In December ’81, eight months after my arrival at Buyeo, I received a letter from my sister, Yun-seo, with a sincere request to fetch her from Yeongdeok to Buyeo. Prior to this letter, I received news that Yun-seo had been suffering from some congestion and choking in her throat. Doctors diagnosed that a tumour was causing thyroid gland malfunction. On 17 September that tumour was eliminated, but the biopsy revealed that the tumour was malignant. She had another operation on 26 November to eliminate the cancerous thyroid altogether. Around this time, Hye-jin was at Daegu. She visited Yun-seo in the hospital and invited her to come over to Buyeo.
In this letter, Yun-seo stated that she had some discomfort in the throat and after a biopsy, it had been established that some cancerous tissues hadn’t been removed by the surgery and the cancer had spread to the lymph node. So far the cancer hadn’t spread too far and surgeons opined that she could be cured with appropriate treatment of radioactive iodine (RAI) therapy. But her parents-in-law didn’t go by the advice from the surgeon; they considered others in the family could be infected from her cancer. They treated her as an untouchable sick person and offered no help in getting her properly treated. Moreover, Yun-seo’s surgeon had told her that in Buyeo there was SK Institute of Medical Sciences, where this disease could be treated very well.
Yun-seo asked me to take her to our place at Buyeo so that she could be treated at SK Institute of Medical Sciences. Yun-seo pleaded that I was the only person she could ask for help now that Mamma was no longer alive and Papa wouldn’t be allowed to help if Suk-hwan didn’t agree.
I read out Yun-seo’s letter to Hye-jin and discussed how we could help Yun-seo. It wasn’t possible for Hye-jin to go and bring Yun-seo, for family custom dictated that Yun-seo wouldn’t be allowed to leave Moo-ryong’s place alone to travel unless someone from Yun-seo’s parental family escorted her to Buyeo. It required a minimum of four days to make a return trip from Buyeo to Yeongdeok. I wrote to Yun-seo and her parents-in-law saying that I would go to Yeongdeok and escort Yun-seo to Buyeo for her treatment. I took leave of two days after one weekend, bought train tickets for Yun-seo and me and travelled to Yeongdeok.
On reaching Yun-seo’s place, I could easily feel the difference. Yun-seo had no longer been sharing a room with her husband, Moo-ryong; she’d been moved to a tiny room that had previously been used as a store room. She had to cook most of her meals as no-one liked to take the risk of entering that room. It seemed to me that Moo-ryong’s family was waiting for Yun-seo to die in that tiny room. Moo-ryong’s parents were relieved on receiving the news of my plan to take Yun-seo from their place. Yun-seo packed all her belongings, clothes, jewellery and books into suitcases, as if she might never come back to this place.
As the return journey was scheduled the same evening, I didn’t have much time to spend at Moo-ryong’s place. Soon after lunch, Yun-seo and I started for the local train that would take us to Pohang; from Pohang we would travel to Buyeo. Yun-seo had to leave behind her son, Tae-gyu, and her daughters, Eun-joo and Ye-ri; her own children were not allowed to bid her goodbye lest they get infected by their mother. Yun-seo and I were well aware that Yun-seo wasn’t carrying any infectious germs, yet we didn’t argue with Moo-ryong’s parents.
Hye-jin was waiting for us when Yun-seo and I arrived. She was always grateful to Yun-seo who mainly persuaded me to marry her, but when she saw Yun-seo with trunks and suitcases, she realised that Yun-seo might never return to her in-laws. Yun-seo’s luggage was taken to the guestroom where she was allowed to rest after dinner.
Joo-won was very happy to see Yun-seo. When they last met during the rituals after the funeral of Mamma, Joo-won was three years old. As Yun-seo was a qualified teacher, she easily managed to tutor Joo-won while playing with him. Hye-jin was also happy to discuss university life and the coffee house with her. I managed to contact SK Institute of Medical Sciences and secured an appointment with the specialist.
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