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    I arrived at Wong’s restaurant, a large hall of tables on the first floor of a ramshackle mall. He was shooing away lingering customers while hanging up a sign in Chinese that said “Sold Out.” His forearms, which turned the wok daily, had grown more muscular, and his hair was trimmed short, like grass, indicating a recent haircut.

    Watching him haggle with customers was amusing. Although I couldn’t understand, it seemed he was persuading them to come back tomorrow to eat. Despite his curt tone, he was a kind person.

    “Uh-oh, Smith!”

    He called me ‘Smith.’ When we first introduced ourselves, I pronounced my name as ‘Schmitz,’ but it had settled into ‘Smith’ in his pronunciation. I tried to correct him a few times, but he seemed convinced he was saying it right, so I let it be. Names didn’t mean much to me anyway. I didn’t mind what he called me.

    “Come in and sit down. It’s been a while. What do you want, shrimp?”

    “Sure, if there’s still some ingredient left.”

    He wiped his hands on his apron as if to say not to worry and went into the kitchen. Three or four tables were still eating. I hadn’t changed out of my uniform and was attracting some attention. Feeling a bit self-conscious, I looked out the window.

    When I was eight years old and adopted into Germany, Hong Kong was returned to China. The return of Hong Kong was emotional news in Europe as well, the last piece of the past to be cleared before the turn of the millennium. Withdrawing British soldiers and the newly raised Chinese flag. English and Chinese echoed in the air, but people spoke Cantonese. The news simultaneously showed interviews with citizens looking forward to new opportunities and footage of crying protesters.

    Today’s Hong Kong seemed like a city where even such aspirations had vanished, looking somewhat forlorn.

    “Why haven’t you come by in so long?”

    Wong asked, placing the wonton noodles on the table and pulling up a chair across from me. The shrimp wontons, transparent and plump, looked like there were twice as many as usual.

    “Where’s Faye? I don’t see her.”

    “She took Tony to his English academy.”

    Faye is his wife, and Tony is his son. I needed to give Tony his allowance, which was a problem.

    “Is business still good?”

    He nodded nonchalantly, pointing at the sold-out sign. But he soon began complaining about Hong Kong’s killer housing prices and rents. Economically, it made sense that he should be rolling in money if he had to turn away customers, but that didn’t seem to apply here. He said he was considering moving to a cheaper neighborhood from Soho.

    Of course, I intended to visit him no matter where he went, but the thought of Soho without Wong made me feel somewhat melancholic.

    “I went back to South Korea.”

    “South Korea? Oh, yeah. You said you were from South Korea. I remember.”

    He nodded vigorously, as if recalling something important.

    “Home is always the best, right?”

    “Well, it doesn’t really feel like home.”

    “Are you more comfortable in Germany?”

    “It’s just me. I don’t feel like I belong anywhere.”

    “Uh, yeah. I think I understand what you mean.”

    He didn’t want to interrupt my meal, so he didn’t say anything more. Then he asked me once if I liked it. I told him of course it was.

    Wong’s shop doesn’t have a door. As a result, some tourists have been coming in and out at will. The current customer had even sat down at a table to place an order. He stood up and shouted “Close!” to dismiss them. Then he went straight into the kitchen. He came back to me with a plate of fried sweets and started talking politics again.

    Wong’s vocabulary was always limited to a few topics: protests, freedom, and economy. With just those words, he could talk for ten minutes straight. Because he repeated the same stories over and over, I had learned to understand his English perfectly. His stories always concluded the same way: Wong simply loved Hong Kong.

    “Are you doing well?”

    As we were about to part, he asked about my well-being, and I answered honestly.

    “It’s tough. I feel like I’m going crazy.”

    I whined to him with a smile. Nothing in my life is going as planned. How can I find happiness too? Then he always told me the same thing.

    “Smith, you have to always stay sharp.”

    The sun was setting. Neon signs from the storefronts jutting out onto the street started to light up. Soho’s melancholy night began, and I was finding solace in Wong’s restaurant, eating wonton noodles.

    After resting for a day in Hong Kong, I arrived at Incheon Airport at 5 a.m. the next day. The runway was wet from rain.

    I glance outside as the Co-pilot conducts a landing check. Maintenance workers in plastic overalls were running around. Carts and workers were arriving to unload the luggage.

    It seemed our flight was the first to land today. I saw other airline planes lined up at the gates, waiting for their passengers. The wet ground created an illusion that the planes were floating on water.

    “Captain, let’s go.”

    We finished our landing checks and got out of the cockpit just as the rain began to thicken. As I went to return the logbook, I checked my phone. Han Jae-yi must have called during the flight. He had left a voice message.

    -I just arrived. Still at Frankfurt Airport. Seeing your phone’s off, you must be flying. Oh, the reason I called… I didn’t get to say a proper goodbye. Anyway, thanks. We live far apart now, so let’s stay in touch more often. Well, you never do, so I’ll call more often. Safe flights. See you soon.

    I smiled wryly at his request to see me soon. Judging by the content, Gisella hadn’t dropped the bomb yet. I wondered if he would feel betrayed if he found out later that I knew about the situation. Not knowing when Gisella would carry out her plan made me feel even more troubled. Now, even if I wanted to reach out to Han Jae-yi, I really couldn’t.

    There were three weeks left until the wedding.

    I stepped onto the airport bus.  The damp summer rain had soaked my uniform. Inside the bus, there was a smell of old air conditioning. I was exhausted from what felt like an all-nighter. Sitting in the front seat, I stared at the raindrops sliding down the window and fell asleep.

    Some time later, I woke up to find the bus moving slowly. We had entered Seoul, and the airport bus was stopping at each station one by one. It didn’t look like the rain would stop today. I regretted not bringing my car because I didn’t feel confident driving after an early morning flight.

    I grabbed my suitcase and got off at the stop in front of my house. By the time I reached the entrance to the villa, I was soaking wet. I walked into the living room dripping wet. On my way to the bathroom, I opened the door to Han Jae-yi’s room. In the dark, the bed with its plastic-wrapped mattress stood forlornly in the middle of the room.

    I collapsed onto it, and water pooled on the plastic surface. I closed my eyes, recalling the eyes that had quietly watched me in the darkness.

    I was missing him in my own way.

    * * *

    I woke up feeling hungry. I looked at my watch and saw that it was past lunchtime, but it was still dark around me. I walked out into the living room and opened the balcony door. The sound of rain and cool air entered the living room. I took off my rain-soaked uniform and took a shower.

    When I came out of the bathroom, my phone was buzzing on the kitchen table. It wasn’t a call, but a messenger alert. Co-pilots Jeon Seong-wook and Cho Min-woo were sharing this month’s new schedule in our chat. I took a screenshot of my schedule and uploaded it to the chat. Shortly after, my phone rang.

    “Yes.”

    -We have a flight together to Haneda this month, Captain

    Co-pilot Cho Min-woo skipped the greeting.

    “I see, so that makes it easier for me.”

    -Is that a compliment?

    “Sure.”

    -Are you home?

    “Yes, I landed early this morning and slept until now. Are you in Korea?”

    -Yes. I had two days off. I’m on my way home, but can I drop by?

    I was about to ask why, but guessed his answer would be something like, “Just because.” So I decided to be practical instead.

    “Have you eaten?”

    -Let’s just say I haven’t yet, I’ll be right there, give me 30 minutes.

    He said that and hung up the phone. So I had no way of knowing whether he had already eaten or not. I changed into new clothes and went out to the balcony. I was smoking more and more. I felt bad, like I was going backwards in time.

    I zoomed in on the schedule chart in the chat once more. A two-week vacation was scheduled. Although I had acted quite aloof in front of Han Jae-yi, I couldn’t vouch for myself after July 17th. I decided it would be extremely dangerous to fly in that condition, so I decided to go anywhere.

    I looked at the sky and saw dark clouds approaching. It had become a habit to read the weather whenever possible, and tonight seemed like a typhoon might hit. Rather than feeling relieved I wasn’t flying tonight, I hoped that no accidents would occur for anyone.

    Co-pilot Cho Min-woo called me from below my villa instead of coming up. He asked me to come down, and we ended up at his apartment. He was someone whose thoughts I could never fathom.

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