Moon runs through town and village, day and night to deliver letters to their intended recipients.
He is but an empty shell, an envelope sealed off with resin locks without an actual letter in them.
Moon wonders if someone is to write to him, what might they say?
Will they know him enough to have questions? Does he know himself enough to answer them?
Glossary of Korean words:
Jipsin traditional straw sandals
Woomul shallow wells
Jipuragi bits of straw
Saekdongot colored fabric
Gayageum plucked string instrument
Dugyeonju rice wine with azalea flowers
Ondol under-floor heating
Sijo poetry with romantic themes
Yejiwon Institute of Etiquette and Wisdom
Gwijumeoni silk coin purse
Minhwa Korean folk art
Ttukbaegi ash-glazed earthenware
Another night threatening to fold his eye lids to sleep — but the mail man runs, a sore thumb poking out of the loosened threads of his straw jipsin, mud and dirt gathering under untrimmed nails.
He carries in his mail bag, letters of hope and homecomings that impatient hands peel open in excitement two steps away from the door. He also carries weary words of war, dragged out job hunts and two bowls of rice a week. He sees how the waterlines shake slightly against polite restraint and lips quiver quick syllables to bid him off their porch.
Few have tried to read his name off the identity badge that stays pinned to his gray jacket, the residual piece of him that no one really cares about.
Ddal Moon. A test pronunciation by the tall boy with dimples sitting on either cheek.
The one who leans down a little every time to greet him, unsteady glasses resting on the bridge of his nose. Moon sees him, cross-legged on the spotted cement where a single row of red tiles has stopped, all the way from the woomul, a book resting on his thighs and another stack carefully piled up beside him.
This is where they meet though Moon has no more letters to bring him. An older brother sleeping somewhere among provisions in a galley on a foreign ship, the name of the destination vigorously scratched out on his last letter to his dongsaeng.
Instead, Namu hands over a letter each time to Moon. The mail man presses them in between the pages of his blue journal where he ticks off names after each delivery. Sometimes, they contain little stick figures and symbols of hands that Moon now uses to communicate with the other boy. And other times, there are poems hoarding dreams and words that will never hear its rhythm.
Moon’s feet run tireless from village to village — dizzy from the expectations of those waiting for a piece of paper that holds their breath. Wherever he goes, a bell rings off the scrappy braid trim on his navy trousers. And it beckons scampering feet to doors and porches.
Inhibitions hang loose on horizons that stretch between his endless strides. There’s no place that the mail man can’t go. After all, he bears the burden of people’s dreams and catches the stray ends of their jipuragi.
Moon’s shoulders droop from the weighty words that cling to parchment, carrying news unknown. The midday sun mocks him with flashy strobe — too bright for his eyes that have been held up like abandoned saekdongot on clothespins. Sluggish like a ship on tide-less waters, he walks on as colors change from soothing green of fields to sooty greys of city pavements.
Soft strums on a gayageum wafts off the ochre corridor of a road-side motel — accompanying words floating in the air between him and the rosy-cheeked boy who sits on his knees elegantly drawn together as he entertains his guests. His voice pours into Moon’s ears, thick and sweet like settled honey at the bottom of a glass of warm milk.
Moon has learnt from his earlier visits — the hotel owner regularly exchanges sales logs with merchants across the seas— the pretty, young boy is Renee. Hardly in his twenties, and yet hardships have hardened the calluses on his fingertips, strumming and pinching the sharpened strings on his instrument till blood gathers there, yet he graciously accepts the spare tips from his patrons.
Renee buys him dugyeonju and rice crackers from his evening’s earnings as Moon warms his damp feet on the ondol-heated floor. The younger talks a lot, though his voice is mostly spent. Sometimes, Moon writes him a new song.
Accidental shuteye and he wakes up to filtered sunlight, mellow at dawn, through a crack in the window shutters that stay apart like gapped teeth. The tavern is mostly empty except for a couple of familiar faces of cleaners, nonchalant to his presence, and a soft scarf bunched up near his neck, one he has seen on his singer-companion from the night before.
The mail man starts rushing again, unstoppable at the red and green lights that tend to dictate the city’s movements. He pauses briefly to look at the wooden cars hanging off cables, like toys on strings, snaking through the marketplace and feet scrambling to get on or off.
Moon takes a chance to smile back at the city smiling through the bent wires — endless connectivity — the infinite curves that seal the city sky like a fortress, from one light pole to the other.
He remembers that there waits a careful lover, gently tugging at the curves that his hair makes beside his ear, tinted from the expectations of the letter Moon has been carrying. He finds Nuri, bending precariously over the balcony of his guarded home in a posh lane of the city, away from reality and war and bartered children. There he sips elegantly at his chrysanthemum tea from gold-glazed Bone China and practices sijo to read to his lover when he comes back from his business trip.
Moon finds it amusing, how, despite his obvious upbringing, Nuri is the kindest and gentlest soul. His voice is soft and lenient, his manners dainty from his years at the Yejiwon, yet a little crumbly at the edges with impassioned naivety. He always keeps a couple of extra coins in his embroidered gwijumeoni for when the mail man comes to visit.
Moon rests under the unstinting canopy of the mundane road-side tree which he cannot identify, sieving the premature afternoon light. A bare pair of feet comes chasing the evanescent smoke that trails behind a rare motor car and the exigent turns in the busy streets, with playful fingers seeking the extraneous soap bubbles from a receding bubble wand. He stops in front of the mail man, his eyes lighting up at the bell at Moon’s waist that he reaches for.
He stops himself at the last moment, embarrassed by his childishness and introduces himself. Heem. And the name rolls off Moon’s tongue like a life-long friend. He tells stories of his travels to the curious boy, who seems to be brimming with questions.
Moon takes out one of the sorted rejects from this pile of papers, one that has not found its recipient and hands it over to him. Swift hands fold it into a paper plane, and they take turns sending it flying through the scattered trees on the sidewalk.
That night, there is a spring in his step from the freshly made memories with his new friend. Moon fixes the constellations on the sky with deft fingers, the stars shining back in acknowledgment. Another town, another village, loose mud or thickened concrete. But there is a happy whistle on his lips. He whispers to the fireflies that keep him company -- You must be so proud that the sun and Moon can’t hold you to debt for your light. His lantern leans into the wind’s caress, the yellow fluttering with no real peril. The woods will end soon, and he’ll reach the low huts in the clearing.
There Tay will be waiting, as usual, a stolen paintbrush and a wooden box with only the red and black his sister could afford, admiring his newly finished Minhwa piece. He will spin the wheels on his make-shift wheel-cart and come to greet Moon and stretch his hands out for the monthly letter from his mother who is tending to others like him in the town nursing camps. He will sometimes read them out to Moon, but only if the mail man offers a few kind words of praise for his latest masterpiece.
At the end of the day, Moon’s breath comes out shallow, thinning out from the wishful expectations of those at the end of each of his journeys. His youth, his days and nights have been bought off by their dreams and hopes with spare change. He still runs, through fog and rain, lurking demons of the dark and frail remnants of humanity. Through lonely roads with no one to remember him, yet he cradles the memories and love and hurt for others.
Will there ever be someone at the end of the road for him?
He is but an empty shell, an envelope sealed off with resin locks without an actual letter in them. Moon wonders if someone is to write to him, what might they say? Will they know him enough to have questions? Does he know himself enough to answer them?
But there is someone who comes in unannounced like a mid-summer rain, who waits for no letter from him. Nor are there interrogations about his fading identity. The morning sky bleeds out from the pink-red to a grainy blue-white. And Moon finds, not at the end of his road, but right in the centre of it, meeting him half-way. Seok.
There’s warm soup in a ttukbaegi, freshly washed clothes laid out, and a smile called home that greets him. Moon shifts some of his weight to the inviting shoulder.
And all the words and ink and paper that were pulling him to the ground all these years suddenly don’t feel so heavy anymore.
Jigeesha is a microbiology student in Canada, working on mushroom genetics. She is active in the slam poetry and improv/playback theatre scene and seeks escape from the academic world and lab experiments through written and oral poetry performed to self-composed music. Jigeesha is also the co-founder of science magazines/blogs like InquiScitive and loves to integrate scientific jargon in her literary writings.