In the dreary morning, she stood amidst the cold fog. Hands clasped together as if in prayer as she treaded along the dirt path, the piles of leaves accumulating and crinkled under each step she took; the breeze was cool and the journey was chilly — all alone she treaded to a god-forsaken land and she felt her heart drumming madly in her chest. But this was not the first time she had treaded the woods all alone, the past five years she had always sneaked out of her house quietly and covertly would take some time to have a secret journey to somewhere she once called home.
Into the woods where her father was buried, there, she rested — an hour, or less, she stood, sat and talked to what was left of her father — a pile of dirt and a measly stone with a carving of his name — Do Hyun-soo. Once she saw an old building within sight, she blinked twice, taking in the image of the growing moss, vines all around the old building — this was her father’s father’s workshop. And she wanted to bow, bow to the physical remnants of what was left of his memory and name but she couldn’t all for the sake of rationality, after all, her father was a criminal and so was her father’s father.
She looked to the side and ahead where further into the woods she would be. Further, she treaded, the cold the came even more chilly and the breeze crisp against her skin. A chill ran up to her spine and she wrapped her arms with her hands, rubbing up and down to warm herself despite being clothed from head to toe with winter garments. It was close to the end of winter and yet it seemed as if it was already the peak of winter. She swallowed a nervous gulp, the odd sense of trepidation that dawned upon her since she began walking on the stray dirt road began to torment her.
An odd sense of unease unlike the past five years. There was something out of the ordinary at this moment unlike the rest of all the times she had walked the same path. And realization soon struck when a broken tune was heard — mixed with loud cries. Her eyes widened, worry in her heart — this was a cursed land, after all, that was what she had always believed. This was, after all, where many have died, isn’t it? That was what she believed. This was where the demon lurked and found solitude, the den of the devil, right? And so she ran until where the cries came louder and louder and the broken tune she heard finally was clear enough as she saw a woman all on the ground, her head down and her hands gripping handfuls of dirt. The woman was beating the ground with weakened and wounded hands, holding the granite gravestone every now and then with weak grips.
The sight before her had puzzled her, had made her stuck and still on her feet — there was the sense of numbness by her feet and the tips of her fingers that sent tingles all over her body. The sight before her was unlike any other, no one had cried for him more than her mother or herself, that was what she thought until this woman — someone she had never seen before — was right before her eyes and crying her heart out while holding a grave that belonged to a man supposedly her father.
“Who… who are you?” Her voice came small in a shiver, almost as if scenario after scenario all crossed her mind: what if, today, this woman turned the tables of what the truth was? Perhaps all I had seen was just the tip of the iceberg all along? Such questions ran through her mind, after all, the possibility was not at all slim. Who was the woman who cried her heart out while on the ground and grasping her father’s grave?
The woman’s disheveled hair only came to focus with stray and dry strands obscuring her pale complexion, red and swollen eyes from all the cries — Eun-ha had only seen her cry once, that was now, yet the woman looked as if she had cried each day of her life. Her lips quivered and her gaze, though her body was supple, remained unwavering as she looked at the young girl standing still in front of her, “I did it — I was the one who murdered the village foreman.” The lips of the corners of her lips twitched into a smile until her teeth bared into a crazed grin and her eyes grew wide, “It was me — twenty-five years ago, I was nineteen and my brother—” she glanced at the granite gravestone that was unclean and unkempt of the past years, “was eighteen years old.”
It was at that moment that Eun-ha’s world drowned in a sea of silence, where the fog’s coldness turned humid and suffocating — that the morning turned into night and that she stood as if she walked upon a thin layer of ice while deep-colored cold water lay underneath, waiting, to engulf and drown her whole. Her eyes widened as she stared at the woman whose body began to quiver terribly, “what… what do you—”
And her arms, trembling, reached out to wrap around the gravestone, her sunken cheek resting against the rounded edge, rubbing her face up and down as the rough edges of the stone pricked and peeled the thin layer of her epidermis, blood seeping out donning such pale complexion in vivid red. Her tears continued to stream down her face as she forced out a shrill and out-of-tune hum, “ Hyun-soo-ah, noona is here. ” Those words broke Eun-ha.
It broke her more than the days when she saw her mother cry her heart out each night, more than when she was bullied for having a criminal of a father, judged by the world for having been a spoiled love-struck girl who had a deceitful father. In the ten years she grew to harden her heart, every rough and jagged edge crumbled and turned to dust. That can’t be, that can’t be, that can’t—
Ten years ago, Do Hyun-soo was found and he admitted to his crimes, that he was the one who murdered the village foreman from twenty-five years ago and that he had bribed the Baek Family into taking the identity of their sick son. That Do Hyun-soo was truly the peculiar young man his father was. Eun-ha had believed all of that at the age of eight, she never was the same by the time she was six years old, but she never lost hope for the next years, until she was eight and she knew that she had to stop — that the appa she knew was not her appa. That the appa her omma loved was not real, that every smile and laughter from him was not real, that every ounce of sweetness and kindness was not real — everything was a lie. That was what Cha Eun-ha had believed the past years and now she was fifteen years old and it seemed like the first five years of her life was the truth whereas the following ten years was the one that was a lie.
As she was left speechless the woman stopped hushing the gravestone, looking up at the young girl and laughed out a cry, “I am such a terrible noona, aren’t I? My younger brother, my world, took the blame for my crime — I never once found him for the following fifteen years, I hid. And then came the moment he showed himself to the world — a terrible, terrible teen who murdered, a terrible, terrible man who turned out just like our father, a terrible, terrible man for having stolen an identity and turned out to be a terrible, terrible husband who lied to his family—” She shook her head, her sickening smile remaining unchanged, “But that — that is all a lie, Do Hyun-soo had always loved sincerely — he loved me, and so I hid — hid in my brother’s love.”
And she laughed, and laughed and the peals of laughter echoed in the empty graveyard. To Eun-ha, these laughters only rang louder and louder in her head. “That can’t be.”
And, suddenly the laughter stopped and the woman looked up at her in wide eyes of disbelief.
“That man admitted to all his crimes, in every interview, year after year — he had, not once, denied of his crime—” Her words grew faster, her tone grew angrier and the more the words spewed out the more her hinds tightened its grip by the hem of her sweater, “That man admitted to his crime to my mother every single year without much of a flinch of his expression!” And then came her cry, hot tears streaming down her face as she uttered a shrill cry, “My father lied to me!”
The woman’s eyes were looking into her as if she was bewitched by such a heartfelt cry. “You believe me…” and her mumble was not left unheard as the young girl. She drew a long and shaky breath, her arms left unwinded from the gravestone, and now left with an empty embrace. And she shook her head, looking up at her with a smile, “Your eyes—” broken, as it had been for a long time but not have always been. And many times she had familiarized herself with the art of expressions, the art of human nature in physique, sculpting face by face, sculpting even the tiniest changes of the wrinkles upon countenance — she had mastered herself in such because that was the only way she could repent for her brother’s shortcoming. And what she saw in the young girl’s face was grief and guilt, of hope.
“Who are you? How could you say that? How could you—”
“Do—” The woman so broke smiled ever so warmly “Do Hae-soo, daughter of Do Min-seok and the older sister of Do Hyun-soo.” Proudly so she stated her name, her body leaned against the cold gravestone as she drew out a long sigh, “My dear brother, my dear heaven… I’m sorry… I…” And came another round of her cries, slowly, progressively she had curled her body close to the gravestone her arms wrapping around it, “Hyun-soo-ah, noona is here, please come back, come back to me — come back, let’s be family again—”
The woman’s blatant action of ignoring her unnerved her, she stood there at the brink of losing her mind — and there was this sick in the head woman holding her father’s grave, crying on her father’s grave, apologizing to her father. That was her father six feet under, that was her father that died in solitary isolation five years ago, that was her father who lived all for love — all for selfless love. That was her father she was supposed to hold, to cry, and to apologize to.
“Five years ago my father died in solitary imprisonment, five years ago my father was buried alone in this hill where his father, a criminal, had buried his victims. Five years ago, a low-budget stone was used to carve out his name and shoved onto this hill. Five years ago, when my father laid six feet under became a gimmick to people to step on, to spit on, to curse on.” She gritted her teeth as she listed all she could remember that had been done the five years to her father’s grave but five years is far too much memories and she could barely remember what could amount to a year. “My father lived eighteen years lying of his identity and a crime, then the following years he lived — painteed as a criminal — all because it was either him or to pay his love back, but he offered himself.” Eun-ha forced a smile, her lips twitching and her teeth gritting hard her jaw began to hurt. Her hands tensed into a fist, her untrimmed nails digging into the soft flesh of her palms.
But the woman only ignored her as she cried to the grave.
“Get off of him! Get off of my father, get off, get off, get off of him!” She screamed as she threw herself at the woman, grabbing her and dragging her away from her father’s grave. “Get off of my father, he shouldn’t have been there, he shouldn’t have been buried!” She cried out and fell on her knees, her hands redded as she began to dig the ground with her bare hands, the soft and wet soil on her skin and under her nails, “Appa, appa… it’s me — it’s me Eun-ha — let’s come back home…!” Her face contorted into one of sheer abhorrence, one of wrinkles and folds with tears streaming down and growing sticky as it dried on her cheeks. “Appa, come back home…!”
And the woman’s breaths grew ragged as she watched the young girl cry towards her brother’s grave, “Appa…?” It was only now, despite having been mentioned over and over again the past times, that it registered in her mind — her dear brother’s child came. Not once had she shown her face to Hyun-soo’s life that he flourished and nurtured while living under the new identity he claimed to have stolen, not once she dared to even look at them, in the past twenty-five years she never dared to look at the life her brother had. “You—”
And Eun-ha sharply turned to look at her, “Don’t — don’t say anything, not to me or anyone else, the least and the most you can do is confess to the police—” No one can forgive you for what you’ve done. Venomously she spat those words, venomously she cursed her in her head as she held onto the muddy land where her father was buried—
“Eun-ha-yah, appa bought you your favorite egg tarts!”
“Eun-ha-yah, you are so beautiful, my darling daughter is so, so pretty — how could appa resist her charms?”
“Eun-ha-yah, you’re doing such a good job — you’re going to be such a big girl, appa is growing lonely now.”
“Eun-ha-yah, my lovely daughter, appa loves you.
Every single fragment of her memories of the first five years of her life flashed before her eyes, every ounce of guilt resurfaced and drowned her whole; her head was heavy and fuzzy with thoughts screaming all together. And as she looked at her dirtied hands, worms crawling out of the handful of land she only shook her head and cried — her father was there, six feet under, devoured by the earth. “Appa, appa — no… no, you can’t be there —” you promised to come back home. A memory resurfaced, ten years ago and it was fall.
And she felt as if she was five again, a little after when her appa had his 39th birthday, maybe a few weeks after that — suddenly her appa’s presence grew sparse, suddenly her omma had such a peculiar smile and gaze towards her ever so warm and sweet appa. It was all a little after that 39th birthday. It was on that year that Eun-ha told herself, I don’t want to ever be 39 years old, I don't want to have my 39th birthday. “Appa—” and as she looked at the ground underneath her, her soiled clothes and the woman beside her, the thoughts that came tangled in her head only throbbed painfully. there she was, desperately digging her father's grave while there was a woman across her who claimed to be the one who should have been buried underground the past five years, the one who should have been I prison ten years ago—
Why did this have to happen?