“The town was large, almost a city, and opened out along the rise of the hill. As he moved farther into the town he felt its density, its height. He kept looking up at the unfamiliar architecture, the designs of gates and entrances, the high floors. Buildings were the color of seashells. The dark windows everywhere like a thousand doors in the land.”
“And it was there, standing in front of the tailor’s shop, as the rain fell, that he felt the tiredness of his journey for the first time. He heard the rush of a storm drain and his legs weakened and he grew dizzy. He gripped the umbrella and thought of the years that had passed and were an ocean away now. He thought of Korea and the war there and he thought of the camp near the southern coast of that country, beside an airbase, where he had been a prisoner for two years. He thought of the day he woke and saw the trees and then the men with their helmets and their weapons swaying around him like chimes.
The Americans called them northerners and those first weeks they kept his wrists bound. But then the doctors, in need of men, untied him and the others, and he dug graves and washed clothes in buckets. He carried trays for the nurses and took walks in the yard with
Peng or the missionaries who visited, following the high fences, the men in the towers looking down at them.
He slept in a cabin with the other prisoners and in the winters the heat of their bodies kept them warm. Moonlight kept them company, the way it leaked through the timber walls and shifted across them as the hours passed; and sleepless, he thought of his father and all that snow in the winters in that mountain town where Yohan was born and where he had lived and it all seemed so far to him then, as though the earth had expanded, his memories,
too, and he could no longer grasp them. And only then, when those thoughts began to recede, fading into a thin line, would he sleep.
He did not know when exactly the war ended. He did not hear of it until some days later.
One day he was told they would return him to his home.To his country, they said.To the north.
—Repatriation, they called it.
He declined their offer. From the camp he was the only one.”
“In the harbor, crates hung suspended in the air. Birds circled them.The sea was clear. It moved toward him and faded and he felt the time that had passed and his time here. He thought that he had made the best of it all, that he had worked and made a living, and he felt the contentment of that. He thought of what the years would bring, what sort of life was left in him.”
“He thought of these years as another life within the one he had. As though it were a thing he was able to carry. A small box. A handkerchief. A stone. He did not understand how a life could vanish. How that was even possible. How it could close in an instant before you could reach inside one last time, touch someone’s hand one last time. How there would come a day when no one would wonder about the life he had before this one.”
“There were days when he believed there was nothing more to come. That there was nothing else. He had arrived and he had stayed. He had made a life. He had entered the future.
And in these hours, in this silence, the shop seemed larger to him, as though each night as he slept the floors extended, the walls grew; they carried with them the lives they once had as trees, some quiet tremor he could not detect.
He thought: he lived in a forest. He would wake one day to see branches in the spaces. The shadows of foliage, ivy. The tailor’s dummy standing in the corner, rooted into the earth.”