The Abandoned Station

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Living on the takeout

 

 

Surprise rainstorm in January.

At least in terms of intensity.

Little drizzles. Expected.

This. Not.

Yoo Hee-kyun could even hear it come down with all the windows closed.

At least it brought down the dust, which used to be a spring only event, but now happens throughout the year.

A hard time finding the mask-hat. Forgot he left it on the balcony they weren't supposed to use during any sort of 'weather event'.

The Gongdeok-dong property site really hyped up the balcony, but it's just a metre square that is flush with the rest of the building. You could a fit a chair out there, but not be able to sit in it comfortably without banging your head on the sliding door. And forget stretching out.

At least you could vape out there (you weren't supposed to, but you could, and that meant everyone did, unless you were on the floor where the reps were, which was why the apartments on two, seven, twelve, seventeen, twenty-two, twenty-seven, thirty-two, thirty-seven, forty-two, forty-seven, fifty-two, fifty-seven, sixty-two, and sixty-eight were cheaper).

Their handy neighbour (actually four doors down, but y'know) stitched together his masks and hat and didn't charge much e-won. It was almost more like you just owed them a favour, but one of those easy favours, like bringing over leftovers or taking care of their cousins for an afternoon when they had a doctor visit on the other side of the city.

Yoo thought it looked quite good, and Chen even said she wished she didn't spend all that money for her own online.

After finding it on the balcony and cursing the weather he asks Chen if there is anything else besides the food that he should pick up.

-on the way there, not the way back, right?

-right. Yes.

No one likes cold food that is supposed to be hot.

Especially from this new place that does the classics well. Bibimbap, jajangmyeon, even some piping hot mandu. The new secret star of Namdaemun market (take that, Gongdeok market! Your reign of delicious terror is over!). Recommended from a few people on the floor (especially the simple but superb jeon from their banchan menu). Much easier to trust than the endlessly ghost and spam reviews that clog up everything you check on your phone.

-if you get some fish food from 7-11, will you be fine carrying it all home?

-yeah, yeah, yeah.

His left arm has good days and bad.

The hallway was clean because it was almost Monday.

Since Chen could still come out of the apartment to remind him of something she finally remembered she wanted, he waited until he was in the elevator to open up the ordering app to add the good (but bad for you) karage chicken as well.

Yoo shouldn't be ordering this.

Chen showed him the nutritional information and he couldn't help but grimace.

But this time it's not cheating, it's a reward.

Worked hard all day clearing those mines. And did it again note-perfect against his match. Didnít leave his chair for hours.

Now Yoo is performing his next act of daring. Bringing home the food from a hunt in the urban jungle. And saving money on delivery.

Outside wasn't exactly a ghost town, but he did feel quite alone since it seemed like everyone else was travelling in clumps.

Shuffling under four or five umbrellas that seemed to blend into one, a ten-legged creature scurrying in the thick black rain. The few lone adventurers huddle under the awnings and doorways and let the phones light up their masks, looking like alien-creatures waiting for the next interplanetary transport out of here.

All these images are made more potent and believable because the bright lights on all the buildings and drones blur in the mist. It becomes more shimmering and ethereal and unfamiliar, even as Yoo passes by Namdaemun gate.

It sits awkward but indomitable alongside the modern world, but the secret to its longevity is on full display. Scaffolding and tarps cover half of the wood and stone structure. More restoration that is taking forever means he has to walk the long way around, but even as he does this he still mutters the same sort of thing under his breath.

Time favours the content.

Your fortune can see its failure.

Love comes in and out like ocean waves.

Anything can become a prayer, even its opposite.

And if you tire of the wisdom of the ancients, don't fret, just one more block and holographic anime girls will remind you to 'Love your mask' (which really means 'clean your mask') in jaunty pop-tones, with the crime fighting super-heroine Heidi Slime doing a series of complex dance routines with speech bubbles about good hygiene bursting around her. They've added a new one about the dust, one that Yoo had never seen before and he stares a bit too long when she gets on all fours and shows her ass before turning her neck round with an impossible smile.

He slips a bit on some garbage because of it, and stumbles down towards the sidewalk. He has perfected falling on his right side (to keep his left arm from taking any more damage), and as something like luck would have it he lands on some garbage bags that have piled up near the curb for weekly pick-up.

But they are all wet and slick and instead of getting up off it, he sinks right onto the concrete, sprawling out buffoonishly allowing his entire front and back to get nice and soaked.

Yoo is earning that good bad chicken, and slowly peels himself off the sidewalk.

Even his mask-hat is a bit askew.

When he gets it fitting proper again, the 7-11 across the street was like a shining beacon of hope and dryness and all things good.

He waits for a slow bus and a slower garbage truck to inch along, and felt his pants cling to his legs as he waddled across two lanes to get inside with a pleasant door ding.

Bright, clean, and larger than Yoo remembered. Or maybe that's because it was practically (and surprisingly) empty. He counted four people, and he could tell that two of them in here were just using it as an excuse to get out of the rain for a bit.

At least buy a c-drink. 

Which is what he did, along with a pat-down towel and a bag of chips for Chen (she would complain at first about junk food in the house, but it will be eaten just before bedtime).

As he headed to the cash to just tap and go - with one person talking with the cashier - a frantic person rushes in and stands right In front of him, trying to shake the rain off them like a wet dog.  So Yoo stands and waits respectfully behind this interloper.

And waits. And waits.

A short line in a near empty store always takes forever. This sudden customer was now in front of the cashier, speaking a different language. Something about subway tickets because they weren't issued an ID card yet.

Let them come but at least hurry up.

Use the translator on your phone.

Make an effort.

It goes a long way.

Yoo breathes in and out slowly and starts to count his exhales.

He's not dry by any measure, but it's like he's been standing here for so long (although not really) that he feels drier and considers just putting everything back on the shelves and walking out.

Will they cite him for that? 7-11 is certainly hooked up to central. It's not that it's a crime to almost buy something and change your mind, but it doesn't look good.

And that's when the interloper professes a thousand awkwardly worded thank-yous to the cashier and rushes back out the door, embracing the rain like a true friend.

Yoo nods to cashier and resists making any sort of comment as he quickly scans his three items and pays with a simple hover over the pad. The cashier holds up a bag, but Yoo quickly digs out a wrinkled one from his pocket and shows that he came prepared. After stuffing his purchases in the bag he makes a little knot with handles to keep the rain out.

At first Yoo thought the rain had let up as he steps back outside. But it persists, and as he reaches the market he is soaked all over again.

Most of the market is covered, which really means the place he is going to certainly isn't covered.

Whenever he is here Yoo tries to imagine himself in another time, another place, something more exotic and alien than a slight quirk in the seemingly endless downtown of Seoul. Even if it's just some old new clothes, tourist knick-knacks, and hit and miss food stands, maybe in these few steps he has travelled fifty, one hundred years in the future and some sort of bio-digital console will change his vision and how he sees the world around him. Or he'll turn his head and the signs will flip into an indecipherable language and towering creatures with strange tendrils or limbs will stand alongside him.

Even though the rain helped, the immersion kept getting delayed, because he could see dozens of similar human souls trudging through their routines with the same forlorn emptiness in their soaking gaits.

Word gets around, and Yoo is in another line.

But the tiny stall and its small staff were prepared, and seemed to have sensibly overstaffed for this sort of weather while also taking into consideration the positive city buzz.

A good line. A fast line.

Peeking ahead, he is intrigued with the non-styrofoam containers for all the dishes. He would rather be intrigued by the smells, but the weather and the mask(hat) prevents that.

Two steps, closer.

Two steps, closer.

Now he's under part of the awning and can even double-check his order on his phone.

Two steps, closer.

Until the customer one person in front of Yoo seemed to take their sweet and selfish time, as if they hadn't ordered ahead and were deciding what to order - and asking what was good - at that very moment.

It's as if they thought they were the only person left in the world, and as they turn their head to the side slightly to re-re-examine the menu-

No.

No.

It's the same person who was in front of him in the 7-11.

The interloper.

What are the odds?

In this rain, everything can turn on you, even the numbers.

No one else in line seems as perturbed, but they don't know him like Yoo knows him.

All these negative thoughts boiling and sizzling like the pots and pans inside the cramped food stall.

He has to push them away, stamp them down, re-orientate.

I'm not here. This isn't happening.

Or I am here and everywhere and everything is happening.

Perhaps I am a god. An old one, the type they prayed to at the gate. The sort that stands above it all who creates and destroys with a wave of my hand if I choose to have one.

I could make this little creature made of water and muck dissipate in the rain, or turn them into the finest and quickest customer ever.

I had to base myself and take this form to truly understand.

I put these obstacles in front of myself to teach a form of patience I could never know otherwise. My arm, Chen's illness, the money and lack of it, the worsening weather, the people all around me, the greater struggles of the world at large that I can poke my useless nose into every time I tap on the technological marvel in my pocket. And beyond that?

It's what the gate is for.

All you know is all you know.

So when I take my place above, some of my memories of walking through the streets in the rain for street food will be lost, and will seem more like a half remembered dream.

But until then...

A smiling middle aged woman is now handing Yoo a bag full of food containers, stuffing sauce packets and napkins inside, but then double check her screen and gasps, quickly asking if he ordered the kaarage chicken as an add on.

Oh right.

Now Yoo is the one hanging out beside the menu board, and while he is worried that the food already in his hand will be cold by the time he gets home, he doesn't want them to be rushing the chicken, either.

The people who were behind him come and go, and he wonders if they think that he is the interloper. Or the new interloper. Maybe there's another one arriving every minute.

But it mustn't have been that long before the same woman calls to him and hands over the last container that he quickly stuffs in the bag he already has. He thanks her profusely and begin to rush back through market, but really Yoo he can't help himself and under the awning of a shuttered stall of cheap jewelry and trinkets he lifts his mask up to the forehead so he could dip his nose into the bag.

God, that smells amazing.

If he hurries everything will still be the good kind of warm.

And then he remembers he forgot to pick up the fish food.

 

 

Sometimes the only difference between the transcendent and mundane is how much time has passed