“You had a lot of acquaintances back there,” Yoojin spoke under the orange-colored sodium street lamps.
“You’re talking about me?” Maru asked back as he walked by her side.
“Who else is here?”
Maru pointed towards Jiseok who was on Yoojin’s right side. Yoojin shook her head as though that wasn’t the case.
“I’m talking about you.”
“I just got to know them by chance.”
“You looked rather close to them to be just that.”
“If you think so, then maybe I am.”
They were on their way back home from the get-together. Maru tried to quietly leave the two alone and go home quietly, but Jiseok followed him like a ghost and Yoojin was with Jiseok as he had dragged her with him. Jiseok’s reasoning was that ‘it’s a pity to separate ways so early’.
“Let’s go to the noraebang! Or maybe the arcade?”
“It’s 8 o’clock. Aren’t you going home?”
“There’s still time. Let’s have a little fun before we go home.”
Jiseok was very excited since the moment the get-together started. No, he was in an excited state from the moment Maru met him. He had never seen Jiseok being quiet before. Jiseok sought new events as though every second mattered to him.
“What are you going to do?” Maru asked Yoojin for her opinion.
“My house is not far from here, so it doesn’t matter.”
“My house is not far either.”
It seemed that both of them lived in Seoul. Maru suddenly felt a little unfair for living in Suwon. Just as the desire to go back home and lie down on his bed slowly crept up his heart, Jiseok spoke cheerfully.
“I see an arcade over there.”
Jiseok dragged Yoojin by the arm as he walked forward. Yoojin sighed as she was dragged along. She seemed to have realized that resistance was futile. I’ll kill you if you run by yourself - Yoojin’s eyes seemed to say those words as she glared at Maru.
He decided to hang out since there was still some time until the last train. Although it was only for a short time, they were now colleagues who would perform in the same movie. There was no need for him to be so heartless.
Having entered the arcade, Jiseok immediately changed a few bills into coins. Yoojin was dragged by Jiseok like a marionette to do a shooting game.
‘It’s been a long time,’ Maru walked around the noisy arcade for a while before stopping in front of the claw machine. Perhaps because of his age, he liked games that had rewards rather than those that required him to move around a lot. After giving the machines a glance, he put a coin in. He moved the crane around for a while before moving it towards a cat doll.
‘I wonder if I can do it.’
He remembered doing these kind of machines a lot as there was an arcade right in front of the bus station. If his body still remembered the tricks, then it should work right now. He slapped the joystick a few times to give the crane a jolt before lowering the claw towards the cat’s head. The claw swung around like a pendulum as it lowered and precisely grabbed the cat doll by the neck.
The cat doll slowly lifted into the air. It was quite unstable as though the owner of the arcade had set the grip of the machine quite low, but the doll did not fall back down. It slowly moved towards the exit and the doll fell right into it.
“...This doesn’t feel too bad.”
Maru didn’t even glance at the doll inside the exit and inserted more coins. That sensation of the claw grabbing the doll wasn’t something to be looked down upon. Even in an indoor fishing pool, it would feel good to catch a fish. The claw machine was similar. Maru held the joystick as he stared beyond the acrylic wall.
* * *
“Phew, you’re really good at this.”
“How can you be panting already after a round of Pump? And how are you so bad at it?”
“Hahah, I’m not good with things like those.”
Yoojin had a look at Jiseok who had a smile on his face. She wondered if Jiseok was a super expert at arcade games or something because he was so good at a first person shooter game, but he was incomprehensibly bad at games that required him to move around. Especially Pump. Jiseok’s breathing became ragged a few seconds into the game when she selected a song that was a little fast.
“You should train yourself a little more. An actor requires stamina as well. Especially new actors like us.”
Jiseok straightened up as he took deep breaths. It seemed that he became alright.
“You’re done playing?”
“Then let’s go. I thought you wanted to go to the noraebang.”
“Wow, you’re being considerate?”
“It’s just that I realized that you are not the type to give up even though I saw you for the first time today. I know you’re going to drag me there even if I said I’m not going.”
Yoojin hit Jiseok’s chest with her fist before turning around. Although this guy was unpredictable, he wasn’t a bad guy at heart. If she really didn’t like him, she wouldn’t let him drag her around in the first place. He was someone of her age aspiring to become an actor just like her. She wanted to cheer him on. Moreover, seeing how Jiseok was so happy despite her playing with him for such a short time, she didn’t feel that left out. It was also good to have come to the arcade after a long time.
“But where did Han Maru go? He’s really good at playing by himself.”
Yoojin looked around looking for Maru. Next to her, Jiseok tugged on her clothes.
“Over there. Isn’t that Maru?”
People were gathered up where Jiseok was pointing. Maru’s face could be seen among them. It looked as though he was in deep focus.
“What’s he doing?”
Yoojin walked towards that place. It was hard for her to approach since all the people in the arcade seemed to be clustered up here. She had only heard of a ‘human barricade’, but never thought that she would see one for herself.
“Excuse me, coming through!”
She tried forcing her way through, but it wasn’t easy to shift around in such a crowd of people. At that moment, Jiseok stepped forward. He blocked her way with a confident expression before saying ‘I’ll go.’ Seeing that, though, Yoojin did not have the slightest bit of expectation. And just as she had expected, Jiseok used all of his strength but could not get past the first two hunks.
“Why are all these people here?” Yoojin grumbled before bringing a chair from a nearby machine and stood on top of it. Jiseok held her from the side and she was able to see where Maru was safely.
Maru was focused on the claw machine. Whenever the silver crane moved, people exclaimed. It was a marvel to see so many people following the movement of the crane with their heads. The slowly moving crane then lowered down and picked up a doll. The crane then moved towards the exit. When the doll fell down right into the exit hole, another round of exclamations could be heard. One man even clapped.
Maru took out the doll from the machine and piled it on one side. There were at least ten dolls piled up in that mountain. Yoojin immediately went there and grabbed the doll.
“You won all these?”
“Wow. I heard it was difficult to win these.”
“The machine’s settings were good. Oh, if you like anything, you can pick one.”
“Really? Can I?”
Yoojin grabbed the cat wearing a pink apron.
“Not that one.”
Maru shook his head.
“Because it’s for my girlfriend.”
She gave up on the cat and grabbed the dolphin. Maru asked Jiseok if he needed one but he said he didn’t need one.
“You’re going to take all of those?”
It seemed impossible to take all of them and get on the bus. Maru seemed to have known that already and said that he did not plan to take all of them.
“Then what are you going to do?”
Maru approached a man who seemed to work here and said a few lines. A while later, a middle-aged man came out and gave Maru two ten thousand won bills and Maru returned the dolls other than the two mentioned before.
“That man bought all of them?”
“Do you think they’re free? They should cost a few thousand won each, so two thousand won per doll should be quite cheap. That’s why the owner took them too.”
“You… Do you live in an arcade?”
“When would I have the time to play around like this? I have practice to do every day.”
“Then how are you so good at it? Should I try as well?”
Hearing those words, Maru jokingly replied ‘You should probably try being reborn before you do it.’
“Well then, we should go to the noraebang right?”
Jiseok interfered mid way and dragged both of them by the arm. Yoojin quietly praised his endless thirst for fun and followed him.
“For a kid lacking stamina, he’s good at moving around.”
When she grumbled, Jiseok looked at her and grinned. Yoojin resolved to have real fun since it was already like this as she followed behind Jiseok.
* * *
“The party was boring, but the after party was the best!”
Those words came from Jiseok as they left the noraebang. Maru glanced at Yoojin. Although she was glaring at Jiseok with a snort, it didn’t look like she hated him that much since she hung out with him until the end.
“We should go out to have fun sometime again. No, wait. Let’s invite a few more people as well. Since summer’s coming, why don’t we go to the sea together?”
“What an ambitious dream. If you’re the one calling me, I’m never gonna go.”
“Why? We’re best friends now!”
“Who’s your best friend, huh.”
Jiseok approached Yoojin who was walking towards the bus station with her arms crossed and got her number. Seeing the number written on his phone, Jiseok looked as though he had just achieved world domination.
“Do you like her?”
“I do,” Jiseok replied without hesitation. Maru narrowed his eyes and looked at him.
“And I like you too. You don’t like me?”
“...Why did I even bother.”
Maru put his hands inside his pockets and walked towards the bus station opposite to Yoojin’s. Jiseok sneakily followed him.
“You had fun today, didn’t you?”
“Just the claw machine, yeah.”
Jiseok became depressed but burst out into laughter again.
“I hope we can chat later too. People really should live in the same place for a long time. I like this place. Busan, and the place I lived before that was good too, but there weren’t as many people around as in this place.”
“But you look like you can have fun all by yourself.”
“Hm, I guess that’s true. I am good at having fun by myself. But… it doesn’t last a long time. Before I get bored of it, I feel stifled.”
Jiseok was smiling despite what he was saying. Maru asked as he looked at his face.
“I think you’re sick after all.”
“Mentally, I’m not ill at all.”
“What about physically?”
“Well… I won’t die.”
The reply was a little disturbing. He was about to ask a follow-up question, but Jiseok started moving backwards. Maru raised his head to look at Jiseok. He was waving his hands goodbye, with a face that did not contain the slightest bit of worry.
Perhaps Jiseok’s bright side was a kind of defense mechanism to hide his weak side. From how he ran out of breath quite easily, he seemed to have a respiratory or cardiac issue. Though, from how he was active all the time, it didn’t seem to be a big problem. Or perhaps it was a big issue in the past but not anymore. Crossing the road, Maru turned around for a moment and had a look at Jiseok. Jiseok was still waving his hands.
“He should act like a kid until the end if he wants to be a kid. He’ll be in for a real pain if he decides to be a half-hearted grown-up.”
Maru looked away from Jiseok. They weren’t close enough for him to ask Jiseok the truth. Perhaps the situation would change once the man named Jiseok became significant within Maru’s mind, but right now… they weren’t that close yet.
Getting on the bus, Maru took out his phone from his pocket. He had two text messages. One was from Suyeon, grumbling about how Geunsoo didn’t show interest in her at all, and the other came from Ganghwan.
[You should have reported to me if you passed the audition. Geez, you’re impolite as always. I think you need a scolding so come to the Suwon practice studio after school tomorrow. I’ll forgive you if you bring a fair lady. Otherwise, you should come prepared.]
Maru smiled and texted back ‘Yes’.
A moment later,
[Oh, and congrats on passing.]
A short message arrived. Maru’s smile became thicker.
 This seems to refer to the arcade game “Pump It Up”