The place that the director brought them to was a traditional Korean cuisine restaurant, this was a place that Moonjoong frequented as well. Due to the fact that he lived alone, he ended up eating most of his meals outside, with the exception of breakfast. Moonjoong liked this restaurant, as it had the scent of a regular household home.
The four people sat by a table after being greeted by the owner. A well-cooked mackerel, a savory bean sprout dish, and a steaming soybean paste stew arrived. Bland seasoning was one of this restaurant’s qualities.
“It might not taste as good to young people.”
“I like it bland. It’s delicious.”
The way Maru spoke was quite mature. Moonjoong looked at Maru and thought of him as a dignified child. Most children his age would probably find a similar occasion uncomfortable, but Maru seemed like he was used to it as he sat on his seat, relaxed.
The director, who was good at socializing, got the owner of the restaurant to join them at the same table as they all started chatting. The topics ranged from the area being noisy due to reconstruction, to there being a fight at somebody’s house, to their son being discharged this year… By the time the meal was over, Moonjoong had heard all sorts of matters both big and small about this neighborhood.
“Ah, director. Come over here. I made some plum extract, bring some and give it to the children.”
The director had a wide smile on his face as he stood up at the gestures of the owner. “You guys keep talking.” The director left his seat after leaving those words. Three people remained at the table.
Moonjoong let out a hollow laugh as he started talking. “I wonder if we spent too much of your time. I heard you had an appointment; will it be fine?”
“I just gave them a call saying that I’ll be a bit late. To be honest, the director asks us to a meal every time and I didn’t think it would be polite to keep refusing.”
She was a person whose pretty eyes crinkled when she smiled. Moonjoong looked deep into Soojin’s smile, her current smile had no uncertainties within them. A literal expression of emotion. It was questionable how someone smiling like this would make such forced smiles in front of the children.
It was a matter that he couldn’t understand.
Moonjoong continued on with the conversation. He usually didn’t stick his nose into other people’s businesses, but he wanted to make sure as this was related to the children.
“I can’t believe you’ve been looking over the children for 10 years, it must’ve been hard.”
“……. It’s fun meeting the children and it’s worth it. There wasn’t a single time when I thought it was hard.”
A bit of hesitation. Moonjoong clicked his tongue at the sadness hidden within the brief pause, she was definitely somebody with a backstory. It didn’t seem like she approached the children with impure intentions, but he was worried that the children would be hurt by the mixed intentions behind kindness that she was showing.
Moonjoong believed that people have two kinds of noses: A nose that smells literal scents and a nose that smells emotions. No matter how well packaged this kindness was, some of the sharper children were bound to notice that there was some sort of darkness hidden deep within the kindness.
Children were more sensitive to these things. This was because children, who lack the ability to protect themselves, would more keenly observe the adults. Changes in their facial expression, how much their speech is stressed, the pitch of their voice... they would pick up subconsciously on changes in body language and speech.
The problem was that they couldn’t logically process these changes. The malicious and negative emotions that adults secretly exude could be psychologically harmful to these children. Rotten food emits foul odors no matter how well you package it.
Moonjoong knew that it could be inappropriate but asked anyway. “Can we chat in private for a bit?”
Moonjoong asked leisurely. If he seemed offensive, it would be obvious that she would start protecting herself, so he spoke in a casual manner. Interestingly enough, Maru, who was sitting next to Soojin, pushed his chair back and stood up.
“I’ll excuse myself for a bit.”
The boy’s ability to catch onto things was amazing, his sense of intuition is uncanny; he stood up after reading our expressions. This was the power of observation rather than coincidence. Moonjoong narrowed his eyes and watched Maru leave the restaurant. This was a child with a strict set of principles. He’d only known the boy for a short time, but it was easy to tell.
“Um, what did you need to speak about….” Soojin asked.
Moonjoong shifted his sights from the entrance back to Soojin. It was time to push back his interests and ask the questions he had. “I’ll start off by apologizing.”
“I don’t have any ill feelings towards you. I’m grateful actually. I’m only asking because there’s something bothering me, so if you don’t want to discuss it you can just say no.”
“Ah, okay.” Her face showed that she was flustered. Moonjoong waited a moment before bringing up the main topic.
“The children at the nursery, they’re like my own sons and daughters. That’s why I carefully observe the people who approach them, and you caught my eyes.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“I’ll get straight to the point. Are you really doing this for the children? Or do you have a different aim? I hope you can be honest with me. If my eyes were mistaken, tell me. If not… I’m going to have to hear whatever you’re hiding.”
He emphasized the last part in an intentionally overbearing manner. It could be that he was being excessively wary, but the sixty-five years he experienced showed him that it didn’t hurt being on guard. Moonjoong believed that people were born good and that it was the environment which made them evil. In addition, the current world was more than enough to turn somebody into a villain. He didn’t necessarily believe that this woman was a bad person, but was just worried that her feelings towards the children weren’t innocent.
He hoped that it was a mistake, just some nonsense from an old man.
However, Soojin stared at him with a frozen expression, her pupils were shaking. She tightened her lower lips and her shoulders that were relaxed until just a second ago shrank. A clear sign of defense, as well as proof that she had lied.
“I can tell even with my ignorant eyes that you’re not a bad person, but I can’t let go of the fact that you’re not being benevolent towards the children because of purely positive intentions.”
“10 years. A very long time. You must have taken care of numerous children during that period. I’m not judging those actions. However, have you ever thought about this? There might come a day when you’re playing with the children and one sensitive child picks up your dark side and becomes hurt. Of course, it’s just a possibility. The children might not realize these things and ignore them.”
“But a parent is someone who worries about even the smallest things. Could you tell me about your situation? Why would somebody who's looked over children for 10 years appear so guilt-ridden? Why does it feel like there’s a mask on?”
The young lady in front dropped her head, she placed her hands that were tightened into a fist on top of her legs. Moonjoong felt pity for her. She looked like a little child who didn’t know what to do after being caught lying.
Moonjoong could tell that she was someone who had a lot of affection from her posture and at the same time knew that there was something binding her for 10 years.
He relaxed his pressing demeanor and gave her a pat on the shoulders. She was a kindhearted child. She could’ve continued her lies and denied everything, but instead she had fallen silent.
“I’m…. sorry. I’ll be right back.” Soojin stood up. Moonjoong saw tears gathering in the corners of her eyes and sighed deeply.
Maru came in as soon as Soojin left, as if he was waiting for it. It seemed like he saw her leaving while covering her mouth. “Can I ask what happened?”
“It would appear I touched on a painful topic.”
“By painful topic you mean…”
“It looked like she had a story so I asked about it, but it seems quite complicated. How can a gentle lady like her make those kinds of smiles in front of the children?”
Maru lowered his head as he heard those words, then left the restaurant as well. A short while later, he came back by himself.
“First of all, I’d like to apologize for speaking as I please. I don’t think she’s in a condition to talk.”
“Is that so?”
“Actually, I too had something to speak to her about today. I’m telling you this after having already received her permission. She has a little brother.”
“Yes. A little brother with a rather big age gap, but I heard he was in an accident when he was young because of her.”
“Oh my, it must have been a big accident.”
“It was, to the extent that he had to live his daily life while undergoing rehabilitation before he was ten years old. There are no problems now because he received the treatment persistently and exercised regularly, but the relationship between the two became distant after that incident.”
“Don’t tell me that she’s avoiding that little brother….”
“You guessed correctly. She hasn’t spoken to him for the past 10 years, because of her guilt. The little brother’s school life was a mess because he had to receive treatment and couldn’t adapt. Children are innocent, but despite that, they can also have a scary side to them.”
Moonjoong nodded his head at those words. It was obvious that bringing together 40 to 50 children in a single class would cause problems if they spoke in an intolerant way. If within their ranks was a child whose body was uncomfortable due to receiving treatment… he probably would’ve been made fun of. This bullying sometimes could become horrible to an extent that adults couldn’t possibly imagine. Because children are so simple minded, they often don’t respect any boundaries. Children can easily cross lines that shouldn’t be crossed.
“It could be because of the way he was treated by the other children, but as he graduated elementary school and became healthy, he went astray. He might have come to learn that you need to be rough to be treated like a human. Fortunately, he’s corrected himself now.”
“He experienced a nasty society when he was small, but it looks like you’re an acquaintance of that little brother.”
“I’m in the same class as him, he’s my friend.”
So that’s why he knows the details. Moonjoong kept watching Maru, who spoke the truth in a composed manner.
“I learned the truth through my friend not too long ago and I also heard about how he felt. It’s true that he hates his sister, who was the cause of the accident then, but what he despises even more is that she had nothing to say to him for the past 10 years. It seems like there was a time when they spoke to each other, but the way they met was also something he didn’t like.”
“That lady probably said that she didn’t want to meet in person.”
“How did you….”
“If you put together what you can see, you’re also able to understand other things. Right, so that’s what it was. The cause for the guilt was this.”
So this was why she had eyes like those while looking at children. Why she went around volunteering despite having such eyes. Moonjoong understood Soojin. Going around nurseries for her might have been a form of repenting. She could receive consolation by looking after the children and doing things that she couldn’t do for her little brother.
“It’s not as good as it sounds.” It was something that started from avoidance. The results were initially nice, but it was bound to break down sooner or later. These emotions that deepen will eventually spiral out of control negatively.
“I want to offer help, but because the situation isn’t simple, I’m honestly not sure what I should do. On top of that, it’s been a long time since I’ve last met her so it’s not easy for me to bring it up either. I can’t recklessly trespass on her feelings, they have been building up for the past 10 years, afterall.”
Deep consideration could be felt across every word spoken. Although the emotional side was unknown, it was clear that he was a very logical child. Moonjoong nodded. It was an unfortunate situation. But, it wasn’t a problem that could just be left aside like this. It wouldn’t be good for either the children or the young lady to carry on this relationship with such warped feelings.
“Did it look like your friend felt disgusted by that lady?”
“No. It wasn’t like that. When my friend was spilling everything to me, he also told me that he himself wasn’t sure of what to do. I’m not sure if he wants to reconcile with his sister or remain angry at her.”
“It became a problem because the two have yet to talk properly. In a situation like this, the best solution is to have a conversation.”
“But one is scared of meeting, and the other is avoiding it…”
“Well, people’s intentions can be expressed through more than just their voices.”
Soojin came in just in time. Her eyelids were red. Moonjoong felt bad and quickly apologized.
“It’s okay. I knew that what I was doing was wrong, but I couldn’t stop despite knowing that. My heart wouldn’t be at ease if I didn’t do this.”
“I understand. But it’s not something that can be kept pushing back.” Moonjoong looked at Soojin’s face as he spoke. “Will you try following the advice of a nosy old man?”
* * *
“I’m sorry for asking you.”
“Don’t be. Rather, will you really be fine?”
“Like that grandpa said, it’s not something I can keep avoiding.”
Maru nodded as he closed the car door. The red sedan skid as it disappeared.
Maru looked at the letter held in his hands. The advice of the elder was simple. It was to write down everything she wanted to say. But, he had emphasized that she should never censor her words. Soojin heard those words and wrote for a long period of time. A letter containing 11 pages was inside this envelope. Even this wasn’t enough, as Soojin went home saying that she would prepare more.
“I hope this will help.”
Dowook definitely felt hate for his sister. And yet, it also didn’t seem like he never wanted to see her again. If he really despised her, he wouldn’t have held himself and lamented that day at Myeongdong.
It is possible that he is also looking for a solution. Hopefully this letter will turn the tide of the blocked emotions, Maru mused while taking out his phone.
He looked at the new contact that was registered today. Yoon Moonjoong. The elder had given his personal number, asking to be told the results.
“Yoon Moonjoong….” It was a name that felt familiar. Maru scratched his eyebrows as he went home.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
These chapters were translated by Eunc, while ensj was out on personal business.