I am a guilty person.
It’s not the sort of guilt that means I should rightfully be in prison. It’s more the kind that has me feeling bad about the slightest little things on a daily basis: a careless comment that I worry might have hurt someone’s feelings; a white lie that I fear will give the wrong impression if uncovered; a thoughtless action that I’m scared has made another person think badly of me. I still feel almost unbearable guilt for helping my dad to drown a rat when I was about 14… I swear I can hear the wretched thing’s squeals in my ears when I think about it. I feel guilty to the point of tears when I think of the incidences when I’ve made a child at school cry. You get the idea. I have a permanently guilty conscience, and often cause myself sleepless nights of torment over things that the potentially offended party probably never even noticed.
This time, though, I really did do a very bad thing. And they say confession is good for the soul, so here it is…
Having had a very busy couple of days at work, it completely slipped my mind to book my train ticket to my now weekly appointment. I need to book in advance as I travel at rush hour, straight after work, and all the trains are sold out. I didn’t realise my oversight until I was in the taxi to the station yesterday, running late, and after some whispered cursing and frantic attempts to find a ticket on the website using my phone, I resigned myself to going to the desk and pleading pathetically in the hope that they’d let me on to a sold out train (this has actually worked in the past – you have to look vey lost and scared and confused and foreign. Fortunately I am good at that, through years of genuine experience!).
Unfortunately, the taxi then got stuck in traffic, resulting in me arriving at the station a mere 4 minutes before the departure of the last train I could take in order to make my appointment. I wouldn’t have time to queue at the desk. And if I missed my appointment they’d charge me for it anyway, without the required 24 hours notice… and it’s a lot of money, let me tell you!
I ran full-pelt to the station doors, having an internal debate. 2 minutes to departure.
I looked at the ticket queue, which was approximately 6 miles long. I ran past it. 1 minute till departure.
Oh, shut up! I said desperately to my conscience as I hurtled down the steps and launched myself across the platform and into the train seconds before the whistle blew and the doors swung shut.
I was a criminal. An illegal stowaway, dodging my 22,000 won fare. I stood nervously in the between-carriages area; wondering what to do. I wanted to find a ticket inspector and explain, and pay, but I was scared of the consequences. A big fine? Or worse, a big scene, with a non-English-speaking inspector and a load of Koreans staring at the cheating foreigner in disgust? Oh, lord, I’d have to fling myself out of the window to my certain death if that happened.
I stood there in mounting anxiety for several decades until I saw a ticket inspector at the far end of the carriage in front of me, and I turned and fled into the one behind me, striding purposefully as if I was in a hurry to go to the toilet.
The toilet!!!! What a brainwave. I hastily slipped into the first one I came to, bolted the door, and looked at myself in the mirror. I looked like a murderer on the run from the cops. I felt like it, too. Why hadn’t I just swallowed the fear of an embarrassing scene and gone straight to a ticket inspector to pay? Now I was a bloody criminal hiding in a toilet cubicle, and it was far too late to confess to having no ticket without it being obvious that I’d been trying to get away with it.
And so it came to pass that I spent the entire hour-long journey going from one toilet cubicle to the next in desperate avoidance of train staff. It was like being in some sort of sitcom farce except it wasn’t at all funny and I just wanted to go back in time and pay the huge cancellation fee for my missed appointment rather than endure the fear and anxiety.
After what seemed like a lifetime, the train pulled into the station and I almost fell out on to the platform, so anxious was I to flee the scene of my terrible, terrible crime.
Bad person, bad person, bad person, chanted my guilt to the rhythm of my footsteps as I jogged up the stairs.
Dishonest, dishonest, dishonest, it added to the beat of a train chugging into the station.
You suck, you suck, you suck, it jeered to the melody of the music I put on to try and drown it out.
Honestly, I nearly went up to the desk to confess that I’d arrived there as a fugitive, and ask them to take my 22,000 won for the sake of my sanity. All that stopped me was the fear of an embarrassing scene (or, y’know, arrest and death by beheading or dismemberment). I left the station and headed for the subway, feeling like every single person was looking at me with contempt, silently judging me. The guilt was about to crush my brain into smithereens. It was so bad that when a homeless man stretched out his hands to me, I fumbled frantically in my bag and reached him the first note I found instead of spare change – anything to appease that infernal guilt. Only when he looked at me in surprise did I realise I’d given him 5000 won instead of 1000, but I just smiled at him as if I’d meant to do it, and felt marginally better. Then I saw possible redemption.
I turned back and distributed the remaining 17,000 of my unpaid ticket fare amongst the homeless man’s also-homeless buddies. Not because I am a selfless and generous soul, you understand, but because I needed to do something to prove to the universe that I wanted to make up for my dishonesty. I actually tend to disagree with giving money to beggars, preferring to give them food or buy a Big Issue or something rather than fund their addiction problems. But, as my guilt reasoned with me, the money wasn’t mine. It belonged to the rail company, and they were bound to prefer that it was spent by homeless people on soju and cigarettes than remain in the pocket of a cheating thief.
That, my friends, was my first and last illegal train journey. Never, never again. I’m telling you: criminals must be seriously stressed-out people living in constant mental anguish. Either that or I’m a bit neurotic. But that can’t be it…