Novel Name : Mercenary Black Mamba

Mercenary Black Mamba - Chapter 620

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Creak. The inn’s worn-out front door opened.
Mu Ssang grimaced as he came through, flipping his wet hair. His eyes hurt, assailed by the sun. The soft sunshine poured down, welcoming this traveler. Based on the weather, it didn’t feel like a day in December but rather, in April. Compared to the day before, when the cold wind blew and snowflakes danced in the air, it was a warm day today.
As he exited the alley, the long breakwater next to the cruise terminal caught his eye. Before he left for Bijin Island, he had walked the same street with Hyeyeong, while drinking hot oden soup. Various stalls selling oden, boiled crabs, clams, noodles, udon, and fried fish were lined up along the road. The landscape today was no different from before.
The hard-working women had already opened their shops. The sound of knives hitting cutting boards, boiling water in big pots, while gutting mackerel for broiling, has definitely got him feeling hungry. He had skipped dinner the night before, which is rare since he usually has an insatiable appetite.
He was craving for some hangover soup with boneless meat, covered with dried vegetables, served in an earthenware pot. If he were in Corsica or Aubanne, paella de campo (a European dish of rice, beans, and seafood simmered in a vast, two-handled frying pan) would have been its equivalent.
He couldn’t control his laughter. He was suddenly reminded of the famous French philosopher Jacques Lacan who said, “The three luxuries of man are food, sex, and death.” That’s right. Food, sex, and death are equal pleasures, whether it be for humans or animals.
Humans enjoy food by grilling, broiling, steaming, frying, and adding spices, while animals eat to survive. Humans indulge in sex, while animals lose interest as soon as their rutting period ends. Humans die in comfort in their beds, buried in sophisticated rituals and were mourned for, while animals either perish in the stomachs of other beasts, or are left in the wilderness to be consumed by maggots. Therefore, to call someone a beast is a profound insult.
H won’t be able to get bone broth made with chili oil from a mere food stall. So he bought a bowl of oden instead, went down the breakwater, and sat on a tetrapod. Plastic bowls and bamboo chopsticks from his past, are now replaced by styrofoam bowls and plastic forks. Six years is quite a long time, a lot of things can change. Even the departure time that was printed on the ticket is long past.
The blue sea water rushed through the gaps between the tripods. It is definitely an uncomfortable place to stumble into and die. Suddenly, he remembered the young man and woman who climbed up and down the escalator in Daegu Department Store as they ate ice cream. Why did they feel uncomfortable standing side by side, sharing the ice cream? Is it because they felt a sense of foreboding of their future?
“It’s my first proper Christmas for the first time in six years!”
He chuckled. His eyes stayed on the layered waves crashing against the shore, but his thoughts were in the past. Fragments of different memories which he had repressed began to stretch and resurface. Images of Hyeyeong dressed in a gray trench coat and a red scarf, overlapped with those of his mother, who danced in front of his father’s grave in red and blue. The hem of Hyeyeong’s scarf fluttered in the sea breeze, overlapped with his mother’s headband fluttering in the mountain breeze.
[I was born on Mother’s Day, when the pale pink peach blossoms danced in the air.
My father, who was tilling the land then, abandoned the plow and ran to me instantly.
My father, who was dancing in a swirling motion, is gone.
My mother, who would sew socks under a lantern light, is gone.
Their orphan son planted flowers alone.
If the flowery branch is shaking, is it my father’s soul?
When the pale pink petals danced, my mother would have listened to them.
In Mt. Wolsong, filled with lush greenery, only the cuckoo cries can be heard.
You wet the pillow, while listening to the birdsong, during an inky black night!
Even as I listen to the sea breeze, I can’t hear your voice.
You scream like a deranged ghost, but you can’t hear me.
Will you hear me when my words are colored blue?
Will you come to me longingly if I blow peach blossom petals across the sky?]
Tears started to form in his eyes. The blue sea slowly turned gray.
“Would you like to play with a grumpy crab? Shall we play with its pretty shell?”
A chirping voice brought him back away from his scattered mind. He turned his head abruptly. A little girl who looked about three or four years younger than Mina was standing at the edge of the breakwater. She was cute, almost doll-like, with her red face and hair in two braids, wearing a red jacket. A calm sea breeze blew. Her cute cloth bag was dangling from her back, and the hem of her ruffled white skirt turned over.
“Oh, the wind sure is something today!”
She hurriedly pushed down her flipped skirt. They both smiled. Her pretty face and cute demeanor made him smile. Then, the little girl asked abruptly.
“Hey, are you hungry?”
“Not really.”
“Liar, I’ve been looking at you for a while. You must be hungry if you want to catch fish that bad.”
“Haha, yes. I am hungry.”
Mu Ssang burst into laughter at the little girl’s assumption. There is an army rope in his shirt pocket. If she asked him to catch fish, he would do everything he can do as she asked. He felt a chill run through his chest.
“Ugh, I need a fishing rod to catch fish….”
The little lady bit her finger and pondered. She was so cute and pretty that he wanted to hug her so badly. Then without warning, she jumped off the breakwater. Did she felt provoked by his gaze? She bit her lip as if she had just made a serious decision, and took off her bag, which is just an old bag covered with lint.
“Hey, eat this.”
As Mu Ssang was contemplating whether to buy new clothes and a new bag for the girl, a whole loaf of bread appeared in front of his eyes. His eyes widened at the unexpected situation.
“Ugh! Aren’t you going to eat it?”
He opened his mouth stupidly, and alternately looked between the little lady’s face and the loaf of bread held in her small, claw-like hands. At that moment, his empty stomach rumbled shamelessly.
“Look. Children are hungry too, but you are hungrier.”
Mu Ssang unwittingly let out a low moan. The little lady’s innocent words made him cry. Never before had he received such a pure favour from anyone! A rush of heat and affection rose to his chest.
“I will enjoy it. Thanks.”
Mu Ssang politely and reverently received the bread as if it were Holy Communion given in a Catholic church. Isn’t this what the true spirit of sharing is all about?
“Is your name Yeonga?”
“Yes. Yeong-a.”
The little lady enunciated the syllables of her name. Mu Ssang stared at the child’s eyes which shined like jewels. There was something familiar in her eyes that caught his attention, and he could not look away. They were watery and frightened black eyes, with exceptionally long eyelashes!
“I’m staying here.”
“Uh! That’s right. You should stay.”
He was startled by her words, so he took a bite of the bread and started to eat. The sweetness of mass-produced bread filled his mouth. And yet, it was the most delicious thing he had ever tasted in the whole world. Even the freshly baked pain au chocolate from a three-star Michelin restaurant on the Champs Elysées can’t compare with this. It was so delicious that he was almost moved to tears.
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In his mind, the piece of cheap bread turned into a sweet sake bread which his mother used to make. It is a crude bread fermented with makgeolli, with a handful of sugar added to wheat flour. But there is no dessert more delicious than that. Suddenly, an image of Edel holding a box of macarons while crying came to his mind. Is this how she had felt then?
Lacan said that some memories, especially special ones, are capable of etching themselves permanently in our minds. There are happy memories too: his mother’s smile, that seemed to be carried to him with the sea breeze rushing through the waves. The salty smell of cooked oden and the smell of Hyeyeong’s freshly harvested crops. Isn’t it amazing how humans can bring to mind the memory of a loved one just at the sight of food?
“Is it good?”
The young girl looked at him blankly. Then, those clear, black pupils twinkled like starlight under her long eyelashes. Mu Ssang felt chills down his spine.
“Yeah, it’s good. There is no bread in this world that tastes better than this.”
“You must be thirsty too. I also have milk.”
The child took out a cartoon of banana-flavored milk from her bag and held it out to him – a plastic container shaped like a jar as a symbol of warmth from this pure soul. It seems like she comes from a good upbringing. Her parents must be good people too.
“What a kind child!”
Mu Ssang did not hesitate and accepted the banana-flavored milk. He then cut the bread in half and gave one to the child.
“Let’s eat together!”
The child’s eyes darted between the two halves, as if comparing their sizes.
“But now it’s small.”
The little lady hesitated.
“But it tastes better if you share it.”
Mu Ssang laughed softly.
“My mother also said so. She says that we have to share the food.”
The girl’s eyes twinkled once again. Her hunger seemed to have overcome any hesitation she might have had. A smile formed on her face. Here they are, a young man and a little girl squatting opposite each other on the breakwater, sharing bread and banana-flavored milk. As if in silent agreement, they ate in small bites.
“But I don’t have anything to share. What should I do?”
Mu Ssang put on an embarrassed expression. He felt frustrated. He wanted to give the little girl something, but he had nothing, just a Glock and Chomorangma. There was a length of army rope in his pocket, and a dagger hidden under his sleeve. They are weapons to kill people, not fitting to give to a child. It was also weird to give the child a large sum of money.
“My mother said when you help someone, you should not expect anything in return.”
Yeonga’s words hit him hard. Another memory came to mind: a plane disappearing into the clouds, with Hyeyeong in it. He could still see it vividly in his mind’s eye.
‘Life is quite exciting!’
These four words resonated in his heart. He understood now that the chains of delusion were not with Hyeyeong, but with himself. It is true she caused him trouble before. Still, as long as she was happy, he will give her his blessings. And if she chooses to come back, he will accept her as well. He wanted to forget all the unpleasantness between them.
The lump that had formed in his throat was gone in an instant.
“Hey, are you sick?”
The girl looked at him intently and asked.
“No. I was thinking about something. You are a wonderful person, you know.”
Mu Ssang reached for the girl’s hair. For a moment, his hands looked red, tainted with blood from the battlefields. He was worried that he might taint such a pure soul.
A woman wearing a bodysuit and a cloth skirt ran toward them as the sea breeze blew.
“Oh, it’s my mother.”
The girl got up to her feet.
Mu Ssang’s face paled. He felt like he was hit by a pile of grenades, and fell into a lake 8,000 meters deep. The woman was in her mid-thirties, with a delicate body like that of a willow branch. Her long, slender neck had a few wrinkles. Seeing those narrow, round shoulders, that egg-shaped face, and long eyelashes that seem to cover her eyes, instantly Mu Ssang was transported to the past.
‘It’s Mom!’
Mu Ssang could count the strands of hair in her eyelashes. Her white face had turned dark due to sunburn, but he can still recognize his mother, whom he had longed for the past 17 years. She looked pretty well-to-do. His heart was beating like it was about to explode, no doubt due to the recognition of kinship.
Mu Ssang could only whimper. This isn’t funny at all. Did Master foretell that this would happen?
“Girl, I told you not to stray away!”
The woman glanced at Mu Ssang with a watchful eye, and lightly clasped the girl’s head.
“Mom, I gave this poor man bread and banana milk.”
The child swiftly grabbed the hem of the woman’s skirt and clung to it, while twisting her pigtails.
“You did great. Good girl.”
The woman stroked her child’s hair. The child made a soft sound and licked her lips.
“You can’t play here. You could fall into the sea. Okay?”
“Yeah, I won’t come here anymore.”
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Tears streamed down Mu Ssang’s eyes as he felt a sense of déjà-vu. He remembered staying out late at night playing in the willow forest, and his mother would scold him the same way. Then, he would answer back, grab the hem of her skirt, and shout that he was hungry, as they slowly walked home together.
“Where have you been?”
Gim Malsun was confused. Why is this strange young man shedding tears? She didn’t know what to do or say.
“Oh my gosh!”
Mu Ssang moved closer and grabbed Gim Malsun’s shoulder. His breathing came in short gasps, and his throat felt like choking, so his voice did not sound right.
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