Chapter 31

“Something you want to ask me?”

Maru looked down at his drink for a second. When was the last time he talked with his dad like this? It was probably the night after introducing the love of his life. That day, he remembered hearing his father say,

[Finally, I get to have a drink with you.]

Father and son. They lived for over twenty years as family, but their relationship was still strangely awkward. Saying ‘dad’ each time made Maru feel embarrassed for some reason at the time. Only after getting a daughter himself did Maru start regretting such things. He regretted not having talked to his dad more. The man must’ve felt sad over the coldness of his own son. And now… Maru watched as his father took a swig accompanied by a happy expression on his face.

“What was your dream, dad?”

“Dream? Me?”

“Yes.”

“...You really did change a bit after becoming a high schooler, didn’t you. And here I thought your mother was exaggerating.”

Dad smiled.

“My dream, huh. I wanted to be a boxer when I was your age. I was pretty good back in high school, actually.”

“You wanted to go pro.”

“Pretty much.”

Maru knew that his dad had gone to amateur competitions several times, but not the fact that his father wanted to go pro. Come to think of it, he never heard what dad’s past was like either. He never asked, after all. He was pretty uncaring, wasn’t he. He knew so little about his own parents.

“Right. But my family didn’t have a lot of money. My dad’s household went bankrupt when I was still in school. That’s when my dad, ah, your grandfather, fell ill as well.”

Dad grabbed the bottle to pour Maru a glass. Maru lifted up his glass with two hands.

“When’d you learn something like this?”

Maru grinned. Another one of his old habits. It kind of came out of nowhere. His dad downed his shot in one gulp.

“My mother jumped into the workforce for the first time in her life, and I couldn’t keep boxing as well. With how well off my family was originally, I could’ve gone to college but I ended up just working right after high school. My sisters were in the same boat as me. No, it was worse, actually. Women weren’t treated so well back then.”

“Did you end up getting a job right away?”

“I worked at factories for a bit before going into the mines. That was around 1987, I think.”

Maru glanced at his dad’s hands. Those hands looked darker than ever to him for some reason.

“Dream… My dream back then was to get my own house. I saved up a bunch of money then. I had met your mother around that time and we got married. I gave up on the mining gig because of your mom. Since your mother was working at a company at the time, I could rest a little bit. I looked for a new job while I rested. In the end, I went into a small factory. Since your mother worked at a trade company, our income wasn’t that small. And then you were born.”

“She must’ve had to quit her job.”

“Yup. Your mother cried a lot during then. Nowadays she’s just a lady who tries to buy things on sale but she was amazing back then. The company knew of her worth, but they couldn’t keep a pregnant woman working in their company. The world was really unfair back then.”

Dad took another shot angrily.

“And then the IMF came. My factory had to close down. There was no way it could survive, especially when the 8th biggest company in the country had to close down as well. Thankfully, the boss had accumulated an insane amount of dollar bills, so we were able to start anew very easily.” (The Asian Financial Crisis)

“That was the time when the dollar bill doubled its value compared to the Korean won, wasn’t it? He must’ve made a lot.”

“You remember? This was during your elementary school.”

“Sort of. I remember you and mom being really down back then.”

That was just an excuse. He learned all of this back in the past.

“I see. Of course you kids would’ve noticed. There aren’t any problems in raising the two of you now though, so don’t worry.”

Dad smiled wryly.

“Anyway. Dreams, right? Right, dreams. Maru, Dreams are good to have, but it isn’t a problem to not have one either. Most people just talk about their dreams despite not actually having one. Even so… I hope you don’t live like me, and end up getting a dream of your own.”

“What’s wrong with living like you? You’re doing a great job, dad.”

“Oh, you.”

Dad drank with an embarrassed look. Maru put away the bottle of soju to the side. They weren’t drinking to get drunk, but rather to start opening up between each other. He opened a can of beer instead.

“I had a lot of dreams, but my current one is for you to do well like me. And maybe help out with our retirement in the future as well?”

“You’re already thinking of retirement?”

“I’m just saying it now just in case.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll take care of you.”

“...That was a joke. No parent would ever want to be a burden on their children. I just hope you live well enough by yourself. I’m preparing very carefully for my retirement, you know. Going to travel the world with your mother.”

Dad sounded like an excited child. Very different compared to his usually quite demeanor. Maru poured himself a new glass of beer. It was sweet on his tongue.

“Speaking of which, Maru. What’s your dream?”

“Me?”

“Yes, you must have one, don’t you?”

“I don’t know. I asked because I was curious. I don’t know what my dream really is.”

“Who else would know your dream other than yourself?”

“Funny, isn’t it? I should know my dream.”

Maru took another swig, annoyance plastered all over his face as he downed the beer. He chugged the entire thing in one gulp and wiped his mouth. Oops. That was a mistake. He shouldn’t have drank so much in front of his dad.

“You’re drinking well.”

“Hahaha. O-of course. I’m your son, after all.”

“Then again, I drank quite a bit myself when I delivered rice wine in your age. It was very tasty, taking a few sips from a bottle as I biked around town.”

“You didn’t get punished by grandpa?”

“Of course I did.”

The two of them talked for a while after that. Maru’s dad told him all sorts of stories, almost as if he was saving them up since the day Maru was born. Maru, too, had a lot of questions to ask dad as well. They were connecting with each other after years of excommunication. It was just a short conversation, but Maru took a lot from it.

“We should sleep now. It’s late.”

“Yes.”

Maru threw away the empty cellophane of snacks and put the alcohol back in the fridge. Dad stepped back into his room with a smile on his face. Maru grabbed onto his door handle as well. Right then, dad peeped his head back into the dark living room.

“Maru.”

“Yes?”

“I don’t know if I should be saying this to you, but you look like you can take it so I will.”

Dad paused for a few seconds before continuing.

“I think you should have a dream. Life becomes too boring otherwise. Whatever you decide to do, I hope your dream has something to do with it. But...”

Dad turned to look at Maru. No word bubble popped up. Even so, Maru was able to catch a glimpse of what dad was thinking. The man’s expression and breathing told him everything.

“I hope you know this. To have a dream is a very brave thing to do. And… People who have a dream must be prepared to give it up as well.”

His smile seemed to have a tinge of regret on it. Perhaps he was reminiscing about his boxing aspirations. Did he ever fully give up on that dream?

“Now, go sleep.” “Yes. Good night.”

Those who had a dream must be ready to give it up. Maru thought over the sentence over and over again.

* * *

“You brought the money?”

“Yeah.”

Maru watched his two friends talk to each other. The two of them always got together here to chat during break times.

“What money?” Maru asked.

“The money for the instructor.”

Each of them took out 3 ten thousand won bills. Sixty thousand won total. Maru was confused. He’d never heard of this.

“When did you guys decide on this?”

“Saturday.”

“Aha.”

“You don’t have to pay. It’s just an us thing.”

“Really?”

Good thing he doesn’t have to spend any money.

“But...” Daemyung butted in, “why do the teachers talk so formally with each other? And this money, if the advisor told instructor Miso about it, I’m sure she would understand.”

Dojin clicked his tongue.

“These people have their own pride, you know. Think about it, appearing weak to your own student from years back? Man, I’d go crazy if I had to do that. It’s no wonder the advisor used his own salary.”

“Is it?”

“It is.”

“So why are they so polite with each other?”

“Maybe they aren’t great friends. I mean, he didn’t even tell us that she was our senior.”

Dojin sounded pretty confident, but Maru shook his head quietly.

“What, you disagree?”

“It can’t be that.”

“Then why would the advisor treat her like that? I thought they didn’t even know each other?”

“I can bet that they’re like that even in private. Want to go?”

Dojin and Daemyung shook their heads when Maru took out a thousand won.

“The advisor’s just letting the instructor save face. What do you think would’ve happened if he treated her like a kid or a student in front of us?”

“Well...”

Daemyung nodded in understanding.

“You know how the advisor’s like. I’ve noticed that he treats students who graduated a few years back the same way. My guess is that he’s trying to treat them like real adults. I think that’s really admirable of him. That’s probably why he tried to handle the money problem as quietly as possible. He doesn’t want any trouble, especially because he knows the instructor so well. You said so as well, didn’t you, Dojin? The more you know someone, the more you should treat them with respect.”

“Yeah. The advisor’s a really cool guy.”

The two of them agreed.

“So how are you trying to give him the money? I don’t think he’d take it.”

“We’re planning on giving it to the instructor.”

“Oh, there’s, that, huh.”

“But you know what’s funny?”

“What?”

“The advisor buys us dinner every time. Every day. She doesn’t like hiding things much, so she told us that she gets paid 40000 won an hour.”

Maru couldn’t help but laugh in surprise. The woman really didn’t hide anything. Then again, that explained their conversation on the rooftop.

But hold on.

If she’s working as much as now…

“But she comes every weekday. Doesn’t she also stay for the entire day on weekends?”

“Yeah. It’d be ridiculous if she were to get paid for all of that. So we asked.”

“You asked exactly how much she gets paid?”

“Yeah.”

“Hah.”

Dojin was quite something as well, to have the balls to ask a question like that.

“She was supposed to be paid just 800 thousand won in total, with her coming only on the weekends. But she comes every day. She probably spent more than half of that on our food already, too.”

Maru recalled seeing Miso give out cash to buy the students dinner.

“She’s losing money doing this.”

“Right?”

“Work hard, you guys.”

“That’s the plan.”

The two of them grinned.

* * *

Time passes akin the mound of sand draining from your hand. Before you’ve realized, it’s all slipped away. The club was doing well. Everything from prop making to practice. Maru spent most of his time there making the props.

“Where the hell did you find this?”

“Just looked around a bit.”

There was a huge pile of wood all over the auditorium. They didn’t look so good after years of not being used, but they look a lot better with paint over them.

Maru helped out by nailing boards together. He couldn’t bear watching the kids figure out how to nail things on the board by themselves. It looked too dangerous.

“Dang, Maru.”

“Wow, our manager really can do everything.”

Of course he could. He’s worked this kind of job for more than just a few years. Maru put a few more wooden planks for support at the bottom and erected their store. It was built very roughly with planks, but it still weighed quite a bit. The other students came over to put it up with him.

“Ohh.”

“This’ll look pretty good with more decor.”

Maru smiled as he looked at the prop. At least he managed to contribute to the club one way or the other. That made him feel a bit better. Not much has changed after the day he talked with his dad. He still thought about his dreams every once in a while, but he had no idea what his dream was. Was there anything he really wanted to do in his 45 years of life? What were the things he had to give up on because he was too busy trying to stay alive? That was the only thing on Maru’s mind during last week.

His original question of ‘how am I going to live?’ had morphed into ‘what kind of dreams do I want?’

Dream. What did Maru want to dream about?

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