Chapter 7: U&I
Like any other couple, their first meeting was destiny, and they were already in crisis before love even started to burn.
And still, it had only been in a little over half a day.
It was also all a misunderstanding due to the man’s rushed heart, which was a little ridiculous, looking back at it.
It was the day the man finished his trip to South America and came back.
‘Why can’t I contact her?’
The man had his face buried on a pillow and was tearing at his hair. He kept looking back wondering if he had done something wrong to her.
“Woah! You’re going to South America? Where in it? You’re going alone? Or with a friend?”
“Yeah, I’m going for the first time······ To a couple popular places. To cool down my head. I’m going alone.”
“South America······ I’m jealous. I’d really like to go there! It seems like everything is so hot and passionate there!”
She hummed as she did a little excited dance with her shoulders. Looking at the woman, the man thought the heat would suit her well, but he was a little hurt over her nonchalant response to his absence. What would she say if she knew the meaning this trip had to the man?
“So, when are you coming back?”
“In around three weeks, I think.”
“Have a good trip. Take care of your body and don’t forget to bring a gift!”
The man’s memories could not have been mistaken. Physical distance and a twelve-hour difference had not become an obstacle between them both. Whenever he sent a message, she replied right away. Sometimes, she was the one to contact him first. This attitude from the woman left the man reassured to enjoy his trip. She stopped contacting him on the day he arrived back to South Korea from South America.
Let me know when you’re at the airport. I just got myself a car. I’ll pick you up to practice my driving!
That was the last message she had sent.
‘She clearly said she would come pick me up······.’
As she requested, the man called the woman when arriving at the airport, but he could only hear the dial tone ring instead of the woman’s voice. Just in case she had left her phone at home, the man waited at the airport for three or four hours, but she never showed up in the end.
The man stomped away by himself.
The house was quiet.
Usually, Dani would be making a fuss to welcome him, but Dani too had gone with her.
“Who is Dani going to stay with while you’re away?”
“I’m thinking of asking a friend or my mom.”
“But she’s still a baby, is it okay to change her environment so suddenly?”
“I’ve also been worrying about that······.”
“Leave her to me. It’s the same neighborhood, it’ll be like going for a walk. Won’t Dani be comfortable with me?”
“Hey, how would I make it up to you?”
“If you want to make it up, buy me some booze! Beer!”
It was always pleasant and fun to talk on the phone with her. Even the thought of it had him smiling automatically. But now, it was only stifling to recall the times she had made him laugh.
‘Should I look for her?’
She lived in the building across the street. He had never been to the woman’s place before, but that was his best bet at finding her. The man hesitated briefly before putting on his shoes and leaving his home. He whistled a tune to soothe his anxious heart. He reached the building she lived in before the end of the song, but it did not help at all.
‘I’m really an idiot.’
The man did not even know the woman’s apartment number. It was a thoughtless action. He was about to turn back with a downcast smile when he heard a familiar sound.
It was Dan. It was definitely Dani’s bark.
They had lived together for months and even not having heard it in almost 3 weeks, it was not a sound he could forget.
Woof! Woof! Woof!
The man followed Dani’s barks and stood in front of a door. He hesitated for a moment and rung the doorbell. Dani’s voice grew louder. The short 10 seconds of ringing the bell felt like the longest in the man’s life. There was no sign of life inside the house, and he carefully turned the doorknob.
“Are you awake? Do you feel okay? You’re obviously not okay. I was really worried, you know.”
“Am I in the hospital?”
“Yeah, you have the flu. You gotta go to the doctor when you’re sick. Why did you just stay at home?”
Two hours before.
Opening the door carefully, the man walked into the woman’s home for the first time. As Dani welcomed him, the man picked her up in his arms, and at the end of his field of vision appeared the woman, lying down on the living room sofa. The woman seemed to be sleeping, so the man tried calling her name a few times. Something was off. He approached her, still motionless, to wake her up. Up until that moment, he still felt like arguing with her a little. But the moment he held the woman’s shoulder, the reason why she did not contact him or answered his call became clear. She was burning up with fever.
“The flu? But the weather isn’t cold······ Why would I catch this all of sudden?”
The man sitting by the hospital bed passed her a warm cup of barley tea as he answered.
“Who knows. Your fever went up to almost 40°C. Let me see. The fever went down a little.”
The man lifted his hand and carefully placed it on her forehead. The woman felt a hot flush up her cheeks at that moment. It was a completely different sort of heat from what was creeping up her skin from the cold, more like a hot flower blooming deep inside of her.
“Seems like it’s lower than before, but you’re still hot. Go, drink some of this.”
She accepted the cup with an awkward expression.
“Thank you. But how did you know where I live?”
“Ah! Dani let me know.”
She looked curious as to what the man was talking about. The woman’s round eyes were so cute that they made him smile.
“Either way, how can a woman leave her door unlocked? You could have been in trouble.”
“Sorry. You must’ve been worried that I stopped contacting you so suddenly. I was supposed to pick you up. By the way, where is Dani?”
She spoke with a lost tone, like this whole situation was too much to take in at once.
“She’s alright. Dani is with a neighbor. Just rest well for now. I’ll take Dani home and come back.”
The moment the man got up from the bed and turned his body, the woman grabbed his sleeve.
“······ What is it?”
“Don’t go. I’ll probably fall asleep soon, so can’t you stay at least until then?”
There was silence for a moment, and the man went back to sit by her side without a word.
Watching as she slowly drifted back into sleep with light taps to her hand, the man let out a faint chuckle, a laugh he could not hold from escaping.
‘I’m such a fool.’
The man gave the sleeping woman’s hand one last pat before laying it inside the blanket and got up quietly.
How much time passed.
The woman opened her eyes, her flushed cheeks growing redder because of the fever.
‘What was I even saying earlier?’
She buried further into the blankets in embarrassment. Upon calming down and turning her head around, she spotted a piece of paper sitting on the table. It was too long for a note, and too short for a letter. It looked like it was hastily scribbled on a ripped notebook page. Likely a message left by the man.
When you come see me
Wear as little clothes as possible
If there’s one millimeter between you and me – shorten it, a single T-shirt is unbearable to me
Might it be too cold
Crawl into my clothes
Into the warmth of my flesh and
The scent of my breath and
Listen to the sound of my pounding heart
After I, feverish in love, infect you with my illness,
I pass it on and you will be warmer
So that again you will pass it on, and I’ll be even hotter
Come into my clothes and be infected with love’s fever
And then infect me
Only ever infect me
“You weren’t meant to see that yet······.”
Started by the sudden voice, she hid the paper behind her back. The man was opening the door and entering the hospital room.
“I’m sorry! I thought it was a note for me.”
“It’s true that I wrote it for you. But I wanted to give it to you in a bit better timing, in nice handwriting. My writing is awful.”
Silence once more.
Then, both fell into a fit of laughter.
“You like listening to music, right? I picked a song for us to listen to together, so rest a little more while we listen.”
She nodded and put out her left hand for the man to hold.
I'm always waiting for what you have to tell
I'm always waiting for what you have to tell