TRACKSIDED

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솔까말

JANE

“Spread your legs a little more, put your guard up, good, now punch.”

I punch.

“Igeat beogi? [What’s this? Informal]”

“Don’t laugh, Tae Won.”

We’re at this boxing club he goes to in Norangjin, how I regret telling him I wanted to shape up. Tae Won took my word for it and started training me.

Friends, Tae Won, said, right now, we’re building the walls of the friendship he asked for by spending a tremendous amount of time together.

We do what friends do, hang out. Perhaps the time spent with Tae Won is too much. I try to avoid him, but he insists a lot, the Korean way.

If you wonder what the Korean style is, here’s a quick glimpse of what it is.

Koreans hate to wait; their quite impatient, excellent service for them is quick.

They’re persistent, both men and women, when invested in a relationship no matter its nature, it’s 1000%.

1000% passionate

1000% insistent

1000% in love

And when they are deceived or betrayed, you receive a 1000% of hate.

For the moment, I’ve got 1000% of Tae Won’s attention. He’s dedicating himself to me, and I’m careful not to fall into the limbo of confusion overstepping the limits of the friend zone. Most People who see us must see a language exchange friendship, but sometimes I hear the whispers of those who doubt.

“Ya, isn’t it Kim Tae Won?”

“The singer?”

“Paebo, no, the swimmer.”

“Isn’t he back with Soo Kyeongin.”

“Well, he seems to be with a waéguk now.”

Kyeongin.

I did some research after that, what I found out buried me a little more. I read how I destroyed the life he had. Tae Won stopped swimming after the accident, and he broke up with his girlfriend, Kyeong Soo Ae, aka Kyeongin by fans.

The archer’s fanbase is enormous; I had no trouble finding photos of her. Kyeong Soo Ae is beautiful; I can’t help but wonder the reason for their break up. I even saw pics of them younger.

The story told by the media seemed like a fairy tale; they represented Korea’s future in the two sports disciplines. They supported and drove each other, and now Tae Won is here with a lost girl, who he would kill with his bare hands if he knew the truth about her.

So I’ve decided that to get them back together, I must get the train I deviated back on track.

Where are my feelings in this?

In a pickle jar.

I see coach Gong eyeing me while whispering something to someone next to him. From the way he looks at me when I come here with Tae Won, I can tell he doesn’t like me.

I know he has nothing against foreigners, but he must be one of those who don’t believe in friendship between men and women.

The fact that I’m a foreigner must stress him; he’s scared for Tae Won because he cares.

“Okay, let’s call it a day,” Tae Won says.

I head to the showers; when I finish up and approach the entrance, I can hear coach Gong.

“Tae Won, what are you playing at?”

“I thought things were looking up? You should be with Soo Ae. Why are you spending your time with this girl? People are talking.”

“Let them talk. Jane is my friend; she helped me as no one did, and I’m aiding her now.”

“Listen, she’s a rich kid who doesn’t need you. This girl will throw you away like all foreigners do when she’s done learning the language, testing all our food. The woman will throw you away when she has tasted you.”

“I said Jane is a friend; there’s no tasting whatsoever between us.”

“Are you sure about that? I see the Kaemi [chemistry] between you.

“Mwo? kaemi museon?” Tae Won scoffs.

“Tae Won, listen, don’t go there, you’ll get your heartbroken. Call Soo Ae, huh, fix it up. Don’t waste your time with a futile relationship; nothing good will come of it.”

I don’t step out; I want the coach to go to the end of his speech. Perhaps he’ll succeed in convincing Tae Won, the middle-aged man’s words are hard to listen to, but it’s for the better. He’s only saying what Tae Won and I both know.

If Tae Won’s family were alive, our paths wouldn’t have crossed; he would probably be a swimming gold medalist preparing his marriage with Soo Ae.

And I would be partying somewhere in Seoul with Mona and Brad, or I might even be dead.

It suddenly occurs to me that if the accident didn’t happen, Brad and I would have carried on our descent to hell. We would have ended up as junkies, and maybe we would have chained and dragged Mona to follow us.

The balance of my thoughts is swaying from side to side; I don’t know what option would be better. But for Tae Won’s sake, I would have preferred sparing him the pain.

Other club members make their way towards the entrance; I start to move and step outside.

“Ready?” Tae Won asks, giving me his usual smile.

The authenticity of the smile amazes me when I think about the conversation he just had.

“Yep.”

“Okay, let’s go and eat.”

We leave, and the coach heads back inside, slamming the door.

“What do you want to eat?”

“Something light,” I reply.

“You don’t eat much, I’ve noticed. When you practice sports, a healthy diet is essential.”

“I know it’s justㅡ.”

He opens the door to a sikdang [restaurant]. It doesn’t look like a typical Korean restaurant. I don’t smell meat.

“What is it?”

“It’s new; they only serve natural and fruit of vegetable bibimbap.”

Tae Won thinks I’m vegan; he’ll never flare the reasons why I don’t set foot in a Korean barbecue restaurant. I don’t even miss samgyeopsal; it’s hard to believe when I used to devour it like someone who crossed the Sahara desert and who hasn’t seen food for a decade.

We sit down. I look at the menu, and the restaurant indeed serves fruit and vegetables, bibimbap, and soup.

“So tell me, Jane, what’s your problem with food. I’m asking you this as your friend and coach. You don’t have an incurable disease, do you?”

He’s staring at me, and I know he won’t leave me alone till he pulls all the answers he wants out of me. Also, health, like for any human being, is vital, but it’s everything for Koreans. The number of Yak stores [pharmacies/drugstores] shows how concerned they are about health.

Have you eaten?

How is your body?

These questions are a Korean greeting.

“I was sick, very sick; I became anorexic, then bulimic, then anorexic again, I fell into depression, to cut the story short, I have a lot of mental issues. I’m not someone recommendable to be with.”

“Says who?”

I look around, and like a crook tipping off the police, I lean over the table, “Can I be frank?”

50% frank.

“Yeah, sogikki mal [speak honestly].”

“You might be older than me, but I’ve lived and done things that I doubt if you knew you would sit at this table with me.”

“Are you trying to scare me?”

“Is it working?”

Tae Won smiles.

I hate him.

Tae Won is too handsome and doesn’t know what ingredients they engineer humans like him to resemble the image of a Greek God. His eyes, lips, nose, cheekbones, everything is perfectly sculptured. He has the broad shoulders of a swimmer, which gives his upper body the perfect V shape many guys dream of having.

In my standards, Tae Won is to die for, and I’m dying.

Pickle Jar, Jane.


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