Pyongyang Night, Final Part

Matt and Lou awoke in their hotel bed a few hours later from thin slumbers, and muttered enough words to each other to plan their day. They decided that it was too late to make a trip to the demilitarized zone, so they would go for breakfast at Kim’s Diner, then go and see the bronze statues of the three former dictators in Mansundae Park.

At Kim’s they sat not talking to one another over pancakes, coffee and unobtrusive jazz music. Lou felt the silence press him to reveal that he knew Matt had snuck out the night before.

“So did you go to that Comrades place last night then?” he asked.

Lou saw a wince of pained embarrassment flash across Matt’s face, as if he had been hoping that Lou would show mercy and not call him out on what he had done.

“I’m sorry,” replied Matt, weakly. It seemed easier somehow, to let Lou believe that something might have happened.

Lou was surprised to feel a sense of relief. Even though Matt had effectively admitted to him to having cheated, he himself was still alive and breathing: his world was no nearer to its end just because their relationship almost was. He stared out the window at men pushing crates of vegetables to the restaurants along the Drive, in preparation of the various meals that would be made that day.

*

They moved slowly up the escalator inside the cool, long tunnel. As the street in front of the station came into view, the first thing that caught Matt’s readjusting eyes was a hoarding for Beyoncé’s latest album Mama B, which featured the singer and her young daughter pictured in black and white, staring moodily out at the passers by.

They walked silently along the newly laid pavements in the direction of the statues. The park seemed to be full of life: tourists walking about in swarms, lead by guides with flags featuring indiscernible company logos; locals sat around, picnicking, smoking and staring at the foreigners as they passed. Looking over all of this were the statues of the three Kims: Il-sung, who had been proclaimed to be North Korea’s eternal spiritual leader upon his death in 1994, and his son Jong-Il and grandson Jong-un, who had successively kept the family business of despotism alive in physical form, until the Magnolia Revolution had put an end to it.

“I guess it isn’t surprising that the statues weren’t pulled down,” Matt said, noticing the forced casualness in his tone. “I suppose even at the time they thought it would be a good tourist magnet. I wonder what the real-life Jong-un thinks about it now that he’s banged up in Seoul?”

Lou didn’t respond.

“God he must have an awful time in prison down there, imagine the way the other inmates -“

Lou stopped walking abruptly, and turned to face Matt.

“Why did you do it?” he demanded.

Matt looked into Lou’s face, searching for the words with which to respond. He found nothing.

“I don’t know,” he said, quietly.

“For the last time,” demanded Lou. “Do you want to end this?”

Matt didn’t answer. He felt as if he had been placed at a fork in the road, and was unable to commit to either path.

“Just get it over with and end it,” said Lou. “If that’s what you want.”

Lou turned his back and kept walking, his eyes fixed resolutely ahead. Matt stood still and watched him from behind, as he moved further away from him towards the mammoth bronze statues. The statues meanwhile stared out beatifically at the horizon, as they would do forever, facing all the world, and all the unknown in it.

Start of a Story / Chris Pt. 1

When Chris came round, the first sensations that he felt were a damp coolness across his broad, shoulder muscles, and a violent heat across his chest and abdomen. He then came to realize that sunlight was burning red through the lids of his closed eyes, and he could hear the lapping of waves from somewhere close by. It all felt very tranquil, very womblike. But then the thought crossed his mind that he should not be sensing any of this: he should be under cool, airless aircon, hearing nothing but the reassuring, uninterrupted hum of engines and the occasional gentle beep of the fasten seatbelt sign. Something was wrong. That word clocked in his head like a coin in a slot that causes a machine to spring into automation: he opened his eye and sprung into an upright position, and was shocked just as much by the sight before him as he was by the pain that shot down his spine.

Before him, was two or three metres of white grey sandy beach, and beyond that nothing but a vast expanse of ocean that went from turquoise to chrome grey right out to the horizon. What. The. Fuck. Each word appeared in his mind, bold and underlined, just like that.

“So you’re up then?” A voice croaked, wryly amused, just to his left.