Summer of Soju

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제 16 장

Frank did eventually return to the game, but he didn’t stop lambasting the Daegu FC fans under his breath until the final whistle blew. Over the last few days I haven’t seen much of him. He leaves for work in the morning and doesn’t creep back in until we’re all tucked up in bed. Joey says he’s like this sometimes; erratic, frustrated, but it doesn’t last long, no more than three or four days before he sinks back into his regular effervescent self.

‘He’ll be right as rain by the time we come back,’ Joey says as we bounce across the sea on the boat to Bijindo, a magical island unknown to many as he describes it.

I sit back and let the soft breeze make its way through my hair, inspecting the other passengers, gazing at the seagulls circling around the boat. More than half of the passengers onboard the ship are old Korean men, all dressed in hiking gear, sitting on the deck with a cigarette in one hand and a bottle of soju in the other. Like a pack of delinquent teenagers, they dominate the boat with their cheers and jeers, stumbling around the deck like they own the place.

I observe them for a while, studying them, trying to figure out how they became this way - so careless and youthful, choosing to take life by the horns instead of sitting around and waiting for the reaper.

‘Reckon it’s some kind of stag do?’ Joey smirks.

‘Could be.’ I nod. ‘Lads holiday, perhaps.’

‘Yeah. They probably just tell the wives they’re going on a little hiking trip with the boys, and then they whack out the soju when the boat leaves the port.’

‘Feel like they’re showing us up.’

‘Fine with me.’ Joey folds his arms over. ‘Too early for soju, anyway. Give it till seven o’clock and they’ll be nodding off in their cots.’

*

The coast of the island reveals itself behind a mustard yellow cliff. The soju hikers pick up the pieces of newspaper they’ve been sitting on and stagger towards the front of the boat for their embarkment. After an identification check and ticket inspection, we set our feet down on new land. The island itself looks like it consists mostly of forestation - perhaps a good alibi for the hikers - and one long sandy beach.

Spread across the beach is a row of guesthouses which we pass on the way to ours, the last in the row, the only one that Joey said would host foreigners.

We climb up a few steps to the front door of the guesthouse - a big white mansion-like building with a raised deck, tables and chairs, and a sofa swing that looks upon the beach. Attached to the door is a sign that reads: foreigners welcome.

A Korean woman suddenly swings the door open and throws her arms around Joey. She takes a step back and points a finger at him, waving it playfully. ‘Joey?’ she asks. ‘Joey? Yes? Joey?’

‘Yep.’ Joey beams at the old lady. ‘That’s me.’

‘Beautiful.’ She bops her head, feeding me an affectionate gaze. ‘Very beautiful. First time? Bijindo?’

‘Me,’ I say. ‘Not him.’

‘Aaaaaah.’ She grips Joey’s shoulder tightly. ‘Very good. Yes. Very good. I show you room.’

We follow her round the back and up some stairs until we reach our new front door. It’s a large wooden space with a hot plate and a modest balcony, but no signs of a bed apart from a couple of folded blankets in the corner. She hands Joey the keys and divulges that she sells beer downstairs until midnight. We smile fondly at her, and after a cheeky wink and a few more shoulder grazes, she leaves us to settle in.

‘You’d think they’d provide beds in a place where foreigners are welcome,’ I say to Joey.

‘Well, they may be fond of us… but that doesn’t necessarily mean they understand us.’

’Haven’t they seen American TV, though? I mean… surely, they must have seen an episode of Friends or something and been like, ‘oh, what’s that comfy looking thing there?’’

‘I doubt it.’ Joey laughs. ‘There’s barely any internet here. This is island living, brother… Forget all you know, because it’s no use here.’

*

Joey and I spend what’s left of the afternoon frolicking around in the sea, exploring the island in the guesthouse’s private kayaks, one of us paddling and the other one drinking, until we decide that it’s time to switch.

The kayak later goes back to the guesthouse and we lie ourselves down flat on the beach. Gradually, the sun dries our wet bodies and the sand begins to crumble away from our legs. I light a cigarette and close both my eyes while the cool tide plays with my feet.

At some point our stomachs grumble, so we head back into the room where Joey retrieves some meats and vegetables from his rucksack. He sets up the hot plate and we dine on the balcony, sipping on beers and soju, stuffing our faces as the sun disappears into the sea like an orange jellyfish.

Later, we take our business downstairs to the swing chair, where Joey takes out some rum and Coke that he brought from Daegu and fills up two glasses.

The night grows darker, the tide comes in, and the only sound that can be sparsely heard now is the gentle crashing of waves onto the shore.

‘Do you remember when…’ Joey starts, ‘when we used to hide dad’s cigarettes?’

‘Yeah.’ I grin, ready to light another one. ‘Why?’

‘Well, I was just thinking about it. We were so stupid, don’t you think? Our tactic was to just throw them in the bin, and he’d always find them there and be mad at us.’

‘Hey.’ I shrug. ‘I was only a baby back then. You were the one spearheading the operation.’

‘True,’ he says. ‘But, I really thought it would work. It’s funny being that innocent, that naïve. My brain just thought, okay, the bin is where things go to die, so I’ll bin these fags and that’ll be the end of it.’

‘Ignorance is bliss,’ I mutter.

‘Sure is, brother…’ he says, inhaling. ‘How is he?’

‘Dad?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Oh, you know – difficult, but he tries… sometimes.’

‘Does he ever ask about me?’

‘Yeah.’ I lie. ‘Every now and then.’

‘Right,’ he nods slowly.

‘Have you… heard from him much?’

‘Nah…’ he sighs. ‘Haven’t spoke for a while. We met up before I came here, a long time ago now… and it was nice, I guess. But, since I’ve been here – nothing. Not even a text.’

Joey and I were never really close with our father.

I suppose I saw more of him when we were growing up, and I still get to have a forced interaction with him every few months or so, but Joey was always more of a father figure to me.

His face sags as he lights another cigarette, and then the front door of the guesthouse bursts open and the owner lady walks out, an old stereo wedged under her arm and a cigarette drooping from her mouth. She places the stereo on the deck and hits Play, releasing the familiar sound of Frankie Valli’s Can’t Take My Eyes off You out onto the beach.

Joey smiles again and stands himself up, joining the old lady on the deck, swaying along to the sounds of the stereo. I pick up my rum and Coke and gravitate towards the pair, singing and dancing, leaning my head against the starry night sky as I dream myself away.

‘Island living, brother…’ Joey whispers again. ‘Island living…’

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