The mellifluousity of the voice, and not the voice itself, floods the office, and splashes the pale walls down in melting molasses, and coats the dry white printout piles in every variety of amber maple syrup, and drenches the windows with caramel slicks, and soaks the carpet in a sticky flow of golden honey.
The origin of the deluge lies in the throat of the Assistant American Consul, a throat which also doubles as a boiling vat for maple sap, itself an enormous component of a titanic, towering body that is not a little intimidating to one such as myself, this in spite of his frequent warm apostrophes—“Congratulations! Agyessumida! Congratulations! How’d you meet? Koreancupid.com? Congratulations!“—and his evident concern for how the frightened rabbit before him is cowering with wet puppydog eyes and shrinking down into the space between the cushions of his chair.
His voice sounds like a much deeper version of this man, and it’s the kind of voice I, a longtime resident of Korea, have not heard in a much longer time.
His face is a pile of smiling horizontal lines, and all of them grin and squint as he asks me, seemingly as a joke, but actually seriously, to raise my right hand and swear that everything on the document before us—our wedding certificate—is true.
Terrified, I automatically mirror the gesture of his truly gigantic hand, raised up in the air as if flat against a wall, and then watch in awe as he lowers this hand, a hand that could crush my skull to brains and jagged shards of bone, and takes the certificate, and stamps it with what looks like an old sewing machine. He shakes as he applies the whole of his gargantuan strength to the stamping device. The stamper. And the windows crack and the high-rises outside wobble on their flimsy concrete foundations and my eardrums feel as if they’re ready to burst from the enormous muscular pressure of metal jaws clamped down over our sheet of paper.
This device is so old it looks like it belongs to the Busan of grainy black and white photographs, where everything is filthy, wooden, and covered in Chinese; where the white-robed dark-skinned Koreans never smile, never make the peace-sign, and always seem to be carrying a huge sack on their heads as they stare with that characteristic third world severity into the camera’s lens. Then the pressure relents and the ceremony is finished. My wife and I leap up from our chairs and flee for our lives, screaming at the top of our lungs, waving our arms frantically, though not before passing through the miniature airport security room that lies between us and the exit.
Then, we use the bathrooms.
While waiting for the elevator we see him walk down the hallway that runs perpendicular to our own. We thank him again as he stalks from left to right on gangly spiderlegs that could be stilts. He says goodbye and waves his gigantic hand once with such force that the resulting hurricane gale blows my wife and I up against the wall. As papers press against my face I think how terrifying it would have been if I’d had to use the urinal next to him, with those great bogatyr hands ready to pick me up by the neck and hurl me through the nearest window and out into the Busan cityscape with a swarm of glittering slivers of glass flailing in slow motion toward the green motorbike-crowded sidewalks beneath.
When the silvery elevator doors close behind us and the automated Korean woman’s voice announces that the elevator doors have closed my wife and I gasp with relief as though we’ve just surfaced from half an hour of swimming underwater with humpback whales battling giant squid.
And then, the next day, while passing under the rich and otherworldly Busan, the eastern half staffed with tall young clopping Koreans who look like models and foreigners who are actually kind of stylish, I saw the assistant consul on the subway (he had changed from a black suit into bluejeans), and, in another fit of bemused terror, I said absolutely nothing to him, and did not even acknowledge that, the day before, his voice had preserved me in a jar of honey.