A rabbit. He turned at the sound of rustling in the bushes and spotted a ball of white fluff. What he’d mistaken for a white dog was staring at him with red eyes. He wouldn’t have known it was a rabbit if not for the eyes. He knelt before it. The eyes held him captive. As he gazed into them, relief at the thought that he was not the only one in this world with eyes red from exhaustion washed over him, and he chafed to think such a being had been stranded in an unlit park for so long that its white fur had turned filthy.

It was not wild. Someone had left it there. Raising pet rabbits had been trendy for a while, but now the trend was to abandon them. Having lost interest in chicks and hamsters, to say nothing of puppies and kittens, children had turned their interest to the baby rabbits taken from their mothers before they were weaned and sold out of cardboard boxes in front of elementary schools. Convinced by the vendors that these “mini rabbits” would be both easy to raise and educational, the parents slowly gave in. It started with one or two families, then every child was pestering their parents for a pet rabbit.

Only after bringing them home did the parents realize there was nothing fun, easy, or simple about raising rabbits. Nor was there anything to learn from watching them chew strict rations of hay all day. They weren’t even affectionate like cats or dogs. In fact, they were not so much pets as freeloaders. Given the cost, it would have been better to raise them for meat, but the thought of boiling and eating them was repulsive. The children lost interest in them immediately, leaving the parents to care for a rabbit that would live six-to-eight years on average. The oldest rabbit on record had lived for eighteen years. At that rate, they would still be around by the time the children graduated and were off to college or ready to get married. With the economy always uncertain and hard times never far off, even family members could look disposable. The parents couldn’t stomach the thought of spending a decade caring for a rabbit that did nothing but chew hay. Nevertheless, they did learn one thing from the rabbits: you could come to hate anything if you stared at it long enough. So one of them, usually the father, would sneak out after dark, dump the rabbit in some bushes somewhere, and quickly return home. The father would glance back once and reassure himself that he hadn’t abandoned the rabbit, he’d lost it. But his pace never slowed. And so what if he abandoned it? Parks were the only wild place left. Rabbits would figure out on their own what to eat and where to sleep. They would die eventually, on their own. No different from the pigeons, crows, rats, ants, and gnats that lived there, no different from any other abandoned animal. On the way home, he would briefly sense something missing, but once inside he’d check the empty cage and feel relieved, then brush the fur from his hands.

The man petted the white rabbit. He felt its soft fur, the quiet racing of its pulse. The rabbit sat still, as if accustomed to his touch. The slow rhythm of its breath and the twitch of capillaries beneath its thin skin captivated the man. Only after returning home and ordering a cage did he wonder if he should have left it in the park. Eventually, he too would abandon it. He was only there for six months, and part of that time had already passed. Once his job was done, he would return home. Then he would do what everyone else had done and abandon the rabbit in the middle of the night.

The man’s job was simple. He collected documents from the city where his company had sent him, looked up information, formatted it into a concise report, and submitted it to his section leader. Whenever he worked on a report, he felt like a student staying after class in the teacher’s office to write a letter reflecting on what he’d done wrong. Doing the same work everyday, looking up the same information, and writing the same reports felt like filling page after page with fake apologies. His section leader took his reports with a smile and a thank you. This routine never varied, no matter what mood they were in or what shape his report was in, and the man wondered if that too was part of the job. The moment he turned around, the section leader would throw the report on top of a towering stack on the right side of his desk. The man suspected the section leader did not really like his job. Sometimes he couldn’t sleep at night for fear his reports contained some error that would cause a falling out between the two countries. In his dreams, he saw the scowling faces of delegates from both countries as they glared at him. But nothing ever happened. Most days passed tranquilly. He continued collecting information and writing reports. Once, he purposely fudged some numbers before turning them in. His section leader threw it on top of the stack as usual. The man returned to his seat, fidgeting with anxiety, and inserted the correct report into a folder, ready to turn it in once the mistake was caught. But it never was and, over time, nothing came of it. He finally started to relax and stopped having bad dreams. The sound of the report slapping the top of the stack rang in his ears like a dismissal bell, and he’d return to his seat, organize his desk, and shuffle papers until quitting time.

If someone asked what he did, though not one person asked the whole time he was there, he would have recalled how his superior said, “To put it roughly, you’re a bridge between cities,” and said he was working to ensure the cooperation and unification of two countries long at odds with each other. All he’d been told over the phone was that he would collect data. “What am I supposed to look for?” he’d asked, then immediately remembered that his superior hated being asked questions. When he first joined the company, his superior had said, “Only three-year-olds ask how to do something before trying first. They whine to be spoon-fed.” He immediately regretted saying anything, but to his surprise, his superior said gently, “Any kind of data is fine. It’s not your job to decide how it’s used. You just bring it in. In other words,” he added, “you’re a hunting dog.” The man didn’t like being called a dog, but he kept his mouth shut. “You retrieve the game. The master decides what to catch and whether to roast it, boil it, toss it out, or stuff it. Not the hunting dog racing through the woods. The master gives the command then watches as you run like mad until the game is caught.” “That’s not a very nice metaphor,” he retorted. His superior laughed. “Sorry, I guess I’m talking about myself.” The man understood. His superior was just another hunting dog, too.

The man would have hesitated to leave the country for much longer, but it was only half a year. If he thought of it as a long vacation, six months was perfect. He said he would take the assignment. After a long pause, his superior thanked him. The man didn’t find out until later, but the decision had already been made. The fact that no one consulted him in advance informed him of his place within the company. In other words, he was on the receiving end of information.

Since there was a limited amount of data to collect, the man spent most of his time shuffling papers. He had plenty of time but little to do. So he worked as slowly as possible and hurried around the office to try to look busier than he really was. Had his section leader ever pointed out an error or asked him to add more information to a report, he would have gladly agreed and rejoiced at having more work. But that never happened. His section leader never once complimented his reports or pointed out errors. But the man had no complaints either. He liked the guy. The section leader was the only person in the office who talked to him, even if it was always the same. He spent most of his days in silence. Aside from the occasional hello to the apartment manager, the extent of his daily conversation were the words, “This is it for today,” while turning in another report. He assumed everyone but him was too busy working to get up except at lunchtime. They sat at well-organized desks and stared at their monitors or examined papers with their heads down. At lunchtime, they got food to go from lunch trucks and ate quietly at their desks. Sometimes, when he got up to turn in work, he would cross the wide plaza-like office as if he had something important to do. The office was split into cubicles, like an enormous beehive. They were separated into regions and cities; each cubicle was marked with the seat number and code for their section, and a large directory was posted at the front.

The day after he found the rabbit, the man went to his section leader and held out another report. But just as the section leader reached for it, he pulled it away. The section leader stopped smiling and stared at him. The man hesitated before asking, “Does anyone here have a rabbit?” “A rabbit?” The man handed the file to him. “Yes, I need help. I found a rabbit. I’m not from here, so I don’t really know anyone.” The section leader took the file and tossed it on the stack. “Rabbits are easy to raise. Do you really need help with that? And almost everyone here is from somewhere else. You’re no different.” “Really? Who else?” The man asked the question quickly, because the section leader was already lowering his head to dismiss him. “Who else, what? Who else has a rabbit, or who else was transferred here?” The man was happy to finally be understood. “Both. Who has a rabbit, and who’s here from somewhere else?” “There’s no way to tell,” the section leader said. “Like I said, rabbits are a common pet, and everyone came from somewhere else, just at different times.” With that, the section leader dropped his eyes to signal that he was done talking. The man stared helplessly at the top of his head before returning to his desk. But now he knew any number of his coworkers might have rabbits. The person who abandoned his rabbit could be among them. If, as the section leader said, they were all there temporarily, then anyone working there, or who had ever worked there, could have abandoned his rabbit. Just as he would ruthlessly abandon it once his time was up.

Knock knock. “Anyone home?” No answer. He knocked harder. “Anyone home?” Still, no answer. He sat down in front of the door. The floor was cold and his back stiff, so he stood up again. He knew full well that no matter how long he sat there, he was not going to hear anything on the other side of the door. Nevertheless, every day after work, he went to his superior’s apartment, knocked on the door, waited, then turned around and went home. Some days, he kicked the door, banged on it with his fists, and yelled, “I know you’re in there! Open up!” Other days, he pressed his nose to the door and sniffed. He knew dying wasn’t easy, but he also knew it wasn’t that hard either. He never smelled anything. He wasn’t sure if that was a good thing, or if it was bad that he thought it was good. Right after he had arrived, or sometime around then, his superior disappeared. He went to human resources and asked where to find him. The HR manager didn’t know who he was talking about, and only after searching through lists of names did they find out he was absent without leave. “Absent without leave?” The manager nodded as if it were no big deal. Though he had not known his superior long, when he thought back to what it was like working with him, he knew he was not the type to go absent without leave. His superior took absences very seriously and used his time at the office efficiently and diligently. There was no question that his superior was in every way his role model for office life. He had trained him. He had also taught him how information circulates, that is, how news that hurts others should be spread right away whereas information that profits others should be kept to oneself. Back when he was new, whenever he turned in a report, his superior would look it over on the spot then hand it back and say, “Not bad, but it needs work.” His superior didn’t know, or pretended not to know, that his underlings had nicknamed him But. The man never did revise the reports, though. He had too much work and too little time for fixing things that were finished. So he’d move some information here and widen the margins there, and when he turned it in again, his superior would say he took too long but praise him on his revisions. It bothered him to realize he did not know how to find the man who’d sent him to that country. He called the HR department several times then went there directly and left a note for the manager, but he did not get a call back. The manager refused to give him the information, saying it was private. When he finally did get an address, it turned out to be near his apartment. Every day after work, he stopped by his superior’s house, knocked on the door, called out his name, checked that there were no signs of him, and returned home, feeling disappointed at his superior for disappearing right after he’d arrived.

The first thing the man did when he got home was feed the rabbit. All he had to do was feed it—no taking it out of its cage, letting it romp around, grooming its fur, cleaning its cage, or petting it—but he still got annoyed. He would fill the bowl to the rim and leave it to eat its fill, then later forget to feed it at all and leave it to go hungry. The only reason he’d brought it home at all was the length of his stay. If he were living there permanently, he would never have picked it up. Even so, he only had to look after it for a few months. Since it wasn’t his forever, he didn’t have to care how it felt or whether it was healthy. He was just going to get rid of it anyway.

Once home, the man did not go out. His life consisted entirely of going to work, stopping by his absent superior’s house, knocking on the door, making sure there were no sounds or smells coming from inside, then dropping by the market on his way home for something to eat. He used to take walks after dinner in the park where he’d found the rabbit, but he stopped doing that after watching the news one night.

One holiday afternoon, immediately after his arrival, a man ran around stabbing people in public with a knife, wounding and killing people at random. The killer wore a soccer sweatshirt. Three died and seven were injured. Members of various soccer clubs were wrongfully accused. The clubs suspended their meetings and removed the names from their sweatshirts, but after a while they just changed the names of their clubs and started playing soccer again. Before anyone could condemn, analyze, or address what had happened, a videotape warning of another attack arrived at a television station. The tape aired on the local news all day and spread around the Internet. The man spent the whole day watching it. The video showed a masked man holding a knife, naked from the waist up. The TV station blurred out the blade of the knife that the man, who had a high-pitched voice, flourished with every breath. Voice analysis experts speculated that he was a single man in his thirties or forties. That was all they knew about him, but anyone could have guessed that much. The video was shot from one spot, and whenever he got up to smoke or use the bathroom, the room was exposed to view. The man thought the room looked familiar: from the color, style, and placement of the furniture to the white, featureless wallpaper. It looked exactly like his apartment. His heart raced. He lived in a twenty-eight-story building with twenty-five apartments on each floor. He had never met his neighbors. His superior had found the apartment for him, and most likely there were others from his office living there.

The video made the national news and aired all over the country, but several days passed and nothing happened. An expert appeared on television to say the man was probably an exhibitionist, but anyone could have guessed as much. The police didn’t do anything either, as the man in the video had not committed any crimes. All they did was strongly urge citizens to beware, saying that an attack could occur anytime, anywhere, without warning. The man began to fear his neighbors. Any one of them could have videotaped himself with his shirt off, holding a knife. If he heard a neighbor’s door open, he made sure to keep his door closed to avoid bumping into them. Sometimes he heard the elevator stop on his floor but no one got off. When that happened, he felt afraid. For all he knew, a thirty-something-year-old man could be hiding in the hallway with a knife, waiting for someone to step outside. If someone came near him when he was entering the building, he started and changed direction. When he suddenly turned like that, the person walking behind him became even more startled. If someone entered the building as he was getting on the elevator, he pushed the close button quickly to avoid being alone with the person. One day, as he was coming in, he saw someone on the elevator hurry to press the button and close the door. After that, he started to relax. He, too, was a stranger. His fear was no different than anyone else’s. He thought it was because he was new to the city. With time, he would get to know the place better, but by then, his job would be over.

For the first time, the man was eager to talk to someone. It’d been a long time since he felt that way. At some point, he’d grown accustomed to being alone with no one to talk to. Since arriving in the country, the longest conversation he’d had was when he asked a shopkeeper how much a bag of rice cost. He hadn’t even realized how long it’d been since he’d talked to anyone. But the video filled him with fear, and he realized he could be a victim of that randomly brandished knife, that his body could rot away inside his small room, undiscovered by anyone, and that he had no friends in this city. He wanted to talk to someone, but all he had was his superior, who had disappeared. It was intolerable. Unable to bear it one day, he asked the section leader if he’d seen the video, but the section leader just shrugged without looking up, as if it were no big deal. “But the apartment in the video,” the man said in a low voice, “looks exactly like mine.” The section leader slowly lifted his head. “I don’t know if this will put your mind at ease at all,” he said, “but it looks like my apartment, too. All of the apartments in this city look alike.” His words were reassuring, but the man didn’t feel any better.

In the end, nothing happened, and the commotion over the videotape quieted down. The only thing that changed was there were fewer people on the streets, and the man felt embarrassed that he’d been so afraid. Sometimes an ambulance passed in the night, siren wailing, but it was never anything out of the ordinary. Police sirens sometimes also wailed, but likewise they were just routine patrols.

The man didn’t realize until quitting time that his section leader had changed. As usual, he’d taken his time organizing the data he found and writing a report. But when he went to turn it in, sitting in his section leader’s seat was not the person he was used to seeing. “Where’s the section leader?” he asked. “I’m in charge of this district now.” The new man sounded businesslike and efficient, but he was smiling. The timbre of his voice was different from the previous section leader’s, but the tone was similar. The man realized that his previous section leader had also been temporary. He also realized that just because the section leader was different did not mean anything had changed. Everything stayed the same: as before, at the end of the day, he turned in his reports, the section leader smiled and took the report then went back to whatever he’d been doing, sticking it on top of the stack of reports on his desk, and the man returned to his seat and got ready to leave work. If anything changed, it was the frequency with which he looked around the office. Everyday, everyone wore white shirts with black jackets. Some kept their jackets on while others took them off, making the office look like the black and white pieces on a baduk board. When he stood up at his desk to count and discovered he could connect five white shirts or five black jackets in a row, like in a game of omok, he smiled and sat down feeling like a winner. He did that five times a day: once in the morning, once before lunch, once after lunch, once around three or four in the afternoon, and once before leaving. Most days, he counted five squares in a row all five times, and once he counted twelve squares in a row. No one left their desks except to go to the bathroom or to the section leaders for their districts. He had no idea what kept them so glued to their desks. His superior had told him everyone was collecting information, just like him, though he had no idea what they found, how they found it, or how much they found. “They’re experts,” his section leader said. “Just like you. No one knows more than they do about their cities. But,” he added, “that’s all they know. That’s their only flaw.” The man had realized his superior didn’t know much about the work they were doing, and he didn’t ask any more questions. By the time he did think of something to ask, his superior had gone awol.

Someone knocked on the man’s cubicle divider. He looked up to see the section leader. The man smiled, mystified since the section leader had never come to his desk before but also glad since he was at that moment writing a report and thought it fortunate he could demonstrate how hard he was working. The section leader handed him a list of younger employees and suggested he choose someone to assist him. As it turned out, he’d been thinking about finding a replacement, since his assignment was almost over. He chose a younger colleague whom he’d trained himself. On the phone, the younger man asked dubiously what kind of data he was supposed to collect. He told him it didn’t matter, that any data was fine. The man said he would think about it and get back to him, and he agreed, while indicating through the reluctance in his tone that he was not exactly thrilled with his response. The man called back the next day to say he would take the assignment, since he could think of it as a long vacation. He thanked him for his decision, answered his questions regarding the work and lodgings, and advised him on other matters. After a while, he realized he was saying the same things his own superior had told him before his transfer. When he realized this, he told the younger man about the hunting dog metaphor and let out an embarrassed laugh.

On the younger man’s first day of work, he stayed home. The man could look at the seating chart at the entrance and find his desk without his help. If he had to give a reason for skipping work, he would blame the rabbit. The rabbit, which had eaten all of the food he left out the day before, had gotten out of its cage overnight and dumped foul-smelling diarrhea all over. The apartment was filled with the smell. The man gagged and opened a window, rubbing stray rabbit fur from his itchy nose. His body smelled like rabbit dung, too, so he stood in the window until the smell went away. Meanwhile, the time that he should have been at work came and went, so he figured he may as well just stay home for the day. The next day, the smell of rabbit dung was fainter, but still he did not go to work. Nothing bad had happened the day before, he thought, so why bother to go to work that day either? Since it would have been embarrassing to blame rabbit dung, he decided if anyone asked he would say he was tired of the endless process of searching for information, writing reports, turning them in, then watching them get shredded. Or better yet, he would ask: Is my life going to fall apart just because I skip work a few times? But he knew no one was going to ask.

Since it was his first time being home on a weekday, he didn’t know what to do. The only thing to do was stare at the rabbit, but the red eyes made him uncomfortable, so he covered the cage with a black cloth, sat down, and began working. He looked up information online and wrote a report. His work was the same, but he liked the fact that he wasn’t wearing a white shirt. With his knees sticking out of his shorts and the neck of his T-shirt all stretched out, he collected data and smoked cigarettes to his heart’s content. Since he could not eliminate all of his habits from work, he stood up five times that day. The first time he stood up, he laughed out loud and went to the bathroom. The second time, he grinned awkwardly and got some water. The third time, he rapped himself on the head. The fourth time, he felt like crying. The fifth time, he cried a little. When it was quitting time, he turned off the computer. There was no overtime pay on temporary duty.

When the man was debating whether to take the cloth off the rabbit’s cage, someone knocked on the door. He didn’t answer it. “Are you home?” He couldn’t tell who it was from the voice through the door. He tiptoed over and put his eye to the peephole. The person outside had already turned around and was leaving. It was a man in a black suit jacket. A hint of a white dress shirt showed above the collar, but he couldn’t tell who it was. In this city, most of the office workers wore the same outfit, as well as the door-to-door salesmen, and door-to-door evangelists.

The man kept staying home. He didn’t feel nervous until payday, but when he checked his account, the usual amount had been transferred. He figured that was only natural since he was doing the same work at home as at the office, and he withdrew some cash to buy rabbit feed and get something to eat. Someone knocked on his door every day at the same time. Fifteen minutes after he finished work, the knocking started. He never responded. Some days, the person knocked gently as if on a bathroom door; some days, the person banged on the door as if angry; some days, the person sat in front of the door and muttered to himself. The sound was muffled by the door, so he couldn’t tell what he was saying, and perhaps for that reason he felt the person was more interested in airing his grievances than in finding him.

His job ended at the scheduled time. He packed slowly. He threw out everything he’d bought since his arrival. His belongings fit into a single suitcase. At midnight, precisely when his job ended, he paid his rent and took his suitcase and the rabbit. Despite the irregular feedings, the rabbit weighed the same as when he first found it. He released it into the bushes in front of the building. The rabbit did not nip at his pants or try to follow him; it vanished into the bushes as if it knew what it was supposed to do. He’d planned to walk away even if it cried, but it didn’t make a sound. He brushed the fur off his hands and thought to himself as he pulled the rattling suitcase behind him: The world is full of abandoned pets.

© Hye-young Pyun. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2012 by Sora Kim-Russell. All rights reserved.

토끼였다. 바스락거리는 소리에 힐끔 풀숲 쪽을 돌아보니 흰 털뭉치 같은 것이 눈에 띄었다. 털이 흰 개라고 생각한 그것은 빨간 눈을 빤히 뜨고 그를 바라보고 있었다. 눈이 아니었다면 토끼인 줄 몰랐을 거였다. 그는 토끼 앞에 무릎을 구부리고 앉았다. 빨간 눈이 그를 사로잡았다. 그 눈을 바라보고 있자니 자신 말고도, 원래 눈이 붉은 품종의 토끼가 있다는 것은 생각하지도 않고, 저리 눈이 붉어지도록 피곤하고 지친 존재가 세상에 또 있다는 안도감이 밀려왔고 그런 존재가 흰 털이 쓰레기처럼 더러워지도록 어두운 공원에 버려져 있다는 게 씁쓸하게 느껴졌다.

공원에서 자생했을 리 없는 토끼는 버려진 것이었다. 도시의 아이들에게 토끼 사육이 선풍적인 인기를 끌던 시기가 있었다면, 지금은 아이의 부모들이 토끼 유기를 비밀리에 자행하는 시기였다. 토끼 사육 열풍이 어디서 비롯되었는지는 모든 일이 그렇듯 정확히 따지기 쉽지 않지만 평소 건강하고 활력 있는 모습을 보여준 초로의 의학박사 말이 계기가 된 것은 분명했다. 그는 성장해도 몸집이 그다지 커지지 않는 품종의 토끼를 키우고 있는데, 자신의 채식 습관은 아무래도 토끼에게 영향을 받은 것 같다고 말했다. 애니메이션 속에서 눈을 가늘게 뜬 엉뚱한 성격의 토끼는 영민하고 사랑스러워 보였다. 자살하는 토끼에 관한 그림책은 시종일관 재치가 있었다. 그림책 속의 토끼는 힘들고 지쳤다기보다 지루하고 따분해서 놀이의 방식으로 자살을 시도하는 것처럼 보였다. 개나 고양이는 말할 것도 없고 아이들은 잘 죽는 병아리나 무서울 정도로 번식력이 강한 햄스터에게도 질려 있었다. 학교 앞 노점상들은 예전에 기계로 부화한 병아리를 팔았듯이 실제로는 젖도 안 뗀 아기토끼들을 미니토끼라 부르며 종이상자에 담아 팔았다. 부모의 우려와 달리 애완동물로서의 토끼는 사료만 주면 알아서 크는 게 특징이라서 키우기 까다롭지 않다고 했다. 게다가 저명한 교수에 의하면 토끼에게조차 배울 것이 있다지 않은가. 부모들은 우려를 씻고 토끼 키우는 것을 허락했다. 한두 집이 키우기 시작하자 아이들은 맘 놓고 토끼를 사달라고 졸랐고 부모들은 달리 거절할 핑계를 찾지 못했다. 토끼 사료용 알파파 건초를 판매하는 한 업체의 조사에 따르면, 토끼를 애완동물로 키우는 가구 수가 예년에 비해 여덟 배 가까이 증가했다.

막상 키워보니, 다른 동물의 사육도 그렇겠지만 쉽지도 재미있지도 간편하지도 않았다. 토끼에게서 채식주의자로서의 모범적인 모습은 찾아볼 수 없었다. 토끼는 여느 애완동물과 마찬가지로 딱딱한 정량의 사료나 건초만 먹었다. 고체형의 음식만 먹는다는 점에서 간편했지만 당근을 갉아먹는 등의 모습을 보는 잔재미는 없었다. 도대체 사료나 건초만 먹는 토끼에게 뭘 보고 채식 습관을 배웠다는 건지 어리둥절했다. 좀 자라면 채소나 과일을 먹여도 좋다고 했지만 물기가 묻어 있는 채로 먹으면 죽을 수도 있다니 함부로 주기가 겁이 났다. 토끼는 그저 식성이 까다롭고 비싼 사료를 축내고 양육에 잔비용이 많이 드는 군식구에 불과했다. 개나 고양이처럼 친근하게 애정표현을 하는 경우가 없어 애완동물이나 반려동물이라고 부르기 망설여졌다. 사료와 양육에 드는 비용을 생각하면 차라리 소나 돼지 취급을 하는 게 적당했지만 아무래도 고기를 삶아 먹기 꺼려진다는 점에서 소나 돼지보다 못했다. 까다롭게 골라 먹여야 하고 잘못 먹이면 금세 탈이 나고 탈이 나면 지독한 냄새를 풍기는 분비물을 싸고 재채기를 유발하는 털을 날리고 빤히 응시해서 무섭게 하고 새끼를 낳게 할 생각은 없지만 새끼를 낳았을 때 누군가 들여다보면 물어뜯어 죽인다는 소리까지 들려왔다. 어쩌자고 이 토끼들은 그림책의 토끼마냥 자살도 하지 않는단 말인가. 아이들은 무엇이든 금세 싫증을 냈고 부모들도 수명이 육 년에서 팔 년 정도라는 토끼를 식구의 일부로 감당하고 싶어하지 않았다. 기네스북에 기록된 최장수 토끼의 수명은 십팔 년이었다. 짧게는 육 년, 길게는 십팔 년의 기간이면 토끼를 사달라고 조르던 아이가 고등교육을 마치고 대학에 가거나 결혼해 살림을 낼 나이가 될 거였다. 경기는 늘 불안해서 언제 어느 때 식구들조차 내다 버리고 싶어지는 불경기가 닥칠지 몰랐다. 유일한 노동이라는 듯 사료나 건초를 긴 이빨로 씹어대는 토끼를 육 년이나 혹은 그 이상 지켜볼 수는 없었다. 그렇다고 해서 토끼를 키우는 일이 아예 무용한 것은 아니었다. 그렇게 무표정하게 누군가를 오랫동안 응시하다가는 결국 미움을 사고 만다는 걸 토끼가 알려줬다. 부모 중 하나가, 주로 아버지가 그 역을 맡았는데, 산책을 가듯이 어두운 밤에 토끼를 안고 나갔다가 공원 풀숲에 풀어놓고는 토끼가 어디론가 가버리면 혹은 가버리기도 전에 냉큼 집으로 돌아왔다. 한 번쯤 뒤를 돌아봄으로써 토끼를 내다 버린 게 아니라 잃어버린 거라 생각하며 양심의 가책을 면하고자 했으나 그 순간에도 걸음을 늦추지는 않았다. 버려졌다고 해서 나쁠 리 없을 거였다. 공원은 도시에서 유일한 야생의 공간이었다. 토끼들은 알아서 풀을 골라 먹을 것이고 푹신한 곳을 찾아 잠을 잘 것이다. 알아서 병이 걸릴 것이고 그러다 서서히 죽어갈 거였다. 비둘기나 까마귀, 쥐나 개미, 각다귀같이 공원 주변에 자생하는 것들처럼혹은 버려진 다른 동물들처럼. 돌아가는 길이 잠시 허전했으나 집으로 돌아와 케이지가 텅 빈 것을 확인하면, 마치 토끼가 돌아와 있을까봐 겁냈던 것처럼 안도하며 방금까지 토끼를 안고 있어 털이 묻은 손으로 가슴을 쓸어내렸다.

그는 털이 하얀 토끼를 쓰다듬었다. 부드러운 털이 만져졌고 맥박이 뛰듯이 고요히 움직이는 등이 만져졌다. 토끼는 그런 손길이 익숙한 듯 잠자코 있었다. 그는 토끼에게, 정확히 말하면 등의 얇은 피부 밑에서 느껴지는 모세혈관의 움직임과 호흡의 느린 리듬감에 홀렸다. 집으로 돌아와 서둘러 케이지를 주문하고 나서야 공원에 버려진 토끼를 품고 오는 짓은 하지 말았어야 한다는 생각이 들었다. 결국에는 토끼를 버리게 될 테니까. 그는 고작 육 개월만 도시에 머물 예정이었고 그중 일부 시간이 이미 흘러갔다. 예정된 파견근무가 끝나면 살던 도시로 돌아가야 했다. 그때에는 그 역시 도시의 다른 사람들이 그렇게 했던 것처럼 한밤중에 몰래 토끼를 내다 버릴 거였다.

 

 

 

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일은 간단했다. 그가 있던 도시에서 온 문서를 정리하고 그 도시와 관련된 정보를 검색하여 간결한 형태의 서식으로 만들어 담당자에게 넘겨주면 되었다. 서식을 작성할 때면 그는 자신이 교무실에 남아 반성문을 쓰는 학생 같다는 생각을 했다. 매일 반복하는, 자료를 검색하는 일이나 서식을 작성하는 일은 똑같은 말을 종이 가득 적으면서 진심이 담기지 않은 사과를 하는 기분이었다. 그가 반성문 쓰듯 작성한 서류를 담당자는 늘 웃음 띤 얼굴로 감사하다고 말하면서 받아들었다. 그는 담당자가 기분이나 서류 상태에 상관없이 매번 똑같이 웃고 말하는 것을 보면서 그것조차 정해진 업무 매뉴얼의 일부가 아닐까 생각했다. 담당자는 그가 돌아서기만 하면 책상 오른쪽에 높게 쌓인 서류더미 위에 방금 그에게서 받은 서류를 툭 올려놓았다. 그 때문에 그는 담당자가 자신의 업무내용을 별로 탐탁지 않게 여긴다고 생각했다. 두 도시 간의 경제적, 외교적, 문화적 계약관계에 자신이 제출한 자료의 오류로 심각한 문제가 생길 것을 걱정한 나머지 밤잠을 설치기도 했다. 잘못 인용한 통계치 때문에 협약이 깨져서 두 도시 대표가 일그러진 얼굴로 그를 노려보는 꿈을 꾸기도 했다. 그러나 아무 일도 일어나지 않았다. 많은 날들이 태평하게 지나갔다. 여전히 그는 인터넷이나 팩스로 자료를 모았고 서식을 작성하여 담당자에게 제출했다. 언제인가 일부러 통계치의 합계가 엉망인 서식을 작성하여 담당자에게 건네준 적이 있었다. 담당자는 언제나와 마찬가지로 더미 위에 툭 서류를 올려두었다. 그는 조마조마한 마음으로 자리로 돌아와 담당자가 잘못을 알아챈다면 바로 건네줄 생각으로 제대로 된 서식을 결재판 사이에 끼워두었다. 담당자는 끝내 그의 오류를 지적하지 않았고 시간이 지나는 동안 두 도시 간의 협상이나 계약에 치명적인 문제가 생기지도 않았다. 그는 그제야 마음이 홀가분해져서 나쁜 꿈을 꾸지 않게 되었다. 이제는 서류가 툭 내던져지는 소리를 곧 퇴근을 해도 좋다는 뜻으로 여겼고 자리로 돌아와 퇴근시간이 될 때까지 번잡스럽게 자료를 뒤적이거나 책상을 정리하며 시간을 때웠다.

만약 누군가 당신은 어떤 일을 하느냐고 묻는다면, 결국에는 파견근무가 끝날 때까지 아무도 그런 질문을 하지 않았지만 그는 ‘거창하게 말하면 자네가 두 도시를 잇는 가교 역할을 하는 셈이야.’라고 한 상사의 말을 잊지 않고 있다가 오랜 반목관계에 있는 두 도시의 협력과 통합을 위한 일을 하고 있다고 말할 작정이었다. 상사는 전화통화에서 그가 여러 가지 목적에 사용될 정보를 수집하는 일을 하게 될 거라고만 했다. 도대체 어떤 정보를 모아야 하는 겁니까? 그가 상사에게 물었다. 묻고 나서 생각해보니 상사는 이런 식의 질문방식을 그다지 좋아하지 않았다. 어떠한 정보를 모아봤습니다. 정보들은 어떤 면에서는 유용하지만 전혀 무용하기도 합니다. 이런 방식으로 일을 해도 좋습니까? 상사에게는 그렇게 물었어야 했다. 그것이 입사 초기부터 상사가 그에게 가르쳤던 방식이었다. 하지도 않고 어떻게 하는지 묻는 것은, 그 말을 할 때의 상사 표정이 눈에 선했다, 꼭 세 살 먹은 어린아이 같은 짓이야. 밥을 떠먹여달라고 조르는 일이라는 소리지. 그는 곧 후회했다. 어떤 정보라도, 뜻밖에도 상사는 온화한 말투로 대답했다, 괜찮아, 정보를 선택하고 유용성을 결정하는 것은 자네가 아니라 다른 담당자 몫이니까. 자네는 단지 수집만 하면 돼. 말하자면, 상사가 덧붙였다, 일종의 사냥개라고 생각하면 돼. 어떻게 자신을 개라고 생각하라는 건지 알 수 없었으나 그는 입을 다물고 있었다. 지시하는 사냥감을 단지 잡아오기만 하면 되거든. 무엇을 잡을지, 잡은 후에 구울지 삶을지 버릴지 박제를 할지 결정하는 것은 숲을 달리는 사냥개가 아니라 지시를 내리고 서서 구경하는 주인이지. 그러니까 개는 잡을 때까지 죽도록 초원을 달리기만 하면 되는 거야. 뭐, 듣기 좋은 비유는 아니군요. 그가 상사에게 대꾸했다. 하하하, 그렇겠군. 미안하네, 사실 자네가 아니라 내가 그런 심정이라서 말이야. 상사가 쑥스러운 듯 사과했다. 그는 이해했다. 그 비유를 따르자면 어차피 상사도 사냥개의 주인이 아니기는 마찬가지였으니까.

파견근무 기간이 길었다면 주저했을 테지만 단 육 개월이었다. 육 개월이라면 도시를 떠나 긴 여행 중이라고 생각해도 좋을 기간이었다. 그는 상사에게 파견근무를 하겠다고 했다. 상사가 뭔가 내키지 않는다는 목소리로 천천히, 그렇게 결정해주어 고맙다고 말했다. 나중에서야 안 일이지만 그가 결정을 내리기 전에 이미 인사발령이 나 있었다. 인사에 있어서 사전협의가 전혀 없었다는 점은 조직 내에서 그의 위치를 말해주는 것이기도 했다. 말하자면 그는 통보만으로 충분한 존재였다. 그가 이번 발령을 통해 깨달은 게 있다면 바로 그것이었다.

도시에 대해 얻을 수 있는 정보는 제한적이었으며 먼저 연락이 오는 일도 드물었으므로 그는 거의 대부분 책상에 앉아 몇 장의 서류를 꼼지락거리면서 내용을 검토하는 일로 시간을 보냈다. 시간은 얼마든지 있었지만 일은 별로 없었기 때문에 가급적 천천히 했고 업무량이 적다는 걸 들키지 않기 위해 사무실이나 복도를 오갈 때면 걸음을 서둘렀다. 일부러 잘못한 게 아니라면, 그럴 만한 업무도 아니었지만, 실수를 하는 일은 없었고 그러다 보니 잘못된 내용을 수정하느라 시간을 허비할 일도 없었다. 담당자가 제출한 서류의 오류를 지적하거나 내용을 보완해달라고 하면 오히려 일이 늘어난 것을 기뻐하며 흔쾌히 그렇게 하겠다고 말할 작정이었으나, 그런 일은 한 번도 일어나지 않았다. 그가 제출한 서류에 대해 담당자는 특히 이 점이 잘되었다거나 뭔가 보완해야 할 점이 있다거나 오자가 많다거나 내용상 오류가 있다거나 하는 지적을 단 한 번도 하지 않았다. 그렇다고 해서 그가 담당자에게 불만을 가지고 있는 것은 아니었다. 오히려 담당자를 좋아하는 편이었다. 사무실에서 말을 나누는 유일한 상대가 담당자였기 때문이었다. 비록 서류를 건네주며 나누는 형식적인 인사가 전부일지언정. 그는 하루 종일 거의 말을 하지 않았다. 어쩌다 마주치는 건물 관리인에게 인사를 하는 것 이외에 담당자에게 서류를 건네주면서 오늘은 이 정도입니다, 라고 말하는 것이 전부였다. 그가 생각하기에 자신을 제외한 사무실 동료들은 모두 너무 바빠서 점심시간이 아니면 잘 움직이지도 않았다. 그들은 잘 정돈된 책상 앞에 앉아 재미있는 영화를 보듯이 모니터를 빤히 들여다보거나 잠을 자듯 고개를 숙이고 책상 위에 놓인 서류를 들여다보고 있었다. 점심시간이라고 해도 우르르 몰려나가 그날의 메뉴에 따라 패를 나누느라 소란을 떨 필요 없이 건물 앞에 죽 늘어서 있는 도시락 트럭에서 각자 취향에 맞는 도시락을 사다가 조용히 자기 자리에서 먹었다. 그는 종종 담당자에게 서류를 건네주기 위해 일어섰다가, 일부러 다른 용무가 있는 듯 광장같이 넓은 사무실을 횡단했다. 사무실은 거대한 벌집처럼 칸칸이 나누어져 있었다. 지역과 도시별로 구분되어 있고 모든 자리에는 구역 표시 기호와 좌석번호가 눈에 쉽게 띄도록 붙어 있었으며 출입문 입구에는 안내문이 붙어 있었다. 마치 공연장의 좌석안내도처럼 커다랗게.

토끼를 데리고 온 다음 날 그는 담당자에게 서류를 건네주려고 내밀었다가 담당자가 받으려고 하자 얼른 뒤로 감추었다. 담당자는 웃음을 거두고 그를 빤히 보았다. 이런 식의 장난을 좋아하지 않는 것 같았다. 그는 당황하여 주저하다가 말을 꺼냈다. 직원 분 중에 혹시 토끼를 키우는 분이 계실까요? 담당자가 되물었다. 토끼 말씀입니까? 누군가 키워본 사람이 있다면, 그가 뒤로 감췄던 서류를 담당자에게 내밀며 말했다, 도움을 좀 받고 싶어서요. 토끼가 한 마리 생겼거든요. 파견근무를 나온 지 얼마 안 되어 그런지 사람들과 쉽게 친해질 수가 없네요. 담당자가 그에게서 자료를 받아 책상 오른쪽의 서류더미 위에 툭 올려두며 말했다. 토끼는 누구나 쉽게 키울 수 있는 동물이지요. 특별히 도움을 받을 필요가 있을까요? 그리고 여기 있는 사람 대부분이 파견근무 중이에요. 파견근무를 한다는 것이 별로 특별한 일은 아니죠. 그래요? 누가요? 누가 또 그런가요? 그가 서둘러 물었다. 담당자가 대꾸하고 싶지 않다는 듯이 고개를 수그리려는 게 역력했기 때문이었다. 담당자가 고개를 수그리기 전에 뭔가 대답을 듣고 싶었다. 뭐가 그렇다는 거죠? 토끼를 키우는 게 누구냐는 거요, 아니면 파견근무 중인 게 누구냐는 거요? 그는 기뻤다. 담당자가 자기 마음을 헤아려준 것 같았다. 둘 다요. 제가 알고 싶은 게 딱 그거예요. 누가 토끼를 키우는지, 파견 나온 사원이 누구인지 하는 거요. 누구인지는 알 수 없죠. 말했다시피 토끼는 누구나 키우는 동물이고 또 시기만 다를 뿐 우리는 모두 파견근무 중이라고 할 수 있으니까요. 그 말을 끝으로 담당자는 입을 다물고 더 이상 그를 상대하고 싶지 않다는 듯 고개를 푹 수그렸다. 그는 가마가 오른쪽으로 치우친 담당자의 검은 머리통을 하릴없이 쳐다보다가 자리로 돌아왔다. 그러나 담당자의 말을 듣고서 사무실 동료 중에 토끼를 키우는 사람이 많을 것이라는 생각을 했다. 어쩌면 같은 사무실 동료 중 토끼를 내다 버린 사람이 있을지 모른다는 생각도 했다. 담당자 말대로 모두가 파견근무 중인 거라면 사무실에 있는 혹은 있었던 누구든 토끼를 버릴 수 있었다. 그가 파견근무를 끝내고 돌아가면서 가차 없이 토끼를 버릴 것이듯.

 

 

 

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똑똑. 그가 철문을 두드렸다. 계십니까? 아무 대답이 없었다. 이번에는 쿵쿵 철문을 두드린 후에 계세요? 라고 물었지만 역시 아무 대답이 없었다. 그는 문 앞에 주저앉았다. 바닥이 차고 등이 딱딱해서 곧 일어섰다. 아무리 앉아 있어 봐야 문 안에서 어떤 기척을 느낄 수가 없고 상사가 나타나지도 않는다는 것을 잘 알고 있었다. 그런데도 그는 날마다 상사의 집에 갔고 상사의 집 철문을 두드렸으며 아무런 대답이 없는 것을 확인하고는 뒤돌아 나왔다. 어떤 날은 상사의 집 현관을 발로 펑 찼고 손으로 쿵쿵 두드렸고 안에 있는 거 다 아니까 문 열라고 괜한 소리를 치기도 했다. 어떤 날은 코를 철문에 박고 냄새를 맡아보기도 했다. 죽는 일이 쉬운 게 아니라는 걸 알고 있지만 생각보다 어려운 일이 아니라는 것도 알고 있었다. 상사의 집에서는 어떠한 냄새도 나지 않았다. 다행인 것인지 다행이라고 생각하는 그의 마음이 다행하지 않은 것인지 알 수 없었다. 상사는 그가 도시로 온 직후에, 정확하지는 않지만 그 무렵이라고 생각되는 시점에 사라져버렸다. 그는 인사 담당자를 찾아가 상사의 이름을 대며 그를 어디서 만날 수 있는지 물었다. 담당자는 그가 누구인지 한참 생각하다가 명단이 빼곡히 적힌 서류를 한참 뒤진 후에야 상사가 무단결근 중이라고 말해주었다. 무단결근이요? 그가 되묻자 담당자는 별일 아니라는 듯이 고개를 끄덕였다. 그와 같이 근무하던 시절의 상사를 떠올리면, 그렇게 오랜 기간은 아니었지만, 결코 무단결근을 할 사람이 아니었다. 그는 무엇보다 근태에 있어서 성실했고 업무 시간을 효율적이고 밀도 있게 사용하는 상사였다. 어떤 식으로든 상사가 그에게 사무생활에서 모범이 된 것은 틀림없었다. 업무를 처리하는 방식을 일러준 사람이 그였다. 정보가 통용되는 방식, 그러니까 다른 사람에게 흉이 되는 소식이라면 얼른 퍼뜨리고 다른 사람에게 득이 되는 소식은 혼자서만 알고 있어야 한다는 것을 일러준 사람도 상사였다. 그가 신입사원이던 시절 지시 받은 서류를 작성하여 건네주면 상사는 항상 그 자리에서 대강 훑어보고 음, 좋긴 하지만 이 부분은 보완해야겠어, 라고 대답하면서 서류를 되돌려주었다. 상사는 모르고 있었지만, 어쩌면 알면서 모른 척하는 것일지도 모르지만 후배들이 붙인 그의 별명은 하지만이었다. 상사에게 서류를 돌려받았다고 해서 당장 수정하는 일에 매달릴 수 있는 것은 아니었다. 신입사원답게 여기저기서 시키는 급하지만 잡다하고 손이 많이 가는 일을 처리했고 그러느라 이미 제출한 서류를 수정하는 데에 공을 들일 시간이 별로 없었다. 할 수 없이 나열된 정보의 순서를 바꾸고 서식 간의 여백을 많이 두어 분량을 다소 늘린 형태로 다시 건넸을 때, 상사는 그에게 좀 더디긴 하지만 수정한 후 좋아졌다고 칭찬해주었다. 그는 자신에게 파견명령을 내린 상사의 연락처와 소재지를 모르고 있다는 사실에 당황했다. 인사과에 몇 차례 전화를 걸고 부재중인 인사 담당자를 찾아가 메모를 남겼지만 연락이 되지 않았다. 여러 번 허탕을 치다 만난 인사 담당자는 개인정보이므로 알려줄 수 없다는 이유로 고집을 부렸다. 담당자를 설득해 겨우 알아낸 상사의 주소지는 그의 숙소에서 그다지 멀지 않은 곳이었다. 그는 퇴근 후에 상사의 집에 들러 문을 두드리고 한참 상사의 이름을 불러본 후에 어제와 다름없이 아무런 기척이 느껴지지 않는 것을 확인하고 자신이 근무를 시작하자마자 사라진 상사에게 내심 섭섭해하며 집으로 돌아왔다.

집에 돌아오면 우선 토끼에게 사료를 주었다. 사료를 주는 것 이외에 토끼를 위해 해주는 것, 일테면 케이지에서 나오게 하여 맘껏 돌아다니게 한다거나 털 손질을 해준다거나 케이지를 깨끗이 청소해 준다거나 가슴에 안고 쓰다듬어준다거나 하는 일이 결코 없는데도 그는 토끼가 귀찮아졌다. 한꺼번에 되는 대로 사료를 쏟아주어 양껏 먹도록 내버려두었고, 그러다가 사료 주는 것을 잊어버려 며칠씩 배를 곯게도 했다. 사실 그가 토끼를 데려온 것은 순전히 파견근무 기간이어서였다. 만약 이 도시에서 언제까지나 지내야 한다면 그는 결코 버려진 토끼를 데리고 오지 않았을 것이다. 길어봤자 몇 개월만 토끼를 책임지면 되는 거였다. 영영 돌볼 필요가 없고 그렇기 때문에 토끼의 정서와 건강을 염려할 필요가 없었다. 어차피 버려질 거였으니까.

일단 집에 돌아오면 바깥에 나가지 않았다. 도시에서 그의 삶은 사무실에 출근했다가, 퇴근길에 무단결근 중인 상사의 집에 들러 습관처럼 문을 두드려보고, 집에서 아무런 기척이 느껴지지 않으며 다행히 괴상한 냄새도 풍겨오지 않는다는 것을 확인하고, 돌아오는 길에 슈퍼에 들러 간단한 먹을거리를 사오는 게 전부였다. 저녁을 먹은 후 집 근처의 공원으로, 그러니까 토끼를 주워 온 공원으로 간혹 산책을 나가곤 했지만 그것도 어느 날 저녁 보도된 뉴스를 본 후로 그만두었다.

그가 파견근무를 나온 직후 도시에서는 한 사내가 한가로운 휴일 오후를 즐기고 있던 시민들에게 무차별적으로 칼을 휘둘러 사상자를 낸 사건이 벌어졌다. 조기축구회 이름이 크게 쓰인 트레이닝복을 입은 사내였다. 세 명이 죽었고 아홉 명이 부상을 당했다. 여러 지역의 조기축구회 사람들이 괜한 욕을 먹었다. 잠정적으로 매일 아침 하던 축구 모임을 중단하고 유니폼에 새겨진 글자를 떼어냈으나 이내 이름을 바꿔 아침이든 낮이든 저녁이든 할 수 있을 때면 언제든 다시 축구를 하기 시작했다. 왜 그런 일이 벌어졌는지 개탄하고 분석하고 대처하기도 전에 또 다른 무차별 살해를 예고하는 동영상 테이프가 방송사에 도착했다. 뉴스에서는 하루 종일 동영상을 보여주었다. 인터넷을 통해 동영상이 급속도로 퍼졌다. 그도 거의 하루 종일 그것을 보았다. 누구도 말을 하지 않았지만 사무실 내 많은 사원들도 보고 있으리라고 생각했다. 한 사내가 복면으로 얼굴을 가리고 눈과 입만 내놓은 채 웃통을 벗고 칼을 들고 찍은 동영상이었다. 언성을 높인 사내가 숨을 쉬듯 자주 휘둘러대는 칼은 날이 보이지 않도록 흐릿하게 처리되어 있었다. 전문가들은 음성 분석을 통해 삼사십 대의 독신 사내일 거라는 추측을 내놓았다. 사내에 대해 알려진 것은 누구나 짐작할 수 있는 그 정도의 정보뿐이었다. 한곳에 고정해놓고 찍은 동영상은 흔들림 없이 잘 보였는데, 간혹 웃통을 벗고 식칼을 휘두르던 그가 담배를 피우기 위해서거나 화장실에 가기 위해 일어서면 텅 빈 방이 그대로 드러났다. 그는 그 방을 보며 왠지 낯익다는 느낌을 받았다. 가구의 생김새와 색깔, 배치 방식 그리고 특징 없이 희기만




Hye-Young PyunHye-Young Pyun

Pyun Hye-young was born in 1972 in Seoul, South Korea. She began publishing in 2000 and published three collections of stories, Aoi Garden, To the Kennels, and Evening Courtship, and the novel Ashes and Red. To The Kennels was the recipient of the fortieth Hankook Ilbo Literary Award in 2007; Evening Courtship won the prestigious Dong-in literary award tin 2011; and the short story "O. Cuniculi" won the tenth Yi Hyo-seok Literature Prize in 2009 and the Today's Young Writer Award in 2010.

 

Translated from KoreanKorean by Sora Kim-RussellSora Kim-Russell

Sora Kim-Russell's work has appeared in The American Reader, Asia Literary Review, Azalea: Journal of Korean Literature & Culture, New Writing from Korea, and Koreana: a Quarterly on Korean Art & Culture. Her translations include Gong Ji-young’s Our Happy Times (Short Books, 2014) and Shin Kyung-sook’s I’ll Be Right There (Other Press, 2014).