MY PHONE rang. It was a bit after 10pm. I'd been frittering away the evening online, looking at nothing worth looking at. It was Mary*. Mary was a girl I'd "met" online maybe two months before. I'd spoken to her a few times since. We'd never met in the real world. And I hadn't heard from her in weeks. Why would I have? I didn't know her. No matter. She was wondering how I was.
"Hey, good. And you?"
"I'm sorry if I am bothering you," she said.
"No, of course not, it's fine."
I was surprised to get a call from her. I told her so.
"We are friends. I was just wondering what you were doing," she replied. We were? Making friends here was easier than I thought. This I didn't say out loud.
After a few minutes of chit chat, I asked would she send a picture. I like to know what people I talk to look like. Call that shallow, but it's hard to relate to somebody when you don't know their face. I'd think twice about having a conversation on the street with someone with a sack over their head. Balaclavas do more than protect a wear's identity - they intimidate. Of course, at a less lofty, more basic, male level, I always wonder what members of the fairer sex look like. I tried an intellectual justification. Oh well. Blame biology.
She wasn't happy to provide a photo. "No. I am fat, ugly and short," she replied matter-of-factly. That renowned Korean self-esteem again. What did one say?
"Woah, that's a terrible thing to say about yourself!" I said, genuinely, but not as surprised as I should have been. After all, this is the first country I've ever been to where a girl has asked me directly and without irony, "Am I beautiful?". You could be as frank about appearance as you liked - positively or the opposite.
"If I show you, you will be disappointed and leave me," she said fretfully. Leave you? Leave you where? Had I taken her somewhere? Was I in a position to leave her in any sense of the word? Had I gotten married? Was I even awake?
"Uh. . ." I said nervously.
"Just kidding!" she squeaked. Of course. A joke. Ha. Ha. Ha.
Before she hung up, Mary told me to call her anytime. Outside my apartment students were having fun and making noise in the street. Free. I thought about going out to join them.
There was always tomorrow.