Summer of Soju

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제 23 장

As expected, the harrowing, almost mockingly over-jolly tune of my alarm wakes me at what must be four o’clock. I dazedly roll towards the bedside table to switch it off, then rub my eyes and peer over the edge of the bed – the half-full bottle of piss that I conjured up last night is still there, and this morning, it stares deeply into my soul. I couldn’t face going into that dingy wet bathroom last night, so I decided to grace an old bottle with the honour of carrying my hot yellow fluid instead.

Still devoid of any motivation to go in there, I skip having a shower and brushing my teeth, instead pulling my dirty clothes back on and rinsing my mouth with sparkling water.

I sit and frown at the piss bottle as I zip up my bag.

I could quite easily leave it here, in the bin or something.

It wouldn’t be so out of place in this cesspit.

But when I get up to leave it feels like it’s speaking to me: ’Where are you going?’ it asks accusingly, ’You created me, and now you’re going to leave me? What if somebody finds me? How will you feel then? Will you be able to live with your decision?’

And as much as I hate to admit it, the half-full bottle of piss is right.

I can’t leave it.

Just the thought of some old cleaning lady going to change the bin and finding my piss bottle makes me feel uncomfortable.

I know I wouldn’t witness the result and she wouldn’t have any idea that it was me, or any idea who I am, but I just don’t like the thought of it.

Ruining another human being’s morning by having them handle my bottled piss is something which I simply can’t reconcile; and so, reluctantly, I pack the bottle into my bag - along with my other prized possessions - and head out of the hostel.

On the way to the metro station, I roam the quiet streets of Hongdae like a zombie, searching for a bin where I can dump my piss. I pass several of them placed outside various CUs and GS25s, but they’re all either too close to a sweeping shopkeeper or a couple of last-standing tourists guzzling down their final drops of soju. After passing four or five unsuitable bins, I finally come across one that stands alone, next to a GS25. As I deposit my piss bottle into the bin, I smile wryly at the shopkeeper through the window. He raises an eyebrow along with his hand, and I wave him good-bye as I carry on with my journey, half a litre lighter and piss bottle free.

The metro station is more populated than the streets, with a scattered mix of businessmen and holiday makers all heading towards the airport line.

I drag myself onto the carriage and scan for a place to sit, but the only available seat has the words seat for the pregnant woman printed above it.

I slowly approach the pregnant woman seat and – to disapproving looks – fall back onto it, too exhausted to care now. I rest my head in the palm of my hand and sporadically drift between sleep and reality.

I’m awoken again by the fat man beside me standing up as we approach Incheon airport. I yawn and slap my face around a bit before climbing back out of the pregnant woman seat.

The doors slide open, beep-beeping urgently, and I’m carried out of the carriage by a stream of passengers who must be in more of a rush than myself.

I go through the usual mundane airport tasks – checking in, security, outrageously expensive meal, pretending to be interested in buying aftershave so you get a free spray, taking a shit so you don’t have to on the plane, etc.

I’m wished a happy flight by an air hostess after having my passport and boarding pass checked, then another one says the same thing when I step onto the plane, directing me to my seat: 24C, by the window at the back.

I climb over an old Korean man in the aisle seat and claim my spot beside the window. I smile at the old man and glance at the empty middle seat, hoping no one has booked it, but unfortunately for mine and the old man’s personal space, the owner of the middle seat arrives a few minutes later.

He’s a tall white guy with curly ginger hair and an expensive-looking camera hanging from his neck. He climbs over the old man to reach his seat, and the old man shrugs helplessly in my direction, as if to communicate: That’s life for you.

‘How’s it going?’ the middle seat man asks me.

‘Oh, fine,’ I reply unencouragingly. ‘And you?’

‘Pretty good, yeah… crazy country, huh?’

‘Yeah…’ I gaze out of the window at the airport staff hurling suitcases onto the plane.

‘What brought you?’ he carries on. ‘Business or pleasure?’

‘I was visiting my brother,’ I say, still looking out of the window. ‘He lives there. Well, here.’

‘Oh, really? That’s cool. Must’ve been useful having someone who knows the place.’

‘Yeah, I guess it was.’

Silence.

‘And what brought you here?’ I ask, facing him now.

‘Oh, I dunno, really. I like taking photos, you know. Hence the camera. I thought Seoul looked pretty cool for that.’

‘Right. Cool.’ I acknowledge the camera. ‘And was it?’

His glassy eyes look right through me. ‘Was it what?’

‘Was it cool for… taking photos?’

‘Oh, yeah - really cool. I took a tonne of pictures just of random signs and stuff like that. I don’t know what any of it means, obviously, but it looks good.’ He raises the camera. ‘You wanna see some?’

‘Maybe later.’ I smile at him lazily. ‘We’ve got a long journey.’

The plane starts to manoeuvre itself around the runway and the safety demonstrations get underway. One cute-looking air hostess standing next to the old man begins showing us how to equip a vest and an oxygen mask in case of emergency. I put on my headphones and hear the ginger guy speak to me again. ‘Was it nice seeing your brother, then?’ I think he says, but I pretend I didn’t hear him, and instead of answering his question, I put on Illmatic and gaze back out of the window as the plan completes its final laps.

The end of the summer always feels like the end of the year to me. It’s a time where I tend to reflect on the events of the past, more-so than at the end of the calendar year. I don’t know why that is. I don’t know why much is the way it is. All I can know is what I feel, what I see, what I hear. That’s the most special and unique part of being alive.

And also the most isolating.

Our thoughts and experiences are the only things that belong to ourselves, but they can never be truly shared or experienced by anyone else. We enjoy a complete knowledge of what makes us, and what made us, without hardly scraping the surface of even a minority of the people we encounter in our lives.

The plane shoots off into the sky and I continue gazing out of the window as we soar further away from the ground, leaving behind Seoul, Korea, my brother. Everything gets smaller - the people, the buildings, the city… smaller and smaller, until completely out of sight.

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