Episode 3: Age of Ghosts / Chapter 37: Break Time (5)
It was still day when Chu Youngjin joined them. In the beginning, Choi Hyuk wanted to train his karma and his followers. That was his original plan.
However, Lee Jinhee objected.
“Ehhhh? What! There’s something much more important than that.”
Even Baek Seoin seemed to question her objection.
“I can let Leader’s obliviousness slide but how can Baek hyung be like this too?”
Lee Jinhee who was astonished said.
“We have to do that!”
However, no one understood her. Eventually, she raised her voice in frustration.
“Aren’t we going to have a funeral?”
Those words blew through Choi Hyuk, Baek Seoin, and Chu Youngjin’s empty hearts.
PTSD. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.
It was the collective term for, amongst others, the lethargy, insomnia, antisocial behavior, and loss of concentration that people experienced after a disaster.
3-day break. It was great at first. However, the more time passed, the more painful it became as hell approached ever closer each day.
By the third day, the survivor refugee camp’s atmosphere was a mess. People didn’t try to talk to other people. They didn’t even try to comfort each other. ‘My pain is your pain anyways. I don’t expect it to get better. Nothing good will happen by sharing our stories. Everything is just fucked up.’
Even people who looked fine on the outside, when you looked inside, they would be suffering some sort of hardship. It was the same for Choi Hyuk and Baek Seoin.
Choi Hyuk was currently 18 years old. You could say that he lacked the experience to immediately think about holding a funeral. However, it should have been quite likely for the 26-year-old Baek Seoin to have thought about holding a funeral for his parents, but he hadn’t thought about it even once.
They weren’t the only ones. From young to old, it was definitely abnormal that no one among the survivors thought about having a funeral. Though they might mourn by themselves, no one shared their sorrow with anyone else.
They could have been too tired or they might have thought that there was no need to make a big deal out of it. They might have thought that they would only be criticized if they brought it up after such a vicious experience.
Maybe it was because they kept reading each other’s moods that they started to hate everything.
“Still, that’s not right!”
However, Lee Jinhee had some sort of strange principle. She didn’t care about how others looked at her. She only looked at her own values. The stuttering Choi Hyuk, Baek Seoin, and Chu Youngjin were pushed aside. What if her actions made them uncomfortable? She pushed aside those concerns.
As she said, “We have to do it! We have to!” with utmost certainty, the passive three’s hearts started to move. They felt they really had to.
Baek Seoin rushed to a bank and withdrew some money. Since there was an emergency program for the survivors who had lost their bank accounts and cards, he didn’t have any difficulty doing so.
Baek Seoin took out all the money he had saved for school. Lee Jinhee had already taken out all the money she had.
Money was something of the mundane life and as that had already disappeared, it had no value.
With that money, Baek Seoin and Lee Jinhee bought chrysanthemums, incense, food, alcohol, disposable kitchenware, and even borrowed a long table. They didn’t leave it to a funeral service company and personally bought everything and had them delivered.
Choi Hyuk was like a duckling following the mother duck as he followed behind them. He did not say anything after hearing the word ‘funeral’.
As they continued with their preparations, the sun started to set.
Marronnier Park. Three tombstones were erected next to the Guardian Choi Miyeon’s burial mound.
One had Baek Seoin’s parents’ names written on it.
Chu Youngjin’s girlfriend, Lee Hyejin, was written on another.
Finally, Jung Minji’s name was written on the last tombstone.
“… Let’s make one for Jung Minji…” They went through with Choi Hyuk’s suggestion of making one for Jung Minji.
The survivors of Seongbuk District watched as Choi Hyuk’s group took apart the sidewalk bricks and erected tombstones made of polished unusable shields and swords with lethargic eyes. Some of Choi Miyeon’s admirers recognized Choi Hyuk and helped them.
Lee Jinhee said to them.
“Misters and ladies, you should make tombstones as well. I’ll help you.”
Of course, they too had lost people dear to them.
Tears suddenly started to fall at her words.
They were unable to piece together the words they wanted to say. A man among them took a sidewalk brick and engraved a name on it. It was his daughter’s name. He placed the brick against Choi Miyeon’s burial ground.
“For now, I’ll… I’ll do this. It’s shabby but since it’s next to the guardian… so… I’m sorry… sorry, Hyeyeon…”
The man was unable to complete his words.
Lee Jinhee hugged him and patted his back. Sob. Sniff. The man tried to hold back his tears but once the tears started to fall, they weren’t easy to stop.
Tak. Tak. Whoosh.
Baek Seoin lit a match and burned the incense. The smoke silently rose up. As the air was still, the smoke rose up in a straight vertical line.
They burned incense and placed chrysanthemums in front of their parent’s names.
On his second kowtow, Baek Seoin did not stand up immediately. His shoulders were trembling. In his prostrating posture, he kept mumbling something before slowly, slowly getting up. His eyes were red but there were no tears.
Choi Hyuk watched Baek Seoin’s method and followed it exactly. He placed chrysanthemums in front of his mother’s grave, burned incense and kowtowed twice…
Chu Youngjin was the same. He followed Lee Jinhee’s words, “You just need to do what Baek hyung did. It’s okay if you cry but let’s not shed too many tears.”
They each kowtowed in their respective places and then, kowtowed to other tombstones on their way back. In front of Baek Seoin’s parent’s tombstone, Choi Hyuk said, “May you rest in peace,” and in front of Lee Hyejin’s, who was the same age as him, he said, “Go to a nice place.” Finally, in front of Jung Minji’s tombstone, he said, “Rest well. You did your best.”
It wasn’t much. It wasn’t touching nor was it odd. It was simply a process of confirming their deaths.
They didn’t simply think to themselves, ‘Did you die? Did you really die? That easily? Really?’ and gloss over it.
‘Did you die?’ ‘I died.’ ‘Really?’ ‘Really.’ ‘Now, what?’ ‘I don’t know… Let’s just do something and sit together.’ It was simply a formal process where people had invisible conversations like these.
However, it seemed that people needed this formality.
One person, two. More and more people became interested in their funeral.
“How are you related?”
A grandma who sat with a blank expression asked.
“They are my parents. The ones over there are my friends.”
Baek Seoin pointed out towards the newly erected tombstones and explained.
“So sorry for your loss… Sigh. Sorry. Still, you are admirable. Very admirable.”
The grandma patted his back. Lee Jinhee approached her.
“Grandma. Grandma should make one as well.”
“Sigh, I’m fine. You young’uns have it tough… just what is happening. What is happening.”
It was a delicate sight. Even the grandma who held Lee Jinhee’s hand was wearing leather armor and had a spear on her back. It was an unimaginable sight a month ago. The world had changed too fast.
But, even still, the very basic fundamentals might not have changed. They shared and sympathized with each other’s pain.
“Then please come this way and eat.”
Lee Jinhee placed some food that was piled to the one side on a disposable plate and put it on top of the table.
The grandma undid the leather armor and spear. She then placed chrysanthemums on each tombstone. She gathered her hands and prayed briefly before sitting down on the seat Lee Jinhee prepared for her.
That was the start.
More and more people started to gather. The people who received Choi Hyuk’s mother, Guardian Choi Miyeon’s grace, came first. Even the people who at first complained that this was pointless shut their mouths as more people gathered and looked back upon the memories of their loved ones.
An odd atmosphere formed. The public’s participation brought more people to participate. Some created tombstones for their loved ones while others engraved the names of the dead on the sidewalk bricks and stacked them in a pile. They kowtowed or prayed and then ate together.
As these actions were repeated by different people, they remembered the sense of kinship and compassion they had for each other.
Due to the increasing number of people, the food ran out. When that happened, someone bought more.
The dinner, that took place when the sunset laid aslant, concluded and the sky grew dark. Someone lit a candle. Then, more and more candles were lit.
It seemed like someone had uploaded this funeral gathering online. Somehow the survivors from Mapo and Kangdong District found out and started to gather as well.
Even Bae Jinman who resided in the Blue House came. He kowtowed, engraved a great number of names on the sidewalk bricks and stacking them in a pile. He then looked for Choi Hyuk, held his hand and nodded a few times before leaving. He tried his best not to show his tears but he was crying.
Even though all the food was eaten, the night grew late and it passed midnight, the people still didn’t disperse.
Bonfires started spouting from various places. People sat around each bonfire.
The guard they had against other forces had long since disappeared. There was no distinction between the young, the old, the men and the women. People moved around freely. They were free to share their stories or not to. Just sitting around these bonfires gave them a warm feeling.
Although it was unknown who had brought it, they heard the rare sound of instruments being played and the sounds of songs being sung.
Tadak. Tadak. People blankly stared at the burning flames as they sang songs from their memories in low voices.
For some reason, Choi Hyuk became choked up. It was like the times he spent with his mother. It was like those peaceful nights where he blankly gazed at his mother working as he slowly drifted off to sleep.
He closed his eyes. He wanted to remember the peacefulness and beauty of this moment. But still…
He placed his hand inside the bonfire.
A burning flame. However, his 2-star endurance didn’t easily burn. Choi Hyuk blankly looked at his hand that was slowly burning inside the flames.
He decided to remember the tranquility of this night together with the pain of the fire that felt like thousands of blades were rubbing against his hand. He thought this could become the signpost.
It was uncertain if Baek Seoin and Chu Youngjin had the same thoughts as Choi Hyuk as they both placed their hands in the flames. Choi Hyuk laughed as if he found this absurd. They laughed as well.
“Crazy. They’re crazy.”
Lee Jinhee was the only one who became startled and gave them a scolding. Since they had their Recovery stat, they would be able to recovery from most burns, but still, why were they doing such foolish things?
Lee Jinhee placed her hand in the flames and took each hand away from it. Their hands were pulled out as their fingers were grabbed by Lee Jinhee’s small hands. It suddenly became a situation where their hands were on top of one another.
Choi Hyuk suddenly said lightly as if it was a joke.
“Please take care of me.”
Awkward laughs. And…
“Oww… my hand hurts…”
Lee Jinhee mumbled as she brushed the hand that was inside the fire.
Like that, the morning of the next day began. The rising sun shined on the countless names engraved in Marronnier Park. Among them, there was even Song Simin and Yoon Girim. People indiscriminately prayed that they all rest in peace.
Just what was that night?
It was a night where people bonded through feelings of kinship, compassion, and belief that they all understood each other.
A mosaic made up of individual pieces of their different lives.
As if the tragedy where they killed each other never happened… it was a beautiful night.
And as if that night had never happened, tragedy struck once again.
With more misfortune.
The morning brightened and their mission began.