“Sorry about that so late in the evening.”
-That’s okay. Rather than that, if you are planning to be absent more frequently in the future, don’t tell me the day before, but just send me the necessary documents for the absence in one go. That’ll be easier for me. Then have a good rest.
After hanging up, Maru laid down on the bed and looked at the script. His line was simple. ‘Hey, hey, stop’ and then he would get hit. You know, just like the ones that get caught up in fights and get beaten up by both parties. The ‘student 1’ that he had to act tomorrow was that kind of role.
As it was a fight between students, there would be no fancy action. It would probably end once he’s hit by a blind punch. He read through the script around five times including the scene right before of his scene as well as the one right after. He found no meaning in looking into the flow of the story, nor the reason to do some practice. Extras should stay extras. It would be an even bigger problem if an extra like him wanted attention. He just had to get hit once and roll around on the floor before leaving. That was it. As dramas had a different personality to movies, he did not find the need to put his energy into it.
Maru left the script on his desk and left his room.
Bada, who was hogging the TV to herself, flinched and hid the remote somewhere. On TV was TTO.
“I’m not taking it away from you.”
“And you’re going to watch the news? Do you take me for an idiot?”
“Looks like you don’t have that much trust in me. You should trust people more. Rather than that, give me the remote for a sec.”
Giggling, she put the remote under the sofa and sat on top of it. Maru had the urge to remind her that there were channel controls on the TV itself, but decided not to.
“She’s the last shift today. She’ll be here by 11.”
“How about father?”
“Overtime work. I don’t know exactly, but it seems like some machine was broken. He won’t be home tonight.”
“Geez, that factory really doesn’t have a share of its good fortune.”
While watching TV for a while, Maru asked his sister.
“Is there something to eat?”
His stomach, which was full from eating seolleongtang had emptied again.
“There’s instant ramyun in the cabinet. It’s mine but I’ll give it to you. But just one bite.”
Shaking his head when his sister added that she couldn't be bothered to make it herself, Maru walked to the kitchen. Unlike what she said, there were two instant ramyun packages in the cabinet. It was jjamppong ramyun, but those tasted nothing like jjamppong.
He took out a nickel silver pot and put some water in it before boiling it. While waiting for the water to boil, he watched TV in the living room. He saw the man named Sungjae he saw on the set on TV. He was wearing make-up and on the stage, he looked like a completely different person.
‘A singer and an actor at the same time, huh.’
He remembered the words that Ganghwan said. If you lose out in popularity, you can be consoled, but if you were driven out because of your skills, you had nothing to complain about.
Idols were beings that dipped their feet in both the acting and singing parts of the entertainment industry. Before, they got their places in dramas through sheer popularity alone, but these days, they were said to win their positions fair and square through auditions. They were becoming specialized as well. Idols were becoming more and more fit to be called ‘do-it-all’ entertainers.
How was Sungjae’s acting then? Maru became curious about his acting skills since he left a good impression on Maru. He wondered if he received compliments or criticisms from the actors around him.
“Hey, isn’t the pot boiling?”
He put in the ramyun noodles and the soup in the boiling water before giving it a stir with chopsticks. He raised the noodles up and down many times since he preferred firm noodles and cracked an egg in the middle as well. He brought his nose up to the steam that contained a savory smell. Ramyun eaten at night was better than any food in the world.
“Don’t pop the egg!” His sister shouted from the living room.
Feeling that he was being used to the fullest, Maru grinned as he popped the egg yolk. He looked at the murky soup with satisfaction and put the pot on a tray. He glanced at Bada once, who was looking at him with shiny eyes on the sofa, and immediately went into his room before locking the door.
Being able to lock the door was a truly joyous matter. Ignoring his sister who was bashing her hand against the door, he turned on the power for the computer.
He opened up an internet browser before going to his blog. As his blog was a minor one without any professional writing, not many people made visits. He usually posted about stages that he had first hand experience on or about actors. He just wrote things that he could tell others and as long as it was within the limits of his knowledge. Perhaps it could be compared to a diary.
He started typing slowly about managers. When he was writing, he remembered his past and the post became rather long. The pathetic truth that one’s own value is frozen while the one they’re in charge of becomes popular with the public and has their value shoot through the roof; how the days when the kids that warmly called them ‘oppa’ or ‘hyung’ only last a brief moment and they start shouting at them for their work; being scolded by their superiors, being disdained by their stars, and having their collars grabbed by the fans.
“I hope you won’t be like that, and I hope I won’t be like that...”
Maru read the last part he wrote out loud.
Isn’t it better to be in a symbiotic relationship? Isn’t it better to treat the person that will be your ears and eyes well rather than bad? Maru reminded himself of Byungchan, who had a great smile. He wanted to look after him more since he remembered about the first time he started working.
He turned off his PC and left his room with the empty pot. Bada was eating a pot of ramen that she cooked herself.
“You’re so bad.”
“Why don’t you say that after you cook one for me?”
“Forget it. I can cook one too.”
He started washing the pot while talking about trivial things. These trivial conversations felt very precious to him. If this was his previous life, he wouldn’t have even said anything. The wall of silence between them changed into a wall of disinterest when they grew up.
“Do you want some snacks?”
“You have some?”
His sister smiled as though she was never mad in the first place. Their mother probably told his sister several times to not follow strangers who gave her candy when she was young.
Maru tossed her a pack of chips before going back to his room. He could hear the sound of the pack being opened through his door. Listening to the munching sounds, Maru opened the novel that he had been reading.
* * *
The scheduled time was 10 a.m. When he was sleeping in, his mother came to him and told him to wake up, and Maru told her that he had a shoot.
“How about school?”
“I’ll have to be absent.”
“Can you just take school off like that?”
“It’s fine. I’ll graduate as long as I fill the necessary days. So don’t worry about your son and go to work, Mrs. Lee.”
After walking around in his room for a while, his mom left with the words ‘don’t make your mom worry too much’. She had the last shift the day before, and the first shift the next day. From what he heard, the labor union at the mall she was working at started going on strikes due to matters related to the temporary employment matters, and thanks to that, people for the counter were drastically reduced, consequently making his mother busy. Regardless of era, irregular employment was always a problem.
It was Maru that took care of Bada’s breakfast in his mother’s stead since she was busy. He warmed up the soup that she made during the night and woke his sister up. She walked out with a drowsy face and started eating.
“How about your textbooks?”
“I said I have it all.”
“Check to see if you forgot anything. Are there any printouts or anything?”
“Don’t come home late, don’t go anywhere strange, and make a call if you’re going to be late. Okay?”
“Geez, you’re even worse than mom.”
Only after telling her to watch out for cars as she left through the door could he sigh in relief. He told similar things to his daughter in the past and perhaps the reason people became naggy as they became older and older was because they knew about the harsh part of the world. If his nagging allowed her to live an easier life in this world, he was willing to become naggy at any time.
He ate his breakfast with the cooled down soup and some rice. When he looked at the clock, he saw that the hour hand was pointing at eight.
“So there’s an hour left?”
He made some instant coffee and turned on the TV. The world was moving around busily as always. Watching the traffic being practically still on TV, he couldn’t be more relieved that he was a student. There was nothing more annoying than a traffic jam during the commute after all. He was switching channels to watch the news when one RBS news was talking about sexual services related to aspiring entertainers. The main story was that people were coercing aspiring entertainers into sexual services by enticing them with their debut. That news wasn’t that long. Either everything was very clear, or there was practically zero evidence.
When he was still immature, he was enraged when he watched news like these. He considered men to be trash. However, after he realized that there was no distinction between men and women when it came to being trash, he tried not to come to early conclusions. He primarily believed in the things he saw and experienced, and secondarily believed the things that were proven.
Perhaps there would be another news in a few days. And perhaps at that time, the offender and the victim might have switched.
‘It’s about time I get going, huh.’
Maru took his bag and left the house. He was appointed to meet at Suwon station. He took the bus to Suwon station and saw the familiar black car. He approached it and knocked on the door.
“Oh, Maru. Come on in.”
He got in the car. Byungchan was eating a sandwich he seemed to have bought from the convenience store.
“You should really eat proper breakfast.”
“I want to do that too, but I’m not in a situation where I can cook for myself at home. Want a bite?”
“I had breakfast.”
“Really? Then let’s get going for now.”
“You can finish that first. There’s still plenty of time, isn’t there?”
Byungchan nodded and stuffed the rest of the sandwich in his mouth. Perhaps Maru should have added that he could take his time finishing it. He opened the window with a faint smile. The weather was quite hot. If the sun was this glaring in early July, he didn’t even want to imagine what it would be like in August. He was just following a lady who was shaking the front of her blouse to cool down a little, when,
“Fuah! I finished.”
“You could’ve taken more time.”
“We have a schedule to upkeep so I can’t really do that. Put on your seatbelt.”
Byungchan turned on the car and started driving.
“Where are we going?”
“Sangam High School in Apgujeong-dong in Seoul. It’s supposed to be a high school but it’s fricking huge like a college campus. I heard that it’s a school for kids from wealthy families.”
“Well, if they live in Seoul, I guess they’re better off than most.”
“That’s true. Ah, I wish I could live in Seoul.”
“Where do you live right now?”
“Me? I do live in Seoul. Though, it’s a goshiwon.”
“Then in Noryangjin?”
“No, not there.”
“How’s life there?”
“Don’t even start. If I lie down, there’s not even space for a cockroach to lie down next to me. You can experience what filling the entire room is like.”
Byungchan drove as he giggled.
“You should earn a lot of money and raise buildings.”
“Yeah, I wish.”
“It’s everyone’s dream in Korea to go traveling while being paid monthly rent, isn’t it?”
“Haha, isn’t that too small of a dream?”
“How many people do you think aim for that small dream? I think there’s around 40 million people.”
“Well, yeah, I guess I’m one of them. But hey, you should dream about even bigger things at your age.”
“Like what, becoming the president?”
“That’s a good one.”
“But this world is where a land owner in Gangnam has a better life than the president.”
“Why are you so pessimistic?”
“What, you don’t want to become a land owner in Gangnam?”
“No, I’d love to.”
Both Maru and Byungchan made satisfied smiles.
When very young, most boys wished to become either the president or a great scientist, and after just a little more, they wished to be firemen or policemen. After growing up a little more, their dream usually changes into entering a good university, and during college, it would become a good employment. Dream and age were inversely proportional to each other.
Like that, an ordinary civilian’s dream changes into becoming a land owner in Gangnam. It was a worldly desire, and not romantic at all, but Maru honestly thought that receiving rent from other people on a monthly basis looked more beautiful than anything. A rich land owner, how good was that?
“But I think a rich land owner in Gangnam is too big of a dream. After all, it’s even more difficult than becoming a lawyer or a judge.”
“Now that I think about it, you’re right.”
“Perhaps it’s even harder than becoming the president.”
“Yeah, that’s for sure.”
They were half joking and half serious at the same time, but soon they arrived at the destination. They were at Sangam High, where people wearing gym uniforms filled the school sports field.
 A (usually) very small, cheap residence in Korea targeted towards employment-seekers and examinees. All you get in a room is a bed and a small desk. Everything else, like the bathroom, laundry machine, and kitchen, is shared with other residents. Wikipedia link for more details.
 Famous for having lots of goshiwon, as well as its fish market.
Put your guesses!
1. Maru will do just enough and no longer be involved.
2. Maru will take over the drama by storm.
3. (Your guess here)