Self-portrait

June 7, 2018 § Leave a comment

This was written in response to an exercise in FutureLearn Start Writing Fiction.

6.11

Part Ⅱ

Just one step ahead from the front wheels of my car, there was a giant hole about ten metres wide to the ledge. I started seeing drivers get off to scramble out and see where the motorcyclist had descended into the abyss. I mustered all the strength I had left and stepped out of my own car. I steadied my feet as they wobbled beneath me. I leaned on my car for support.

‘Are you alright?’ I turned to see a man approaching. He was the driver who had crashed from behind.

‘Yeah,’ I heard myself answering, ‘but look at the state of my car.’ I gestured towards the boot with a circular motion of my hand. It was caved in towards the middle and looked as if the boot would remain tightly closed forever. I wondered about the motorcyclist then and surmised the impossibility of turning him back from his fall into the abyss.

I would return home after an hour had passed on the accident scene, watching the fire brigade arrive, and then reach down to pull the motorcyclist out. He hadn’t been injured. I would take a closer look at the sinkhole and was surprised that it wasn’t that big, only about five metres in circumference. He was fortunate to have had the rescue team arrive in time before the hole collapsed further. I was recovering from the shock of it and counting myself lucky to have been so close to falling into it. Mostly, though, I was arguing with the man who’d mashed my car. It had been his fault. I’d screeched to a halt long before my car was to fall in after the motorcyclist. Couldn’t he have avoided the crash?

My husband sat by me and consoled me. ‘The crash is not important,’ he said. He said these words with remorsefulness, knowing how hurt I was from the pain and having been slighted. ‘You’re alive.’

Advertisements

Self-portrait

June 6, 2018 § Leave a comment

This was written in response to an exercise in FutureLearn Start Writing Fiction.

6.11

Part Ⅰ

Young-mi said it might put things into perspective if I slept over it. It was haunting me still even though days had passed. A gaping hole in the middle of the motorway had appeared right before me through the windscreen of my car. As far as my eyes could stretch, every car on the road had been driving on flat land when suddenly a motorcycle in front me was gulped down by that sinkhole. I had read about sinkholes and watched documentaries about it. I knew perfectly what they were — a phenomenon that happens due to Earth’s layers of rock giving way to gravity. Then there had been that huge bang on my head against the steering wheel. The airbag had been released but all of my body had lurched forwards despite the tight grips of the safety belt wrapped around my upper torso. I’d felt my whole body shake violently and it would take another minute before I could ascertain whether I’d survived.

I groped for my head. No blood marks were seen on my hands and all of my limbs were intact. I slowly turned around to see what had gone around me. I could hardly move. Through the rear view mirror I could see a sedan jammed up against the boot of my coupé. The man behind the wheel, somewhere in his forties, and with the same dazed expression in his eyes, was readying to unbuckle himself free. All this while, I was seeing stars swim about in front my eyes — too many even to see clearly.

Portraying your character

June 5, 2018 § Leave a comment

This was written in response to an exercise in FutureLearn Start Writing Fiction.

6.10

‘Over the past few months, we have engaged extensively with our allies and partners around the world,’ President Donald Trump’s voice blared on the car radio, ‘We are unified in our understanding of the threat and in our conviction that Iran must never acquire a nuclear weapon.’ Wasn’t Iran the country that Jin-Hye had gone to for shooting her documentary on Channel 3? Hee-sun had felt mildly envious, watching short, plump Jin-Hye become an overnight sensation on Public Affairs and Culture Channel, turning heads after she’d gone on a full detox diet and lost two stones in a matter of weeks. As a high school student, Hee-sun had been a happy-go-lucky girl of sixteen who, surrounded by her uniform-clad classmates and parents, had had no care for the world outside of her protected nest. Now, Jin-Hye was showing slices of Iran and rural life, speaking fluent Farsi and gaining respect for her work with underprivileged group of female folk musicians. She felt happy for her. She hadn’t known her that well and Hee-sun had wanted to be with the slim and popular girls, the ones who got dainty sterling silver chains for their birthday, whose parents sent them on summer camps abroad, and hired chauffeurs exclusively for their children. On the other side of the world, a similarly aged girl would not have so much luxury as a branded tennis racket than a roof over her head. She wondered if Jin-Hye would recall that she had offered to lend her a spare calculator when she had forgotten to bring it on Examination Day.

Shiny silver hoods glistened in the sunlight. It was nearing Mid-autumn Festival and the air was balmy and stifling hot in the car seat. Hee-sun was wearing her usual outfit of a dark silk blouse and cardigan for work. Her cuffs were open, sleeves rolled up to her elbows and the top two buttons undone. She fanned herself with her hand in dramatic remonstrance, and occasionally clutching the steering wheel with the other. ‘What slow-moving traffic,’ she muttered. She was on her way to pick up a few items from the supermarket before heading home in preparation for the weekend-long festivities, including a set of stainless steel pans and a spatula for turning jeon. She missed a few turns after a sports car whizzed by, immobilising her and another sedan refused to let her into the lane. She wiped the droplets of perspiration percolating on her forehead.

In the parking lot of her apartment block, she opened her car door, slipped into one of her black patent leather heels and held a mobile phone to the side of her face. ‘I’m here. In the lift. Be there in a minute.’

She stashed all her files from work into a canvas tote and flung them into the backseat, slammed the car door shut and upon limping, realised that she still had on one her loafers. Hee-sun swore under her breath. She would try and remember to take the motorway home during rush hour. She was just a lover of taking dirt roads. Somehow, even with Hyung-sik’s making fun of her propensity to enjoy the ‘slow life’, she always managed to find an excuse to veer off to the woods and saunter her way home.

‘Do you take that road everyday?’ Jin-Ho her colleague had remarked one day when she complained of bad traffic.

‘Well, yes,’ Hee-sun had replied. She’d had to find an adequate reason for taking a slight detour. There had been none except for getting a glimpse of the woods. She didn’t always take the long way but the motorway attracted a different pool of vehicles — lorries, express and intercity buses, taxis, CEO Lexuses and car racers. She’d felt she belonged to a higher class of driving, that of an ex-Sobono fashion boutique manager and a proud mum of two, married to a loving family man, thank you very much.

‘Sorry, I am a bit late. There was a traffic jam,’ Hee-sun said breathlessly as she walked through her apartment door, ‘There must’ve been an accident or something.’

‘Honey, are you going to drop the kids off at Hee-yeon’s house?’ called Hyung-sik from inside, ‘They’re not back from hagwon yet.’

Oh, the kids. Hee-sun had asked her younger sister to look after them so that she and her husband could cook the festive meals without disturbance. It helped that Hee-yeon lived in the next neighbourhood and that she’d only recently got engaged.

‘Ah, yeah,’ muttered Hee-sun to herself. She stared at the shoes strewn about on the floor and struggled to find a free spot to shake off her own. She sighed. She was sure Hyung-sik would never change his stubborn ways. Although a miser, Father had never beat them for spending a hundred thousand won on a pair of shoes but he’d never allowed them to leave them hanging around on the floor. She would look back at her own relationship with her father and comparisons made between him and Hyung-sik were unavoidable.

For instance, the lonely October day two years ago came to her mind. It had rained all week. On some days it had rained more heavily than others but on this particular day the damp sodden clouds had hung about in the air like a soaked shawl left out in the damp air to dry.

Hyung-sik had never had the habit of neatly placing his shoes on the small wooden shoe rack on entering the house like Hee-sun and her children had. After taking off her shoes, she’d help her children first — then five and three-years-old — and take her own shoes off to place them side-by-side on the racks. This was to clear the entryway so that visitors would not trample over them and slip. Unlike her children whom she’d trained since early in their toddlers’ years, Hyung-sik had never given much attention to do the same. It hadn’t bothered Hee-sun at first because she’d felt it was chiefly her duty as his wife and as a homemaker to be responsible for keeping the home tidy.

Hee-sun understood that some of her habits clashed greatly with his. But she didn’t want this particular habit to come between them to put their loving partnership in jeopardy. It came to a boil when Su-jin, returning home from kindergarten, came running inside. Hee-sun was in the kitchen when she heard a loud thump coming in from the living room. She ran and rushed to her daughter, who was lying flat on the floor.

‘Are you alright, Su-jin?’ Hee-sun raised her up and saw a small scratch on the side of her face. ‘Thank goodness, you’re not injured.’

That night, Hee-sun decided to make this the topic of conversation with Hyung-sik.

‘Honey, I think you ought to know. Su-jin fell down this afternoon.’

‘Hmm? What’s that?’ Peter’s eyes were glued to a page out of his files from work, perched on his lap.

‘Su-jin fell down in the foyer from tripping over the shoes.’ Hee-sun said.

Hyung-sik looked up. ‘Why? Is she alright?’

‘She’s not hurt but she could’ve injured herself quite badly. I laid her in bed and gave her a painkiller before she went to bed this evening.’

‘I’m sorry to hear that,’ was his reply.

‘I’d like to say something if you don’t mind,’ Hee-sun tried once more.

Hyung-sik looked up and leaned on his side, his hand still on the page where he left off.

‘It’s about the shoes. I’d like to ask you if you could put them on the racks after you’ve taken them off. Just for safety reasons.’

Hyung-sik’s chiselled face broke into a smile that was at once warm and kind. ‘Of course, Munchkin,’ he said, ‘you wanted to ask me that?’

‘I know I’ve been busy with the knitting club to take better care of our home but you wouldn’t mind, would you? Just the shoes.’

‘Yeah,’ Hyung-sik chuckled softly, gently stroking Hee-sun’s face with his deft fingers, ‘I would, actually.’

Hee-sun mumbled something she couldn’t figure from fatigue and doze off in the following minutes. It was to be months later when she saw the entrance area cleared of shoes. She would notice it when she came home one evening with Hyung-sik still at work and the two girls in their bedrooms. A spacious and empty void filled the entire surface of the foyer. At last, her struggles with Hyung-sik’s badly lain footgear were over!

Challenging Expectations

May 23, 2018 § Leave a comment

This comment was written in response to an exercise in FutureLearn Start Writing Fiction.

5.8

She had tight dark blonde ringlets that framed her stern but friendly face. My fifth grade teacher was a true disciplinarian. She was not one to allow students in her class to talk without raising their hands first and not one to find them walking about the room upon entering it. I wondered what the punishment would be if anyone was caught doing something she found unfavourable. Would she stoically see one of her beloved students being chastised, reprimanded than turn a blind eye to a petty misdeed? Or would she, like a Spanish bullfighter, waving a leather belt in her hand — the one she wore around her waist — give the criminal a lashing? She was thin and spindly but by no means weak. She was also tall — the tallest female teacher in the entire school — and the thick myopic glasses and manly slacks she wore made her image in my ten-year-old mind far more imposing.

I would never forget what she wore on the day we had our class photo taken. She wore a white frilly blouse with wedding dress lace and as for the choice of bottoms, a khaki pair of shorts along with the leather belt that completed her everyday outfit. There was even a small case attached to it, an item that I hadn’t noticed before that presumably carried her valuables. Of course, she didn’t carry a pocketbook. How she managed to take home the dozens of books her students submitted along with their book reports was beyond me. Did she read each and every one of them in a single night? Maybe she skimmed through them at her neat desk before going home. More likely was that she’d read them all from previous classes she’d taught.

‘Today, I have a new student to introduce to you,’ she’d said one day, ‘her name is Jasmine.’

Jasmine would be another girl who was to be a monitor in a kindergarten class with me. Like me, she spoke Hindi. She’d had a slight accent and worn pretty but old-fashioned frocks. I tried to avoid her whenever she came nearby.

My teacher, Mrs. Smythson, didn’t fail to notice. While reading off the list of names of first-grade students that we were to be paired with for Citywide Read-a-thon, I raised my hand and said, ‘Yes, I know her.’

‘Georgina Frangopolous?’

‘Yes,’ I confirmed.

‘Frangopolous? Is that how you pronounce it?’

‘Fran-GO-polous,’ I said.

‘Good. Jasmine, would you join Arya and Georgina today?’

I acquiesced.

Deep down I wanted to tell her, no, Mrs. Smythson, you cannot make me sit and read with her. I don’t know her. Besides, I don’t know English that well either, I would be better off on my own. Please, Mrs. Smythson.

But Mrs. Smythson’s face was resolute and her eyes imploring.

I blushed when I realised that I had looked disappointed.

Little did I know that Jasmine’s father would die of cancer only a few days later.

Writing Character

May 16, 2018 § Leave a comment

This sketch was written in response to an exercise in FutureLearn Start Writing Fiction.

4.9

The concrete road sizzled under the hot afternoon sun. I might have thought that I was in a village in southern France or Spain. The ornate iron-wrought traffic light turned green and I stepped onto the zebra crossing. I looked at the small toy-like cars waiting for pedestrians to cross, seated with people going home for a siesta. I hurried across. In the street was a ceramic workshop I dropped by in yesterday. A few yards away there was a row of rundown shops badly in need of repair. The wooden frames of the door and display windows would also benefit from a coat of paint. Despite the worn down state of the buildings, I found myself admiring the antique shopfronts. After a furtive glance down an empty street, I crossed and turned into a narrow alley. A group of people sat around a table at the corner of the building, holding choripán in their hands.

I had taken the same way yesterday. There had been a possible holdup from a military coup somewhere in the vicinity and I had smelled danger, even war looming behind. A kind-hearted woman had accompanied me, returning home from work as a housekeeper at the hotel where I was staying. ‘I live just a stone’s throw away from where you’d like to go,’ she’d said, ‘I know a short-cut.’ I was more than happy to have her take me there as I would have had to take a taxi, eventually ending up on the other side of the town.

I found myself on the top floor of a fifteen-storey building. I opened a door next to the lift and climbed a flight of stairs. I reached the roof whereupon I took in the views of the town. There were no other tall buildings in sight. I observed the streets that I took to get here. The air was muggy. Far off, the rest of the town disappeared behind the sepia-tinted fog.

I entered the building once more and took the brassy lift to the foyer. Despite the modern steely exterior of the building, the interior hadn’t been renovated or refurbished. I imagined an old crumbling historic site hidden inside that no one knew of, perhaps an ancient Guarani altar or a burial tomb. I looked around for any familiar faces.

Among the dimly lit round tables surrounding the reception desk, I saw a young Asian woman and her sleek black hair styled in an up-do. In her hair was a large bright red Hibiscus flower, pinned by a decorative golden hair comb. Opposite her sat a young South American woman, dressed in a traditional Paraguayan costume.

She caught sight of me looking at her and instantly turned back to her friend. I walked nearer towards them. Himari was dressed in a black blouse, embroidered with metallic thread, her bare arms adorned with nanduti sleeves and white skirt reaching the floor. Large studded red and ochre gemstones adorned her neckline. Two more friends appeared in view, sitting back in their sofas. I found an empty seat next to Himari and plumped myself into it.

Himari’s demeanour had been becoming more like that of her younger self, her pert and dissolute self.

Ideas for a Story

May 9, 2018 § Leave a comment

This comment was written in response to the exercise in FutureLearn Start Writing Fiction.

2.17

‘Over the past few months, we have engaged extensively with our allies and partners around the world,’ President Donald Trump’s voice blared on the car radio, ‘ We are unified in our understanding of the threat and in our conviction that Iran must never acquire a nuclear weapon.’ Wasn’t Iran the country that Jin-Hye had gone to for shooting her documentary on Channel 3? Hee-sun had felt mildly envious, watching short, plump Jin-Hye become an overnight sensation on Public Affairs and Culture Channel, turning heads after she’d gone on a full detox diet and lost two stones in a matter of weeks. As a high school student, Hee-sun had been a happy-go-lucky girl of sixteen who, surrounded by her uniform-clad classmates and parents, had had no care for the world outside of her protected nest. Now, Jin-Hye was showing slices of Iran and rural life, speaking fluent Farsi and gaining respect for her work with underprivileged group of female folk musicians. She felt happy for her. She hadn’t known her that well and Hee-sun had wanted to be with the slim and popular girls, the ones who got dainty sterling silver chains for their birthday, whose parents sent them on summer camps abroad, and hired chauffeurs exclusively for their children. On the other side of the world, a similarly aged girl would not have so much luxury as a branded tennis racket than a roof over her head. She wondered if Jin-Hye would recall that she had offered to lend her a spare calculator when she had forgotten to bring it on Examination Day.

Shiny silver hoods glistened in the sunlight. It was nearing Mid-autumn Festival and the air was balmy and stifling hot in the car seat. Hee-sun was wearing her usual outfit of a dark silk blouse and cardigan for work. Her cuffs were open, sleeves rolled up to her elbows and the top two buttons undone. She fanned herself with her hand in dramatic remonstrance, and occasionally clutching the steering wheel with the other. ‘What slow-moving traffic,’ she muttered. She was on her way to pick up a few items from the supermarket before heading home in preparation for the weekend-long festivities, including a set of stainless steel pans and a spatula for turning jeon. She missed a few turns after a sports car whizzed by, immobilising her and another sedan refused to let her into the lane. She wiped the droplets of perspiration percolating on her forehead.

In the parking lot of her apartment block, she opened her car door, slipped into one of her black patent leather heels and held a mobile phone to the side of her face. ‘I’m here. In the lift. Be there in a minute.’

She stashed all her files from work into a canvas tote and flung them into the backseat, slammed the car door shut and upon limping, realised that she still had on one her loafers. Hee-sun swore under her breath. She will try and remember to take the motorway home during rush hour. She was just a lover of taking dirt roads. Somehow, even with Hyung-sik’s making fun of her propensity to enjoy the ‘slow life’, she always managed to find an excuse to veer off to the woods and saunter her way home.

Comparing characters again

May 8, 2018 § Leave a comment

This comment was written in response to the exercise in FutureLearn Start Writing Fiction.

2.9

‘So how come they omitted the image on page thirty-three?’ Jin-Ho adjusted his black heavy rimmed glasses. He was seated next to his colleague Kyung-suk from the graphics department. Dressed in the same smart grey suit and thick glasses, they resembled twins, Jin-Ho’s slightly heavier frame being the only difference. He wasn’t a big talker but he had the authority of school headmaster and the matching charisma of a K-drama idol that commanded the attention of the group gathered for lunch this afternoon.

‘Yes, apparently,’ Se-yeon answered, ‘I must ask Officer Roh to re-send the files. Representative Shin was supposed to have taken care of it but he’s on leave.’ She continued, ‘It will get done today, I promise.’ Next to her, Hee-sun nodded demurely to each statement made by her female colleague as if they were bees and butterflies buzzing and fluttering that with a flick of a hand she could brush aside. She sat close by her, her left arm resting on the cushiony seat and her leg crossed over her right. It made her look as if she was disproportionately placed and if she made a further twist of her body, she would be thrown out of balance. Before she could nod off to sleep, Kyung-suk almost sent her flying across the room.

‘So whose ideas was it to come here for lunch?’

‘That would have been Hee-sun’s,’ Se-yeon said, ‘She has a point card that gives her an additional ten percent off. Isn’t that neat?’

‘Oh, really? The food’s great, I must say.’

‘I know. It’s my second time here. We had kabocha pumpkin soup here last time. It was absolutely amazing. You should try it, too. It comes inside the shell of a pumpkin like Thai pineapple fried rice.’

Hee-sun had many such point cards from food establishments to businesses that would surprise even savvy Se-yeon. She had collected quite a handful over the years from purchases she made with her credit card; she had not yet run into a debt, thanks to her careful book-keeping. Her most memorable was one made at an online store where she had ordered twenty-six laundry soap bars for her aunt who had moved into a new home, to give her an ‘effervescent’ greeting as one would, according to the local custom. She fished out one rice dumpling filled with honey and sesame seeds and began prodding it with her thin long chopsticks. She wondered if her aunt had used all of the soap bars and if she had liked their scent of freesia. Surely, she wouldn’t have thrown them away by any chance and taken her generosity for granted, would she?

Se-yeon had moved on to the topic of her client whose baby was celebrating his one-hundred-day-old birthday and was in need of a photo album that included a re-touching of the red-eyes. Hee-sun slipped on her moonstone jacket and tossed her black ponytail out from underneath. It wasn’t right, babies in need of photoshopping when she was in need of a surgery for her molar with a chipped crown. She let her two hands rest in front her and her index finger tap on the other.

‘They use a different machine altogether. You know that, though,’ Jin-Ho turned to Hee-sun. ‘Isn’t that right, Hee-sun?’ Hee-sun nodded back at the man behind the dark imposing glasses opposite her and replied rather enthusiastically, ‘Yes, of course.’

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing the Fiction category at A student of English.