It’s been a week since my evening with Soo Ae.
She hasn’t called since, and I was afraid she would. Now I’m a little worried, wondering why she isn’t phoning me.
I messed up; I shouldn’t have yielded. Soo Ae is not someone with whom I can have meaningless sex, and it wasn’t like that. The feelings were there, many floating in absolute confusion, and there was also the yearning. I didn’t know I missed her skin and scent that much.
In all honesty, I don’t know how I felt during or after.
It’s not even possible for me to evaluate if Soo Ae noticed how lost I was. After our sportive enterprise, Soo Ae took a shower, and I brought her back to her parents. Soo Ae’s wet hair tips didn’t go unnoticed as they triggered a cold stare from her mother in my direction.
Her father held me a little to ask me a few questions, to which I conceded too; I did kidnap his daughter for a few hours. It’s the least I can do. Soo Ae’s father isn’t an evil man, but women surround him, and protecting them is a priority. Right now, I know he sees me as a menace.
To my surprise, he listened and gave me some advice. I didn’t get a bad feeling till I heard doors slam and Soo Ae’s mom flies past us with tears in her eyes.
I made up an excuse and left; one thing I know for sure if I choose to be with Soo Ae, it will be over her mother’s dead body.
Do you know what’s worse than having people against your relationship?
Having parents against your romance.
And as a guy, knowing Soo Ae’s mother is against our union, I don’t want to pursue. That night was the last if Soo Ae calls, I’ll tell her I met someone. I’ve never tried that ploy with her; it might just work.
As for meeting someone, right now, I’m sitting in one of Gangnam’s study cafés. There are many in Seoul, and this one is particularly nice, with its library and selves which touch the ceiling. There’s a jukebox playing jazz, a multimedia area, and this beautiful view of the streets, the nosy and busy streets which we can’t hear since the place is soundproof.
The student will be comfortable here. I accepted the private tutor vacancy; I’ll be perfecting foreigner’s Korean. I know it’s a girl, and I’m praying she isn’t one of those Kpop stans. The institute doesn’t give a lot of background info to avoid tutors from being picky. If there’s someone who calls off the course, it’s the student. If the tutor cancels and puts an end to it, the institute sort of blacklists you.
Her name is Ava.
It’s a cute name; I don’t know why I imagine a German or Greek girl.
My phone beeps with a message:
Unknown: Hello Mr. Kim,
I’m at the Café, where are you?
Upstairs by the window.
Unknown: Okay, I’m coming up.
The only couple sitting by the window gets up and leaves. It won’t be difficult for my student to find me now. I turn to look outside.
“Annyeong, Mr. Kim.”
This voice seems familiar, I turn slowly, and a cold drop of sweat slides along my hairline as I find myself face to face with Jane.
What’s reassuring about the situation is Jane has the facial expression of someone whose dog just got ran over in front of her, which means she’s as shocked as I am.
“I’m sorry,” she says, “I thoughtㅡ,” Jane looks about as though she searches for someone else, but from the Korean language books Jane is hugging, I know she’s my student.
“Are you Ava?”
“Yeah,” she says fearfully.
“I thought your name was Jane.”
“Ava, is my first name turned middle name, only my dad uses it, and he booked these lessons.”
The explanation doesn’t matter; what keeps my mouth wide open for the flies to visit is jane.
Ava Jane Austen or Jane Ava Austen, whatever.
“If you don’tㅡ.”
No, I won’t let you run. I don’t even give Jane time to finish her sentence as I lash out, “have a seat.”
I’m here to make money; these lessons are expensive; whether it’s her or not, I’m here to teach. Despite what I think, it makes a lot of coincidences. I’m starting to wonder if there isn’t anything behind this.
Why do I keep meeting this girl, over and over?
And why did she have to pop up now? My thoughts diverted to Soo Ae, it was uncomfortable, but it’s something I can handle. This American girl just has the knack for giving me headaches.
Don’t ask me why.
I said, don’t!
“Can you introduce yourself?”
“I’m Jane, I’mㅡ.”
“In Korean,” yeah, I won’t be messing around. She’s here to learn, and I begin with the basics to check her level.
“Oh, sorry, silly me.”
Yeah, that’s what you are, silly.
Jane begins to present herself, her accent is terrible, and she makes a lot of errors. Why are foreigners like this, huh? Why doesn’t Jane enroll and follow courses in English? Why is she bothering with Korean?
Despite my interrogations, I won’t ask the question; I don’t care about her motivations. I’m here for my tun [money] and nothing else.
We start the lesson; I still can’t believe I’m teaching Jane; of all the tutors possible, it had to be me.
I don’t know what is going on in her head, but Jane is very pale, and then she looks at me, and all these dots appear on her face. She has a lot of freckles. I’m impressed by their behavior, the way they come and go, but the thing which impresses me the most, and I’m not scared to admit it, are her eyes, not their color, but it’s what’s behind them.
Is this what people see? Does Soo Ae notice the same thing when she stares at me?
If it’s so, I understand why Soo Ae holds on to me; one finds themselves compelled to want to comfort and ask the person if they’re okay.
It’s strange, but this girl’s eyes make me want to do that.
From the beginning, Jane had this effect on me. It started in the ambulance, the void in her eyes connected me to her, and it’s linking me now. Something in me wants to know, does she have the same sensation howling within her.
“Mr. Kim, it’s time,” Jane says.
I look at my watch; she’s right; it’s over. What seemed like an endeavor went fast.
Jane gets up to leave; I gather my belongings and follow. We step out of the café together, and we stand to wait for I don’t know what. I’m first to break the silence.
“Eh, Tae Won, my name is Tae Won.”
We’re almost the same age, we’ve met a couple of times and foreigners call acquaintances by their first name. It’s what I think when I say this.
“Okay, Tae Won, see you next time.”
Jane walks off, and I watch her disappear in the metro’s direction.
There aren’t many things or people who interest me, but as her shadow grows small, I realize I’m curious about her, and there’s no mystery behind my behavior.
Jane is one of the rare people I’ve met who captivates my attention; I’m so focused on trying to see behind her stare. I forget everything else.
Can Jane substitute the pain?