In that poignant moment, Hyun-seong couldn’t help but envy the unseen son of Mrs. Jang, a son he had never laid eyes on. Maybe it was because he’d never tasted the warmth of a mother’s distant worries and affectionate care.
Mrs. Jang offered a wry smile, her eyes holding a tender gaze as she continued, “But it’s nice to have these conversations, isn’t it? I find myself leaning on you quite a bit. I’m sorry if it’s interrupting your studies. Work hard and get some good rest. Tomorrow, I’ll prepare your favorite Galbi-jjim for breakfast.”
“Aunt,” Hyun-seong interrupted.
“Oh, am I disturbing you? Don’t stay up too late studying,” Mrs. Jang said with a loving tone before she disappeared from view.
But the following morning, the promised breakfast remained untouched. With the break of dawn, Hyun-seong received the devastating news of Mrs. Jang’s son’s tragic death.
Mrs. Jang’s world crumbled, and she hastily made her way to Chungcheong Province without even changing her clothes. There, she was confronted with the harrowing sight of her son’s lifeless body, claimed by the toxic embrace of coal gas.
Min-sik, showing no remorse or tears, bit his tongue and hired a temporary housekeeper. A week after the funeral, Mrs. Jang followed her son into the unknown.
They labeled it as suicide. Hyun-seong stumbled upon the news of her passing on campus, and for what felt like an eternity, he stood frozen in place. Time seemed to stretch, as the movements of passing students took on a surreal, slow-motion quality.
Mrs. Jang, who had embraced him with a maternal care surpassing even his biological parents, couldn’t bear the weight of her own child’s absence and chose to depart from this world.
The day after, a somber call arrived from the police. They had a message from Mrs. Jang, one left especially for him.
Reading the police’s missive, Hyun-seong found himself momentarily speechless. The message was penned in her handwriting, simple yet emotionally charged. A few typos peppered the page, but beneath those imperfections lay a profound and genuine sorrow.
[Hyun-seong, before making up my mind, I thought of you. I still don’t understand why my son made that choice, but instead of understanding, I want to follow his heart. Thank you for always treating me well and speaking kindly to me. I’ve never even called your name. Hyun-seong, I hope you stop thinking about me. I hope you become a good lawyer. Be a great person who helps others and does good for the world.]
Traces of dried tears marked the page. What was she feeling as she scripted these final words? Even so, Hyun-seong held back his tears. He swallowed the grief that welled in his throat. Did he have the right to grieve for her, to let tears fall?
At the age of twenty, Yoon Hyun-seong enshrined Mrs. Jang in his heart, alongside her heartfelt letter.
A good lawyer.
He pursued that aspiration with unwavering fervor, just as she had requested. Until then, the legal profession had been his father Min-sik’s ambition more than his own. Not that he lacked interest in law, but a true motive, a clear passion, had been absent.
“A good lawyer…” Hyun-seong whispered those words like a mantra. His dream had been to become an attorney who extended a willing hand to those in need, someone who wouldn’t turn away from the vulnerable.
But the stark realities of life had shattered that idealistic vision. A decade had slipped by since then. The Yoon Hyun-seong of today was undoubtedly the face of Yoon & Kang, a lawyer with a one hundred percent success rate, a master in the intricacies of corporate succession.
“…It’s absurd,” he scoffed at himself, the irony not lost on him. It was far from amusing. The emotions he had suppressed throughout his youth had burst forth when he received his lawyer’s badge. He no longer held back, speaking his mind without concern for others’ opinions.
And to his surprise, people accepted and even applauded this newfound persona. With the title of “the best,” he could seemingly afford such eccentricities.
In this pursuit of success, Yoon Hyun-seong had lost sight of what had truly mattered. When the verdict was announced, he didn’t cast a backward glance at the courtroom’s audience seats, nor did he assess the expression of the victim seated behind him. Each of these little actions gnawed at his conscience.
He had aspired to be a good lawyer, but had he become a lawyer only for the powerful?
Tears welled up in his eyes as he tilted a second bottle of whiskey. The amber liquid swayed gently. He drained the glass in one swallow, exhaling a trembling breath. It felt as if a sharp blade was repeatedly slicing into his chest.
‘You’re worthless. You don’t even deserve to feel pain or cry.’
Baseless accusations pierced through Hyun-seong’s eardrums. Eventually, a solitary, crystal-clear tear trickled from the corner of his eye. With a bitter smile gracing his lips, he cried while smiling.
In that very moment, a voice, dreamlike and surreal, brushed aside the painful hallucinations and reached Hyun-seong.
It was Seo Yi-soo.