A sudden ring of the doorbell broke my peace and quiet. I opened my eyes and walked towards the big, white gate. The gate had huge bars in between. My parents wanted it that way to prevent people looking it from the outside. They were very protective of our family.
Who's here so early in the morning? I muttered. I slowly opened the gate. A tall guy stood outside, admiring the beautiful bungalow inside he could finally see. He took one look at me and bowed immediately, greeting me politely. Wow, he's so tall... Now my neck?s starting to get tired staring up at him. Thanks to my pathetic 158cm dwarf body. I mentally complained.
"May I know who are you and what are you doing here?" I was a little irritated that my paradise moment had been interrupted.
"I'm so sorry to disturb you so early in the morning. May I know if there is a Kim Yoona staying here?" He was fidgeting.
"Yeah. She's my unnie. What is this about?"
The guy broke into a big smile, exposing his pearly white teeth. "That's great! Can I meet her?"
"I'm Soojung's brother."
Why does that name sound so familiar?
Mr. Soojung's-brother had a very innocent and genuine smile. I noticed the corners of his lips would curl up.
"The girl whom your unnie is going to donate her cornea to next month."
I jumped a little hearing his words.
"I know it's very rude for me to show up here unannounced. But I was so excited when I found out that my sister had a donor that I couldn't help but rush here to meet her right away. I am so happy and grateful. I wanted to come here personally to thank your unnie."
I smiled weakly.
What the heck is wrong with this dude? Did he just say that he wanted to meet my unnie personally? Doesn?t he know people donate their cornea only after they... DIE? Did he just curse my unnie?
"Um... I think you may have caught us at the wrong time. Maybe you shouldn't even have come." I said coldly.
"But I..." He realised his mistake and turned red immediately. He stuttered, "I mean... I'm sorry. I didn't do this on purpose. It's just..."
"It's okay. I know you didn't mean it. You should probably go now."
"I... I'm really sorry. I think my excitement got to me. We've been waiting for a suitable cornea for my sister for years. When I found out that we had found the right one, I just... Um... I mean..."
"I understand. Don?t worry." Looking at how guilty he felt, I rescued him from his embarrassment.
He wiped the sweat off his forehead, "Thank you so much."
He must have been very nervous. The sun got brighter and hotter. His couldn't stop sweating. The droplets glistened in the sunlight no matter how much he wiped. I reached out my hand and gave him a handkerchief, "Go ahead and use this."
"No. It'll get dirty. I'm fine."
"You can return it after washing."
"Thanks." He accepted it with his head hanging down. He used it as though he was handling a fragile piece of glass.
Honestly, I didn't blame him. When we first signed the donor card, we had expected something like this to happen. People are selfish. With advantages on our end of the deal, who would remember other people's pain? If we had minded, we wouldn't have signed the card in the first place.
"My name is Changsun. What about you?"
"So... I really can't meet your unnie now?"
He noticed that I didn't look very happy then and said immediately, "I didn't mean anything else. I honestly just want to thank her for her kind gesture. She has given us hope."
He looked like he was about to drop down on his knees and bow in gratitude anytime. I couldn't help myself. "How did your sister lose her eyesight?"
The moment I finished my sentence, his eyes sparkling eyes turned gloomy in an instant.
"Car accident. There was a car crash when she was ten. She could never see again ever since. It?s been five years." He said, eyes fixed on the ground.
"Oh..." I responded softly
Everyone has their own life story to tell, obstacles to overcome and pain to bear. It's just a matter of how big the obstacles are and how long we have to endure them.
Changsun's hands formed a tight grip, his expression covered with remorse and sorrow. "It's all because of me... If it weren't for me, Soojung wouldn?t have..." he whispered.
So it was like that. No wonder he was so excited when he heard about a suitable donor. I started to pity this weird, fidgety guy standing in front of me.
"It's okay. It's all in the past now, since you already have a donor now." My overly monotonous voice must have scared him.
"I'm sorry. I can't believe I told you all that. You must think that I went overboard, right?"
"It's not that bad. The person who signed the donor's card did it willingly anyway. It's good to leave something good for others who need it. I'm saying all this because I mean it straight from my heart. Things don't come together with us when we were born and they won't go with us when we die. Not only money, it is the same as everything else we have. Rather than leaving it to rot and go to waste, it's better to use its benefits to the fullest. That's why our family had come to this decision."
"Then... Can I see Yoona?" he hadn?t forgotten the reason he came here.
I looked away. But I caught a glimpse of his face at the corner of my eye. He looked kinda cute when he was nervous.
"Sure! But she's not around at the moment. You can come again next time!" I was about to shut the gate when he blocked it with his hand.
"So, you mean, I can come again?" his eyes sparkled with hope and anticipation.
"Since you want to meet and thank my unnie so badly, yes you can come again."
"Can I see you too?" he dropped his head the moment he finished. But I could see his flushed cheeks clearly because I was so much shorter than him.
"Sure! You're welcomed to." I smiled.
A few days later, I looked out of my bedroom window and saw Changsun pacing back and forth near my house. He looked like he was afraid to come closer to the gate. He gazed up at my window and was startled when he spotted me peeking from behind the curtains. He nodded. I smiled faintly. He waved, gesturing me to go down. He must be here to see unnie again.
I headed downstairs and grabbed the keys. I went outside, opened the gate and found myself facing a face with the brightest smile ever, even brighter than the first time I saw it. "Good morning, Hyuna."
"Unnie is still sleeping. Are you here to see her?" I adjusted my shirt, brushing away the wrinkles and pulled down my sleeves.
"Oh, really? But I didn't come to see her today. I guess that would be rude of me. She's still not well, right?"
"Oh. Why are you here then?"
"I'm here to see you!? he answered as though it was the most obvious thing in the world, which baffled me.
"You said it yourself. I could come visit you anytime. Plus, I can extend my gratefulness to you as well. It's natural for sisters to step into each other's shoes, right?" he said it with a straight face.
"Sisters stepping into each other?s shoes? That's something only you can come up with." I giggled.
He scratched his head in embarrassment. "Whatever works. Do you want to go out?"
"Go out?" I looked at him suspiciously and glanced back at my house.
"Just for a couple of hours. You look like you trap yourself at home twenty-four-seven. You never go under the sun, right? Your skin is so fair."
Staring into his disapproving eyes, I snapped at him. "Haven't you heard of the standard of pretty girls? Fair skin blurs eyes. Everything else will work out well as long as you?re fair. Didn?t you know that??
"Is that right? Well, it's very healthy to go under the sun once in a while. Come on, let's go! I'll take you to get some fresh air." His smiling eyes devoured me, pulling the whole of me in like there was no gravity.
He climbed on his red bicycle parked at the side. I glared at him suspiciously.
"Ever since my sister got into an accident, I haven't ridden my motorbike." His voice cracked a little. But he quickly regained composure. "Bicycles are the best. They're good for exercising. They're convenient and easier to park. And if it gets stolen, it wouldn't burn that big of a hole in the pocket either."
His bright smile slightly ached my heart. This guy was so hard on himself. Just because of one careless mistake, he sacrificed his sister's eyesight. He regretted it so much.
?Make sure you?ll fetch me!? I teased him. I wanted to help him forget the dull sadness. His sister would be able to see again the following month anyway.
I sat on the seat at the back of his bike. I felt like I haven't sat on one for a hundred years! No. Wait. I meant, that was my first time being fetched by someone on a bike.
He slowly started to paddle. Then, he turned into a small path leading into a park near my house. He suddenly shouted, "Hold on tight!" I felt a huge bump. There was a huge hole along the way.
I grabbed hold of his shirt tightly, almost falling off. "Be careful!"
"Are you scared? This is how you should cycle!" he chuckled.
I slapped his back lightly, "That's why I told you to be careful!"
"I'm being extra careful here!" Insulted, he turned and stared at me.
"Watch the road! Watch the road!" I yelled, slapping his back non-stop.
"I know." He wrapped my arms around his waist tightly. I noticed the corners of his lips curl up. He rode in a zig-zag pattern on purpose. He continued on to show off some bike tricks, both hands off the handles, riding on one wheel and etc. I screamed again.
I was drenched in sweat after riding only one round with Changsun. I was so exhausted. He stopped the bike at the side and we sat down.
"Are you tired?" he looked at my face, now flushing red because of the constant screaming and shouting.
"Of course! I've been screaming my lungs away for the past hour. What do you think?" I glared at him.
"Isn't this healthy? You don't look so pale anymore!" he smiled cheekily, the smile that you just couldn't hate.
I responded coldly, "Mmm..." showing my dissatisfaction. He pinched my cheeks. He caught me by surprise, but I tried hard not to show it. His gestures were gentle, like he was doing the most natural thing in the world. Unknowingly, I accepted his simple gesture without responding further.
"Can I ask you a question?"
"Mmm." I replied him lazily. The felt so calm.
"What is wrong with your unnie?"
My half-closed eyes now opened. My face stiffened.
"Why? You can't say it? Then I won't ask anymore." He said considerately.
"No. It's not that I can't say it. She..." I stayed still for a while. Then the word just came out like word vomit.
He was caught off guard. "Leukemia...? Is she undergoing treatment?"
"Yes. But the doctor said we discovered it too late. Chances of living looked slim. So she gave up chemotherapy because she wanted to go away looking normal.? I spoke slowly. My voice didn?t sound too upset.
"Actually, it's better this way. She's always been vain. She wouldn't want to die looking ugly. Since we can't turn back time anymore, might as well go along with her wishes."
Changsun reached out his hand and gently held mind, channelling strength and support.
"Sometimes things just happen to turn out that way. We tend to think, 'Nah... This won't happen to me'. But it just had to happen on us. We can't turn things around anymore. All we can do is just to go with the flow. If God wants our lives, then take it! We'll have to return it to him sooner or later anyway. Some things can be changed with tears. No matter how much we cry about God being unfair, our fate has been decided. We'll only exhaust ourselves that way." I couldn't believe just I said all those words to him as though I was the world's greatest philosopher.
"I understand. Your unnie is so strong. Under the torture of the sickness and towards the end of her life, she is still willing to help others. I'm really grateful to her for leaving her cornea for my sister." He said genuinely.
As I opened my mouth to say something, a sudden gust of wind choked me.
"Are you okay?" he said, patting my back. "Did you catch a cold?"
"Must be the wind."
"Let's go home."
He stood up and grabbed his bike. I quickly held his arm and asked, "Can I ride it?"
"Are you sure? I thought you aren't feeling well?" he was worried.
"I'm alright. Please. I want to ride in front." I looked up at him, attempting to persuade him with puppy eyes.
He laughed and nodded. "Gosh... don't do that to me! Alright, alright. Get on."
I climbed over happily.
I just wanted to experience the gentle wind all over again. My sense of direction was bad and I kept running into trees, swaying the bike from left to right. But I felt very blessed, more blessed than when I rode alone. Maybe it's because of Changsun, sitting behind me, screaming away as I paddled dangerously. I felt like I could fly at any moment, swept away by the wind. He held on to me tightly. Is he afraid that I would disappear? Or is he afraid that I would float away? I thought. Time flew way too quickly for me today.
So what if I hold on to you for as long as I can? So what if I try my best to cherish you?
I sat on my favourite bamboo bench one afternoon. Strangely, I couldn't smell the lily scent this time. Have they withered? Or did I change? Have the bees forgotten the beautiful flower scent and turned to the unreachable golden sun instead? I stared at the white lilies in front of me.
A sudden loud thud caught my attention. I turned and saw Changsun standing in front of me. He must have jumped over the wall.
I was confused because our walls were known to be the highest in the neighbourhood. How on earth did he do that?
He brushed off the dust on his shirt and walked towards me, "Why didn't you come out and see me in the past few days?"
"I..." I couldn?t lie looking into those clear eyes.
"Why are you avoiding me? Did I make a mistake?" his eyes filled with hurt.
I've done the one thing I never wanted.
"I don't want..." I whispered. But I couldn't finish my sentence.
He grabbed my hand. "Come with me."
"Where are we going?" He pushed me onto his bike and rode off without saying another word.
Changsun led me into a hospital. There was a young girl wearing a patient's gown, sitting quietly on a bench in the hospital garden.
"Soojung..." he surprised her although he was almost whispering. She turned and faced him. Her face brightened. But her pupils in what could have been big and round beautiful eyes were grey and dull.
"Oppa, you're here!"
?Yup! I brought a friend?
?Friend?? she turned away suspiciously. My heart burned as I looked at her dull eyes. She could have been such a lively and beautiful girl, away from this dull hospital, living a colourful life.
"Hello. My name is Hyuna." I said, hoping I didn't sound too sad.
She followed my voice and faced me with the brightest smile, just like her brother, "Hi! I'm Soojung."
"You girls continue talking. I'll go buy some drinks." Changsun nodded at me and left us alone.
"Unnie, please sit." She gestured at the empty space next to her. She looked so excited.
"You must be very pretty, Hyuna unnie."
"Why do you say so?"
She was very likeable. She would be a perfect girl if it weren't for her misfortune.
"Because of your voice! You have a very sweet voice. So I guess you must be very pretty too!"
"Thank you. You're a beautiful girl too, Soojung." I said sincerely.
"Really? I don't know. I haven't seen myself for five years." Her voice slowly faded away.
I didn't know how to comfort her. Her face suddenly lit up again. "But it's okay. Oppa said I'll be able to see myself again next month, and oppa too! I can't wait!"
My heart ached when I saw her smile. I bit my lips and didn't say anything.
"I really wanna say thank you to that unnie who agreed to donate her cornea to me. Oppa said she is the kindest person ever! He told me to remember her forever. I don't need him to remind me about that. Do I look ungrateful?" she pouted and wriggled her nose. "I hope I'll see you too unnie!"
"Me?" her sudden words baffled me.
"Yeah! I think you're a very pretty girl. And oppa has never brought anyone to visit me. You must be a very special person to him!"
So this was why Changsun brought me here to meet Soojung.
"Once you're able to see, you'll be the prettiest girl ever! Never take anything for granted!"
"I will, Hyuna unnie. Make sure you come visit me then!"
I smiled, "What is your favourite flower?"
"Mmm... when I could still see, I loved roses the most, beautiful and fragrant. What about you, unnie?"
"I love lilies, white and pure as the sky."
I looked out into the garden. How I wished there was a huge patch of lilies just then.
"Like angels? That must be beautiful." Soojung quietened down, deep in her own thoughts. "Okay." She broke the silence. "I think I like lilies now."
I giggled at her innocence. I stroked her hair lightly.
"Drinks are here!" Changsun appeared, handing out can drinks to us.
We headed home after Soojung had fallen asleep.
"Soojung really likes you." Changsun said. I didn't respond. "I hope you?ll like her too."
"She's very cute."
"What about me?" he suddenly asked.
"You're cute too." I said simply.
He was disappointed. "Guys hate to be called cute. It sounds childish."
I kept quiet. He sighed. "I brought you here to meet Soojung because I want you to know that you now have another dongsaeng even if you lose your unnie. Of course, they're not the same. But at least you won't be too sad about it."
My footsteps slowed down. It wasn't just the reason Soojung mentioned...
"What do you want me to do? Why do you seem so distant all of a sudden?" he looked at me worriedly.
I looked right into his eyes and asked softly, "Do you know my English name?"
He shook his head.
"Xanthe. Do you know what that means?"
He shook his head again.
"It means blonde-haired in Greek. Blonde-haired also means to fly, did you know that? I feel like a bee, always yearning to fly wherever I want. One day, I might fly to a certain place and never come back." I looked out into the purple sun forming a picturesque sunset, as though there were lilies in the skies again.
"What do you mean? Are you flying somewhere? Is it because of your unnie's sickness?" he asked anxiously and held my hand tightly, trying to stop me from leaving.
"I don't know. Maybe I won't fly at all." My eyes were dull, just like Soojung's.
"I'll take you home."
I waited until Changsun's bike disappeared into the corner. My tears began rolling down.
Almost two months later, Changsun brought Soojung who was happily prancing next to him, right to my doorstep. He opened the door and found himself looking at an unfamiliar face.
"Hello. My name is Changsun. This is my sister Soojung. Kim Yoona-yang had donated her cornea to my sister. And because of her, my sister can finally see again. We?re here to thank your family, and we hope to pay our respects to Yoona-yang as well."
The girl standing at the door said with her eyes wide opened, "I'm... Yoona."
"What?" Changsun and Soojung were caught off guard.
"The one who donated her cornea to your sister was actually my dongsaeng, Hyuna."
He was stunned.
"From the start, my dongsaeng actually wanted to trick you. She wanted people to know she was a donor only after she had officially given it away. She didn?t want people to see her as a patient."
"How... How... How can that be? She looked so healthy..." he couldn?t handle the sudden news. He started muttering to himself.
"She didn't want to receive treatment. She said she wanted to leave peacefully at home. She actually went away very peacefully, she didn't suffer." she said, biting her lower lip.
"No wonder she sneezed a lot. She always looked so pale. I thought she was just naturally fair-skinned." He suddenly regretted and scolded himself for being so ignorant.
"You don't have to be too hard on yourself. My sister lied to you because she cared. She wished to be perfect in front of you all the time. She had slowly strayed away from you because she didn?t want you to be hurt. She wanted you to remember her beautiful side forever." Yoona's tears couldn?t stop flowing.
Soojung had already been sobbing quietly at the side. She didn't expect the unnie who had returned her eyesight was the same pretty unnie whom she'd always wanted to see.
"I don't believe it! I don't believe it!" Changsun shouted.
"Come inside." She led them into the living room and showed her my altar. The truth finally hit him. "She left you a letter." she handed the piece of paper to him. It smelled of lilies. He opened it and saw two big words staring back at him:
Changsun couldn't hold back any longer. He broke into tears and fell to his knees. He held the letter close to his chest. "Why? Why didn't you tell me? I haven't told you how I felt! I LOVE you! Don't fly away, don't go, don't leave me!? his sobs echoed through the empty living room. A slight scent of lilies blew in.
Two weeks later, the grave was filled with white lilies. There was a piece of handkerchief laid near the tablet. It was the handkerchief that I had lent to Changsun months ago. He was the one who had planted the lilies by the grave.
"This way you won't fly to other flowers." He faintly smiled.
The lily scent filled the place with peace and joy, covering my loved ones. I smiled looking down from the heavens.
Soojung looked up at the skies and whispered, "Lily angel..."