It was a warm, sunny spring day in April, and Yeonja was taking a stroll through the park, with only her cane accompanying her. Wind was blowing through small spaces between the tall apartments, and it cooled Yeonja down, who was walking at the fastest pace she could manage.
Yeonja arrived at the door of her apartment soon after. Opening the door was always a big stress for her, as she could never remember the passcode and always had to reach into her pocket to find the piece of paper that reminded her of it. But after opening the door with a loud beep, inside, waiting for her was a family picture of her and the rest of the family. Everyone was smiling, portraying the ideal family. The picture was taken quite a few years ago, at Yeonja’s 70th birthday party. Yeonja was sitting in the center and surrounding her was her son, her son’s wife and her grandson in middle school who always seemed like a baby to her. This picture always made Yeonja happy, especially the sight of her son smiling next to her.
Yeonja’s son was the kind of person who was very caring but did not show it directly -- instead, it would come off as anger, especially when he was not able to communicate with Yeonja. Therefore, his concerns towards his mother only seemed like harsh remarks to Yeonja. This was true yesterday in particular, when Yeonja had gone off to the park early in the morning.
“Mother, have you not eaten today? Why is there still rice left in the pot?”
“I went to the park this morning. I had to go early because they said it would rain in the evening.”
“Yes, but why have you not eaten?”
“I saw flowers starting to blossom in the park. I thought, spring is coming again. Saw some pigeons too. Very nice birds.”
“Mother, how many times have I told you to answer questions you’ve been asked?”
Conversations like these would always make Yeonja’s son shake his head, leaving Yeonja by herself. Yeonja had raised her son in a harsh environment. Despite that, her son had accomplished many things. He achieved high grades in school, was accepted to Seoul National University, and became a lawyer. The fact that he could do those things even with little economic support was the pride of the household. However, she had lost her husband earlier in her life due to health problems, and that is why she had always spent her time worrying about her son and her grandson.
When Yeonja entered the living room, she saw her son sitting in front of her grandson, who was standing with a scared expression. She heard her son yell as if he was about to beat the child.
“I’m telling you, you’re never working hard enough. Have you even tried putting the smallest amount of effort in?” Her son said. Her grandson stayed silent.
“What are you doing to the poor child? Stop yelling so loudly!” Yeonja said.
“Mother, just be quiet if you don’t know what’s going on! Go to your room or something.”
“Look at how scared the kid is. Come, child, have a cup of water.”
“Stop babying him so much, mother. He’s already in middle school, and he is being punished justly. Why must you intervene in our business like that?” Yeonja was dumbfounded by what her son said.
“You show no gratitude. Keep treating me like that and I swear, I’ll leave right away. Do you hear me? I’m going to leave home and die someplace else.” Her son did not respond. “Do you hear me? I’m going to leave. I’m leaving right now.” After having repeated those phrases several times, Yeonja slammed the apartment door shut and returned to the park.
Once again, she faced the tall apartment buildings and the tranquil blue sky. The wind shifted the clouds and some more flowers had blossomed in the bushes since the last time she had seen them. The weather was sunny, almost too sunny. Everything seemed so peaceful despite Yeonja’s unhappy mood. She thought once again of the family picture she saw on the way out. There, she was in the center, and all of the attention of the family was focused on her. Now, things had changed. She was not an important figure anymore, and she felt more like a useless old lady. Her family neither listened to her nor looked at her very much. To her, it was as if her family was drifting away from her at a faster pace than she was from them. Yeonja reached down slowly at the sight of the pigeons she saw yesterday. She took some crumbs out of her pocket and fed them. After the pigeons finished pecking at the crumbs, they flew away, over the high apartment buildings.
Yeonja came back home. The yelling had stopped, and the family was going about their lives as if nothing had happened. Her son was sleeping in his room, her grandson was doing homework on the kitchen table and her son’s wife was sitting on the couch, reading. Yeonja turned around to wipe away some tear that flowed down her wrinkled cheeks. She took off her jacket and sat down on the couch. After a few minutes, her son’s wife stood up, leaving Yeonja on her own. Yeonja continued to sit down, staring at the blank screen of the television in the empty living room.