by Martin Mills
A wandering dog finds adventure on the streets of Korea. I have three chapters.
She couldn't smell food anymore. The other fragrances of travel filled the air, the mixture of hundreds of individuals trapped in a single car. It had been an hour since the doors opened and she slipped in unnoticed. She smelled food half an hour later, but whoever had it left after three stops.
She should have begged. No one seemed to see her; even a nudge could send her back. And she wasn't going back.
The floor felt cool against her soft white coat. She perked her ears, waiting to hear an announcement of the next stop.
"The next stop is Suwon", the voice droned. She tilted her head to one side, considering. Suwon had restaurants, and plenty of large cans behind them filled with food. Food.
No. It was still too close.
She dodged feet and bags as she sat down lower. Her empty stomach seemed to thump as it hit the floor. She shook her head. Hunger would have to wait.
She curled her large body into as small of a ball as she could manage and drifted to sleep.
"Pyeongtaek." The dull voice startled her out of her sleep as if it were an explosion. She lifted her head and glanced around. The car was half empty, but the warmth of the previous passengers still lingered. She sat up, stretched, and made her way toward the automatic doors. Moments later, the doors opened, and she trotted through them, then through the tunnel, up the stairs and under the turnstile without notice.
A crowd moved toward the turnstile, toward her. Everyone seemed more interested in the floor or their cell phones than anything else. She dodged people and continued toward the open station doors. She exited into the light, warmth and dust outside.
She wanted to run, but her hunger prohibited it. She avoided more crowds, no less interested in their phones, but a little more interested in those around them. No one noticed her, so she continued her trot with a grateful sigh.
The noises of conversations, passing traffic, and honking horns surrounded her. The sounds of city life filled the small town like a tiger in a shoe box.
She stopped at a street corner and sniffed the air. There was food on the other side of the road. The crosswalk in front of her stood alone and naked, long abandoned by any traffic sign. She watched the traffic crawl by and waited.
The traffic slowed to a stop. She gathered her strength for a moment, then dashed down the crosswalk. Her stomach throbbed and her legs ached. Her body wanted to stop moving and rest in the middle of the street. Her mind argued, claiming victory.
She continued forward.
Traffic moved again as her feet landed on pavement. She followed the smell without slowing down. To slow down would be to stop, and everything would go black. She darted around bodies and under legs until she found a restaurant. She found a trash can behind it, rammed the trash can until it fell open, and stopped. She looked around and saw no one. Kimchee poured out of the can at her feet.
She sniffed it and almost fell back. It smelled stronger than kimchee she remembered. And it was green instead of red. But it was food and she was hungry. It was this or death. Maybe both.
She sniffed again and again until the smell didn't seem as strong. She closed her eyes as she leaned towards the food and opened her mouth.
"You don't want that," a small voice reprimanded in English. She looked up and saw its owner. A large, bald round man smiled down at her, holding something in his hand.
"This would be better," he grinned. "You can have it. I'm not that hungry."
He set the object on the ground in front of him. She inched forward and sniffed it. A fried egg sandwich seemed to look back at her. She stared up at him.
"It's okay, I already had a burger. That's all yours."
She returned her attention to the sandwich and made it disappear in a second.
The stranger sat at her side, patting her head. "You were hungry, weren't you. You must be thirsty, too. Wait a minute."
He vanished for a moment, then returned with a small bowl and a bottle of water. Within moments she quenched her thirst.
The man laughed as he talked to his new companion. "Busy, isn't it? I have friends who live here, but I don't. Seoul is bigger. It suits me better. It will suit us better."
He talked about his life teaching in a haukwan in Seoul, living on sandwiches, and the size and dimensions of his one-room apartment. He talked and talked and talked.
After she had finished drinking, she sat up and licked his hand.
"You're welcome," he smiled as he picked up the trash and threw it away in one of the cans. It was time for them to go home, he stated.
"I guess we'll need a leash and collar for you eventually." He continued to study the cans as he spoke.
"My name is Roger. Now that we're friends, we need a name for you as well."
He turned to face her, but she was gone.
Her pace slowed to a trot, still exhausted from the sprint. Thankfully the large man hadn't seen her slip away. He seemed content talking to his garbage cans. Maybe he could adopt them.
She strolled towards the bus terminal, past the subway station she arrived in. She was exhausted and needed shelter. The bus terminal looked promising.
A loud voice and a pat on the head distracted her thoughts. "You're a pretty dog."
A tall muscular man smiled at her as he stooped to scratch behind her ear.
She sat on the pavement and enjoyed the unusual show of attention. Two times in a week. It was a new record.
"What are you doing out here, all alone? Don't you have an owner?"
She perked her ears. He sounded American, with a thick accent she didn't recognize. His breath smelled like Seoul on a Saturday night.
He stopped scratching. "No one should be alone. You should at least find yourself a bitch."
She stood up and yellowed his shoe in response.
He stared at his shoe for a moment, clenched and unclenched his fists, then mumbled something that sounded like "lawdy", and looked back at her.
"I guess you are a bitch," he chuckled as he walked away.
She pushed her way past a group of uniformed middle school students, an old woman pushing an empty stroller, and parents with small children as she made her way to the terminal.
She found an empty parking lot behind the terminal with plenty of room to lie down. She made her way to the back wall of the building and stopped. A small, unshaven old man stared back at her. His eyes were vacant, and he smelled like old fish and mud.
She sat up and barked.
He smiled and patted the ground next to him.
She sat next to him and listened to him talk about his day in Korean. Shortly after, his snoring lulled her to sleep.
"Johnny ya, muat hae?"
The young man stared at his computer screen, building an army to defeat aliens. They were coming soon; he had to be ready.
"Johnny, what are you doing?"
He rolled his eyes and mumbled, "That's the only English you know."
"Are you practicing English?"
"And that," he corrected himself.
Her voice drew closer as she demanded he answer her.
The aliens approached. His army was large, strong, and ready.
They attacked, and his infantry tore them to shreds. Victory was inevitable.
The doorknob turned. Johnny ya, his mother continued to holler. She demanded to know why his door was locked. What was he doing?
"I'm taking a big shit, mom," he answered in English.
She didn't answer.
He chuckled softly. It was a joke only he could understand, but it was worth it. If you were forced to learn English, you might as well use it.
The aliens were defeated.
She continued to knock.
He sighed and saved his game under his initials. NAM. He exited the game and got up to unlock his door.
His mother stood in the doorway, arms folded across her chest. "How is your English?"
"Pretty damn good, asshole, and you?"
He smiled back. His English must have sounded good.
She continued to ask him about all his subjects. How was he doing?
She kept calling him Johnny.
"Nanun Johnny anya," he replied. Johnny was not his name.
She didn't understand. Johnny was the name she gave him when his father left. It was a good name.
"You choose that name because it sounds American and it was easy to say. You wanted us to go to the U.S. as soon as I speak good English. You never told me my real name."
She shook her head. I don't understand.
"Nanun Johnny anya."
What is your name, then, she asked in Korean.
She laughed. "Man" is not a name. You are not even a man yet.
He stood up straight and looked her in the eye like he wasn't supposed to. She was scolding him, so it was wrong. But he was mad. So he stared at her.
She stared back, shocked at first, then angry with some tears.
It was hard for him to keep staring at her, so he pretended she was an alien.
She turned away and exited the door, reminding him to finish his homework before dinner.
He waited for her to leave, then took out his biggest book bag, dumped out the textbooks, and started to pack.
My name is Namja, he kept repeating to himself as he slipped out the back door, then down the street towards the subway station. The neon signs and headlights guided him as he continued forward.
He had a little money, but he wanted to save it for later. He reached into his bag and pulled out a roll of kim pap he had stolen from the refrigerator. He shoved half in his mouth and put the other half in his bag for later. He pulled out a bottle of water and washed the clump of food down as he walked.
He approached the subway station at a busy time. Everyone seemed to be coming from the station. A car must have just come by. Namja pushed through the crowd and approached the back of the building, looking for a place to rest. He saw a dog lying next to a dirty little man who smelled like shit and fish.
Namja backtracked until he found an old restaurant. He sneaked behind it, found a spot against the building and sat down. Soon, he dreamed about shooting aliens.
The street preacher stood by the bus terminal, waving his hands in large circles as he spoke. He had no fliers or literature to hand out. He had no product to sell. He only had his message.
"You come, go, buy, sell, and you forget who you are. You, sir, can you tell me who you are?"
A well-dressed man smiled shyly and wrenched his arm free from the preacher's grip. "No English, sorry."
The preacher tried Korean.
The man shrugged and continued walking past.
The preacher continued. "Do you see? No one knows. We come, go, and forget."
Two small boys pointed, said Hihowareyou in English and ran down the road.
The preacher scowled as if trying to remember something. He spotted a Korean fast food restaurant and the words came.
"You go so quickly, you forget who you are. You go through airport after airport. You pass security and empty your pockets. Countless times you dismantle yourself and reassemble, then you go. But every time you wonder if you forgot a piece."
The shop and restaurant owners on the street watched him intently. Everyone called him the preacher, but no one understood his message.