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Camellia Flowers (Kim, Yujeong)

(Translated by T.I.TIME.)

My rooster was chased again today. I was heading up the mountain to chop wood after lunch when I heard the flurry of flapping wings behind my back. Surprised, I turned my head to find two roosters tangled together.

Jeomsun’s rooster (built sturdy like a badger with its big head) keeps bothering my small one. It pecked my rooster on the crest, backed down a little, then waited for a while before pecking its neck. It attacks my rooster in a fancy manner. My rooster just bumps its ugly head on the ground and shrieks. Blood started dripping down as it was pecked in its already wounded crest. Looking down at this, it felt like I was the one getting my head bashed in, and fire lit up in my eyes. I held my jiggeh (an A-frame used to carry branches) stick firmly and considered beating Jeomsun’s rooster with it, but I just pulled them apart.

I’m sure Jeomsun’s the one who put on this fight. I bet she wanted to make my blood boil. I can’t understand why she wants to get on my nerves so desperately these days.

About the potato incident that happened four days ago, I did nothing wrong. Why did she bother me when I was making a fence, when she should be picking vegetables? Quietening down her footsteps, she approached from behind me and remarked,

“Hey! Are you working alone?”

Until the day before, we hadn’t talked much; we barely took any notice of each other. So why was she so friendly to me? Moreover, a full grown girl watching someone else work….

“Yeah, I work alone. Do I have to work in a group?” I spat out, and she asked, “Do you like working?” or, “Why do you make fences already? You can do that in summer.”

She kept nagging me, then covered her mouth and giggled. Not finding anything particularly funny, I wondered if she had gone nuts due to the warm weather. A little while later, she peeked back at her house and took her hand out of her apron pocket, shoving it below my chin. Three baked potatoes, warm and steamy, were clasped into my hands.

“You don’t have these at your home, do you?” She said patronizingly, and told me to eat it up before anyone notices she’s given me potatoes. And then she added, “You know, spring potatoes are the best.”

“I don’t eat potatoes. You eat them.”

Without even turning my head toward her, I pushed the potatoes away over my shoulder. She didn’t leave. Instead, her breathing turned heavier and more ragged. I was surprised at what I saw when I turned around. It’s been about three years since I came to this town; however, I’d never seen Jeomsun’s face go so red. She glared at me fiercely, tears forming in her eyes. Then she grabbed her basket and ran toward the rice field with her teeth clenched.

When one of the elders in town says, “You should get married soon,” she always retorts unfazed, “Don’t you worry. I’ll get married when I do.”

She’s never shy around people, nor is she an idiot to show tears when she’s angry. She would rather hit my back hard with her basket and make a run for it, but she wouldn’t cry.

But she did, and now she’s trying to get on my nerves every single time she sees me.

If it was impolite to refuse the potatoes offered, then why did she have to say, “You don’t have these at your house, do you?”, and all that? As a matter of fact, her father is the land manager, supervising the tenant farms, and as my family farms the land managed by her father we always kiss up to him. It was Jeomsun’s family that helped my family find land to build a house and settle down when we first came to this town. And when we don’t have enough to eat, my parents borrow rice from Jeomsun’s and praise their kindness until their mouths run dry. At the same time, my mother warned me not to hang around Jeomsun because two seventeen years olds hanging around together might lead to bad rumors. If I were to try anything with Jeomsun, her father would be enraged, and we’d be kicked out of our land and our house.

But then, this evil girl tries to harass me for no reason.

It was late afternoon, the day after her tears. There was the sound of a chicken screaming bloody murder when I was about to come down the mountain after chopping wood. Wondering which household was butchering their chicken, I walked around Jeomsun’s house and turned wide-eyed with surprise. Jeomsun was perched on the dirt floor, holding my brood hen in her skirt and hitting it aggressively.

“Damn chicken! Die, die!”

It would’ve been as bad if she was hitting the chicken’s head, but she was punching its buttocks, trying to make it infertile.

My eyes lit up with flames and my body trembled, but after looking around, I realized there was no one around in Jeomsun’s house. I hit the mid-part of the fence with my jiggeh stick and yelled,

“Damn girl! Are you trying to stop my chicken from laying eggs?”

But Jeomsun seemed undisturbed, sitting imposingly and hitting the hen as if it were her own. In hindsight, it’s certain that she caught the hen in advance, timing the moment I came back down to show me.

I couldn’t run into someone else’s house to fight a girl. I knew that the situation was quite unfavourable for me. The only thing I could do was hit the fence every time the hen was hit, because the more the fence gets hit, the more the frame gets exposed. But no matter how hard I thought about it, it was a losing business for me.

“Oi, you! Are you going to kill my hen?”

Only after I glared fiercely and yelled did she draw near the fence, tossing the hen at my head.

“Ach! Dirty! So dirty!”

“Did I tell you to keep the dirty thing? Wretched girl!”

Disgusted, I went around the fence. I was as upset as I could be; the hen spurted out watery poop on my forehead, which probably meant its ovary had burst, not to mention it had sustained internal injury. In a small voice that is only able to be heard by me, she said to my back.

“You dumbass”

“Hey! You are born disabled, right?”

That was bad enough in itself, but then,

“Hey! Your father is impotent, right?”

“What? My father is impotent?”

I turned my head around to say this, but Jeomsun’s head wasn’t above the fence where it was supposed to be. Then when I turned around, she sprouted out a string of abusive language. Hearing all this but not being able to say a single word back made me so mad that I couldn’t even feel stubbing my toe on a rock. In the end, tears sprung up in my eyes. However, this isn’t the end of her abuse. When there’s no one around, she often brings her rooster and makes it fight with mine. Her rooster looks fierce and fights really well, so she knows that hers would win. She seizes every opportunity to turn my rooster bloody. Sometimes, when my rooster doesn’t come out, she lures it out with food to put the two to fight.

In this situation, I had to make another plan. One day, I got my rooster and secretly went to the crock. They say game cocks will burst with energy, like a sick bull regaining its power after eating a viper, if you feed it hot pepper sauce. I scooped a plate of hot pepper sauce from the jar and pushed it into the chicken’s mouth. It seemed to take a like to the taste; it ate almost half a plate. Then I locked it in the chicken coop so it could gain its energy.

After putting out a couple of compost piles on the field, I took a break and carried the cock outside. Luckily there was no one outside, and Jeomsun was inside sitting down and doing work, maybe ripping old clothes or shaking cotton.

I went to the farm where Jeomsun’s rooster was playing and put my rooster down. The two roosters tumbled around as usual, and nothing worthwhile happened at first. The girl’s rooster pecked hard, and my rooster started to bleed again. It fluttered its wings, jumping up and down, but couldn’t properly peck the other one.

But surprisingly, my rooster managed a counter attack, piercing the other rooster’s eye with its toenail and pecking its crest. The big rooster seemed surprised by this and stepped back. Taking this chance, my little rooster rushed back in and pecked the crest again, and the ferocious rooster finally bled.

I thought, okay, I got it, it was all about hot pepper sauce. At this, Jeomsun, who had been surprised to see my putting the roosters to fight and was staring over the fence, knitted her brows.

Fully excited, I patted my cheeks with both hands and said, “Good job! That’s my rooster!”

After a moment, however, I was standing still and silent like a pillar. The big rooster took revenge by pecking my rooster relentlessly, making it helpless and wither away. At this, Jeomsun cackled out loud, as if she wanted me to hear her laughter.

Unable to stand watching it any longer, I took my rooster and came back home. I regretted that I didn’t give it more hot pepper sauce and that I put it to fight too soon. I came back to the crocks and pushed more hot pepper sauce beneath its chin. Due to all the excitement, though, it simply didn’t eat.

Helpless, I lay the chicken down neatly and put a cigarette holder in its mouth. I dissolved hot pepper sauce in water and poured it down the hole, little by little. The chicken seemed to be suffering a bit, making noises and sneezing, but I thought that a moment’s pain was better than bleeding out every day.

However, after feeding it one or two small dishes I was disheartened. The once lively chicken twisted its head slightly and started squirming in my clutches. I didn’t want my father to see so I hid it in the coop, and it seems it just came to life this morning.

She had put them to fight again, so the wretched girl must have sneaked into my house when nobody was home and took my rooster out. I put the chicken back in. I was worried, but it wasn’t like I could not go to the mountain for wood.

While picking dead branches off a pine tree, I wanted to snap her neck at any costs. I swore that this time, I would smack that nasty girl’s back, and hurried down the mountain after my halfhearted wood gathering.

I was almost near my house when my feet stopped at the sound of a reed pipe. Yellow camellia flowers had blossomed in heaps between the big rocks at the foot of the mountain. In amidst the blossoms, Jeomsun was ominously blowing on a reed pipe. More surprising were the flapping sounds of cockfighting. That bitch must have taken my rooster again and made it fight to enrage me, while playing the pipe nonchalantly.

I was so vexed that tears sprang up in my eyes. I flung my jiggeh aside, held a stick, and hastily ran to the roosters.

Just as I’d thought, I could see up close that my rooster was bleeding and already half dead. The rooster was one thing; seeing her still playing the reed pipe without batting an eye made me quiver with indignation. Like every other person in the village, I used to think that she was a hard-working girl with a pretty face, but now her eyes looked like a sly fox’s.

Impulsively, I lunged forward and knocked her big rooster down. It fell down and died instantaneously, without even a twitch of its leg. I stood there blankly until I was toppled over as Jeomsun raised her eyes and jumped me.

“You bastard! You killed my rooster!”

“So what?” I tried to stand up.

“So what? Do you even know whose it is?”

She pushed me down again. When I thought about it, I was upset and shameful. On the other hand, I had messed up, so we would lose our land and be kicked out of our home.

I staggered to my feet, covered my eyes with my sleeve, and cried in spite of myself. However, Jeomsun drew near.

“Promise you won’t do this again?”

Only then I thought that I found a way out of this mess. I didn’t know what ‘this’ was, but I wiped my tears away and blindingly replied,

“Sure!”

“You do that again, I’ll keep being mean to you.”

“Okay okay, I won’t do that again!”

“Don’t worry about the dead rooster, I won’t tell.

I don’t know whether something had pushed her, but she placed her hands on my shoulder and tumbled down. That made me fall with her, and we sank into the full blown, yellow camellia flowers.

The tingling, sweet scent made my head spin as if the ground were caving in beneath my feet.

“Don’t tell anyone!”

“Okay!”

After a while someone called out, “Jeomsun! Jeomsun! Where did that girl run off to without finishing her sewing?”

Her mom, having just returned from somewhere, sounded angry.

Jeomsun, scared out of her wits, secretly crawled under the flowers to go down the mountain. After that, I had no choice but to crawl between the rocks to scamper up the hill.


The PDF file can be found here〉carmellia-flowers

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