Monday, June 10, 2013


The transport Ji-Hyun hired was a real junker. Barely large enough to move the driver, Ji-Hyun, and myself, I wasn't sure how we'd manage to transport the household items from one rathole apartment to another. Ji-Hyun said something cheerfully that I think translated to 'She can't stay anymore, can't pay the bills'. I nodded from the cargo hold. The driver had a map out and spoke to Ji-Hyun, who waved his finger vigorously, seeming to affirm something. We were both learning the Kusari language, but apparently the driver wasn't, and having been from the same part of the solar system as Ji-Hyun they had no trouble talking to each other. It sounded like the conversation was going badly but it ended with Ji-Hyun lighting a smoke for the driver and turning back to give me a thumbs up. I nodded again.
 I'd never been through that ward before, Ji-Hyun informed that it was full of Han immigrants, though there were pockets of Hanguk, a people to which he and our driver belonged, and one of those pockets was our destination. Looking out the small rear window the neighborhood did look foreign. Clothing styles were daringly casual, unlike the anonymous suits worn by the salarymen and office ladies of New Edo. The streets were older as well. Not old enough to be problematic, but a contrast to the bright lights and glamorous facades the city was known for. The transport swerved throwing me and other loose articles against the side of the transport, I didn't feel anything give way, but I still wasn't convinced we'd make it to Ji-Hyun's friend's place in one piece. The transport shook like an epileptic every time the driver shifted gears, which was often. The driver said something that made Ji-Hyun laugh, and he replied amiably. He translated half-heartedly, something about him being not being a 'shark', but wishing he was, for the money. The term was used for junk collectors who bought things from failed immigrants returning to their home colonies then flipping them to fresh immigrants, for twice the  retail value. Ji-Hyun was in fact just getting some things for himself, having outlasted his friend. We'd both seen our fair share of foreigners like us come and go, though we hadn't been in atmosphere for long, two years for me, and less for Ji-Hyun. Still, with many of the Lunar economies hurt by the orbital debris storms crippling commerce for older transports, our home currencies weren't buying as many Koban as they used to, and there was nothing left but to pack up and go home. Dreams ruined by handfuls of interstellar garbage hurtling through space. The transport stopped abruptly pulling me out of my musings.
  I hopped out of the cargo hold and found myself in a narrow alley. We left the driver smoking and humming to himself. I didn't know that was possible to do simultaneously. It took a few turns in the winding corridor before we found the front door of an apartment. Ji-Hyun let himself in yelling something cheerfully in Hanguk, there was a soft, one syllable reply from the living room. I hesitated, then followed. The interior was much nicer, though most of the furnishings were gone, the place would be empty by the end of the week, and a crew would have the place ready to turn over to the next immigrant by Monday morning. Still, the apartment was much more comfortable than jostling through the busy streets in the cargo hold of a rented cart.
  "Binz. Wait. One more come then take, ok?" Ji-Hyun flahsed me his teeth and offered me a seat on the floor. I nodded, and sat. Then I saw her. It was unmistakably her, whom I'd met only once, and hadn't thought of much since, but I was struck by the contrast. Eighteen months earlier we'd met, just ol' Johnny, or Binz to Ji-Hyun, and a bunch of Hanguk kids, eating bibimbap with metal sticks and drinking thin beer. The party had been bubbling with pride and anticipation, everyone giddy to see the onset of their dreams. But there was none of that now. I wouldn't have recognized her at all if it weren't for her hair. I'd thought it a little out of place the first time we'd met, her bangs and neck length hair framing her face with tight curls. The style was out, but she didn't care. She had an air of certainty that mixed well with her friendliness. She couldn't have been more than twenty earth years, but carried herself like a mother among children. I'd suggested a Hanguk friend of mine should date her, which he laughed off. There was none of that confidence in her now, just the curly black arch framing her head. Ji-Hyun opened her fridge, soon to be his fridge, and offered me a beer. I thanked him, then thought better of it and thanked the girl, she nodded, looked at me without really looking at me. They continued to make small talk in Hanguk, Ji-Hyun amiably ignoring the girl's sadness, the girl glumly accepting the mercy. Me drinking her last beer. She'd be going back to her colony, her best chance at a better life gone. Against the dreams of a Hanguk girl without an edge, like a Kusari business certificate, cold hard life won in a boat race. I knew this, Ji-Hyun knew this, and the girl knew it. The next fifteen minutes were spent like a corpse viewing. She wasn't the first better student to go home ahead of me. Economies and blind orbital space junk didn't care which students passed their kanji tests. Some were sent home toasting their friends, ignoring the fact that they were leaving their dreams like ghosts on this heartless moon.
 This girl wasn't doing that.
 They say it's space that gets you. Cold, empty, space, billions of astronomical units from home, but that's a mother's fantasy. It's space that gets you. Not the space between stars and planets and moons, but the space in your apartment, where furniture, and food and laughter used to be. The coldness of the stars isn't the orphaner of dreams, but the coldness of an empty refrigerator, a vacant bed, a yearned for conversation. 
  I never saw that girl again. I haven't seen Ji-Hyun for quite some time either, heard he had some ghost problems of his own. Most of my old friends, who came to this pulsating neon rock with nothing but their black-rimmed spectacles and dreams, aren't here anymore either. Too much space.