Mercenary Black Mamba - Chapter 202
“Anyway, I’m not sure. You can use it the way that you usually do. I don’t need the rent, just take care of the house well for me. Please also tend to the peach tree fields.”
“Can I really do that? I’ve lived here for five years, so I owe you 1,800,000 won in rent!” Sang Chul exclaimed.
He had saved up 1,800,000 won in the last five years for rent. He had suddenly accumulated a fair sum of money. Mister In Bo was someone who would never prick another’s conscience when it came to money problems. He had saved up the rent payments like his savings with the possibility that Mu Ssang would return.
“You gave me a lot of apples to eat when I was younger. I even ate three of your chickens. I’ll call it even with that. Let’s just say you paid me the rent, and you can buy your daughter something good to eat. Buy your wife a present too. If you don’t take care of the house properly, I will come back to collect the payments.”
“Wow, ever since you came back from living in another country, you’ve become quite generous. I’m thankful enough to hear you say that, but I can’t do that since I’m older than you. I’ll give you half the rent and take care of the house and your father’s grave. Leave me your bank account info.”
“Oh, you don’t have to.”
“Even fleas have pride.”
Eventually, they rewrote the contract for the rent payment to be reduced in half and included the condition that Sang Chul would agree to take care of the house. The remaining rent was used to maintain his father’s grave in Yeongok village.
Both sides were happy with the agreement. It was an agreement only possible in the countryside. Jin Soon, who had been pouting, eventually smiled too. That is very like you oppa. The house and your father’s grave is 100 times more important than a wad of cash.
“Although did you steal the radio that one time?”
“Oppa didn’t steal it. Wu Tak’s father had stolen it after he had returned from gambling. Gyeongja’s mom even informed us of Wu Tak’s father’s return. They had gotten scared when the police came charging in and dumped it on oppa instead.”
Jin Soon argued with immense annoyance.
“That’s right. We knew that Mu Ssang could never do that. However, Baek Bu, Baek Mo, Hwa Ja, and Wu Tak went around spreading rumors that you were the stealer.”
“It’s all in the past. I’m leaving now.”
“Oh, I must have said too much. It all happened ages ago, so why did I even bother bringing it back up? My wife will be back soon. You should eat dinner before leaving.”
“You said you were busy. I’ll come back next time.”
Mu Ssang left after resisting Sang Chul’s persistent invitation. Sitting in his mother’s house would only cause his heart more discomfort.
After leaving the house, Mu Ssang was lost in deep thoughts. He could not figure out what in the world was happening.
“Soon-ah, do you know something that I don’t?”
“I don’t know anything. I moved to Daegu afterward, so I never saw anyone from that family.”
“Alright, let’s go to my uncle first. If he’s badly hurt, I should go see him.”
The only family member who had treated him kindly without judgment was his uncle. His aunt had even provided him with a warm meal and hand-me-down clothes. Mu Ssang was not one to forget even the smallest of kind gestures. He was busy, but he couldn’t just pass by.
His uncle had 20 acres of paddies and five fields. With that much, they had no trouble feeding themselves. While he walked through the town, he saw a couple of villagers, but nobody recognized Mu Ssang.
He pushed aside the fallen door and stepped inside the front lawn. His aunt, who was cutting up cattle feed on the front lawn, stood up. She was carrying out a task that usually required two people to complete. Her husband was bedridden, and her two daughters were out working trying to earn money. Even if anyone were to help, it would only be intermittent.
“Isn’t that Jin Soon? Who’s that young person?”
“Ma’am, have you been well? It’s Mu Ssang.”
Mu Ssang bowed. At first, she stared at him blankly, before jumping in surprise. Her cheeks felt like it was burning.
“Oh my! Ssang?”
“Yes, it’s Ssang, who you gave clothes to.”
“Oh, child, you are still alive!”
His aunt ran over and hugged him.
“Let’s go inside. After your uncle ended up like that, it’s like he’s barely living.”
“Wow, are you preparing the cattle feed all by yourself?”
“You know it better than I do. The neighborhood is not very helpful. These days, there isn’t a single person to help me with the farmwork.”
His aunt dabbed her tears with the end of her shirt. At a single glance, he could tell that the household was falling apart. The straw bridge neighborhood had always been prone to family fights even before the Korean War. Even as time passed, the resentment throughout the years only grew deeper.
“Soon-ah, let me just finish this up, then we’ll go inside.”
In May, they usually let the cows loose to eat the grass in the fields, as they usually didn’t cut up straws for their consumption. It meant that she didn’t have the time to cut them loose for grazing.
“Aunt, give me the sickle and bag.”
“Oh, what for? I can just feed them straw.”
Mu Ssang grabbed the straw cutter even when she had refused his help. He pushed the straw in with one hand and pressed the cutter with the other.
Swiftly and instantly, he finished a bushel by himself, which had left Deok Sun’s eyes wide open. The garden inside the house was also full of weeds. The planted peppers were wilted while the weeds grew wildly.
Mu Ssang put water inside the pot and lit a flame underneath. Meanwhile, Jin Soon borrowed working pants and grabbed a sickle.
As the sickle passed through, her hands swiftly pulled out the grass.
Jin Soon’s skills were no joke either. She had collected a bushel in the blink of an eye. She filled the straw and fodder into the pot and sprinkled rice bran over it.
“Wow, this looks delicious,” she commented and closed the lid of the pot.
Mu Ssang smiled. Jin Soon was always so refreshingly blunt.
“My goodness, you were good at working when you were younger, but now you are like a machine. If you and Jin Soon get together, it will be perfect.”
Jin Soon’s body squirmed at the comment, and her face blushed red.
Oh, look at that temptress!
Mu Ssang clicked his tongue. She was so blunt in front of his teacher, but in front of the family, she’s acting all innocent.
“Let’s take a look at uncle.”
“Alright! Let’s head inside.”
The bedridden man was lying under a thick blanket. The stale smell of someone bedridden for a long time stabbed at his nostrils.
“Husband. Open your eyes so you can see who’s here.”
“Wife, is someone here?”
A rumble barely escaped his throat. It was the symptom of pneumothorax.
Jin Soon nodded without saying a word. Oppa had learned all the medical terms back in junior high.
“Sir, it’s me. Mu Ssang.”
“What in the world? Ssang has come. Let’s see your face.”
He pushed his eyelids upwards. His glazed-over eyes couldn’t focus, and his gaze floated about.
“You’ve become a man. I could barely recognize you. Jin Bo and his wife would be awfully happy.”
“How did this happen?”
“A bull attacked me.”
“Let me take a look at it.”
Mu Ssang removed the blanket. The stench hit his nose hard. Jin Soon turned her head away too. Mu Ssang didn’t flinch.
“Oh, what to do? It will smell a lot.”
Mu Ssang didn’t answer and continued examining him slowly with his body bent over.
“Who did this to you?”
You could feel the chill in Mu Ssang’s voice. The injury was not from an attacking bull but rather, from being beaten with a club. Beating someone with a club was his specialty. The bruising on his body was from injuries that had been incurred by a weapon. Even after 10s of years had passed, he might have been able to fool a ghost but not Mu Ssang.
“What are you talking about? Nothing like that happened,” his uncle denied forcefully.
“Tell me, who is the punk that beat you up with a club as if he was threshing?
“Husband. Tell Ssang what happened. I haven’t spoken a word to anyone, and it’s killing me inside.”
His uncle hesitated for a moment before opening his mouth to talk.
“Alright, I can’t just die like this without telling someone about the unfairness I’ve been through. Do you know about the Sabuk situation?”
“I don’t know.”
“It was four years ago when Chun Doo Hwan had caused a scene. I had finished the autumn harvest and gone to the Sabuk coal mine to earn a little money for our kid’s school expenses.”
“Hm! Are you out of your mind? That’s too dangerous,” Mu Ssang gasped.
Hard-working people usually went to the coal mines or did other work when the harvest season was over. They did it to earn money for their children’s school expenses, to send their aging parents on vacation, or to buy their hard-working wife a ring. It was outdated, but it was a way to show their affection.
“It’s not like that. I worked at the shelter in Ji Jang mountain in Sabuk. The situation was uncomfortable there, but I was able to withstand it for a couple of months since I could make money. In April, the mineworkers went on strike. The company must have negotiated the pay poorly with the union. What would I know? I just stayed where I was.”
His uncle continued, “Truthfully, the accommodation there was not fit for humans to live in, and in comparison to the work being done, the pay was pretty measly. I could understand why the mineworkers had decided to go on strike. The person who left the government ran over the striking mineworkers with a car. Two of them had died, and three were badly hurt. After that, all hell broke loose. 1,000s of the mineworkers had revolted, so they had to call in the police. I wasn’t involved in the demonstration. What knowledge would a lowly worker like myself have to help start a fight?”
“You were probably arrested by the association, and the captured mineworkers probably pulled you in with them.”
“How do you know so well? You sure are smart. The leader of the mineworkers and the government had reached an agreement that ended the demonstration. However, the army started to charge in afterward. They worked with the police department and suddenly started arresting all the mineworkers and took them away. I didn’t even know what was happening and got arrested with them.”
His uncle let out a dry cough.
“Get some rest.”
“It’s alright. I feel so angry and cheated that I can only die after finishing the story. I only went there because they told me they wanted to see me at the regional development meeting. The moment I went into the police station, they handcuffed and dragged me into the basement. They made a bunch of honeycomb-like cubicles in the basement where they beat us with clubs and kicked us, shoved our heads into the water, and tortured us in various ways. That’s how I suffered a shattered knee and a broken back. They starved me for three days while they beat me. I was released on the fourth day. They loaded me onto a Jeep and dumped me at a hospital where they barely treated me before taking me home.”
“They probably threatened to arrest you again and beat you to death if you uttered a single word, right?”
“You know it well. I was so scared. That’s why I only tell people that I was attacked by a bull. However, I feel so cheated. I can’t just die like this.”
“Did you hear anything while you were being tortured?”
“I often heard that the president had ordered them to strictly handle the situation. From what I have heard of their conversation, they said 20 mineworkers had died, and 100 have become handicapped. I was so scared.”
“You don’t remember anyone’s name?”
“Of course I remember, the one who always tortured me was called Kim Young No. There was also Yoo Young Chul, and someone called Chief Jang.”
Mu Ssang nodded his head. He didn’t know what the Sabuk situation was, but he knew who was controlling them within the government. Although a hassle, if he really wanted to, he could have found the mastermind behind the situation. All he had to do was search through the Ministry of Information.
“Were you rewarded with anything in return?”
“Reward? They said we, communists, should be glad that they were merciful enough to not kill us.”
His uncle’s eyes were shaking with rage. It was the painful look of a powerless civilian.
“Damned punks, how did you get treatment?”
“I was hospitalized for two years. The hospital payments cost 10 acres of land. My daughters, who had been going to school, had to work in the factory and as a conductor instead. Oh, hoo hoo!”
Tears streamed down his uncle’s face. They were bitter tears. Another victim had appeared—a consequence of those who had used their power unrighteously. He was reminded of Hyun Dong, who had gotten his knee shattered when he was arrested at the university. He had gotten caught for being out past curfew and also for his long hair.
“Huh, this country has not changed at all. I should break that punk’s neck.”
Mu Ssang’s eyes gleamed in red. He was reminded of the clubs and stocks that had rained down on him like hail. The government, which should be protecting its civilians, was beating them with clubs instead. Amid everything, there was the president. Like himself and his uncle, how many people were shedding bloody tears because of them?
Mu Ssang was lost in contemplation. His teacher would have forbidden him to do it, but his heart was enraged. He longed for the land of ambition, Chad, where he could do whatever his heart desired.
“Ok, alright. I got it.”
He knew even without Jin Soon telling him. It would be too strenuous to shift such a long-established order.
“Where are you hurt?”
“I can’t use one of my knees, and my back hurts, which is why I can’t stand. The hospital said that nothing more could be done for me.”
“Oh, what can we do? That’s why he can’t move a muscle.”
His aunt’s eyes were full of tears.
Mu Ssang carefully laid his uncle straight and lifted his left leg. It was the leg with the shattered knee. He was in pain. He lifted his right leg again.
A scream escaped from his lips.
“It looks like your intervertebral central core has slipped out.”
Jin Soon’s eyes widened. She had said it with her lips twitching. All she had to do was watch what her oppa was doing.
“Aunt, from this point on, you have seen nothing.”
She didn’t know what he was talking about, so she confusedly blinked at him.
“Oppa will try to cure uncle, so he wants you to pretend that you didn’t witness anything.”
“Alright. If he can get a little better, I would do anything.”
Deok Sun pretended that Mu Ssang was just giving him a massage.