Novel Name : Mercenary Black Mamba

Mercenary Black Mamba - Chapter 627

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‘Mother? How guile she is!’
Mu-ssang’s mouth was agape in awe. Jin Soon used to call his mother “Auntie” when they were young but now it was suddenly “Mother.” She was not a docile cat on top of a kitchen roof but a nine-tailed fox with two mouths for extra mouth-running.
“He hates the fishy smell. So when I make seaweed soup, I don’t use anchovies or mussels, or clams to make the stock. When I make kimchi, I only use some fermented shrimp. You can teach me what I don’t know.”
Jin Soon grinned, looking back at Kim Mal Soon.
“I see. A man needs to eat to his taste to make a living for his family properly. You are as kind as you are beautiful. So are your words. You have been doing a great job taking care of Mu Ssang.”
Kim Mal Soon was grateful for Jin Soon. She had had a hard life. Whenever she looked at the sea, she wanted to leave her fate to the waves. Whenever she climbed a mountain, she wanted to do the same to the winds. She couldn’t even register the birth of Yeong-a. Since she didn’t know who the father was, she didn’t know what surname to give her. If it were not for Jin Soon, she wouldn’t know what to do with all the mess.
“Mother! Only you recognize Jin Soon’s worth. I love you!”
Jin Soon ran up to Kim Mal Soon and kissed her cheek. Then she looked back at Mu Ssang and winked at him.
‘Things are going great!’
Aunt Hadong grinned opportunistically. Her daughter was all ready to get married but Mu Ssang continued to tarry. The longer the marriage was put off, the likelier it was going to be foiled. Now her daughter only had to charm her future mother-in-law.
‘She is all act today!’
Mu Ssang pounded his chest. Edel would be able to naturally act this way but Jin Soon would never. A woman in love can transform to a greater degree than some mythological creatures like Kkamdung, Ssamdi, Dino, Garuda, and Hok-sun. Mu Ssang could see through 400 leagues underwater but couldn’t see through a woman’s heart who stood right next to him.
Mu Ssang took the front seat at the table and his mother and Aunt Hadong flanked him, each sitting at the side next to him. Yeong-a sat next to his mother and Jin Soon next to Aunt Hadong. Mina, who routinely sat next to Mu Ssang, had her usual throne usurped. Mi-na could read the air well enough to not complain but when she sat next to Jin-sun, her eyes were full of dissatisfaction.
Kim Mal Soon’s eyes were wide with surprise. Why were there so many women in the house? Of the 13 seated around a 16-person table, only Mu Ssang was male. Gim Geukdo, also reading the air well, had run to the shopping mall to run some errands. With 13 women of all ages, the table resembled some corner in a traditional street market.
“The Monk Grandpa said he has too much fiery energy. And needed women to subdue it.”
Jin Soon’s explanation was a cue for the introductions.
“Mother, I am Jin Soon’s sister, Yeon Soon. I turned 23 this year and am a college senior.”
“Mother, I am next in line, Gye Soon. I am 21 and also in college.”
“Mother, I am…”
The five sisters and Yeonghui and Yeongji introduced themselves one by one. Kim Mal Soon was confused deeply. She couldn’t remember who was who. Yeongsuk concluded the round of introductions with her childish, mispronounced greeting. Then the dishes came. Each grain of cooked rice was glistening as if it were individually oiled and the bowls smelled nice. The crisply roasted fish looked appetizing.
A potful of steamed seasoned ribs. A potful of seasoned and stir-fried seafood. Roasted pine mushrooms. Bulgogi boiling in a chafing dish. Sautéed plants. Slices of raw tuna. A stew of tilefish. Roasted eels. Assorted Western meats like Jamón, Bierschinken, and Pastrami. The wide table was full of various dishes from around the world.
Yeong-a’s eyes widened to twice their size. Kim Mal Soon’s mouth was agape in awe. The only things she ate at the salt farm were government-issued stale rice mixed with flat grains of barley, pickled radish, cabbage kimchi, and fishcake mixed with vegetables. Even when she escaped the salt farm and worked in restaurants, her diet didn’t differ greatly.
She had to deal with diners all day and only had some minutes to fill her belly. When she worked in a sashimi joint, her meal was a stew made of leftover fish parts. When she worked in a spicy bone stew place, she only had leftover soup from the tables to eat with rice. When she worked in a seolleongtang restaurant, she only had the white bone broth to eat with rice.
Even the rice and side dishes were the leftovers from the diners’ tables. When she roasted fish, steamed ribs, and roasted roots, they were all for the owner or the diners, and never for herself or her daughter. A table covered from side to side with dishes was a marvelous thing.
She had to cook for the salt farm owners and construction field workers for a decade. Then it was seven years of cooking for diners. She never had someone cook for her in all that time.
‘Now I am treated like a human being!’
Her heart ached and her eyes filled with hot tears at the first instant of humane hospitality she received. The bowl of rice in a brassware bowl with a red sheen seemed to shine. She didn’t dare put her spoon in it.
Could a mother who couldn’t be a mother to her son ever accept being treated like this? Awe was soon displaced with guilt. Kim Mal Soon clenched her hand around her son’s.
“Mother, this is but a shabby table but I hope you enjoy it.” Jin Soon said.
“Thank you, dear.”
Kim Mal Soon took her first spoonful of rice. The gesture was heart-wrenchingly solemn. Mu Ssang couldn’t bring himself to continue to watch and lowered his head. He remembered how he was beaten up in his uncle’s house after eating some stale rice without permission. He also marveled at his first bowlful of white rice cooked by Aunt Hadong. He well understood how his mother felt.
Kim Mal Soon sighed. The rice was cooked to the just-right consistency and sweetness. Each taut grain of rice danced in her mouth. She was a cook herself for 17 years. She knew better about rice than anyone else. For a bowl of perfectly cooked rice, you needed high-quality rice and also good water. Chipped grains let out starch, resulting in sticky rice. Grains with a blueish hue were not fully ripe yet. Ones with a blackish hue were too old or eaten by insects. When one washed the rice, one also needed to quickly wash it only twice or three times to prevent starch from being dissolved. The fire was also important. One needed to begin with strong heat and shimmer down to gentle and steady. Weak fire also meant porridge-like consistency.
This was a bowlful of rice cooked by someone who knew what she was doing with the best rice and water and steady care. With this quality, one didn’t even need side dishes to complement it. Kim Mal Soon felt further enamored with her son’s companion.
Mina was feeling disgruntled. She resented the small girl who took little bits of fish flesh from her father. She was full of resentment, feeling sad that her best-in-the-world father was taken from her.
‘Brother? Why is my father suddenly a brother?’
She couldn’t enjoy any food on the table. The hams, which she used to like, only tasted salty now. Mu Ssang stole a glimpse at Mina and had to smother his laughter. Her face was full of jealousy. He didn’t feel like comforting her or explaining it. The children were to sort it out themselves.
“Mina, Yeong-a is younger than you but technically your aunt.”
On the contrary, he chose to instigate further conflict.
“I see!”
Mina answered reluctantly. Mu Ssang grinned. The Jews wandered the wilderness for 40 years and were finally rewarded with Canaan, the land promised to them. Was it really the land where milk and honey overflowed? Were the Jews finally happy?
No. The human condition itself is suffering. No life was devoid of pain. Canaan must have harbored its share of pain. Life is the process of learning through rounds of fight and reconciliation, love and hate, and hurt and healing.
Mina already experienced discrimination where she used to live. Yeong-a was born into the hate of the world. He was curious as to how the two girls would resolve the twisted hierarchy between them.
“Are you really older than our mother?”
Gye Soon asked cautiously. Her mother was 46. Kim Mal Soon seemed to be in her mid-30s. She couldn’t believe that she was actually older than her mother.
“I am two years her senior.”
“I don’t believe it!”
“You look so young!”
The young women marveled at the fact that Kim Mal Soon was in fact 48. Then they forgot about the food altogether and began a wild session of chit-chatting about skincare. That was said to happen when three women or more gathered. Mu Ssang couldn’t guess how they were able to eat as they spat out as many words as the food.
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“Mother, it’s time for you to say hello to Father.”
When they were finished eating, Mu Ssang hurried.
“I am looking forward to it too. What about you, honey?”
“Don’t you worry, Mother.”
Jin Soon pointed at the small icebox.
“You already prepared?”
Kim Mal Soon looked at Jin Soon as if she was proud of her.
“It was not a difficult task. I’ve heard that Father liked boiled chicken and rice wine. I began boiling the chicken as I began preparing for the meal and I already had some rice wine begin fermenting. I also had some fruits I got as a gift. The only thing I had to do was make some savory pancakes.”
“You did great.”
Kim Mal Soon marveled. Jin Soon was very adept. She was the perfect wife material for any son. If they ever let her go, her husband would jump from his grave and tell them off.
“Mu Ssang, when do you plan to marry her?”
Mu Ssang’s eyes widened like those of a bull slipped on a field of ice. He had so many things to do. And his mother was already talking about marriage? Also on the day she was reunited with her son after 17 years? Mu Ssang gave Jin Soon a blaming look.
Jin Soon showed him her tongue behind Kim Mal Soon’s back. Mu Ssang shook his head. He now couldn’t defeat Jin-sun with her newly acquired, powerful ally.
* * *
More and more snowflakes began to fall on the mountain behind the village. Jin-sun, holding Yeong-a in her arms, led the way. Kim Mal Soon and Auntie Hadong followed. Then there was Mu Ssang, following them with a big icebox and a mat on his shoulders.
“Sis, I didn’t know you had such a fine daughter.”
“You took kindly to her. With her father passing so early, she has had a rough childhood.”
“Did yours pass early too?”
“Yes, before Jin-sun could turn 10. It was a car accident.”
“I didn’t know!”
The two widows’ voices took on certain wetness.
“She turned out just fine despite all that. She is very resourceful. There is a certain grace to her as well.”
“You compliment too much. Mu Ssang deserves such words. He took care of our family since he was a just kid. My girls turned out fine thanks to him. We owe much to him.”
“That is quite true. Thank you.”
He could clearly hear what his mother and Aunt Hadong were talking about. Parents are naturally inclined to show off their children. Still, he was not some royalty or anything. Neither was Jin Soon.
“Have you ever lived with her for more than one afternoon? Jin Soon is not some royalty but an ill-tempered chicken.”
Mu Ssang complained in a low voice, fearing his mother would tell him off. He was a powerful warrior but still a cowering son before his mother.
Mu Ssang stopped in front of a large pile of stones. It’s where he buried the Chilseong gang who touched his father’s grave. On that day when he left his uncle’s house, 13 years ago, it had snowed just like today.
They had some food and liquor for the ritual today but then, he had nothing. So he caught three crawfish from the stream nearby, roasted them, and offered them with some stream water in his rubber shoe. His bare feet bled on the frozen ground, scratched by rock, but he barely registered the pain.
The son was running away from abuse and the dead father was offered some water in a smelly, black rubber shoe and three crawfish. He had vowed in front of the grave. That he would never bow to the world. That he will find his mother.
“Father, I kept my promise! It was not easy, haha.”
Chuckles left his mouth. It took 13 years for him to keep the promise. It was said that a nobleman would take a decade or more to avenge but still, it was quite some time.
Working in a Chinese restaurant as a delivery man. The cattle market. The chicken coop of Sang-han’s family. The coal mine full of coal dust. The snow-covered Achimgari town. The floating port in the blue Mediterranean. The Sahara where buzzed the Harmattan. The rebels falling in a bullet shower. Himself standing in a hell where blood flowed like streams. His past days went by before his mind’s eye.
‘Mu Ssang!’
Jin Soon suppressed her tears. His exterior was as hardened as diamond but he was still soft on the inside. And she alone knew that soft part of this powerful man. She was proud of him for keeping his promise. Her heart ached at his tumultuous journey.
“Where is the grave, Mu Ssang?”
Kim Mal Soon looked around. The grave was nowhere to be seen.
“It’s right in front of you.”
Kim Mal Soon wondered. She only saw some pile of boulders and no grave.
“That pile of rocks is the grave.”
“What happened?”
Kim Mal Soon lamented. She now saw the tombstone and the stone censor in front of the pile. The size of the rock pile had dwarfed them.
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“It’s a long story. Jang Pil Nyuh had damaged the grave to bring a curse upon our family. Since then, I covered it with rocks to protect it.”
“Oh my!”
Kim Mal Soon’s mouth was agape in shock. How could her son ever move such large rocks? No. He now could ride on whaleback. It was surely feasible for him now.
“What is the evil bitch doing?”
Kim Mal-sun, being a shaman herself, surely knew of such a practice. Her calf-like gentle eyes turned hostile. She had miscarried her first child because of that woman. Now she was hearing that the same woman had defiled her husband’s grave. Kim Mal-sun was a meek woman but was not weak as to forgive someone who harmed her son and husband.
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