The darkness and the fog made it hard for Jun to see the end of the sidewalk. There were no people in the streets, and the night was as silent as a graveyard. After walking a few meters, he spotted a large wooden platform and decided to sit there. He pulled a Busch beer from is bag, opened it carefully, and lifted his head. In front of him, there was a foul-smelling sewage canal and streetlights that looked like stationary UFOs.
A minute or two passed when Jun heard the opening of a bottle. He looked to his side, and realized that someone was sitting just a few meters away from him. It was a girl having a drink. She was looking up. Something at the other side of the canal. Jun glanced at his watch. It was 2 a.m. What is a girl doing here at this time, he wondered. He tried following her line of vision to the other side of the canal. It took him some time to make out the shape. It looked like a tree. A standing dead tree. It had a grayish color and twisted branches that looked like arms. After finishing his beer, he pulled another one from his bag and stared at the girl, but she never took her eyes off the tree.
Jun woke up in his bed, feeling as if a train had run over his head. He wondered how he had reached home. Several empty cans of beer were scattered around the room. The phone rang after a few minutes. He let it ring for a while, then reached out and picked up the receiver.
“Hey Jun,” his classmate said from the other side of the line. “You skipped classes today. Are you sick or something?”
He rubbed his eyes and looked at the clock. It was almost four in the afternoon.
“Nothing serious,” he replied, still suffering from dizziness.
They didn’t say a word for a while. Jun looked outside of the window and noticed that the trees were beginning to lose their leaves.
“You know,” he said after a moment. “Last night, around two in the morning, I saw a girl sitting alone near the university’s main gate.”
“Was she staring at a tree nearby?”
“Yeah,” he replied, surprised. “How do you know?”
“Many people in the campus know about her,” she said. “You always find her sitting there.”
Jun stared at the receiver, as if there were something wrong with it.
“You can watch her from a distance,” she said. “But don’t get close to her.”
He frowned and looked at the receiver a second time. “Why?”
“Because she doesn’t have a soul.”
Jun left his room at midnight. He walked towards the university’s main gate, sat on the wooden platform and pulled a Busch beer from his bag. He sat there staring at the tree and sipping his beer. Two hours passed but there was no sign of the girl. She is not coming tonight, he thought. But he decided to stay, after all, he didn’t feel like sleeping.
For his surprise, she came at 4 a.m. and sat on her usual place. He examined her with care, trying make out her features in the fog. Her jet-black hair contrasted with her pale skin. She had a smooth face, but with a hint sadness on it.
“Excuse me,” he said, after gathering some courage. ”Do you mind if I sit closer?”
She widen her eyes, as if she had just woken up from a trance. After that, she turned her head, stared at him with confused eyes, and shook her head slowly. He moved closer, still keeping a distance.
“I’m Jun,” he said, looking at her. She stayed silent.
“May I know your name?”
She looked down at her hands in her lap. “Ling.”
They spent the next minutes staring at the decayed tree without saying anything else. Jun wasn’t sure if it was his imagination or the fog, but the tree seemed to have become taller.
“Sorry for asking this,” he said. “But is it true that you don’t have a soul?”
She took a sip of the Smirnoff Vodka she had brought along with her, and then nodded. Jun stared at her blankly, as if she were a ghost.
“How did that happen? he asked, “Did you lost it somewhere?”
Ling shook her head. “I was born without one.”
He felt more confused than before. “I thought people couldn’t live without a soul.”
“I’m OK just with my brain and body,” she replied.
Jun stared at his of beer, thinking about what she had just said. For some reason, it didn’t sound that crazy for him.
“It seems like you spend most of your time alone,” he said after a while.
Ling remained thoughtful for a moment. ”Not many people want to get close to me once they discover that I don’t have a soul. Some get scared, others get hostile.”
“Why is that?”
“I wish I knew,” she replied.
Jun finished his beer and pulled another one from his bag. ”You know, when I was a child, people used to get angry with me or make fun of me because I liked to ask questions.”
Ling turned her gaze back to him. “Of what kind?”
“Questions that challenged what they wanted to believe,”
She took a quiet sip of her drink and looked up the sky. “So you used to spend a lot of time alone.”
“It’s not that bad, you know. You have a lot of time to think about things,” Jun said while opening his can.
“I enjoy sitting here, and think about things while watching the dead tree,” she said after a brief pause.
“Is there something special about it?”
Ling sipped her vodka and turned her eyes back to the tree. ”He came into my dreams one night, and told me something. Something that sounded like a secret.”
Jun remained silent, waiting for her to continue.
“He told me that people want to be eternal as individuals because they have forgotten how to be eternal as a whole.”
“What does that mean?” Jun asked.
She looked down at her shoes. “I wish I knew.”
He sipped his beer and lifted his head up. The sky was starting to show a majestic purple hue. Very soon the sun would rise and warm the earth with its light.
“He also told me what will happen to me after I die,” Ling said and finished her drink. Jun stared at her, as if she were about to tell him how the world is going to end.
“I will return to the earth, nourish the soil and all that grows on it. And after that, I will become as one with nature.”
“It doesn’t sound that bad,” he said, after giving it a thought. A small smile formed on Ling’s lips. It was the first time Jun had seen the soulless girl smile.