by John Oliver Hodges

In Gangnam and Itaewon, where they sometimes went to criticize worldly things, he often gesticulated with his arms to the people on the sidewalks, half jokingly and half serious, "Step aside! Step aside! Yangban is coming!" The people would look at her stepping along in her modest finery, raised high on thick wood clogs over which spilled the ends of her toes. These common folk, poor vendors of touristy crap and food, said negative stuff about her under their breath, but still she ignored them. They were sinners, Buddhists, worshippers of non-spiritual things despised by Heavenly Father.

The game of him calling her yangban in public was patently offensive, but she loved it, and she always laughed afterwards, gloating even when he told her of the horror he felt when a hard-working ajumma eyed him deeply and said, "Thank you your Lordship," drawing attention to what an asshole he'd been. He continued to do it nevertheless because the yangban loved it.

All in all he thought the yangban was pretty cool, and he asked Jesus to put a love eye into the yangban's head, a love eye that included not just Jesus but him as well. "Together the three of us will get along fine," he told Jesus, and said, "She won't even eat vinegar because of you!"

On the night Jesus appeared to him he'd prayed for world peace and his mother's health. He prayed for the yangban's love eye, as usual, then branched out to include the ajumma he'd offended, and all of the poor people in the world. Then he prayed for sleep. He told Jesus that he knew it was a silly, selfish prayer, but he had to get up for work early in the morning. He had less than three hours to try and get a sleep in. He'd all but given up when he heard a sound in the kitchen. He saw that the kitchen light was on, so he got out of bed.

What he found in front of the open refrigerator door was the Turkish ice-cream vendor he occasionally saw on the streets of Itaewon. The vendor was dressed, as usual, in the outfit that included a cylindrical red hat with a tassel hanging off it, and a black vest with golden embroidery of fancy design. Clutched in the man's hand was the quart of Seoul Milk he'd purchased that evening. The Turk opened the carton and poured himself a glass. "You need any?" the Turk asked.

"No, I'm fine."

"Glad to hear it."

In the back of his mind he thought he was being robbed of his milk.

Turk said, "Is there anything else I can do for you now?"

The Turk then drank the glass of milk. When finished he licked the milk off his lips and made a smacking sound. The Turk rinsed the glass, set it in the strainer, then leaned against the counter with crossed arms. They stared at each other until finally the Turk said, "I guess I'll be going," and slipped his feet into the sandals he'd left by the door and exited the apartment.

He went to the bathroom and showered. Weren't the Itaewon Turks Muslims? How could he tell the yangban he'd seen Jesus if Jesus was a Muslim? He felt honored that this Turkish guy had appeared to him, but in truth the whole thing was a letdown. I imagined it, he told himself. People were known to hallucinate when deprived of sleep. He decided to forget the whole thing, but in the morning he opened the fridge and saw the carton of Seoul Milk. He shut the fridge then looked at the glass in the strainer. He left his apartment for work.

He tried to write the experience off as fancy, but each time the yangban bragged of her own visitation, he thought of the Turk. As a result he finally decided to buy the yangban a Turkish ice-cream. If she was one of Jesus's special beloveds, as she claimed, she would recognize Him when she saw Him in the flesh. As the yangban was always open to being treated to dinner, he asked her to meet him at Itaewon Station Exit 3.

The Tuskish ice-cream seller was out on the sidewalk as usual, standing behind the bin of special ice-cream that required a periodic stabbing with a pointed metal stick. The Turk was always out there performing his jovial antics, rain or shine, reeling people in to try the ice-cream. Today was a sunny day.

"I heard that this ice-cream is very delicious," he said to the yangban. "I want to buy you a cone."

She looked at the Turk in his ridiculous costume and reluctantly agreed.

They went over there and he watched the Turk closely. "So happy to see you," the Turk said in Korean. He fixed up the yangban's ice-cream cone and held it out to her on the end of His metal rod. As was His custom, when she reached for it, He flipped the cone upside down so that she couldn't grab it. The yangban, only vaguely familiar with the trick, yelped. She reached for it several times, and the tricks continued. Finally He held it out to her with His hand and she grabbed it, but He left her with only a cone, for the cones had been stacked one within the other. Then He pretended to jab the ball of Turkish ice-cream against the yangban's pale bubbled forehead. Again she let out a yelp. The Turk packed a bit more ice-cream on her cone and, bowing to indicate He'd finally stopped messing with her, handed it over.

Well, maybe this guy is not Jesus. It was a relief. He'd carried a lot of anxiety inside over the thing. He was glad that he'd been brave and had come here to find out, only right after he paid, the Turk winked and ran his purple tongue over his lips in the manner he'd done when licking the milk away at his apartment that night. The hope that Jesus had only been using the man's body, temporarily in order to carry out some business, vanished. "Have a nice evening," the Turk said.

And they walked on a ways, the yangban up high on her clogs. He looked back at the Turk and the Turk gave him a thumbs up. Very disconcerting, but they took seats at a nearby barbeque place, and he asked, "What did you think of the ice-cream seller?"

"What do you mean, what did I think of him? You know I don't judge."

"I mean, what was your opinion? There's a difference between the two, isn't there? An opinion is a debatable thought and a judgment is more severe and final. How did he make you feel?"

"Not good. I felt bad. I didn't like him."

And then, when the banchan was brought out and the meat was on the grill, she interrupted their conversation to say, "Wait, I need to pray."

In the past he'd found this endearing, how she prayed before each meal, closing her eyes and then, after several seconds of silence, shaking her head as if making an intense wish. When she shook her head like that it was as if she were confirming something, making it solid. He'd found it extremely cute, though he'd always felt left out. It was awkward. Why in the world didn't she invite him to pray with her? Why did she assume that he didn't want, also, to pray? So he found her pre-meal ritual more and more annoying. The other members of their congregation were right, he thought, in saying she was overly pious. What was all this about her not even recognizing Jesus, who less than an hour before handed her an ice-cream cone? They began to eat and halfway through their meal he asked, "If you saw Jesus on the street, would you recognize Him?"

"Of course," she said, "why do you ask?"

"I'm in love with you," he said. "Will you marry me?"

Their wedding was in March. It was not massive. It was limited to their congregation and the few friends they had, as well as his parents, who were very old but doing well. The yangban's parents were not invited because they were not children of God. That's how the yangban wanted it. He felt cheated to not have a new mom and dad, but at least he wasn't a bum anymore. He could hold his head high wherever he went. He was thirty-nine, not yet forty. Hallelujah, he was married!

For their honeymoon they flew to the Philippines, where in Manila they stayed at the Shangri-La for 365,000 won a night. That was the cheapest room, but it looked out over the ocean and was very romantic. He expected that they would immediately begin to try and have a child, whether girl or boy, it didn't matter in the slightest. They had kissed several times before marriage. Jesus had approved, she said, but Jesus had not spoken to her for a long time. She didn't understand. She worried that Jesus was mad at her. "Please pray for me tonight," she said.

So their first night at the Shangri-La, the new husband and wife lay side by side under the covers of their amazing bed. Silently he prayed for her as the waves crashed outside. Ever since his visitation, the face he saw when he prayed was that of the Turkish ice-cream guy.

They did not consummate their relationship in the Philippines. When they returned to Seoul, she quit her one-room and moved into his apartment with him. As the days passed she more and more began to show him affection, squeezing his shoulders before work, complimenting his looks, and placing her hand on his arm when he said something funny.

About a month into their marriage she said she had again asked Jesus. This time Jesus said yes. She stood in the living room doorway in her robe and sandals as he sat on the couch and read a popular novel. He thought about what she said, and just then she stepped out of her robe, it fell to the floor and crumpled around her ankles. It was the first time he'd seen her body with nothing covering it. She was all white, not a brown girl, there was no brown on her anywhere, and yet he still did not know her age. She stood there for a moment, and then slipped into the bedroom where she crawled onto the mat and lowered her face. Perhaps she had learned that this was what a wife did when she was ready to conceive?

It was too medical. Too formal. Too ridiculous. But what he feared, that if he tried to manipulate her body she would get angry, did not happen. She responded as had the women of the night he'd visited in Yeongdeungpo. Suddenly she was no yangban. He noticed she wasn't a virgin. It didn't matter. He did wonder, though, for the first time, about her past, about the things she may have done while living abroad in Australia.

Afterwards she said, "Jesus was in the room with us. Did you see him?"

He thought of the Turkish ice-cream seller. "No," he said, "I did not see Jesus," and he thought of what he did see, that part of his body pulling away from her and how the skin of her body pulled out with it, clinging to it.

"I saw Jesus," she said.


She didn't answer. He tried to get her aroused again, but she wouldn't have it, so they slept. As a married woman she stayed at home mostly, reading the bible and studying English while he was at work. Each night after the first night that they'd experienced their bliss, they continued with it, trying to conceive a boy or girl, it didn't matter which. The formal position she'd assumed that first night she'd tried to implement as a staple. It was nothing doing. He got her down into all the positions and spent a good deal of time afterwards convincing her that it wasn't a sin to enjoy sex. According to Paul, "the wife does not rule over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not rule over his own body, but the wife does." As scripture had it, the authority was theirs, and so many a varied and seemingly impossible entanglement was achieved.

He'd had a steady girlfriend in his twenties and they had gone out for two and a half years. Those may have been the best years of his life, but he was a handsome guy of chubby demeanor and many women found him attractive. He'd had flings, a total of six including the two he'd purposely forgot. There were his three visitations with women of the night. He wasn't an ignoramus in sex. When it came to appraising the yangban's performance, she with her candid groanings and juicy outpourings surpassed in sexual pizzazz all of the other girls.

This went on for several weeks. It was his favorite part of the day, coming home from work and making love to the yangban. But then one night he heard the word "Jesus" while making love to her. A few nights later he heard it again, a softly spoken "Jesus" escaping from her lips as he made love to her. In the by and by she started praying during their moments of bliss. At first it was interesting and kinky, but the novelty dissolved when she started asking Jesus to help her accept her husband's "ducklike mannerisms." She asked Jesus to help him improve his posture so that he could walk more like a man, more like a "humanoid." He found out that she didn't like his eating sounds, and that she wished his eyes were more symmetrical, and not only that, she complained to Jesus, but he had one double lid while his other lid was a single. Everybody knew that meant he was a playboy and had lain with whores. She prayed for him to be more understanding about her few basic needs, which included some very expensive "invisible" makeup and the occasional indulgence of a professional haircut. Sometimes he suspected her of mocking him. Then one night while they were doing it, and while she was completely lost in his attentions, she synchronized the world Jesus with his thrusts. This is taking the weird factor over the top, he thought, and tried to stamp it out by hitting her harder. That just caused her to shout out louder the name of Jesus: "Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!"

He was second to Jesus. He knew this was as it should be, but it bugged him that she wasn't trying to hide it. As a result he finally told the yangban of his visitation by the Ice-Cream Guy. He told her the story up to the point where the Turk poured himself a glass of milk. That's when she interrupted him. "Evil," she said. He'd purchased a bed a few months after the yangban had moved in. She had wanted it, so now they were on it. "Evil," she said, and did not let him tell her the rest of the story. He wanted to tell her that he would never be anything like Jesus, he wasn't perfect. Did she really want to make love to Jesus?

The next time she started up with Jesus Jesus Jesus it was clear to him that she was rubbing it in. From what he could tell she did not have a very Christian attitude. What kind of attitude was that? And how dare she hide behind Jesus, acting as if He approved of such obvious intentional cruelty.

Several more months went by and she did not conceive and in the by and by he told her the rest of the story. His Turkish Jesus drank from the Seoul Milk in his fridge. His Turkish Jesus rinsed the glass, put it rim-down in the strainer. "Shutup shutup, stop it!" she cried, but he told the whole story, pointing out that she hadn't even recognized Jesus when He handed her an ice-cream that afternoon. He reminded her that Jesus was omniscient, mysterious, not confined by gender or job or race. His Turkish Jesus was more believable than hers. Her Jesus was typical, a Jesus connected like a slave to rapture literature, the Revelation According to John, oh welly welly well. He did not want to think of the yangban as an enemy to Jesus, but in the by and by he saw clearly that she was the type to give Jesus a horrible pain in the side—she was the vinegar. Jesus Jesus Jesus, she cried, surely thinking that she was taking His nails for Him. Jesus Jesus Jesus, embarrassing Jesus. In his mind his Turkish Jesus gave him the thumbs up to the idea that the yangban and her kind must be punished for their sins, so the next time she tried to pray while he was making love to her, he thrust himself into her so hard that he effectively removed the name of the Lord from her mouth.

He began to feel a bit some like a bully, but he was doing the work of Jesus. In the by and by he began discounting her experiences, and spanked her as he made love to her. He told her flat out that she was a fake. "I see through you," he said, and called the yangban a sinner, a liar, a Pharisee. She fought back by repeating so many foolish comments, saying, "Don't judge lest ye yourself be judged," and "I feel so sorry for you," but his logic was a solid thing. He pulled her hair. Out from her mouth came small screams. She'd thought she was clever. She'd thought she could fool him, but in this world there could only be one Jesus.

BIO: John Oliver Hodges has new stories in White Whale Review, Revolution John, Knee-Jerk Magazine, and Steel Toe Review. He has published a collection of short stories with Livingston Press; its title is The Love Box. He lives in New Jersey and teaches writing at Montclair State University.