His name was Carlos, or so he’d said. Min-jung honestly didn’t care. He was young, strong and beautiful and he believed her when she said her name was Areum, so all things being equal, he had every right to be Carlos, Juan, Victor or Pablo. She didn’t mind as long as he held her again the way he had last night, when the moon slipped from murky clouds and lit the alley and his grin in a blue devil’s light. His stubble raked her chin and neck and her body surged with yearning to feel the hardness of his stomach against the soft flesh of her own belly. She’d inhaled a piss-stained quaff of air when he slid his hand inside her jeans and traced the swelling beneath her underwear gently with thick fingers, but she didn’t wince, didn’t wrinkle her nose. Instead she kissed him harder. All the alleys of El Gotico – of most of this brick and chiseled stone requiem of a city – reeked of drunken incontinence. Barcelona was sin dressed as Saint, the lurk of desires like lava beneath the centuries old crust of Catholic worship, and in her six months here she’d worn white and waved silent crosses while dreaming of nights like last night, of nights like what she hoped would happen tonight. Cammie, a carrot-haired girl with skin like a rice bowl that was in her class and from the U.S. immediately started her terms abroad with a swarthy local named Miquel. He was lean, muscular and smiled as if every day were a joke, every evening a punchline. Min-jung had caught him on several occasions looking at her own exposed legs when Cammie wasn’t looking, and so she began wearing her shortest skirts whenever he was around to see his reaction. On Saturday nights when Cammie would stay out late with Miguel, Min-jung would lie awake, her hand moving beneath the sheets, feeding what was increasingly hungry low and inside her, imagining the contrast of their skin in dark light, the rhythm of their kisses and their slow moans and sighs, like those she heard from gomo with her boyfriends over the years back home.
Her father’s sister Kyong had many suitors while she lived with them after jobu and jomu died in a car accident when gomo was only 17. The loss of their parents freed Kyong from their discipline but strained the relationship between her and appa, and in the mornings when she did not come home, Min-jung would hear her father whisper angrily about her over the running water of mother’s dishwashing: gul-leh-gat-eun-nyun. Every time she learned a new language, she’d learn a new word for Kyong, who did manage to calm down and marry in her twenties. Puta. Puttana. Whore. And as such, Min-jung worried about her own desires and tried to remain uninterested in Cammie’s kiss-and-tell with Miguel, a feral dog hiding from tantalizing bones. But the hourglass sands of her stay in Barcelona were expiring and the simmering lusts she’d felt while there watching handsome men study her had turned to a boil. Last night the pot bubbled over and tonight, in just an hour or so, she was going to allow Carlos to kiss every inch of her, to touch wherever he wanted however he wanted because for one night, she was her gomo and Cammie and herself. She was Areum, legs wide and shirt off, skin scalding. She started noticing the bike seat rubbing against her softening sex, and the self-conscious feelings she had about looking silly on the rental, peddling in new high heels and and the high blue dress she’d bought that morning, dissolved into pulsing desire.
Tourists swarmed around her, but she only thought of Carlos and what he might do to her, how he’d control her for the night by looming above her, lying beneath her, thrusting behind her. And as her mind swam in lust, her peddling kept the pace of their intimacy, the hardness of the seat growing more arousing with each pump of her legs. The way to Carlos’s place was winding, uphill and often over stones that made the bike vibrate, and soon she was breathless and sweating from the seat’s diligent friction. Halfway there, Min-jung pumped harder and gripped the handlebars while blank-eyed strangers huddling all around her studied crumbling palace walls, tapas menus and leather bags. Her knuckles whitened, thighs tightening and the bloom of release spread like a cresting wave over the beach of her belly, chest and neck.
She didn’t anticipate or want this flush of satisfaction, but welcomed it among the many buzzing around her and shook on her bike, nearly falling into a Dutch or German father herding his children out of a store stuffed with tchotchke bulls and miniature replicas of of Gaudi’s Sagrada Família. Min-jung steadied herself and then continued in to the base of Carlos’s apartment building, a conventional stone edifice with more history than style framing it.
Her legs were shaky but she continued on despite her bliss for it was won weakly, alone. It was no different than the late night rhapsodies she sung solo with her fingers hitting each note of her yearning, only this time it was the rough seat of her bike. She was too awake now to turn back, so she parked the bike, chained it, then walked up the thick concrete steps to the double wooden door, stepped inside the humid lobby and pressed the button for the unit he’d instructed. After a moment his voice crackled over the speaker above the buzzer and the door shrilly sang entry. Min-jung pulled it open, feeling a residual tingle between her thighs and thought about Cassie and gomo Kyong; the gul-leh-gat-eun-nyun, las putas, le puttane, the whores.
They were none of this, she thought as she mounted the stairs. They were simply human and filled with eagerness to feel human. Just like her. Just like anyone with a leash removed and the courage to bark.