acutely ever having asked the question, to follow Professor K down the stairs. In his office, everything was faded, covered in dust, the books had faded to a pale yellow. In this world there is a law of the museum: the more faded something is, the more authority it has. Women may adorn themselves with mink, professors with intellectual curiosity dress themselves up in that law of the museum. How boring! His explanation of the phantom leg was far removed from that I had heard from Kim Sok-Hun... That picture doesn't match the rigid atmosphere of the room, I wonder who it's by? If it hadn't been for that reproduction entitled Des toits rouges (red roofs) I would surely have suffocated. Professor K asked me if I knew the Gestalt theory in psychology. I answered that I had never heard of it but that it sounded a lot like Hitler's secret police, the Gestapo, at which he looked insulted and continued in his harsh voice with a lecture which had neither beginning nor end, in which psychology and philosophy, to say nothing of grammar and literature, were all combined, until the sun was setting, the last rays of sunlight were shining on the roof of the university chapel, and cleaners, wearing white masks like those worn by doctors in the operating room, began to sweep the corridors, the empty expanses of empty corridor.
"So now do you see what it's about? He wanted to prove by means of the experience people have of phantom legs that the human nervous system, the human body is no mere mechanism. Put briefly, he was refuting mechanistic psychology. The world's not there just because it's there. It's there because I make it be there. Because there is a resolve and inclination to that effect, people feel that they have legs even when they have lost them. It's not a matter of the leg being there and we feeling it; because we have the sensation that the leg is there, it is there. Therefore we can see that a human leg is fundamentally different from the accessories of some kind of machine. If we follow this theory we arrive as he does at the conclusion that the human person is "condemned to sense". Only think of the relationship that exists between words and a sentence, for instance!"
"But I detest grammar. I believe that each individual separate word matters, every single word, simply rolling like a stone across a plain freely provoking our unbounded imagination. That's different from words with their meanings constrained in grammar, unable to budge an inch, bound together with other words inside sentences, in grammatical constructions... there's a sound of chains in grammar and sentences."
Then I went on to say that the irregular verbs in French, those of the third declension, afforded us far more relief than the regularly declining verbs of the first and second declensions. Professor K had picked up an envelope, one addressed to him, bearing the name of a government agency, and stood up after slipping a few note books into the envelope.
"My explanation seems to have been insufficient. Just remember this. In theory a rose and its crimson hue can be separated but our experience tells us that it is impossible for us to perceive them apart. The same is true of the relationship between the words and a phrase, the relationship between us and reality... to say nothing of the relationship between mind and body, for the meaning of the part is determined by an understanding of the whole. Besides, the human mind is no passive machine like a slot-machine that begins to move when you insert a coin; the mind functions in accordance with a fundamental desire for some kind of form... those are not my own words, mark you... so any way, the notion of "phantom legs" teaches us a new sense of humanity. It means that even if a leg with its meaning is amputated, we still don't loose it."
I stood watching Professor K go out through the gate of the university. His form seen from behind... and even after he had completely disappeared beyond the gate, his shadow lingered behind for a while and I saw it flutter briefly outside the gateway. Ah! wasn't that his "phantom leg", that shadow lingering and fluttering although he himself had completely vanished?
Sa-Mi was turning the final pages of her French text book, Vanina Vanini. In her heart, the last meeting of Vanini with Missirilli, and her own last meeting with Hyon-Su accompanied each other in double relief. In the background stretched a murky sky into which rose the prison's grim chimney.
At last the day dawned that was to determine Vanina's fate. Early in the morning, she withdrew into the prison chapel. Who could ever tell what thoughts troubled her all through the long day? Did Missirilli love her enough to pardon her? She had denounced his companions, but she had saved his life. Once reason had triumphed in that tormented soul, Vanina hoped he would consent to leave Italy with her: if she had sinned, it was from excess of love. As the hour of four struck, she heard from afar, echoing on the cobbles, the sound of the police horses' hooves. Every single step seemed to pierce her heart. Soon she could make out the rumbling of the carts transporting the prisoners. They stopped in the little square in front of the prison; she saw two officers pull Missirilli to his feet, he was alone in one cart and so loaded with chains that he could not move. "At least he's alive!" she thought, and tears came to her eyes, "they haven't poisoned him yet!" The evening was cruel; the altar lamp, which hung at a great height and for which the jail-keeper was reluctant to use much oil, was the only source of light in the dark chapel. Vanina's eyes wandered over the tombs of various great lords of the Middle Ages, who had died in the adjacent prison. Their statues looked threatening.
All noise had long since ceased; Vanina was absorbed in her black thoughts. A little after midnight had struck, she seemed to hear a slight sound like the wings of a bat. She tried to walk, but fell half-fainting across the altar-rails. At that very moment, two phantoms materialized beside her; she had not heard them approach. She saw the jailer, and Missirilli so laden with chains that he seemed to be swathed in them. The jailer opened a dark lantern, that he perched on the balustrade before the altar in such a way that he could clearly see his prisoner. After which he withdrew to the back, near the door. He had scarcely moved away before Vanina hurled herself at Missirilli's neck. As she hugged him she could feel nothing but his cold, sharp chains. "Who gave him these chains?" she wondered. She felt no pleasure in embracing her love. That pain was followed by another yet more poignant; Missirilli's welcome was so cold that for a moment she believed that he knew what she had done.
At last he spoke: "Dear friend, I regret the love you have come to feel for me. I seek in vain to find what merit may have inspired it in you. Believe me, we should return to more Christian sentiments, forget the illusion that once led us astray; I cannot be yours. Who knows, the constant misfortune that has dogged my undertakings may perhaps come from the state of mortal sin in which I have constantly lived. Even if I only listen to the counsels of human prudence, why was I not arrested with my friends, that fatal night in Forli? Why, at the moment of danger, was I not at my post? Why has my absence there given rise to the cruellest suspicions? Because I had a passion other than the freedom of Italy."
Vanina could not recover from the astonishment caused by the change in Missirilli. He had not perceptibly lost weight, yet he looked thirty. Vanina attributed the change in him to the bad treatment he had suffered in prison, and dissolved into tears.
"Ah! The jailers swore they would treat you kindly."
The fact of the matter is that, with death near at hand, all the religious principles that might accord with a passion for the freedom of Italy had reawakened in the young carbonero's heart. Gradually Vanina perceived that the amazing change she had noted in her lover was entirely moral, not at all the effect of physical ill-treatment. Her pain, that she had believed already complete, grew yet more intense.
Missirilli stood silent; Vanina seemed on the verge of suffocating with sobbing. He added, looking slightly moved himself:
"If I were to love anything on this earth, Vanina, it would be you; but praise God, I have no longer any goal in life other than to die, either in prison, or striving to bring freedom to Italy."
Again there was silence; clearly, Vanina could not speak, she tried in vain. Missirilli added:
"Duty is cruel, my dear; but if it did not cost a little suffering to fulfill it, where would be the heroism? Give me your word that you will never again attempt to see me."
In so far as the tightness of his chain allowed it, he made a slight movement with his wrist and extended his fingers towards Vanina.
"If you will allow a man who was dear to you to give you advice, marry quietly the meritorious man to whom your father destines you. Confide nothing disturbing to him; but on the other hand, never try to see me again. We must henceforth be as strangers to one another. You have advanced a considerable sum for the good of the nation; if ever it is delivered from the tyrants, that sum will be faithfully repaid in national goods.
Vanina was thunderstruck. As he addressed her, Pietro's eye had only once glinted, at the moment when he named the nation.
In the end, her pride came to the help of the young princess. She had come with a stock of diamonds and some small files. She replied nothing to Missirilli, but simply offered them to him.
"I accept out of duty, for I must try to escape; but I will never see you again, I swear it here before your new gifts. Adieu, Vanina; promise you will never write to me, never try to see me; let me belong entirely to the nation, I am dead for you: adieu."
"No!" Vanina replied in fury, "I want you to know what I did, led by the love I have for you."
She proceeded to tell him all she had undertaken, from the moment Missirilli had left the castle of San Nicolo to surrender to the legate. Once she had finished that tale, she continued:
"Yet all that is nothing: I have done more, in love for you."
Then she told him of her betrayal.
"Ah! monster," Pietro exclaimed in fury; throwing himself on her, he tried to strike her down with his chains.
He would have succeeded had it not been for the jailer, who came running at the first shouts. He seized Missirilli.
"Here, monster, I will owe you nothing," said Missirilli to Vanina, throwing in her face, in so far as the chains allowed it, the files and diamonds; then he moved rapidly away.
Vanina stood there, appalled. She returned to Rome. Now the papers announce that she has just wed prince don Livio Savelli.
It must have been about a month after Hyon-Su went to prison, that Sa-Mi skipped class in order to visit him. In the prison visiting-room, Sa-Mi sat waiting for her number to be called, repeating to herself that she was not going to cry. Her waiting here was pointless. What difference could meeting him possibly make?
In his prison uniform, Hyon-Su looked like someone different. I had come to make one last effort, or scene, to prevent him testifying against himself in court and I set out to do just that, holding back by tears and clenching my fists.
How could I help crying, though, when I saw him, all haggard in his baggy uniform? On seeing me, Hyon-Su forced himself to smile but a shadow of pain, like that I used to see when the dressings were removed from his wounds, immediately swallowed up the smile.
"Tell the truth. Your friends are trying to put all the blame on you in the hope of saving their own skins. Tell the truth. Just tell the truth. You're still young, aren't you? There's still time for you to break another leg. Father's cough gets worse and worse as the days go by. He hopes that before he dies I'll get married to the boy I detest most in the world. Look, he's already sent me the ring."
I pulled the ring from my bag and tried to give it to Hyon-Su but the warden present at the interview stopped me. Supposing I'd given it to him, he'd surely have hurled it back.
"Sa-Mi, our time is almost up. There's only three minutes left of the time allowed us. I ought to condense all the things I might have said over a whole lifetime into these three minutes, but nothing comes to mind. I can only promise you this: I tried with all my might to find the new land I'm dreaming of in your room, that quiet room where if you open the window you can look down into the garden full of geraniums and other flowers blooming. Only the land I'm dreaming of is not that small. I still believe in it, you know. If the devil carried you off, I would lament and cry, but I wouldn't give up my youth for you. One thing more; I told you I hated flowers and snow, didn't I? Not at all, not at all, absolutely not. It's on account of those flowers and those snowflakes, on account of things like them that are helpless because they're pure, that I stretched out both hands towards the icy winter. May's revolution has only just begun and I have no idea at all how it will end. But you will have your house with the pretty Dutch-style roof, completely untouched by all those things. You'll be able to find satisfaction in your children, even when they're a bit too playful. Good times will come, for sure. One day I'll go to see your garden, where it's for ever and ever May; I'll go to see the Maytime plants that will never grow any darker green than they are now, where the shoots will never grow any longer than they are now. Goodbye, our time's up. I'd like to congratulate you on your wedding day, but you know that I can't be there. Look at me. That pure look of yours gave me a lot of courage. But that's the reason why I've deliberately been telling myself that you're the real traitor. Now I realize that it's simply not true at all. If it weren't for you, if it weren't for your eyes looking down at me from that upstairs room with its sixty watt bulb burning, I would have ended up plunging either into the sewers of power or into the clouds of cheapskate heroics. Goodbye. The time's up."
Day was dawning bright. Sa-Mi noted that the noise from the trams was little by little becoming more distinct while the houses and the trees on the hillsides, that had lost all form, were slowly beginning to return to the light. The sound of her father's coughing rose with increasing strength from downstairs.
"Deprived of sound and light, we're as good as dead. I know that it's wrong to attempt to preserve any one sound and light. Sound and light are not reality. Now I realize that it's the other way round. If there is no sound, the bell might as well not exist, and if there's no light, the mirror held in our palm no matter how firmly might just as well not be there. What I glimpsed for the last time when I was twenty was the sound and light of everything."
Day is breaking. Today the last exam will be over. She reflected that until now she had delayed, pleading the excuse that she would marry Sok-Hun only after she had graduated from university; but once this exam was past, she would no longer have that excuse. She closed the book and murmured in a low voice:
"I wonder if I can get an A on Vanina Vanini?"
Professor K closed the book and shouted:
"C'est fini. It's all done." Then he continued, "Once you've graduated, you'll be in a hurry to get married like Vanina. But if we meet in the street, don't shudder for fear your husband will be jealous; say hello, won't you?"
Professor K rubbed the chalk from his hands as he waited for the students to laugh.