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Week #3
Horse Farm

Living in a farm had always been just a dream. Mostly because making a living in a real farm was hard compared to the office life stuck in the hamster wheel of corporate politics and water cooler gossip. Life at a farm was longer hours and manual labor. Not to mention the income uncertainty in a farm compared to the 8 to 5 at the office. But some part of me always dreamt of the simple life I imagined my grandparents had as farmers. Most of all, my heart always ached for the close connection to nature a farm life offered that is lost in the steel and glass metropolis my office is in. I wanted the quite moments when it was just me and my thoughts alone with the whispering breeze that made patterns in the rolling bluegrass hills.

 

For my 10th year work anniversary I reached for my dream with every penny I had saved. I signed a partial lease for a horse named Skye and boarded him in a 100 acre horse farm some fifteen miles away from my apartment. It was the best compromise I could make given the limited disposable income I had. From that day on, every weekend I would go to the farm early on Saturdays and Sundays and spend most of the day grooming and learning to ride Skye. Unlike most of the students in the equestrian center that were practicing jumping and preparing for meets, I focused on trail riding. The long meandering trails in the woodland pasture lined with whispering oaks and curving around the large pond became my sanctuary. It’s where I could reflect on the week past and plan the week to come.

 

Even though I had no desire to compete, after my morning rides, I did enjoy watching the competitive students practice. Jumping was an art form filled with grace and controlled strength. Mistakes were brutal on the horse and the rider but when executed well, it was a joy to watch. I had just brushed Skye down and filled his water before walking over to the practice field to watch. But the field that is generally filled with students on Saturday mornings was mostly empty today. Ms. Becky that owned the farm was hurrying around the field checking each station while Jamie and Mark, the trainers, were methodically checking the shoes of the six horses lined up at the entrance to the field.

“Morning Ms. Becky. Where are the students this morning?”

 

“Had to cancel practice today. We have auditions for a movie this morning. One of our beauties over there will hopefully get picked.” Ms. Becky said pointing to the horses lined up.

 

Four sprinter vans and three jeeps came in right then and about thirty people got out with what looked like an endless supply of equipment. Two men separated from the ant farm of activity and started walking towards the practice field.

 

“Are they filming here? What’s with all the equipment?”

 

“They said something about having to send the audition footage to the studio for final selection. I didn’t realize there would be this many people here though.” Ms. Becky’s usual quiet confidence seemed a little shaken.

 

“Do you know who’s in the movie? Anyone we might know?”

 

“Jamie seemed to know the main character and was gushing over the young man’s looks but you know me. I rarely get to watch anything with the schedule I keep. I’m sure my beauties will outshine any man though!” Ms. Becky said with a wink. She had more spunk and energy than anyone that kept a 4am to 9pm workday everyday had a right to have.

Ms. Becky made it to the waiting line of horses about two seconds before the two men who had walked over made it. The men bowed to Ms. Becky and then shook hands before walking over to check the first horse. From where I stood, next to the fence a few dozen yards away, I couldn’t tell what they were comparing from horse to horse but it was clear they were of east Asian descent given their mannerisms. I stood there wondering for one wild moment if by some miracle my favorite oppa might be the main character. The chances were low I would have that kind of luck working for me but who couldn’t dream...

 

“So which of those horses is the friendliest?” I didn’t realize someone was leaning on the plank fence next to me until the slightly accented voice asked the question. I was sure I was still stuck in my dream.

 

I knew that voice, though I had heard it speak mostly Korean till today. It’s the voice that keeps me company every Saturday morning as I drive the fifteen miles to the horse farm. It’s the voice that helps me to find my peace during my evening drive from work. It’s the voice from my favorite playlist.

 

I turned and stared, open mouthed. It wasn’t possible he could be here in person.

 

“Hi… I didn’t mean to startle you. It looked like you knew the owner and the farm. I thought you might give me the inside track on the horses before I had to get on them.” He smiled tentatively.

 

“Huh?” I was still speechless. His voice still carried a little bit of the singsong quality even when he spoke English and it was mesmerizing.

 

“I’m …”

 

“I know who you are Oppa.” I interrupted. “I just didn’t expect you here so give me a moment to adjust my mental view of the world. The real you were never a part of my real life so I need a moment to reconcile.”

He watched me with a quizzical little smile playing across his lips as I kept on babbling incoherently. That smile wasn’t doing anything to help me get hold of my sanity, though his smiling eyes did shut me up. If breathing wasn’t involuntary, my brain would’ve shut that down too.

“So… are you going to tell me anything about the horses?” Oppa asked lifting an eyebrow after watching me for a few breaths.

 

“Uh… the chestnut brown one with the white star on his forehead is the best behaved and most docile but he’s no good at jumps. The white mare with the brown spots is spirited but if she takes a liking to you she’s the overall best.”

 

“Hmmm… so I have to convince her to like me then…” he looked at me expectantly.

 

“Here, she likes apples.” I handed over the apple I had brought with me to feed Starfly. She was one of my favorites and I always looked in on her when I came to the farm. “She also likes a good scratch behind the right ear. Do it while talking to her. Her name is Starfly. Use your gentle voice.”

 

“Yes ma’am.” he took the apple and saluted before walking over to the line of horses.

 

I watched him as he walked straight to Starfly and offered her the apple on a flat palm. He knew how to feed a horse, I noted. Oppa then proceeded to talk to her and scratch behind her ear. Starfly never had a chance. She was his. By the time he was brushing her coat Starfly was ready to carry him anywhere he wanted to ride.

 

Apparently horses and humans are both equally susceptible to my Oppa’s charms.

 

The other horses were summarily dismissed. The two men who had been checking out the horses had Oppa sit on Starfly and walk him around the field once.  Oppa looked majestic sitting on Starfly with a straight back. As if she knew what a dashing pair the two of them made, Starfly high stepped around with her head held straight. I was dying to get a photo but instinctively knew I’d be in trouble if I did. I could become an instant Instagram celebrity if I had that photo! But I’m not sure I would’ve shared it with anyone for any amount of followers…

 

Once the two men started walking towards the camera crew Ms. Becky and Oppa walked over with Starfly trailing them.

 

“I was going to ride Starfly while the camera crew got set-up. Ms. Becky mentioned you know the trails around here. Do you mind to show me around?”

 

“I need Jamie and Mark to take the other horses back to the barn and then help move things around in the practice field. Do you mind?” Ms. Becky piped in as well.

 

“Of course not Ms. Becky. Let me go get Skye saddled up. I’ll be out in a few.” I practically flew to get Skye ready. It was the fastest I had ever saddled him.

 

“Let’s go.” I led the way down the one lane path till we passed the practice field and then waited for Oppa and Starfly to catch up to us. “How long will the set up take? There’s lots of different trails here. Depending on how long you want to ride we can choose one.”

 

“It’ll take them about an hour to get everything set up. If you are ok to stay out that long I don’t mind spending the hour out here. The better I get to know Starfly’s mannerisms the easier it is when we are filming.”

 

“Got it. Let’s go down to the Oak grove and then we can circle around the big pond and stop by the old barn and make it back. That’s about 45 mins to an hour ride.”

 

I couldn’t believe I was getting to spend an hour with Oppa by my side. Of all the times I’ve dreamt of Oppa I had a million questions I’d asked him. But now that he was next to me I didn’t want to ask him anything. I was just happy to watch him as he softly spoke to Starfly. It was incredibly adorable to listen to him whisper comforting words to her. Half of them were in Korean, which I only understood half the time.

 

“Why do you talk to her in Korean?” I finally broke down and asked.

 

“Well… First, because it’s easier for me to express myself in Korean. Second, she’ll hear a lot of Korean words once we are back to filming and I don’t want her to get spooked by it. Third, I can change the tenor of my voice with Korean easier than English.”

 

“But she wouldn’t understand it.”

 

“What makes you think that? My experience with animals is they understand the tone no matter what language. As long as I’m speaking in a kind and gentle tone she seems to do what I’m asking her to do.”

 

Listening to Oppa’s songs in the car flashed in my mind. For the longest time I couldn’t understand the words in those songs. But they always calmed me and cleared my mind. I remember listening to them and just expecting the meaning to come to me even though the language was completely foreign.

 

I suppose what he just said applies to more than animals. It had applied to me all this time too.

 

“How long have you been riding?” Oppa asked.

 

“A couple of years now. Skye is my first horse. He’s taught me pretty much everything about horseback riding. I only get to come here Saturdays and Sundays but it’s been good.” I patted his neck as I spoke. Skye has been a great companion as I floundered around trying to connect with horses and nature.

 

“Skye is a beautiful horse. He seems completely content. You must be good to him.” Oppa leaned over and patted his head. Starfly neighed loudly, expressing her disapproval. Starfly was obviously jealous Oppa was petting another horse!

 

“So it’s not just women who don’t like sharing your attention then.” I laughed.

 

“Story of my life. There’s just not enough of me to go around” Oppa rolled his eyes with an exaggerated sigh before catching my eye and bursting out laughing.

 

I was momentarily surprised by his sense of humor. But it was good to know he could laugh at himself.

 

“The oak grove is about a mile ahead, right there.” I pointed. “Do you feel comfortable enough to go for a gallop?”

 

“Let’s give it a try.” He agreed. I let them lead so I can watch in case he seemed like he needed help. He didn’t. Oppa was a good rider. He kept his seat perfectly the whole time and gently guided Starfly with just his legs. Half way through I tried to race him but Oppa kept up easily.

 

“Good job. You and Starfly ride like you’ve ridden together for ages. It’s impressive how quickly you connected. No one would guess you met only a few minutes ago.”

 

“Thank you. You chose well when you recommended Starfly. She’s very intuitive. I barely have to guide her and she knows exactly what to do.”

 

“What’s this place?” Oppa asked when we were about to enter the Oak grove.

 

“This is the Oak Grove. There’s about twenty to thirty ancient Bur, Chinkapin and Shumard oaks here. These trees have supposedly been here from before the European settlements in this region. So quite old.”

 

“Hmm… it feels different inside here.”

 

“Yeah… I always feel like I can go as far back in time as I want when I’m here. My imagination is the only limitation of the adventures I can have.”

 

“How far back do you want to go?”

 

“I want to go a thousand years back to the time when all this was pasture grounds with wild bison roaming around. I want to pitch a tent just outside of the grove and watch the sky on a clear Autumn night without any light pollution. I want to map the constellations listening to owls hooting until I fall asleep.”

 

“That’s rather idyllic. I can watch out for the Cayotes while you watch the stars in the 10th century then.”

 

I knew he was making fun of me. I don’t know what had come over me to run my mouth like that. I had never shared any of my little fantasies with anyone before. I knew I was too old to have them by society’s standards. But then I’ve never been in the Oak grove with anyone else. It was a magical place and I had lost myself for a moment.

 

“Right. Let me get you back to civilization. I’m sure your crew is waiting for you.” I replied curtly.

 

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have joked. I like this place. I really do. Can we stay a little bit and explore?”

 

Oppa got down from Starfly and came to stand by Skye. Looking at his face I couldn’t detect even a trace of mockery. He looked honestly expectant. Against all rational arguments, I knew I just wanted to trust him. I wanted to show him the hidden pond in the middle of the grove. It was tiny compared to the large one in the middle of the farm. But surrounded by the towering oaks, this was one of my favorite places in the whole world and I wanted at least one other person to experience it with me. As I lifted my leg to get down Oppa had reached up and picked me by the waist. I momentarily froze as my arms rested on his shoulders while he lifted me down.

Once on the ground I quickly reached for the reins for both horses and secured them around a small tree trunk. It was an efficient way to break the physical contact without feeling awkward.

 

“This way. Watch your step. It can be slippe..ry.”

 

Before I could finish the sentence Oppa’s foot slipped. Without thinking twice, I reach out to stabilize him.

 

Once he regained his balance he reached up, took my hand and interlaced our fingers.

 

“Now if one of us slips we can both go down together.” That was that. I wasn’t going to fight the physical contact any more. I really just didn’t want to.

 

We walked the next few steps until the path cleared and we were standing in front of the little stream that fed the tiny pond.

 

“Wow.”

 

I was watching Oppa’s face instead of the pond. It had been my secret sanctuary for two years. He was the first human I was sharing it with. I wanted it to be as special to him as it was to me. The way his eyes lit up more than met my expectations. For a brief moment it looked like he had forgotten everything and was lost in the wonder of nature, trapped in a time long past. It felt like by staring at him I was somehow intruding on a private moment. I slowly took a step back and tried to slip my hand out to let him enjoy the moment.

 

But instead of letting go, Oppa tightened the hold on my hand and turned to face me. “This is breathtaking. It looks better than a postcard. Thank you for bringing me here”

 

I didn’t know how to respond other than to smile and nod. I was grateful I had the opportunity to share this place with someone who appreciated its magic as much as me. We watched the ripples on the surface of the pond in silence for a few more minutes.

 

“This seems like a perfect place for a 10th century banquet” Oppa said with a smile.

 

“I don’t know about a banquet but this would make a good picnic spot.” I heartily agreed.

 

I pointed out the few plants and tress I knew as we slowly made our way back to the horses.

 

Once out of the Oak grove we trotted by the side of the large pond scaring the geese that was always gathered near there. We stopped to watch a family of blue jays playing in the morning sun and a cardinal flitting about. At the barn I introduced Oppa to the older horses that mostly lived in peaceful retirement.

 

From there we made our way back slowly to the practice field.

 

My hour with Oppa had gone by in a blink. It’ll become a precious memory I’ll preserve forever and revisit often.

 

I guided us to the shade where Skye and Starfly could both get a drink. The lead from the filming crew came over immediately and engaged Oppa in a discussion to iron out the plan for the filming in the next few hours. I watched with a heavy heart as he walked oppa away.

 

Once Skye was securely back in his stable, I watched the filming from behind the fence for a while. Oppa was completely engrossed in the role and never looked up or broke character. The longer I stayed the more I felt out of place. But I kept making excuses wanting to just say goodbye to oppa before leaving.

 

Finally, after an hour of waiting I had to come to terms that the hour I had with oppa was a blessing and expecting anything more was unrealistic. With one final look and a silent farewell I turned and walked to where I had parked.

 

All the vehicles and the equipment boxes made it harder than normal to get out of where I generally park. By the time I finally got to the top of the parking lot I had enough colorful language waiting at the tip of my tongue, ready to roll out. I was certain the crew member waiting at the gate was sure to hear all of it if I had to maneuver around him. That was until he cheerily waved at me. Even I couldn’t get mad at someone smiling that broadly. I slowed the car to a stop next to him and rolled down the window.

 

“Hi. Do you need something?” I tentatively asked. Perhaps they needed to run to the grocery store or something and needed a ride, I imagined.

 

“Well… Oppa asked to give this to you. He has filming till late tonight and then he starts again tomorrow at ten.” He kept on going as he handed me a card.

 

I opened the card with a racing heart, wondering what it would say. In the split second it took to open the card to read, my mind had run in a thousand directions imagining everything from a dry thank you note to a declaration of undying love. Of course, the note was much simpler and far more pleasant than my wild imagination.  It had just one question.

10th century breakfast at 8:30 tomorrow?

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