Arirang – The Journey Together

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Don’t look back.

Right foot. Left foot. Right foot. Left foot. Right foot.

“Ooof.” So Hyang’s right foot twisted inward and she fell to her knees from exhaustion.  The noise of So Hyang slipping stopped Joonseo who turned around.  He saw So Hyang kneeled over and nursing her right knee.  Striding over in a couple of steps, he reached down and pulled her up.  He brushed off the dirt from her knees and her skirt.  He wiped the tears from her cheeks smudging dirt across her face.  The smudges covered the darkening shadows under her eyes seeming giving her face more color and light.

So Hyang leaned on one foot and whispered.  “I don’t know if I can continue.  It’s been days and we only have a couple packs of water left.  We only have three food bars left.  I don’t see the central peak overseeing Heaven Lake.  Will we even make it to Heaven’s Reach?  Maybe we should have turned back like the others.”

Joonseo pulled So Hyang into a hug and began to hum softly…”Arirang, Arirang, Arirang alone… Let’s cross over the Arirang hill…Even if we get to rest when we get tired… Let’s hold hands and go. Let’s go together.  I see the lovely island far away in the East Sea… Don’t you want to see them?  Your family.”

So Hyang’s shoulders heaved with muffled sobs.  Her breaths fell in ragged sweeps but her eyes shed no tears.  For even though they stung, her body knew she couldn’t waste water on tears.  They had to get to Heaven’s Reach because So Hyang knew.  They were too far along the Arirang Path.  Once you passed the halfway point, it was impossible to return back with the amount of food and water they brought.  Everyone knew that and that’s why so few actually attempted the Arirang Path…Far fewer had the courage to pass beyond the halfway point resigning their fate to either reaching Heaven’s Reach or dying on the path.

Minutes passed.  Finally, So Hyang looked up.  “I’m sorry.  I know there’s no point in questioning our decision now.  We have nothing to do but to walk forward.  But, Joonseo, do you really believe that they are still alive?  Why haven’t they come back for us if they are still alive?”

Joonseo’s dark pupils seemed darker than usual… His handsome angular features looked haggard and the shadows were deepening.  The light was slowly fading.  So Hyang knew that he pushed himself to save their rations and water.  Even when they took breaks, Joonseo refused to drink their water to stretch what they have left.  It was getting to him.  But, his fight was not gone yet.  He still believed.

Joonseo leaned back and looked up at the sky… “They are there and they are surviving just as we survived until we were old enough to cross the Arirang Path.  So Hyang, our ancestors knew that the end of civilization was coming and did whatever they could leave us hints about rebuilding… All we can do is trust that what survived in songs like Arirang is enough to guide us back…”

He began to softly sing again.  “When we cross over the hill, our hearts will arari arariyo…We are crossing over the Arirang hill…” So Hyang grimaced and pulled away from Joonseo to stand up on her own strength. Turning away from the singing Joonseo, she looked up at the gray sky.   The older people in their village had said once the skies used to be clear and blue not this constant gray.  The songs… They talked about a lot of things and taught the people of what life used to be.  And, Arirang.  The song Arirang gave hope.  Hope that those who crossed the path would find their families lost from breaking at the End.  Her fingers crushed the gray fabric off her skirt as she breathed in heavily.

She turned back toward Joonseo and caught him off guard.  His face filled with worry that she was about to give up.  Turning back now would be suicide.  So Hyang forced her lips to smile and she sang, “Even if we get to rest when we get tired… Let’s hold hands and go. Let’s go together…I’m done resting Joonseo.  Let’s go together towards Heaven’s Reach.”

 

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A short homage to the ongoing struggle of the Korean spirit, which was torn apart and continues to yearn for the day that it will reunite.  Please note, for clarification purposes, I borrowed the singer’s name because it seemed fitting in this story.  There is no connection between her and the characters who appeared in this glimpse of life in another time and another place.

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