Walking back from my burger adventure, the streets were pretty empty. Everyone in hell is a shut-in since it got air conditioning and for good reason. The back sweat against the cushions in the Lemon Tree booth was so uncomfortable that I kept fanning it dry with the back of my shirt. But the few adventurous sorts like myself would gather at the crosswalks as cars dragged hot breezes by and I didn’t pay much attention to the people around me because as the walk signal lit green, they went left to the other crosswalk wait or right down a new street or into coffee shops or wherever until it was just me and this young woman in a burgundy shirt.
She zoomed across the street so she was ahead of me but then slowed to a pace that matched mine and we just happened to be going the same way.
Then we got to a building with a rounded black glass corner where I checked my hair to see if it was wind-styled or wind-messed because days like today it could be luxurious twists feathered by the breeze into a mane befitting the king of the jungle, but today was actually a mix of banana curls and frizz. And in the reflection, I caught her face for the first time. Her eyes were looking for me.
She then stopped at the door to GS25, a convenience store, as if deciding whether to go in for a can of Coke or maybe some candy, and she waited until I was down the street before continuing. I got to another crosswalk, just missing my chance, and as I waited, she walked by, to the other end of the slope between pavement and street.
I’m aware of why this probably played out. It’s something I’ve always noticed because I’m a chicken and, while horror story monsters do little to get me nervous, a stranger walking behind me always makes me jumpy, more so in America than here. And so, sharing that concern (irrationally for me, but probably not for others), I’ve often noticed old ladies will peek over their shoulders when they hear my footsteps and then a few more times to see if I’m still there and often the older woman will meander the night in the middle of the sidewalk and I’m not Korean enough to blow past them if I think I’ll bump shoulders so I’m often watching intently for them to drift to one side so I can safely skirt past but they look back and see me staring and I imagine it unsettles them further. The same happens with schoolgirls just getting out of academy for dinner when they should be getting to sleep, still in their uniforms, on empty sidewalks with all the shops closed and dark, and they see me. They’re generally in groups and hopefully feel safer for it, but I don’t want anyone to be uncomfortable by my presence. I like to think I have a friendly or at least harmless look, but I’m also foreign and a guy and who knows how they see me?