- The First Anniversary
Clutching the oppressively large box to his chest, he made his way into the apartment building. It was as dark as during the monthly air-raid blackout drills: all the lights were out except for the elevator display, its red flicker reflecting on the bank of mailboxes. A flood of brochures, unclaimed mail, and empty cans foretold the building's imminent demolition.
The man steered himself toward the stairway. It was best to avoid the elevator, given the increasingly capricious state of the power supply. He had once been trapped inside it during a power outage. He had jabbed at the emergency call button hoping the custodian would come to his rescue. No such luck. He had begun to wonder if the demolition crew would get to him first. Eventually he had fallen asleep even as he willed the elevator not to plunge to the bottom of the shaft. It was not until the next morning that power was restored and he was liberated along with his parcels.
He felt spellbound as he climbed the stairs, his upper and lower body seemingly disconnected. While his eyes searched for the outlines of the stairs, his legs bore him upward with synchronized strides. He knew by heart the number of steps between each floor, the rise between each step and the next, and the location of each bicycle-obstructed emergency exit. What he didn't know was that mounds of trash and garbage had been accumulating each day in [End Page 97] front of the emergency exits, and one such mound now caused him to trip.
It was just as dark in the fifth-floor stairwell as elsewhere in the building, and he crouched down to gather up the parcels that had gone flying. He found the last parcel, returned it to the delivery box, and gave the box a shake. No unusual noises or smells. No signs of leakage. There were times when kimchi juice had leaked out, leaving a trail of red splatters on the stairs behind him as well as pungent blotches on his khaki pants. The splatters on the concrete were a bit more faded each time he returned to this unlit flight of stairs—which meant several times a week and always with a delivery for the same woman. Sometimes it was kimchi he delivered, at others it was crab pickled in soy sauce. Sometimes it was hot pepper paste, and sometimes instant noodles that the woman could have purchased at any supermarket. He had delivered sandals, Western-style leather boots, and platform sneakers, as well as breathable underwear, a polka-dot dress, an upright steam cleaner—the list went on. His employer offered the only home delivery service in the region, and so when the woman ordered something through home shopping channels or online shopping malls, he delivered it. He was getting to know her pretty well—at least this was how he felt when he pictured her wearing the bra and underwear he had delivered, eating rice topped with the pickled crab he had delivered, and going out afterward in the polka-dot dress he had also delivered.
He felt a puff of air, and breathed in its burden of concrete dust. Dust-laden air had been circulating stubbornly through the city ever since construction of the new amusement park had gotten under way four years earlier. The park grounds and the building where the woman lived were separated only by the river bisecting the city. From a distance, the amusement park was a jumbled mess, resembling demolition as much as construction. But closer up, the array of construction cranes announced the arrival of the new park. A temporary office trailer sat in a secluded corner of [End Page 98] the construction site. Workers in yellow hardhats streamed in and out of the site while debris-loaded trucks barreled up and down adjoining streets.
Construction was the obvious source of the city's unabating noise and dust, but the amusement park project was not the sole culprit. In fact, the entire city was being rebuilt. For every new building that took a month...