He shook off Dojin, who was clinging to him and telling him to stay behind, and stood up. All of these people were severe alcoholics, so there didn’t seem to be any signs of it ending. Sooil, who started off by putting on a gentle face, had long since joined them and was dancing together. Dojin and Iseul, who had joined them after cleaning up the kitchen, said that they should drink until tomorrow morning as though they were planning on consuming all the alcohol in the store. Ever since Daemyung, who could drink just as much as him, started drinking, it became an occasion of who-can-drink-more.
He went outside and had a look at his watch. It was just past 10 p.m. He blew away the sweet scent of rice wine with a breath of air.
“You guys are going to have to clean up a corpse if I stayed in there. Gosh, I’m dying.”
“I can’t exactly stop them when they’re planning on drinking as much as they sold today.”
“True,” Ando said, following him out.
He put a cigarette in his mouth and looked for a lighter.
“I don’t have one on me.”
“Ah, right. You don’t smoke, do you?”
“When did you start smoking?”
“I learned to in the military. This is the only thing my direct senior taught me.”
“That’s a dang nice thing you were taught. You should quit if possible.”
“I will, once I finish this one.”
“That’s what all smokers say. ‘This is my last one.’”
After staring at the cigarette for a while, Ando snapped it in half and threw it on the ground.
“The first thing you’re giving me is a scolding after not having met in a long time. You haven’t changed.”
“I can give a scolding alright. I heard from Daemyung that you took a break from college and started doing a part-time job.”
“I was planning on getting employed as soon as possible and then start paying back my student loans, but that’s easy to say, not to do. I can easily graduate as long as I get enough credits, but removing the college student tag from me is a problem in itself. I want to work as an intern to get work experience, but the competition there is huge. While I’m a college student, I don’t have to worry about student loans, and I have various benefits, so I took a break to look for work while I do some part-time jobs, but I can’t seem to find any. It’s strange. There are definitely people who got jobs too.”
“You’re working hard.”
“Everyone around me is living like that, so I don’t usually feel anything, but coming to places like this does make me feel a little pathetic.”
Ando looked inside the door.
“Everyone. I’m envious of Sora and Jiyoon, who got themselves a job, and I’m envious of Daemyung, who doesn’t have to worry about student loans. I’m also envious of Dojin and Iseul, who have a store to run. I don’t even have to mention Sooil.”
“Am I on that list?”
“What an honor. Since you’re grumbling, tell me more about it. I can listen to you for free.”
“I don’t have anymore. That was it. I’m just envious. Nothing more, nothing less.”
Ando stared at the cigarette that he threw on the ground.
“You’re regretting that you threw it away, aren’t you?”
“Yeah, I’m really regretting it. That was my last one too. If I think about it now, smoking isn’t that bad. It’s a cheap psychologist. You know, you can relieve stress.”
“That’s the second most used excuse for people to not quit smoking.”
“Fine, I’ll quit. I’ll quit, alright.”
Maru took Ando to the convenience store nearby and bought some cold coffee. He sat down on a chair under the parasol and opened the coffee as he asked,
“Is it hard?”
“Nah. I don’t think that I’m living a pitiful life. Just like I said before, I’m just envious. Those famous people say that you should think positively and look up, but how can people live just by doing that? It’s stifling. Honestly, don’t you gain way more energy by looking at people doing worse than you?”
Maru nodded. Perhaps the motivation that the ant had while working towards a better tomorrow was the grasshopper. The vague hope and expectations that it would be able to live a better winter were probably what made it last the summer.
“If there’s one thing I’m worried about, it’s that I’m having a hard time taking care of myself yet someone likes me?”
“You mean Sora?”
“Yeah. At first, I was wondering where a girl like that popped out from when she joined the club, but things happened and here we are.”
“If you’ve been through that much together, I guess you would get close whether you want to or not. It’s not like you don’t have any feelings for her, right?”
“I do. It’s overflowing. I mean, Sora is not lacking anywhere, is she? She’s pretty, has a refreshing personality, and her actions are cute too.”
“I admit that she’s pretty, but I can’t accept that she has a refreshing personality. I think something got the better of you after being dragged around by her a lot, but that’s not ‘refreshing’ it’s ill-tempered. Also, cute? I’m sure the heat got the better of you and you miss-said ‘brute’ right? Or maybe you’ve been to Stockholm recently?”
“She looks good to me.”
“I can’t exactly say anything to that. So what?”
Ando put down the empty bottle. As he stared at the empty bottle, a couple passed by behind them. They asked each other what they should bring home as they entered the convenience store. Water, beer, instant rice, and cup ramyun.
“You know that Sora’s household is well-off, right?”
Ando has spoken again when the door closed.
“I do. We went to her house for our first film. If she still lives in that apartment, I guess the house prices must have risen by 200 million at least.”
“Her father works for a large company and her mother is a teacher.”
“You’re quite knowledgeable.”
“Sora told me about it last time. She told me everything that happened since her birth as though she wanted me to know who she was.”
“It was a confession.”
“What did you say?”
“I just said, I see. I also talked about myself a little. About how we barely got out of a semi-basement apartment, but we’re still living on a monthly rent; about how my father worked for a company but retired at an early age and is now frying chickens with my mother’s help. You know, a common story.”
“What did Sora say?”
“She said my parents must be splendid to raise me into who I am.”
Ando threw the empty bottle into the trash.
“Even the most dim-witted person would know what was happening, right? Sora naturally seemed to be waiting for something, and I didn’t have the courage to tell her what she wanted. Time passed and here we are, talking about it.”
“Did Sora not say anything about it after that?”
“No, but she does stare at me more blatantly from time to time.”
“Considering her personality, if she’s not saying anything, she must have realized that you’re getting ready to run away to a far place.”
“Why don’t you tell it to her straight then? That you don’t have the leisure to date her. That your pride will make you suffer even if you dated her. That she should stop taking interest in a guy like you and look for someone better.”
Maru yawned. Ando’s mouth twitched just like a dog before it was about to bite, before just laughing it off.
“Maybe this is why I’m talking to you about this. So that I can hear something refreshing from you.”
“It’s your choice to do what you want, so I don’t plan on intervening, but if I am to give you a tip based on experience, it’s that the longer you delay your decision, the more pathetic it will become.”
“What would you do?”
“Don’t ask. I’m pathetic myself. If I was great enough to tell you something, I wouldn’t have run away in the first place either. I’ll instead talk about something I overheard. The situation isn’t entirely the same, but someone who had similar worries as you got this answer from an elder. That person was wondering if he should pursue his dreams or choose reality in order to take responsibility for his woman.”
“Is this about you?”
“It’s about a friend of mine. Anyway, the elder who heard that question gave him this answer: don’t look at the world as scenery; look at it as a reality. Is that woman so powerless and incompetent to the point that she won’t be able to cope if you don’t take responsibility for her? He realized this: Oh, I was being too arrogant, I was mistaken. Just as the elder said, he gave his girl a call. He asked her what she was going to do if he wasn’t able to take care of her financially. The woman’s answer was simple: I’ll earn the money, so you do the chores.”
Ando laughed out loud.
“You decide what you want to do with Sora. It’ll be fine as long as you don’t regret it. But hey, why are you worried about marriage when you aren’t even dating yet? I think it’s too early to start comparing households.”
“That’s just the kind of guy I am, I’m just worried. I’m worried about things in front of me, and I’m worried about things far away from me. Sora will snap out at me a lot if she dates someone like me, right?”
“She probed you out fully knowing that. If it’s her, she probably did all the calculations beforehand and judged that it’s doable.”
“Would I be trash if I keep feigning ignorance?”
“Usually whether you’re trash or not is decided by other people. What, does it pain you to think that Sora will treat you like trash?”
“No, in fact, I even think that will be better. If we were just friends, I wouldn’t have to think about my current position or student loans or things like that. If I meet her, I would just smile, knowing that she’s doing well, and if we lose touch, I’ll just start thinking, ‘oh there was a girl like her’ and sigh in relief.”
“And ultimately, you’ll weep in your own little room?”
“I wish I had a room under my name that I could weep in.”
“That’s true. Even if I cry, I would at least feel at ease if I do it in a house under my own name.”
“I dunno man. A romantic relationship suddenly feels like some freaky monster or something. Would I have told her to date me if I was in a better position?”
“What’s your definition of a better position?”
“A good job and a house under my own name?”
“In Korea, if you have your own house when you’re twenty-five, you’re one of two things: your parents are super rich or you’re Einstein. Oh, there’s one more case: Winning the lottery.”
“I know it’s just an excuse. Like you said, I’m doing this due to my inferiority complex. But the problem is, I know too well. I keep thinking about what comes next. I can clearly see that things will not go well once we start dating, so I feel like not starting at all is a better idea.”
“If you think that way, then I guess that’s for the better.”
“Just like you said, I should just tell her that I’m a celibate before I start looking pathetic.”
“There’s nothing more romantic than a self-made celibate, and nothing more depressing than celibacy forced on you. If you feel like you’re going to get depressed after telling her, you can make a call.”
“What, are you going to buy me booze or something?”
“No. I was saying you can call other people, not me.”
“What a prick.”
“Thanks for the compliment.”
He tapped on Ando’s shoulder and stood up. He wanted to go home like this when he thought about the mess that the store would have become, but there was no way those guys would forgive him if he did that, so he had to return obediently. Maru looked at Ando, who was walking next to him. It was sad that he had to look into the future at his age. The reason he could not tell him to just go for it was that there were youths who could do that as well as those that couldn’t afford to. Ando was definitely the latter. Who could insult him for being passive and afraid? If they wanted to, they would have to chuck him a hundred million won to say that to him.
“As someone who ran away before you, I can tell you that running away is futile in front of a person who’s chasing you. You know Sora better than me, so think about it carefully. Think about whether she’s a girl who would stop just because you told her to stop, or whether she’ll tell you to shut up and keep chasing you.”
“Would there be someone that would come to me even if I say no?”
“There is. At least one that I know of. Someone who’s reckless to the bone; someone who’s just that lovely and painful.”
“Hey, are you dating someone? Did you ever start dating after that? Or is it her ag….”
Maru smacked Ando’s flank as he was about to ask.
“Don’t think about me, and just worry about yourself. Over there, the problem of your life is waiting for you.”
Sora was waiting in front of the restaurant. She was standing crookedly with a crooked mouth, looking like a bomb that had complaints about this world; one that was at the end of its fuse and was about to blow up.
“Where are you going around at a time like this!”
Her voice was loud.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Man, Ando's words hit hard. I'm about to graduate college next year, but while everyone around me is getting internships I'm just here editing this novel... *sigh*