They still collect cardboard. The small haraboji pushing a cart four times his size stacked with cardboards he collected off-screen, where I didn’t see. I see him on this route most days. Did he not know the difficult day I had today?
A man smokes a cigarette as he sits criss-cross above the ground perched on their everyday chair – almost floating – in the open doorway to their always darkened bathroom porcelain shop. He’s hunched over, and here in this exact spot and this exact time as I roll past.
At least three bikers ride past me with cabbage in their baskets. One cabbage almost precariously rests in a state of falling and not falling. Do they know I’m a foreigner?
Another biker, separate from the ones before, with a single giant cabbage strapped to the back of their bike. Apparently they didn’t need to do much shopping, I comment to myself. I wonder if she looked at me as I overtook her on my bike.
The ddeok sits out front at the end of the day. Bathing in the golden light as the sun creeps lower. It’s the last of the shop’s production for the day and they’re hoping to sell it. Do they recognize me since I pass by here every day?
A woman pushing a stroller stops. There’s no baby in it, just meant to help the arched over woman travel. But I have never seen a halmoni ever stop to rest when they walk, it’s always to stop and talk to someone they know. In this case, a woman on a bike, around her age. She stops, and they stand in the middle of the street and talk.
Shrink wrap is wedged under a car wheel. Evidence that someone went shopping and bought a shiny new appliance to put in their home. I wonder what they bought?
The new road is being built. An entire cross-section of buildings taken out to make a new cross-street. Construction workers measure out the ground they’re going to rip up.
The fruit shop owner takes a long stick and shoves it skyward, meets a hole and then twists, rolling up the awning and closing for the end of the day. I’ve seen him do this everyday for 3 years now. I wonder what he thinks about me every time I pass by?
The same three women I see every day ride the bikes past my school and across the train tracks, I pass them around that part of their journey so I never find out where they eventually are going every day at this time. Maybe they’re getting off work, maybe they do it for exercise. I could never tell based on how they’re dressed. Did they know I broke up with my girlfriend yesterday?
The halmoni with her eyes toward the ground, sifts through a collection of trash for cardboard as the sun sets behind her.
And less than five minutes later I see another two, with their small and tired bodies. And after that I see a few more. Do they know I’m learning Korean?
A movie plays in my head. It’s my bike ride home. The one I’m on right now. My head swerves back and forth on the swivel of my neck, overly relying on my eyes frantic movements to always be aware of my surroundings as I ride through the rural city. I watch this movie as my body acts it out. It’s a short ten minute movie.
I am the projectionist. Wait, no, I am the protagonist. This movie isn’t real. Wait no, I am projecting. Korea isn’t real, or at least the one I’ve oriented myself with. I fumble for words from a script I wrote. The people in my movie just rays of light projected. My narcissism can’t imagine them as anything else. What am I trying to say. I snap back to my focus. Don’t they know they don’t know me? Don’t they know I’m leaving?