Renting a Room by Ra Hee-duk

Translated by Chae-Pyong Song and Anne Rashid

Photography by Chae-Pyong Song

Renting a Room by Ra Hee-duk

I wanted to rent a room somewhere in Damyang or Pyongchang,
to scurry in and out like a squirrel.
Every time I saw a quiet village, I peeped into it.
Passing by a house in JishilVillage,
I saw a yard with ordinary flowers blooming
between an old traditional house and a newly built annex.
Without knowing myself, I stepped into the open doors.
The ajeossi* was sharpening a scythe on the whetstone.
The ajumoni’s** kerchief was wet as if she just returned from the field.

“Uh, I would like to rent a room here.
I am looking for a space where I can come a few days a week to work.”

I carefully gestured toward the old house,
and the ajumoni responded with a smile.

“Well, the kids all left forSeoul,
an’ the house’s empty, ‘cause we live in the annex.
But our Yi’s family history is livin’ within,
so we’re still usin’ it with our hearts.”

Upon hearing these words I could see the clean floor
and the evening sunlight settling on it.
I simply turned around without further asking to rent.
Would the couple know
that I had already rented the room
when she told me their hearts still occupy that empty house?

*a common term for a middle-aged man
**a common term for a middle-aged woman

방을 얻다나 희 덕

담양이나 평창 어디쯤 방을 얻어
다람쥐처럼 드나들고 싶어서
고즈넉한 마을만 보면 들어가 기웃거렸다.
지실마을 어느 집을 지나다
오래된 한옥 한 채와 새로 지은 별채 사이로
수더분한 꽃들이 피어있는 마당을 보았다.
나도 모르게 열린 대문 안으로 들어섰는데
아저씨는 숫돌에 낫을 갈고 있었고
아주머니는 밭에서 막 돌아온 듯 머릿수건이 촉촉했다.
ㅡ 저어, 방을 한 칸 얻었으면 하는데요.
일주일동안 두어번 와서 일할 공간이 필요해서요.
나는 조심스럽게 한옥쪽을 가리켰고
아주머니는 빙그레 웃으며 이렇게 대답했다.
ㅡ 글씨, 아그들은 다 서울로 나가불고
우리는 별채서 지낸께로 안 채가 비기는 해라우.
그라제만은 우리 이씨 집안의 내력이 짓든 데라서
맴으로는 지금도 쓰고 있단 말이요.
이 말을 듣는 순간 정갈한 마루와
마루 위에 앉아계신 저녁 햇살이 눈에 들어왔다.
세 놓으라는 말도 못하고 돌아섰지만
그 부부는 알고 있을까,
빈방을 마음으로는 늘 쓰고 있다는 말 속에
내가 이미 세들어 살기 시작했다는 걸.

(Originally published in the Gwangju News, April 2012)

Ra Hee-duk (나희덕) was born in 1966 in Nonsan, Chungcheongnam-do. She received her Ph.D. in Korean literature from Yonsei University in 2006. She has published six books of poetry: To the Root (1991), The Word Dyed the Leaves (1994), The Place is Not Far (1997), That It Gets Dark (2001), A Disappeared Palm (2004), and Wild Apples (2009). She also published one collection of essays, A Half-filled Water Bucket (1999), and a volume of literary criticism, Where Does Purple Come From? (2003). Among her many literary awards are the Kim Suyoung Literature Award (1998), Modern Literature Award (2003) and the Sowol Poetry Award (2007). Growing up in orphanages, because her father was an administrator at an orphanage, she developed her strong sympathy for the less fortunate others. She currently teaches creative writing at Chosun University in Gwangju.

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