Awdi ka? (Where are you going?) barks the ajumma from upstairs as I hurry down the steps out of the building. I look at her, somewhat exasperated.
It’s not that I mind her being a nosy old woman, as I will probably become one myself at some point, interrogating random passers-by from my front porch as I sit on my rocking chair with my knitting and half a dozen of my favourite cats.
It’s just that she asks this question every time I leave the building, and I can’t help but feel that it’s unnecessary when it’s morning time and she has the prior knowledge that I’ve worked in a nearby school from 9-5 every weekday for over two years. A simple ‘hello’ would do, y’know? Still. I answer politely, bow slightly by way of goodbye, and hurry on. Unfortunately I seem to have angered her somehow, for she blocks my way, ranting at me from behind her mask.
This is not as frightening as it may sound, as she is about 200 years old, 4 feet tall, and capable of sounding furious while giving a compliment. Still, you don’t want to offend an ajumma, which is why I generally let her rant at me (once, it was because I bought milk at the corner shop, and apparently she reeeeeeally didn’t want me shopping there, for some reason. I thought she was going to confiscate my milk and send me to bed), apologise most sincerely, and hope she’ll let me go.
This morning, she is indignant because I am leaving the house with wet hair. This is not unusual for me. Drying my hair takes too long and is very boring. As it dries by itself after an hour or so, I don’t really see the point. Halmoni (what an ajumma is called when she gets older – literally ‘grandmother’) disagrees, and is being really quite vocal about it, faffing with my hair in horror and smacking me on the arm. Torrents of angry Korean words wash over my sleepy, wet head, and I wait patiently for her to finish her lecture. Then I shrug sheepishly and tell her it’s fine, and she practically drags me back into the building by my soggy tresses, yelling something about it not being fine at all.
Before I know it, she is putting a woolly hat on my head, zipping up my coat, and putting a warm can of coffee in my hands. It’s winter now, she’s explaining as if I am a small child, and you will get sick again if you carry on like this! At least, I think that’s what she’s saying. I stand there in bemused silence until she looks satisfied that I’m not going to freeze to death (on my 5 minute walk to work, in temperatures that haven’t even reached zero yet), gives me a rough shove in the direction of the door and yells at me to get out.
Honestly. This is actually my life.
Then of course I have to sweat under the completely unnecessary woolly hat and zipped-up coat until I am out of her sight, for she is watching me like a hawk and will probably have me machine-gunned to the ground if I dare to take them off.
It is often very difficult for me to remember my real age.
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