Gee develops a reputation for herself over the summer.
“So what’s the deal with you and the temple?” they ask her – truthfully, they’re drawn to her by the pink of her hair, and the blue of her contacts. They stare at the colorful sequins of her dress, the heavy beads in her necklace, the soft furs and shimmering leggings that make her wardrobe. They are drawn to her by the way her eyeliner makes her more sophisticated than anyone else in the room at any given juncture. Truthfully, they regard her as a flawless, desirable, glamorous object. They see her as a thing to be prized, made of beauty and light and everything residing in their fantasies. She is what everyone wants but cannot have. She is the inaccessible dream, and so they relieve themselves by approaching her, engaging her, asking her about things they hear: the eccentricities of her life and the oddities of her behaviour. “I heard you go there everyday – you don’t look like a religious person, haha…”
Of course, Gee isn’t religious. She was brought up in a home of science, of reason. Where superstition was questioned and blind faith was rejected. She had an upbringing surrounded by facts and statistics, her mind conditioned to embrace curiosity.
No, Gee isn’t a religious person at all. But people confirm in their rounds of gossip that faith must be the only reason she makes a trip to Jogyesa every night after classes. They give her a once over, then give her a smirk before dismissing her with a “you don’t seem like the pious type.” And to each one she presents a half-smile and a half-shrug before changing the subject.
When the rumours reach their pinnacle with the heat of the season, she is accosted every few hours on campus. Kim Gee and her quirky routine of going to the famous temple downtown, every single day – how weird is that? they wonder aloud amongst themselves. How weird is it that a fashionable art major like her would do that? She doesn’t even sound like someone who believes in gods. How very odd, that girl is, they think. Soon, their unanswered questions die and they assure themselves that it’s all just a show; it’s all a way to get attention, because that’s what Gee does best, isn’t it? Her clothes are as loud as her opinions, her legs are covered in tattooed flowers, her artwork is filled with striking depictions of naked women. Kim Gee, they conclude, is an attention-seeking clown.
By the end of summer, everyone has had their turn asking her about it and being turned away. By the end of the trimester, she and her quaintness become old news, and people move on. They talk about other things like the latest boyband or that fantasy movie with a lot of special effects. Gee is still mentioned once or twice, in passing or in the punchline of a joke. She doesn’t stop her daily pilgrimage, and now they don’t stop her on her way.
“But why do you do it?” Yun is the last person to pose the inquiry.
And suddenly, Gee feels a large ball of pressure release itself from between her shoulder blades when it happens. She sits down as if she has been on her feet for several months, begging for someone to take the burden off her. The moment is far more spiritual to her than a million days of worship at any temple in the world. She sits down and looks up into the other’s eyes, imagining herself finally touched by the divine.
Yun is confused at first, then sympathetic. She reaches out and holds the other’s hand in support. “What’s up?” she nudges softly.
Gee has one organ pounding in her ribcage. It has four chambers that beat against each other, as they sit in three layers that guard its secrets – secrets that could hurt her if they ever got out. Valves and strings keep the arrangement together, playing their music every time Gee laughs or cries or runs or dances. It is her personal playlist, one that loops back in her head day and night. Every once in a while, a loud pulse reverberates through her chest and shakes her every bone. Every now and then, her one heart tries to become two, tries to halve itself, tries escaping the prison she keeps it locked in so part of it can belong to someone else. Every once in a blue moon, the circuits that make up her arteries and capillaries pulsate with a yearning so vast that it drives her out of breath. Every so often, Gee places a hand to her breast, shocked at how life flows through her, stunned that she is alive in this time this year this moment.
Every once in a while, Gee falls in love with Yun.
It is a difficult love to feel, like standing on wet ice for the first time. She slips, she falls, she injures herself, getting back on her feet is hard. It is a difficult love for her to keep within the organ of her ribcage, a difficult love for someone to experience when they love themselves as truly and fully as Gee loves herself. It is not a simple thing to make space for another in that cramped space, to carve out a niche for them to sit in. It is hard to love someone else.
The distraction of curved roofs, of glazed tiles and speckled marble; of green enamel and colourful flowers – it lulls her heart into submission. Visiting the temple gives Gee a temporary victory against the constant need to go see what Yun is up to, to go ask if she wants to eat dinner together, to watch her serious face as she narrates another story over a cup of steaming tea. Keeping her mind engrossed in the grace of dharma halls and bell towers makes her forget the way Yun’s breath steams on the rim of a glass. Charming herself with the solidity of sculptures and the vibrancy of bright red arcades, keeps her thoughts from veering towards the way Yun’s hands feel soft and warm like a roll of blankets. Jogyesa is the place Gee goes to find refuge from herself and from the dread of losing Yun to her confessions.
“Hmm?” the other prompts her again.
When Gee smiles in reply, she feels free for the first time in a long time. But her heart is captured and restrained once again, and Yun will stay a while longer.