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    Warning Notes

    Brief mention of a slur

    Chapter 2. Wave

    Except for one brief stop to refuel and use the restroom, we drove non-stop. It had been ages since I last sped around like this, and my spirits lifted a bit as I pressed the pedal to the floor.

    I had expected him to be talkative, but Woonu turned out to be unexpectedly quiet. As we were getting closer, I started to feel restless and yawned. Woonu, seemingly apologetic for dozing off on his own, would occasionally wake up to ask if I was tired. Despite my telling him to just toss it onto the floor, he kept the trash on his lap, waking up every time it started to tip over to catch it with his hand.

    I hadn’t been to Busan since elementary school. While most people associate Busan with the sea, I remembered it as a city with many mountains, based on the trips I took to visit my maternal grandparents when they were still alive.

    Nearby my maternal grandparents’ home stood the Chungnyeolsa Temple, a tangible cultural property perfectly aligned with their serene disposition. While the city of Busan generally had a somewhat rough and strong energy, the vicinity surrounding Chungnyeolsa Temple exuded an aura of hush antiquity.

    My father, whose childhood was scattered across different countries, with the longest stint in the United States, stayed at my maternal grandparents’ hanok for the first time and fell in love with its charm. Later, he built our house, grafting the strengths of western homes into it.

    Upon its initial completion, our house was known for a few years as a unique and beautiful hanok, attracting many curious onlookers. My mother would invite some of them in and serve tea or fruit on the daecheongmaru. Later, when my father found out, he raised his voice, asking how she could let strangers into the house in this day and age. This is the only time I remember my parents—no, my father—raising his voice.

    I shook Woonu’s shoulder to wake him up. His eyes fluttered open, and he glanced around groggily before pressing his face and hand against the window, peering outside at the dark surroundings.

    “The sun has completely set.”

    “We’ve reached Busan. Where to now?”

    “Are you planning to take me all the way?”

    “You can’t run away until you pay me back for the hospital bills.”


    “I need to meet the person you owe money to and see for myself whose debt is bigger.”

    I watched his reaction carefully as I spoke. A guy without debts wouldn’t even consider doing something they didn’t want to do in the first place, like stowing away.

    “That debt is too big…”

    Who would’ve thought. It was simply impossible for a fool without an ID card, bereft of a significant portion of his childhood memories, lacking a place to call home, and penniless to not be riddled with circumstances—unless those were all lies.

    “So, where to?”

    “…Can’t you just drop me off in some random area? I’m really grateful for the ride. I swear, if I manage to return, I’ll settle the hospital bills. I promise.”

    The words “if I manage to return” gnawed at me. I needed to know exactly what he was being coerced into against his will.

    “I thought I had made it abundantly clear how bad my temper is. The next time I ask where we’re headed, I’m afraid it won’t come out too nicely, hm?”

    The rascal, who had been twirling his index fingers together, grabbed onto the trash slipping from his thigh. At the same time, I deliberately emitted a loud tut and flicked it away with the side of my hand.

    “Tsk! Don’t pick it up. And don’t make me say it twice.”


    Though I doubted my expression betrayed much beyond my typical demeanour, I scowled as hard as I could, gritting my teeth as I pressed for the destination once more.

    “For the third time, where to?”

    “…Near Pier 7.”

    I entered “Pier 7” into the navigation and, suddenly curious about what he was up to, glanced at him from the corner of my eye. He had his head bowed, lost in thought. His eyelashes were rather long. Later on, tears would bead on those long eyelashes of his, again and again, all because of me. My kind beloved. The fool who loved me.

    “You don’t sound like you’re from Busan.”

    “I’m not from Korea.”

    “Then, where are you from?”


    “You’re Japanese?”

    “My mom is Korean.”

    I was surprised to hear the name of another country when I asked where he was from. It didn’t feel real to me each time a tiny fragment about Woonu was revealed. Even the moment he appeared in my life was awfully sudden.

    “How old were you when you came to Korea?”

    “Six years old.”

    “Then you must be pretty good at Japanese, huh?”

    “Yes. But I’m not a half-breed j*p¹.”

    “Who called you that?”

    Woonu defensively replied that he wasn’t a half-breed Japanese, then turned not only his head but also his shoulders away from me, facing the window. He seemed to really not want to answer. While I may have a nasty temper, it wasn’t in my interest to harass others, so I kept quiet as well.

    Woonu was just one of the tiresome beings I sarcastically referred to as “Homo sapiens,” myself included. From the moment we left the budae-jjigae restaurant, it wasn’t Woonu who began to bother the other—it was me. Even as I internally questioned myself, “What are you doing right now?” my questions came without end. There were moments when I found myself thrust into a situation in the blink of an eye, and times when my emotions or choices would change as quickly as flipping the palm of my hand. As I continued to grow older, I realized there were few things in life I could say for certain.

    As soon as one of my questions was answered, another arose: if he was born in Japan and his mother is Korean, but he isn’t half Japanese, does that mean his father is Korean? Or is he of another nationality?

    Pier 7 was drenched in a sort of bleak atmosphere, one that seemed like it would fit as the background of a trifling movie I had seen during the holidays a few years back on TV at my maternal uncle and aunt’s place, starring a gangster as its protagonist. The fishy and unpleasant smell made me roll up my windows. Poverty. I was uncomfortable with the stench of destitution, which I had never experienced before. The air of deficiency must’ve filled the lungs of those who lived there daily. My own lungs, already full of unshed tears, could barely tolerate even the slightest whiff of its fetor.

    “Where to from here? Can you tell me the address so I can put it in the navigation?”

    “I didn’t memorize the address.”

    “Then tell me where you need to go from here.”

    “It’s my first time coming by car, so I don’t know either. Can I borrow your phone?”

    Holding the phone I had handed him, Woonu mumbled the number while looking upwards. Come to think of it, those without phones must either note down or memorize people’s numbers, so their memory was bound to be better.

    There wasn’t much I knew about my paternal grandfather, as he had passed away when I was one year old. However, I did know that he had studied abroad and was fluent in four languages. My father, too, was an elite, often referred to as a genius, and was quickly promoted in his career. Perhaps this was why I was blessed with a good head and performed fairly well in my studies, though I remained average—neither a genius nor a prodigy. Although the saying that talent deteriorates with each generation isn’t very objective, it seemed to hold true in my case.

    Dialling the number he had memorized, Woonu hunched down and drew up his knees.


    His voice remained the same, but he subtly shifted his posture, slightly parting his thighs before bringing his knees together, as if concerned about being reprimanded for keeping them apart.

    “I didn’t get a phone. It’s a long story…”

    I snatched the phone from Woonu, who was acting hesitant. Quickly wedging it between my chin and neck, I grabbed the rascal’s hand as he attempted to take it back.


    Who’re ya? A pal o’ Taewook’s?

    “I’m a creditor who has a debt to collect from this fellow.”

    -A creditor?

    The voice was mid-tone, laced with prickliness. I heard the sound of coughing and spitting out phlegm. The man gruffly asked, coughing as though he were trying to clear the remaining phlegm from his throat,

    What’d that fella Hanggu do? He ain’t the sort to stir up trouble.

    “I’m currently travelling with him in my car. Let’s discuss the details when we meet. We’re near Pier 7 right now, where to from here?”

    -Did that idiot tell ya Pier 7? Give me another ring once yer in front of Donghang Catholic Church, smack dab across from Pier 7.

    I plugged Donghang Catholic Church into the navigation and ended the call. Woonu looked at me as if to say, “Now what?” as if I had seriously messed up.

    The man’s dialect-heavy tone was calm yet imposing. Though his voice hinted at his age, the brevity of our call prevented me from making any rash assumptions. For a moment, his tone and Woonu’s expression caused me to worry if I had indeed made a mistake. As the saying goes, curiosity killed the cat, and from the onset of this detective game born out of compassion, I was already far too deeply immersed.

    We climbed up a sloping road. For those whose purpose was travel, it was quite a picturesque nightscape, perfect to snap plenty of pictures. It seemed that even poverty could look pretty at night. Was it because darkness veiled its sorrow and squalor? It seemed that the clustered houses would appear even more impoverished during the day.

    The large stone statue of Jesus at the top of the cathedral caught my eye. The white statue, modelled after a figure from a book about sacrifice for humanity, had its arms spread wide, gazing down. On the other side, shrouded in a wet fog, was a large bridge that seemed to float, rising above the depths of the sea. Around it, melancholy lights complemented the night’s stillness, casting a subtle glow of loneliness. The night was cloudy, and the only thing hinting at the presence of the sea were the colourful lights reflecting upon its waters.

    The sea. The dark blue demon that swallowed my family whole.

    There were times when I couldn’t even watch the news. Once, I smashed the TV in a fit of rage, injuring my foot and needing stitches. The wound festered, leaving me unable to walk for a while. It was only then that I learned my lesson; the only one harmed by my violent outbursts was myself.

    Two years before I met Woonu, out of some impromptu courage, I visited the Incheon Sea. I couldn’t bring myself to get out of the car. Although I felt waves of nausea while staring at it, it was bearable. The problem wasn’t the sea itself, but the tomorrows stolen from me—days I could no longer spend with my family. It was those sudden, overwhelming moments when I was reminded that those tomorrows were now forever yesterdays. Still, perhaps I’ll find the courage to visit the coastal waters of Yeosu one day. That would be the ultimate task and test of courage for me.

    ¹ 쪽발이 튀기 – 쪽발이 comes from the word 족발, which means pigs’ feet. This is a derogatory term for Japanese people, as the pigs’ feet is meant to mock traditional Japanese shoes, claiming they look like pigs’ feet due to the big toe being separated from the rest. 튀기 means half-breed.

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