INTO THE SEA
Jiwon never challenged the reality that would be his future. Like most children, he spent his days with mischief and games and his best friend. Along with various Korean past-times, the boys spent countless Saturday afternoons at the sports Hagwon swimming pool.
Jiwon lived for 11:00 a.m. every Saturday of the short summer break. His mother always declared he should have been born with gills.
The two friends would meet at Jiwon’s apartment and walk to the pool together. Jiwon, impatient for the cool water and the accustomed smell of chlorine, wanted to take the short cut through the park behind his house, but his best friend insisted they walk across town.
The walk, which should only take ten minutes, took the boys three times as long. Jiwon’s friend never walked the distance without stopping numerous times to say hello to local store owners, or join in a quick game of cards with a few of the neighborhood ajummas.
Jiwon, although an amiable person himself, was always amazed by his friend’s openness.
When they reached the pool, those muggy summer Saturdays, Jiwon was always the first of the children waiting by the entrance gates to jump into the expectant water. He was also the last to drag his dripping and pruned body to the gates, at the end of the day.
Once in the water, Jiwon never left it, with the exception of the occasional five-minute swim breaks that were mandatory every hour. Jiwon’s best friend spent his day differently.
He would make his way around the pool, pausing at every resting bench, dripping kid and tired elder. He made a point to learn everyone’s name before he left the pool. He would get an equal amount of smiles and jeers from the Saturday crowd.
As people sluggishly began to head to the gate, to their cars, and to their apartments, Jiwon’s friend would call them by name and wave a friendly goodbye. He stayed with Jiwon until the closing whistle was blown and the day was forced to end.
As the boys walked through the gate every Saturday, Jiwon’s friend would smile. He had loved every second of that day.
The best friend’s lives continued this way until they reached high school graduation. As Jiwon’s mother had predicted, her son decided to leave his small hometown and head south to the sand and salt of the ocean. He had saved enough money to buy a one-way ferry ticket and a small apartment, for the time it would take him to find a job on the water off of Jeju Island.
His best friend also desired to feel the warm sand under his feet, but instead of heading west with Jiwon, he set out toward the east.
He didn’t take any money with him, and he made his way to the coast with the help of a good pair of shoes and the occasional affable truck driver.
As with the people at the pool, he took the time to learn every one of the driver’s names and used each one of them as he waved goodbye.
Jiwon’s best friend reached the shore in a few days, and began working as a coastal guard, as had Jiwon, far away on the opposite shore.
Jiwon worked as a coastal guard for the next several years. He heard from his best friend only once or twice each year, but he continued to love him as a brother and remember fondly the summer weekends of his childhood.
One oppressive Saturday afternoon, Jiwon was watching his section of the shore, as he had done almost every day for five years. It was an ordinary day. Nothing of any urgency had happened and Jiwon was almost asleep from the lack of activity.
He began to walk to the water to cool his feet when he noticed a man making his way through the people scattered across the sand. He watched with curiosity as the man stopped at every single towel and umbrella and talked for a few minutes then made his way to the next. Curiosity suddenly changed into familiarity as Jiwon recognized his friend from so many years ago.
Jiwon ran to his friend and embraced him, overjoyed with the sight of his childhood companion.
The two men spent the next hour talking and laughing about each other’s experiences on opposite shore-lines. They became so caught up in stories that they didn’t feel the rain or the wind or hear the sirens.
They soon found themselves on a boat headed into the oncoming storm. Jiwon, along with his fellow coastguards was terrified, but his best friend sat in the boat with a demeanor of calm Jiwon had never seen before.
The vessel reached the tiny fishing boat that had capsized, leaving its passenger stranded in the turbulent sea.
Jiwon reluctantly waited for his superior to give orders and then approached the edge of the rocking ship. He peered overboard into the nightmarish waves and was struck with sudden fear. It was a feeling he had never experienced before in his life, and he closed his eyes as he stepped up on the railing.
Jiwon lurched backwards as a hand grabbed his shoulder. His best friend was in the water before he had time to stop him.
Jiwon sat with his knees pulled to his chest, ocean water soaking through his clothing. A blanket had been wrapped around him and he stared at the man across from him. The owner of the fishing boat was just an ordinary man. There was nothing unusual or special about him. Jiwon studied the man’s face on the ride back to shore.
He always knew that one day, as an adult, he would let his best friend drift away. He didn‘t need a reason. Life required it of every child and every youthful imagination. He had needed him when he was young and his friend had met those needs, but now, as an adult, Jiwon was prepared.
He leaned forward and dipped his head to the nondescript man seated across from him.
“What is your name?”
Hyeli Shin is a student, living in Daejeon, South Korea. Along with writing, she enjoys acting and playwriting.