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So Close Yet Worlds Apart

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Flying for thirteen hours straight is certainly not fun stuff. Bound to the same chair with meals to rival hospital food, non-existent legroom, a whining baby by the next aisle and the effort of trying to repress all the anger because it was the cheapest flight. As mentioned, not really fun stuff.

The airport itself is a whole other story. Joshua had coined it a 'timeless place void of any common sense' as a joke one time on an overseas trip with his mother, but now that he’s an adult travelling alone, the jokingly light-hearted term he’d made as a teenager ended up becoming an irking truth.

Did the clock on the wall mean four o’clock as in the afternoon or morning? How long have those tents by the food court been up for? Can he still feel the turbulence or is the earth actually quaking but people here have lost too much of their mentality to care?

He takes a seat at an eatery he’s not even going to eat at and pulls out his phone to text his mother and brag about how fast the customs line went by. The real jam of the traffic was the couple behind him who kept arguing about who knows what to the worker. He’d thanked whatever higher being there was for placing him before them in the line.

Forty minutes and a conversation with a lost little child later and Joshua finds himself staring out the window of a taxi with the late afternoon sun gleaming at him. It would have felt more melodramatic if they weren’t stuck in traffic, but the surrealism still remains. The air itself feels different and he doesn’t know why.

The taxi stops by his hotel on the edge of Seoul and he pays the driver the fare, mumbling a rehearsed ‘thank you’. Joshua worries whether the driver picked up a slight accent he slipped but he’s too busy getting out of the car to know if the other batted an eye.

After checking in and collecting his key card, he parks his wheeled luggage by the closet before slumping on the bed. As if on cue, his whole body suddenly feels exhausted. He knows it’s around midnight back in Los Angeles, but he’d slept majority of the plane ride, getting eight hours of sleep at the least.

The human body is weird.

He quickly scrambles up to change into more comfortable clothes—sweatpants and a grey sweater—before slipping under the covers to fall asleep.

 

Joshua stirs awake and is blinded by the ceiling light he forgot to turn off. He checks his phone by the nightstand for the time, the screen reading ‘9:12 pm’.

He shuffles out of the sheets and moves into the bathroom. The mirror happily greets him with a view of his worn-out face. His feet plant themselves onto the tiled floor as he stares intently at his reflection, his body bouncing a little bit since it’s accustomed to turbulence. His expression looks dishevelled despite being well rested.

Deciding that his skin needs a taste of fresh air (that’s not so fresh since he’s located near the commercial area), Joshua saunters out the bathroom to slip into a more fashionable outfit so he can wander in the streets near the hotel. He knows how these city dwellers can pick out a person not from where they are as if they’re a sore thumb, but not like Joshua is planning to venture into the central, more active part of Seoul where tons of people reside. Just a stroll around supposedly empty streets, that’s all.

With his hands in his coat pockets fiddling with the hotel key card and his phone, Joshua listens to the beat of his footsteps. The mini stores around him are all closed except for the small entrance to a staircase leading down that he walks past with a neon green light up sign of a pole-dancing lady. The brawny bouncer standing by it alludes to the fact that it’s so obviously a strip club.

If it were not for the towering street lights and the occasional appearance of cars then the whole area would have been submerged in darkness. The black sky above revealing no stars, not even the moon. Joshua infers that it’s either clouds or typical city smog.

In contrast to the emptiness of the street Joshua is in, the tall, lit up buildings and the faint sound of cars honking their horns in the distance behind him exhibits just how alive a city can be. Living in a suburb was never like that. It was far from a countryside with dirt roads and fields of grass everywhere, but it wasn’t a galore of skyscrapers and traffic jams.

He’d remembered stepping foot into a city. The overwhelming abundance of people going places scared him. But he was just like them. He was just like them in the sense that he was going somewhere, but he belittled their existence to just a mob of people. His presence was small just like theirs.

Wandering in empty streets also makes him feel a type of way. He also feels small here, but not as small as in the city. Small as in compared to the world. He feels the need to meander in places he’s never been in despite knowing that around the corner is just another dim street lit up by street lights. He feels as if he’s the only person in the world and it isn’t a lonely feeling, in fact, it’s almost liberating in some way.

A car driving by breaks his reverie and he stares straight ahead at the car as it rounds the corner, his mind yielding from thinking about anything for a moment. It all seems so dreamlike.

His feet wander dangerously close to the curb and one mistake of a step on the edge could send him falling sideways onto the road. If Joshua’s imagination wants to be more creative, he could say that a car could run over his fallen body. Joshua shakes his head. He shouldn't be thinking about death when he's supposedly on vacation.

Instead of letting his thoughts stray to darker places, he thinks about how familiar the scene is. Strolling through an empty street in the near midst of the night. The déjà vu he’s feeling slowly morphing into nostalgia.

He can see his teenage-self walking in a street lit up by nothing but streetlights, singing a medley of songs. A boy was beside him listening to him sing while smiling softly. Perhaps it was a decade ago. Looking back at it feels like trying to remember a dream. Some parts are missing but others are vividly imaged. The boy himself was one of the missing puzzle pieces.

It was in a neighbourhood a few blocks away from his own and the boy laughed whenever his voice cracked. The boy could have been Hansol for all he knew but putting him into the scene doesn’t ring a bell at all.

Burying his mind in distant thoughts made Joshua somewhat unwary about his current situation until he could feel his chest drop and his body falling towards the road. Ah, he thinks, my foot slipped. The real panic comes when he realises a car rounded the corner behind him just before he slipped and his shadow from the headlights appear to mock him.

Before he can reminisce about the times he wasn’t about to die, a hand curls around the crook of his arm and pulls him back up onto the sidewalk. He sees the car drive further down the street and almost scoffs at himself. Some psychic he is.

“Sorry, are you—” Joshua whips his head around to face the owner of the voice. The expression on the other’s face quickly shifts from slight apprehension to surprise and his voice grows quieter. “...okay?”

He’d almost forgotten he was in Korea because of the fact that the man spoke in English. He studies the man’s face and holds back a grin. Of all things possible, he’d never expected to run into him again. One of the missing puzzle pieces. Some psychic I really am.

He decides to reply in English “Yes, I’m fine.” He can see the man’s eyes widen and feel the grip on his arm fall loose. “Thank you.”

The other shoots him a sheepish grin and doesn’t question the fact that they conversed in a language foreign to the country they’re currently in. “Be careful when walking next time.”

Joshua nods and thanks him again before they exchange farewells. They go their separate ways, Joshua continuing to walk straight ahead while the other man walks the opposite way. He halts and turns to see the other’s back get increasingly further and further away before disappearing past the corner. Joshua spins his head back to face the front of him and picks up his pace again.

He debates whether he should chase him and call out his name or not before he hears frantic footsteps getting closer and closer to where he stands.

“Joshua Hong!”

He can’t help the smile that blossoms on his face. Turning himself around on his heel to see the other standing in front of him, Joshua greets the other with a laugh.

“Xu Minghao.”