I remember that Saturday afternoon still, the bugs in the park, the heat, the cheap Korean beer in my hand. I was on my own. My sort-of-girlfriend at the time busy with something else, my usual companion Jed-an industrious and energetic fixer of all things – was busy with his own, more definite, girlfriend. I was left to my own devices; and sitting back and drinking beer in the sun seemed pretty ideal.
I remember going into the little park outside my building, and with a novel in one hand and aforementioned beer in the other I sat down on a bench in the shade of a big tree. It was a nice spot and I should have figured that I wouldn’t be the only one enjoying it. Before long I was being used like a public park myself by funny little bugs with wings as round as cartoony eyes-they didn’t bite they just landed on me and it was annoying enough. I decided I would enjoy my afternoon libation much better on the roof: where I’d often go to be with the mountains.
I climbed the stairs to the roof of my building- the midsummer heat getting worse and worse as I went higher and higher. I was soon coated in a foul sweat and dozy as hell-but there’s a point when you’re already feeling soiled when you just give up and recline in the stink and filth of yourself. I did this, pointing my belly to the sun with a beer in hand. I fell into a half dose-alone with the big green mountains looming over the multitudinous rooftops from far away. Big, thick white clouds were dosing as carelessly as I was up in the sky.
A light wind rose and fell- a dog was barking at odd intervals on another roof top, the eternal afternoon rolled over the mountains and the rooftops and I with a sense of quiet magic. Then it happened.
Seemingly out of nowhere a perfect drop of water landed on my forehead. I blinked, scrunched my eyes, sat up. I looked around the roof top and saw the same old things: The ventilation unit, the clothes hangers, the rest of the raised rectangle of concrete I’d been reclining on, the door to the stairwell, the circuitry merging in a plastic and metal sapling running its roots into the human tuber of my building, the garden…and an old man grinning as he watered it. I had never seen him before, nor had I heard him come up.
He was Korean-as far as I could tell- and he smiled as if he understood what had woken me. He spoke, and somehow in that weird summer magic afternoon I understood him and listened to it all like I was in a dream.
“You felt that big drop of water huh? Strange isn’t it-there is no sign of rain.” His face cracked into the pre-amble of laughter as he said this. “I’ll tell you what that was young man-there’s a dragon up there-taking a cloud bath.”
“oh” I said- these things don’t strike you as so outlandish when you’re half dreaming or one of those exceptional people that realizes you might as well at least act like you take crazy people seriously when you’re talking with them-all things considered.
“He’s up there in those big clouds- or has been-having a bath-cleanliness is very important to dragons- you might be surprised to know!”
I was…. more surprised than I thought I’d be, I figured dragons would be stinky bastards that wouldn’t give a damn about it-I mean- why would you if you were a dragon?
“Yes- dragons are very vain, and on days like this they bathe in the clouds you know! A dragon finds the waters of the earth too dirty-especially these days. So they fly up there into those big thick clouds and they fly around swiftly inside-so that the moisture of the cloud clings to them as it runs down their shimmering bodies in rivulets that sweep like the arms of a dancer across the swiftly flying form: high above our heads and hidden in the clouds.”
By this point I was looking up at the puffy white masses in the sky, expecting to see the sections of serpentine body briefly surfacing in the thick white vapor.
“All that water-flowing on the dragon’s long body forms one perfect drop at the very tip of his tail and flies off as it wheels about up there and then plummets to earth-a solitary drop on a summer afternoon.”
“Well that explains it then-I think there must be one up there now.” The old man’s explanation for that solitary fat drop on this sunny day seemed like the only one there was at that moment. I looked up again, peering for any flicker for the dragon within-attending to its hygiene.
“It’s good luck to catch a cloud-bath drop, you know-a good time to make a wish.”
I imagined the long scaly beast roosting in the high green hills-drying out up there in the sun on some flat, warm rock. Beyond the place where the little farms yield to the irrepressible slope of the mountains, where the golden butterflies hover in shafts of sunlight and old men drunk on soju close their eyes to nap in the afternoon at just the moment the dragon flies over them; returning to the dusty earth to dry out.
I woke up an hour or two later, the sun was sinking and the old man was gone-the rude noises of the city had started up again, my mouth tasted like glue and I decided I needed to bathe.