I phoned Woojin’s parents at 6:00 a.m. Seoul time to tell them their son had drowned. For over a minute the line was silent. Just as I began to hope they had hung up, barely audible, the voice of the father spoke, telling me to burn his son’s belongings.
In a hotel lobby it was decided—we would wait until the last night of Spring Break, but when the time came the others were too busy grieving in seedy cantinas, so I drove alone into the desert to torch what Woojin left behind.
In a parched basin 200 yards off the highway to Guadalajara, I doused my dead friend’s suitcase in gasoline. If unzipped and exposed to the open air, the bag might have gone up in a blaze of glory, but fastened as it was, it smoldered slow, filling the night sky with a black smoke and the smell of burnt plastic. No matter how hot the flames, they could never melt away the memory of that afternoon Woojin waded down the playa and into the undercurrent’s welcoming arms.
The desert grew dark and foreign and lonely. Rustling erupted just beyond the reach of the firelight. When the flames began to creep, spreading to nearby dead brush, I put them out with what little bottled water I had left. Not wanting to leave behind a latent wildfire I pissed on the embers. Then I fled in the rented 15-passenger van like a coward.
The next day we flew home, an Aztec warrior in eagle headdress adorning the wings of our aircraft.
As far as Woojin’s parents know, their son’s possessions were reduced to ash scattered across the Mexican plain. Who am I to tell them otherwise?
Kevin McCarthy is an American-born writer residing in Helsinki, Finland.