In this story I was trying to imitate Denis Johnson in Jesus’s Son, the doped and dazed speaker, the gloomy atmosphere, the gritty nightlife, always slightly removed from reality.
The first time I saw him I wasn’t sure if I was looking at a real person. The rain was dripping over my hair and into my eyes, my boots were sloshing through the night, and the city lights streaked my vision through the water puddles. I wasn’t used to the undark night time of the Korean peninsula, the scattering lights that moved and blinked and came and dissipated. For the first time in my life I was completely alone and safe in my anonymity. I could hide in plain sight and no one would know me ever again.
But somehow he found me. He saw me see him that night, and every night since then I’ve felt his presence lurking in the shadows, just beyond my reach, just far away that I could not recognise him.
I see him everywhere.
I clamber on the last train home. People are piled up and sleeping on their chests, drooling on their briefcases, eyelids heavy with fatigue. The younger ones nod away into their smart phones, earphones on, dressed sharp even in this weather.
I shake my head to obliterate his face from my mind and I try to focus on the girl sitting in front of me as I swing on the handlebar with the rhythm of the train. She has her pink headphones on, and is playing a game on her Smartphone. She doesn’t see me looking at her, and when I look in the window above her head, I don’t see me either. I see the drawn, sunken eyes in the round face, the downward tug of the mouth, the red nose. I see the hair carelessly swept back into a bun in the nape of my neck, and the oversized shirt over the oversized jeans with the holes for hems.
I prefer the bus anyway.
On that first night I took a bus to the far side of town, with no destination in mind, just to see the city and its lights, the people and their business. We drove for hours, sometimes the bus was full, other times it was just the driver and I. We never spoke, how could we? We just slipped through the traffic of expensive cars driven by CEOs and power moms, businessmen and government officials. We all shared that night under the starless sky in the undark with the eyes watching without seeing, the ears listening without hearing. We swerved and dived and stopped and went, lights changed and swooped and made lines that tied us all to one post.
I could stare out the window, and in my face I could see coffee shops, bars, clubs, umbrellas, cars, feet, shoes, cigarettes, cocktails, highlights and lowlights, hairdressers, busses, whiskey, books, fried chicken, cheesecake, hot dogs, stray dogs, cats in windows, an old man limping, young men laughing, children playing in the parks at night, couples saying goodbye under the streetlamps, going their separate ways alone, people waving and dancing and running and living alive, lively.
We went forever that night, we saw the night as it presented itself, safe, serene, a time forever now, forever young, unalterable by lights or change.
The girl in front of me looks up with a jerk and frowns when she sees my fixed eyes. I didn’t mean to stare, I look away swiftly, but not fast enough. She gets off at the next stop and she’s gone. I sit in her seat and gaze at the small old wrinkled grandmother in the corner. She’s got with her a basket with apples, peaches, and onions. Hunched over her bushels she moves as the train moves, her beige jersey catches the light of the overhead lights and she looks as if she’s dancing with a loved one under the stars.
How did he find me?
I was so careful to cross the world without a trace.
Why is he here?
He doesn’t want me, but he doesn’t want to let me go either.
It’s maddening, the not knowing, the fearing, the obsessing.
What’s he doing in the puddles?
I get off at my stop, and walk the last few blocks. I pass the GS25, the Family Mart, the Noraebang. The rain drenches my sneakers and plasters my hair to my forehead, but it cannot mask the footsteps. I stop for a second to listen, the footsteps stop too. I glance over my shoulder to see a man in a brown trench coat, his face obscured, coming towards me in haste. I walk faster, his footsteps increase their pace. I start to trot, his footsteps match mine. I look up the hill, still got a block or two to go before I reach my front door. He knows I know he’s following me now, and I can’t outrun him. I run anyway.
I run blindly and stupidly, limbs everywhere, cursing the fat roll around my waist I swore to shake off, wondering why I left my rape whistle at home in South Africa, praying to every deity I can think of to spare me from him, to deliver me from evil, to remember my good deeds and send some good deeds my way. I look behind me again while I run, and he is there, he is on my heels, seconds away.
I round the corner to my house, I’m almost at the door, I can feel his breath in my neck, I can hear his voice as he laughs at my attempts to get away. My ankles and toes are swollen and beaten and I steal one last glance behind me before I reach my door.
I fall face down in the mud. He is there he is on top of me my vision is caked with blood and murk and mud and tears and I scream and I lash out with my nails and my teeth and my fingers become claws that reach for soft parts, eyes, flesh, anything to draw blood to save myself.
“Djaa! Hajima!” I look up, and through the tears and the soil I see an old lady in a pink robe with pink curlers in her hair shaking her fist at me through the second storey window. In a hoarse voice and with the worst accent I apologize for waking her. She snorts and sniffs and closes her window with a wall shuddering thud.
I look back at my attacker. He’s gone. I lie in the mud with my eyes trained at the spot where he stood. For a long time I lie like that, suspended in time, holding my breath.
I get up and go inside my building, taking the stairs to my third floor apartment.
I enter my house, check under the bed and in the cupboards, and satisfied, I turn off all the lights, but one, and pour myself a drink.