The view of the mountainside road was like a towering wave. Like a snake with a raised tail, the winding path was created right after the Korean War when refugees descended and built shacks on the mountainside to live. It was as steep and rugged as their hardships, but it must have been their only refuge in life.
An old Bongo truck was driving along the winding mountainside road. The engine roared as if it was about to burst. The truck’s cargo bed was already full of people and equipment. As the truck was old and loaded with heavy cargo, it was natural for the engine to struggle.
Meanwhile, the people in the back were all making desperate efforts not to fall off the truck, their faces pale.
“Yeongguk! Seoul boys seem to have weak guts!”
The merchant association chairman, wearing a Marine cap, was driving with a casual laugh. His scruffy beard seemed to be dancing. His face showed a relaxed demeanor overall. The boy in the passenger seat rolled down the window with the hand crank and shouted to the people in the back.
“Gentlemen! Why are you all screaming like scared girls!”
“Hey, you should try sitting here! Ughaaaa!”
“Yeongguk! Over there! There’s no guardrail! Shouldn’t we stop?!”
Indeed, there was no guardrail on the side of the winding road, just as Song Jeongseok said.
“Hey, what are they saying in the back?”
“Oh, they’re saying we should stop because there’s no guardrail on that side.”
The chairman laughed heartily with a cigarette in his mouth.
“There used to be one, but people coming to sightsee on the other side didn’t slow down when driving down the mountain, so they kept crashing into it. So, naturally, it disappeared.”
“So, if we crash there, we’ll fall straight down?”
“Exactly! But you know what’s funny? Since it disappeared, as far as I know, there hasn’t been a single accident. People see that and start driving down like turtles! But we’re going up, so there’s no need to worry. Let go of your worries!”
As the Bongo truck zigzagged through the mountainside road like a bending wave, screams erupted from the cargo bed again. To an outsider, it would seem like they were at an amusement park. When they finally reached their destination, everyone got out looking pale and exhausted. Some had even thrown up.
Seeing this, the chairman muttered, “Seoul boys are weak!” and turned the truck around to drive leisurely down the mountainside road. As the truck disappeared, someone asked.
“Taeseop, did you really have to choose this place for the filming location?”
Choi Taeseop just gave an enigmatic smile and shook his head briefly. The young boy encouraged the filming crew to gather the equipment as he moved between them.
“Gentlemen, we’re just starting, and you’re already exhausted?”
“This is just the beginning…?”
The mountainside road’s fame was not only because of the steep and rugged roads but also the countless steep stone steps. Like an old tree with many branches, numerous stone steps existed between the shantytowns, giving the impression of being trapped in a maze. Song Jeongseok stared at the steep stone steps, lost in thought.
“Do we really have to go up there…?”
Just then, an old woman with a cane and a black bundle climbed the stairs.
“Granny! Come this way! I’ll carry it for you! Where’s your house?”
“I’m fine! You should help those young men instead. I’ve lived here for forty years, and this is nothing to me. I go up and down these stairs several times a day for exercise. But look at those young men; they can’t even handle these small steps. I wonder if they’ll ever get married properly!”
The crew, who had been silently listening to the old woman, hurriedly gathered their filming equipment. Maybe they all still hoped to get married.
“Scene number 57, on the mountain road with the police officer and Jihwan!”
There was a shabby house with no house number, grime-stained, and bamboo instead of steel bards holding the concrete in place. It was a humble space. The exterior of the yellowed refrigerator and a blue water container filled with water to the brim in the bathroom was placed prominently throughout the area. With its motionless second hand, the wall clock seemed to evoke the illusion of being stuck in time.
“Jihwan, don’t just space out while standing there. Sit down and warm up a bit. I’ll cook some food for you after I get the briquettes!”
The boy didn’t know how to react to the kindness of the police officer. He thought he would be stuck in the detention center without a chance to move. But the officer personally brought him to his own house. He even offered a warm place to sleep and let the boy use the bathroom to wash off the grime accumulated over a long time.
“Jihwan, I don’t know why you came all the way to Seoul, but it seems like there’s a story behind it, so I won’t ask any further. Instead of keeping your mouth shut like a clam, try a spoonful of this.”
It was cold rice mixed with soy sauce and sesame oil. A fried egg, cooked on the briquette fire, was also placed on top. The boy, who hadn’t eaten for days, swallowed his saliva with a gulp.
“If you’re not going to eat, I will!”
“No, I’ll eat!”
“Don’t rush! Just eat slowly. If you need more, let me know, and I’ll fry another egg for you!”
The bottom of the rice bowl was quickly revealed as if the boy had closed his eyes while eating. Seeing this, the officer chuckled. He brought over an old frying pan and put another fried egg into his bowl. The boy nodded briefly and shoved the fried egg into his mouth all at once. Just as the feeling of fullness was about to reach the tip of his chin, the officer said something to him.
“Jihwan, I don’t care what your real name is. But if you don’t talk, I have no choice but to send you to the protection center. Are you okay with that? Why did you try to climb those rocks at the beach? Can you tell me?”
The boy didn’t say a word. He just hugged his bag tightly and curled up his waist.
“I won’t take it away from you, so relax. It’s okay. If you feel comfortable, you’ll eventually open up. And just in case, don’t think about sneaking out at dawn. You saw how high it was when you climbed up, and it’s indescribably complicated. If you’re not careful, you could get lost wandering around, so go down with me tomorrow. I’ll take you to those rocks you wanted to go to, okay?”
“Finally, you’re speaking properly.”
The reason the officer brought the boy to his house was simple. He didn’t want him to sleep on the cold detention center floor, and he was worried that if he let him sleep in a motel, he might run away. This place was on the steep slopes of the mountain road, so it wouldn’t be easy even if he wanted to run away.
As soon as the officer laid out a blanket for the boy, the sound of his snoring could be heard. The officer expressed his complicated feelings by looking at the boy’s exhausted face. The youthful face and small stature made him wonder what brought this kid here.
Such a little guy…
“What kind of story do you have?”
* * *
It was when everyone was holding their hungry stomachs after finishing the shoot that suddenly, a horn was heard. When they opened the window, it was the merchants’ association chairman. He still wore his marine cap. The chairman waved something thick in his hand.
“Fresh food has arrived!”
In the middle of the mountain road, the filming crew had to carry the rice and side dishes brought by the chairman up to the rooftop of the house.
“Sir, do we really have to do this?”
“I want to show my son in Seoul some good stuff, so stop complaining and get up here!”
As soon as they reached the rooftop, the filming crew and the boy let out exclamations. The view of Namhang, where white waves were rolling, came into sight all at once. Amidst the blue scenery, the leisurely appearance of the fishing boats looked like a landscape painting. As everyone opened their mouths in admiration, the chairman showed a generous smile.
“This place is famous! There’s a reason why people who live here on the mountain road don’t leave for decades. There’s hardly any place where you can see the sea like this, except up in the clouds. So, we’re no different from immortals eating on the clouds right now!”
The meal, full of sea scent, was spread out. The deliciousness was more than enough to satisfy the hunger of the film crew, who were starving from the shoot. Eating a meal while facing the view of Namhang felt like a divine play. It was a precious meal that could not be had even if recreated in Seoul.
“Sir, I feel sorry for you delivering the food like this.”
“There’s a lot to be sorry about, but how could I not help when that young man asked to use this house as a filming location? I’m the owner of this house.”
“Weren’t you living near Namhang?”
“I live in Namhang now, but I used to live here when I was young. After my parents passed away, I tried to rent it out to someone, but no one wanted to live here. Despite my permission to use it for free, the young man insisted on paying, so I came here. My previous words were a joke. As the chairman, how could I not help when our Yeongguk is filming? I should at least do something. So, don’t feel sorry. Today, I brought a lot of fresh abalone and oysters, so don’t hesitate and eat it all!”
After finishing the dishes brought by the chairman, the filming crew each held a cup of scorched-rice water for dessert. Meanwhile, Choi Taeseop silently stared at the sea. What was the reason he insisted on this mountain road so much? It was unknown. But his face was full of longing for the past. Just like the chairman, he took out a cigarette. The thin smoke floated over the sea, looking like a sea fog.
“I guess you have unforgettable memories here, sir.”
“Yes, whenever I come here, I think of my parents. I always put grease on the gate so it doesn’t rust over time. I also come up once in a while to take care of the concrete cracks. After sending my parents off to the sea, this place is like a sanctuary to me. That’s why I can’t sell it, and it’s like a resting place for me.”
The chairman was a cheerful person. Wearing his trademark marine cap, he always rushed around to solve big and small problems at the Namhang Market. However, he had his own untold story.
As the blue color of Namhang gradually darkened, and the fishing boats’ lights turned on one by one, the man of Mado Island stood up and shouted.
“We’ve eaten enough. Let’s go! We need to get down quickly before it gets darker!”
“Sir, can I take the bus down?”
At Song Jeongseok’s cautious words, the atmosphere flipped.
“Bus? You must be joking; there are only two buses a day here. The last one left long ago!”
Following the winding mountain road, the truck roared down with its powerful engine. As the truck’s headlights shined like a lighthouse beam, a scream no different from before burst out from the cargo bed. Only the quiet cries of the night sea could console them.
 A traditional Korean drink made by pouring hot water over scorched rice.
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