It was a blisteringly cold day. In the foyer of a bank building with ATMs on the first floor, drivers-for-hire were huddled together in the tight space. Most were hoping to land customers heading in the direction of Seoul, almost impossible to find after eleven at night. The bank would soon close, and they would be driven into the streets. One of them took off his gloves, stuffed them into his coat pocket, and lit himself a cigarette. He was determined to hold out for someone heading to Seoul until he was driven from the foyer. The others were also shifting from foot to foot with lit cigarettes, quickly filling the small foyer with pungent smoke.
"Oof, lovely weather."
A driver in a green down jacket with cheeks frozen a shade of red that made him look like a drunk rushed into the building.
He shuddered and grumbled, "Sosa's bumper to bumper."
"Why'd you come through Sosa? Shoulda taken the Seobu Expressway."
"Yeah, Seobu's better, even with heavy traffic," someone else chimed in.
Everyone nodded in agreement.
"Yeah, I know. But the customer said absolutely no way to Seobu," he protested.
"Why?" [End Page 85]
"Hell if I know."
"Maybe he met his wife on the Seobu Expressway." Laughter erupted among the men. "Takes all kinds."
In every group of half a dozen, one is bound to be a joker. Thanks to him, the tension and gloom in the foyer were temporarily lifted, but the laughter soon subsided, ineffective in keeping the awkward silence and chill at bay for long.
The man in the green jacket, his eyes still smiling, was looking for someone to chat with. The man with the gloves quickly turned away to avoid eye contact. The drivers' gratuitous attention and hospitality toward each other made him uncomfortable. What comfort was there in the sad camaraderie of men who had hit rock bottom and wandered the streets at night? They each had their share of misfortune and needed to fester quietly, alone.
"Snow? This night just keeps getting better and better," someone groaned as the man with the gloves lit a new cigarette. It was indeed snowing in the streets—icy dust, not big fluffy flakes.
"I put the address into GPS. Please follow the GPS directions." The man climbed into the driver's seat and heard the high-pitched voice of a young girl from the backseat. Not a trace of alcohol on her breath. He stole a look in the mirror and saw a hunched-over, bundled up figure with eyes peeping out above layers of scarf.
The old 1500cc Avante was dented and badly in need of a paint job, but it was far more dismal on the inside. Strewn across the dashboard was a clutter of paper cups, empty cigarette packs, plastic bags. There was a great big bundle in the passenger seat, making him feel stuffy and packed in. He put his seatbelt on, turned on the ignition, and heard the sound of grating metal coming from the engine. He wondered if the car would die mid-journey. [End Page 86] Fortunately, the trip wouldn't be too bad. The problem with long-distance jobs was always getting back to Seoul, but this client's destination was relatively close by. He carefully pulled out of the alley where the car had been parked, telling himself things could be much worse. Snow had buried the streets in the meantime.
The woman was fat. She had the kind of girth that would have been unexceptional in the West but was definitely rare in Korea. It wasn't just the cold that had her waiting for her driver out of sight in the car. She was buried up to her nose in a pink scarf and pink padded jacket. She was an enormous pink blob filling up the back seat.
Pink on a woman her size! He couldn't help but sneer, but what did he care how fat she was as long as the car could move?
Snow began to stick on the road. Pushing on at...