Summer of Soju

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제 4 장

‘Wake up, wake up…’

I open my eyes to see Joey hovering over me, looking surprisingly fresh and chipper. ‘Morning, brother.’ He smiles affectionately.

‘What’s up?’ I yawn, wiping the sand from my eyes. ‘What’s the time?’

‘Time for lunch,’ he pulls back, standing up straight. ‘I’ve got an hour to kill, so I thought we’d go to this nice place I know, not too far from here. If you feel up to it?’

It’s the very last thing I want to do, but Joey’s good intentions can be difficult to shut down, so I reluctantly crawl out of bed, wipe down the key areas of my body, and change into some clean clothes. He leads me down the stairs and through the hordes of manic wailing children, all the way to the exit of the Kingdom. I grab my shoes from the rack, take a step onto the dusty gravel, and make for an inviting bench to slouch on. Joey calls a taxi while I sit and stew in the afternoon sun, my head still throbbing, and the tribal racket of the children not doing me any favours either. I try to distract myself from the noise by holding an extensive groan for as long as I can while Joey paces the courtyard.

‘Where is this guy?!’ he yells. ‘This is my break he’s wasting!’

‘Uhhhh…’ I carry on.

A furious taxi driver finally arrives at the Kingdom, spouting all kinds of god-knows what from the window. We climb inside and he slams the accelerator hard, leaving behind a cloud of dust in his wake.

Joey argues with the driver in the front seat while I focus my energy on trying to not throw up again, gripping tightly onto an overhead handle, staring out of the window as the streets pass us by.

Further into town, the driver slams the breaks and splutters something in Korean, probably a more-or-less direct translation of: We’re here now, so get out!

Joey chucks him a few notes and we jump out of the cab.

The tires screech as he speeds away.

‘What was his problem?’ Joey sniggers. ‘Kept saying I gave him the wrong address. But I didn’t.’

‘Uhh…’ I groan again.

‘Alright,’ he places his hands on my shoulders. ‘How you holding up?’

‘Not too good, to be honest.’ My nose sniffles. ‘I’m not sure I can eat anything right now.’

‘Oh, come on,’ he beseeches me, still retaining his unstoppable enthusiasm. ‘Let’s just give it a go, yeah?’

We’re seated at a table right next to the bathroom, one of the few times I’ve been happy to sit near a toilet in a restaurant. It gives me a slight feeling of security, knowing that I may blow at any moment.

I take a look around as I pull out a chair and everyone seems to be staring at my sweaty, throbbing head. I turn away to avoid any mutual gazes, just in case they rightly suspect that I shouldn’t be here.

A smiley-faced waitress comes to take our drinks order.

‘Coke,’ Joey quickly responds.

‘Orange juice?’ I croak.

And the waitress feeds me a confused glance. She pauses, like she’s been momentarily frozen, then gradually bobs her head and wanders off smiling again.

I pick up a laminated menu and begin scanning it lazily.

But even the thought of eating makes me feel sick to my stomach. I look the menu up and down and all I feel is a nausea pulsating through my body, an insidious, bubbling of chemicals rising from my gut to the back of my throat.

And then, suddenly - an extreme surge of hunger jumps inside of me, possessing me with an urge to devour. I reach for the menu again to feast my eyes upon the pages of food that could be mine in an instant - the kimchi soup, the pork belly barbecue, the stir-fried noodles, the beef broth, the tuna bibimbap; whatever it is, I want it.

I almost start drooling over the endless list of possibilities, but then the urge dissipates, swiftly replaced by a sharp twinge of sickness like before. I toss the menu away and lean back into my chair.

‘See anything you like?’ my brother asks, peeking over the menu.

‘I don’t even know what most of it is.’ I grumble, ‘Any recommendations?’

‘The kimbap is good. It’s like Korean sushi.’

‘Right…’ I nod, pretending to be interested. ‘I think I’ll get the chicken curry. Something rich and hearty, you know?’

‘Sure.’

The waitress returns and places two bottles of Coke on the table.

‘Two Coke,’ she squeaks, and my brain starts to whirlwind into a flurry of frustration and exhaustion. I shut my eyes to escape the scene for a moment, but the dizzying feeling of nausea forces me straight back into reality.

‘Thanksss,’ I mumble to the waitress.

’Two Cokes?’ Joey raises an eyebrow. ‘That’s not what we ordered, is it?’

‘Uh, no…’ I say, ‘but it’s fine, really.’ I pour myself a glass of sugary Coke, chugging it down in one go just to prove my indifference, but predictably giving myself the most unwelcome hiccups in the process.

‘Hic!’ I go, ‘Hic! Hic!’ with each one hitting me harder than the last, my body violently spasming as if it were being gunned down by a firing squad.

Eight or nine hiccups more and I begin to feel a stirring in my stomach - a sharp, sudden pain, followed by an injection of emptiness and despair. I glance down at my stomach, and then back at Joey, my eyes wide and panic-stricken. I leap out of my chair and crash into the bathroom.

But inside the cubicle I’m gifted no comfort. A grimy hole sits in the middle of the floor beside a half roll of toilet paper and an overflowing bin.

Such facilities would have been adequate if I required a repeat of this morning’s carnage, but something of a different ilk brews inside me now.

Something that requires a different method of exit.

Something that must go from me.

And go from me it shall.

I return to my food waiting for me on the table.

Joey smiles and unpacks his chopsticks from their paper wrapper. ‘You were in there long enough, weren’t you?’ he says.

‘Had some unfinished business,’ I groan, still clenching my stomach.

‘Well,’ he taps my bowl with his chopsticks, ‘a bit of chicken might sort you out. No feet this time.’

And as I look down at the chicken, swimming around in its own juices, I catch a whiff of the kimchi on the side and I feel like I might be sick again.

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