성경은 몇 시간을 들여 편지를 읽었다. 그리고 얼굴도 모르는 여자의 얼굴이 생각했다. 어떻게 이렇게까지 사랑할 수 있을까 궁금하기도 했다. 새삼 이런 사랑이 가능할까 잠시나마 의심도 해보았다. 조금은 부럽다고, 성경이 생각했다. 감히 사랑할 엄두도 나지 않는 성경에게 이렇게 베푸는 사랑은 낯설었다. 아주 작은 것들도 사랑해야 하는 그녀의 기구한 삶을 저주하기도 했다. 너무 작은 것까지 사랑해, 모든 것을 잃지 않을 수가 없었다. 성경은 은빛 포장지로 감싼 딸기맛 사탕을 사랑했고, 낡은 책방에서 빌린 책 한 모퉁이에 쓰여진 낭만적인 구절을 사랑했으며, 언제나 옅게 로즈마리 향이 나던 엄마의 머플러를 사랑했다. 한 여름날 반의 좋아하던 아이가 그녀에게 사탕을 건넸을 때도, 몇 번째인지도 모를 전학을 가던 날 책을 책상 아래 두고 갔을 때도, 가을이 지나갈 무렵에 엄마가 집을 떠날 때도, 손을 뻗어 다시 찾을 수가 없었다. 모든 것은 망각과 함께했고, 그녀의 사랑도 망각이 함께였다.
청, 내 온 마음을 담아서 중. 2016
요즘은 기분이 매우 이상하다. 허공에 붕 뜬 느낌이 들기도 하고, 이따금 바닷속 깊이 가라앉아 있는 듯한 느낌도 든다.근황을 말하자면 난 한창 공연 준비로 바쁘다. 게다가 공연 다음주가 기말고사라 바쁘게 지내지 않을 수가 없다. 내가 요즘 절실히 필요한 것은 시간이다. 시간은 한없이 내 손틈 사이로 흘러가는데, 정작 난 내 두 손에 주워 담은 것이 없어 두렵다. 그렇기에 내 빈 손을 본 사람들의 비난을 받게 될 것이 두려워, 말을 아끼고 손을 감추게 된다. 피하는 것만이 결코 상책은 아닌데, 두려움을 내세워 그 뒤에 꽁꽁 숨기만 하게 된다. 앞으로의 남은 시간이 무섭다. 내가 훗날 뒤를 돌아보며 무능했던 자신을 저주하고 손가락질할지 모르기에. 뭐가 어찌 됐든, 마음 놓고 쉴 수 있는 날이 오길 바란다.
오늘의 곡은, 곧 크리스마스니까 류이치 사카모토의 Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence.
우리 동네의 한 골목에는 꽃집이 있다. 아는 사람만 알고, 찾아 올 사람만 찾아 올, 작고 아기자기한 꽃집. 나도 특별한 이유가 있어서 그곳에 찾아간 것은 아니었다. 그저 해가 내리쬐는 여름 날, 아이스 바를 하나 사서 입에 물고 집으로 가던 중, 바람을 타고 온 꽃내음을 맡고 발걸음을 멈추었던 것이 모든 일의 발단이 아니었나 싶다. 아니, 아니다. 사실은 모든 것이 운명이었을지도 모른다. 내가 하필 안 먹던 오렌지 맛 아이스 바를 사고, 안 가던 길을 걸었던 건, 모두 정해진 일이었을지도 모른다. 그래서 발걸음을 돌려 골목에 접어들었을 때는 그곳을 보았다.
꽃집 앞 나무 간판에는 알 수 없는 글씨가 새겨져 있고, 그 아래는 해와 달이 그려져 있었다. 깨끗하게 닦아 놓은 유리창으로 한 여자가 보였다. 사람이 없는 골목이라 누가 근처에서 어슬렁 거리면 한 번에 눈치 챌 법도 한데, 그녀는 눈을 뜨고 자고 있는 지, 가만히 한 곳을 바라보고 있기만 했다. 시골 소년인 내가 봐도 엄청난 미인이었다. 햇살이 그녀의 긴 갈색 머리카락에 넘치듯이 쏟아지고, 그녀의 긴 눈꺼풀 위에 내려앉아 있었다. 조용히 노래를 부르고 있는 지 입술이 이따금 달싹거리기도 했다. 그간 무의미한 일상을 햄스터 쳇바퀴마냥 반복하고 있던 내게는 그런 그녀의 모습이 꽤나 신선한 충격이었다.
난 꽃을 싫어하지는 않지만, 그다지 좋아하지도 않는 편이다. 꽃 이외는 나와 그녀 사이에 아무런 접점이 없기에, 내키지도 않는 꽃을 사야만 했다. 아니, 애초에 말을 걸 수 있는 용기나 있던가? 열여덟의 인생 중, 교실에서 선을 넘어오지 말라던 양갈래 머리를 한 꼬마 여자아이 말고는 여자에게 말 걸어 본 기억이 없다. 손은 오렌지 바가 녹아 끈적끈적하고, 발걸음을 재촉하고 있는데, 그녀가 창문으로 나를 보고 있었다. 시선을 자각하고 얼굴이 머저리 같이 벌개져 아무 말도 못하고 있는데, 그녀가 창문을 열었다. 하지만 말수가 없는 건 그녀도 마찬가지였는지, 창문을 열고도 우리는 서로의 얼굴을 빤히 관찰하기만 했다.
먼저 말을 꺼낸건 그녀였다. “꽃 사러 오셨어요?”
드라마처럼 뭔가 로맨틱한 것을 기다리던 난 괜히 김이 빠졌다. 그래도 모처럼 찾아 온 기회를 놓칠 수 없다. 고개를 끄덕이자, 그녀가 들어오라고 손짓을 했다.
꽃집은 생각보다 좁았다. 꽃집이니 당연한 것이겠지만, 꽃이 없는 곳이 없었다. 시계 옆에도, 탁자 아래도, 심지어 벽에도 걸려 있으니. 그녀의 앞치마 주머니에도 꽃 한 줌이 꽂아져 있었다. 그래도 손님은 없는 것 같았다. 바닥의 나무 판자 사이로 뽀얗게 쌓인 먼지가 보였다. 앞서가던 그녀가 빙그르르 돌았다.
“학생은 꽃이 뭐라고 생각해요?”
그녀의 느닷 없는 질문에 아랫 입술을 깨물었다. 미인 앞에서 바보처럼 보이고 싶지 않았으나, 그때는 왠지 솔직한 답이 튀어 나왔다.
“시간,” 마른 입술을 적시고 난 대답했다. “시간이요. 꽃시계, 뭐 이런 거 말구요.”
그녀가 빙그레 미소를 지었다. “시간? 시계? 어느 쪽?”
“딱히 이유는 없는데…그냥 막 생각한거에요. 그래도 굳이 이유가 있다면…” 정말 이유가 없기에 횡설수설하다 멈췄다. 흥미롭다는 듯 나를 쳐다보는 그녀의 두 눈이 부담스러웠다. “꽃은 어디에나 있어요. 어렸을 때는 민들레로 화관을 만들어 놀고, 두근두근할 때는 장미로 좋아하는 반 여자아이에게 고백을 하고, 좀 더 나이가 들었을 때는 수국 한 송이만으로도 마음이 편해지니까요. 그래서 꽃은 우리와 함께 늙어간다고 생각해요.”
“그런가요?” 그녀는 뭐가 그렇게 재밌는 지 웃기만 했다. 혹 내가 말한 꽃의 정의가 바보 같았나 곱씹어 보기도 했다.
“놀랐어요,” 그녀가 말했다. “꽃은 흔히들 추억이라고 하잖아요. 학생한테서 그런 답이 나올 줄은 몰랐거든요. 사실 여기 오는 손님들에게 물어보곤 해요. 추억, 행복, 따스함… 아름답죠? 꽃은 겉보기에는 여리고 예쁘니까요.”
Jin stood there, without any words or actions. It took a while for the girl to look up and acknowledge Jin’s presence. He felt embarrassed when she stared at his face. He must’ve looked haggard and frustrated. For a person whose privacy was intruded by someone she never expected, she seemed unmoving and calm. Her stillness amazed him. Jin tried to speak, but his words choked in his throats.
“Take a seat,” she said.
Jin did as he was told. He sat on the edge of a chair, in an awkward position. It was more of a study room- a library, if exaggerated. She walked over to the other side of the ‘room’, and boiled some tea. Earl grey, he thought to himself. His mother’s favorite too. While she did so, Jin stared at the city through the clock. Somehow it was amazing that she was never caught living behind the clock. She brought a plate of little teacakes along with the teapot, and sat across him. Jin had no idea what to say first- an apology? She poured the tea into the teacups, and handed one of them to him.
“Look, I-” Jin started.
“If you are going to apologize, there is no need to. Besides, you are a traveller,” she gave him a faint smile.
“How did you know?” He asked, and realized that it was a stupid question. They met in a train station, and he was holding handful of luggage.
“Well, you were holding one big bag and a cello case, and you were alone in the station for quite a while, which means that you are not returning from a journey, if you did, you would have left straightaway. Besides…” She explained, “anyway, I’m Rose Eliot. Nice to meet you.”
“Pleasure’s all mine,” he said, as he shook her hand, “why do you live behind a clock?”
Jin blurted out, and as expected, Rose didn’t look much taken aback by his abrupt question. Instead of answering his question, she held up a square-shaped teacake. Its pink icing wrote, “Eat me” on the cake’s white surface.
“Isn’t this familiar?” She asked.
Jin thought for a while. It was the cake Alice ate when she had to grow bigger. Jin looked up, and Rose smiled back.
“I need you to help me with something,” Rose said. Jin did not answer.
Jin’s first impression on the Soirée station was blue, nothing more, and nothing less. He was six when he decided that the station looked blue. He was now twenty-six, a renowned cellist, but his impression of Soirée still stands. He had no idea why he suddenly came up with a ridiculous idea to visit Soirée. It was his mother’s hometown, and now that she passed away, he felt a random obligation to visit it. He stood in the middle of the bustling station, clutching his luggage, hiding his two sweaty hands. By the time he reached the blue station, the sun was setting. Little elves are painting the sun silver, and people are often mistaken it for what they call the moon, his mother used to tell him. She said the same thing at her deathbed, reviving his childhood memories.
He sat down on a bench, tapping his feet to the ticks of a huge old clock. He carefully lifted his cello case, and placed it beside him. His cello has been collecting dust ever since his last concerto performance at Japan. Not much of a motivation, he thought. Jin watched the last embers of daylight die away. He was clueless; he was never interested in his mother. He was attending an evening party when he received the news, days after he visited her for the first time in ten years. Tired, beaten down, her face collected vestiges of old sorrow. Visiting her old hometown and reviving her memories was the least he could do. But what now?
The washed blue paint on the walls no longer looked fresh as night drew near. People dispersed one by one, and some occasionally recognized him, though he didn’t give them notice. He recalled his mother covered with snowbells. He never knew much about her, and he started to think what was the whole point of him travelling for her. He stood up, and glanced at the clock again. Nine o’clock, he ought to find a place to stay for the night, and probably a few more nights. As Jin stood up, someone, a small figure, bumped into him rather vigorously.
It was a girl. Her face was flushed in bright pink, and her lips were painted translucent scarlet, or vermillion, maybe. Her two eyes were looking for something on the ground. Jin kneeled down, she looked up, but speechless, she touched her collarbone. A necklace? Jin looked around. He found a small heart-shaped locket beside the disarrayed books. He gently swiped it onto his palm, and passed it onto her. It was an intricately made locket, gold, but old. She sighed and murmured, “thank you”.
“It must’ve meant a lot to you,” he started a conversation, as he helped her picked the books up.
“Oh yes,” she paused. “It holds inventions of dreams.”
She smiled. Her dimples that appeared beside her lips reminded him of little dents on a peach. She held the books carefully. Five to six thick books- before he offered a helping hand, or even ask about what she meant about her locket, she started walking towards the other end of the station. Bizarre, he mumbled. She was walking towards where the emergency staircase and the storeroom were. He stared for a moment, and decided not to put his mind in it. Again, he picked up his cello case and set out to find a place to stay.
The moon, almost full, round and rough as the baker’s bread with mixed nuts, was hidden by veil-like clouds that perched itself on the edge of the summer’s end. Jin was glad he could find a cheap hotel nearby. The price didn’t matter, but the fact that he was a jobless man, since he wasn’t a performer at the moment, troubled him. He believed that something led him to Soirée, as much as he didn’t know how long he would remain in this place, he knew that his trip wouldn’t be brief. Jin told himself he would look for a jazz bar to play for when morning arrives.
The owner of the hotel was a grumpy old man, reeking of alcohol, with stubby beard and a potbelly. He was drinking beer when Jin asked for a room, and was drunk enough to be unaware of a war. Jin had to sign in himself, and take the key. Jin didn’t like the hotel very much; the stairs creaked and the doorknob was almost falling off. He sighed exaggeratedly, and made sure if the lock worked.
Jin sat down on the bed. The only thing he liked about this hotel was that the bed sheet wasn’t rough. He could never sleep without a comfortable bed sheet, even if it was a five-star hotel. As he slumped against the pillow, his past memories started bubbling up. A young talent, the only thing Jin was interested in was music. Nothing deviated him from his path, family, love, nothing. The first woman he dated broke up with him within a week, she was a violinist from his music school, the only person whom he spoke to. Anyway, she asked him if he had ever loved her and Jin couldn’t answer her, because his answer was always no.
His father died when he was busy preparing for an audition, a prestigious music school in London. Jin was more disturbed than sad then; his father’s death confused him if he was taking the right choice. If his choice was making others fall behind him, what’s the whole point of playing music? But all the worries and doubts cleared away like clouds after a rainy day when he received the results from his dream school. He packed and left as soon as he got the news. What choice did he have? After all, he was a human. His mother was slightly unwell then.
Jin didn’t regret any of his actions. Well- he thought he did. He looked back, but there was nothing left. He thought that he achieved everything he wanted. Jin looked at the ceiling. All these meaningless thoughts were eating him from inside. Yes, he felt lost. Not just lost, lonely, unaware, tired. He never knew that his choice would reappear as a spear that stabbed him so badly. He closed his eyes. Go to sleep, a jabberwocky hissed beneath his bed. Sleep, sleep, sleep.
He opened his eyes to the hissing sound of frying pan. A sweet smell of maple syrup on pancakes and the sizzling noise of bacons made Jin wake up instantly. His mother always fried bacons and made pancakes with fresh blueberries that she picked from her mini garden in the front porch that morning. She squeezed lemons and mixed it with a pinch of sugar, and carefully poured it into his favorite red polka-dotted mug- that started his day. Jin never knew it before she was gone.
Jin rubbed his eyes, and slowly picked himself up. It was a lazy morning; the sunlight smudged itself all over the world. The day was beautiful. Beyond the windows were passionate lovers, happy families; all the positivity left him baffled. Where should he start off? Jin promised himself he wouldn’t leave until he found something. Feeling the breeze in his hair, Jin headed to the blue station once again.
Something pulled him to the station. He has never been to Soirée or its train station, though he often dreamt about himself standing in a crowded place, its dome-shaped glass structure reflecting the blue sky on the floor. Reminiscent, he observed every single activity in the station. A ticket boy dozing off behind a flimsy magazine, a tall and willow lady with beige-colored coat waiting for her train while eating a pumpernickel sandwich, and a girl with soft brown hair that fell on her shoulders, and on her neck was gleaming gold-locket.
She was quite obvious even from a distance. Jin froze, and thought of approaching her; since she was the first person he had a conversation with since his arrival. She was wearing a black sundress with tiny star-like glitters at the hem, making her look even paler. She touched her locket once, and walked towards the storeroom. She probably tried to make sure that no one noticed her, but Jin was watching her all along. Within the short seconds while she hid herself in the storeroom, Jin decided to follow her.
She went into the storeroom, closing the door behind her. Jin hesitated, and opened the door around three minutes she disappeared. She left the door unlocked, whether it was on purpose or a mistake. To his disappointment, it was just an ordinary storeroom, with cleaning items and unknown boxes stacked haphazardly. It was so tiny, but she was nowhere to be seen. Jin was baffled at her peculiar disappearance. She couldn’t have gone anywhere.
Jin tried pushing away the big boxes away. He tried everything until he found four plain-white walls, so ordinary that it even confused him more. Jin looked up. There was a small square-shaped region on the ceiling that had a slightly different color tone from the other parts. It was suspicious enough for him to take notice of it. Jin found a stool, and reached for the ceiling. He knocked on that particular part of the ceiling, and did the same for the other parts. It was hollow- there was a passageway upwards.
If she had gone anywhere, it must’ve been through this door, since there was nowhere else to go. Jin stacked a few big boxes so that it would be tall enough for him to climb up. Jin stood on the boxes, and breathed in deeply. He pushed himself upwards, hoping no one else would find out. The passageway smelled like old wood and dust. It was quite small for a grown man to walk through, so Jin had to bend as he walked through the passageway. He was rather relieved that the passageway was a one-way path- else he would have to search for her all over again.
It was dark inside the passageway and Jin barely saw anything. Often he felt a round, crunchy feeling beneath his shoes, which he supposed was cockroaches. Why would she be here? Darkness was one thing, but the passageway was endless. Jin lost track of the time; he wondered if he could even get back to the train station in time for dinner. A minute felt like an hour as he walked further and further. He felt claustrophobic, and even imagined the walls closing in on him.
Jin thought he was hallucinating when he saw light. He felt desperate like a man on an abandoned island. The light drew nearer, the mellow orange warmth that could be felt when he reached out for it. He shut his eyes close- his eyes were yet to adjust to the sudden streak of light. The room was filled with books; decorated in warm colors- orange, red, yellow. He never realized that there was a space behind the clock tower. And he saw her, once again, sitting by the clock, surrounded by books.