(Translated by T.I.Time.)
“Jang-in-nim (a name used to call one’s father-in-law), now I…”
When I say she is old enough, scratching my head, he always answers, “You swine! She has to grow some more, marriage or no marriage!”
This thing that has to grow is not me, but Jeomsun, who will be my wife.
Since I came here, I have worked for three years and seven months without getting a single penny. But she is never tall enough, and I really don’t know when it will be. There’s plenty I can say in response if he insists that she has to work more, or that he worries she eats too much. However, I can’t say anything to the argument that Jeomsun has to grow more as she is young.
This is how I realized the initial contract was flawed. I should have started working with a precise time limit in mind, be it two years or three. He simply said he would let us marry as soon as his daughter grew up, but who knows when that is; it’s not like someone is always watching over her. Also, I used to think all people grew quickly. Who could have known that there are stout bodies that only grow sideways? I used to work without complaining because I thought he could be trusted to keep his end of the deal in due time. If so, it would be great if he takes notice and says,
“Indeed, you have worked so hard. It’s about time you got married,” and let me set up my own household. But he pretends not to know, goes berserk and makes a huge commotion even before the topic of marriage comes up. ‘Son-in-law’ is just a nominal title. This whole thing is pointless.
I, a fool, hadn’t realized this and innocently waited for her to grow.
Once, I was so frustrated that I even considered measuring her height with a ruler. However, Jang-in-nim insisted that we have to keep a respectful distance, so we hadn’t even talked to each other.
Whenever we meet in front of the well, I guess her height by eyeing her. Every time, I go way over there and spit on the bank around the field. “Takes after her mother, apparently!” No matter how hard I look, she barely reaches over my armpit.
Why don’t people get bigger when even dogs and pigs grow splendidly, I pondered for a while until I got a headache. Aha, her bones must be shrinking because she always carries the water jar, I thought, and I carried it for her instead. Not only that, when I go to gather firewood, I put stones on the Seonangdang (a shrine to the village deity) and offer devout prayers, ‘Please make Jeomsun grow. If you do, I will be back with rice cakes.’ Despite my efforts, it’s all in vain…
That’s the reason of the fight yesterday, and it’s not because I hate Jang-in-nim. I pondered for some time while planting rice, and it all felt pointless. Unless these crops help Jeomsun grow, what’s the point of planting them? I don’t want to work only to further fill my father-in-law’s bulging stomach (although he insists it’s a symptom of an illness.)
“Ow! my stomach!” I ceased pouring the water and scrambled up the bank, stroking my stomach. I dropped the winnow filled with rice, and sank down to the ground as well. However busy we may be, I can’t work if I have a stomachache. A sick person can’t work. Plucking out the freshly sprouting grass and scrubbing a leech off my leg, I looked at Jang-in-nim’s expression.
From his place in the middle of the rice field, he glared at me with strange eyes for a long time. “You pig, why do you behave like this again, huh?”
I responded, “I have a stomachache!” and slowly slid down onto the grass, which made him sore. With a splash, he also came up from the rice field, grabbed me by the collar and slapped my cheek.
“You swine! Do you intend to ruin my crops, you goddamn bastard?”
My wife’s father tends to be this way when he’s mad. What kind of man calls his own son-in-law a ‘swine’ or ‘that guy?’ Some villagers even say that anyone who hasn’t been insulted by him will die young. Even small children point at him and call him Shit-pil (his real name is Bongpil). However, if he really lost the benevolence of the townsfolk, it’s not because of his harsh words but from being the supervisor of the town. A supervisor should be someone who curses well, hits people well, and is like a large, hairy dog, and he is just that. If one doesn’t send chicken or money, he is sure to take their land by hunks in the fall. Then the person who showered him with money and drinks in advance slyly takes that land. For this reason, a big eyed cow wanders around in his stable, and the townspeople take the verbal abuse and crawl around him…
However, he cannot swagger in front of me.
After that one slap, which lacked hindsight, Jang-in-nim only swallowed in shame. I know him well. Soon it will be very busy, snapping reeds and planting rice, but if I quit work and go home, that’s it. Just about a year ago, he threw a stone at me because I was napping and it sprained my ankle. For four days I was sick, and by the end he was almost crying…
“Boy, it’s about time you got up and worked. You can get married if this year’s harvest goes well.”
My ears perked up at that, and the same day I finished the planting, which would have taken anyone else two days. Even Jang-in-nim was surprised at that.
Then it should be proper to let us marry in autumn. He doesn’t say anything else when I pile sacks of rice, but points at Jeomsun, who’s carrying a water jar on her head, with his pipe and says, “Idiot, what’s all the fuss with marriage when she has to grow more.” It just makes me blush. In a fit of anger, I considered striking him down on the terrace stones and taking off back home, but restrained myself.
Really, I can’t go home like this. How stupid do you have to be to leave home to get married, only to get kicked right back out-I’ll be scorned by everyone…
Standing up from the ridge and stepping toward my disheartened father-in-law,
“I’m going to leave. Give me my wages.”
“Didn’t you come as a son-in-law, not a servant?”
“Then why won’t you let me marry? You work me day and night, saying you’ll let me, you’ll let me…”
“Well, I’m not stopping you, she’s the one who’s not growing.” He says what he always says and carelessly stuffs his pipe.
When I go on like this, I lose every time. Not this time, I think as I drag his sleeve to go visit Gujang-nim (head of the village) to settle the deal.
“Whoa, what are you doing to an elder?”
He may resist and holler all he wants, but he can’t match my strength. Work me hard and won’t give me his daughter, besides what’s with all the big talk?
But truly, I’m not doing this because I hate my father-in-law. The day before, I was plowing the field at the mountain peak all alone. Everytime I go around the field, the queer flower aroma strikingly stings my nose, and bees roll over my head with a bzzz-bzzz now and then. In a secluded place in the mountains, silence disrupted only by sounds of spring water running through the rock cracks, spring sunshine coming from the clear sky, warm like a blanket; it feels just like a dream. I felt drowsy and my chest felt heavy as if I was suffering from fatigue (although I don’t know the name of the disease yet).
“Uh-ruh-ee! Maree! Mam ma ma…….”
Usually, handling the cow while singing like this makes me swagger. But for some reason, it feels like I haven’t plowed even half the field, causing my pulse to falter and making me annoyed.
I beat the cow unnecessarily….
“ Anyah ! Anyah ! (an old expression of meaningless exclamation) Ought to break this damn cow’s leg.”
However, my pent-up anger wasn’t really aimed at the cow, but rather at Jeomsun’s height, who had carried my lunch earlier.
Jeomsun isn’t really, well, a pretty girl. But that doesn’t mean she’s ugly either; she looks just coarse enough to be my wife. She’s ten years younger than me so she’s sixteen this year, but her body has two years of growing to catch up. Others grow handsomely, but she’s stumpy in a way that resembles a cantaloupe melon. A cantaloupe melon is the tastiest and prettiest of all melons, so there’s that. Her round, huge eyes are gentle, and, despite being a bit torn of exhaustion, her mouth is good for eating soundly. Eating well is all there is to a good life, right? There’s one fault, however. Sometimes her body (my father-in-law says it’s negligence on proper conduct and that she’s just being clumsy) moves around too hastily. So she feeds me dirty rice fairly frequently after tripping in a field while carrying the meal. She will be embarrassed if I don’t eat it so I do, and when I’m chewing there’s a crackling noise and I can’t tell if I’m eating pebbles or rice… But today, for some reason, she put down an unscathed meal gently at my feet. And because we have to keep our distance she goes way over there, her back to my side, and crouches, waiting to retrieve the plate.
After I finished done eating and stepped back, she took the plate, and was I surprised. Her head bowed down, stacking the plates in the basket, she chatters, for me to hear or to herself.
“Work day and night for nothing!”
I felt dazed, thinking what this was after keeping our distance so well until now. Wondering whether if there’s a good solution I mumble to myself in the air, “What should I do then?” She snaps aggressively, “Ask to get married, what else?” and runs to the mountain with her face red.
For a moment, I didn’t know what was going on and stared at her retreating figure indifferently.
When spring arrives, sap rises in trees and plants sprout. Maybe people do too, and I’m terribly pleased with Jeonsun who seems to have grown (on the inside) within a few days. And they say this thing is still clearly young…
When we visited Gujang-nim, he was scooping gruel in a pig pen outside the door. After a trip to Seoul (the capital city), he started saying a man has to be dignified, grew his moustache sticking out from both sides (if you look at it at one glance it looks like a swallow’s tail sitting on a rooftop) and acquired a habit of stroking it with an “Ahem.”
Having realized the situation after staring at us blankly, he said, “What’s all this about, instead of working?” and raised his hand, quickly executing the whole Ahem process.
“Gujang-nim! My father-in-law initially promised…”
Pushing back my father-in-law, who was rushing in, I pounced in hastily, but after thinking for a while, I corrected myself from the beginning. “No, Bing-jang-nim (a way of calling one’s father-in-law respectfully) initially…” My father-in-law likes it when I call him Bing-jang-nim, and gets angry for no reason if I call him father-in-law outside. He always takes the precaution to remind me of the old saying: “Don’t call a snake by its name.” (“don’t refer to something with a name that is disliked”) So, when others are listening, please say Bing-jang-nim and Bing-mo-nim (a way of calling one’s mother-in-law respectfully) instead, but I keep forgetting. Even just now, only after a stamp on my foot and leering eyes did I realize my slip-up.
After listening intently to my story, Gujang-nim seemed quite sympathetic. Indeed, anyone would be. Just as I expected, he picked his nose with his long pinky fingernail and popped it aside, saying, “Then Mr. Bong-pil! Let them marry. He wants to do it this much.”
At this my father-in-law shook his finger in front of his face, his eyes bulging.
“Marriage, my ass! The girl has to grow yet!”
Immediately Gujang-nim became embarrassed and awkwardly smacked his lips.
“That’s true, too!”
“Yeah, she hasn’t grown for the last 4 years. When will she ever grow up? Just stop all this and pay up!”
“Listen here, it’s not like I forbade her to grow! Why are you complaining to me?”
“Then how did Bing-mo-nim bear a child with her body the size of a sparrow?” (In fact, my mother-in-law is even smaller than Jeomsun.)
He laughed out loud (but his face looked like he bit a stone) then jabbed my ribs with his elbow while pretending to blow his nose. Now that’s just playing dirty. I pretended I was catching a fly on my calf, bent over and shoved his butt. He almost fell down, but soon stood upright and glared daggers at me. Obviously he wanted to swear at me, but couldn’t because there were others watching. The sight was quite ugly to look at.
However, I didn’t get much farther than this. I just returned to the farm and planted rice. It’s because of what happened after my father-in-law whispered something and left. Gujang-nim took me somewhere quiet and gave advice to me. (Moongtae says Gujang-nim coaxed me because he’s living off Jang-in-nim’ s land, but I don’t think so.)
“What you say is definitely correct as well. It’s not wrong to want a son when you’re at that age. But if you don’t work during the busy seasons or run away back home, you’ll go to jail for property damage. (This got my attention). Why, didn’t you see the one who went to jail for starting a little fire on the mountain? In these days, when you’re arrested for starting a fire on your own land, the crime of abandoning someone else’s crops is much more serious. And you say you will sue (I did say I would sue for my payment), but you’d be putting the blame upon yourself in vain. And speaking of marriage, the law says one can only marry when they’re twenty-one and has come of age. Of course you’re afraid of bearing a son too late, but Jeomsun is only 16 now. You should at the very least thank your father-in-law, for he told me he’ll let you marry this autumn. So go ahead and do the rest of your work. No dawdling, go on.”
So, this morning I went to the farm without saying a word. Thinking back, having a fight with Jang-in-nim wasn’t unexpected. Recently he wanted to make an impression on his tenant farmers, and intentionally walks crookedly while sticking his lower stomach out.
“Everyone’s a noble once you have enough money!”
He’s not the kind of man who would ruin the hard-earned honor of his family by beating me and having other people’s land. And I have to get on his good side in order to marry Jeomsun. When I put it like this, it’s quite bad that I hung out with Moongtae last night. I don’t know how he found out about the fight we had in front of Gujang-nim , but he jeered at me.
“You did nothing after you got beat up?”
“What else could I do?”
“You idiot. You should have stuck him in the field upside-down, that’s what.”
He got angry instead of me, punching the air until he hit the oil lamp. It’s a fact that he is a hotheaded man, but then he yelled at me to pay for the lamp. Dumbfounded, I kept silent. But he kept chatting on his own.
“Will you just keep working for him everyday?”
“Yeongdeuk got married after only one year of working. But you have to do more! After living 4 years, you hear me? 4 years!”
“Do you know that you’re the third son-in-law? The third one?”
“It’s none of my business, and it still pisses me off. You’re an idiot, go drown yourself in a well or something.”
It even got to the point where he told me to slit my neck with my fingernail. He burned with rage as if I was his son. He told me all sorts of nonsense so I can’t write everything down, but the story goes like this… My father-in-law has three daughters. The eldest got married in autumn two years ago. Actually, he also had her future husband work for a while before leaving. But he goes through son-in-laws from the day his daughter turns ten until she’s nineteen, and he is famous in Donglee for having lots of son-in-laws. Still, fourteen is too many! He has to drive his son-in-law harsh because he only has daughters. Of course, he could hire a farmhand but that costs money. So he kept changing son-in-law after son-in-law continuously in order to find someone who works well. In addition, a lot of them must have ran away after the hard work and harsh words. Jeomsun is his second daughter, and I’m his third son-in-law, so to speak. He’s not looking for the fourth because I’m too naïve and works well. He has to work me hard until his third daughter is at least ten, who is now six, so he can bring another one. So what Moongtae tells me is to get ahold of my senses, lie on my back and make a fuss until marriage is permitted.
I paid no attention to his words, just saying “Yeah, yeah.” carelessly. Moongtae nitpicks on my father-in-law after being kicked out of his land. It could have been avoided only if Moongtae gave him the gamtu (a traditional horsehair hat worn by nobles; a dirty thing filled with holes, which was apparently worn by a magistrate) when he asked for it…
However, I didn’t believe everything that Moongtae said. If I did, I would have picked a fight with Jang-in-nim last night, and I wouldn’t be as safe and peaceful. Then Jang-in-nim is at fault here, who has even lost the benevolence of his own daughter.
To tell the truth, until Jeomsun carried out breakfast, I was only thinking about how much rice I would get to eat today. On the table there were bean paste soup, a small dish of soy sauce, a bowl of millet rice, and a bowl filled with wild greens that was more plentiful than rice. I could eat as many greens as I wanted, since Jeomsun continuously gathered them, but Jang-in-nim forbade me from eating more than one bowl of rice. However, after Jeomsun put down the table in front of me, she started babbling like the day on the mountain.
“You even went to Gujang-nim and couldn’t settle on anything!”
I realized I was foolish to not have quarreled with him more fiercely.
Facing the wall, I retorted, “What can I do when he says no!”
“Pull on his beard, stupid!”
She jumps back inside in anger, her face flushed again. Thankfully there was nobody nearby, or they would have said I was as pathetic as a baby stork without its mother.
This just may be the saddest event of my life. It’s fine when any other person calls me ugly, but it’s helpless if my future wife Jeomsun sees me as an idiot. After the meal I considered going to work with jiggeh (an A-frame used to carry branches) on my back, but flung it aside and lay down on the ground. thinking dying would be a better option.
If I don’t work, Jang-in-nim can’t cultivate his crops as he is old. Jang-in-nim , who was coming out the door with his arms behind his back and burping, saw me.
“Boy, what is it this time?”
“I have an indigestion problem. Oh, my stomach!”
“Are you kidding me? You can eat all that food and now you have a stomachache? If you ruin my crops, you go to jail, mark my words!”
“Sure, I’ll go. Ow, my stomach!”
Frankly, I thought it was fine to get arrested for not working. Even if I have a son, I would be called stupid in front of him if I don’t settle this once and for all. When I refused to get up, he walked away with a venomous look in his eyes and came back with the jiggeh stick. He poked my waist with it like he was turning stones. With my stiff stomach full of the recent meal, being poked was uncomfortable. When I still didn’t get up, he started sticking my stomach with the stick and kicking my sides. Jang-in-nim is naturally bad-tempered, but I was no better and put up with the beating. I endured the pain as if I was somehow enjoying his hard work, but when he slapped my cheek I jumped up and snatched his beard. It wasn’t that I was erupting with rage; in truth, Jeomsun was peeking at us through a hole in the fence.
She’s already blaming me for not being able to stand up for myself. If she sees me getting beaten up she would surely take me as a fool. It would have been okay to hit him back, as I was getting nowhere with Jang-in-nim whom Jeomsun hated as well, but considering his status I only pulled on his beard. (But I’m sure Jeomsun was quite pleased with me as I did as she told me.) I yelled out loudly, “I will burn it off!” Jang-in-nim got angrier and started striking my shoulders with the jiggeh stick. It made me feel faint. When I managed to lift my head I was enraged as well. Damn him! Fire lit out of my eyes, and I shoved him into a ditch under the farm.
“Work me like a cow and you still don’t let me marry!” I hollered.
If he had permitted my marriage readily, I might have stopped this troublesome resistance. That way, I wouldn’t have been blamed for hitting his own father-in-law. I would have preferred that.
Once Jang-in-nim crawled up, panting, he grabbed the thing between my pants. I yelled out, and the whole world spun around my eyes.
“Bing-jang-nim! Bing-jang-nim! Bing-jang-nim! ”
“You wretch! You will kill me, kill me!”
“Ah! Ah! grandfather! Save me, grandfather!” I waved both arms frantically. Cold sweat broke out on my forehead, and I truly thought I was going to die. Nevertheless, Jang-in-nim persisted, and only when I had a fit and fell to the ground did he let go. It’s a shame, such a shame. Is this truly the act of a father-in-law? I was flustered and couldn’t get back up for a while. But I raised my head(at this point I couldn’t see straight), my whole body trembling, crawled to Jang-in-nim , and clutched between his pants.
This is why I was beaten extremely hard. But this is also where Jang-in-nim showed extreme kindness. Other people may have already paid me and kicked me out, but he treated my bleeding head with his own hands and slipped a packet of cigarettes into my pocket.
“This fall, I will certainly let you marry. Go along now and till the bean field,” he said, and patted me on the back. I was grateful to tears. I assumed I would be kicked out, leaving Jeomsun behind, but this was unexpected.
“Bing-jang-nim! I will never do this again!” I swore and hurried to work with my jiggeh. But at the time I didn’t know this. I only considered him an enemy and clung harder.
“Ah! Ah! Damn boy! Let go!” Jang-in-nim pawed the empty air and howled like a chicken caught in a snare. I decided to give him a taste of his own medicine and tugged more. When he fell to the ground and I realized there were tears in his eyes, I was a little scared.
“Grandfather! Let go, let go, let go, let go, let go!”
When that didn’t work,
At his shouts, my mother-in-law and Jeomsun, who were in the house, dashed out in a second. I thought that my mother-in-law would take his side, as he is her husband. But I thought Jeomsun would stand up for me and be secretly pleased with this. What is going on in her head (I still don’t understand)? She was the one who told me to take revenge on her father. Now she ran toward me, pulled me back by my ear, and cried,
“Oh my god! This damned thing is killing my father!”
At this, my spirit was broken and I became a dummy. Her mother pulled the other ear and cried out as well. When I couldn’t budge, Jang-in-nim held the stick up and started hitting me. However, I didn’t even try to avoid the blows and stared blankly at Jeomsun’s face.
“You bastard! How you could make your own father-in-law shout out ‘grandfather’?”
‘Bom’ means ‘spring’ in Korean, so ‘Bombom’ literally translates into ‘Spring Spring’.
You can read the PDF file here>bombom