MAN SMOKING A PIPE,
the son of Mrs. and Mr. Kim, called Yuto
the friend of Yohan, called Akio
the mother of Yohan
the father of Yohan
a Japanese military guard with dogs
a Japanese military guard
The stage lights dim. At the center, the MAN SMOKING A PIPE sits at a table in the middle of an abandoned cemetery. Beside him, a cracked gravestone stands. The grave belongs to a boy named YOHAN.
The ashes of scorched revolutionary flags blow in the wind, and a torn flag bearing the rising sun rattles against a flagpole. The MAN SMOKING A PIPE takes a drag. When he speaks, he turns to the audience. His voice is full of scorn.
MAN SMOKING A PIPE
1940—a melancholy year for the Koreans in Hanyang, indeed. Twice the Japanese soldiers occupied the streets. Twice the revolutionaries filled the detention centers. The cultural war was at an all-time high, and Koreans who refused to comply were punished unforgivingly.
To speak their native tongue was a disgrace. To take pride in their heritage was a sin. To practice their culture was treason that resulted in twenty to thirty lashes or death, the most forgiving of sentences. Children. Mothers. Fathers. No one was spared from oppression save for the traitors who bartered their loyalty for shameful welfare, who flaunted their treachery and bathed in luxury.
Terrible times these were. Laws barring Koreans from higher job positions and requiring schools to teach in Japanese were passed. Young men were drafted to join the kamikaze, while women young and old were taken for pleasure.
During this dark era, some districts, or at least the children, were granted a mild reprieve when foreign merchants brought items from where they called the Land of the Free, the Land of Opportunity. Boys would gather, begging for treats, and always among the throng were Yohan and Yujin—or as they were renamed, Yuto and Akio.
But passed are those days, for here (Pointing to the gravestones.) they rest forever as wasted youths, unattained potentials. Their story is one marked with pain and robbed of humanity by the very hands of their own kind. I wish not to disrupt their peace, but I find I am left with no other choice. All I can do is beg they forgive my transgression and find solace in the remembrance of their youth. (To the audience.) Seven years ago, back in 1940. Let us revisit these young men, and let me show you the blight of humankind.
The lights dim. While the MAN SMOKING A PIPE exits, the stage turns, hiding the abandoned cemetery and revealing a kitchen on the left and the main street on the right. The left half of the stage gradually becomes bright. YOHAN sits at a cramped table eating breakfast with MRS. KIM and MR. KIM as he prepares for middle school. MR. KIM speaks to YOHAN in Korean.
Remember to never speak Korean outside these walls—only Japanese. Listen to the military guards. If they stop you for whatever reason—
I tell the truth and listen to what they have to say no matter how ridiculous it is. You tell me this every day, Father.
(Hitting Yohan on the head with her chopsticks.) Respect your father. We remind you for good reason. You never know who is listening.
Another merchant is in town, as well. I do hope you remember to keep your distance.
I always do. (Gathering belongings and bowing.) I’ll be back.
As YOHAN leaves his house, the lights dim on the kitchen and brighten on the main street. YUJIN enters, along with GUARD ONE and GUARD TWO. A group of children is crowded around a merchant in a dapper suit handing out candy and chocolate. Dogs bark and pull on their leashes while GUARD ONE stands with GUARD TWO at a distance, watching the children carefully. Eating a piece of chocolate, YUJIN approaches YOHAN and speaks in Japanese.
Yuto, do you not want any? You were complaining about how there was nothing to eat the other week.
Chocolate from Mr. Chung? The man who always talks about ships? (Pauses.) No. Father says I should be wary of merchants.
(Glancing at the guards.) Who we should be wary of are them. Let’s leave before they decide to pick on us again. And they brought their dog, too. (Shuddering.) They must be looking for trouble.
YOHAN and YUJIN leave behind the group of kids and Mr. Chung and go to school. As they pass GUARD ONE and GUARD TWO, the dogs growl at them. YOHAN and YUJIN exit, then all the other actors except GUARD TWO follow. GUARD TWO places a slip of paper bearing the rising sun on the Kims’ house before exiting.
The stage lights go dark.
MR. KIM and MRS. KIM enter from the left side of the stage. The stage is lit dimly to imply it is night. MR. KIM retrieves the slip of paper attached to the front door and sits at the table, reading the notice, while MRS. KIM cooks dinner.
After a moment, MR. KIM drops the notice on the table and discusses it with MRS. KIM. YOHAN enters.
(Speaking in Korean and bowing.) Father, Mother, I’m home!
Yes, yes. Welcome back, Yohan. (To Mrs. Kim.) It’s only a rumor. They’ll never carry it out.
They already took away our names. Our silver means nothing to them.
What is the matter? Was another law passed? (Reads the notice.) The Emperor is demanding all of our silver? Then what will we use?
We will make do with what we have. Do we not have rice? Do we not have shelter?
At the rate these laws are going, soon, we will have nothing.
Then we will survive with nothing. What else can we do?
That night, despite protests from YOHAN, MRS. KIM and MR. KIM gather all of their silver, ranging from silverware to jewelry. They pack every item in spare bags. Once they placed the bag beside their front door, they exit.
The lights brighten on the main street, where YOHAN enters and wanders the next morning. Mr. Chung is back, and more children surround him. GUARD ONE and GUARD TWO are positioned in their usual post. YUJIN enters.
(Speaking Japanese.) No chocolate again?
Did you hear about the new law? They are stealing all of our silver, Akio. (Glancing wearily at the guards and lowering his voice.) They are repressing us more and more, yet the adults sit and do nothing. But I have a plan.
(Eating chocolate.) What is it?
As YOHAN whispers to YUJIN, the stage lights dim. They exit excitedly. On the other side, a group of guards enters the main street and collects the bags of silver. Among them are GUARD ONE holding his dogs and GUARD TWO.
From behind a house, YOHAN and YUJIN are crouching beside a mound of rocks. When the guards grab the bag outside the Kims’ house, YOHAN throws a rock at GUARD TWO. YUJIN throws one, as well, and it hits one of the dogs.
Spotting the two children, GUARD TWO drags them away from hiding and shoves them onto the ground. The dogs bark uncontrollably.
(Wiping a line of blood from his forehead.) Korean rats! (Tugging at Yohan’s school uniform, then Yujin’s.) They are from around here.
Attacking a military guard is a criminal offense. We can’t just let them go without proper punishment.
Silently, YOHAN and YUJIN tremble. MRS. KIM and MR. KIM enter. MRS. KIM screams and falls to her knees.
(On his knees.) They are just boys. Please, let them go and punish me instead. I promise to raise them better.
That’s a problem: these Korean rats don’t know how to properly raise a boy. When someone commits a crime, they should face discipline, not their parents.
But raising your child wrong is an offense, too. (Calling over the other guards.) Beat this man.
The other guards come and beat MR. KIM with truncheons. MRS. KIM screams again. YOHAN and YUJIN begin to sob. The guards do not stop beating MR. KIM until there is a pool of blood around his body.
(Spitting in the pool of blood.) What about the kids?
(Glancing at the leashes.) Perhaps the dogs can teach them to learn their place.
GUARD ONE releases his dogs, and they attack YOHAN and YUJIN, who let out shrill cries. Suddenly, the stage lights go dark. Everyone freezes and goes silent.
The stage turns, slowly concealing the main street and returning once again to the abandoned cemetery. The MAN SMOKING A PIPE is sitting at his table.
MAN SMOKING A PIPE
So now you know. After the event, Yohan and Yujin passed away from their wounds. Mr. Kim from losing too much blood. Mrs. Kim from heartache. The neighborhood was never the same, but despite the dense fog of apprehension, a spark was lit in the hearts of revolutionaries. What that spark has accomplished, I do not know.
Time unfurled like a ribbon, and when the rumors dried on the lips of silence, Yohan and Yujin were forgotten. Only I remembered their story. And now you do, too.
(Exhaling a cloud of smoke.) Horrible their tale is. Dreadful. Humans are wretched creatures, tearing at each other, killing each other, looking down on each other. Yet, their actions have taught me many lessons. (To the audience.) Even in your sorrow, remember this. Tragedies beget tragedies. Monsters beget monsters. A never-ending cycle. A shame. Mourn with me, my friends. Mourn. Raise a pipe, take a puff. To the poor. To the begotten. May light find them blessed souls. May light find us all.
The stage dims, and the curtains close.
Gina Kotinek is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of the SPOT Lit. She is interested in social issues and enjoys implementing them into her writing in hopes that her message will be heard.