Chapter 187

Fiancé used to sell alcohol and women, and on top of that, they also sold anything that their customers wanted. It was even said that there was nothing in the world which could not be bought at Fiancé. Throughout all his visits and time spent on that street, Lansky had only bought a person once – it was his first and last time. To be precise, he had bought an 11 year old boy. 

“L…”

The names of the children who were born to the women that worked in the red-light district were very pathetic. In each store, these children were named alphabetically in the order they were born. After they had gotten to Z, they would start over from A again. The street was full of children with the same names who were born in different stores. 

The repetition of cycling through A to Z was also representative of their future. These children couldn’t leave their birthplace and were forced to lead the same lives as their mothers. It was no wonder that their eyes looked lifeless. 

Like most people who visited the street, Lansky wasn’t interested in these children. The only person he was interested in was L. L was a very interesting boy. His interest in him eventually led him to purchase L from Fiancé’s boss. Money was the most convenient way to settle things in Fiancé, and Lansky was willing to pay for L. 

Come to think of it, L was one of the reasons why Lansky wanted to completely reform this street. As L grew up, Lansky wanted to erase the traces of his past out of consideration for him, and also as a gift to him. The place that was associated with someone’s miserable past had now been converted into a bookstore. 

The bookstore was a place where used books were bought and sold; it was filled with the smell of old books. As soon as Woo-Jin stepped into the store, he was greeted by a different scent. The smell of cheap perfume and whiskey was no longer there, and Elton John’s songs were playing on the old radio, instead of the sultry voice of a mediocre singer crooning lyrics that had no meaning. 

Even when a customer entered, the owner was still leaning back against the comfortable-looking sofa with his eyes closed. He appeared to be in his sixties. However, seeing how his fingers were tapping to the rhythm of the music, Woo-Jin knew he wasn’t sleeping. Since the owner wasn’t paying attention to the customers, Woo-Jin looked around the bookstore with ease as well. 

As he carefully walked between the bookshelves and even through the gaps between piles of books, Woo-Jin gradually walked deeper into the store. After a while, Woo-Jin found himself standing in front of a wall that was covered in bookshelves. This area of the bookstore was originally a part of Fiancé. Lansky had only walked all the way into the corner of Fiancé once. That was because he had heard that a pistol owned by the last emperor of Russia, Nicholas II, was there.  On one hand, he wondered how such an artifact found its way there. But on the other hand, it made sense because it was Fiancé after all. 

However, the funny thing was that instead of the emperor’s beautiful pistol, it was the words written in the corner of the wall that caught Lansky’s eye. The poetry-like words were scribbled at the bottom, in an inconspicuous part of the wall. 

“It’s probably somewhere around here.”

Woo-Jin squatted down and tried to get a rough estimate of where the words were. The words written by an 11 year old boy on the wall without using pens or pencils – just from the blood from his finger. Even though the spelling and grammar were inaccurate, he could still understand the meaning behind those words. The boy’s desperate cry still lingered in his mind. 

{Are there any books that you’re looking for?}

The bookstore owner appeared out of the blue and stood next to Woo-Jin, looking down. However, he wasn’t looking at Woo-Jin – he was looking at the place where Woo-Jin’s gaze was fixated at. 

{No, I was just looking around…}

Woo-Jin became conscious of the owner and reached his hand out towards the bookshelf. In the squatting position, he lowered his gaze slightly and pulled out a book from the area where the scribbles used to be. The title of the book was Confession of White; it was printed in white against the black background of the book’s cover. 

Woo-Jin knew this novel. He had attempted to read it several times before because it was very famous, but he couldn’t get past a third of it every time. The novel was too emotionally draining, and the protagonist’s lunacy was too difficult for him to accept, so Woo-Jin gave up on it. 

Woo-Jin wondered why he picked that book out of all the books, but he didn’t put it back on the shelf. This was because he felt that compared to his past self, he had the capacity to read it now. As Woo-Jin got older, he became more experienced. As such, he became more accepting and understanding as well. To put it bluntly, in his previous life as Lansky, he had seen and experienced things that were much more terrible than what was written in the novel, so there was no reason for him not to read it. 

{This book is not for sale.} 

{Didn’t you put it on the shelf because you wanted to sell it?}

Woo-Jin looked up at the bookstore owner because he was curious as to why he would place a book he didn’t want to sell in the store, but his gaze was fixated on the book. 

{Does everything in the store have to be for sale?} 

{You have a point, but you should keep the valuable things that aren’t for sale separately. Because there may be other customers like me.}

Since Confession of White was placed in an obscure location, customers would not have noticed it. It was the same with L’s scribbles 50 years ago. However, Lansky saw the scribbles, just like how Woo-Jin found the book. Thus, there was no guarantee that nobody would come across it and pick it up. 

{So, you want to buy it?}

The owner of the bookstore looked at Woo-Jin for the first time after hearing his words. The moment he looked into his cold gray eyes, Woo-Jin felt chills, as though he was hugging a cold-blooded animal. 

{No.}

{...}

{I’ll read it here instead.} 

Woo-Jin sat down and asked to be excused. He had plenty of time, and he thought it would be a waste to buy a book he wasn’t going to finish reading. The owner looked at Woo-Jin and turned around without saying anything. Even though he wasn’t selling the book, he had given Woo-Jin his unspoken consent to read it here. People who came to the bookstore often spent their time browsing books like that, so it seemed like the owner didn’t mind. 

As Woo-Jin flipped to the first page of the novel while ruminating about how he felt back when he was reading Confession of White in the past, he mentally prepared himself. However, as he read the introduction of the book, Woo-Jin felt like something had changed. 

In the past, he had read the translated version of Confession of White. Reading the original version of the book felt completely different. The book he was reading was written in English, which was the native language of the author. The details in the original version were expressed in a crueler and crazier manner as compared to the original version, causing him to feel sick in the stomach as well. 

Even though Woo-Jin couldn’t understand why people were crazy about the novel, he continued reading it. Perhaps, the biggest change here was the person who was reading the book, Woo-Jin himself. Before he knew it, he reached the part of the book where he gave up previously. Woo-Jin lifted his head to catch his breath. He noticed the ceiling light was brighter now than when he first walked into the store, and he looked at the time. Three hours had passed by in a blink of an eye. He couldn’t look outside because there weren’t any windows, but judging from the time, it was already dark. Time flew by quickly without him realizing it as he was so absorbed in the book. 

Woo-Jin had to put down the book because it was late – not because he didn’t want to read it. While putting the book back onto the shelf, Woo-Jin felt it was a shame he had to stop reading, and he wanted to continue. 

{Can I read this again the next time I swing by?}

Woo-Jin told the bookstore owner that he couldn’t make it tomorrow, so he would come again in a few days’ time, but the bookstore owner didn’t respond to Woo-Jin’s question; he simply closed his eyes and kept still. Woo-Jin then bade him goodbye. 

{See you. I’ll come again next time.} 

Instead of playing Elton John’s songs, the radio behind the owner was now playing Sarah Brightman’s Nella Fantasia. 

***

On Woo-Jin’s second visit to the bookstore, he looked up at the sign before he entered. After returning to the hotel the other day, he realized that he didn’t know the name of the bookstore. So this time around, he looked for its sign. 

Interestingly, the name of the bookstore was a specific date. Perhaps, February 9th was a special and meaningful day for the owner. When Woo-Jin entered the store, the owner was sitting in the chair with his eyes closed and the radio on once again. 

{Hello, I’ve come once again to read the book.}

There was still no response from the owner, but Woo-Jin walked past him and went inside. He picked up Confession of White and continued reading it. Since he came here again to read the book, it might have been better if Woo-Jin bought it to begin with. 

Whenever people said they were going to the bookstore to read a book, others often reacted in the same way, calling it a waste of time. Woo-Jin agreed with them. Traveling to and fro was a waste of time, and sitting and reading a book on the floor of the bookstore was uncomfortable. Nonetheless, he did it anyway because this space was so perfect. 

The old Fiancé was no longer here. And neither was L nor Lansky. Being here allowed him to see the world that had changed with time. Reading Confession of White was just an excuse to confirm that Lansky no longer existed in this world. There was no better place to stop the memories of the dead from eliciting emotions. 

As time went by, Woo-Jin was left with about a third of the book. He got up and put the unfinished book back onto the shelf. He then picked up a random book on another shelf. He felt bad for going to the bookstore just to read a book, so he felt that he should at least buy something. 

Woo-Jin bought a random used book for $3 and visited the bookstore again a few days later. 

{...?}

The owner looked at the small basket that Woo-Jin was holding out to him and frowned. The small basket was filled with chocolates with colorful wrappers. 

{Today is my last day here – I’ll be flying back to my country tomorrow. This is a token of gratitude from me, and today’s date is February 9th as well.}

The production wasn’t complete yet – there were still ten days worth of shooting left to do in Korea, and he had to come back to LA after that. However, Woo-Jin didn’t think he was going to visit the bookstore ever again, so he prepared some chocolates for the owner as a way of saying goodbye. It was almost Valentine’s Day, and just like the name of the bookstore, today is February 9th. Thus, Woo-Jin purposely prepared chocolates. 

Woo-Jin placed the basket on one end of the counter and went inside to read again, leaving the owner behind. The owner was as still as a stone statue. Fortunately, Woo-Jin didn’t have a lot left to read, so he would be able to finish reading today. It certainly felt different from the time he read it when he was a child. 

Back then, Woo-Jin found it difficult to read the novel because he interpreted the text as it was and imagined it in his head. But now, he kept asking himself ‘why?’ the entire time he was reading it. 

Why did Lloyd have to be so insane and wretched? 

Being an albino, Lloyd couldn’t adapt to the ways of the world and was ostracized. But that reason alone was not good enough for Woo-Jin. Perhaps he was innately insane, or he was a criminal that was a byproduct of his environment. 

As Woo-Jin flipped page after page, the more he read, the more thoughts and questions he had. As he reached a deeper understanding of the book, he started having his own interpretations and theories. And with only one chapter left, the novel finally exposed Lloyd’s feelings to the readers. 

[I wanted color too.]

With red eyes, pale skin, and white hair, Lloyd only wanted to be of the same color as everyone else. But his hands that were stained with other people’s blood were still pale and white. Through the book, the readers learned in a gruesome manner that color didn’t change anything. 

Woo-Jin closed the book; his mind was in a daze and he couldn’t do anything, so he stayed like that for quite some time. He held the book tightly with both hands and turned his head around to look at the bookshelf he was leaning against. The red letter on the wall behind the bookshelf that had disappeared came to mind. 

{I am not L. But nobody even calls me by that name.} 

At that moment, a black shadow loomed over Woo-Jin. When he looked up, he saw the owner standing right before him silently. The owner’s face was always cold and expressionless, but his face was very contorted right now. 

{Who…are you?}

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