She could never walk away from Jack. She knew it as certainly as the sun rose in the morning and the moon blessed their lovemaking. “Once more before I die,” she cried, “let me see him again.”
Bamboo Rings by D. K. Christi Copyright 2014
Chapter 1 - The Present
“Charles!” Melani’s scream echoed through the cabin from the dinette seat that pitched and rolled with the rest of the ship. “The wall of water through the port - pouring in the hatch - I can’t move!” Carried away by the thunder, the scream became a whisper in the chaos.
The squall’s howling and the endless grinding of the engines accompanied the ship’s
continuous groaning against the pounding sea. Waves of nausea prevented any attempted movement by Melani with two ice packs perched on her aching head, determined to slide off into the water splashing across the slippery sole.
Flying cans escaped as missiles from the pantry doors and rolled around the sole, adding to the cacophony of sound. Tears of helplessness streamed down Melani’s cheeks, long devoid of any makeup. An earlier attempt to face the storm on deck led to long tendrils of saltwater-soaked auburn hair stuck to her face, reminiscent of a sea witch.
Dear God, she prayed, will this nightmare never end? What happened to the balmy, starlit night in Fort Lauderdale? How did a mere 69 nautical miles to West End become this nightmare?
“Charles!” She screamed again to no avail. Exhausted from the storm, Charles wrestled the helm topside against a swirling sea. The Gulfstream fought for dominion over swells from a N’Easter in the opposite direction. He heard only the thunder and the pounding of the ship against the breaking swells. Lightning cast foreboding shadows on the raging sea. Lady Ace pitched and rolled precariously in the endless cauldron.
The captain, barely visible at the bow, lashed his harness to the stanchions. Swinging with abandon through the air, broken free from the deck, the anchor threatened to slam a hole in the hull. Disappearing temporarily beneath the sea as he rode the bowsprit like a bronco, the captain caught the anchor rode and secured it at last as the waves washed over him.
The mantra that haunted Melani on life-threatening occasions emanated from her soul, Once more before I die. Please, Oh God, give me one more chance to tell him before I die.
Chapter 2 - South Korea 1975
“My knees are buckling, Derek. Please hold me.” The exhaustion in Melani’s voice did not faze Derek. He moved away from her and Brian toward the company man with the sign bearing their name in bold, printed letters.
“Your papers,” the short, dark Korean demanded as Derek handed him the precious passports so carefully guarded on the long flights that ended in the large hangar at Kimpo Airport, South Korea.
“The smell in this airport is sickening!” Melani said to no one in particular as she brushed her dark hair away from her distressed face and observed with pity the tired blond child who clung tightly to her other hand while her body rocked unsteadily.
“We’ll be home soon,” she assured him. The pale, small face looked up at her through tired blue eyes, unconvinced. He looked tiny and pale in the gigantic Kimpo airport hangar. The pervasive smell of garlic and the sea of short, olive-skinned Koreans with black hair overwhelmed Melani who nearly fainted, combined with nausea. The 24-hour flight with the stop in Tokyo seemed eternal. Stifling airport crowds pressed in on her. I must not pass out! That would not be a good start, she told herself as waves of nausea continued their threat.
“Remember, Derek, that foul garlic aroma that filled the new house in Gilroy? This is the same disgusting smell,” she said to her spouse who paid no attention to her as he watched for the return of the passports. She knew he remembered the garlic, though. Gilroy grew fields of it. The consequences hit home in a very unpleasant way shortly after they moved into their house, an investment before their Korean departure. The obnoxious odor greeted her again. More surprises certainly waited in the wings, ready to pounce. Hopefully, they already experienced the worst and only the best awaited them.
Melani grabbed Derek’s arm and gained some composure. Their small son, Brian, still hung on in a death grip at his mother’s other side. Derek ignored all but the government and corporation representatives who whisked them through customs with efficiency and much bowing.
“Here, you must step over here, please Missus,” called the customs guard who led Melani and Brian to an enclosure off to the side of the long line as Derek watched helplessly. In spite of his Armani suit, powerful size, perfectly coifed gray hair and confident bearing, customs ruled.
“So solly, so solly” whispered the polite, female security employee, crisp in her starched white lab coat. She took Brian and Melani into the private enclosure and frisked them. Brian’s eyes opened wide with fear. Melani’s heart raced.
Embarrassing tears of frustration and fear rolled down her cheeks no matter how hard she tried to be calm. The entire, uncomfortable procedure violated Melani’s sense of security but she attempted a brave face for Brian. The company men had Derek in tow. She and Brian stood alone.
“Sweetie, I’m so sorry. I hope this adventure gets better soon!” Melani soothed Brian, but he did not have the energy to complain or ask questions. His eyelids began to droop even while he stood next to her.
“Didn’t they search you?” she asked Derek in anger when they were reunited.
“I think someone made arrangements for me. They could not do anything for you and Brian. I am sorry. I forgot about the search. We will be at the hotel soon. You’ll forget this when we are rested.”
“I don’t think so. I do not think I will ever forget this airport. The worst part, it is also the only way out of Korea. The romance of this adventure is quickly losing its aura.” I think the romance is gone, she thought to herself.
Their humble Korean driver led them to the black company car, their "chauffeur-driven limousine" promised before they left the states, their ordeal in the airport over. The car looked like a dozen others parked in the same line.
“Where is the limo?” Melani’s sarcastic voice demanded of Derek, fatigue adding to anger. She climbed into the back seat of the common, black, four-door Korean assembly-line car that everyone in Korea drove unless lucky enough to own an American car from the military base. Only Mr. Chin's unique little hand sign led Melani and Derek to their very own “chauffeur-driven limousine” to distinguish it from the long line of black vehicles parked along the broken curb. Every driver wore the same starched white shirt and dark slacks. Mr. Chin drove Derek on the previous business trip to determine whether he should accept the post.
“I take that,” Mr. Chin expertly took over the luggage and arranged for a taxi to follow them from Kimpo airport to the Chosun Hotel. Their multiple suitcases did not fit in the small trunk of their own car.
“Here, Brian,” Melani reached out her arms to Brian who curled up next to his mom in the back seat and promptly fell asleep. Through the window, the view of the drab and dusty city did nothing to allay Melani’s sense of apprehension. Mr. Chin ignored the traffic lights and only obeyed the traffic officer perched stiffly on his box in the middle of a roundabout who blew incessantly on his whistle. The streets did not even have lane markings.
I expected a third world country. I think it is worse than I imagined, thought Melani as a furrow gathered between her brows and panic set in. The driver had no regard for safe speeds on the unmarked streets. Where are the colorful costumes, puppets, ornate curving roofs, palaces and Oriental paintings of mountains and rivers? In the bright brochures and books, colorful markets provide no clues that dust and dirt is the most visible, covering everything. None of the hours spent with Korean tutors from the local college prepared her for this.
Loose rocks covered any paved roads.
This looks like Tijuana, she thought. She compared her experience to the closest place similar she could remember. No rules governed Tijuana traffic either and the roads were horrid.
“There’s the hotel,” Derek turned toward the back seat and pointed to the elegant Chosun Hotel that came into view through the curved, richly decorated gate. A nicely appointed lobby gave Melani her first hope things might get better. Mr. Chin delivered them through the doors.
“Please sir,” several bellmen offered their services.
“Derek, look at the beautiful flower arrangements on every table,” whispered Melani as she released her small luggage pieces and stopped to look around. She saw a subtle difference in their design from those at home: sparsely elegant with a few flowers, rocks, and twisted sticks creating interest as well as beauty in their exquisite containers.
“Here’s your key. We’re on the 19th floor – the penthouse while the hotel is under construction.” Melani heard the attempted enthusiasm in Derek’s voice as she took the key from his extended hand and looked it over. The key design looked ancient, adding weight as she tucked it away in her pocket.
“What button?” inquired Brian’s little voice. He held on tight with the other hand.
“Oh, look Derek, at least this view is impressive! We have a panoramic view of Seoul. I have just enough energy left to feel a little excited again,” she said as she walked through the suite of rooms after exiting the elevator.
“After all,” responded Derek with a tired smile, “Seoul has eight million people and a growing economy. It is a dynamic city reaching for the sky. With a little rest, we’ll feel more positive and maybe that sky will be within our reach.” The bellman unpacked the suitcases and hung the clothes in roomy wardrobes.
Derek caught a glimpse of his wife as she prepared for a well-deserved sleep. Even with his own exhaustion, he noted his attractive, curvaceous wife, certainly desirable to men, had reached her limits. Just for the first night, they put Brian to sleep in an adjoining room in the suite with the door open. Everyone needed a good night’s sleep. A new world awaited them in the morning.