Mercenary Black Mamba - Chapter 186
[1st April 1983]
The DC-10 that Mu Ssang was riding entered into the Korean airfield. Funnily enough, it was April Fool’s day. He had left and returned like the wind.
Mu Ssang stuck his face next to the airplane window. Even the white clouds looked different spread out under the airplane’s wings. Through the clouds, he started to see parts of the islands.
Did they call this place Kogunsan-gundo? His eyes became hot without him realizing it. It was a home that he loved but did not like. In the year ’81, on November 22, he had left Gimpo Airport. Sixteen months felt like 16 years.
Unlike the DC-10’s bad reputation, its heavy body landed softly onto the landing strip. As the plane approached the landing strip apron, an announcement came through the speakers.
We’d like to thank all the passengers for choosing Daehan Airlines. It has been four hours and 15 minutes since airplane 768 has taken off from Singapore.
It was not French, but the familiar sound of his home language. It was not the Sahel that smelled like blood, and it was not France, where he had to endure relentless psychological warfare. It was the land where he had been born and raised.
Memories of the unending sandstorms, the sizzling sun, the buzzing hoard of flies, and the piles of corpses came to his mind. As he was exiting the jetway, he lifted his hands and smelled them. The smell of blood stabbed at his nose. It was a smell that was imprinted into his soul.
Could it be possible for me to live a normal life?
Fear suddenly overtook him.
“The airplane has been delayed? We just got on here, what are we going to do?”
“Mother, we only have to wait for an hour. Let’s hurry and leave. Father, let’s go.”
“Alright. Son, we are putting you through so much trouble.”
This was probably how a Seoul daughter-in-law felt when she sent her Gyeongsangdo in-laws on vacation. The cadence of the familiar language pushed away his fears.
It was a home full of pain and sighs. Eventually, he couldn’t withstand it and had left, so why was his heart fluttering at the sight of it?
This had been the place where his soul and body were made. It was the land where his father was buried, and it was also a place where his mother would be living. That was the reason why he couldn’t give up his citizenship.
His heartbeat raced, and his nose felt numb.
“I’m here. What’s so great about my home country that I am acting this way?”
Why was this strong young man tearing up?
It was not a good sight to see. He quickly glanced around at his surroundings. Everyone was busy living their own lives.
“What is this?”
When Mu Ssang left through the gate, he was confused. Many people were crowding around the baggage carousel. When he had left this place, the airport lobby had been empty. Not even two years had passed, but the busy airport atmosphere felt strange to him.
Five countries had opened up their doors in 1981 for foreign travel. At that time, an average person could not even dream of traveling to a foreign land. It was something unimaginable to those in current times.
On January 1st, 1983, the government created a yearly passport for those over 50 at 2,000,000 won.
At the time, 2,000,000 won was enough to buy a small building in Sillim-Dong. To the poor citizens, it meant that they had to keep quiet and work until their deaths. It was a ridiculous condition, but at that time, it was the norm.
Still, the citizens who had lived their lives suppressed by the dictators dreamt of traveling to foreign countries. The small lobby of Gimpo Airport became a marketplace.
That was also the time when 17 housewives from Busan had brought back the Elephant rice cooker from Shimonoseki. There had also been a newspaper report of an overstock of rice cookers. The wives had started the trend of buying Elephant rice cookers on vacation to bring back home.
At the time, the 1.8-liter Elephant rice cooker cost 13,000 yen, which was equivalent to 39,000 won. They would buy the rice cookers and sell it in their country for 140,000 won. Those housewives had been showcased as nuisances in the Japanese newspapers and had brought heartache to their country.
Mu Ssang was distracted by the crowd of people in the airport lobby—a couple walking while holding their child’s hands, an old man wearing a bowler hat, a grandmother wearing a hanbok, and a young man and woman standing close to each other. Everyone looked bright and happy.
It was not the red badlands or the churning sandstorms but a place filled with happy-looking people living their lives. It was not depressing Africa but Korea.
He arrived at Seoul station by airport taxi. From the next car, he could hear the loud sounds of an old-time medley.
“Even a thatched house is good for me as long as I am with you.”
It was a song called With You by Nam Jin. Before he had left for France, it was already famous. A cheap and simple sounding drum beat, a light synthesizer, and a microphone that exaggerated the echo—it was the sound of home.
The childish lyrics were well-received by his ears compared to seductive French songs. His roots must have inevitably been those of a Korean. Mu Ssang stood vacantly at the plaza and breathed in the smell of fish cakes, spicy rice cakes, and Korean pancakes. He looked composed on the outside, but inside, he was nothing but a country bumpkin out in the city for the first time.
He was decked in slicked-back short hair, dark Ray-Bans, a fitted suit, and a backpack slung over his back. It was not a style easily seen in Korea.
People passing by glanced over at him from time to time. Sometimes, young women came close to stare at him. If he smiled widely with his teeth showing, all of them would jump in surprise and run away.
His build was no different from when he had left, but the way his eyes looked had changed. Even if he had changed, he couldn’t help his inner self. The gleaming eyes of the tiger changed to the calmness of a deep lake. Even if thunder and lightning fell upon him, his eyes remained peaceful.
Those who had been meditating for a long time and had reached enlightenment always had clear peaceful eyes. Mu Ssang’s eyes glistened with the deepness of a red sunset. They were the eyes of Azura, which he had gained from murdering numerous people.
Even muggers who made contact would avoid him without pulling any shady tricks. Mu Ssang smiled widely.
“You have good instincts.”
Now and then, there were always numerous muggers at that station. Even with just his senses, he could anticipate their moves. Not everyone could be a mugger. They didn’t even come near Mu Ssang.
He picked up a couple of bottle caps from the plaza.
The bottle caps flew out, spinning.
A young man in his early twenties turned around, holding his wrist. He was the man who had been raising his hand at the old man. A scream erupted three times. All the muggers from the other stations dispersed like low tide.
“Those punks are ruining my music. Hahaha!”
Mu Ssang chuckled, revealing his white teeth. All the muggers got their wrists broken. It was a sensitive body part made up of eight bones. For about a month, the punks wouldn’t be able to lift a finger. In a few months, they would be able to regain normal use of their wrists. However, from then onwards, they wouldn’t be able to perform the more delicate functions of hands that were required for stealing. He enjoyed that sort of freedom. This was not the Sahel. You could never know when a bullet was about to hit the back of your head.
The street vendor’s repertoire had changed.
“I sowed my seed in the night you gave me. The first time we met, my heart was only for you, my dandelion.”
It was the familiar sound of Jo Yong Pil’s music. He looked at the album cover using his magnified eyesight. It was Jo Yong Pil’s new song, My One and Only Dandelion.
“In that summer wind, that summer wind, you blew away like the falling leaves.”
Devastation fell upon him. Mu Ssang turned to stone as if he was struck by lightning. Until a verse of the song finished, he couldn’t move away from the basement entrance.
“Ah, Hae Young!”
He exclaimed. Yes. As he was being blown around by the summer breeze, she had left to find her own path, like a dandelion. He felt like the leaves that had been flying around the garden had whooshed through his heart.
His heart, which had gotten lighter from catching the muggers, suddenly became lonely. It was filled with the autumn wind. He slowly approached the car.
He was not abashed by the ordeal. The thought of Edel slightly pushed Hae Young aside. A woman who continued to follow her path and was as beautiful as a sculpture but realistic and smart. He had almost kissed that woman, mistakenly thinking she was Hae Young.
“Oh, what a fool! I’m embarrassed to face my father.”
Mu Ssang shook his head as he confessed this to Edel.
Sidekick and Ombuti would take good care of her. They had to. La hula!
Even as Azrael Black Mamba, he was still young.
Mu Ssang bought tickets for the train and went to look for the British Embassy.
“Oh, how could this be! I have come to see Mu Ssang once again.”
Hamilton greeted him like a long lost son. He wrapped his arms around Mu Ssang’s shoulders and spun him around.
“Uncle, I’ve returned safe and sound, thanks to you.”
“Thanks to me? You look well.”
“You too look well, Uncle.”
Mu Ssang was practically the same age as Hamilton’s son. He called him uncle but the two of them were actually friends. Mu Ssang remembered how Hamilton had helped him without expecting anything in return. He could get into the foreign army directly with Hamilton’s help.
Hamilton always referred to himself as his lifesaver, but all he did was mess up some thugs, carry him to the hospital, and pay his medical bills. He only did what he felt like doing, and he didn’t think much else about it.
In the Saha World, there were many bad people, but there were also many good ones. That’s why he had thought of his teacher’s words regarding the Saha World. If there were only kind people, then it would be heaven. If there were only bad ones, it would be hell. The Saha World was so interesting because all types of people were living in it.
His teacher was never schooled on it, but he had deeper philosophical thinking compared to anyone else he knew. Sometimes when he casually threw out words, they carried such deep meanings that they became difficult to understand.
“It’s a present for Hamilton.”
Mu Ssang presented him with the silver Walther PPK that he had received from the military headquarters.
Hamilton examined the gun in detail. Suddenly, his expression turned strange.
“Mu Ssang, this is not a light gift. This is too much for me to receive.”
“A present is but a present.”
He had picked up over 20 guns in the Sahel. Giving away one wouldn’t make the tiniest of a difference. At the polite gesture, Hamilton chuckled.
“Hahaha! Do you know or not? This gun is a precious artifact that Hitler had gifted to his generals during World War II. Other than the barrel and internals, the rest of the gun is made entirely of silver. This is a treasure that collectors all over the world will pay good money and get their hands on. If you put it up for auction, it would probably start at 100,000 dollars.”
“Ack, it’s one of a kind, the leader killer! The damned colonel, he should have explained it properly to me. What a waste,” Mu Ssang thought.
He had thought that it was just a metal item, but it was actually silver. It was also a one-of-a-kind Hitler collectible!
One hundred thousand dollars was equivalent to 400,000 francs. That would be worth 30 years of his salary when he was a private. A million dollars would be worth 300 years of salary.
Acid traveled up his throat.
“Hahaha, Hamilton is a gentleman. You have to do at least that much to showcase the quality of a gentleman.”
Despite the bloody tears seeping out of his heart, Mu Ssang laughed out loud.
“Oh, thank you. I’m thankful to you, Mu Ssang, who knows me better than a pistol.”
Hamilton’s overly chatty reaction looked cheeky in Mu Ssang’s eyes. This was why they said ignorance was bliss.
Mu Ssang quickly found a unifying solution. He asked for the fastest ticket to Gumi and got onto the selected seat.
“Whew, that’s complicated. I hope the car arrives quickly,” he thought.
He was getting stressed out by the sweeping crowds of people and tried avoiding the cars. The way people were looking at him made him even more uncomfortable. Some women even snickered at him. He felt like a monkey at a zoo.
Wherever he went, he always seemed to clash with the people in his home country. It was something he had to come to terms with upon returning to a world full of ambitious humans.
Mu Ssang avoided the mountain path, and instead, he headed up the unpaved section. Feeling rushed, he jumped over any obstacles and skipped from one tree to the next.
There were no telephones in Amja. They could send casual letters to a friend asking how they were doing. It would usually take three months to receive since they had no other form of communication. Although his teacher wasn’t the type to answer such letters, he still felt extremely worried about him.
Iljumun came into view. He had built it up himself with his clumsy handiwork. He had not been worthy enough to work in Amja’s Iljumun, but he had built it quickly without the teacher’s approval.
A long piece of board in the corner of Iljumun was dangling in the wind. It was a plaque. Mu Ssang’s heart dropped. Even if his teacher was strong, he was still 90 years old.
He quickly ran inside. There were no people.
Only the sound of the hanging chimes moving in the wind could be heard.
He ran up the mountain. The silence that was pressing down on Amja had disappeared. Amja did not answer. His mind felt distant.
Mu Ssang’s hands trembled, thinking of the possibility that he had passed. If his teacher wanted to hide, he could block the energy that would have him located. Still, his presence could not be detected with his spatial awareness skill.
The temple door flung open hard. It almost fell off its hinges.
The temple was minimalistic as always. Not even a single picture of Buddha was present, which was unusual to see in such places. As always, Buddha was falling asleep, and the wooden percussion instrument was resting on the altar. The place where the thin old monk usually sat was now empty.
Mu Ssang put his finger into the water bowl and tasted it. It was fresh. It was water that had not been out for over a day.
“Did he go out to the friarhood?”
Mu Ssang plopped down on the floor of the big room. His beating heart was calming down. Only then could he hear the sounds of a cuckoo bird echoing throughout the mountain.
How selfish were humans? He had mercilessly ended the lives of hundreds of men, yet he had pleaded for the well-being of his only teacher.
“Hm, what have I become?”
Mu Ssang frowned.