For a year I rented an apartment in Pohang and let out some of the rooms and floor space to friends. We had three bedrooms, but usually there were also one or two transient ESL teachers on the floor, along with a Yorkshire Terrier named Moongchi that someone owned and I loved too much to make rules about even though she'd poop indoors because no one would take her for walks or at least hold out a window and squeeze.
Besides me no one had a legal job. In South Korea some wealthy people were so brainwashed about learning English from "native speakers" that private tutoring jobs were plentiful. Supply and demand paid whatever non-Korean people were in the small city what was to us a great amount of money for little work, teaching students privately and unreported.
I on the other hand commuted stupidly to work at a university and woke up at seven each morning. Because of this situation, as often as not I would return from teaching in the early afternoons and there would still be an Irishman or Canadian or a local sleeping with Moongchi or some long-gone foreigner's ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend on a mattress on the floor.
After a few months their nutrition had become such a concern to visitors and the community that I -- having the only car -- took to picking up 30-racks of eggs, loaves of bread and large amounts of water several times a week from Walmart. Having huge amounts of them raised the chances of some food still being available if I ever wanted to eat some of it.
I could never have a hot shower before work because the one Korean roommate Luke's room had the controls to the water heater, his door was always locked, and he would neither answer nor turn the water on when I'd knock in the morning.
I wanted the occasional egg dish as well. And I know, I know -- such actions on my part only enabled the process to continue, but in truth, I loved the ritual of buying large, cheap quantities of staples and delivering them home, being both an egg-pusher and a banana-pusher. I need to fix things and save people ... while I just need to save myself, I know.
Towards the end of one week I bought a rack of 30 eggs and put them in the kimchi refrigerator. That's a refrigerator that does the same thing as a regular refrigerator but instead of the usual door/shelf system it uses large drawers. The next day was Friday. I had two of the eggs on Friday afternoon and my girlfriend had two. Everyone went out and as usual tried to make enough trouble to remember that Friday night, and the next morning I was especially tired and hungry. Fried eggs were dancing ghost-like just outside my door. I stepped over the Irishman and the Canadian in the living room on the way to the kitchen, pulled out the kimchi refrigerator drawer. Staring at me was the empty, clear plastic container.
"Mother -- " I said, "who ate the last egg?"
"Gruh?" said Canadian Josh, waking.
"How many of the 30 eggs I bought Thursday did you eat?"
"Um," he produced, coming to. "Two, I think."
The Irishman, Donald, stirred. "What the fuck are you faggots fagging about?" It was not okay to talk like this in 2006, too.
"How many of the eggs did you eat?"
"None, I's in Daegu until four hours ago."
"I won't be angry at you, I was just wondering who ate so many eggs," I said.
"I didn't fucking eat any."
"Because I won't be angry."
As they had no reason to lie, I made some toast and sat down on the couch to watch television. Some time later American Nik came out from his room, which he had because he was an official roommate of mine.
"Nik," I said, "how many of those eggs did you eat? We've only accounted for six of the original thirty."
"I don't know." He pushed past on his way to the bathroom. Twenty minutes later we heard the sound of the bidet and he reappeared, bunching his stringy pajama pants up around his waist, pleased with himself.
"No, help us out. Think."
"Yeah, I thought about it. I had two yesterday and James was over, he had two also. Might have been three but I can't say."
The conversation soon made the four of us all wide awake and not interested in the tv. Josh and Donald were still curled in their beds, wrapped in blankets but Nik was on the couch with me, rolling a cigarette. We did the tally. I thought for sure that no one could eat that many eggs, and the mystery made the day brighter. When I took Luke's dog Moongchi outside I chased her down the stairs in tiny, furious steps.
The air was still cold, but I realized with such warmth in the coming sun it was certainly no longer winter. Moongchi wanted to pee on my $400 '91 Kia Pride and I let her since I always wanted to think it was a special day for her. It was too warm for it to freeze to my car like from all the rest of the apartment complex's dogs. Watching her soak the bottom of my right front tire and herself, I decided I could not to let the egg thing go.
In the mid-afternoon when Luke awoke, he shuffled out of his room like usual, followed by a stale cigarette breeze, and turned on one of the burners in the kitchen. He whined something chummy at us, hoping we didn't mention him locking us out of his room and our not being able to get warm water.
"Hey man," I said. "I got a question."
"Yeah, what's up?" he said.
"I'm not angry but I went to eat some eggs this morning and there were none left."
He groaned. I continued. "How many of the eggs did you eat?"
"I don't know," he said, walking away from us.
"Was someone else here? I can't believe that you could eat 20 eggs in a day."
He turned and acted out a truly wounded face. He shuffled over in his dirty white slippers. The lads on the floor busied themselves doing something else. I contrived a laugh to defuse.
"What," he said, "you buy the eggs for all of us."
"Yeah. I guess I do, but it can't be good to eat that many."
He didn't say anything else, got some coffee, and sighed back into his room. It was a Saturday and people started coming and going. There were motorcycle trips, movies, birthday parties to plan and nearby cities and parks to travel to. Luke came out of his room with his girlfriend and some Canadian friend.
"Can I borrow your car?" he said.
"Sure," I said, giving him the keys. They left and I got ready to go out.
The winter had gone on forever. We opened the windows and sliding glass doors with the optimism that the closed-in smell and ripe putrescence of the dog's excretions would disappear. Me mopped and swept. Then the door opened and I heard the telltale shuffling.
Moongchi barked and skittered across the floor like she'd just remembered to look busy. Luke walked to the kitchen area of the living room. "Here are your eggs, assholes," he said, placing a large stack of those 30 packs of eggs on the counter. Then he walked into his room and locked the door.
"What just happened"? said Josh, laughing.
"How many eggs is that?" I said.
We went to the counter and counted the containers.
"I think that's 150 eggs," said Josh.
I ran my fingers up their sides. Yes, five.
"Baby," said Josh. I didn't want to laugh because Luke was right there in his room, but I couldn't stop myself. We sat back down and chuckled, discussing what Luke might have meant by this.
His door unlocked. Luke again appeared, holding a piece of yellow notebook paper with a strip of tape attached to it.
"Are you all right?" I said.
"Yeah, man. Seriously," said Josh.
Luke didn't answer. He taped the piece of paper to the eggs and returned to this room. We didn't get up. A few minutes later he came out with his coat, motorcycle gear and girlfriend and left. Wind blew though the apartment and I didn't feel like cleaning so much. We got up and looked at the note. "Enjoy your eggs Assholes" it said.
"What the hell did you guys do?" said the Englishman.
"Christ, I don't want anything to do with this."
"What should we do with all these eggs?" I said.
"We could eat them," said Josh.
"We can't eat that many eggs."
"You probably shouldn't do anything," said the Englishman.
We thought on it for a while. The 150 eggs added a real change in the room's flow.
"Who could use 150 eggs?"
"We could take them to Kimbab Heaven."
"There must be someone or an NGO that could use them more."
"We could give them to a school," I said.
"Shit, we could give them to the orphanage where Kim used to work," said Josh.
It was by then near dark and getting colder. We closed the windows, bundled up and each took a rack of eggs or two out to my car. The Englishman was good sport but reminded us again, several times, that he was not responsible for this.
After about an hour we found the orphanage. It was right on the ocean and we spent a few scary moments on steep, narrow dark hilly coastal country roads but eventually wound our way down to the parking lot. No lights were on in the complex. I parked the car and the three of us got out, carrying the racks. We found the door by the kitchen, underneath a walkway between the two main buildings and knocked. No one came. I set my eggs down, went out to the car, and got a pen. I scratched out the words in Luke's note and wrote "Eggs from friends of Kim, have a nice night" first in English and then in terrible Korean.
That night we had a cozy celebration. My friend came over. I made dinner (no eggs) and she told me that she was sorry Korean men are like that but I said she didn't need to apologize for the whole country, we knew it was just the one maniac. Luke came home late. As was one of his rituals, he had a plastic bag full of steak and bacon meat for middle of the night drunken gorging. He went to the kitchen area of the main room and a minute later said "Where are my eggs?"
"Your eggs? You said they were for us."
"Where are they?" He stared at us, tearing over the apartment with his stare, wearing a painfully faked, wounded and righteous expression.
I wanted to tell him that no matter how hard he tried to paint the scene like he was the aggrieved party no one was going to play along, but I knew that would have been a useless tack. I knew that no matter what I said he was going to get angry and indignant. "We didn't want them to go to waste so we took them to the orphanage."
He whined his usual whine, like a child who hadn't gotten the kind of birthday party he wanted. "That wasn't what I bought the eggs for. Those weren't your eggs to give away." He continued sighing and moaning for some time and glanced around the room, looking for someone who would sympathize with him for what seemed like days but then gave up and shuffled to his room, slamming the door. I heard his lighter.
We weren't really surprised that he had gotten upset and tried to rationalize his reasons. No one can eat that many eggs on their own before they go bad can they? I bought 30 eggs again the next day for everyone.
Days later Josh heard from Kim, the woman who had worked at the orphanage. She had moved back to Canada, but the orphanage sent her an email thanking her for the eggs.