So there I was again, a few feet from Him, dragging my feet blah blah blah… you get the point. The other night, my mother had sent my very excited sister down to Him with a second tray of food. My share of dinner, by the way, and I had to make do with peanut butter sandwiches. I was sure it was no coincidence that I started the next morning with two freshly minted zits on my right cheek.
Frowning at the prospect of being known as ‘Pizza Face’, I called out to him.
He turned around, looked me over and… smiled? Or was that a smile? Or maybe he had some sort of medical condition that made his cheek twitch at random times. Okay, but seriously, why couldn’t he just stay at home for goodness sake? Isn’t the normal reaction to your parents fighting locking yourself in your room and playing your music really loud? Isn’t that what happened in all the movies? Why did he have to sit by the pool so that my nosy mother could see him and send him dinner? How’s that fair to me?
I thought about my growling tummy and with a newly found determination, walked up and dropped the tray on the table in front of him.
“Look, you have to eat this, okay?” I sighed with all my might then sat across from him with a flare. Oscar, here I come!
He stared at me for a few moments then looked at the tray. “I thought my mother was the best cook in the world but I guess I was wrong. I really enjoyed the meal your sister brought the other day.”
Oh… how sweet. Well, I won’t be repeating that to my mother. “Well, lucky for you, I cooked today.”
“Really?” He picked up the chopsticks and looked at them.
“Because of you, I’m on punishment. I have to cook dinner for two weeks.”
He narrowed his eyes and looked around. Then he smiled. “She saw the whole thing?” he reached across and picked some vegetables.
“Yes, okay? The next time you want to brood, go to the tennis courts or someplace that’s not like directly under our building so that my mother doesn’t have to look down and see you.”
He sipped some water. Then as if the implication of what I’d said had suddenly hit him, he glared at me. “What did you just say?”
“Look, just hurry and eat so I can leave. I don’t want to be here for longer than I have to.”
“Why do you have such a fcuking attitude?”
“Why don’t you just fcuking shut up and eat?” I hissed then looked away. The way the lights hit the pool gave it an eerie but pleasant look. It'll be nice to go swimming at night, I thought. I was considering walking over to the pool and running my fingers in the water when I remembered why I was down there in the first place. “Could you please hurry up?” I asked, looking at him from the side of my eye.
“Chill. I’ll soon be done,” he said with his mouth full.
Disgustiod. Didn’t he know not to talk with his mouth full? I turned around to look at him. “I’m sure you can eat faster; there’s no way you want to be around my smell for this long.”
He chuckled and kept on eating.
As I watched him shove the food down his throat, it occurred to me that this was probably the most civil conversation I’d had with him in the seven years we’d lived in the same building. I hadn’t seen him the first weeks after our move but finally did when they’d come over to introduce themselves.
At first, everything was cool. I did my thing, they did theirs and since we didn’t even attend the same school, I barely saw him unless we just happened to run into one another in the hallways or by the elevator. So there we were, chugging along like civil neighbors till I got lice. Yeah, you heard me, I got lice. A shitty new school with shitty people who had shitty hair filled with lice. And it wasn’t even like I had a lot of friends so up till today, I can’t really say who gave it to me. And the worst part was that Yun Ah didn’t get it. How’s that even fair? If I had to suffer, why couldn’t she?
Anyway, to go with the theme of my life, it just happened to be a particularly resistance case of lice and when all the over-the-counter and doctor prescribed medications weren’t working, my mother made me cut my hair. Not just a little, but practically all of it. Couple that with the fact that I didn’t have breasts at that age and… you get the idea.
So one Saturday, there I was, feeling sorry for myself that in addition to being stuck at home for a good number of days, I was now bald, I was walking around the complex when I happened to see a group of boys playing ping pong.
I always did my best to stay away from huge crowds, especially those made entirely of the more irritating gender so I quickly picked up my pace. I hadn’t even gotten past them when one called out to me.
I turned around and looked at him.
“Do you want to play?” he asked, gesturing with his racket for me to join them.
I quickly shook my head and kept on walking.
“What’s his problem?” he asked his friends.
“You mean ‘her’, right?” Ji Tae asked laughing. Of course, at the time, his voice was indistinguishable to me so I had to look to see who’d said that. It annoyed me that my neighbor could betray me like that. What the hell? I sent him a dirty look but kept on walking.
“You mean that’s a girl?” Someone asked.
Ji Tae laughed even harder. “I promise you - it’s a girl. She’s my neighbor. Her family moved in a few months ago.”
“Are you shitting me?!” an idiot exclaimed. “Then why is she so ugly?”
At this point, Ji Tae was in a fit of hysterics. “Why don’t you ask her?” He laughed some more then said, “Hey, Hee Soo! Stop! Why are you walking so quickly? Could you come back and tell them why you’re so ugly?”
And that was the moment I knew I’d hate him forever.
I gazed up at him with the fresh memories of hatred to find him looking back with a bored expression on his face.
“Are you done?” he asked.
“You seemed to be in deep thought so I didn’t want to disturb you.” He pointed at the empty dishes. “Thanks a lot. Why don’t I bring them up myself?”
As if the time we’d already spent together wasn’t more than enough he wanted to walk back with me? As if! “No thanks,” I said, reaching for the tray. “But do me a favor; the next time you feel like staying away from home, go and do it somewhere we can’t see you.”
“You!” I yelled at Ji Tae at what had become his nighttime spot. He turned around, looked up at me then at my empty hands.
I had to smile at the disappointed look on his face. Didn’t he say that he wasn’t a beggar?
“What do you want?” he asked suspiciously.
I gestured for him to stand up. “My mother is calling you.”
I shrugged. “Just come, okay? Otherwise I’m in trouble.”
He still didn’t move. “Is that supposed to be some kind of incentive for me to follow you?”
I bowed exaggeratedly. “Your highness, please come up. I am sure my mother is watching and after all the food she’s given you, don’t you think you owe her this small favor?”
He didn’t look pleased at my last sentence. In fact, he grunted, but he also stretched his legs out to pick his slippers with his toes then slipped his feet in them.
“This had better be good,” he said, standing up.
I rolled my eyes and led the way back to our building.
The more we walked, the more irritated I was with the situation. Why was he such a pain? Why couldn’t he just stay home when his parents were fighting?
“Because they’ve started including me in their fights.”
What the fcuk? How the hel… could he… ehm, could he read minds?
He must have noticed my quizzical look because he said, “I know you were talking to yourself but I heard you.”
I thought aloud? Sh.it. I gave him an apologetic look and opened the back door to our building.
“They usually go through this every few years,” he continued, “ but I guess that now that I’m older, they feel okay including me in their fights – trying to get me to pick sides, you know?”
I didn’t really know but I nodded like I did. I didn’t know what to say or do so I just kept walking to the elevators.
“But I just hope they get over this so that everything can get back to normal. Maybe it’s because I’m older now but it seems really bad this time.” He pressed the call button and looked at me. “Do your parents go through this as well?”
“Yes,” I lied.