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Ella Mason remembered how the world looked from the plane window thirty thousand feet above Korea’s capital. Looking back, she supposed she would always remember how the city lights had been carved into the darkness, running like veins. A low hum drifted through the dim light of the cabin. She remembered how the sound and the air coming from the vents above her head pressed into her skin. She was a small thing and the cold was beginning to reach her bones, it felt. Only, she wished that was the only thing that sent a shiver down her spine.
She had ignored the lingering nausea for more than an hour and had she been a child, she would have found relief in finding the nearest on-flight bathroom and letting herself fall apart. But she wasn’t a child. She had very much stepped into the depths of adulthood and was now alone. No one’s here to pick you up off the bathroom floor anymore—the small, but untameable voice in her head told her. It didn’t matter anyway—the plane was coming into land, so she wasn’t able to get up from her seat to reach the bathroom and once she was in the airport, she would have more to worry about then the ice-like anxiety running through her blood.
An air hostess was slowly making her way through the aisle. She wasn’t speaking English. Of course, she wasn’t—easily more than half of the passengers were on their way home. When the woman approached Ella she half feared that she would spark up a failed conversation—as Ella, at this moment in time, didn’t speak a word of Korean besides the basic greetings. The air hostess said nothing but smiled and moved away. Ella exhaled in one slow, cold breath, rubbing her temples as her head had begun to ache.
The plane landed hard on the tarmac several minutes later. An obligatory clap burst out in the cabin and she joined in, but her mind was already far beyond the white walls of the plane. As she had expected, making her way through Gimpo international airport was as easy as dropping everything and taking your life to a foreign country you know nothing about in order to escape the impending claustrophobia of the English sky, but she’d already done that so how hard could a trip through customs really be?
She found her bag—a small thing next to the live-in-cases the Korean businessmen were picking up—and took another cold breath, before pushing through the crowds and out into the night. The city carried a strong smell of rain—the rain that slipped off the black, glazed windows that loomed just out of reach. The noise hit her like nothing else. It was so much that she almost missed the orange KIA with the words ‘International Taxi’ pasted on the passenger doors. The driver’s window was down, and a middle-aged gentleman was glaring through the rain. It took Ella a moment to realize he was calling to her. “Marcia Rose’s friend.” She stopped by the car, leaning in to hear what he was saying. “Marcia Rose’s friend,” he called again.
“Marcia?” she said, half to herself, “Yes! Yes,” she said, suddenly realizing. “Yes, Marcia—err Marcia Rose—can you take me to her?”
He sat back into his seat. “Yes, yes. Get in.” She was quick to put her case in the boot of the car and climb into the back seat. The door slammed shut and she was plunged into a muffled silence. A moment later she broke it with the click of her seatbelt. “Marcia says go to Gimpo at eight o’clock, my friend will have dark hair, a beige coat, and a pretty white suitcase. Pretty white suitcase with ugly green key ring,” the gentleman laughed as he steered the car through the streets. Ella laughed nervously.
“You know… M- Marcia?” It didn’t feel right saying her name like that. The gentleman nodded.
“She teaches my niece at school,” he said, and Ella nodded in recognition. They sat in silence for several minutes after that. She found herself gazing at the tall buildings that whipped past the glass and the doll-like people with their umbrellas, before gasping. She reached down into the bag by her feet and pulled out a purse. She retrieved several notes and passed them forwards. “No, no,” he waved her hand away, “Marcia has already paid.”
“Oh,” Ella said, sitting back and putting the money away. “Thank you.”
They were in the car for forty minutes. Each one spent taking in the city or trying to ignore the dark thoughts in the back of her mind.
When they finally reached the apartment buildings that sat behind the Ichon parkland, the nausea returned. Still, she climbed out and thanked the gentleman, before collecting her case from the back and watching as he sped off down the road. She stood in the road. In the rain. Convinced she was either about the throw-up or pass out and found herself thinking about what would happen if she did either. “Come on,” she said, taking another slow breath.
It was warmer inside the lobby and bright. The white walls seemed to throw back all the light that came from the Hudson Valley chandeliers, so she removed herself as quickly as possible by pulling out the key that had been posted to her in England several months prior to that moment and found the door to the staircase.
Having an unbeatable fear of elevators, she opted for dragging her case up to the nineteenth floor one step at a time. She had to stop several times, but eventually, she made it to the nineteenth floor. Then to room sixty-seven—second on the right from the top of the stairs. She stopped once more. She found she didn’t care about the other people living on this floor or the cleaner that was slowly making her way down the far side of the corridor. It was her and the door and nothing else. Maybe that’s why she dropped her case by her feet and rested her head against the door, letting out a shaky breath. She brought her hand up slowly, resting it next to her head. She stayed this way for a long time, not thinking about anything before she could bring herself to pull her hand back and land four hard knocks on the door. She heard someone moving around inside. The lock clicked, and she pulled her head away just in time as the door was now open and standing there—Marcia.
Nope, said the untameable voice. Ella’s chest rose and fell violently several times before she cried. Aching, tired tears carved their phantom tracks through her cheeks and her eyes were closed before Marcia pulled her in close. She cried hard for several minutes until her tears died away into quiet sniffs. She felt Marcia squeeze her shoulders.
“I’m so sorry,” she said in a whisper.