seoulmate.docx

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rating: +30+x

Korea-Seoul-Subway-inside-01.jpg

I hated today.

It felt like I walked like a robot, or some crazy guy this morning, maybe because of the music I was listening to, or maybe it was just me. Or perhaps, I smelled like two bottles of soju and burnt dried octopus from last night, and I didn't have the energy to sweep the hangover to the back of my head.

I don't know… everyone seemed to keep their distance, or maybe it was just all about social distancing, especially ever since the recent rise in cases for the past three days. The Metro was bursting at the seams as always; with mobs of old businessmen who reek of aged cologne, rowdy seat-hogging middle schoolers, incessantly crying toddlers and the occasional freak like me:

A middle-aged white-collared worker who lives off of government subsidies. Someone who's barely scraping the money pile in my job as an auditor for Yangpyeong Cargo Holdings, probably one of the most overrated workplaces, probably because of the feverish, overzealous 5-minute advertisement runs in between news and your daily soap opera.

Reality can often be disappointing, and this sludge of a thing called a "career" helped prove that point a million times over. You can envision the run-of-the-mill office, with endless rows of grey, musty cubicles, the constant faint buzz of the overhead fluorescent lights, a cacophony of rings, frustrated grunts, and the seldom muffled shouts behind the CEO room. We aren't allowed to work from home and our paycheck was slashed.

You could tell I looked "professional" with a soaked back, flushed face and jumpy tendency to anyone with a red company ID hung around their necks along with the word:

EXECUTIVE

in big black print below their grumpy face portraits. Nearly every meeting, I would get long stares from the coworkers as I trudge into the conference room, as I repeatedly bow and utter "I'm so sorry".

This time, miraculously, I had some time to go down to the building cafe to get cups of Americano, latte, cappuccino, et cetera — coming alone with their own cup of coffee is a definite way to get left out of company lunch sessions. Walking into the room, I tripped on a chair leg and faceplanted onto the floor, spilling all of it. I got up, frantically looked at everyone in the room and ran out with teary eyes.

I haven't heard from the boss or any of my coworkers yet. I can't lose this job. I don't want to be a disappointment to my parents. I got to be better.

I can't lose it. I need to be better at this.

*

2020년 03월 21일
Seoul_City_Core_from_N-Seoul_Tower_%285464351080%29.jpg

Something felt different.

New intern joined the company today — maybe there is something wrong with me, like I'm a creep, or someone who needs to be locked up. I don't know — the manager called us to attention and rambled on about a decision to increase their intake of interns "in a time of uncertainty" before he called out in the direction of an unused conference room.

The door opened, and she appeared, giving nervous glances at every face in the room before looking down onto the carpeted floor behind her hazelnut brown bangs. She gathered her unusually pale hands in between her silk-white blouse and jet black skirt, and shuffled to the manager's side in her high heels with shaky, bony legs. As he continued his rambling for her, I couldn't help but feel that we both made more than ten instances of awkward eye contact in the past three minutes; each time, she would flinch, and her line of sight would switch between the water cooler on her right, the floor, and the lone vase of made-in-China tulips on the left, all the while her face would glow red with a slight grin.

Was I staring? Was it the stray chili flake wedged between my teeth after gobbling down so much of the side dishes at the pork stew eatery? Were the spectacles crooked? Were my hands instinctively making weird gestures or shaking at the side? My inner voice keeps telling myself to shut the hell up — that having those thoughts would make me look even goofier.

No, I need to keep reminding myself.

I need to be better. Focus on the job. The job. Parents. Money. Remember: you're a selfish idiot who could barely sustain yourself and your family, who worked so hard to raise you. Stand the hell up for yourself and work.

Put it away.

*

2020년 03월 29일

Need to mark this date.

The day when — I think — someone actually noticed me and started to converse so freely with me. Me. A loner who wouldn't dare butt in into office politics and gossip, sit with coworkers during lunchtimes, have quick five-minute meals with cup noodles in the lounge room before dashing back to the office, get the occasional word of advice from the neighbor next cubicle, and rest my tired arms on a shoulder.

The intern was assigned a seat next to me when she was hired, and moved most of her stuff to the desk. God, I felt so much of a creep, so I couldn't help but sneak a few glances at some of her belongings: lots of photo frames depicting herself in various seasonal outfits, family dinners, her pet dog, yadda yadda. Soon, the mundane, white glossy desk was overwhelmed with a flurry of colors; a brown cotton pencil case decorated with tiny plastic accessories, file covers taken up by cursive handwritten motivational phrases each with a different color, and so much more. Sort of puzzling that none of the higher-ups told her off about her choice of colors.

She got settled in pretty quickly and got to work. Though, from then on, I felt several glances from her. I was really bad at trying to ignore such behavior and unintentionally eyed her back. We both flinched with a brief look of surprise and apologized to each other at the exact same time. We chuckled, albeit quietly in consideration of our surroundings, and began to talk.

It was slow. We started off with several stammers, stumbling in between sentences, mispronouncing each other's names, but it was still, a start. We would smile at the childishly adventurous endeavors and tell each other embarrassing stories. When we soon ran out of words to supply the conversation, we mouthed a quick "it was nice meeting you" before turning our attention to work.

For the past few days, I've tried to ignore it. That fuzzy feeling. I don't know when it started, but it grew and spread. Typing on the keyboard never felt this… uncomfortable. Cold. Hard. Averting my gaze towards the monitor, it felt… somewhat… too bright. It was a feeling that was alien; a sharp sensation that shot up from my chest to my head, and down to my feet, only to immediately blend smoothly into a gentle wave of sun rays hitting my entire body.

Now, I feel… better, physically. It has been a long time to have warmth back, after years of having cold hands and feet. Never needed to put my jacket on as frequently as before in the harsh winter days of January.

God damn it. Why am I feeling this? Why do I hate this warmth? Even when it feels so good?

*

I don't know why she keeps hanging around with me. Why? What does she want? Am I going to be exploited? Is this some prank that I'm not catching on? Am I going to look stupid for smiling like an idiot? Does she secretly hate me under that smile of hers? Is my face ugly?

*

She has been tagging along with me for quite a while now, for some reason. We go for lunch together, where she would often stop me from eating, worried that I was overeating for some time now. Ha, lost five kilos in a month! I did tell her about my horrible vision, so she brought me lenses to use in place of spectacles. Told me they were… "special", and can be used in the long run, unlike the conventional ones. I honestly wasn't sure what she meant, but I heed her advice anyways.

We would also slog our way back home through the Metro after overtime. My heart somewhat… ached only a slight bit every time I alighted the Metro train. After that, I would turn around to wave solemnly towards her. Without fail, her cheekbones would rise under the mask and the eyes slope upwards, before waving back.

Her scent was dangerously alluring. Smelled like peaches.

God, why am I like this? Just… stop.

What did I come here to do? Here to work. But… why — why her?

*

I can't think properly right now.

After each parting, I stay on the train platform longer, just to wave goodbye to her, keep her in my line of sight for at least, a few more seconds before the blurry mirage of accelerating Metro cars obscures her form.

Every time, I long for her scent. I long for her smile, even under the mask. I long for the conversations we have between us. I don't know anymore — I need to be useful and help the ones I hold dearest, but it feels like the path in front of me is… getting murkier by the second.

*

I tried avoiding her.

But she just wouldn't give up. She would continue to tag along, often grabbing onto my arm one time when I kept leaving my seat to work at a different spot, only for me to groan in pain as if my arm was light ablaze. Muscle pain? I don't know; I tried to ignore it as best as I could to avoid upsetting her further.

She had this… look, a look that implied irritation, yet severe concern.

Her eyes were brimming with tears.

Softening, I didn't brush her bony hand away this time. I stayed, and listened to her spill her worries as she struggled to maintain her posture, producing quiet sniffles under her breath. I instinctively held onto her arms, and she looked up. Faced with such pale beauty, I felt that same fuzzy feeling, this time, it was gushing into each seam in between the fabric of my existence, almost overflowing.

My eyes widened as I felt my head spin and overheat. My joints began to ache; I don't know if it was from the diet or the dizziness. Ironic — I'm the one collapsing under my own weight. Using whatever spurt of energy left in myself, I collected my thoughts and gritted my teeth. Giving a sharp exhale and several constrained groans, I composed myself, struggling to regain my breathing.

With fluttering, teary eyes, she attempted to bring me into an embrace, which I promptly rejected by lightly pushing her away. I muttered to her to meet after work, and turned to leave the room.

I swear I heard a giggle behind me, but it didn't sound like her. Still feeling dizzy, and… since when was the office this quiet? Ah, never mind, must be seeing things.

*

seoul-2267398_1280.jpg

I met her on the Hangang Bridge, which was bustling with activity; lorries, limousines, common cars, and motorcycles sped past into the distant cityline of the capital, peppered with hundreds of minuscule, shimmering white and red dots, fading in and out constantly.

The chilly night winds and the occasional soft crashes of the river water against the bridge drowned out the sounds of the hustle and bustle on the roadlanes. The faint, milky shine of the Moon reflected against the waters and the glint of her tired eyes. With a look of remorse for the previous encounter, I stared down at the ground, with sweaty palms grabbing tightly onto my pants.

I found her longingly staring at the night sky, before turning to me. She removed her mask and grinned, producing two dimples on her pink cheeks, webbed with red lines as the icy wind continued to stream against her sensitive skin. I asked her why she removed it — she had a brief look of surprise, and then approached me, the scent of sweet peach growing stronger by the second.

She immediately wrapped her arms around me with such force and a degree of intimacy I haven't felt for quite a while. Slightly taken aback, I made a small squeal and nearly lost my footing. Helplessly foraging through my mind to think of a proper response, she buried her face into my chest.

I frantically looked around, assessing the current situation. She looked up with that same expression back at the office — the same, glassy-eyed look, like she wanted something.

Is… is it that? I don't know. What do I…?

I slowly removed my mask. The eyes seemed taunting, yet so alluring. With a heavy puff of air, I couldn't deny it any further. I leaned in.

I felt a spark, which quickly cascaded into electricity that rushed through my entire body as our lips locked in a neverending embrace. The feeling was growing. I felt like the warmth was being shared between us, until…

She strengthened her grip around me. And then, a piercing sensation that soon engulfed my chest and back that grew into an unending inferno.

I tried to pull away, letting out muffled yelps, while she didn't let go.

I noticed her arms were changing. The pale skin began to simmer, before liquefying into a silk-like material, penetrating through my clothes and wrapping around my body.

And then her face. She opened her eyes. I couldn't see any.

She grinned, as her features began to bubble and subsequently melt into a messy sludge of silk, enveloping my limbs, up to my face.

The last thing I heard from her was:

"Thanks. I'll be enjoying my stay."

And all went black.

*

index.jpg

I wake up in the dark, musty room of mine.

No.

No, no, no.

Please, don't tell me —

Booting up the laptop, I check the time.

2020년 03월 21일

I stare at the clockface, dazed, only to rub out my own eyes after a sudden, searing pain at the back of my eyeballs. Two eye lenses, partially broken and stained with dried blood, drop out onto the floor.

The words… look so blurry now.

Was I imagining? But — but I thought she gave me these…

After the pain subsides, I look down at my pale, bony hands and unnaturally long fingers, webbed with blue-black veins. I break down into sobs and moans; all the while, no tears roll down.

I grit my teeth.

I was right.

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