The old lady of the apartment building is sitting on the steps, as she often is when I return from work.
She likes to watch the world go by, and interrogate the residents of the building as they come and go. Many’s the time I’ve been late for my French class or a date with a friend because she’s stopped me on my way out to give me the third degree about something. She seems to have no concern whatsoever for the fact that I don’t understand much of what she’s saying, and that even when I do understand, I am incapable of communicating my response in a language that she’ll understand. She just keeps talking and looking expectantly at me for an answer.
Today, she lets me go past with only a smile and a nod and an “Annyeonghaseyo?”, but this time I am the one to stop and initiate a dialogue. I hesitate, reluctant to go back into my apartment where I shall probably have to feed my pet cockroach and put it to bed. Ajumma… um… I begin uncertainly, knowing already that my Korean vocabulary is far too limited for what I wish to communicate – i.e. that I have found and captured a Scary Bug in my apartment, that it is currently residing under a glass and a book in the bathroom, that I haven’t slept for two nights, that I live alone and have no one to come to my rescue in times of great emergency and crisis like this, and that I need her to send someone into my apartment to dispose of the Creature for me while I hide on the roof. Still, this is an emergency situation, and I must try. Now is not the time to feel self-conscious about speaking in another language.
Neh? (Yes?) She looks at me, waiting eagerly for whatever piece of exciting news I am about to bestow upon her.
Um… chae apat-uh aeseo (in my apartment)…um… beog-uh imnida (there is a bug).
She looks spectacularly unimpressed by this revelation, and simply stares at me. Nehhhhhh….? she says eventually. Oh dear. I clear my throat nervously. Um, well… um… cheonun (me)… um…. beog-uh dul (bugs)… anchoahamnida (don’t like).
My palms are sweating now, but I plow on desperately. Um… ceop-uh-nun (cup)… beog-uh-lul ui-ae (on bug)… imnida (is). Cheonun (me)… um, dulyaweo (scared).
I am miming the whole thing as I speak, of course, and she is looking wondrously at me as if she wishes she had another Korean next to her just so she could say “See? I told you they were weird!”. I try to look pathetic, which is not difficult, as I really really really do not want to go home to my pet cockroach and would be able to cry on cue right about now if necessary. I need help! I finish in English, wringing my hands and gesturing upstairs. Still staring incredulously at me, she rises to her feet and follows me as I head towards the stairs. I expect she is going to get the landlord and perhaps a team of burly men with specialist bug disposal equipment to remove the Creature for me.
I am a little confused, therefore, when she stops outside my door instead of continuing up the stairs. However, what with the language barrier and everything, she may just want to confirm that she has correctly understood what I am saying before she bothers the big rugged rescue men. This makes sense, so I open the door and usher her inside. We walk to the bathroom door and look down in silence at the Creature under the glass under the book. She looks at me, and then back at the Creature, and then at me again. She seems speechless, and I hope I haven’t frightened this poor little old lady too much by bringing her so close to the Creature. It was thoughtless of me. It was ver… oh holy crap, what is she doing?! She is stepping into the bathroom, removing the book from the glass, picking up the glass that is the only thing standing between the Creature and an innocent world…
I trip over my handbag in my haste to back away from this horrific scene, and proceed to fall over my bedside table and land on the bed with a crash. All I can do is remain there, staring in terror and disbelief, as the little old lady picks up the Creature with her bare hand, between her finger and thumb, tosses it into the toilet, and flushes. She glances back at me (a pathetic and terrified heap cowering on the bed) as she casually washes her hands before emerging from the Zone Of Terror. You know it was dead? (or something to that effect) she asks. I can only shrug helplessly, unable to tell her in Korean that although logic and common sense would indeed lead one to suspect that an insect trapped under a glass and a book for two days might at some point have ceased breathing, there was still the possibility that it was playing dead to trick us into releasing it, whereupon it would leap at our throats and pin us to the ground while emitting a shrill signal to thousands of comrades who would come pouring out from the cracks in the wallpaper and swarm all over us, devouring our flesh in seconds and leaving only our bones to be found days later by a search party.
If I could speak Korean and explain all of this, I would seem a lot less crazy. Instead, all I can do is shrug helplessly.
Neh, I say finally. Kamsahamnida! (Thank you!)
I have been rescued by a tiny, frail woman who looks like she’s in her 90s. This is humiliating and shameful. But the Creature is gone, readers. The Creature is gone. That is all that matters.