Viral, p.1

Viral, page 1



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  For Anna Casci


  Title Page


  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-one

  Chapter Twenty-two

  Chapter Twenty-three

  Chapter Twenty-four

  About the Author

  By the Same Author


  Chapter One

  I sucked twelve cocks in Magaluf.

  So far, twenty-three thousand and ninety-six people have seen me do this. They might include my mother, my father, my little sister, my grandmother, my other grandmother, my grandfather, my boss, my sixth-year biology teacher and my boyfriend of six weeks, James.

  Where r u? A text from James, the latest of umpteen.

  I’m not going to tell him, or anyone.

  Twenty-four thousand, one hundred and forty-three. My netball coach maybe, the guy at the Spar on Lang Road. Barry Craig, the boy next door. That’s not … he’d be saying to himself in his bedroom. No! Zoom in, pause. Is that? Oh my God, Su.

  The incident at the Coconut Lounge brings the total number of times I have performed an act of oral sex to twelve. That’s right, never before. Not even when Greg Jamieson pointed it at me in the bushes on the Duke of Edinburgh trek, not even with James, who only got to second base a few weeks ago. I am prudish, virginal Su. I’m the one who usually stays at home to study or, if I do go out, the one who distributes water and buys the chips and calls the taxi. I don’t ever feel the need to swear, and I don’t like it when others do, unless it is the only accurate way to convey the information (as with the first line above).

  Is my chin really as pointy as that? Can’t be me. I’m not dirty or dangerous or a rebel. Leah is the rebel in the family. Leah gets drunk every weekend. Leah inserts expletives in sentences that would be more powerful without them. Leah’s slept with loads of boys, and some full-grown men, too. It should be Leah on that screen.

  I have to keep my phone plugged in so I can play it over and over. That’s my floral green top certainly, my hair, my mouth, eyes. Chin? It is me, it is, and my mother and my father have watched it and might be watching it now.

  This room is so cold. It’s on the third floor of a four-storey, two-star hotel on the outskirts of Puerto Pollensa. It has a small double bed, a window that doesn’t open, and a tiny but aptly named wet room that is always very wet, even if it hasn’t been used for some time. The wallpaper is peeling on the ceiling and water-stained in three spots which are not pleasingly spaced. The bed is against the wall, by the window. One wobbly bedside table is jammed at the other side. The only light is a dull, energy-saving bulb dangling unevenly inside the Chinese lantern on the ceiling.

  The film was uploaded by ‘Xano’ at 3.20 this morning. Xano describes himself as a ‘UK film director’. He’s not very steady with the camera, or phone, or whatever he’s using to film me with, so he needs to work on that if he wants to call himself a director. Xano is the only faceless person in the film. I count forty-seven people in the crowd. Twelve males surround me in a circle, ready to be next. Everyone else stands behind them, drinks in hand, shouting me on. A few phones are pointing at me, but if the people holding them were filming me, they didn’t post it, or haven’t yet. I’ve paused and screen-grabbed and zoomed in and so far I recognise five people in the crowd. There’s the PR guy. He’s shirtless in order to show off his glistening six-pack and the two-bird tattoo on his hairless chest. He was the one who lured us inside (‘Good evening, ladies? Free drinks, ladies? Jäger bomb, ladies?’) and he is one of the folk who is pointing a phone at me. At one stage, he laughs and some drink spurts out of his mouth. Millie and Natasha are at the back, each holding one side of a bucket of blue alcohol, straight-faced like they’re scared, but mouths still on their windy straws, not worried enough to stop drinking or to stop me. I recognise the shoes and shorts of one of the guys in the circle. I can only see the bottom half of him. He’s getting his thing ready. He’ll be the fifth receiver and he’s yanking away, panicking that it’ll still be wee and soft when I get to it and that – let me check – twenty-four thousand, one hundred and seventy-one people will know his thing is tiny and that he can’t get it up. His shoes are white, trainer-style, but go up to the ankle, with white laces threaded through black eyelets. His shorts are also white and folded at the bottom. His boxers are grey. His name’s Euan. Millie had tried to have sex with him on the third night but he said she was doing it all wrong. She was planning to try harder with him after the Coconut Lounge if she couldn’t find anyone better. He’s still soft when I get to him, and – yes – my mouth doesn’t alter that, so Millie’s probably thinking at the back there that she’d better find someone else quick smart as it’s our last night in Maga, her last chance for no-strings holiday sex, and she’ll require a functioning penis. I pause the shot after Euan zips his shorts and skulks off. Millie’s scanning the room for other options. And there’s Leah, my sister. She’s at the back, peering over shoulders, smiling, clapping, shouting ‘Go, go, go!’

  Please please, where are you? Darling, don’t be scared. It’s going to be okay. Let me know you’re all right. A text from Mum, the latest of seventeen from her and twenty-three from Dad and thirteen from Woojin and seven from James and three from Ashleigh and two from Jen and none, not one, from Leah since I failed to appear at Palma airport.

  I wonder if Mum is texting from court. She’s a Sheriff: not one with a gun and an American accent, but with a wig and a West-of-Scotland one. People have to call her ‘My Lady’ and when she’s annoying that’s what Leah calls her too. Or she could be at home, having taken time off for the first time since her dad died five years ago. Or she could be at the police station. She could be reporting me missing! She could be tracking my signal!

  I take the SIM card and battery out of my top-of-the-range Ri7 and stomp on them, which makes no impact bar hurting my bare soles. I bend the tiny SIM card till it snaps, flush it down the loo, my feet in half an inch of freezing water as I watch it sink to the bottom but not disappear.

  Millie must have pulled that night. Leah and Natasha too. I was alone when I woke up on the bathroom floor of the two-bedroom apartment we’d rented. My phone was going crazy in the distance, zzz, zzz, zzz. After being sick several times, I crawled towards the noise, and eventually located the phone in the kitchen sink.

  It was Millie. ‘Su, are you sitting down?’

  I left my suitcase and most of my belongings in the holiday apartment. I ran to the nearest cash machine, withdrew everything but twenty euros from my Thomas Cook cash card, used fifty-five to get a taxi from the other side of the island to here, and the rest for a week in this room. Mum knows people. She’ll have traced my signal. I grab my bag and leave.

  I have no money and no idea where to go. At a bank a few blocks from the hotel, I withdraw what I had left yesterday – twenty euros – but when the receipt comes out it says the balance is 620 euros. Mum, bless her.

  I withdraw another 300, buy a baseball cap and sunglasses, get a cab to the ferry port and purchase a ticket on the next boat to Barcelona, which is leaving in twenty minutes. I know I should ring Mum and let h
er know I’m okay, but I can’t handle a direct conversation with her or with anyone else. She’ll know I withdrew the money, so it’s not like I’m making her suffer. She’ll know I’m alive. My plan is to hide away until another video goes viral. It’ll need to be good, like the 2013 triumph involving the branch. In that particular video, a teenage boy was recording his friend with his phone. In the background, the friend’s dad was using his new birthday present, a chainsaw, to chop off a tree branch that was getting too close to their house. The boy’s mother was holding the ladder steady, but not very well, because the man lost balance, holding his precious chainsaw as he fell, and decapitating his wife en route. That’s the kind of Oscar-winning stuff that’s out there. It’ll be difficult to top mine – a trampolining kitten wouldn’t do, for example, nor an obese guy dancing poorly but with gusto in unflattering Y-fronts. It’ll need to be horrendous, outrageous. But I’m confident someone will eventually do something worse and, when they do, I’ll drop down the screen in Google Search results and a fresh sorry soul will replace me on this never-ending circle of disgrace. Once I’m off the first page, I’ll ring Mum, go home, explain to James, and go to Uni. It’s all going to be okay. I’m a sensible girl, and I know there is a very good chance that this will pass and that I will survive.


  I’m a survivor, you see. Even when my birth mother dumped me on a doorstep in Seoul, things came good for me. And she didn’t dump me in the relative safety of a baby box. It’d be years after my birth that Pastor Lee Jong-rak would build a baby-sized post box at the front door of the Jusaran Orphanage in Seoul for disgraced young women to deposit their errors. Years till the public outrage at his solution, matched equally with public respect. No baby box for me. I was left in a frayed wicker basket with no lining, outside a police station with a note from my mother in Korean that said: ‘She is Su-Jin. I am 17. Please look after her.’

  Mum and Dad gave me the note when I was six, right after they sat me down to explain that I was precious because they had chosen me. As if I didn’t already know there was something different about me and Leah. She’s white. Her name’s normal. Mum and Dad had always called me Su-Jin before that meeting, age six. Not long afterwards I asked them to cut the Jin because I wanted to be Su. I have been Su ever since, except with Leah, who has called me Su-Jin since puberty turned her nasty, with an emphasis on the Jin to make her point. She also started calling me Chinky when we were thirteen, and I never once called her pizza face even though she was one. Boy oh boy, did the Chinky thing annoy Mum the first and last time she heard her say it. ‘That is not a word we use, young lady. It’s a derogatory slur used by people who feel threatened and weak and inferior. The term for people like that is racist. Do you understand, Leah? Here, I’ve printed out some information about the territory of Korea and the sovereign states of North and South Korea. Look at the map – China is a different country from Korea. Look up the words “derogatory” and “racist” and never say that word again.’ Leah has said it since, but never in front of Mum.

  The adoption agency had given my birth mother’s note to Mum and Dad when they collected me. It was written on the back of a napkin in red pen. Dad framed it and a translated version and hung them side by side on my wall. For months my bedtime routine after Mum and Dad kissed me goodnight and turned off the light and shut the door behind them was to turn the light back on, sit up, and stare at the framed note and its translation on the wall.

  My name is Su-Jin.

  My mother was seventeen when she had me.

  She was polite. Please look after her, she wrote.

  She either borrowed or owned a red pen and she could write straight. The napkin was square and white (yellowing now), like the ones you get at Starbucks.

  Mum and Dad told me the police station was in Myeongdong. I’ve checked it out a lot on Street View. The building is red brick, with an arched doorway. It’s welcoming: looks more like an art gallery. The streets around it are full of shops (including Starbucks) and there are people in jeans. There are neon lights, and food stalls with sea snails, pancakes and spicy rice cakes that I wish they sold in Scotland. The roads have bicycle lanes. The doorstep to the police station is a flat concrete slab, hence not a doorstep at all. And there is no wicker basket with a baby in it on it. For years I have crept around that place, clicking the cursor right then left, zooming, about-facing, noting everything around the spot where my birth mother last laid eyes on me. To an alien looking down, as I am, Myeong-dong is a happy place. Rather than dumping babies, the women sip mango mojitos there.

  My mother may have lived pretty close to that non-doorstep. She may have walked there, in the rain I can assume, as I was born midway through jagma, the wet season. There is no date on the note, but a young volunteer in the orphanage told Mum and Dad I was dumped on 2 July within hours of my birth. So my biological mother may have walked to Myeongdong station in the rain if she lived nearby, or she may have cycled in a bicycle lane all the way from wherever it was she lived, with me in a sling against her stomach, or in a backpack, or swinging in the frayed wicker basket in her hand. All I know is that not long after my mother wrote the note, I was allocated to Ruth Oliphant and Bernard Brotheridge (Solicitor and Musician respectively, from Glasgow and Oregon respectively) and allocated the most Anglo-Saxon, pretentious, and excruciating-to-spell-out-loud hyphenated surname in living history.


  A baby box would have been cooler than a basket, and a way better story. I’ve lied twice about it. Ashleigh and Jen, I told, in the backyard of Peter McAllister’s house. It was his sixteenth birthday party. They were both: Oh my God! and they liked me much more than before because I’d been totally posted.

  As well as hanging the note on my wall, Mum and Dad hooked up with another couple who had a Korean kid. Once a month they’d drop Leah at Gran’s or Aunty Louise’s and we’d drive to a rainy play park or a beach and Korean Kid 2 and I would stare at each other over beach-sand or sandpit-sand while our parents swapped dumpling and Gamjatang recipes. After the discussion age six, Dad and I also spent an hour a night learning Korean using CDs by Rosetta Stone. Together we repeated:

  My name is Su Oliphant-Brotheridge.

  Do you have water?

  I’m sorry, but I do not understand.


  Where is the toilet?

  Basically all this effort by my folks ensured that I would never have identity issues because I knew everything there was to know about my mother and my culture, and if I ever went to South Korea, I could ask for water then ask for a toilet to dispose of it in.

  They adopted me after years of trying to conceive: multiple miscarriages, IVF, the lot. The process was gruelling apparently. There’s a whole album in the living-room cabinet devoted to the process of collecting me and bringing me home. There’s the photo of the first time they saw me in the orphanage. Me in the hotel room. Me on the plane to Glasgow. Me in the room they’d spent weeks (and loads of money) decorating to ‘make me feel at home’. On one wall was a huge painting of the South Korean flag. As a kid it did nothing but worry me – the blue and red swirl seemed to wink at me. The four black markings surrounding the swirl meant something that I did not understand, something sinister. On another wall was a map of South Korea. On another, the note my birth mother wrote and beside that, the translated version which Dad had typed and printed, both in thin black frames. Above my bed was a painting of a woman’s hands which had nails about three inches long that were decorated in bright thick candy-stripes. The woman had a peacock feather on her wrist.

  (Note to prospective parents of an adoptee from South Korea or a child of any description: If you want your precious darling to have night terrors, decorate their bedroom as above.)

  Mum discovered she was pregnant one month after they brought me back to Scotland. It happens all the time, apparently. Suddenly, if a couple hasn’t thought about it for years, hasn’t wanted it, needed it, taken temperatures, counted days, injected hormones
, suddenly, boom.


  She has mum’s blue eyes and Dad’s dark brown hair but no one ever says either of those things even though they are all thinking it. Leah has Gran’s mouth and Grandpa’s lips and white skin like every Oliphant and every Brotheridge except me. My skin’s dark but not very, as if my Asian-ness has been left out in the rain all these years, wishy-washy, nothingy-wothingy, not a colour, but not not one either.

  But Leah’s! When we had baths together as little ones, my skin against hers looked as dark as a proper Korean’s. Oh how I would scrub at it.


  The ferry gate’s open. Time to cross the seas and disappear for a time.

  Chapter Two

  Ruth Oliphant was used to wearing a wig. Usually it was short, grey, had three curls above each ear, cost £2,000 (according to the Daily Record ), and complemented her classic black skirt and red robe. The wig she had on now was bright pink, bob-shaped, straight bangs, and it complemented her low-cut slinky black dress and the pink ‘Hen Party’ sash which crossed her torso and back. For fifty-two, she was pretty damn hot. Good skin from years of water-drinking healthy-living. Slim, toned body from years of organic-only vegetarianism as well as a twenty-mile round-trip cycle from home in Doon to the court in Kilbarchie. People laughed that she cycled to work in Lycra, showering and reappearing in ‘My Lady’ clobber.

  She wasn’t the only Hen in the jam-packed club, but she was the only one over the age of twenty-five, the only one without a gaggle of at least ten others with an identical sash, and probably the only one who was about to spike a man’s drink.

  ‘Think you’ve got the wrong place, lady. The bingo’s two doors down.’

  ‘Does an attractive cougar threaten you?’ She sipped her ‘Multiple Orgasm’ as sensually as she could, leaning forwards to show some cleavage.

  ‘What makes you think you’re attractive?’ He wasn’t looking at her face when he said this, so it was working.

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