By John Kay
The man with the mike and the boy with the bike looked like they were out of a photograph from an old copy of National Geographic magazine. The man’s eyes were droopy but malevolent, as he held the mike close to his chest. The boy tanned a coffee colour by the sun. His bike an adult’s, the style that of an old country postman. The boy wasn’t riding the bike then but walking carefully beside it.
I’d just finished teaching a class; it was a private in one of the students’ apartments. His mom was there, I told her how the class had gone and she plied me with cake and orange juice, until I had to go. I took the lift because the apartment is on the 12th floor. I could’ve done with the exercise of taking the stairs, but I also had 20 minutes to get to my next class. The lift took an age to arrive and then to reach the ground floor. An apartment building is a vertical village of sorts and kids were visiting friends, going or coming from piano or English class. Or just playing, taking the lift for fun. Mothers and the elderly moved between floors with Tupperware containers and the inevitable black plastic bags filled with meals, side dishes, fruit and the unmistakable aromatic bulk of kimchi.
All eyes were on Johnnie foreigner taking the lift down and out into the sun. The awful, oppressive heat hammered down on to the surface of everything animate and inanimate alike; every unedifying nook and cranny. The apartment sentinel, the be-uniformed gent with his military bearing and sky-blue shirt, his clean shaven face and smoky vocals ran me up and down with his eagle-eyes — those world-weary eyes — and logged me into his mental ledger. Cars moved through the car park with not a hint of trouble or strife. The trees motioned like dancers with the breeze but they misled. Only after the sun went down would the temperature drop. Ajummas clattered imperiously this way and that. A deliveryman on his plaggy 50cc motorbike burned up and rushed into an apartment building with what looked like an over-large, shiny, metallic suitcase. When I looked back he had sped off.
I headed for the street to flag down a taxi when I spied them. They stuck out like a pair of street sweepers at the opening of parliament. They looked like they’d come directly from the early seventies on the back of a dilapidated bus. Both sported a dusty black suit, only the man’s was too small and tight, and the boy was drowning in his. Both covered their eyes with their hands, squinting as they looked up. I turned and looked in the same direction.
From an apartment building to my left, from the roof someone was falling; arms out like a diver or a child pretending to be an aeroplane. It was a girl, probably a middle school student because of the Beatles-esque, bob hair cut. She fell quick and she fell silent, and there was nothing anyone could conceivably do about it.
Then the man with the mike began to sing. The boy with the bike accompanied him by hitting the bell, whilst he drummed on the handlebars, the wheels and the mudguards, like a syncopated New Orleans jazz drummer. The man’s voice soared up higher than the girl. The cars stopped on the road. The be-suited apartment sentinel turned to crane his neck up and he stopped too. All bird sound ceased. Trains may have passed on the railway line nearby but no one heard a peep. The kids beating the shit out of the municipally provided swings, slide and roundabout stopped, as if frozen until medical science could find a cure. All the babies here abouts were corked and secured, somewhere right and fitting. Not a click or an arrogant clack of any Widow Twanky ajumma’s high heels was heard.
And as I listened to the soaring, sun-lit, love nurtured tones of the man with the mike being accompanied by the boy with the bike, the girl’s, the goodbye girl’s descent stopped. She stopped just like everyone else has stopped. But still not a sound came from her. We all kept our eyes glued on the girl, upside down and motion-less, and waited.
And the man sang his song, and the boy beat the seat of his bike like it was a snare drum, caressed the mudguard like ceremonial cymbals and somehow turned the bell into a tiny trumpet, a deer’s laugh and a loving button of joy. Millimetre by sacred millimetre the upside down girl started her descent again. Only this time she moved so very slowly, we the frozen watchers, our hearts in our mouths thought we were going mad. The girl met the ground, the car park’s sun blasted tarmac without any brutal, bone chomping slap, and for all the world looked like she’d just fallen over or decided kookily to lay down on the ground for a spell.
And as soon as her head touched the tarmac the singing stopped. Everything set back into motion; the near hysterical kids got back to destroying through play the swings, slide and roundabout. A train passed and engulfed us in its violent, industrial scream. Cars and buses honked their idiot horns and hammered down the road. Everything moved and everything bled noise. Then everyone gathered round the girl prone on the ground while someone knelt down to check for a pulse, and she opened her eyes. And when I checked to look, the boy with the bike and the man with the mike had gone.
Artwork by Goiyanni
John Peter Kay started writing in earnest back in 1996 at art school. Since 2003 he’s taken as his inspiration the sounds, sights, smells, tastes and incidents of life in South Korea. He has a blog where he has been known to wax lyrical about riding the bus, demonic hagwon directors, his mother-in-law, alcoholic brethren, and the joys and tribulations of being a fully paid up husband and father. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org