Maru felt like some sort of foreign substance. The old men would occasionally glance at him with incredible confusion, they seemed to wonder what a young man like him was doing there. He thought about playfully approaching them, but as soon as he took a step towards them, their confusion became hostility. Was it because Maru was an outsider?
Right then, an old man started walking nervously towards the town hall, the man was clearly coming here for the first time. The old man walked near the area, seemingly not knowing what he should do. Right then, one of the old men in the pavilion walked out to greet the new one with a smile. He dragged the new person into the pavilion as if this was their old friend.
“Where did you live before this?”
“In Seoul with my children...”
“Oh my, so we’re from the same place! Everyone here has come down from Seoul. We all came down to take a break after raising our kids. The air here is so refreshing after all.”
Right, right. The people around all exclaimed in agreement. The old men sat the newcomer down in the middle before continuing to play Korean chess, the new person fit in within minutes.
So being an outsider had nothing to do with it. Thinking about it for a second, Maru quickly realized the difference between him and the new person.
Maru walked around the town hall a bit after getting up from the pavilion. Most of the old men clicked their tongue at him, they looked incredibly hostile for some reason. Eventually, his eyes met with one of the older men in the group. The man looked around for a second before motioning at Maru to follow him.
The two of them met up behind the town hall building.
“You won’t get anything good out of staying here, so you better get going.”
“I’m sorry if I sound rude, but could I know why people here seem to hate me?”
“None of us really hates you. It’s just that all of us here have been burnt very badly by our children before.”
The white-haired old man looked at a passing scrap of paper bitterly.
“Everyone here has been cut off by their children. We all say that our kids are the best. But none of them actually comes to visit us ever. The only young people in this small town are the factory workers. Really, the only people that live in this town are us, seventy-years-old men.”
Maru was unable to spot a single child in town. Not even a shadow of them, despite hours of wandering. Come to think of, there wasn’t even a school nearby or any entertainment businesses. The entire town felt abandoned.
“None of us wants to admit that we’ve been abandoned. But we all know it. We know we’d spend the rest of our lives here and die in the same manner. That’s when our kids will finally come to take our corpses back. We’ve seen this happen more than just a few times.”
Meeting your children upon your death… Maru felt a little bit guilty inside as well, he didn’t even call his parents back in his previous life. He always said that he would go visit, but he never actually did. Aside from holidays, he seldom visited his parents.
“It’s absolutely pitiful. The only thing we have left to be proud of are our absent children. So we become childish and stubborn as a result. That’s why so many of us look hostile to you. I don’t know what you’re doing here, but I don’t think you’ll be treated well if you stay.”
The old man stepped away with a click of his tongue. Maru stood there on the spot contemplating the amount of loneliness the old man must’ve felt, it was just like ‘Twilight Stuggles’. They’ve all sacrificed their lives for their children, yet they were stuck here.
‘Would they feel happy inside?’
None of them looked too trusting of a young person like him. Was it a result of betrayal? Perhaps the book wasn’t just trying to convey a message of madness, perhaps it was a commentary of sorts. A surprisingly big stone that’s thrown into the pond of society.
Maru watched as Moonjoong listened to the old men around him, they say actors start off as imitation. Going further, the actor needs to develop his own personality within that imitation. That gives the actor his own voice, a voice that speaks to the masses.
Perhaps Moonjoong was trying to understand these old men not because he wants to act well, but because he wants something more out of it? Maru crossed his arms and started to think. An actor who doesn’t just imitate, but carries with him a lifetime of hurt… He was starting to get an idea of what he wanted to be.
* * *
“Sir, can I ask you something?”
“Why did you make rounds around the town on someone else’s bike? I’m sure you could’ve gotten the experience you needed with your own bike.”
The two of them returned from the city after sunset. This time, they were in a soft tofu soup restaurant as they spoke.
“The most sorrowful thing in the world to a person is to have their job stolen from them. I can’t do such a thing. Plus, these people have their own rules. They try not to cross paths, and if they do, they work at different times. I can’t just interrupt their entire system because I want to experience their way of life.”
“I see. I didn’t think that deeply about it.”
Their soup arrived in the meantime. It would’ve been very bland if Maru had the tastes of someone more his age, but this was perfect for him right now.
“We’ll do another lap after the meal before heading somewhere else.”
“Could it be, the paper...”
Moonjoong shook his head with a smile. After the meal, he went to a nearby grocery store to buy a large amount of bread and milk. Moonjoong headed towards the houses near the town hall afterwards, Maru chased after him with full bags in hands. The group of houses looked like they would crumble at any moment. Once they walked through the rusted doors, they found an old man watching TV inside. Maru bowed before maintaining a little bit of distance.
“I brought some snacks.”
“Oh dear, you shouldn’t have.”
The two of them spoke for a little while. Moonjoong was mostly on the side of listening.
“I’ll see you next time.”
Moonjoong stepped out to knock on the next house. And the next one. And the next. Moonjoong visited around ten houses, listening to each old man along the way.
The last one asked them to have some coffee, so Moonjoong and Maru sat together on the patio as they drank.
Moonjoong laughed at the old man’s question and nodded, to which Maru nodded with a smile as well.
“You two look very nice. I have a granddaughter around your age as well. I hope she’s well.”
“She couldn’t come over during the holidays?”
“Why would they? They’re busy. Just a phone call is enough for me.”
The old man responded casually, but it failed to hide his frustrations inside. After finishing the coffee, the two of them stood up. The old man asked them to stay, but it was getting a bit late at this point.
Moonjoong stepped out and looked up at the sky. Maru followed suit. The lack of streetlights here made the stars stand out a little in the darkening sky.
“Being old means that you can’t become as honest as you were in the past. That’s why old men are often wistful. There are too many stories here that I can only relate to.”
Moonjoong’s sigh became a white puff of air that flew up towards the sky. Though the breath disappeared very quickly, the emotion lingered on. Moonjoong looked incredibly depressed.
“The reason why I decided to take this job wasn’t just because I liked the writing. It was because it was showing a reality that was incredibly hard to face.”
Moonjoong started walking with Maru close behind, almost like he was his disciple.
“I am but a single actor. A forgotten one at that. Not many people would pay attention to me if I started speaking out in the streets. But using art, I can start to gather a little bit more attention. What I want isn’t anything amazing. I just want to stimulate the minds of people when they watch this movie. I would like nothing more than to change their whole perspective on the situation, but obviously, I’m not talented enough.”
“You’re amazing as is, sir.”
Maru wasn’t just saying that to compliment the man, he was honest. Moonjoong laughed in response.
“This movie will be a success for sure. Many people will watch it. Many people will think about it as well.”
“What, are you a prophet?”
“Of sorts, yes.”
Before they even knew it, they were back in the sedan.
“Where are we headed now, sir?”
“A quiet lake nearby.”
He recalled where Moonjoong was yesterday.
The car drove down the dirt road again. After just a few moments, a body of water came into their vision. It was a massive lake, one so big that it was difficult to spot the other side. Moonjoong alighted and opened the trunk, Maru frowned when he realized what was inside.
A hammer, and a bag of rice.
“Something to help me grow my cruelty.”
Moonjoong dragged the bag of rice towards the lake. That alone looked like a scene from the movie by itself, when the old man kills his third son and throws the corpse into the lake.
“In order for a movie to send a message to society, it must first become popular. For that to happen, the makers of the movie need to put their souls into it. Meaning, they need to put their best into their work. I’m trying to act out the role of a pitiful old man… but also a cruel killer.”
Moonjoong looked at Maru after putting down the rice bag.
“From now on, I’ll say some very cruel words. Don’t come near me until I tell you I’m done.”
Moonjoong’s eyes almost seemed clouded with madness, it was impossible to conceive that this man was the smiling old man from earlier in the day. Moonjoong took a deep breath before smacking the rice bag with his hammer.
“You son of a bitch! I wouldn’t feel good even if I ripped you to pieces! You don’t even know how to recognize your own parents!”
Every time the hammer hit the bag, a disgusting sound rang out. Moonjoong stumbled sideways as he smacked the bag continuously, the sounds coming out of his mouth no longer sounded human.Previous Chapter Next Chapter