“Are you decent?” my wife yelled from the front door.
This isn’t an unusual question when she turns up at home with company, and fair enough too because I’m frequently less than decent in any number of ways, but she’d only been out of the house for three minutes. I stumbled into the kitchen to see she had returned with bread, milk and a beautiful young Nigerian woman. My wife is so thoughtful sometimes.
Winifred was confident and well dressed. She was well spoken, with enviably deep, rich African vocal tones. She had flawless coffee-coloured skin and perfect, impossibly white teeth. Thanking me for inviting her into our home she explained that my wife had ‘rescued’ her from the unwelcome advances of a couple of Russian guys at the local market. This woman was clearly not from the neighbourhood. Reading my mind (or perplexed expression) she said she had been attending Sunday mass at the International Baptist Church next door.
Two favourite conversation topics in my home (and neighbourhood) are travelling and languages. This suited Winifred just fine as she casually mentioned that she spoke twelve languages. This of course was not particularly unusual, she explained, considering six of those twelve were Nigerian languages and the others she had just ‘picked up’ while living in various places around the world. Again, this was not unusual (she continued before we could ask) as her father was the Nigerian ambassador.
“Ahhh,” said I.
“Ahhh,” said my wife.
Indeed she did look and speak like the daughter of a diplomat. With poise the young woman told us about some of the many challenges facing her nation, and of friends and relatives who had sadly died before their time.
Finishing her glass of water (we couldn’t interest her in anything else) she thanked us for our hospitality, complimented us once again, not entirely without condescension I thought, on our ‘lovely little home’ and said it was time for her to leave. Winifred and my wife swapped phone numbers and we invited her to visit again when she was in the neighbourhood. As she was leaving my wife asked out of curiosity how old Winifred was (an entirely acceptable question in Korea, and essential if you happen to be Korean). The worldly Nigerian woman smiled a warm smile.
“I am sixteen”.
She thanked us again and left.
A few minutes later I strolled down the lane to my local pub to watch the world go by. I perched my beer on the wobbly plastic table outside in the street. The traffic passed by in a slow constant stream no more than a foot or two from my chair, strategically positioned on the cracked concrete.
I thought about the random visit of Winifred and how the only unusual thing about my wife arriving home from the store with the Nigerian Ambassador’s daughter is that it didn’t seem at all unusual. Not here in my new home at least, where the word ‘unusual’ is reserved more for things like alien-landings or Oscar-winning Michael Bay movies (it therefore didn’t seem overly unusual about a week later when my wife would discover by chance that the Nigerian ambassador doesn’t have any daughters. Some doubt was cast over pretty much everything Winifred said, if that was her name. It really didn’t matter and we never saw her again. This neighbourhood is full of random weirdos).
Two men joined me at my little plastic table in the street. The bar staff pre-emptively apologised to me for whatever might happen next. Apparently the two men had been drinking for thirty hours straight and the end of this binge seemed nowhere in sight. The bar refused them service, so they were buying cheaper beers at the convenience store next door and drinking them at the pub. After a while the girls behind the bar completely gave up trying to stop this insanely drunk pair doing whatever they pleased and decided it was better just to keep serving them and take their money. The big Kiwi and the gruff, gravel-voiced Canadian were playing a game called ‘lets take turns punching each other in the head, spit blood, drink beer… repeat’. I was pleased they didn’t ask me to join in.
A moment later they were happily lurching around the street with their pants down, taking turns whipping each other on the arse with their respective belts. The traffic, stopped in both directions, patiently waited for the drunken pants-less maniacs to finish their business as if nothing was happening. A couple of Hare Krishna guys strolled casually by, then a few Filipinos, greeting the pair by name. Apparently they were a local institution.
It was midday. The owner of the bar arrived and happily suggested the two drunken nutjobs come inside for a beer. I was new to HBC, the multicultural foreign enclave of central Seoul, but I had already learned that none of these happenings were strange.
That was five years ago, and that afternoon I decided to write a book (which eventually devolved into this blog).
I never did find out who the hell Winifred was. Kenny and James are still good mates.