Rain vignettes from Sierra Leone, Vietnam, and South Korea
Freetown: A single yellow light bulb throws hot color over the room. The people in the house are sleeping. Their foreheads are beaded with sweat, the mosquitoes buzzing around the white mesh nets which loosely hang over their beds. I tossed my sheet aside hours ago. I watch the geckos and the spiders crawl and jump across the tiled floor in the living room, focus on the feeling of my skin as it melts into the orange fake-crushed-velvet couch. The light sockets sizzle in the storm and flashes of lightning interrupt the darkness out there, over the ocean.
One flash illuminates a shape in the yard, and I peel my skin off the fabric and walk toward the row of windows. The rain starts to make sounds on the roof. Tip tap. Tip tap. Tip tap tap tap tap taptaptaptaptaptaptap and then I see them. The goat and the girl. They are both covered in soap, the child washing herself and her animal. Neither flinch at the rain or the thunder as it shakes the hill they stand on.
The soap collects at their feet and they turn their backs to me as the rain comes harder. My house is flooding. The water pierces the windows and the walls start dripping, pooling into puddles, making the slick floor even smoother and reflective. The front door swings, slams open and I slide-run to shut it back, pull a full water bucket over to block it from the inside. Mud flecks onto my calves and the sound is like roaring, like the sky is going to swallow the house whole.
Saigon: I sit on my motorbike with a hundred other names at the red light and glance at the heavy storm clouds that hang over our heads, unbothered and immovable. One man swings his legs over to step off and quickly pops his seat, removing his full-body poncho from inside. In one fluid movement he pulls the entire plastic cover over his helmeted head and chest, pops the seat back into place and resumes his place atop it. The light changes and we move together like a school of fish until the next red light stops us again. This time, almost everyone steps off and hurriedly changes in the middle of the street, becoming solid blobs in seconds, fingers crossed that it waits until we get where we are going. We whisper, “wait wait wait, doi, doi, doi.” This hope lasts until the light blinks green again. The clouds are ripped open by invisible hands that send torrential waves down, filling our eyes, our shoes, our engines. Wet hands grip the handlebars as the water reduces us to slow-moving gray creatures. I make it to the gates of my house and push my bike into the garage. I leave it on a high piece of ground and roll the wet plastic up over my head, shake it out, hang it on a hook, remove my shoes and socks, shake my head like a dog that desires only to be dry.
These sudden showers have a way of leaving me exhausted. I fall asleep to the rain slowing down. A few hours later, I wake up to shouting.
I live on the third floor of a five-story house. I open the door to the landing and am confronted with a waterfall cascading down the stairs. I wonder if I’m dreaming a Jumanji dream, but the air is too cold and the shouting is loud and coming from above. I look up and see only the outline of three men. One is holding the roof door open, another is on his hands and knees clawing at the ground, and a third is holding a large container. I recognize one of the voices as a roommate and understand that the roof balconies must be overflowing. There are drains up there, and they are unclogging them. I suddenly realize that my feet are wet and look around my room to see a thin layer of water covering the floor. I look down the stairs and see water rising in the living room. I feel like I need to do something, so I cling to the railing and slowly make my way to the kitchen on the ground floor, grabbing pots and pans and the large mop. And then it is over. The men curse and cheer as the rain stops and yell down that the waterfall should end in a few minutes. My shoulders and jaw are tense and I hadn’t even noticed I’d started crying.
Daegu: I walk home from teaching as it drizzles. I am holding a black umbrella that I took from the school that cannot really be called a school. More like an after-school holding cell. An older man rides by me on a black bicycle and dings a little silver bell. As he crosses the intersection, his sandal falls off his foot and into a puddle. I laugh.
This is season where the laundry never dries and the cars never start. The umbrellas flip inside out and the ponchos dissolve. Plans are postponed, cancelled, and forgotten.